A/N: This is the sequel to my long Beckett fanfic Ruthless. Please read that first if you have any interest in reading this one, or else you will be quite confused! For those of you who read Ruthless: thanks, and I hope you enjoy this story as much as you liked Ruthless!
The night outside was dark and still, an ominous sort of night that threatened violence to any unfortunate enough to be outside. All the houses in the black streets of London were silent, as though they were quietly attempting to escape the notice of the wrathful dark.
The Blind Beggar, however, seemed rather unconcerned with the looming onslaught. Its patrons were obnoxiously loud and boisterous, even at that impossibly late hour of the evening and even though it was a Wednesday. It was doing a steady business, filled to the brim with scum of all types, from pirates to thieves to prostitutes to beggars. It seemed as though the place would burst at the seams if one more person attempted to squeeze in.
Damarah Stovall was grateful for the crowds of people. She was doing a steady business, at last. The customers were raucous and drunk and anxious for her services, and she was more than happy to offer them – for a good price, of course. She had to make her way as much as anyone in the world, and money had been scarce for a long time. But fortunately that night her purse was heavy with coins; some sailors had just returned from a year at sea and they were more than willing to give up their hard-earned pay for some female company.
Damarah was busily seeking out her next customer, searching about the crowded dining hall, when a new person began to force his way through the crowd. She hardly noticed him beneath his tricorne hat and dark brown coat; in fact hardly anybody noticed him. He was like a slender dark shadow as he made his way through the mass of people towards the stairs, where Damarah was perched. He looked up briefly from beneath his hat and took her in, a stern expression on his face, before ducking his head again and slipping silently through the noisome lot about him. Damarah didn't see him coming towards her until he laid a hand on her shoulder. "We need to talk," he said in a low voice.
Damarah raised a hand and swung her fist towards him, but he intercepted the blow before it reached him. Damarah tensed momentarily, then relaxed and smiled when she realized who he was. "Mr. Mercer," she said, withdrawing her hand from his and pressing it to her now-heaving chest. "Bloody hell, don't you scare me like that. You coulda just called to me, you know."
Mercer nodded towards the upstairs rooms. "Are you open for business?" he questioned.
She arched a brow. "Are you interested in buying?"
His glare told her he wasn't. "It would be best if we escaped the crowd," he said flatly. "I have a… matter of some urgency to bring up with you."
Damarah nodded shortly. Under normal circumstances she would have made an even more improprietous remark at that, but it was plain that Mercer was not in the mood for it. She turned and pushed her way up the stairs, with Mercer following closely behind her.
She made her way down the hall to a small, shabby sort of room with a bed and nothing else in it, stepping inside and waiting for her client to follow. He did, kicking the door shut with a ferocity that suggested he was very angry about something. Damarah crossed her arms nervously over her chest and stared at him, waiting. "What can I do for you, Mr. Mercer?" she asked.
He leaned back against the door, tapping agitated fingers against his folded arms. He looked away from her and said quietly, "There is a… a girl. Of noble birth."
"No such girls down here recently," Damarah said, but he shot her a glare that warned her of imminent death if she should interrupt again.
"She doesn't come here," he said shortly. "Her name is Catherine Whitlock. She's to be getting married soon, to Duke Lawless. Perhaps you know of him."
"He comes down here sometimes," Damarah said with a casual shrug. "I didn't realize he was engaged."
"Well, he is," Mercer said tersely. "And the girl he's engaged to… she's pregnant."
"Oh," Damarah said, not quite understanding the significance.
"It's not his."
"Oh." Damarah tilted her head to the side. "Is Lawless the man you work for, then?"
"No!" Mercer snarled, and Damarah took a step back, holding her hands defensively in the air.
"I'm sorry," she said fearfully. "I didn't know."
Mercer drew in a deep breath to calm himself. "I know," he said, relaxing slightly. "I'm sorry, this is a… difficult situation for me." He stood there a moment longer, struggling with himself; then finally he burst out, "It's mine. The baby."
Damarah gaped at him, stunned. "It… you… the Whitlock girl… yours?" she finally managed.
