Wrote this at three in the morning. I apologize for the quality.
Laughter floated up to the library window, where Helen lingered, a place she had been staking out for the past few days. Anger still simmered beneath her skin, visible in the permanent scowl that had settled across her features. She'd kept to herself, unwilling to even remove herself from her room long enough to bid James and his friend goodbye. She'd barely left her room, spending time amongst her thoughts ever since her meeting with her father. Perhaps it was all childish, but she cared very little.
The laughter that had caught her attention belonged to her current problem – John Druitt. He'd come for a weeklong visit at the invitation of her father (she'd ream him out for that one later) and had only just arrived. Tall and dark haired, he looked every bit he had as a child. But still, she was uneasy – a few words with Elizabeth had added only more rumors to his not-so-spotless reputation.
"Milady." Said maid spoke quietly from the doorway. "Your presence is requested."
"Of course it is." She muttered and Elizabeth frowned. Helen sighed. "My apologies, Lizzie. I don't mean to take it out on you."
"Quite all right, ma'am."
She briefly took her ladies maid's hand, squeezing her fingers in reassurance before heading toward the stairs. She was silently beginning to brace herself. It was either marry this man or lose her entire estate. Her family home. God damned societal law. She was perfectly fine to inherit it all on her own – just because she wasn't male, however, it was being ripped out from under her. Unfairly. She was becoming nothing more than another piece of property under their eyes. Typical, of course. She wasn't blind to the way society worked in her day and age, and for the moment she only willed it to change.
There were the beginnings of a storm brewing in her mind, however, a rebellious plot that she could only dream would eventually come to life.
Helen paused at the top of the stairs, fingers tangling in the sapphire gown she wore. The servants were bringing in his luggage and trailing behind was the man himself, walking with her father, speaking kindly. She wondered how forced the smile on her father's face was. Her stomach churned, uncomfortably, but Helen forced her own smile and moved to join them.
"John Druitt. You haven't changed a bit." She managed to sound pleased, drawing their attention away. He smiled warmly at her, eyes bright.
"And you have only gotten more lovely, Lady Helen. No scars from our last encounter, I see."
"I wouldn't have them to worry about if you hadn't pushed me into the brook."
"I did apologize, many times over. Shall I do it more?"
"I shall have my revenge." She smiled teasingly and he chuckled, pressing a kiss to the back of her hand.
"I am truly to be done in, then, to be at the mercy of Helen Magnus."
She cast her father a brief glance, the elder Magnus watching the pair quite cautiously for a lingering moment.
"A tour, then?" Helen offered suddenly with a bit more of a forced smile than she intended. Hopefully it didn't come off as over eager.
"That would be helpful. I'd rather not get lost in the remainder of my stay." He mused, offering her an arm. Hesitantly she took it, curling her arm around his as she led him off in the beginnings of a tour.
Part of her was thinking that perhaps he'd changed. That he'd become a different man with less of a temper – but she knew better. Far too wise to fall for his pleasant charm and demeanor. Perhaps if she proved him to still be such a horrific human being, she wouldn't end up marrying the man and would instead have her own choices.
Yes, right. Like that was to happen anytime soon.
Throughout their tour, Helen became increasingly aware that they were not alone at any moment, even when she led him out into the gardens. A servant of some sort was there, watching, and pretending not to watch all at the same time. Apparently the rules of courtship regarding chaperones of any sort still applied. As if she would be up to no good – John, on the other hand, was a different story.
The sprawling gardens were their last stop stretched around the gravel path – they had been her mother's pride and joy. Helen remembered spending ages watching her fawn over the flowers in her own way, tending to them in tandem with the gardeners that generally took care of it all.
John pulled her down onto a bench before she could protest, his hand still in hers. They sat in silence, the only noise being the soft chirping of the birds eager for spring and the gardeners trimming away at the hedges to make way for the flowers that would soon be due to bloom in the coming weeks. April would soon be upon them, and with it plenty of rain to make the gardens thrive throughout the summer.
"You're an intelligent woman, Helen. You must know some aspect of why I'm here."
"Because you intend to take my estate away from me?" She tried with humor in her tone. Despite the fact, she saw something darken briefly behind his eyes.
