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The Cherry Hung With Snow

Chapter Text

"So dedicate it to me
When there's no more words to say
When your lips are cracked and dry
I know you'll cry out for me..."

"Who're these vampires then?"

Edith almost jumped out of her skin, headphones rudely lifted from her head and laptop dangerously jostled.

"You nearly gave me a heart attack," she complained.

Alan mumbled something about being her best bet to survive if that happened, rattling in the fridge for yesterday's leftovers.

"You didn't answer," he said. "Who are you looking at so intently? Trying internet dating again?"

She sighed, stretching for the first time in hours, toes curling on the inside of her knit socks and scalp feeling so much better for a bit of rubbing. How had it got so late? She should have been in bed hours before Alan got in from his hospital shift.

"It's research," she said. "Job interview. Of sorts."

"Of sorts?"

She sighed. It was difficult to explain without sounding ridiculous. Probably because it was.

"They're a rock band looking for a tour writer. Lucille and Thomas Sharpe, AKA Crimson Peak."

Alan snorted as he set the microwave whirring, coming to look over her shoulder as she scrolled through their Instagram page.

"Crimson Peak, huh? Sounds like period sex."

"Why are you always so gross?"

"I'm a doctor. We have our embarrassment glands surgically removed, you know that. So, what's their deal? White Stripes-style married couple band?"

Edith scrolled through a few more pictures before responding. Thomas Sharpe tuning up his guitar in moody black and white and photographed walking away into a nebulous misty morning, the dawn sparkling a thousand times in the water collecting in his hair. Lucille at the piano making notes on hand-drawn music manuscript and in an antique bathtub, her breasts floating in the clear water but concealed by the reflected light, her eyes huge and dark and arresting.

"No, they're more like The Carpenters in that sense," she said, trying to stay in the conversation. "Brother and sister. Not musically. They'd probably be offended by the comparison either way, though."

"Are you sure? I mean, I've never looked at Eunice the way he's looking at her there."

"Yeah, well, Eunice isn't your professional and creative partner. It's different, probably."

The microwave dinged as Edith clicked back over to her document of facts, trying to remember them as much as possible.

"How big a tour is it?" Alan called. "State-wide?"

"No, bigger. Way bigger. They're well-known in Europe, if a little cult. Now they want to crack America and they mean crack it. A gig in every state except Hawaii and Alaska."

The warm smell of macaroni rolled over her, good old-fashioned comfort food, as Alan flopped into the threadbare couch opposite. It was unfair, really. He had to be burning stupid levels of calories running around the hospital to get away with what he ate.

"That would be months," he said, frowning. "What about the rent?"

"It is a paid gig, you know. In the unlikely event I got it, the money would go into my account and be there for the rent as usual. But I won't get it. I'm too inexperienced, especially on the music journalism front. I don't even know why I'm invited to meet them. It's like they've deliberately gone looking for nobodies."

"Huh... Well, maybe that's what they want. Someone fresh. Someone to discover. You interested?"

"In a paying job? Sure. And in them, I guess. They're very mysterious. They contradict themselves all the time. I mean, I found an article from England in 2013 where they say they're orphans, but then 2015 in Italy, they talk like their parents are still alive. And the TV interviews... They're just weird."

She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but the Sharpes always seemed to be having fun at the interviewer's expense. They seemed to be highly intelligent, but would deliberately misunderstand questions, smiling at each other before giving obtuse answers, being as evasive as they could possibly be.

The sensible side of her wanted to steer clear of such evidently manipulative people.

The journalist in her wanted nothing more than to try to to get under their skin, to try to uncover the real them.

And she loved their sound. Or maybe 'loved' was a strong word, but it was certainly interesting. They were self-taught multi-instrumentalists - or so they claimed, anyway - and their music erred towards a dark moodiness, a restrained anger, their voices blending constantly and swapping lines and harmonies so often that you sometimes lost track of which of them was singing what.

"But I'll never get it," Edith said. "Never in a million years."

