Only in America: Skinner's Story

A TPDoEQ special edition

by Lady Norbert

23 May 1900

They thought, today, that they had it. So close. But not close enough. Going to go crazy waiting, honestly. It was close enough, though, that I've stopped shaving my head. I want to have some hair when I become visible again.

Bess seems a bit more like herself. Still quiet, but she comes out of her room a little more often. She even laughed at dinner when Sawyer cracked a joke. I was starting to think I'd never hear that sound again, so it was a nice surprise.

Girl's been through too much in the past year, really. Father getting killed, meeting all of us...then there was Paris, and Egypt, and everything else. I've lost track of how many times she's almost died. But this is the first time anything's happened that seems to have done real permanent damage to her. Even shooting that de Gaulle slime didn't change her this much.

25 May 1900

Nemo dropped in on us today, to see how the antidote was progressing. "I am very much interested," he said cheerfully, "to see what kind of trouble you can get into once we can see what you're doing."

"Yeah, guess my days of going through Mina's drawers are over," I replied, knowing full well that she could hear me. I was kidding, of course; haven't done that in ages. Didn't stop her from chucking a cushion at the back of my head, though.

27 May 1900

They think they've nearly got it. Of course, they've thought that before, but they seem a little more serious about it this time.

Least I was able to tell Bess that much when I ran into her in the library. I was looking for Sawyer, who wasn't there, and I didn't want to interrupt her, but she caught me before I could leave again. So I sat down to talk to her for a bit, and when she asked how it was coming, I told her.

"Are you really going to take it?" she asked.

Well, yeah, of course I am. "It'll make shaving easier," I said.

"I suppose that's true," she agreed. And then she said, "I admit I'm curious to see what you look like."

Right, no pressure. "Nothing special," I warned her. Don't want her expecting too much, I'm just an average bloke.

Then I told her I needed to get back to the lab, which was more or less true, and that I'd see her at dinner. She gave me a kind of weak smile, and I grinned at her. Not quite like old times, but closer than we've come lately.

30 May 1900

There's an actual face in my mirror.

The bloody antidote really worked. I still can't quite believe it.

Mina insisted on testing it herself. She took some of the regular serum, which they had made, and poof - she was gone. Then she took the antidote, and she came back. It really works. (Good thing, too; don't know what Jeks would've done if it hadn't.)

So, of course, we had to make a big production out of my taking it. Nemo was summoned, and Sawyer, who ran to get Bess. I took it before she got there, though; she took her time. I sort of grew a body from the inside out; I watched my hands come back into view. First there was this delicate network of blood vessels, then muscles, and bones, and finally skin. I could see the skin on my hands. No gloves.

She came in about then, and just sort of stared at me. I'm not sure what she was thinking. Everyone else was prattling on about what a great scientific achievement it was, and in Sawyer's case, how weird it is to see me with hair. Bess just kept staring, like she didn't know what to think. Mina finally broke down and asked her, and all I heard her say was "Very nice." Don't know if she really meant it.

I kept looking in the mirror a fair bit, honestly. I mean, I was never all that crazy about how I looked, but it'd been so long, I couldn't quite remember myself. I knew I had blue eyes, but not which kind of blue. The ginger hair was pretty much as I remembered it, but my forehead had gotten a bit higher, if you take my meaning. There were lines, too, that had never been there before. Not the most attractive face on earth, but definitely mine, and it was rather corking to see it again.

Nemo said something about ordering a special dinner to celebrate, and left. When I turned back from the mirror, I saw Bess was gone too.

"She went with Nemo," Sawyer told me.


"I think she liked it, Skinner," Mina said. "She was rather...wide-eyed."

"Probably shocked," I said, pretending to be amused. "Can't blame her; I'm a bit stunned myself. Don't really know how to thank you."

"Oh, that's easy," she replied. "Stay the blazes out of my drawers."

2 June 1900

Can't quite get used to being visible. Don't think the others are having an easy time getting used to it either.

Got a bit tired of just wondering, so I out and out asked Bess what she thought. Don't know what I expected her to say, but what she did say was definitely not it. "It's still you either way, so as long as you're pleased with it, that's good enough for me."

What does that mean? I can't tell if she likes it or not. And since she's one of the main reasons I went ahead and took the stuff, a straight answer would have been useful right about then.

June 1900

Right, I've had enough of this. I've got to do something.

We're both going mad here, I can see it in her face. She needs to know what I have to tell her. And I need to know if there's any chance. After dinner, then. I'm just going to march in there and find out, once and for all, what she felt - or feels - for that bastard Everett. Then maybe I'll be ready.

5 June 1900

Okay, last night was very interesting, to put it mildly.

