In the spirit of getting another up asap, I wont comment too much. Apologies if my rushed proofing is terrible. Just to address a couple of comments: I'm aware it's moved a little from Lizzy and Will for the moment, dont worry, it will get back to them, but a) I love observations from other people; to me, getting to know their relationship through others eyes is essential and b) this always has and always will be a cabaret-centric story. I'm not getting rid of that side anytime soon. Sorry. To do so would be out of keeping with character and style - Lizzy and Jane have worked their lives for Qandisa, I'm not about to write it out. That said, after the carnival, we'll be back to some good old Will and Elizabeth time.

Love you all. Next one coming soon.

"This place looks like something from a Carroll novel…" Gi whispered as they entered the still hallway of mirrored walls, angled and shimmering, and wandered to the golden doors where a few others awaited their turn for tables.

"I have a feeling Alice wouldn't have made it out of this rabbit hole alive" her cousin whispered back.

"What do you think the show will be like tonight? I've no idea what to expect. What did Charles say?"

"We never got round to the what, just the who and the where. He told me Lizzy performs whilst his girlfriend – Lizzy's sister Jane – does most of the running of it. Frankly once he got started on her, I didn't get much else out of him – did you know, for example, that Jane's favourite tea is chai?"

Giana snorted. That sounded like Charles in a nutshell.

"All I got was a number and a warning to reserve ahead. But given what we know, it'll be more like a show than a club I suppose. Guess we'll find out pretty soon."

They moved forward through the gold doors as another group found their seats and were afforded their first glimpse of Qandisa's inner workings.

"Oh Rich, it's so cool!"

Qandisa was as it had ever been, a den of snug sinfulness, but tonight's decorations had been amped up with splashes of twinkling rosy pink, a nod to the charity's emblem colour.

"That it is" he replied, taking in all he could from the shadowed booths and puffy cushions to the scantily clad staff...

"It's strange," Giana added as wide eyes watched the Qandisa world go by "this is not the kind of place I'd imagine Fitz coming".

"Me neither, but it was Bingley who brought him here. I doubt he had much say in the matter." Rich took in an eyeful of some slip of a thing in suspenders and had to close his mouth.

"I doubt Charles encouraged him to date one of the acts though… that was all Fitz."

"He must have seen something he really liked…" implied Rich with a wink. "I can only hope we see the same."

They approached the podium where a black and blue behemoth of a bloke in a bright beautiful dress stood to welcome them.

"Welcome to Qandisa. May I take your name, handsome?"

"Fitzwilliam. Table for two."

"Ah yes, you asked for the best views of the stage. It seems tonight's your very lucky night Mr Fitzwilliam, as you have the best seat in house for a very special evening. You'll get to enjoy every angle and bared bit of our pro-bono burlesque – up close and personal."

He looked at Giana beside him. "Did she just say burlesque?" He whispered, ignoring the wink the hostess gave him. "Have I brought my baby cousin to a burlesque club? Jesus, Will's gonna kill me."

TitTat ignored the mumbling man in front of her and continued her spiel.

"As I was saying, after an incident yesterday where piece of scum tried to attack one of our staff members, we have decided to theme our evening to fighting back and raising money for Refuge, a domestic violence charity. You will find donation buckets and jars placed around the club – if you see something you like on stage or enjoy a certain drink or staff of ours, please donate a little to the cause. Tonight, we're all about putting the sensual back into consensual. Your waitress is now ready to take you to your table – I hope you enjoy the show."

Their eyes followed her hand to a silver clad mime, who beckoned them on, but the cousins stood firm, their attention now well and truly caught.

"What happened? Were they alright?" Giana asked soft and urgent.

"Who?" Rich added quickly.

"Oh no need to worry. Evie certainly knows how to handle herself – and even more about handling bad men. Our vile villain had a temporary position here, but thanks to our Evie, now has a rather more permanent position in both hospital and prison. You'll hear more about it throughout the night, so keep that curiosity burning. It will be satiated, I promise."

"This temp wouldn't happen to have been working behind the bar would he?" Giana asked, already knowing the answer in the depths of her stomach.

"Sounds like you had him pegged…" The host smiled conspiratorially. "Yes he was. Now off to your seats, my beauties and let Qandisa take you where you long to be."