That was still the attitude rolling through her head when she arrived at the small office they'd rented downtown for the interview, joining a whole line of other nervous faces.

Much like her, they'd obviously agonised about what to wear. The men were a mish-mash of faded classic rock band t-shirts, dark suits and one or two aping Thomas's stage style of crisp white shirts and eye-liner, hair artfully touselled. The women were much the same, one looking thoroughly self-conscious and rather chilly in a black satin corset and little else, most looking anxious.

Edith was already wondering if she'd chosen the wrong look. It was one of the smartest outfits she owned, a neat pencil-skirt and matching blazer in peach. It brought out what little colour there was in her cheeks. But maybe with her hair tied up so tightly, so proper, so elementary school teacher, they'd reject her out of hand. She hardly looked like a rock journalist after all. Opera maybe. Certainly not laid back enough for life on the road.

The line seemed interminable, and yet all too soon she was passing through the doors of a small meeting room and finally seeing the Sharpes for the first time in the flesh.

They were beautiful. That was her first thought. Smooth skin and bright eyes, effortlessly casual, dark hair swept back from their faces. They weren't twins, she knew, and yet they might have been. They were that similar.

"Smile, please."

She didn't have a chance to react before a flash almost blinded her, an old-style Poloroid camera whirring. Lucille plucked the square little picture from it and shook it lazily, taking the lid from a marker pen with her teeth.

"Name?" Thomas asked.

"I, er... Cushing. Edith Cushing."

He chuckled.

"Sharpe. Thomas Sharpe. And this is my sister, Lucille. But you knew that, I expect."

Edith watched as her name was neatly inked onto the white edge of the photograph and saw it placed on the table among many others. She looked pale, washed out from the flash. There was a tall pile of discarded pictures, people already rejected.

"Where did you get a Poloroid?" she heard her own voice ask. "I didn't think they made those anymore."

"The internet is an incredible thing, Miss Cushing," Lucille said. "Don't you agree? I'm sure you've relied on it heavily for your research on us."

This was so strange. Edith felt like she was off the map, unsure where to tread and where to avoid. Honesty seemed best though.

"I certainly had a long look at your Instagram and Twitter," she said. "You clearly have a love of photography."

The Sharpes shared a long look before turning back to her, like cats playing with a doomed mouse.

"We've used it to our advantage," Thomas said. "A few million followers is very nice. But we've decided we want to do something a little different on this tour."

"Do you know shorthand?" Lucille asked.

Edith found herself blinking stupidly, taking a moment to replay the question in her head. They were testing her, seeing how she'd react to being off-balance.

"Yes. I learned it in junior high. Well, not in junior high, but when I was at junior high. I wanted... I always wanted to be a writer."

"Not a journalist?"

"Not specifically."

There was something about the two of them. Some magnetism, something making her want to talk to them despite her instinctive wariness..

"The trouble with social media is that it's made everything too easy," Thomas said. "At any second of the day, our fans have access to us. Or a filtered version of us at least. Most can't remember a time of having to wait for news of their favourite band. We want to recapture that bygone era. The excitement, the mystery."

Lucille unfolded a map, 48 cities marked with circular stickers.

"A tour with no internet," she said. "No mobile... Sorry, no cellphones. No digital cameras, no vlogging. A travelling journalist who will write dispatches for magazines on both sides of the Atlantic by typewriter and post them through the mail along with Poloroids from the shows and behind the scenes. The whole thing will be collected and added to any unpublished work and photos for a coffee table book. Writer's by-line, of course."

Edith's head whirled. This was ridiculous. An old-fashioned tour, meeting deadlines by post, typed articles, no handy delete key, no copy/paste? But a published book at the end of it. An exciting experiment. Practically art.

"Would you be paying in cash as well?" she asked. "The old-fashioned way?"

"Oh, no," Thomas said. "Accommodation, meals and transport included, plus wages paid automatically. We know you journalists have rent to pay. And, of course, a percentage of the profits of the book goes without saying."

"Do you live alone?" Lucille asked.

"No. No, I live with an old friend. He's a doctor. Or... No, he is. He's a resident."

