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Flowers on Friday

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The small, brass key to Grelle Sutcliff’s flat was, in every respect, identical to the one that opened William T. Spears’ own rooms, save for a tiny drop of red paint. Upon receiving the key from their supervisor when he’d volunteered to oversee Grelle’s rehabilitation after the Jack the Ripper incident, Will had dabbed on the paint from one of several (to his eyes, indistinguishable) bottles of nail lacquer lining Grelle’s vanity. The key had rattled on Will’s keyring ever since, unneeded and practically forgotten. But today, he sorted through his keys until he spied the identifying scarlet drop, letting himself into Grelle’s rooms with only a cursory knock.

Will took a moment to let his eyes adjust to the darkness, for the heavy, brocade curtains over the windows blocked the late morning sunlight. As always, he scowled at the non-regulation wallpaper. Though their flats shared identical layouts, both having been furnished by the Dispatch Society, that was where the similarity ended. Compared to Will’s tidy, almost Spartan, rooms, Grelle’s overflowed with clutter. Paintings and photographs in gilded frames crowded the rose-patterned walls, and the entryway alone held more mirrors than even Grelle could possibly need. Throw pillows decorated every chair and sofa, and over the dining room table glittered a chandelier better suited to a manor house than a modest reaper’s flat. The table itself was barely suited for actual dining, the wood gouged, stained, and charred in places from the dozens of precision tools, adhesives, and welding guns scattered over the surface. Beneath an incongruous pair of pearl earrings, Will glimpsed a sketch that looked suspiciously like plans for a new death scythe modification. He pretended he hadn’t seen it. Really, the last thing he needed was more paperwork. Of Grelle herself, however, there was no sign, save for the distinctly unladylike snoring coming from the bedroom.

"Sutcliff!" Will barked, throwing open the door to see a mess of tangled red hair spilling out over the pillows.

Grelle groaned at the sound of his voice, rolling onto her side away from him.

“Honestly,” Will muttered, picking his way through the pile of discarded clothing around the bed. As he drew closer, he caught sight of a framed photograph on the nightstand, and his lips drew into an even deeper frown. How Grelle had convinced the demon to pose for a photograph, Will had no idea, but revulsion and annoyance hardened his voice when he snapped, “The morning shift started an hour ago! Get up! We can’t afford to have you calling in when we’re already understaffed.”

"Five more minutes, Will,” Grelle murmured, voice thick with sleep. “I promise." Then her entire body stiffened beneath the covers, and she sat straight up, shrieking, "Will! What are you doing here? Don't you know it's rude to see a lady without her make-up?” She hurried to cover her face with a pillow, but not before Will saw the black eye and split lip. Glancing down, he realized that the clothing he'd stepped over was stained with blood.

"What happened?" he demanded, snatching away the pillow. The state of Grelle’s clothing alone suggested she’d encountered the business end of her own death scythe at least once last night, and now that he was looking for them, Will could see the linen bandages crossing over Grelle’s right shoulder and disappearing beneath the covers. If she still looked like this after a few hours of rest and accelerated reaper healing, Will didn’t even want to consider how bad the damage had been initially.

“It’s nothing,” Grelle said around a yawn. “My dear Bassy and I had a bit of a lover’s quarrel last night, that’s all. You know how wildly passionate we are.” She smirked at his expression, and Will ground his teeth. Not for the first time, he wondered just how much paperwork it would take to convince his superiors to take care of the meddling demon permanently.

“What did he do?”

"Another star-crossed rendezvous!” Grelle swooned back into her pillows. “I was gathering souls from the site of a shipwreck. He and that wretched brat of his seem to have been the ones who sank it in the first place.” She lifted Sebastian’s photograph from her nightstand, favoring it with smoldering stare that made Will’s stomach turn. “Our eyes met across the wreckage of the flaming deck and we ran to each other, overwhelmed by the burning heat of our love!”

"Stop trying to distract me with theatrics!” Will snapped. “You’re a mess. Have you been to the clinic?”

“Oh please,” she sighed, dropping the photograph back on the nightstand. Without the breathy gasp of affected excitement, her voice sounded ragged from pain and weariness. “After the night I’ve had, the last thing I needed was to fill out all the clinic’s tedious paperwork.” She gave Will a sidelong glance, and smirked. “Of course, if Bassy had managed to spear me properly, it might have been worth it! Mmm!” She kicked her feet beneath the quilts, laughing at Will’s expression.

“I wish you wouldn’t moon over that demon,” he complained, as Grelle gathered the quilt around her body and rose to cross to the dressing screen in the corner. “It’s revolting.”

“Jealous?” A pale, bare arm emerged from behind the screen to throw the quilt back onto the bed.

“Hardly,” Will muttered, grateful that Grelle couldn’t see his blush from behind the screen. Stomping to the bathroom, he went through Grelle's cabinets until he found what he was looking for -- a bottle of iodine, a basket of clean rags, and a roll of gauze. Grelle peeked out from behind the screen as he set them out on her vanity, and treated him to a fanged smile.

“Thank you, darling!”

“Let me see to your wounds.” The words came out harsher than he’d meant, more command than request.

In response, Grelle huffed out something that could have been a laugh or a sound of irritation. "Stop fretting! Are you forgetting which of us scored an A on the first aid exam? If you really want to help, go make some coffee! I'm positively exhausted, thanks to you."

