.X.

"I'm pregnant."

There was nothing else Constance could have said with more impact than those two words. She watched Aloysius as she uttered them, observing with an almost clinical detachment how his pale, cool eyes widened only slightly and how the muscles of his jaw suddenly tightened, bringing into relief the faint lines of age around the corners of his eyes and mouth. To anyone else the change in his expression would have been imperceptible, but Constance knew him well enough to know he was stunned by her news. She glanced away then, feeling a small surge of bitter, resentful triumph at the fact she'd shocked him so, hating that she felt it but unable to stop from feeling it all the same.

The silence that fell then was so heavily poignant that she half expected to see the abrupt tension manifest itself physically in the air between them. Her gaze was transfixed on the flowers she clutched tightly in her hands—fragrant yellow Arnicas mixed with the small cluster of white buds of the Labrador Tea. One heartbeat passed followed by another and then another until he spoke.

"You're sure?"

Again, to anybody else the change in his languid, precise drawl would have been undetectable; she heard and recognized the underlying notes of astonishment, of regret, of a myriad of other things her words had brought upon him. Not looking at him, not wanting to see whatever it was that she was sure now lurked in his eyes she nodded her head once, brusquely.

"Constance." He said, and he gave great, uncharacteristic heaviness to that one word. "It may be too soon—"

"It's not." She told him, and was unsuccessful in keeping the irritation and the anger from her tone. She shook her head then, feeling as though she existed beneath a thick blanket that made life surreal; she was not the Constance she had been only weeks ago, nor was she the Constance she had been for so many years before that, existing in the dark solitude with only her memories. She was another woman, another person, irreversibly made so by a man she'd thought she'd quickly grown to love and even more swiftly grown to hate. Whatever innocence she'd had was now tainted, stained, lost; all that was left behind was this shell, this body that drifted in a realm of hopelessness and bitter remorse.

At her side, she heard Aloysius take a deep, steadying breath. "Why did you say nothing?" He said, and it seemed he'd regained control once more.

"It was not important. Not then." She didn't bother to elaborate, riding the unfamiliar urge to be mulishly laconic. He knew what she spoke of, regardless, and it was the truth—it hadn't seemed important then because she had existed only to mete out proper castigation upon the one who had intruded upon her world and then completely and irrevocably shattered it. It was only in the aftermath, when she was alive and the transgressor no longer, that her thoughts began to dwell on the ultimate ramifications of what she had done and the consequences that were a possibility. Her fall from grace—and such a distortion of grace it had been!—had been wrought by not only Diogenes' hand, but by her own. Her own uncertainties had driven her to welcome someone who seemed to know her better than she knew herself, and that was such a thing she had once thought impossible; even Aloysius, with his own considerable sagacity, had been unable to comprehend what truly made Constance what she was. Older than her appearance, possessing such wisdoms as she wish she never had, she had seen in Diogenes something that she thought never to see—similarities. Different though they were they both had their secrets, the dark truths that they carried with them that they were ever unable to forget, the very elements of why they were the way they were. And it had been such a relief to find at long last understanding, complete and total recognition, within another human being—

And then had come her surrender, and with it her absolute shame. Part of her penance was paid; Diogenes was no longer among the living …

Aloysius spoke again. "And after?"

"I wanted to be positive."

"And now you are." There was grim finality in those few words, and she turned her eyes back to him. He was himself again, inscrutable and a little enigmatic, tall and slender and clad, as he almost ever was, in an ebony suit of the finest cut and finest material. He was a study in contrasts—white blonde hair, pallid skin and blue eyes that were almost achromatic in their paleness clashing against the soberness and severity of his clothing. His associate Vincent D'Agosta remarked often that Aloysius resembled an undertaker taken straight from horror stories and films more than an actual agent of the FBI. Constance, now having seen fashion beyond the walls of the mansion on 891 Riverside Drive, found herself inclined to agree.

She smiled at him, and it wasn't a happy smile. "And now I am," she confirmed softly.

He watched her in silence for a long moment; she stared back unblinking, watching to see if perhaps she catch a glimmer of his thoughts in his eyes or in the shifting of his expression. It was an unsuccessful attempt. He said, "You should have told me."

She shook her head again, an abrupt and negative movement. "Told you I carry the child of your late brother? The brother who attempted to murder all those close to you, the brother who framed you, the brother whose insanity and malice rivals that of any murderer the world has ever seen? No, Aloysius. How could I tell you when I wanted so badly to deny it myself?" She glanced down at her hands to find the flowers crushed by her white-knuckled grip; as she slowly opened her clenched fingers the stems and petals fluttered the ground. "It is my utter shame, do you understand? To have this thing within me, this essence that is partially his and partially my own—I did not want to think of it then. I do not want to think of it now."

Aloysius said, "Whatever you decide, Constance, we will—"

She interrupted him again, realizing she'd done so more in the last five minutes than she had during the entire time she'd known him, "Not we. I. This is my sin."

"He was my brother. And I made him what he was."

"I do not think you did." She told him softly, eyes still on the mingled white and yellow petals that lay scattered about her feet. "I believe Diogenes was twisted and warped from the day he was born. But that is no longer here nor there." She shifted slightly, turning so that she could see the Lady Maskalene seated some distance away, her attention on something other than the two who stood at the edge of her estate garden. "You are not the one who drove me to do what I did. And I have come to realize the world beyond the walls I knew for so long is not so frightening and alien as I once thought it was. I need to learn to fend for myself, and that is not something I can do as your ward."

There was no reply for a time; she gazed out over Lady Maskalene's estate, aware that all the while Aloysius was regarding her intently. Finally he asked, "What will you decide?"

Ah, there it was. The question she'd so been fearing, the question she herself was terrified of answering. "I do not know," she said, feeling a tightness in her throat brought on by despair and trepidation. There was more silence, and unable to bear it she said suddenly, "Lady Maskalene is waiting for you, Aloysius. Do not keep her waiting on my behalf."

No argument, no hesitation—only a slow nod. "This is a discussion, Constance, we will continue."

"Of course." Her smile was not pleasant. She turned from him first, resuming her slow perimeter of the large and colorful gardens, knowing he would watch after her before returning to Viola Maskalene. He thought of her still as fragile, a being kept together by thin strands of determination that would, at the smallest provocation, unravel and leave her a tangled and broken mess. What he didn't understand was that everything had already unraveled, and her world had already fallen apart. And yet here she was, still whole. She was stronger than he thought, but in the end would she have to prove it to him?

She came to a halt in front of a small, individual flower bed. The plant growing here was large, the stems with vibrant purple flowers arranged on spikes standing almost as tall as she. She observed the thick stem, the thick and pinnately veined and organized leaves, the flowers themselves comprised of five sepals. Her mind, wheeling through vast volumes of stored knowledge, reached an identification: Delphinium glaucum, Tall Larkspur, native to North America. Of their own volition her hand lifted, her fingers brushing lightly over the leaves, plucking one of the flowers from the stem and lifting it for inspection. She wondered almost idly if the Lady Maskalene knew this plant was highly poisonous. A glance over her shoulder revealed that Aloysius had again seated himself at the Lady's side, and the two were engaged in deep conversation, attentions fixed only on each other. For someone so awkward with exchanges of affection—nay, human contact itself—Aloysius did not seem to mind the Lady laying her hand upon his own …

Constance smiled faintly, letting the flower drop from her fingers before beginning to walk again. And as she walked a physical path, she walked down others within her mind, discarding ideas and discovering notions, attempting to find within them all a course of action to take her through this new and terrifying reality she found herself in.

.X.