Giana let herself be lead by Rich as they both dumbly processed what they'd just heard. Richard had heard from Will just the other day that Wickham was to be gotten rid of – he wouldn't have dreamt of bringing Giana otherwise – but he never imagined it would be in such spectacularly sinister circumstances. Had their determination to be rid of him made him desperate?

They were brought to the table in front of the low stage, where they took places on puffy cushions on the floor and were offered drinks menus by their mime, whose actions managed to gain their focus from introspection long enough to order.

"I'll have whatever the barman recommends. Tell him to go wild." Rich said before gently prompting his cousin. "Gi?"

"Oh… that sounds fine, I'll have the same thanks."

Their mime mimed and bustled off to the bar with their order, leaving the two to sort out exactly what they'd heard.

"So…" he tentatively broke the silence, needing to hear exactly what was going through Giana's head. "The snake has finally had his comeuppance."

"It is him right?" she replied in a small voice. "It has to be George. Will said he was temping behind the bar. How many temps can they have in a small place like this?"

"And how many would be despicable enough to attack a woman?" Richard added, bunching his fists into the deep purple tablecloth.

Rich tried his best to never think about what almost happened to Giana – the rage was still too raw for him to handle. On those rare occasions when he did, it was on his own or with Will. He had long determined he wouldn't get upset and angry in front of her and now was no exception.

"He's going to jail." Gi said in wonder. "He didn't slime his way out of it this time. He's actually going to pay the price."

Her eyes welled up, tears threatening to spill. Rich took her little hand in his and squeezed, anger thrown aside in face of her upset.

"You alright old bean?"

"Yes… yes I'm fine" she nodded vigorously. "I'm… it's great. He's going to jail." Her voice became disbelievingly brighter. "He's belonged there for so long and now he's going. I'm relieved. I'm ecstatic. I know I shouldn't be –"

"You really should. You should even be happy he apparently got a taste of his own medicine. I wonder who this Evie is and what exactly she did to throw his arse in hospital." Rich grinned: it was far more satisfying to change unspent ire into utter appreciation of an unknown woman. "Maybe she can show you a move or two?"

He chucked her under her chin causing a tear to shake from her lashes.

"Maybe!" she chuckled. "Lizzy must know her. She might be able to introduce us. I have to thank her after the show – it's the least I can do. She's just changed my world."

"We'll make sure to ask Lizzy later. For now, lets leave the Wickham's of the world behind and focus on the fact we find ourselves in a den of debauchery and burlesque." He shook his head. "Seriously, your brother better never hear about this."

Gi giggled. "He can hardly condemn us for coming when Lizzy and her sister own this place."

Richard shook his head at that in disbelief and a certain amount of jealousy.

"Just when you think she can't get any hotter…"

"Sorry?" Gi asked at his murmured comment.

"Nothing." He would muse greatly on the more pleasant image later. "Well let's start as we mean to go on and celebrate as these good people intend – happy and hammered. Let the drinking commence!"

What arrived at their table a few minutes later were veritable artworks of drink: Giana's a mauve and lilac concoction shading down to black with a smattering of tiny white flowers on the top, Richard's a smorgasbord of bright primary colours like a Mondrian-inspired margarita. Neither could have told you what was in them, but that they were tongue-twistingly good was certain: both faces blissful as they swirled the liquid about their mouths and swapped to try each other's.

"Okay, the acts are starting, but at the first break I'm going to go and ask the barman exactly what's in these. They are phenomenal. They may even be better than sex and that's saying something." Rich said, eyes and mouth yet closed in happiness at tasting further glory.

"I feel like these have just put all my pretensions at learning mixology to shame" marvelled Giana. "Make sure to tell him he's to keep sending whatever creations he sees fit and we'll pay him handsomely." She took back her beautiful cocktail from her cousin's eager lips. "Now however, let's find our Lizzy shall we? The show's beginning."

As her words slipped out, the lights faded and they found themselves in gloom, with what dim light left glancing off the glittered decorations. A voice came over the speakers, trickling through the darkness.

"Welcome boys, girls and everyone in between – Qandisa would like to thank you for joining us on this very special evening. For those who didn't hear from our titillating TitTat or were too dazzled by her to listen, tonight is a little different. We had what the police call 'an incident' last night. We prefer to call it what it was – a misogynistic bastard trying to take what he wanted from our best and brightest star." There was a rumble of anger and jeers from the crowd. "Those who know Evie will know how she dealt with the situation. For those that don't, let's say that yesterday we learnt kidneys are apparently rather delicate and legs are more fragile than they look…"

The grumbles turned to a cheer and applause from the punters, which Giana and Rich found themselves joining in with in bemused amusement.

