The more I write about Tallowe, the more elaborate their world becomes. This fic spurred from the simple idea of Talbot breaking his arm... and I kinda built it from there. It also introduces one of our OC's, who functions as Talbot's doctor every time he gets the piss beat out of him. So yeah... it's a different kind of fic because it bounces around a bit, but I hope you like? Again, this is young Talbot in his mid-twenties... and Marlowe in her 40's, so near the beginning of them truly getting to know each other. This happens right before my fic "Research." As always, your feedback is greatly appreciated :)
Regarding himself in the intricately carved mirror situated in the corner of his room, Talbot scowled at his own reflection. It had taken him far longer than he'd ever admit to get himself looking somewhat decent, as he was still growing used to relying upon a single arm for actions that typically required two.
With a sigh of exasperation, he carefully fastened the sling around his neck and across his chest, supporting his broken arm and keeping it hugged tightly to his body. His brown hair fell forward across his forehead, unkempt and not yet styled... and the 5:00 shadow accenting his jawline was itchy, as he hadn't yet mustered up the courage to attempt shaving. Talbot wondered if it was even worth it at this point and briefly relived just how much of an ordeal the simple act of getting dressed was.
His pants had gone on without too much trouble, but his button-up shirt was awkward as he tugged it over the thickness of his arm cast. Talbot had to roll his sleeve up to the elbow so as not to interfere with his sling... and his red tie was left hanging loosely around his shoulders.
Next was his vest, which was a bit of a chore buttoning with only one hand. Being ambidextrous, Talbot supposed that he was better off than most... but like anything else, it was going to take some getting used to.
When at last he stood before the mirror, gauging his appearance and tugging at his tie, Talbot's frustration had gotten the best of him. A growl escaped his lips as he attempted to single-handedly put a knot in his tie and gave up after a couple of tries.
Sometimes, things didn't always go as planned... and he was still learning to live with the consequences of a job gone awry. Such things were much easier said than done...
Two days ago, Talbot was standing in a dingy pub in downtown London, overseeing a business transaction as Marlowe's personal bodyguard. A certain antiquities dealer had requested a face-to-face meeting and so they had arranged it to be somewhere public in case things took a turn for the worse.
He had never liked the city much, preferring the more secluded countryside of Marlowe's estate. Prior to their recent involvement, Talbot hadn't seen much in the line of business alongside her. He'd been on several out of country jobs, but they mostly occupied themselves with separate missions... and so he was absolutely determined to do his very best. He took great pride in Marlowe's trust in him, as he knew that it was something that didn't come easily.
The pub was dimly lit by the antique, and rather unsightly, lights that hung from the ceiling. Chatter from the bar patrons was audible in the background, accompanied by the clinking of glasses... and music sounded from the jukebox in the corner… some old, twangy tune that Talbot wasn't familiar with. Though it was preferable to the wet and rainy atmosphere outside of the pub's walls, Talbot simply didn't feel comfortable in the place.
Cigarette smoke hung heavily in the air, stinging at Talbot's nose. He stood, gaze steely and arms crossed, his widened stance creating the illusion of an imposing bodyguard. Or at least, that's what he hoped as he remained vigilant by Marlowe's side as they stood in the corner of the room closest to the bar.
Their business partners certainly looked the part of the shady, underground dealers. Their leader, an older gentleman with graying hair and dressed in a suit, was at the forefront of the group, flanked by two gruff-looking bodyguards in street clothes. Talbot eyed them warily, watching for any quick movements as he tuned back into the conversation, listening to Marlowe's velvety voice.
"Now, about the terms of our transaction..."
"We would like to propose a greater sum of money in exchange for the artifact," the front man said.
Though her features remained calm, Talbot saw the corner of Marlowe's mouth twitch ever so slightly. She leaned her weight onto one hip, resting her palms atop the curve of her umbrella's handle which was propped between her feet. "How much more?"
Talbot waited for a response with a single eyebrow raised, his gaze never leaving the pack leader's face.
"At least another hundred thousand."
Marlowe's nails were suddenly rapping against her umbrella.
"I believe the sum that we've offered is quite sufficient," she said. Her fair brow was furrowed, giving her a stern countenance. "What you're proposing is absolutely ridiculous for such a piece of shit."
The man seemed to bristle, but recovered quickly. "Well, if you don't want it...it's your loss."