"I do not wish to take anything from you, Helen. It's simply how the law works. I am sorry for the loss of your brother."
"As am I." Her gaze flickered out across the gardens, an uneasy feeling settling across her.
"Your father has mentioned other options, however?"
"If you're going to ask me to marry you, John. Simply do it and be done with it." Helen looked back to him, resolve written across her face. "I am not one for games."
"You never were." He commented, taking her hand between both of his. "So, do you intend to be my wife, Lady Magnus?"
How romantic. How rushed, too. She assumed he was simply eager to get his hands on her estate – and the title that came with it.
"I shall think on the matter." She said after a moment, withdrawing her hand. She couldn't do it. Not quite yet. Swallowing a lump that had developed in her throat, she pressed onward. "You are here to the end of the week, and I shall give you my decision then. Not a moment before."
"Now who is the one playing games?" He challenged, in a tone she discovered she didn't quite like. Brows knitting together, she suddenly stood
"I bid you good afternoon, John. I have other matters to attend to. If you need anything, I'm certain my father will arrange it for you."
And without another word, she turned and slipped away from the gardens through a side gate. Following the gravel path around to the front of the house, she wasn't sure where she was walking. Going back inside the house and shutting herself away wasn't much of an option, and running away down the long gravel drive seemed even more less of an option.
But not entirely a bad idea.
It wouldn't solve her problems, and it probably wouldn't make her feel better. But it would dull them for a while. Make everything disappear, if only for a moment. She could go into London and from there, anywhere she wanted in the world. Traveling sounded very pleasing. Helen stared down the long gravel drive for a moment, then turned to face the large home behind her, the walls brightened by the afternoon sun.
No. This was her home. She would not run and let it fall into the hands of someone else, and quite possible, ruin. She would not leave her father, her life – but that didn't mean she certainly wouldn't bloody well fight. She only needed a plan of action. Giving up was simply not her in blood, and she would go down fighting if she had to.
The only problem seemed to be that she had just promised John Druitt an answer by the end of the week.
After spending most of the second day of John's stay holed up in the library sorting through books that she thought might help her out of her current predicament, she had reluctantly agreed to attend some sort of party the third day that evening with him. She had done her best to avoid him the previous day and most of that morning, feigning first a headache, then using a promise to a friend to worm her way out of spending time with him. Now, she had little choice, confined to a carriage with him. Thankfully, James had promised to attend as well, and she looked forward to escaping her current company in order to speak with him likely most of the evening.
"You're quiet this evening, Helen."
She looked across to him with a neutral expression, gloved hands folded in her lap. Her dress was red and brightly beaded, looking brilliant even in the dim light. John was watching her closely now, and Helen realized her thoughts must have transferred onto her face.
"Tired, is all."
"Would you like to return home?"
He had no right to call it home.
"No. I'm fine."
Silence settled across them once more and Helen turned her gaze back to the window until he spoke again.
"You look troubled."
She sighed. "It's nothing to trouble yourself over, John. My thoughts are my own."
As the carriage moved to stop and she shifted to exit, he suddenly grabbed her wrist to pin her back to the seat. Her nostrils flared, eyes widening on him with a frown pulling at her lips.
"What on earth do you think you're doing?"
"Do try not to embarrass me this evening. I've heard rumors of your little stunts, Lady Helen."
"I am not yours to control, Mr. Druitt." She snapped, jerking her wrist away with a sharp glare. "And I will do as I please. You are merely my escort – whether I like it or not. But continue and I shall not step a single foot back into this carriage with you to return this evening."
The door opened and the footman extended a hand to help her down. She gratefully took it, waiting impatiently for John. No need to cause a scene in front of the others filing into the place. Several gave her warm smiles – friends she had met and remained in contact with over the years. The party she was attending was mostly for the benefit of the close friend throwing it, Lady Chesterly and her husband. Their estate was quite a distance, but they always made a point to attend parties together. Helen was somewhat grateful there would be more friends for her to emplore the company of that evening rather than the man now leading her by the arm.
"Helen! Absolutely wonderful to see you." Lady Chesterly, known to Helen as Mary, greeted warmly where she stood with her husband, greeting guests. She embraced Helen lightly, smiling. "You look brilliant as ever."