"In light of our kickass girl dishing out a dose of well-deserved bloodshed to the smarmy Mr George Wickham-" a few customers, clearly regulars, murmured in surprise at the spat out name, "we have decided to donate to charity for those less fortunate than Evie. That there have been others he has tried to abuse we have no doubt. That there are others like him out there is more than obvious. We could apologise to those targeted by such people, but tonight we would rather celebrate them. They do not need our pity but our pride, and so tonight is for them. Please, give generously – our acts will do their best to encourage you in the only way they know how… seduction, sex and sorcery." The crowd grew wilder with each salacious word and Rich laughed as Giana whooped and clapped along with them. "So without further ado, let us welcome you in our own little way…"

Deafening drums began throughout the club, bold and bullish, and Gi realised she recognised the song though couldn't yet place it. A spotlight brightly bounced behind their heads, making the two crane round to see a red haired woman stood in the bar crowd. From a behemoth bartender, she was handed three shots into each upturned palm before she span slowly and meandered her way out as the voice began.

"Check it out, going out on the late night.

Looking tight, feeling nice, it's a cockfight…

I can tell, I just know, that it's going down tonight."

At the edge of the crowd, the light picked out two more women – a stunning blonde and another with a Cleopatra dark brown bob. The shots were taken two apiece with smiles and chats between friends as the song narrated.

"At the door we don't wait, cos we know them.

At the bar, six shots just beginning-"

The ladies clinked glasses and downed their first.

"That's when dick head put his hands on me… but you see"

From behind, a hand attached to a leather-clad arm clamped down onto the redhead's shoulder. Body in contrasting shadow, all eyes searched the dark for the owner of the offending fingers. When the spotlight finally illuminated their face, Giana and Rich both lost part of their drinks in a spray of surprise. The performer was wearing a cut out and printed face of none other than a leering George Wickham.

"I'm not here for your entertainment

You don't really wanna mess with me tonight

Just stop and take a second –

I was fine before you walked into my life..."

The redhead removed the hand forcibly and pushed the Wickham-wearer back with a pointed elbow. As he recovered and went for her again, this time a little lower, he found three shots thrown at him in unison.

"…Keep your drink just give me the money

It's just you and your hand tonight."

The Wickhamite was left wet and gesturing as the three girls stormed off towards the stage, where others had begun to congregate and dance. To Gi and Rich's left, another light brought out a lone figure at the edge of a filled table, singing along with the lyrics as she swirled her drink with a straw.

"Midnight I'm drunk, I don't give a fuck.

Wanna dance by myself – guess you're outta luck."

She stood, swayed a little, and began a walk to the stage, but no sooner had she done so than another figure appeared, this too with mask of George in tow, and hands grabbed her hips from behind to grind against her.

"Don't touch back up I'm not the one. A-buh-bye!"

Despite her unsteadiness, she managed to spin about and pushed him to his arse, looming over angrily as she sang at him.

"Listen up it's just not happening –

you can say what you want to your boy friends –"

She gestured behind her to the stage, where the other Wickham – still soggy – had been joined by another, the two trying it on with various members of the ever-growing crowd.

"Just let me have my fun tonight."

She stalked up to the stage and joined the dancing as the chorus hit again. There were far more people on stage now – where and when they had snuck in, Rich and Gi couldn't tell. Most were women but a few men were here and there, all moving to the song in a raucous club night out. The only blight on their enjoyable night was the trio of Georges, who were routinely rebuffed by each and every one of them.

As the original group of women grooved away, they caught sight of someone, waved and beckoned, causing the audience and the Wickhams to turn their eyes to the golden doors of the club. A pretty newcomer stood there, having just entered, and waved back to her friends. But as she made her way down to the main floor, the gaggle of Wickhams made their way to her, more than eager to make her acquaintance.

"In the corner with your boys you bet 'em five bucks

You'd get the girl that just walked in but she thinks you suck."

Before she had taken ten steps, they surrounded her: the first slinging an arm round her shoulder, hand dangling far too close to her breast; a second came at her direct, bantering away and making kissing motions, as the third stroked down a free arm.