She didn't know why she was telling them that. It was hardly relevant.

"Boyfriend? Girlfriend? Both?"

"Erm..." she felt herself blushing, finally drawing a line in the sand as far as her life story went. "No, neither at the moment. No one to miss me."

Another long look. Thomas picked up her picture, raising his eyebrows as he placed it to the side. Lucille shrugged one shoulder, but nodded, reaching for her purse.

"Come to our show tonight," she said, handing Edith a ticket. "Write a stop-press report on it, by hand, and give it to one of the security guys. We have your number. We'll be in touch."

Edith sat still for a moment, stunned. Then she stumbled to her feet, mumbling thanks and showing herself out.

A hand-written report, written on the night of the show? She'd never heard of such a thing. Then again, everything about the last twenty minutes had felt like a particularly odd dream.

It didn't stop feeling like that when she walked into the venue, showing her ticket only to be frogmarched over to a little holding pen. Judging by the other people in there, this was the journalists' section. A dark-haired, thin man with constantly moving eyes, a red-haired woman so statuesque she might have been carved from marble. Edith suddenly felt very out of her depth, very underprepared. And very short.

It was a small-ish venue, not an arena by any means, more like an old bar that had had all its walls knocked through to make a sort of concert hall.

There was a gentle hubbub. Not particularly excited murmuring, just quiet conversation, someone laughing at the bar. People who had come out to hear a band, but weren't too fussed about what kind.

Edith had watched videos of Crimson Peak in action. Shaky camera work, mainly from phones. People singing along in France, Italy, Spain, Germany, Poland, Slovakia, Sweden, almost drowning out the Sharpes with their devotion. She'd thought the shows looked strange. Intimate even in huge stadiums, theatrical even in dive bars.

It was so different in person.

The lights were dim when they started singing. No words, just notes that sounded almost improvised. Lucille set out a phrase, Thomas elaborated on it, she harmonised, and then it began to repeat and the lights came up to reveal them both in front of ancient-looking electronic keyboards, setting their voices into loops, adding synthesized organ tones and the wail of a theramin, summoning an ethereal choir of their own voices out of nothing, layering and layering and layering and...

Silence.

The whole room seemed to hold its breath for a few moments, spellbound. The first clap sounded confused, but then the applause began in earnest, a room of people who hadn't quite expected something like that.

And they were stunning. Beautiful, yes, but more importantly imposing. They didn't have stage presence, they were the stage. They had eyes only for each other and yet whenever one of them glanced outward, a shiver seemed to run through the room. When they spoke to the crowd in low, warm voices, like lovers murmuring in the night, it felt as though they were speaking to each and every individual.

It was like they had studied how to activate primal responses. How to enchant, how to mesmirise.

After three songs, Edith realised she hadn't written a single word. All around her, pens were scratching and she hadn't even opened her note book.

But what could she write? What was there to say that wasn't being written all around her a thousand times more eloquently?

This was pointless. Might as well enjoy the show.

They sang numbers she'd learned during her research and pieces she'd never heard before. They played snippets of Beethoven and Mozart and... and the Beach Boys, she was sure that was the Beach Boys.

When it becames obvious that they were winding up, Edith finally put pen to paper and figured she might as well be honest too.

Until two days ago, I had never heard of Crimson Peak. After seeing them in action, I'm still not quite sure what to make of them. But I know they're interesting. Very much so...

She tried to hand in her writing, all half page of it in sloppy shorthand - just to prove she could - but the security guard refused to take it.

"You need to sign first," he yelled over the sound of the crowd leaving.

"Sign what?"

"Contract. Says they can publish whatever you wrote in their book or something."

Well, fine. They wouldn't want it, other than as a piece of trivia. One of many rejects. She added her name to the list and went to join the taxi line, shivering in the cold. She ought to walk, she knew. Save a little cash. But it was freezing out in the spring night and she was tired and her ears were still ringing.

And Alan would tell her off for that. He'd given her those earplugs for a reason.

"Good night?" the driver asked as she got in.

