Obligatory warning: I own nothing. Kim and Richard Merril belong to Patricia C. Wrede.
This scene is actually one of my favorites to imagine from Mairelon's again.
More or less a continuation of the previous chapter. Enjoy! (And review! 3)
The awkward, rather tense silence that followed was quickly interrupted, much to Richard's relief. And discussing the robbery – however confusing it was – certainly was a welcome relief, working with Kim as a team again.
"Oh, and that reminds me – Kim, what do you intend to do about that button?" He asked her when it once again occurred to him to ask.
"Button?" She blinked, looking momentarily lost. "You mean, the one Tom Correy sent?"
"Yes, of course. You said it was a sort of summons. Do you want to go?"
Kim blinked again, as if he'd said something ridiculous. "Tom wouldn't ask me to come if it wasn't important. Of course I'm going, if I can figure out how."
Now it was Richard's turn to look at her in mild surprise. How was easy. They'd done much more reckless things in the past than visit someone that had invited them. "We'll take the coach. Aunt Agatha won't need it; when I left she was talking about having a spasm, and that generally occupies her for at least a day. Up High Holborn to Threadneedle, isn't it?"
"That's not what I meant," Kim said, but she was smiling at him in an exasperated manner, like she was amused in spite of herself. "I meant…" She gestured to herself. Richard focused his eyes on her and took in for the first time that she had been rather fashionably turned out for the afternoon's disastrous tea. She looked quite well, he thought, but he understood the problem instantly.
He nodded. "Yes, I see. You can't very well go wandering about the London back streets dressed like that, no matter what time of day it is." Another thought caught up with him. "Particularly if Correy still thinks you're a boy."
"That's it," Kim said, sounding relieved.
"Hunch," he continued to his manservant, who had been silently in the background throughout most of the present exchange, "do you think you can find a suitable set of boy's clothes? Something a bit better than what she had when we met, but not fine enough to attract attention."
"And loose," Kim put in, and sighed. "I hope it works. I wouldn't fool a blind man in broad daylight, but I might still be able to pass for a boy at night."
"Nonsense. You won't have any trouble at all." Richard said, conveniently forgetting that he had believed her to be a boy for less than a minute, when they had first met. Kim looked at him as if he had suddenly sprouted another head and she was part amused and part disconcerted by it all.
However, it was Hunch who spoke up unexpectedly. "She's right, Master Richard. Look at 'er. She ain't skinny enough no more."
He gave Hunch a startled glance, still having not expected him to have said anything on the matter, or to notice anything relating to Kim that he might not know. Then, he obligingly turned to his ward to consider her carefully. It took a moment before he realized that what Hunch meant was not that Kim had put on weight, so to speak. Rather that she had filled in as, well, as a woman. How had he missed that? He thought with some chagrin; the curves were plenty obvious now that he'd had them pointed out. And he'd told her she looked like a boy, more or less.
"I… see. I apologize, Kim." He realized he was looking at her altogether too long and turned himself back to Hunch. "Do as well as you can, Hunch."
"Cook might 'ave somethin' from the last errand boy," Hunch replied. "I'll check."
"Don't forget something equally disreputable for me," Richard called after him as he left to do as he said.
He found Kim staring at him again. "You expect to come with me?"
That was a question? "I am your guardian," he pointed out. Furthermore, he was her partner for this sort of thing.
Oblivious to that thought, Kim's face settled back into its earlier scowl of annoyance. "If that means that I get no say in anything I do, I'd rather go back to the streets," she said heatedly.
Richard stared at her, momentarily stunned beyond words. That was the last, the very last, thing he'd ever expected to hear from Kim, and equally unexpected was how much it hurt. He knew she hadn't been entirely happy back in London, but he didn't think it had been that bad. And they'd had one argument, one misunderstanding regarding a come-out that was no longer occurring. She couldn't really be so angry with him, not to do something like that, not after everything.
"You don't mean that," he said at last, sounding about as confident as he felt.
"Not yet," she allowed, somewhat reluctantly. "But even Mother Tibb asked what we thought of a job before she sent us out."
Again with the problem of asking. Was that all that was bothering her? If he had to ask her opinion about anything that concerned her, he saw no reason why not. It was slightly relieving that this was something he could fix. "You said you wanted to go," he pointed out after a moment.
"I do," Kim said. "But I don't think you should come with me."
Richard tensed again, "Why not?"
"I'll have a harder time with Tom if you do. He won't be expecting no toffs, just me. If you show up, even dressed like a dustman, he'll muffle his clapper and I won't find out a thing."
Of course that was a perfectly legitimate argument and was enough for him to understand that she was probably right. Perhaps it was his earlier reminder that Kim was, in fact, a young woman that had him feeling a little more protective of her.
"You can't go to that end of town alone."
"Why not? I lived there alone, for five years after Mother Tibb swung."
"But you haven't been on the streets for a year." Richard argued. "You're out of practice."
"You're more out of practice than I am," Kim retorted. "Especially seeing as you weren't ever in practice. I've got a better chance of not getting caught if I go alone."
Hunch chose that time to enter the library again, carrying a large bundle of clothing. Richard gave him only enough attention to direct him to the table before raiding his eyebrows at his ward. "Not in practice? While you were living on the back streets, I was nosing about in France, if you recall."
Kim sniffed. It seemed her way of knowing someone was right but not being willing to admit to it. "France ain't London."
Hunch choked at that, reminding the pair of them of his presence in the room. Kim took her glare off Richard for a moment to glare at him. "Well, it ain't."
"Isn't, Kim." Richard said, mildly enough. That got the now-exasperated glare turned back to him.
"Ain't," she repeated, with a stubborn firmness. "I got to talk to Tom tonight; if I sound too flash he ain't going to be comfortable."
Again, a reasonable enough point. She was good at that. "Very well. Just don't slip in front of Aunt Agatha, for I won't be responsible for the consequences."
Kim nodded. "I won't. But you still ain't coming with me."
Richard was rather sure Kim was the person closest to himself when it came to stubbornness, and in this case that was not entirely good. He sighed, "Kim–"
She cut him off, "If you try, I won't go. And Tom won't talk to you alone, whatever he's got to say. If he's meant for you to come, he's have let us know somehow."
Her face was set, looking entirely defiant. Richard suppressed another sigh; this was Kim and for all her being dressed up like a docile young lady she was just as strong-willed as she ever was, and she wasn't going to back down.
He nodded at last, however reluctantly. "If you're determined. But I still don't like the idea of you crossing half of London on your own at that hour. Hunch and I will take you up High Holborn in the carriage."
Kim scoffed, "That's going to be inconspicuous for sure. Me, pulling up at Tom's door in a coach at midnight."
"Much as I'd like to do just that, I hadn't planned on it. I have done this sort of thing before, you know. We'll wait at the bottom of Threadneedle Street or somewhere nearby if you can think of a better place."
There was pause, and Richard half expected her to refuse or argue again. But she finally nodded, looking just about as reluctant as he had. He had to admit some disappointment – having briefly hoped to relive their previous adventures. But her points were well made, and in the mood she was in, he was lucky she had agreed to what she had. Biting down another sigh, he instructed her to try on the clothes Hunch and preparing for the night's event.
And it's my favorite moment. Not the argument really... the Mairelon realizing "Oh my God, Kim's a GIRL." I always get a giggle out of reading that.
Anyways, I had fun with this little ficlet. If you liked it, do let me know! I might consider continuing it with other scenes if you so wish. Thanks ever so much! :D