Disclaimer: Copper (characters & everything) is not mine.
All The Ruined Things
Elizabeth was beautiful. She was radiant in her white gown with white flowers in her hair. His first thought upon seeing her was that she looked as fresh and jovial as a bride on her wedding day. Was it just coincidence that he stood straight across from the door when she entered as if at the end of a church by the altar? He was even dressed appropriately and for a short moment the rest of the party seemed to fade away and the line between fantasy and reality blurred.
It was hard for him to keep his eyes off of her that night. Whenever he tried to concentrate, to keep his head in the game - he was here on a job, damn it! He couldn't. It was all the worse because she kept glancing back at him, giving him that demure, knowing smile while her eyes seemed to laugh at him. If she were just teasing him, he would find it so much easier to turn away, but he knew she wasn't. So she danced, and smiled, and laughed, and he stood and watched, silent in his vigil.
When Roderick's men came it was nothing like Corcoran had imagined. He had thought of several entrance points and ten thousand scenarious, but the way it went down was a nightmare that stayed with him for the rest of his life. Roderick's gang came in shooting. There was nothing clever about the attack. Nothing smooth and nothing elegant.
When they had made their plans for this evening - on how to protect the fundraiser money, on how to protect the guests - they hadn't thought of this. Francis had remarked that Roderick had more men than the police, but... They hadn't thought that he would make his attack before the party was over, before the money was on the move. They had thought wrong.
Roderick had twice the more men than the police, truly. And he used them as canon fodder. Once the first shots rung out the shooting didn't stop for quarter of an hour. Men fell - policemen and robbers alike, but like in war all of them kept shooting and pushing forward. It was chaos. It was a massacre.
Corcoran pushed an old lady down to protect her and threw a table so that he could crouch behind it. He shot until he run out of bullets, and then he charged the closest of the robbers, taking his gun, twisting his arm, punching the man's face. While Corcoran fought one, another grabbed the money, third covered him, fourth joined in the fight with detective. They beat him and when Corcoran dropped to the ground if they had had the bullets - they would have shot him, but they didn't have those and neither did they have time. Within seconds the robbers were away.
As smoke began to settle the wailing began. The ground was littered with the dead. Corcoran struggled back to his feet. His previously broken leg felt lame, he had lost his crutch. He grasped the side of an upturned table and stood up. His first move should be to follow the robbers instead he looked for Elizabeth. His eyes had followed her all night. Where was she now?
"No," the denial was on his lips before any rational thought was in his mind. He stumbled over dead people, over dying people to get to her. He tripped, but fell only when he was at her side. She was sitting on the floor, reclining against a younger girl who kept a tight grip on her hand. She looked as if she had sat down out of her own free will instead of having fallen. There was that smile - the one that he knew so well - on her lips. She wasn't even disheveled. "Elizabeth," he whispered her name as a prayer. Her white dress was turning red.
"Detective," she breathed. "The robbers are ... getting away."
She was the one who was getting away. "Doctor! I need a doctor here!" he yelled, looking around, but he wasn't the only one screaming, the only one crying.
"A lot of people need a doctor here," she said, her smile strained.
I'll get you to one, was what he wanted to say. Let me pick you up, was what he wanted to do. I will keep you safe, is what he should have done. "Elizabeth," her name seemed the only answer to every question.
"I'll be alright, Detective," her lips twisted in a smile on an exhale when her chest hurt less. "But the orphanage... They need that money."
"I'm not leaving you," the thought seemed preposterous.
"Please," the plea was almost inaudible. Her face pale, her eyes fever bright. That was how he saw her last. He nodded his head in acquiescence, kissed her hand and rose to hobble his way out of the room to do his duty.
He found Roderick that night. He found the money three days later. When he came back to her house the servants would not let him in. They said she was ill. They said the doctor had ordered no visitors. He tried every day until one ordinary evening Morehouse invited him over to his own house tell him that she had passed away. Corcoran did not go to her funeral.
When he had returned from the war to find his daughter dead and buried, and his wife missing, he had thought that he would have liked to be at the funeral - to say his final goodbyes, to see with his own eyes that his little girl was gone, but now when he had the chance to be at a funeral, he couldn't go. He didn't want to see Elizabeth lying in a coffin, her pale face painted to give the false impression of life in her veins, surrounded by people who neither knew her well nor deserved to. He would rather remember her in white dress turning red, with blue eyes burning, and a smile just for him.