"Um... Sure."

It was easier to lie. Explaining that she genuinely didn't know how she felt would be too complex.

She got home and almost fell into bed, barely managing to change first. She felt like she'd been dancing all night for all she'd barely moved.

A nice day in pyjamas was called for.

She never got the chance for it.

Chapter Text

The apartment phone rang at seven in the morning. Edith ignored it. They only had that phone as part of their internet package. Only telemarketers ever called it.

It rang over and over again while her head was under her pillow, and then Alan was in her doorway in his boxer shorts, yawning and telling her there was a man on the phone for her.

She grunted and hauled herself to her feet. What was so important? What couldn't wait?

"Hello?"

"Miss Cushing, good morning. We liked what you wrote very much."

Thomas Sharpe. His voice, the clipped vowels, the sudden realisation was like an ice cube down her spine, shocking her awake. She wasn't ready for the rejection call, not this early, not wearing a faded old t-shirt and leaning on the wall of their hallway, wires tangled on the floor.

"It was very honest," Lucille's voice and Edith winced as she realised they'd put her on speaker.

A strange image of the pair of them laughing as they called each hopeful sprang into her mind, taking pleasure in crushing false hopes. Maybe the successful candidate was there too, already part of their strange games.

"Refreshingly free of clichés too."

"Thank you," she mumbled.

"We'd like to invite you to be our tour writer."

She blinked. She couldn't have heard that correctly. Or it was some kind of joke.

"What?"

"You're exactly what we're looking for," Thomas said. "We want someone fresh, someone new. Not a hard-forged cynic or a devoted fan. How better to reach a new audience than through the eyes of a newcomer?"

"Edith, you are perfect," Lucille now. "No commitments, no partner, no children... No reason you can't take a few months to travel the country and help us create something unique. Fresh from college, a new voice. Unless... Unless you have family to take care of."

It was almost like she knew somehow. Like in that short meeting, she'd picked up on it, spotted some sign that told her that wasn't a problem.

"I... No. No, I don't."

"So you accept," Thomas said. A statement, not a question.

"Well, I... I'll have to think about it. I mean, no phone, so I'll have to make a note of my emergency numbers. I'll need to get a huge paper supply, and... And set up automatic payment for my rent and talk to my room-mate. And what about laundry?"

Laughter. They really were laughing at her.

"You see?" Thomas said. "Practicality. Thoughtfulness. Pragmatism. That is what we want. And honesty, of course. Come and meet with us again. We can talk the whole thing over."

She agreed, writing the time and place on her arm before practically sliding down the wall to lay the phone back in its cradle, head in her hands.

Get on a bus with no phone and travel around 48 states with some eccentric strangers? It was stupid, reckless... A once in a lifetime opportunity though.

Should she do this? Could she? Or should she tell them no and spend the rest of her life wondering what if? What if she'd gone, what if she'd written that book?

What was there for her here? Sending off freelance piece after freelance piece while her savings dwindled ever further, looking for a job just to make ends meet? Knowing she hadn't taken a chance literally handed to her.

There was Alan, she supposed. Could she leave him all alone for all that time? Well, not alone. His family dropped round often enough. He'd probably be fine. He'd probably love having full control of the bathroom.

But she should probably talk to him about it first. With coffee as a placating gift.

He groaned when she opened the door, mumbling about night shift, but sitting up frowning as she explained it all from a careful perch on the edge of his bed.

"So... So you're considering it?" he asked.

She shrugged, tracing circles on the duvet with the tip of one finger.

"Maybe. There's no harm in meeting them, right? And I can decide then."

He fixed her with one of his more serious looks, a doctor look, and she groaned internally before he could even start speaking.

"Are you sure you're well enough to do something like this?" he asked. "It will be stressful. You have to put yourself first, no matter what."

She sighed and tried not to be angry with him. He was trying to look out for her, trying to look after her.

"Alan, I got through my finals and... And everything else just fine. I'm not worried about that. Besides, sitting around here is hardly helping. Maybe it's exactly what I need... Something completely different."