Talbot was confused for a moment before he realized precisely what Marlowe was doing. By undermining the value of the artifact, she was hoping to garner a reaction out of their associates... and perhaps make them reconsider. Even if they didn't, they'd likely be left doubting the worth of such an item. A clever play.
Marlowe exhaled a chuckle through her parted lips. "Hah! Then we'll just have to go elsewhere. Good luck finding someone else who'd offer half as much as we have. I suppose this concludes our business?"
One of the thugs stepped in close to Marlowe, sneering and displaying his rather awful teeth. "You better give my client some more funds," he growled. "Or we'll find other ways of obtainin' it."
Talbot's blood was already boiling at the way the two bodyguards were staring at her. He exchanged the briefest of glances with Marlowe out of the corner of his eye, waiting for the cue to step in. His confirmation came in the form of a subtle nod.
"Such conduct is entirely improper," he said , taking a step forward towards the thug who had spoken to Marlowe so rudely. "We're no longer interested, and if you don't mind, we'll just be on our way."
"Aw, come on... we haven't even riled 'er up!" The second man had closed in, standing inches in front of Marlowe. She was somehow still smirking.
"Please," said Talbot. "If you would be so kind as to keep your distance from my client."
"Client! Hah, right. Maybe the little piss-ant can give us some tips, eh? Tell us how to get her to loosen up."
With an angered heat rising into his face, Talbot was positively livid. How dare they treat Marlowe in such a manner.
"I beg your pardon?" Talbot stepped in close, practically chest-to-chest with the man.
"Looks like we're gonna have to do this the ol' fashion'd way, eh?"
The first thug gave Talbot a good shove, catching him off guard as he took a step backward to regain his footing. In the split second that he'd recovered, the man had produced a pistol from within the confines of his leather jacket.
"Marlowe, get down!"
Talbot caught the man's wrist just in time to redirect his bullet into the ceiling rather than at himself or Marlowe. Plaster and dust scattered down upon them and a few surprised shouts from the other bar occupants resounded through the small building as they began scurrying out. Out of his peripheral vision, Talbot saw as Marlowe crouched for cover behind the bar... and relief washed over him.
She was safe. That was all that mattered.
Though the thug was much larger than him, both in height and bulk, Talbot had the element of surprise, as neither of the men seemed to have expected him to jump straight into the fray. With his hands still gripping tightly around the man's wrists, he hooked an ankle behind his right knee, tripping him and effectively sending him to the ground. Hovering over his body, Talbot delivered a swift kick to the thug's ribcage, rendering him motionless as he managed to wrestle the gun from the man's grasp. Once the pistol was in his hands, he swung downwards, the butt of the gun smashing against the man's head with a distinctive thunk. He slumped backwards, knocked out cold as Talbot stepped away from him.
Talbot had a split second to recover before the second man closed in. He wouldn't have had time to react if Marlowe hadn't called out to him. Talbot turned just in time to see that the other hired muscle had hefted a wooden chair and was raising it above his head. With quick reflexes, he dodged and raised an arm in defense, preventing it from smashing against his head as originally intended...
...however, it didn't prevent the chair from hitting him entirely. As soon as it connected harshly with his arm, Talbot knew that something was wrong. A numbing pain bolted through him, making his entire arm feel weak, but he couldn't allow himself to focus on the discomfort. He swung with his left arm instead, keeping his right clutched tightly to his chest as he delivered a blow to the man's midsection, causing him to double over. Teeth gritted, Talbot wasn't fully focused and the thug retaliated quickly by tackling him and knocking them both to the ground. In the process, Talbot dropped the recovered gun, cursing under his breath.
They struggled in a heap on the filthy floor, throwing punches until the thug finally topped him, keeping him pinned as he drew his gun and held it at arm's length against Talbot's forehead. His mind was reeling in a haze of pain as he stared directly down the barrel. He was at an unfortunate disadvantage due to the pain steadily spreading through his arm. Talbot's fingers twitched against his waistcoat, half-tempted to draw his own gun, but he could be dead in the split-second that it took to retrieve his weapon.
"Lookin' to reconsider now?" the thug sneered from above him. Talbot's eyes were narrowed dangerously as he commanded himself not to make any sudden movements.
