|In Such a State
Author: 9mm Meg PM
Alfred is just after a Christmas present for his little sister, but when he finds a life-sized, broken doll outside a shop and takes him home, he gets quite a bit more than he bargained for. Victorian!AU, for LJ USUK Secret SantaRated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance/Humor - England/Britain & America - Chapters: 5 - Words: 18,338 - Reviews: 30 - Favs: 82 - Follows: 26 - Updated: 01-27-12 - Published: 01-11-12 - Status: Complete - id: 7732833
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: This was done for the USUK Secret Santa Exchange over on LJ, so the prompt credit belongs entirely to seraphic_dream.
In all the many months that he'd had his shop next door to that hideous abandoned building, Francis Bonnefoy had heard his fair share of curious noises, seen lights flare up in the same upstairs window at all hours of the night… But he'd thought nothing of it because, naturally, these things tend to happen with abandoned buildings, and so far nothing had really disturbed the peace in his flat above the shop or disturbed his patrons downstairs in it.
Until today, of course.
Francis didn't so much notice that he'd jumped… He was more concerned with how his thin brush slid smoothly down the face of his latest project, leaving a solid black line from eyelashes to lips across the doll's cheek.
It took a moment for him to understand what had just happened, but once he did, it only took another moment for him to pull on his coat, lock the door of the shop, and slip through the poorly barricaded entrance next door with a wrought-iron poker from his hearth in one hand and his largest set of sewing shears in the other. He could tolerate the random late-night goings on of whoever the hooligans or homeless were that snuck in so frequently, but to cause such a ruckus in the late afternoon while he was working (and ruin the beautiful face of one of his dolls) was absolutely inexcusable.
Only once Francis was in and creeping up the stairs did he think of calling for a constable, but he supposed that it was a bit late for that—and the loud crash of an old faded portrait hitting the stairs after he'd accidentally bumped it with the poker cemented that fact. He cringed, waiting for some sign that the intruder had heard it, but after what felt like hours, the building remained silent. With a deep breath, he tiptoed up the remaining steps and down the corridor.
There was only one open door. It was the furthest down the hall, and, he realized, led to the room that faced his shop next door, the one with the window that would light up with strange colors from time to time. In fact, there was a faint light flickering now, and when Francis cautiously poked his head in the room, he saw that it was the only lit candle of several arranged in a circle on the floor. Some were still smoking, only recently extinguished, and others were toppled over with pools of hardening wax beneath them.
But more importantly, there were two figures facedown on the floor in the middle of them all, unmoving.
His first instinct was to run, to fetch the police and let them handle this, but one of them appeared to be a child, just a toddler, and Francis found himself rushing forward to kneel down and aid the poor dear. He feared the worst when his hands met ice-cold fabric and gently turned the infant over, but he was surprised to find a porcelain doll, and one of his own by the look of her. Curious…
He immediately turned his attention to the adult victim, pulling back the hood of a thick cloak and reaching to feel for a pulse, but he was shocked when his fingers met with more cool porcelain. Both were dolls?
Francis leaned back on his heels, puzzled at the scene before him. The little girl he remembered selling… last week, was it? He couldn't recall who had bought her—Christmas season was always so busy, and he'd sold so many dolls that day—but he definitely couldn't remember selling one of his beautiful, adult-sized dolls anytime very recently, and certainly not one of the male ones, as this one was. They were pricey, and it was rare that someone could afford to buy their child's enormous doll a matching beau as well.
A glance around didn't reveal the troublemaker anywhere in sight, so, still confused, Francis gathered up his makeshift weapons and dolls and returned to his shop.
Later, after a quick examination of both dolls under adequate lighting, it was discovered that the mysterious male doll hadn't been made by Francis at all… It was missing its maker's mark, was dressed bizarrely (cloaked, though wearing an expensive-looking suit beneath), and, most telling of all, had eyebrows the likes of which Francis would never in his darkest nightmares think of painting on any doll, ever.
So without a second thought, the doll was deposited on top of the rubbish heap in the alley, and Francis banished it from his mind for good.
Had he taken a last look at it, however, he would have noticed the slow, groggy way it blinked its glass eyes, let out a groan, and brought a hand up to its face—
And then he would've seen the enormous unfinished vase (tossed towards the bin from the back door of the potter's shop) collide with its head, shattering spectacularly, and leaving the doll slumped against the brick wall.
Christmas, Alfred decided, was absolutely the best time of the year. The presents, the food, the family time, the presents, the decorations, the carols, the presents… He ignored the odd looks he received as he hurried down the street, grinning from ear to ear. At the worst of times, he was a cheerful person, but today, nothing was going to darken his blindingly sunny disposition. (Not even the lack of sun. Cloudy London, as usual…)
He scanned the storefronts and signs, and finally, he spotted the one he was after… Bonnefoy's Fine Porcelain Dolls, the sign read, and he hurried in the door, excitement building.
There was a called, Good afternoon to you, mon ami, from somewhere in the back of the shop, and Alfred caught a glimpse of who was presumably the owner coming through the back door and waved—but then his attention was caught by the window display of gorgeously-detailed life-size dolls. They were perfect… exactly like the ones Madeleine had described to him (after much, much persuasion—his six-year-old sister had insisted time after time that she wanted nothing more for Christmas than to come home from her school across the channel and spend the holidays with him, but Alfred had refused to take no for an answer).
