Title: Bitter Pills
Part: 1 of 3
Genre: Drama, Slash (m/m)
Characters: Angélique Collins, Chris Collins, Cyrus Longworth, Julia Hoffman, and Elizabeth Stoddard
Collinwood - the foyer, study, and drawing room
Angélique smoothed back a blonde lock, her fingers nimbly arranging her simple yet elegant coiffure into a work of steely perfection. She gave a cursory inspection to her outfit -- a powder blue sun-dress with matching sandals and simple silver ankle bracelet -- and deemed it suitable. She knew that she needed to give off the appearance of being capable yet needy. This would be no easy feat with this person, as he knew her too well to believe her to be needy. She realized that she would have to take a different approach. Of course, she knew the men of Collinwood and their weaknesses as well as she knew her own. If this doesn't succeed, she thought, I've not done my homework.
As she pattered down the stairs, Angélique attempted to arrange a centralized plan. Did she really think that she could seduce him? She had seen the pretty young things he had dated in the past and she believed that she knew his type well. Did she resemble his type? In coloring and size only. Angélique knew herself to be much stronger than those sniveling little twits. If anything, she liked to think of what she would be doing as an exchange of favors. She needed money and he, more than likely, needed the touch of a woman after being subjected to a flurry of pathetic girls.
So with renewed conviction, Angélique approached the closed study door, only to be stopped by the waiting Elizabeth Stoddard. "Is Mr. Collins busy?" she asked, putting up her best warm front so as not to snap the woman in two.
"I could check for you"
Angélique offered her a curt nod. She stood back, watching as Mrs. Stoddard calmly approached the study door and rapped daintily on the dark wood. If it weren't for one simple mistake, I might have been in her place, she pondered with more than a bit of fear. Her thoughts, of course, weren't completely accurate. Quentin's side of the family had its own sizable fortune and an estate far away from the prying eyes of small town Maine. She could have been mildly content at that station, but she eagerly pushed her soon-to-be-husband to accept Jamison's declaration. "He has given you all of Collinwood instead of one of his own children," she had told Quentin, "so you should not let the old man down." To her delight, he accepted and they have lived the entirety of their marriage at Collinwood. Although the title "Mistress of Collinwood" might have held more power during a previous era, it still held enough clout to be useful. Angélique knew that she had made many mistakes in her life; none of them, to her credit, truly endangered her rise in stature. Elizabeth Stoddard was not as lucky. One mistake, she mused, and you lose it all.
When Elizabeth Stoddard returned, she said that Angélique could enter. She gave the woman her warmest, if fakest, thanks and entered the study. Behind the cluttered desk sat Chris Collins, who began his role as family lawyer after the death of Arden Hanley, the old lawyer. He was at least a year older than her husband, and, on occasion, it showed. Chris Collins possessed a cool, even temper and could easily get the family out of all the troubles his cousin's passion led it into. All except one. So when he greeted Angélique with a warm, "What do I owe this pleasure to, Mrs. Collins," she knew he was lying.
"I'd like to ask a favor of you," she said plainly.
"Can I guess what this is about?" he asked as a small grin fought to spread its way across his lips.
"I'd rather you didn't, Chris." Angélique drew a chair up to the desk, quietly making sure that the chair's angle did not hinder him from possibly staring at her full body before sitting down. "I realize that the company has been going through some hard times financially, but I don't see any reason for our spending to be reigned in."
"Well, it's not because we're poor. The people who work for the family, however, are going through horrible times, so it's not in our best interests to overspend," explained Chris. "I'm sure this will all clear up once the Devlin deal goes through."
"I was under the impression that Quentin and Mr. Devlin got along fine."
"They do, but their relationship isn't the problem. The numbers aren't working for Burke. Once the shareholders work their magic on him, Burke Devlin will be eating out of the palms of our hands."
Angélique wasn't impressed with his answer. What did that have to do with her? She soon forgot her initial plans and began to ask more questions. "But why must I do without?"
"Mrs. Collins, have you ever heard of 'conspicuous consumption?' We are not robber barons. There's no need to . . . I don't know . . . walk around town in a different Dior outfit every day for a month and say to various people 'I can't see how anyone can wear these things more than once. I just pull it off and toss it in the trash!'"
"I neither said nor did that!"
"You said and did that in front of Cyrus and I. You dumped a perfectly fine silk dress into a wastebasket as you ranted to Hoffman abut window dressings and flower arrangements." Chris paused a moment, furrowing his brows as he tried to size her up. "There's more to life than the accumulation and presentation of possessions, Angélique."
"I know this," she hissed. "And why do you assume that I want this money for myself? Why should Daniel do without?"