"Always good to see you, Mary. It's been far too long. You must come out to the country more often. We'll go riding again like last summer."
"You couldn't keep me away." She laughed softly, looking to John. "Mr. Druitt, a pleasure to see you as well."
"Lady Chesterly." He smiled in return. "Thank you for the invitation this evening."
"As always. Now off you go. I'll find you both later to do a bit of catching up."
Helen was pulled away before she could even utter a thank you or goodbye on her own. Anger boiled up beneath her skin, but the thin-lipped smile remained plastered across her face as they entered the room where others were dancing, mingling, and drinking, absorbed in conversation. Immediately, she began to look for James.
"Care to dance?"
"Not in particular. I'm going to seek out James. I have something for him." She replied smoothly – half a lie. While she didn't have anything for him, the excuse was easier to believe than the fact that she simply just wanted to get away. With some hesitation, he released her arm and Helen slipped away into the crowd before she could be caught again. She was making it quite clear she had no desire to be around him – perhaps he would take the hint and forfeit to her. Unlikely, she knew, but there was the smallest hope.
She moved through groups of people, smiling and offering words of brief greeting to those she knew. It seemed James had not arrived yet; John would be venturing back after her soon, no doubt. Part of her hoped she had just missed him and he was looking for her as well –
She whirled, suddenly, lips parted in silent greeting. Surprise crossed her features when she saw it was Nikola who stood there, wearing a bright grin.
"I wasn't aware you knew dear Mary."
"We've known one another since we were girls." Helen spoke. It wasn't James, but perhaps it would do for a distraction. "I wasn't aware you knew her."
"Her husband and I attended school together." He replied. "You look in quite a rush."
"I was looking for Dr. Watson."
"I'm afraid he won't be attending. I was speaking to Lord Chesterly and apparently he sent someone in his stead because an emergency pulled him away." Nikola said. Helen sighed heavily. There went her plans to evade John the rest of the evening. Glancing around, she didn't directly spot him. When she looked back to Nikola, he was offering a hand.
"Would you like to dance?"
"As long as you promise not to insult me." She spoke before she could help herself. Thankfully, his lips quirked at the corners and he gave a soft chuckle.
"I never meant it. All in good fun, of course."
She eyed him skeptically, but slipped her hand into his anyway. Instantly he swept her away from her current place and toward the others who were being pulled into a new dance, Helen right along with them. A simple waltz, one she was quite familiar with, and it seemed one Nikola was familiar with as well. They moved in tandem with ease and grace, skillfully avoiding bumping into those around them.
"I never pegged you as the sort to attend these sorts of parties." Nikola spoke quietly and she looked to him, smirking faintly.
"Funny. I was just considering the same of you."
He chuckled again, but did not reply and left Helen to her thoughts. Allowing him to lead, she moved smoothly with his motions as she focused on other things. She was still struggling to come up with some sort of plan of action. Nothing in the library had offered her help save for very few things, but there was another idea playing at the back of her mind. One she would rather not act upon, but the seedling of a thought was there, perhaps as a back up if she absolutely had to.
"Contemplating the mysteries of the universe?"
"Not at all. Only my current dilemma."
"Of who you want to dance with next?" He arched a brow, but that teasing smirk was there when she looked to him.
"Hardly. Much more complicated manners than that."
She narrowed her eyes.
"How on earth do you know of that?"
"James has not kept everything to himself, I'm afraid." He spoke, twirling her in place a moment before resuming their movement across the floor. The music swelled and died around them in constant motion. "I assume you are here tonight with Druitt?"
"You're not pleased?"
"Of course not. Being married off to some stranger isn't precisely my life's dream, thank you."
She stumbled, nearly into Nikola, when John suddenly appeared beside him. The look on his face was hesitantly pleasant, though the darkening of his eyes told another story. She straightened herself, casting him a cool look.
"What is it?"
"May I speak with you?" His tone had become somewhat strained as if he were fighting with something. She looked to Nikola, who was staring between the two with an interested sort of look. Helen swallowed tightly.
"Thank you, Mr. Tesla, for the dance." She said. "I'm afraid I'm called elsewhere."