Mercer winced at her tone. "Yes," he said. "And I think… at least I am concerned that Lawless may do something to harm the child."
Damarah shifted slightly, frowning. "What makes you think that?" she asked. "He's certainly no gentleman no matter his station, but I can't see him murdering a child – even if it isn't his. He agreed to marry the poor girl, didn't he?"
"She's the sole inheritor to her parents' estate," Mercer said flatly. "And they're very, very wealthy."
"Oh, is that why you -?"
Mercer was across the room so fast Damarah didn't even have time to scream. His hands closed around her throat and he stared down into her eyes with such ferocity that Damarah nearly fainted. She gurgled in fear, trying to draw in air but unable to do so. Her hands frantically clawed at the wall she was now pressed against as she kicked and struggled.
Mercer abruptly released her, and she collapsed in a heap at his feet, wheezing and gasping for breath. He was still glaring at her; she could feel the heated gaze burning through her skull. She winced and pushed herself up onto her elbows, looking up at him with terror.
He stared hatefully down at her. "No," he snarled. "That's not why, and don't you ever suggest it again. Or…" He removed his pistol from his belt, cocked it, and pointed it at her.
Damarah momentarily thought she would faint again. "Yes, sir," she said weakly, tears streaking down her cheeks.
Mercer studied her for a moment, then turned away from her in disgust and walked back across the room, sliding his pistol back into place. "I need you to do something for me."
Damarah didn't want to do anything for Mercer at the moment, but she was certain that if she refused, death would be her only reward. "Anything you ask, sir," she mumbled, moving to sit on her knees.
Mercer was still standing with his back turned to her, his hands folded behind his back. His posture was stiff, and Damarah suspected that if he hadn't been wearing gloves, she would have seen his knuckles turn white. "I'm… going to make certain Cat comes here when the baby is born," he said finally. "I… I need you to find a home for it. Take care of it, or something."
Damarah studied him quizzically. "Will you… er… be involved in raising it?" she asked.
"I can't afford to," Mercer said shortly. "It would be impossible, the way my situation stands…"
"I see." Damarah didn't look disapproving; after all, she lived her life as a prostitute. She felt she had no right to disdain anyone else's position in life. "I'll do what I can for the child. I can't guarantee a good home, of course…"
"A better home, you can," he said certainly, turning back to her with narrowed eyes.
Damarah cringed and cowered back, but forcefully summoned some shred of her courage. "Perhaps," she said with a slight shrug. She wasn't about to go to all the effort he was demanding without good money on the table. Or a gun in her face…
Mercer sighed, then removed a bag from his coat and threw it at her. She opened it and gaped its contents – pounds. Several hundred of them. "That's for finding the child a decent home," he said.
Damarah stared greedily at the money. "I know of an honest middle-class couple that are in want of a child," she said. "I'm sure they'd be willing to take the baby."
Mercer didn't smile. "I thought as much," he murmured. He paused momentarily, then continued, "I'll be away on business. I'm leaving tomorrow morning on a voyage to India. Most likely I won't be back for at least a year. A… female associate of mine will be bringing the child to you after it's born. You'll know her by her face."
"Her face?" Damarah questioned, frowning slightly.
Mercer turned away. "It's covered in scars," he said in a deadened tone. "You won't be able to miss her with a face like that." He paused by the door, glancing over his shoulder. "You will make all the necessary arrangements?"
"Of course," Damarah said with a slight curtsy. "You needn't worry."
"I don't," Mercer replied. And then he was gone in the blink of an eye, slipping unnoticed down the stairs and out the door into the night.
When Mercer returned to his master's mansion, the first thing he noticed were the lights flickering in several of the upper windows. The lights were reassuring to him, especially so since he knew they were located in Beckett's quarters. Despite the lateness of the hour, Beckett was up and about and doing something.
Mercer had a key to the door and entered with no trouble, politely nodding to Oscar Boddie, the butler, who had been staring out the window next to the door.
"Evening, Mercer," Oscar said with a short nod.
"Anything exciting happen today?" Mercer inquired.
"Oh, so much," Oscar said, rubbing his hands together gleefully. "His Lordship received a new shipment of brandy in -!"