"You spoil Daniel. The boy could do without for a change; it might get rid of that attitude."
Angélique sat back, flabbergasted by this words. She had never seen Mr. Collins as a man of emotion or opinion. He was proving to be somewhat different than she had imagined. "Where have you been hiding this hostility, Chris. I never believed you hated me this much."
"Why is it so strange that I don't like the behaviors you drag out in this family?" asked Chris indignantly. "You bully others in not so subtle ways and you act as if you're above everyone. You're not."
"But I . . . "
"But what? You can't convince me that you're not a spoiled brat."
"But that's not all that irks you, is it?" Angélique rose from her seat and thrust her face into Chris's, forcing the man to fall back into his seat. "You hate that I get away with it. I say something and everyone jumps. In my less than savory moments, no one is willing to control me. Quentin doesn't bother; he wouldn't dare. I can do whatever I want, take whomever I choose . . ."
"And it's disgusting to watch them follow after you. I've never seen so many men debase themselves to spend one night with a women as sordid as you. I'd almost assume that they're wasting their time until I remember who you squire with: Bruno, cousin Roger, Dameon Edwards, and the rest of the cast of uninteresting thousands. I'm not sure who's more pathetic, them or you."
"But you secretly wish you were one of them, don't you?"
"I'd sooner blind myself than climb into your bed," he snarled.
"Well, when the time comes, I'll be sure to buy you a designer cane!"
"Go ahead," said Chris with a smirk. "You'll be using that cane long before I resign myself to sleep with you."
Angélique was stunned. No man had ever turned her down before. She didn't know how to react. "I guess that makes me wrong about you." Angélique fell back into her chair and laughed. How could she have been so naive as to think that Chris would fall over her like the rest. Of course, she hadn't even tried to seduce him; his negativity thwarted her the moment she stepped into the room. "Why aren't you like the rest of them?"
"Why should I be?" Chris brought his fingers to his temples, shutting his eyes tight to what stood before him. "I'm not going to increase your allowance," he finally said. "We're all living a little less large than we lived a year ago. There's no reason for you to be any different."
"But . . . "
"No! Please leave, Angélique, before I get angry."
Angélique stared at him a moment more before leaving the room. It wasn't hard for her to see his barely restrained hatred for her emanating from his body. How could this be? Everyone else was so taken with her beauty and charm. How did he manage to slip from her grasp?
Angélique stormed from the room, barely taking notice as Elizabeth escorted Cyrus Longworth into the foyer. They both stared at her as she stormed into the drawing room. Julia Hoffman scurried to the double doors and said, "You'll have to forgive her. She has been somewhat ill all morning." She shut the doors and made her way toward the bar. She fixed a sherry and gave it to Angélique, who sat stiffly by the fireplace. She allowed her mistress to take a sip before asking, "Mrs. Collins, what is wrong?"
"I . . . I mean . . . i . . . it is so ha . . . hard for me to live un. . . under this roof," she stuttered furiously. "Frugality is not my strong suit, as you well know Hoffman. This ridiculous allowance cap is stifling my creativity!"
"I understand," replied Hoffman. "They have spoiled you so well that you cannot live under these conditions. How did they expect you to react?"
"Who knows? They probably expected me to feel grateful that they had allowed me any excess cash at all." She gazed up at Hoffman and let out a stilted giggle, saying, "You're the only one who understands me, you know? The others just see me as the perfect woman, willing to give all for mutual pleasures. You know how deep my interests run. My love of beauty and elegance touches and inspires all it encounters. What I do for this house, I do for the family. I make their lives brighter by merely existing. Their needs are my needs; their desires are my own. You know how I hate to have my desires thwarted."
"And I take it that Chris Collins has ruined some plan of yours?" asked Hoffman.
"You know my desire for perfection," she said, "And you see how this house is decaying before our eyes? My will makes life more pleasant for all who live here. Oh! I can't believe he denied me!"
"Where is he now?"
"He should be in the study."
Angélique remained in the drawing room as Hoffman fled. She didn't know why the woman would bother. She knew that Hoffman wouldn't be able to talk the family lawyer into giving her the money. If she couldn't sway him, what chance did Hoffman have? A minute later, Hoffman zoomed back into the room. "He's not there."
"Well, he must have stepped out."
"Does it matter?" asked Angélique impatiently. "It's not as if he'd give me what I want."
"What if you were able to prove your power to him?"
"Are you suggesting I . . . bewitch him?"
"I'm not. I'm just suggesting that you could use your powers within the social world. Do you have anything on him?"
"Chris Collins is cursedly free of scandal," explained Angélique. "Besides, I wouldn't know where to look."