Bumped into Sawyer on my way to her room. I didn't tell him what I was doing, but I guess he figured it out, because he wished me good luck and winked. Balmy Yank.

Anyway, got to her room and knocked, and she told me to come in. I don't think it was me she expected to see, because she looked a little surprised. I was pacing around the room a bit, not sure how to start. Almost afraid to start, really.

So I told her I wanted to talk to her about Everett. She looked a bit annoyed at that, and said, "Must we discuss him? I'd like to forget he even exists."

Most promising thing I'd heard out of her mouth in weeks. "Not a bad idea," I agreed. Then I told her a little about when I'd confronted him the day of their engagement dinner, when he'd had me tossed in the mine. She knew I'd done that, but I didn't give her much in the way of specifics. I told her how I knew something was wrong with the whole situation, how she just hadn't been herself and I wanted to know what Everett was really up to.

"I see. What did he say?"

I just have to take the blush off your English rose...

"I won't repeat it," I said. I'd started to get mad all over again just from remembering. "I knew he didn't love you, and he proved it."

"I'm aware that he didn't love me," she replied, calm as you please. That was encouraging. "What of it?"

So I asked her, flat out. "Did you love him?"

The shock on her face told me everything I needed to know. "Rodney, are you mad? Of course I didn't love him!"'

I felt better than I had in weeks, and I grinned at her, telling her I just wanted to be sure. "Couldn't have you pining for that bastard, now, could I?" But I was still a little bothered about the fact that she had liked him, and I asked her about that.

"Liked him, yes, for a time." She got up and moved over to the herbarium, near where I was standing, and started fussing with the pots. "He flattered me. I'm not used to receiving so much attention, it was nice."

Now, wait just a minute. She gets plenty of attention. "What are you on about?"

She apologised, then, and tried to explain that she's not used to men fawning over her like Everett did. "Mina might be used to that sort of thing, but I'm not." Then she sort of laughed. "I've always been a sparrow in a world full of peacocks."

I knew what she meant. I also knew she was wrong. But arguing with her would have been pointless.

"I like sparrows," I said. She sort of goggled at me then, like she didn't quite believe I'd said that. Once in a while, I do say the right thing.

But then she wanted details. How had I known, she demanded, that he didn't love her when he'd fooled just about everyone else? He had the entire town believing he worshipped the ground she walked on, but he hadn't tricked me, and she insisted on knowing why. I kept trying not to answer the question, saying that I hadn't believed it for a second, and we kept getting closer and closer to shouting at each other. Finally, when I'd said it was obvious, she exclaimed, "Only to you! How did you know what no one else knew?" And after all those weeks of waiting, I hit my breaking point at last.

"Because I love you! You think I can't tell the difference?"

Oops. Hadn't meant to do that. We stopped, and stared at each other. "What did you say?" she asked.

Good question, that. "Did I say that out loud?"

I thought she might cry, especially when she said she didn't believe me. "I'm not falling for this again," she said. She turned away like she couldn't face me. "Every time we have this conversation, it always turns out I'm dreaming."

Wait a minute...

"You've dreamed about this?" And stupid me left the ring in my room.

"My heart breaks every morning when I wake up," she muttered. I couldn't stop myself from grinning, and I took her arm and turned her so she'd look at me. Her face was so red.

"Everett said something else to me that I never forgot," I told her. "He said, 'This isn't a fairy tale, Mr. Skinner. The princess isn't going to kiss you and turn you into a prince.'" The grin on my face was getting bigger, because I'd realised there was only one good way to settle the matter. "I figure, if you're dreaming, that's exactly what should happen."

And I kissed her.

It took her a second or two before she reacted properly, and I almost expected she'd pull away and slap me. Instead, she reached up and started playing with my hair, and didn't pull away at all. I've kissed a couple women in my life, but this...this was very different. It was a bit like getting burned again, like in Mongolia with the flamethrower, only it was a different kind of burning. Not hotter, but...deeper? I don't know how to explain it, really, only that some kind of barrier seemed to have broken down between us, and the fire was consuming us both.

And then it was over, and I remembered that breathing is usually a good idea. Bess looked pretty dazed. Well, I'd kissed the princess, but I didn't seem to have turned into a prince, so I guess she wasn't dreaming. "I don't feel any different," I told her.

"You don't look any different either."

"I think, my Bess" - first time I ever called her that out loud - "that you really are awake."

I really thought she was going to cry this time, honestly. She just muttered, "Oh, thank God," and leaned forward so her head was on my chest.

Idiot, I thought, putting my arms around her, what'd you leave the ring for? Eh, no rush, I guess. Important thing is that you know now.

There'd be time enough for kneeling and whatnot later. Suddenly, we had all the time in the world.