He was still giving her that look, but he shrugged and finally agreed that just meeting the Sharpes couldn't hurt, but that she mustn't be afraid to say no to them.

"And dress normal! They can't expect you to be in a suit all the time."

He probably had a point. They had been casual yesterday, why shouldn't she be too? If she went on this trip, they'd probably see her in all kinds of getups. Unless there was some clause that said she had to wear Crimson Peak merchandise at all times or something.

The meeting place was their hotel, a small family-run business in the centre of town. Not exactly where you'd expect an internationally renowned band to be staying, but so little about them was what she expected that Edith couldn't even be surprised. The teenage girl on reception looked at her curiously and pointed her along to the stairs, up to the second floor.

Well, if they were murderers, they certainly had their location right. Every step creaked, every door squeaked and even the locks looked as though they'd make hideous noises if anything even remotely key-like was brought near them.

She knocked at room 23, trying to ignore the way her heart was hammering.

"Come in."

If the corridors had been spooky, at least the rooms showed effort. Very clean, bright bedsheets, scatter cushions on the small couch they'd managed to squeeze in alongside the twin beds. Not that the Sharpes were using it. They were on the floor, surrounded by pieces of paper, a laptop whirring and glowing, paper plates covered in little sandwiches that looked like they'd come from a gas station.

"I am not sure if the Sharpe siblings are pathological liars," Lucille read out loud. "But I do know that they sometimes lie. This adds to the appeal, of course - fascination with the unknown. The fact that people believe whatever they say seems to amuse them. If they ever told the truth, it would probably be hard to tell."

She looked up over the top of it and Edith knew she'd blushed bright red. Yes, she had written that, hadn't she? She'd called them liars and implied they had borderline contempt for their fans, or at the very least deemed them mostly stupid and enjoyed making fun of them.

"Honesty," Thomas said, laughter in his eyes. "Something we are missing, apparently."

"I... I mean, when I wrote that I... Well, I didn't expect you to actually read it. I thought... I thought you'd pick someone better long before you got to my piece."

They looked at one another, smiles tugging at their lips.

"Come, sit down," Lucille said, reaching for a cushion. "Have a sandwich. We have sparkling water. Unless you'd prefer sparkling wine."

"Oh, er... No, water is fine. Thank you."

She sipped from the little glass bottle nervously, waiting for the ordeal to begin.

"So..." Thomas said. "We have a few forms for you to fill in. Bank details, insurance, publication contract. Do you have a passport? Can you travel into Canada?"

"I'm sorry?"

"We're going to Niagara Falls before the tour starts," Lucille said. "And apparently the Canadian side is more impressive."

"And though our itinerary does not hinge on taking the direct route north, it would make it easier if we could cross over the border to cut between New Hampshire and Michigan."

Edith stammered slightly.

"Yes, I have a passport."

"Excellent."

"But... But I haven't said yes yet."

They stared at her, Lucille frowning as though utterly baffled and Thomas looking concerned. The carbon dioxide from the water was bubbling uncomfortably in her stomach."

"Miss Cushing," Thomas said carefully.

"Edith. Using my full name makes me nervous."

He smiled.

"Edith... Perhaps we have approached this a little strongly. You must understand that we have been planning this project for over a year. Plotting the route, applying for working visas, sorting out the legalities of employing other people, organising the venues and hotels and motels and budget and so on. It has been quite a task. It must be a little overwhelming, having it suddenly laid out in front of you."

"A little," she agreed.

"Alright. How can we make this easier for you? The decision, I mean."

Well, wasn't that a heavy question? Really, there was no way, just like a mountain couldn't be made suddenly smaller.

"It's just a bit of a whirlwind," she said, looking at the patterned carpet. "It's so fast. I don't know..."

She got the distinct feeling that Lucille was exasperated and trying to hide it. Her nostrils were slightly flared, her dark nails tapping against her thigh. Edith swallowed hard.

"We'd be off by the end of the week, right?"