"Until another time, Lady Magnus." He lifted the hand that was still in one of his and kissed the back of her fingers with another smirk. He gave a mock little bow, before disappearing amongst the jubilant crowd. John took her by the arm then, gently pulling her away until they were in a mostly deserted hall.
Almost at once, he had her pinned roughly against the wall. She let out a sharp gasp at the hand at her hip and the other tightening against her arm, almost painfully.
"Get your hands off me." She hissed, twisting in an effort to free herself. His grip was near iron, however, keeping her in place. His face inches from her own, his lips pulled back into a demented little smirk.
"I think not, Helen. What were you doing with Tesla?"
"Planning to overthrow the monarchy – what in the name of hell did it look like, John?!" She snapped darkly, and it was then she smelled the alcohol on his breath. Something far stronger than they had been serving at the party. Oh, lovely. She was to marry an alcoholic as well. "Let. Go."
"You are mine." He seethed. "And I will not have you dancing with others."
"I am not your property!" Helen shifted again – blasted skirts. His hand suddenly across her face stilled her a moment, head turned where it had snapped from being struck. Her cheek burned with a sudden intense fire, stinging more than she'd expected. A metallic flavor in her mouth told her he had busted her lip, too, with such a slap.
"I'm taking you home. Now." He snarled, jerking her away from the wall. She stumbled, already beginning he struggling anew. "Behave now, Helen. We wouldn't want to make a scene." John continued in the same tone.
"The only one causing a scene, Druitt, is you."
John and Helen both paused, Nikola suddenly making a heroic return. He stepped to them, noting the bright red of Helen's cheek and busted lip, and the way John was holding her wrist – she was certain the circulation was going to leave it any moment.
"Run along home. I'll be taking care of Lady Magnus from here."
"I think not, Tesla."
Helen waited a moment, before suddenly launching a leg up in just the proper place to nail John where it counted. He hissed, nearly crying out in pain, his grip released as he focused on other things. Instantly Helen moved toward Nikola – he placed his hand at the small of her back and led her down another side hall and out into the open air.
Once outside, Helen gingerly brought a hand to her cheek, wincing as it only caused the stinging to grow worse. Nikola removed a white handkerchief from his pocket and offered it out to her. She took it with silent thanks, pressing it to her lip with a soft frown.
"Someone probably should have warned you that Druitt has always had quite the temper. Only inflamed by his terrible drinking problem." He muttered.
"I'd heard the rumors." Helen said quietly. That night seemed only to fuel her need to find another way, to keep away from John. Helen had yet to come up with an excuse now, to explain the mark on her cheek and lip – and by the way her wrist was still throbbing from his grip, the bruising there.
"Come on." Nikola spoke suddenly, gesturing another way that would take them to the front of the house. "I'll take you home."
"You really don't need to do that, Mr. Tesla."
"You plan on staying on with Mary and Edgar, then? Or suffering a ride home with the man who just thought it grand fun to degrade and hurt you nearly in front of an entire party?" He quipped. He had a point; she didn't want to bother Mary or her husband, and riding home with John simply wasn't an option any longer.
With not another option, Helen followed Nikola to a waiting carriage.
The ride back toward the Magnus estate was spent in silence, Helen staring out the window as she'd done before. Nikola's kerchief was crumbled between her fingers, the bleeding from her lip having stopped. How dare he. How dare John should think it wise to lay a hand on her. Peeling away her gloves in frustration and anger, she folded them in her lap and resumed glaring out the window.
"Your father expects you to marry him?"
"In order to keep the estate in my name, yes. There is no other option since my brother died. We have no heir." Helen spoke tersely, looking to Nikola beside her. "But I'm not giving up hope that something will happen. I refuse to marry such a . . . bastard."
"Such language, Lady Magnus. Have you no manners?"
"Not with ones like him."
Her fingers curled into fists as she looked back out the window at the passing countryside, night having settled long ago. It was a dark blur outside, but it offered a small distraction for the time being as she sank into her thoughts. There had to be another way. Another way out.
Glancing back toward Nikola, she was suddenly struck with another thought, from something else she'd read in the library.
"Mr. Tesla," She said suddenly, shifting so she could face him more properly – as best as one could. There was hesitation in her voice, as well as a cautious, guarded look on her face.
"Yes?" He inquired with a bemused expression.
"I must ask a favor of you."