"I'm sure that made your day," Mercer said in amusement.
"Oh, yes," Oscar said with a bright smile. "And Beckett summoned a new faerie this afternoon – a kelpie, I think. Nasty water creature. Very wicked. Drowned an annoying beggar boy and ate him, I think, which was probably to His Lordship's purpose. And the housemaid Mary got caught with one of Beckett's footmen in the stables and is out on the streets now. Her Ladyship is well pleased, as Beckett's summoned her old maid, Eleanor, to come and care for her."
Mercer nodded absently, his mind obviously elsewhere. Oscar seemed to realize his gossip was of little interest to Mercer, but there was an impish gleam in his eye – he had yet to reveal his best secret. He took on a bored tone and added, "Oh, yes, and Her Ladyship is with child."
"What?" Mercer exclaimed, suddenly paying attention again.
Oscar's face broke into a wide smile. "Delightful, isn't it?" he said, rubbing his hands together again. "His Lordship is ecstatic."
"I would imagine so," Mercer said, looking quite amazed. "I suppose I ought to go congratulate them."
"I would, were I you," Oscar said, "Which, fortunately, I am not."
Mercer didn't question the odd remark; Oscar was apt to say strange things of that variety. "Thank you for the information, Oscar," he said as he hurried up the stairs. "Enjoy your nightly spying."
"Oh, I always do," Oscar said with an evil little cackle.
Mercer took the stairs two at a time and strode rapidly down the hall to Beckett's quarters. The door was closed, but Mercer could hear voices within. He turned the knob and stepped inside the warmly lit room, closing the door firmly behind him.
Beckett and Victoria were sitting in Beckett's private parlor, just at the front of his quarters. Beckett was sitting on a couch towards the right wall of the room, and Victoria was lying serenely on the same couch with her head in his lap. Beckett was down to his shirtsleeves, his frock coat thrown idly over a chair at another corner of the room; Victoria was in her shift and her blonde hair was loose, some it hanging over her scar-covered face. They both glanced up at Mercer as he entered and closed the door.
"Is Oscar at his usual post?" Beckett inquired, running his fingers through Victoria's hair and then circling a curl about his finger.
"As always," Mercer said with a short nod.
Beckett looked slightly crestfallen. "Then I suppose you've already heard," he said.
"I have." Mercer looked down at Victoria and smiled. "Congratulations, Lady Beckett."
She smiled happily, her scars on her face shifting across her flesh. Her fingers lightly moved to touch her lower belly, an almost protective gesture. "Thank you," she said. She glanced up at Beckett and said firmly, "It's a girl."
"It's a boy," Beckett said certainly.
"It isn't," Victoria said, settling her cheek against Beckett's thigh. "It's a girl, and I'll laugh when you're wrong."
"I won't be wrong," Beckett retorted. "I never am, am I?"
"You've been wrong about a lot of things," Victoria informed him. "This is just another one to add to the list."
"He's my baby."
"She's my baby too, and she's inside my body, not yours," Victoria fired back.
"Touché, my dear," Beckett said with a laugh. He glanced up at Mercer. "I trust everything went according to plan?"
"Yes, sir," Mercer said with a nod. "Damarah will do almost anything for money – as proven by her occupation."
"Don't blame her for her lot in life," Victoria said reproachfully. "If you had no other way to survive, I'm sure you'd turn to such low means as prostitution too."
"I don't imagine many people would leap at the opportunity to bed me," Mercer said dryly, "So that would seem an unlikely venue for money-making."
"For you, at least," Victoria chuckled. "It seems more likely that you'd hire yourself out to kill bothersome people."
"How very astute of you," Mercer said with a grin; "That's exactly what I used to do."
"Why am I not surprised?" Victoria said, rolling her eyes. She let them flutter closed and ran a hand over Beckett's knee. "What should we name her?" she asked.
"Alexander," Beckett answered instantly.
"That's a boy's name," Victoria said with a frown.
"Exactly my point, precious."
"It's not a boy," Victoria said crossly. "It's a girl, and if you want to name her Alexander so badly then we can call her Alexandra."