"The first gig is in New Haven, Connecticut, on Saturday. We realise that for so many performances, no magazine is going to print an article on all of them. Most of your work would be sent directly to our publisher in London, along with pictures."

"And would you... Would you read what I wrote before I sent it?"

A moment of silence and another look. If there was ever a time that Edith thought she might believe in telepathy, it was around the Sharpes.

"Giving up a little control," Thomas said.

"Full creative control given to an expert in the field," said Lucille. "Unedited truth."

"Pure observation."

They seemed excited by it. Edith had expected them to demand to see every keystroke, every speck of punctuation.

"Your writing," Lucille said. "Your words. We will forbid any editing except in cases of typing errors. And we will read the finished work at the same time as our fans, in the final book."

"And what if... What if you don't like what you read?" Edith asked.

"Have you never heard the expression 'There's no such thing as bad publicity'?"

It certainly sounded exciting. Nowhere else would offer her that kind of creative freedom. Not even novelists could bypass the editor. But maybe that was a good thing. What if her writing was awful, what if...?

They pushed a clipboard into her hands, forms to fill out, a map of the tour route. She looked at the squiggling line, like a great snake meandering around the country. She'd never travelled so extensively. Never got the chance to. Might not again.

Now or never. Bravery or fear.

Her hand shook slightly as she began putting in her details. Name, address, social security number, insurance...

Next of kin. Um. She frowned lightly before putting Alan down. He was close enough to being family to count.

The main contract promised her food, board, travel and minor expenses, plus a moderate fee. It would easily cover her rent and more besides. 40% of profits from the book - 20% going to the publisher and 40% to the Sharpes themselves.

And then she turned to the last page. The list of things banned from the tour. Cellphones, computers, internet, digital cameras...

Well, maybe it would be good to try out a simpler lifestyle. People managed without such things for centuries. A few months, a digital detox as they said.

Besides, she'd hardly miss much.

She signed and dated the form, feeling a great rush of exhilaration that was almost immediately replaced by crushing anxiety as she handed the clipboard back.

"Thank you, Edith," Lucille said. "And we have some presents for you."

The first was an enormous old typewriter, clunky but somehow beautiful in its function, along with several mile's worth of ink ribbon and corrective fluid.

The second was a diary.

"We've put in all the dates, all the stops," Thomas said. "And there's a space at the front for all your important phone numbers. After all, hotel lines and payphones are allowed."

Edith mumbled her thanks, still feeling like she must be in a dream, especially as Lucille patted the space on the floor between her and Thomas.

"Come here, then," she said. "We must introduce our followers to the woman who will be their only link to us during this tour. And wish them farewell. The only activity on any of our social media accounts will be done from London, listing the show dates. And maybe they'll scan in a Poloroid or two. Come, sit."

They took the picture with the laptop webcam, Thomas on Edith's left, looking at her with that strange dark smoulder he wore on stage. She hadn't seen it at all when he wasn't performing. Lucille smiled sardonically into the camera, red lipstick making her face seem ever paler, ever more porcelain smooth.

Between them, Edith thought she looked like a mannequin. A resuscitation prop. They were real and vibrant and she was dull, barely present. Not even smiling, really.

Crimson Peak are proud to introduce Edith Cushing, who will be reporting and authoring the book on our first American tour, #Titleless.

They said they'd come by with the bus on Friday to pick her up.

Only the typewriter sitting in its case on the kitchen table helped convince her she hadn't dreamed the whole thing.

And it was only hours later that she realised she hadn't actually said the word "yes" before they'd given her the forms to sign.

Chapter Text

Who is she? Never heard of her.

She's cute. Doesn't look like your type tho.

Bet she doesn't know who you even are.

Venha para o Brasil, vou lhe mostrar um bom tempo.

Bitch. Why didn't you pick meeee?

She has no idea what she's getting herself into, does she?

I want to punch her right in her fucking mouth. You should have got a real fan for this.

I'd fuck her. Bet Thomas does within the week.

A szemei! Elájul!

Don't leave us, I'll die.