Daring to turn his head slightly, he directed his gaze to Marlowe long enough to see her closing in behind the antiquities dealer. He watched as she unsheathed the hidden blade from her umbrella handle, swiftly drawing the knife and pressing it up against the leader's neck from behind him. The dealer was so focused on the brawl before him, and Talbot's imminent demise, he didn't even see it coming.
"Enough!" she hissed into his ear, pressing the blade against his neck. "Call your men off. Now."
The man swallowed hard and signaled for his bodyguard to leave Talbot alone, seemingly having no other choice in the matter lest she slit his throat. Talbot had no doubt that if she was pushed hard enough, she'd do it without a second thought. But for now, minimal bloodshed was preferable... especially in such a public place.
With a look of sheer contempt, the thug removed himself from on top of Talbot.
"Now drop your weapon," Marlowe ordered, pressing the knife harder against the dealer's throat for extra emphasis. The thug hesitated for a moment, glancing between both Talbot and his boss, but Marlowe's glare seemed enough for him to reconsider any second thoughts about discarding his pistol. With his hands raised in the air, he bent low to set it on the ground.
"Kick it over to me."
Again, he did as he was told, giving the gun a resentful kick as it slid across the carpeted floor and came to rest near Marlowe's boots. She recovered the weapon as she pulled the knife away from the leader's throat, leaving a faint scratch as he hissed. Meanwhile, Talbot scooted backwards on his good arm before righting himself, drawing his own gun and keeping it trained on the thug.
"Come on, Talbot," she said, once he had come to dutifully stand beside her. "You won't be needing that. Filth such as this isn't even worth your bullets."
Talbot lowered his gun, albeit reluctantly, as the dealer and his hired muscle glowered at them. Marlowe turned to leave and Talbot followed.
"I hope for your sake that we never meet again," Marlowe said, but not before firing the gun at one of the antique light fixtures, just to startle them. The glass rained down on top of them as they both yelped. "Lovely doing business with you."
Marlowe sauntered off as Talbot fell into stride behind her, but not before throwing the men another death glare over his shoulder. With rain sloshing against their heels, they walked down the dim, London streets towards Marlowe's Jaguar in complete silence, neither of them saying a word to each other until they were safely in the vehicle.
"Well," she said with a sigh. "That could have been a lot worse."
Talbot nodded grimly. Though others might view it as sarcasm, Talbot knew that she was being utterly serious. The transaction hadn't gone as planned, and that was quite regrettable.. but typically any condition better than "dead" was seen as a successful business meeting when things took a sudden turn for the worst. He was just thankful that she hadn't gone alone.
"Do you have the keys?"
"Yes, of course."
He fumbled in his pocket for a moment, retrieving the keys with his left arm, his right still clutched to his chest. As he handed them to her, his fingers were trembling. She twisted the key into the ignition, pausing momentarily to observe him. Her green eyes seemed darker somehow, highlighted only by the streetlights surrounding them.
"Are you all right? You're sweating."
Talbot hesitated, choosing his words wisely. Already, the expression upon Marlowe's face was less than amused. He didn't blame her, of course. The evening hadn't turned out as either of them had intended... and he hated to be the bearer of further bad news. Talbot hadn't broken many major bones, just fingers and ribs, but he'd been injured frequently enough to know when something wasn't right. His arm was beginning to hurt, badly, and the numb sensation tingling at his fingertips was unnerving. He balled his hand into a fist, finding his grip weak as pain bolted through him. It would be wrong of him to keep Marlowe from knowing, just to save her the extra stress. He needed medical attention, and she'd only find out anyway...
He took a deep, calming breath and swallowed his pride... despising the fact that he had to admit that he'd been hurt in a simple bar fight.
"I... can't move my arm," he grimaced, as the pain intensified. Marlowe's frown deepened. "I... think it might be broken."
"Oh, it's definitely broken, lad."
Sitting in the private office of Doctor Alan Knox, Talbot was perched upon an examination table with a sullen expression etching lines into his otherwise youthful face. Since calling an ambulance was simply out of the question, they instead had to make a visit to Talbot's personal physician, who thankfully resided in London. Though the hour was late, he often kept to a rather nocturnal schedule and was happy to see them at such short notice. A brief exam, a shot of pain-reliever and several x-rays later, and a diagnosis was made while Marlowe remained in the fully furnished waiting area.