"No, we can't," Beckett said, "Because I want my son to be named Alexander. Having a daughter named Alexandra and a son named Alexander just doesn't seem wise."
"So you admit to the possibility that you may be wrong about the child's sex?" Victoria said slyly.
"No, I expect that someday I will have a daughter as well as a son, although all sons would be preferable, and so naming one of said future daughters Alexandra is out of the question," Beckett replied, tugging on Victoria's hair just to irritate her.
"Stop it," she said impatiently, reaching up and catching his hand in hers. She pulled his arm down over her shoulder and held his fingers loosely, relaxing again. "Fine, we won't call her Alexandra. What about Helena?"
"For whenever you happen to give me a daughter, I think that would be suitable."
"I'm carrying your daughter right now," Victoria said.
"You're not," Beckett said smugly.
Victoria glanced in exasperation at Mercer. "Mercer, tell him to shut up, will you?" she asked.
"Mmmm…" Mercer pretended to ponder for a moment, then grinned and shook his head. "No."
"Miserable little whore's kitling," Victoria grumbled.
"Don't insult him just because I'm right," Beckett said, smirking widely at her.
She glared up at her husband. "Dandyprat," she said spitefully.
The smirk evaporated and Beckett snarled slightly. "I hate that term," he grumbled.
"That would be why I used it," Victoria said with a bright laugh. She sat up and stretched lazily. "I suppose baby and I should go to bed," she said, laying a hand over her belly. "We need our rest, after all."
"I suppose you should," Beckett agreed. He caught her wrist as she made to stand and tugged her back down to him, kissing her with such intensity that Mercer turned around and stared very intently at a painting on the opposite wall. Beckett released her after a few moments and murmured, "Good night, love," before she turned and floated out of the room.
Beckett was still staring after her when Mercer turned around again. Mercer was hesitant to interrupt Beckett's thoughts, but he was tired and had much to do still. Finally he said, "The ship's ready to leave tomorrow morning."
Beckett glanced sharply at his minion. "Good," he said after a pause, sitting up straighter and looking every inch the businessman again. "It's a pity you couldn't be here for the purchase of Morgan's Book. I'd almost like you to stay, just to ensure it makes its way to me properly."
"We can't delay any longer, sir," Mercer warned. "The Redemption is far ahead of us by now. They may already have reached their destination. We can't afford to waste any more time if we're to catch them."
Beckett nodded. "You're the best I have, Mercer," he said, glancing up at the clerk. "I know you'll find them."
Mercer nodded shortly in acceptance of the compliment. "Is there anything you'd like me to do before I go, sir?" he asked.
"No, I don't believe so," Beckett said, glancing towards his bedroom. "Finish your preparations for tomorrow." He paused. "You've talked with Lieutenant Savage then?"
"I have. I think I'll enjoy working with him." Mercer paused. "He's very… ruthless, I gather."
Beckett chuckled. "He is indeed," he said. "It's ironic; most of his family is very well behaved. His sisters are charming women, for one. But not him…" Beckett shook his head and grinned mercilessly. "I think he'll be perfect for the job," he said. "He'll be certain to catch up with the Redemption, and he won't be squeamish about their execution, either."
Mercer nodded. "They will all be eliminated, sir." He tilted his head slightly to the side as he studied his master. "This… treasure, sir. The Hand. Do you think it's dangerous?"
"I don't know; that's why I need you to bring it back." Beckett stood, glancing towards his bedroom.
Mercer followed his gaze with amusement. "I'm sorry, sir; I'm keeping you from your bed."
Beckett quashed a smile. "It was a busy day; I'm rather… exhausted," he said, quirking a brow.
Mercer snorted. "I'm sure that's why you're so anxious to retire," he said sardonically. "I'll leave you for the night. Will you be awake in the morning when I leave?"
"Most likely, but I don't know that I'll be about yet."
Mercer nodded. "Very well, sir. Then this is good-bye for now."
Beckett glanced at him and studied him carefully. "Bring me back that treasure," he ordered. "And the informant Bussiere, too, if you think he'll be useful. Destroy the others. And if you happen to find Sparrow…"
"I'll bring him back for you, too," Mercer promised darkly.