"We didn't get all dressed up just for you to see

So quit spilling your drinks on me…"

The harder she tried to shake them off and push them away, the harder they clung, and the clearer it became that what had begun as uncomfortable was now frightening her. She moved to the dance floor stage where safety waited, but she barely made it up the steps safely as they groped at every flash of skin available.

Soon some of the crowd noticed her distress, but it was the original redhead that strode toward her friend and the attackers. As she began to yell at them, the other two joined in, followed by the lone tipsy dancer. Soon enough, another and another came – until suddenly, the Wickhams realised they might just be outnumbered.

Surrounded by an entire stage worth of pissed off clubbers, the group looked decidedly sheepish, despite the printed leers. They lifted their hands off the woman and put them up in surrender – but too late. The crowd surrounded them as the song went on, hiding them from audience view as P!nk belted out again.

"It's just you and your hand tonight."

Something unseen was happening in the middle, the clubbers grabbing and grasping, the noise building alongside the singer and thrashing drums. As quick as it began, the crowd parted and returned to their previous positions, ready to resume their night without a care in the world. But as the centre was revealed, it became clear that the Wickham trio were nowhere to be found – they were gone. In their place, five women were looking down with pleased smiles upon a pile of leather jackets and masks, crumpled and defeated on the floor.

"You don't really wanna mess with me tonight…"

The redhead dipped down and gathered the offending remains into her hands. Holding them away from her body, she stalked to the back of the stage where a metal bin lay. Unceremoniously, she dumped them inside and dusted her hands of them, rejoining her group. The lone dancer followed, emptying her drink over the contents of the bin as the pretty latecomer too walked over, lit up a match and threw it in.

"It's just you and your hand tonight."

To the surprise and gasps of the audience, flames flickered up, but one spark flew upwards in a controlled swerve – a cord of flame that dashed sideways, trailing up and left at speed as the song climaxed. The room watched on rapt as the fire forged quick letters, a giant hand writing flames in the darkness, the words forming a single flickering unmistakeable phrase:

'Fuck you George'.

As the final cymbal clashed, there was an explosion of pink and white sparkling streamers and the club was covered. Giana and Rich stared open mouthed, unexpectedly gobsmacked, before exploding into jubilant laughter and joining the eruption of applause around them.

"Jesus Christ" Rich managed, mouth still agape.

"That was bloody unbelievable!" Giana gasped amid laughter. "They just set fire to his face! This place is amazing!" She turned to Rich with bright brimming eyes. "Were any of those Lizzy?"

"Not that I saw, but I can guarantee that woman was all over that."

"That decides it then. I don't even need to meet her any more. I love her. We can just skip straight to the wedding bells." She said, brushing streamers from her hair as the crowd on stage waved to the still cheering audience and disappeared – and that was just the beginning.

After that, the incredible acts just kept coming. They had jugglers and acrobats, unicyclists and trapeze artists, all so distracting that the twosome were on their third concoction of taste bud bliss before Rich remembered he had a mission to complete with the barman.

"I'll be right back armed with recipes Gi. Make sure they don't do anything incredible until I return."

"I'll do my best, cuz" she chuckled to his quickly disappearing back.

Rich approached the rather crowded bar and tried to charm through the number of people in front of it. Given all the entertainment on stage, he wondered why half the room were gathered this way, but using a few winks and nudges, he finally got close enough to understand. At the bar stood two men: one looked like a poster boy for Harley Davidson, the other just like a poster.

The latter's bone structure alone should have garnered him some groupies, but the acrobatics he was accomplishing with his hands and a mixer were what had the masses enthralled. It was amazing that even off stage there was some magic to watch in this place, and Rich was happy enough to wait here with this alternate entertainment until it was his turn. When it came, it was the biker that sidled up, the pretty boy still glamouring some girls with his shaker.

"What can I get you?"

"It's more about what you've already got me." Rich bellowed across the noisy bar. "I'm on the centre table. You guys have been sending me and my cousin the most incredible drinks this evening."

"Ah, that'll be the kid." He explained, gesturing with a thumb and shake of the head to the artist at work, women leaning over the bar like he was hypnotic. "He was eager to test his skills on people who trusted his palette, and it's not like I can stop him."

"Well apart from ordering more, I wanted to know what was in them. They're like having something make love to my tongue."

