Strictly by appointment only. He didn't have an appointment, but he knew this was too important for formalities.
"Agent Hopkins?" The bell above the door tinkled sweetly as the young man entered the fashionable boutique, cloaked in dreary tweed to avoid attention.
"You know I don't answer to that anymore, dearie." A sigh and a dismissive wave of a lace-gloved hand like one might shoo a fly. "It's just 'Miss' Nina Hopkins now. No one's called me 'Agent' in years!" Said Nina Hopkins looked the young man over before ushering him in and turning the 'closed' sign to face the outside.
"You're that Honours graduate, aren't you dear?" She looked him over once more, mild amusement on her lips. "The one that stiff Officer Spears is so proud of; Humphries, isn't it?"
"Alan Humphries, ma'am." Alan nodded, rubbing his arm self-consciously when she continued to scrutinize him.
"You do know I resigned about a century and a half ago?" Nina asked slowly. Alan nodded once more. "I'm no longer connected to the Division. I'm a fashion designer, not a Reaper."
"I know, ma'am. I- I came to ask for your help." He felt his cheeks flush at the mere thought of saying the next words aloud. "I need a dress."
"I never pinned you down as being one like Grell." She hummed thoughtfully, finger curled at her chin. "And I'll have you know I have a six-month waiting list. Past Reaper or not, I'm not exactly a fairy godmother."
"I can't wait that long!" Alan blurted, expression desperate. "I have to attend the Viscount's ball tonight and stop Eric!"
"The Viscount's Ball?" Nina blinked. "The Viscount Druitt? Alastair? Now that does make things more interesting. I designed the young Earl's dress for a past ball with the Viscount- what is it with you lot and your need for womanly disguises, hm?" She laughed softly, brushing past Alan to fetch a large folder.
"Pink brocade, white silk and black velvet ribbons. It was a masterpiece!" Nina cried, thrusting the open folder at him and proudly pointing at the dress design complete with fabric scraps pinned to the drawing. "And what of you, darling? I don't usually care for anyone over the age of 15 unless they're a beautiful woman." Alan swallowed thickly.
"I- I don't know anything about this, Miss Hopkins." The truth, plain and simple. "I just need a dress so I can attend the ball in disguise and find Eric."
"Who's Eric? Your lover?" She tilted her head curiously.
"No! It isn't like that!" Alan replied all too quickly, cheeks never having lost their rosiness.
"But you want it to be, don't you?" The woman smiled, her bright green eyes mischievous behind those spectacles. "Well. I don't do this for just anyone, but a dash of drama and passion wins me over. Strip!"
A moment later she was shucking Alan's uniform off with frightening haste, Alan too shocked to move since his mind had yet to catch on. When her hands tugged at the hem of his undershirt, ready to whip it up over his head, he pushed her away forcefully.
"NO!" He crossed his arms over himself. "Don't take this off!"
"Don't be absurd Alan." Nina scolded, hands on her hips. "I need to measure you and to do that you need to be wearing nothing on top." With a sharp yank she forced the thin garment off him, his glasses catching in the fabric and clattering to the ground. The undershirt soon followed, Nina dropping it in alarm.
"What is that all over your chest?" She peered in close, fascinated with the curling thorn-like tattoos radiating away from a central spot on his chest. Alan placed his hand over his heart.
"This is why I have to find Eric, Miss Hopkins."
Her expression softened for a moment, a look of both kindness and pity in her eyes as she surveyed the petite Reaper before her. Sickly ivory skin, chocolate brown hair and bright green eyes- he looked more like a boy than a man. That was just her type. With a sly grin she nodded to herself. Yes, she knew exactly what he needed.
"20 inches, cotton twill and silk, whalebone with steel grommets." Nina declared, opening a trunk and beginning to throw out rolled-up corsets one after the other. "No. Nope. Not this either. No. No. N-Aha!" Triumphantly she brandished a russet coloured corset with gold strips. Alan took a step back.
"Is a corset truly necessary, Miss Hopkins?" He asked nervously, eying the garment in her hand. "I just need a dress, I don't need a-"
"Nonsense! You cannot build a castle without the right foundations!" She cried, bustling past him and pulling a lace-trimmed cotton chemise from a shelf. "Put this on and then let me lock you in." Her smile, Alan decided, was a frightening thing to behold. It was akin to the look a cat gave itself when it knew the prey it stalked was all for the taking. The poor victim would not have time to react, falling prey to the cat in a flash-
And that was how Alan found his face pushed into a pillow, hands gripping the edge of a chaise lounge for dear life. A knee was pressed into the small of his back as sturdy cords were yanked to tighten what he now believed to be a crude torture device disguised as an undergarment.