A silken whisper of shifting fabric accompanied the words, and Will hesitated only a second before retreating back into the kitchen, closing the bedroom door behind him. Tea was his own beverage of choice, but he'd worked with Grelle long enough to know how she took her coffee. By the time she emerged in a red silk dressing gown, still absently running a brush through her wild hair, he had a mug ready for her, sweet with cream and sugar.

"My knight in armour," she said, accepting the mug with a flutter of her eyelashes. She'd darkened them in the short time since he'd seen her last, and they framed her brilliant eyes, unhidden by the usual red spectacles.

“Where are your glasses?”

“Who cares? I’m not going in today. I have the sick leave to spare, and I don’t care how understaffed we are.” She sank regally onto the sofa, crossing her legs and lifting her chin a touch obstinately. “So now that you’ve seen I’m not out committing serial murder, you can run along and report back to our superiors.”

For a moment, Will considered taking the opening and making his escape. But despite her probation, Grelle still high ranked enough to view the assignment schedule, and if she decided to investigate, it wouldn’t take her long to discover the truth on her own.

“They didn’t send me,” Will admitted. “A single day of sick leave isn’t enough to raise their suspicions.”

He’d expected his words to anger Grelle, but instead she brightened visibly, smiling at him over the rim of her coffee cup. “Why, William! Were you worried about me?”

“As your overseer, it’s my responsibility to make sure you aren’t getting into trouble,” he said, ignoring the clearly dubious lift of her eyebrows. “And clearly I was right to check. Look how you’ve managed to injure yourself chasing after that demon again!”

“Oh, but it was worth it! Those smoldering eyes! Those broad shoulders! That absolutely perfect rear-end!"

"You know as well as I do that his physical body is only an illusion. We’ve both seen demons in their true form. I don't need to tell you how revolting they are.”

"But it's such a handsome illusion," she said, pouting as she sipped her coffee. "You have no idea how a woman's heart works, Will. I'd shrivel up and die without romance." The words sounded airy and lighthearted as she spoke, but Will glimpsed a momentary touch of sadness in her eyes.

His voice was gentler than usual as he said, "If this is romance, it might kill you first.”

Grelle frowned down into her coffee cup, tilting her head so that the tangle of red hair fell around her face like a curtain. She’d wrapped both hands around the cup as though drawing comfort from its warmth, and Will found his gaze lingering on the fine bones of her wrists and fingers, the paleness of her skin beneath the bruises. He hesitated only a second before stepping forward, retrieving the hairbrush from the arm of the sofa where she’d dropped it and experimentally running the bristles through her hair.

She stiffened in surprise, and then relaxed, giving a little hum of pleasure as she lifted her coffee cup to her lips. Carefully, Will eased the knots out of her hair, frowning in concentration. One of his few girlfriends had liked to have her hair brushed, but that relationship had fizzled out centuries ago (Will was too cold, she’d complained, too distant, too committed to his job) and he hadn’t touched a woman’s hair since. Despite its wild appearance, the red strands were surprisingly soft beneath his hands. Grelle’s shoulders relaxed visibly as the brush moved through her hair, and by the time Will finished, she’d practically melted into the corner of the sofa, coffee cup empty in her hands. Will set the brush down, admiring how her hair flowed around her face like silk.

“Thank you,” she murmured, a little choked. Will caught a glimpse of moisture beneath the dark fringe of her eyelashes. Gently, he took the empty coffee cup from her hands, crossing to the kitchen to refill it. He stirred the cream and sugar in slowly, giving her time to compose himself. He returned to find her thoughtfully tapping the hairbrush against one knee.

"Not that I don't enjoy the company," she said, smiling as she took the coffee, "but shouldn't you be getting to work?"

“It’s my day off,” Will admitted, settling onto the sofa beside her.

“And you’re spending it with me?” Grelle asked, the earlier playfulness returning to her voice. "I wish you'd told me! I would have worn something more revealing to a date."

"Don't be ridiculous.”

She toasted him with her coffee cup, giving him a smile that didn’t quite meet her eyes. “Well, a lady can always dream.”

Perhaps it was that wistful that had Will speaking honestly, before he'd considered the words. "If this were a date, I'd have brought you flowers."

A fanged smile brightened Grelle's face, and she tucked her feet up beneath her, girlish. "Flowers! How thoughtful! I always knew you'd be a gentleman, Will. What kind?"

"Roses," Will said at once. "Red ones."

"To symbolize our passionate love!" she simpered, batting her eyelashes. "Then would you spirit me away to some remote villa to have your way with me?"

"Of course not," Will said, genuinely displeased by the idea. "You know several reapers organize a group date every Friday night. We would join them. That’s only proper way to begin an office romance."

"But, Will, if you took me on a group date, everybody would know!"

"You’re not a dirty secret!" Will snapped. "Honestly, you've spent so long chasing after that demon that you think you deserve to be treated like trash!"

For a moment, Grelle's cheeks flushed nearly as bright as her hair. She lifted the coffee cup to her lips, eyelashes fluttering as she gazed down into its milky surface. "Well, what good is romance without the thrill of danger?"

"Why don't you try it and find out?"

"Will?" Grelle asked, biting her lower lip.

He nodded decisively, standing. "Friday," he said. "After work. You do know the usual place?"

"Oh, Will! You know it makes me positively weak in the knees when you get so commanding," Grelle said, but the flirtation sounded hesitant for once, almost forced. She swallowed and asked, "Will you bring flowers?"

"Red roses," Will affirmed, starting towards the door. "And be on time for once! You know I can't abide tardiness!"

The End