And now to pick one… Alfred adjusted his glasses and scanned the faces and frilly dresses, looking for something that would suit her, and after a moment, his gaze settled on a blond doll with wide, green eyes and a thin ribbon tied in its hair. It was nothing too fancy, he noticed, comparing it to the surrounding dolls covered in lace with painted-on rouge and stained lips, and… perhaps that was best. It wouldn't do to have Madeleine develop some complex and grow up with a skewed mental image of how a proper lady should present herse—
"For your little girl, monsieur…?"
Alfred jumped at the sudden voice and turned to find the shopkeeper very close behind him, long pale locks tied back with a ribbon and blue eyes glinting interestedly.
"J-Jones. It's a-actually for my sister," he stammered, unnerved by the way he'd been snuck-up-on, and the way the man showed no signs of backing off. Even now, he was being studied closely.
"Of course," Bonnefoy (he assumed this was Bonnefoy—it was his shop, right?) said after a moment. "I see now that you are still young, non? Too young for children, much less marriage, I'm sure…"
There was a pause, and Alfred realized he was waiting for some sort of answer, so he cleared his throat and mumbled, "Twenty-one isn't that young."
Bonnefoy's smile widened, but his eyes narrowed, and Alfred took a step back. Thankfully, that seemed to send the shopkeeper some sort of message, because he switched subjects, asking, "And your darling sister, how old is she? I'm sure to have the perfect doll for her."
"Six." Alfred held out his open pocket watch, showing Bonnefoy the small portrait he kept of Madeleine in it.
"Ah! Quelle belle enfant! Yes, I've got some precious bebes here that she would adore… Although you seem quite taken with this petite fille." He gestured to the doll Alfred had been considering a moment ago.
Alfred nodded. "She asked for one of the big dolls, actually… And I think she'll like this one alright."
"And you would know her best, of course. I call this one Lily, although your lovely sister will no doubt find a name that suits her. Now!"
Bonnefoy clapped his hands, then started pulling dozens of items from the shelves—dresses, shoes, hats, fur stoles, parasols, gloves—and piling them up in Alfred's arms.
"She will need plenty of accessories for playtime, perhaps a trunk for storage… And oh! What of another playmate? I have several male companion dolls—" he pointed to a row of gentlemanly-looking figures along the wall "—perfect for a pretend wedding, you know."
He pulled one down that looked suspiciously like himself, down to the pale blue ribbon holding back its hair and the not-entirely chivalrous smirk on its face.
"I find this one particularly handsome," he said with a wink, and Alfred shuddered. Nevermind Madeleine's concept of a proper lady… there was no way he was risking her idealizing that as the perfect man.
"I think that one matches a little better," he said, pointing to another that was remarkably alike in appearance to 'Lily,' blond and green-eyed… it even had a similar hairstyle.
Bonnefoy grumbled something about a lack of taste, then swept the heap of fabric and fur out of Alfred's hands, tipping it all on the counter and jotting down figures in a ledger—
And Alfred suddenly remembered something very important.
Trying to be inconspicuous, he edged back towards the female doll, still on its shelf, and poked around in the folds of its dress, looking for a price tag—there. He flipped over the small card, and then had to retrieve his jaw from the floor after he saw the number written on it.
There was no conceivable way he could afford just the one doll on its own, much less the male and a trunkful of accessories. The realization left him reeling, and he hardly noticed what he was saying as he made some excuse and ducked out of the shop.
Alfred swore under his breath as he wandered into the alley between Bonnefoy's building and the next. After all the planning and the saving, he was still going to let his sister down. And the worst part was that he'd pushed her until she'd finally confessed to wanting one of those ridiculously expensive dolls (not that she would have known that), so now she'd be expecting one… Alfred could just picture the flash of disappointment on her face when she unwrapped something else, something cheaper, but then the smile and, Thank you, Freddie! It's wonderful! Sweet, selfless Madeleine…
He was supposed to be making all this up to her… She hadn't wanted to go to the boarding school in France, but he could hardly keep up with their late father's business with no distractions at all, and a live-in governess had been out of the question, so he'd sent her away, just like that. This Christmas was supposed to be an apology, a promise of better times to come if she'd just wait for him to sort everything out, but now he couldn't even manage the one thing she'd asked for.
He cursed again, kicking a broken piece of pottery across the alley and watching it shatter against the wall next to the bin…
Right next to a discarded life-sized doll.
Alfred stared at it for a moment, an idea growing in the back of his mind. He hated himself for what he was considering, but he couldn't shake the mental image of his little sister's disappointed face… He sent wary looks up and down the alley, towards Bonnefoy's back door and the street, then crept over to examine his find.
It was male, with shaggy blond hair and dirty smudges on its face… Its eyes were green, like the doll's had been in the shop, but they seemed so much more vivid, more real-looking than the other's. One of its arms seemed to be dislocated from the joint, judging by the way it hung limply in its sleeve, but he could probably fix that… and its face was really sort of pretty, aside from the surprisingly large eyebrows. Maybe Madeleine could even put dresses on it…
It wasn't perfect, but, fixed up, it would be better than anything else he could afford to get for her.
Alfred set his jaw, took one more glance around, and then gathered it up.
A/N2: Yes, I went with 'Freddie' instead of 'Al' or 'Alfie.' I just like it so much better. I can't be the only one, right?
Also, my apologies for any fail!French. I don't speak it (Regular!French, that is. I do speak fail!French, but that should be obvious).