"Then I suggest you begin to use those powers now."
Hoffman left the drawing room again, leaving Angélique to stare at the doors wondering what she had meant. She gazed back into the fire and felt its power envelop her, filling her to the brim with a powerful sense of self and purpose. She turned toward the flames, and, with a voice soaked in the tones of ecstasy, said, "My oldest source of power, I come to you now in a time of need. Show me the face of my enemy as it is now. Show me where Chris Collins hides!"
The flames retreated, leaving Angélique with a view of the blackened fireplace. Slowly, a mist began to circle in the back, and upon its gathering, an image formed within its confines. The room she saw within the mist was brightly furnished and filled with the warm glow of sunshine. She knew this room to be one of the ones she had decorated in the West Wing. As her eyes grew used to that one setting, the angle of view changed, shifting suddenly to the right. She focused her will onto the blurred images along the wall. The moment these images came into view her eyes bulged wide. "Oh God," she whispered. "I hadn't even guessed."
Collinwood - A bedroom in the West Wing
Chris Collins fell back against the pillow. He was exhausted, his body covered in a layer of sweat and aching in places that hadn't hurt in years. He flipped onto his side and stared ahead at the hideous yellow wallpaper that faced him. Had his mind not been spinning, he would have dwelt on it, mentally chastising Angélique's poor taste or trying to imagine a world where Quentin hadn't ruined all their lives by marrying her. All attempts at rational thought ended once he felt an arm sling across his side. Lips crept between his shoulder blades and planted a kiss between them. Chris turned to meet that mouth, pressing himself against the body as his tongue slipped between parted lips, tasting him as he had just moments before. When the kiss relaxed, Chris took him into his arms, allowing his head to drift onto his shoulder as he mumbled something that Chris could not understand. "What?"
Cyrus pulled back and his eyes drifted towards those of his lover. "I said you've become quite daring in your old age."
"You're the one to say, right?" Chris kissed him again. Upon pulling back, he noticed that the inquisitive look had not left Cyrus's face. "Why do you say that?"
"Well, I've never known you to ask your lover to come to Collinwood for a tryst. What if someone found us?"
"No one has."
"But it's a possibility. I gave Elizabeth some glib explanation as to why I was there. And what about Angélique? What could I have told her had she not been in such a mood?"
"What would it matter?" asked Chris. "Angélique is the last person who can judge a relationship. She's had so many affairs that she's lost her right to be critical. Besides, I thought you'd please."
"I am," answered Cyrus with a smile. "We've been together for so long and this is one of the first times that you've called me over."
"I know. I'm sorry, but..."
"I know or I think I do."
"I'm not ashamed," said Chris defiantly.
"I never said you were." Cyrus slipped behind Chris and slowly began to knead his shoulders. Chris relaxed inside his touch. "I wasn't going to mention shame. I don't think of you as an emotional person. I see you with Amy and I think the same thing. I know you love her but I can't see it within your interactions with the girl."
"I don't know how to act with her. It was so much easier when she was a kid," lamented Chris. "It's easier to send her back to New York to live with our brother. He has children and knows how to react to them. I, on the other hand, don't know the first thing about preadolescent girls."
"No one understands preadolescent. Well, at least they believe that to be so." Cyrus wrapped his arms around Chris's shoulders and kissed his cheek. "Let's forget about that."
"Fine. What do you suggest we move on to?"
"I have a few ides I'd like to discuss with you. Don't give me that look! It'll only be . . . "
"Not your work, Cyrus," moaned Chris. "You know I don't get your work! Think of something we could both enjoy."
"Oh," said Cyrus, slightly disappointed. "Well then, I have some non-work related things to discuss."
"No talk," answered Cyrus as his mouth moved towards Chris's. "Absolutely no talk."
Collinwood - The Drawing Room
Angélique smiled as she watched the mist dissipate and the fire creep back to its original fervor. Julia Hoffman slipped back into the drawing room, her face exposing her curiosity before she had a chance to speak. "I may have a plan," she told Hoffman. "I'm on the verge of something big."
"Really? So soon?" inquired Hoffman. She inched closer to her mistress, desperate to know what she had learned. "What did you see?"
"Later, Hoffman. Right now, I need to you to go to my room and retrieve my address book. There's someone I must get in touch with."
"Who, if I may be so bold to ask?" inquired Hoffman.
"Later!" she reiterated. Angélique watched Julia Hoffman scurry out of the drawing room and up the stairs to fetch the object of her desire. She giggled softly as she turned back towards the fireplace. "Have your fun now," she hissed. "It well all be ending soon. Fear, Chris Collins, because you will learn who rules this family!"