Beckett's hands clenched momentarily into fists; then he recovered, turning coolly away from his clerk. "I'll see you upon your return, then," he said aloofly.
Mercer bowed slightly in acknowledgement; when he rose, Beckett was already closing the door to his office behind him.
Two months. Two months since Victoria's return to London; two months since Mercer's decision to hunt down the Redemption; two months since life had fallen back into a relatively normal pattern.
Two months, and no word yet on Morgan's Book.
Beckett slipped into his bedroom, preoccupied with thoughts of the aforementioned Book and its increasing importance in his life. With a child on the way – a son, he assured himself – it was even more important for him to learn Morgan's magic and rid his wife of the marks left upon her. Victoria had certainly been behaving valiantly, and perhaps she had grown used to the scars by now. Beckett certainly had adjusted to them, to the point that they had simply become part of her face. But he wanted to introduce his son to the aristocracy, and the aristocracy would be expecting to see the mother as well as the boy.
He frowned as he removed his waistcoat and tossed it over a chair. Still no word from Thompson, and yet he was supposed to have returned already. If Mercer was staying in England, then Beckett would have sent him after the apparently wayward merchant – but no, Mercer had another task on his hands, one greater and potentially more important even than that of finding and learning to use Morgan's book.
He jumped a little when Victoria slid her arms around his waist and laid her head on his shoulder. "Where are you, my Lord?" she murmured, planting a kiss just below his ear. "Come back to me…"
He smiled, glancing over his shoulder at her and lightly kissing her forehead. "I was thinking about our son," he told her. "And Morgan's Book, and the Hand…"
"Hmm." Victoria stepped back and carefully removed Beckett's wig, setting it on its stand nearby Beckett's wardrobe. "A good deal to have on your mind just before bed."
"Our situation, my pet, is a very complex one." He turned to her and kissed her before she could object to being called 'pet.' "If Thompson doesn't return with the Book soon, I may go after him myself," he said ominously.
"As long as you take me with you."
"I can't," Beckett said. "Not now."
"Why not?" Victoria asked indignantly.
Beckett glanced significantly at her lower abdomen. "I don't believe Alexander would approve," he said.
"I'm sure Helena is fine with it," Victoria replied, crossing her arms over her chest.
"Out of the question," Beckett said flatly. "You'll be sick, we'll constantly be in danger, and you and my son will be the most vulnerable of us all."
"So you'll leave me here alone and undefended despite my vulnerability?" Victoria fired back.
Beckett lightly touched her cheek. "I don't have plans to go after him yet," he said, "So let's not maul each other to death based on what may or may not happen."
Victoria chuckled. "I can accept that," she said. She looked thoughtful. "You know, I don't think she should be named Helena," she said finally.
"No?" Beckett wrapped his arms around her waist and started to kiss her neck. "Since he'll be named Alexander, that shouldn't be a problem."
Victoria huffed irritably. "Pretend for one second that I might be right," she ordered. "I think… I want to name her Perthina."
Beckett jerked back. "No," he said forcefully.
"Yes," Victoria said stubbornly. "The poor girl deserves some kind of monument to her memory."
"And that monument is not going to be my daughter," Beckett said harshly.
"I want to remember her."
"I don't," Beckett said angrily, turning away. He drew in several deep breaths and then said, in a considerably lighter tone, "It doesn't matter anyway, because the baby is a boy."
"You're impossible," Victoria said, but fondly. Apparently she thought it wise to drop the subject, because she reached out, laid a hand on his shoulder, and said reassuringly, "I'm sure Thompson will be back soon with the Book."
Beckett turned to her with a nasty glower. "He'd better, or there'll be hell to pay," he said. He glanced at her, and the look softened. "You should be sleeping, my Lady," he said, lightly stroking her cheek.
Victoria quirked an eyebrow at him. "Was that your plan for the night, sir?" she questioned impertinently. "Or did you have… other ideas?"
Beckett, characteristically, smirked. He caught her around the waist and breathed in her ear, "Why don't I show you…?"