The biker gave him an odd glance but carried on.

"I have no idea what he gave you I'm afraid. All I know is he'll have me out of a job if he carries on. Give me a sec." He yelled over to his colleague. "Order?"

The guy looked up, slowing his gymnastics to a simple shake.

"Two mo's and a mule."

"Your custom made customer wants a word."

The biker walked over and without a blink or missing of beat, the youngster launched the shaker into his hand and exchanged places, leaving a sigh of disappointed hopes in his wake.

"Is there a problem with the drinks?" he asked as he reached Rich, unconcerned with the females but clearly concerned about a potential complaint.

"Fuck no. I came to demand recipes and to let you know if you keep sending us your creations all night, your tip will sink the titanic."

The worry was instantly replaced with a wild grin as if someone had hooked both sides of his mouth and pulled. Its appearance so took Rich aback, wide and wicked, that it took a moment before he returned its image with his own puckish one.

"You guys staying all night?" The kid asked, smile still in place.

"I should think so."

"Cool. Well I'll make sure to send you over a new drink whenever you fancy – just give your waitress a signal – and when I get a chance, I'll write down the mix for the drinks, but it probably wont be till the end of the night."

"You're a champ, thanks."

"No problem. Anything else I can get you?"

Rich paused for a moment, suddenly getting a strange déjà vu about the barman, but quickly asked his question as the next act was announced.

"Actually yes. Two shots of your most fun-making liquor and can you tell me if Lizzy is here tonight?"

"Lizzy? Yeah, she's here every night I think."

"Is she performing?"

The grin stretched further. Rich wondered if his cheeks might fall off.

"You could say that. You a friend of hers?"

"…More like family" he answered with a wry smirk.

"Really? Can't say I'd want my family here but I guess Liz is far from normal." He gave Rich a knowing look. "Now I'll send over some more drinks in a minute, but for the moment what kind of shots do you want? Fire and ice or sweet and sparkling?"

"Ooh… well my drinking buddy for this evening would probably prefer the latter, but I'd much rather go with the first. Sounds far more like trouble." He considered a moment longer before giving the go ahead. "I guess what she doesn't know wont hurt right."

The barman gave him an amused nod and perused the line of bottles in front of him, brows furrowed as his head made a recipe for disaster. Rich continued to watch and outline his face, the feeling of déjà vu returning once again.

"Say, do I know you from somewhere? I'm sure I wouldn't forget a face like yours."

Said face twisted into a bemused frown as eyes analyzed him.

"…Was that a line?"

Rich's head jolted back.


"Sounded a lot like a pick up line." The barman replied with shrug of his shoulders and a nod of his head.

"What?!" Rich spluttered. "No it didn't."

"It definitely did. That was a line. Trust me. In fact, I think someone's already used that on me tonight."

He gestured to the groupies surrounding the bar.

"Mate, it wasn't a come on!" Rich insisted, feathers utterly ruffled. Never had someone got a gay vibe from him before – he was, after all, the ultimate ladies man.

"You sure? I mean, don't be embarrassed. There's nothing wrong with it. I certainly can't fault your taste. I'm just sorry I can't reciprocate." He laid a commiserating hand over Rich's, who ripped his arm out of reach.

"It wasn't – I don't fancy you, I don't fancy guys. Full stop." Rich said with flustered finality.

"Hmm. The lady doth protest too much methinks." The guy murmured with a sage nod, causing Rich's colour to rise higher into his red hair.

He was about to ironically protest further when he caught the impish glint in the kid's eyes and the grin growing across his face. No doubt about it, Rich had been hooked, lined and sunk by a whippersnapper. He narrowed his eyes at the barkeep with strange respect.

"I can't tell if you might be the worst person ever or my new best friend..."

"Well tell me your decision after you've tried these." He handed over two pitch-black shots. "They may sway you one way or another. I best get serving the rest of this rabble. I've added that to the table tab so you're all good to go." He threw a wink and a 'see you around if you survive the night' at Rich, before moving to serve the next loudest bidder.

Rich watched him walk away and wondered if he'd finally met his mischievous match in Lizzy's barman. Remembering his abandoned cousin and the dazzling show, he took the deadly looking inky drinks and made his way back to them both, armed and ready for their next burlesque battle.

Song is P!nk - U + UR Hand (link in profile)