The loud sound of sliding rock fills the Anubis House kitchen, the glowing subsides, and Nina tucks her locket back into her sweatshirt. She hadn't been able to sleep, the latest task swimming in her head whenever she'd close her eyes, the Mark of Anubis burning like a phantom limb, and so she'd spent the last couple of hours sitting in Robert's study trying to fill her head with as much research as she possibly could until she tired herself out. It wasn't an easy task, back home her Gran would tease her that when she got focused on something a storm could pass and she wouldn't notice. It's a lot stormier in England, Nina thinks, and there's enough research to last her years.
Nina blinks, stares down at the now closed oven passageway, and thinks about Sarah. She hopes that this is what Sarah had intended for her, all this adventure and mystery. She hopes that she's making Sarah proud –
"What are you doing?"
Nina startles, caught off guard completely. Victor. He'd caught her. Nina turns on her heels, her heart beating so loud she can almost hear it echoing off the old Anubis House walls, and she looks up at him nervously. How long had he been standing there? Did he see her leaving the basement through the secret passageway? Best case scenario, she was cleaning toilets with a tooth brush. Worst case scenario, she was doomed.
Nina doesn't say anything at first, but she's already planning out her lie in her head. It's almost like Victor can sense this. His eyes sear into hers suspiciously, as if he can see the gears moving in her head, as if he can tell she's plotting and scheming underneath her act of fearfulness. Nina wonders if he can read her mind.
“Nothing.” Nina says quickly. “I mean, I sleepwalk sometimes. It’s an American thing. You know like cheeseburgers and baseball. Americans and sleepwalking.” Maybe Patricia is right, Nina thinks as she cringes at the lameness of her lie, maybe she has to stop using America as her go to excuse for everything. By the look on Victor's face he clearly isn't amused. Nina smiles sheepishly despite herself, hoping to give off a vibe that she's telling the truth and this is all some big culture shock for her. People don't sleepwalk in England? I'm so sorry, Victor. Won't ever happen again. I promise.
“Do not play me for a fool, Ms. Martin, I am not as stupid as you think I am.” Victor takes a step towards her, hoping to interrogate her on what exactly she's doing up this last past curfew (Victor checks his pocket watch quickly and it's nearly three in the morning). He stops suddenly in his tracks and Nina's brows scrunch up at the look of genuine concern that appears on his face. She isn't even sure Victor has the capacity for concern, let alone the capacity to show it. The look is gone as quick as it appeared, but Nina swears she saw it.
Victor had noticed blood seeping through the sleeve of Nina's sweatshirt and pooling on the kitchen floor. The blood trails and stops at the ovens. Curious.
More curious than that, Nina doesn’t even seem to notice this. She's too busy staring wide eyed across the kitchen island at Victor. She has no talent for lying and she certainly has no talent for hiding that she's afraid, which becomes more and more clear each time Victor catches her doing something she shouldn't.
“What’s wrong with your arm?” Victor demands, that same unnerving agitated tone he uses constantly with the students at Anubis House. Nina blinks, confused. For someone so smart, it’s clear she has no regard for self-preservation. It's as if the cut on her arm is the storm, passing by unnoticed. Victor thinks bitterly that Nina would jump off a bridge if it meant getting the upper hand in Robert's mysteries.
“My arm?” Nina asks innocently. She’s clearly caught off guard, and she silently thanks whatever God or gods are out there that Victor doesn't ask about the secret passageway or notice Sarah’s locket. If she plays this out the right way, she can regain control over the situation.
“Yes.” Victor snaps, “Your arm. What happened?”
For the first time, Nina notices the dark red seeping through her sweatshirt. She must've cut herself as she was leaving through the passageway. Now that she notices it, the pain finally sets in, and it hurts bad.
And oh God, this was Amber’s sweatshirt. Amber was going to kill her when she found out she’d stained it. Priorities Nina!
“I don’t know.” Nina says, clearly trying to make something up as she goes along, “You know us American sleepwalkers. Always accidentally hurting ourselves. You know I should get Trudy –”
“Nonsense. Trudy is sleeping. We are not going to bother her just because you’ve chosen to be reckless and hurt yourself. Come with me.”
Speaking of sleeping, shouldn’t Victor be sleeping? Nina doesn’t think she’s ever seen Victor leave his office at night. For a split second she thinks that maybe he sleeps in a coffin like a vampire, but then maybe she’s been spending too much time listening to Alfie and Jerome. No matter how creepy Anubis House could be, she was pretty sure it wasn't the English equivalent of Dark Shadows. Victor the Ever-Living? Maybe. Victor the Vampire? Definitely not.
“What? Where?” Nina asks, voice stiff and suspicious. Nina is honestly, seriously, terrified of Victor. Obviously, for the general creepy Victor reasons. But also because Patricia had told her a scary story that night about Victor killing students and stuffing them like Corbierre. Patricia was laughing the whole time, so maybe that was a good sign, but right now it was past midnight and dark; Nina did not want to end up like a stuffed bird.
“To my office so we can tend to your arm.” Victor says, patience short, “I can’t have you bleeding out. Too much paperwork.”
Nina blinks, suspicious that Victor may have just made a joke, and she finds that her legs are moving ahead of her brain. Nina follows him up the stairs to his office, sits in the chair across from his desk, and he places a first aid kit on the table in front of her.
Nina glances at the first aid kit suspiciously, like perhaps it’s poison, and Victor once again gets that annoyed look on his face. He wonders how these children get through the day thinking everybody and everything is a conspiracy; the adults are out to get them and everything is a trick. Where on earth would they get such a preposterous idea?
“Should I bother asking what you were doing up past curfew?” Victor asks, sounding annoyed, as Nina finally breaks into the first aid kit. The cut isn’t as bad as Victor thought, just dangerous looking, and Nina quickly begins to wipe the blood away with the gauze.
“Probably not.” Nina says, matter of fact, voice low and quiet. It’s not like you’ll get the truth anyway.
“I know you're hiding something.” Victor snaps and Nina looks up at him, almost defiantly and certainly out of character for her. It bothers him, but sitting in his office the way she is, she looks so much like Sarah did at that age. Sarah who'd sit in that same office, when it belonged to his father, and be interrogated over and over about a treasure she didn’t know how to find. He grinds his teeth at the memory. Not many memories with his father in them were good ones. "Tell me. Now."
He can almost hear Sarah’s voice when Nina speaks –
I will never tell.
“I don’t know anything.” Nina says instead, “Is this about what happened in the basement last term? I never figured out what that was about anyway. Why did Rufus want some old cup? I thought he was after Joy's dad?”
Nina bats her eyelashes, all faux clueless, waiting for his reaction. There it was, Victor was giving her that familiar look, a look as if he actually may believe her. She was a child after all, what did she understand more than a fairy tale about an elixir of life and the ramblings of an aging women?
“It doesn’t matter.” Victor says, even though it does, “Go to bed. I don’t want to see you up past curfew again or there will be consequences. Do you understand?”
Nina's arm is all bandaged up now and she nods quickly, eager to get away from Victor as soon as possible. He waves his hand in a 'get out' gesture and Nina hurries out of the office.
Despite popular opinion, Victor doesn’t like to see any of the students hurt. Still, there’s something about Nina in particular that makes him feel defensive. She reminds him vividly of a young Sarah. If Victor has a heart, which Mr. Sweet has insisted many times unconvincingly, it ached with pity at seeing Sarah hurt – or Nina, whatever.