A lot of things went wrong after Elizabeth died, but many settled back into a rhythm already familiar to Corcoran. His biggest regret was Annie. He could imagine what Elizabeth could have done with the child given time – how she could have healed the wounds in the young mind and given the girl a whole other world, a chance at a better life. What he did was never enough. He tried to put the girl with a family, but she just run away to sneak into his house at night. He tried putting the girl in a convent, but then she refused to eat and tried to starve herself to death until he took her out. He tried putting her in an orphanage, but she ran away to Eva's brothel. He tried raising her himself, but she just kept trying to sneak into his bed and spent all her free time at the brothel anyway. He tried other families – friends, acquaintances that lived further away. He tried sending the girl away to another convent. He tried a lot of things, but none worked.
Annie grew up and started working in a brothel. Eva's brothel.
He refused to step his foot in that place as long as she was there so Eva started coming to him. But their friendship deteriorated and fast. It had been fading for years. It had taken him a while, but eventually he had figured it out that Eva wanted him, all of him, that friendship had never been enough, that it had never even been on the table as far as she was concerned. He on the other hand had never intended to offer her more than his goodwill and body. He wasn't Francis. He loved his best friend to death, but he would never even think of marrying a whore. God rest Molly's soul.
So his second regret was Eva. He wasn't really sure how it came to this, but as he watched Eva stand in front of him, nearly trembling from anger after his quiet, astounded confession of, "I was never your man," he knew that he wasn't blameless.
"No, you just were everybody elses," she spat at him, her chest heaving and her hair falling over her shoulders in soft waves. Years had been kind to Eva though by now her hair was streaked with silver. He absent-mindedly wondered if gray would have been as noticeable in Elizabeth's sunburst yellow locks.
"I was patient, you know," she said. "I waited." She had kept this in for so long. For years. It was almost physically painful to speak it aloud. "I waited until you were over your wife. I watched as you made every woman around you fall in love with you. I kept my tongue as you fell for that up-town widow. I waited, because that's what I'm good at. I knew that you'll get over them. All of them." Anger drained out of her and left her feeling hollow and lonely.
"But I was wrong. I thought you'd given up on Ellen when you started courting, oh, shush," she waved him down, impatiently. "It was courting. Anyway I thought you were over Ellen when you started to make starry eyes at that Haverford woman, and I was so happy when she died."
"Eva...," he started, her name a warning on his lips, sitting up straighter in bed, his pants still open, his appearance a mess.
"I'm done pretending. I was glad when I heard she's dead. I thought – finally. I thought that once some time passed you'd be free and you'd be mine, but... I was so wrong," she smiled sadly. The corners of her wide mouth slumped downwards. "The more time passed the further away you slipped. You disappeared in work. And then there was Annie. I thought I'd do good by the girl and you would be grateful and see me like I wanted you to see me, but I was never the right person for that was I? You hate me for what I helped Annie become."
He couldn't deny that. He tucked himself back in trousers and stood from the bed to start dressing. Her eyes followed him. "And then you found Ellen."
He paused, freezing in his movements. He had found Ellen nearly two years ago. It was nothing like he'd thought it would be. The only thing it brought him was peace. Ellen no longer had any power over him. He knew the answers to all the questions now. He pulled on his jacket.
"I was scared then. I still had the silly hope that you might be mine one day and I was terrified you'd choose her. But thankfully she was gone – for you, at least."
Ellen had a new name and a new family when Corcoran found her. She also had a new husband. He closed his eyes remembering how she had begged him not to tell her husband anything, how she had pleaded for her new life. The worst thing about the memory was the fact that he remembered how his heart had not even shuddered when he gave her up. He hadn't felt a thing then. He didn't feel a thing now.
"What I didn't realize for a long time, until now, to be honest, is that you are gone for me. Have been for a very long time."
Corcoran went for the door.
"Won't you say anything?" Eva demanded, her voice rising again. She wasn't finished with all she had to say, but she also had no way of keeping him here, of making him listen. She had never had that power.
As he walked out of his own house to wander in the streets in the wee hours of the morning he counted off more things that were ruined by Elizabeth's death. Firstly - Annie, secondly - Eva who had clung to false hope for years, never moving on, and then countless orphans and people in need to whom Elizabeth would never have turned her back on, young ladies to whom she could have been a role model, but most importantly, he realized, it was him. He was something that was ruined beyond repair.
It wasn't an understanding that came to him swiftly nor suddenly. It was a conclusion to which he came as each day after her death slowly ticked away. It was a conclusion based on observation. How work soon became the only thing that could hold his attention for any length of time. How he crooned her name in Eva's ear as they lay together. How everything in the world seemed to become more dull and gray. How he celebrated every successfully finished case by sharing the details with her gravestone. How he could let Ellen go after finding her. How he one day woke and realized that the happiest days of his life were gone with her and all the days that stretched before him were just a waste of time.
Please, she had said. Corcoran pushed his hat higher on his forehead. It was Wednesday and somewhere there were criminals getting away.