"M-Miss Hopk-kins!" Alan gasped, trying to breathe as best he could.
"Almost there!" She sang gleefully. Oh this Alan fellow was utterly delightful! He was like a waifish little catamite from times long gone or perhaps a marble sculpture of a young God by a lovestruck mortal.
Tying the now drooping cords into a tight knot, she quickly wrapped a tape measure around his waist before clapping her hands.
"Perfect! Exactly 20 inches! Now for the dress!" Nina vanished into the back of the boutique, leaving Alan alone. He flopped onto his back, dazed and out of breath. He could barely focus on the ceiling above him- probably due to the fact his glasses were folded neatly and tucked into Nina's breast pocket for safekeeping. His ribs hurt and his chest ached in the corset, his head swimming from what he guessed was lack of oxygen. Black spots dotted his vision for a moment or two, and he fancied himself swooning.
Jerked back to attention at warm hands on his ankles, he sat upright immediately.
"Oh relax. They're just stockings, dearie." Nina stated as she carefully inched delicate silk up the curve of Alan's calf. "You don't have any hair on your legs. Grell would kill for that- as would all women." She laughed, patting his knee once she had secured the stocking with a garter.
"I'm-" he felt almost ashamed to admit it, "I'm not really old enough to have grown much body hair, Miss Hopkins. And I think the medicine I take doesn't let me."
"I think you're my favourite customer to date, darling." Nina laughed, sliding the other stocking over his right leg. "You're such a pretty little thing." Fine silk heels were slipped over his feet, Alan silently pondering how she knew his shoe-size by sight alone.
"Now up you get, I found you the most perfect dress." She held out a gown proudly, the material a soft cream with painted golden chains and roses with curling thorns. The black humour was not lost on Alan, who managed a small smile.
"I'm in the midst of finishing this gown for a client, but the lady is over in Paris for a few months. I'll lend it to you and no one will be the wiser." Before she put the dress over him, she secured a curious metal half-cage over his behind and buried it under three petticoats with the gown then finally resting atop it all. Alan wondered how on earth women could stand wearing so many constrictive layers. Even the female Reaper uniform was not this complicated- probably much to the relief of his female counterparts.
Despite his protests a wig was set atop his head along with a decorative headdress. Some sort of rose-coloured powder was dusted over his cheeks, and a burnt matchstick was dragged over his brows and eyelids. A curious creation of coloured beeswax was smeared on his lips before Nina shepherded him towards a dias half surrounded by tall mirrors.
"You make a fine lady, Agent Alan Humphries. Even prettier than Grell, I daresay." She beamed proudly, hands on his now tiny waist. "And much better than some ladies I've worked with." Finally handing him back his glasses, Alan replaced the spectacles over his eyes.
"What do you think, my dear Alan?"
Soft brown hair in loose curls framed a delicate face with an English Rose complexion, the owner staring in disbelief. Painted lips parted slightly, defined brows raised in surprise.
"I-is that me?" Alan asked in a hushed voice, reaching out to touch the mirror surface before touching his own cheek. "I cannot recognize myself."
"And neither will anyone at the ball, I suspect." Nina added with a firm nod. "Now off to the ball with you, Cinders." She teased, draping a heavy velvet mantle around his shoulders.
"Thank you for all your help, Miss Hopkins." Alan bowed respectfully- or at least tried to until he realized he could only lean forward ever so slightly. The fashionable ex-Reaper laughed gleefully, clapping her hands once.
"Oh no, thank you my dear. I've been a Reaper, a designer and a seamstress- but I've never been a fairy godmother!" She placed a folded bag in his hands, containing his now folded uniform and neat shoes. Alan cradled them close, stepping out of the boutique and noting the sun was but a sliver amidst the embers on the horizon. He turned to the dressmaker, nodding respectfully once more. Nina only laughed, shooing him away.
"Now go find your Prince Charming before the clock strikes twelve, little Cinders."
Nina Hopkins is written here as an ex-Reaper. This came about amongst RP partners due to her intense dislike for Sebastian, her use of glasses, her rather superhuman speed in sewing and her fascination with interesting souls- namely Ciel.
Unfortunately doesn't allow me to code links so please find this fic in my writing journal (in my profile) for the full visual experience. Or something like that.
Thank you for reading!