"What?" Talbot's brow was furrowed as Doc held up the x-rays for display. "Are you absolutely sure?"
Doc shook his head in a sympathetic sort of way as he pointed at a thin line on the x-ray. There was a visible split through the middle of one of the bones in Talbot's forearm. He felt a bit ill looking at it.
"These confirm it, your ulna is fractured... but I assure you, it could have been a lot worse. You were lucky."
Talbot seemed to be hearing that a lot lately, and quite frankly, he was sick of it.
"It's not all that bad. I'll get you a sling and some painkillers... and I'll phone an orthopedic specialist so you can visit them in the morning. They'll get your arm cast and you can take it easy for a few weeks. Then you'll be good as new."
Talbot was growing tired of taking it easy. Just three months prior, he'd suffered a terrible stab wound and was confined to bed rest for a couple of weeks. It was that wound, ironically, that had brought him and Marlowe closer together... and in the ensuing weeks, the embers of their relationship had been rekindled, glowing more brightly than ever. A great deal of trust had been placed upon him and Talbot was ready to prove his worth. He certainly couldn't be of any use to her lounging around for another several weeks.
"Marlowe is going to be livid," he huffed. He watched as Doc rustled through one of the drawers in the small, sterile room, producing a sling from within its contents before he came to stand beside the exam table.
"I'm sure she'll understand," Doc said, as he gingerly took Talbot's wrist and helped ease his limp arm into the sling. "Speaking of Marlowe...are the two of you... all right?"
He fastened the strap over Talbot's shoulder and secured his arm in place against his chest.
"Well, not to pry... but I couldn't help but notice a few rather interesting bruises during your examination."
"Oh my God," said Talbot, eyes going wide as he realized what Knox was implying. "If you think that she… Marlowe would never-"
"Relax, lad, that's not what I meant-"
"They happened in the bar fight," Talbot blurted. "I swear it."
Doc didn't look convinced. He was staring at him with an eyebrow raised, his expression one of genuine, although seemingly harmless, amusement.
"So you mean to say that someone bit you through three layers of suit?"
"Hey, there's nothing to be ashamed of. I was young once..."
Beyond his control, Talbot's face was flushed with embarrassment. There was no use in trying to deny it, Knox already knew. Talbot had already suspected that he was onto them weeks ago, when Doc was visiting the manor for days on end to check up on his injury as he recovered… doing everything from changing bandages, administering injections and making sure that he got the proper rest required to get back on his feet.
The only downside, of course, was that he was in close quarters with not only himself, but Marlowe… and undoubtedly noticed the change in her demeanor every time she was around him. Knox was already farther entangled into their organization than most people. The gray hairs scattered throughout Doc's sandy blonde hair and the wrinkles accenting the corners of his eyes certainly seemed a testament to that fact. It was a blessing and a curse, he supposed.
"Listen..." said Doc quietly, when he seemed to notice Talbot's silence. "Your business is your own. And whatever you decide to tell me will remain between us... that's the nice thing about doctors, confidentiality and all that. But I've known Marlowe for many years and I haven't quite... seen her act the way she acts around you. If you're trying to prove something-"
"I have nothing to prove." Talbot dropped his gaze, absentmindedly tracing his fingers along the material of his sling as Doc gave a good-natured shrug.
"Right, well... I've just seen you a lot lately, not that it isn't the utmost pleasure, but I fear that it's taking its toll on you. You've suffered two very grim injuries in a very short time frame. I'm worried about you, lad. I want to make sure you're caught up in all of this for the right reasons."
Talbot wasn't used to people worrying over him, but as he searched the depths of Doc's kind, brown eyes behind his glasses, he saw nothing threatening. They sparkled with a sincerity that was incredibly rare in their line of work. A few moments of silence passed before Talbot opened his mouth to speak with as much conviction as he could muster.
"Marlowe is reason enough."
Doc smiled as he leaned in and gently squeezed Talbot's shoulder.
"Then I think you're on the right path."
Talbot's reflection was still scowling at him as he replayed the events of the last few days, Doc's words still resounding in his head.
Until now, he had never considered that there had to be a reason for his loyalty and devotion, not only to the organization, but to Marlowe herself. If he wasn't there for her, then who would be? He already felt guilty enough that he'd gotten himself injured and would have to take it easy for a few weeks while she continued business on her own. The thought of him missing out on any opportunity to assist her was killing him inside, creating an uncomfortable tension in his chest every time he imagined being separated from her.
Expression steely, Talbot knotted his tie around his neck the best he could with a single hand and then retrieved his pinstriped jacket from his closet. He could at least put it over one arm. As he pulled it awkwardly over his shoulders, there was a knocking at his door, causing Talbot's heartbeat to pound in his ears.
He turned his head to see that Marlowe had allowed herself into his room, wearing a skirt suit and looking particularly businesslike for the evening's meeting.
"Is there something you require?" he asked.
"Well, I'll just be leaving soon and I wanted to make sure that-" Marlowe was crossing the room, but stopped dead in her tracks when she realized that he was fully dressed. Her green eyes were scrutinizing as she looked him up and down. "What are you doing?"
"I'm escorting you to your meeting."
The pitiless laugh that escaped her delicate lips was enough to deflate any man's sense of pride. Still, Talbot's gaze remained steely.
"Hah! Like hell you are."
"And why can't I?" Though he frowned, his tone was challenging. It was perhaps an unwise move, but he wasn't about to be condemned to waiting around... at least not without a worthy fight.
"Well, I mean… just look at you," she said, leaning on one hip as she gestured a hand up and down. "It's pitiful. How do you expect to defend yourself, or me, with only one arm? Heaven forbid if anything happens, you'll be destroyed like some… child's plaything."
Talbot winced. He didn't appreciate the metaphor, as he valued himself as more than just a toy. Still, he took a deep breath and continued as calmly as he could. If nothing else, Marlowe appreciated sincerity.
"Marlowe, I really must insist, I'm more than capable. I don't need both arms to be of good use. I can prove it."
"You're really not getting the point here, are you?" she scoffed, now crossing her arms over her chest. "There's nothing to prove. I simply can't afford you injuring yourself further."
With his good hand balling into a fist, his frustration was only growing. Shouldn't he have a say in it? Why was she punishing him when he'd only ever tried his best? Didn't she want him around? The fact that she brushed him off so easily was maddening.
"What if something happens?" he questioned. "How can you expect me to just… wait around while you're out there on your own?"
"Patience isn't always an easy lesson. Sometimes these things require prudence, of which you obviously don't have."
"But the mission-"
"It's not always about the mission!" she snapped. Talbot flinched as her words seemed to echo throughout his chambers, her angered voice bouncing from wall to wall. A few long moments of silence passed before she sighed deeply and took a deliberate step towards him. Marlowe's palm came to rest upon his injured arm and Talbot watched as her hand traced along his sling, down along the hardened cast around his wrist, and then to his exposed fingertips... where the warmth of her fingers entwined with his own.
"Your hands are cold," she stated calmly, almost sadly.
"You shouldn't be, because it's not your fault." She gave his hand a gentle squeeze and dropped her arm back to her side. "Seriously, Talbot, just… have some self-worth, won't you? You can't be risking your well-being when there's simply no cause to. I'll be fine on my own, just as I always have been."
Her words, although honest, scathed him badly. If there was one thing he hated, it was feeling worthless. Talbot dropped his gaze, unable to look into her eyes as he stared as his shoes.
"I... promised I'd be there," he whispered.
Marlowe gently tipped his chin, forcing him to look at her, expression turning grave once again.
"Sometimes, promises were meant to be broken."
While she wasn't necessarily angry, the way she looked at him was like a knife slicing through his heart. Without another word, she promptly turned and crossed the room, high heels clicking all the way. She shut the door behind her, leaving Talbot in complete and utter silence once again.
Gazing again at the antique mirror in the corner of his room, Talbot didn't like the reflection staring back at him. Until he healed, he had no use, no purpose. It made him disgusted with himself. In a fit of frustration, he reached out and gave it a shove as the mirror toppled over... glass shattering against the wooden floor with a resounding crash. There were shards everywhere. Marlowe wouldn't be too pleased about that, but he couldn't bother to care as he moodily sank down at the edge of his bed.
If bad luck was going to find him, then so be it. Talbot would be ready for it when it came his way... and Marlowe would be proud of him for it. Despite the wreckage before him, Talbot managed a determined smirk at the thought. He'd be damned if he allowed the integrity of his good word to be at stake. Damned indeed.
No more broken promises.