Edith sighed. She'd told herself not to look at the picture because the comments were unlikely to be complimentary, but then she'd looked anyway. It could have been worse, she knew. Far worse. But still. It was hard to read strangers judging her.

The pinned tweet at the top of their feed announced their upcoming absence. She did a similar thing with a status on Facebook on the offchance that anyone missed or worried about her. It got a scattering of likes, the usual well-meaning old friends asking if she was OK or wishing her luck with it. Painfully ordinary for what felt like a momentus decision.

The typewriter caught her eye as she closed the screen, sitting on the kitchen table still in the squat case built to carry it in. She'd never used one before. It probably wasn't difficult, but she figured she ought to try it sooner rather than later. There would be no handy googling of how to thread the ink ribbon - if that was even the right word - or free a seized... whatever the letter stick parts were called. Arms, maybe?

She fetched some paper from her clattering old printer and practically forced it into the mechanism. The first piece tore, but she got the hang of it quickly enough. The keys were so strange, firm to press, springing back up under her fingers. Not quite the same as the soft, responsive - over responsive maybe - keyboards she was used to.

e-d-i-t-h... edith

Capitals though, she would need to...

The shift key took some effort to press and moved the entire wall of metal letters up to press a second, uppercase character to the ink. Oh... It shifted them. Well, that made sense, didn't it? She was amazed she'd never realised that before.

What to type? Just to try it out.

Shift, clack, clack, clack, clack, shift, clack, clack, clack...

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

Ha.

There was a little bell that dinged when she was approaching the edge of the paper, a little warning sound. Funny. In films, she'd always somehow thought the ding was caused by pushing the paper carriage back across. Which made little sense, now she thought of it.

She liked it. And felt almost embarrassed for liking it. She'd never used one, had never seen one up close, so how could she possibly feel this nostalgic glow for it?

Typical pretentious hipster journalist.

Still, there was something about seeing the instant thunk of metal against ink and paper, seeing each letter appear one by one, so neat and crisp. The feeling of it beneath her hands, firm and yielding to pressure, mechanical and somehow friendly. She could already see herself at a hotel room desk, middle of the night, a distant rumble of a post-show party as she typed up disjointed notes into proper, flowing prose... For some reason, there was an ash tray smouldering in her fantasy, even though she didn't smoke.

Alan would probably worry that she'd imagined being separate from other people, not with the band at their party but working all by herself. He always worried.

Even knowing that, she wasn't quite prepared for the way his jaw dropped when she told him she had signed all the forms and would be leaving on Friday.

"I... I thought..."

"What?"

He hesitated and she almost knew what he was about to say, but didn't want to believe it.

"I didn't think you'd actually accept."

Bristling a little was inevitable. Didn't he hear how patronising that sounded? Like she couldn't be trusted to make her own decisions or look after herself.

"Why wouldn't I? It's a huge opportunity. People would kill for this chance, probably."

"But... But the cellphone ban. You'll be completely cut off."

"Not completely. I'll call you all the time from the hotels. And I'll write. You'll get actual letters in the mail for once. It'll be fun."

"What about the news? You'll be last to hear everything."

"There are still print newspapers, you know. And you're always telling me that current affairs overdosing is bad for me. I'll survive. I'll have a bunch of wonderful experiences and tell stories about it for the rest of my life."

He sighed heavily.

"You practised saying that before I got in, didn't you?"

She had. And why not? This was going to be a calm conversation and she was not going to let herself worry that she'd made the wrong decision.

He sat down, the typewriter still on the table, looking at it curiously and flicking the little bell with one finger to hear it ring.

"I'll miss you," he said. "That's what I'm trying to say. And I'll worry, probably."

She pressed her lips together, trying to breathe steadily.

"I'll miss you too. And I... I put you down as my next of kin on the form. I hope that's OK."

He seemed surprised at first and then nodded almost grimly. It made sense. Who else could she have realistically put?

"Are you sure you're going to be alright out there?"

"Of course. Chance of a lifetime. Moving forward and all that."

She forced herself to smile.

Friday rolled around far too quickly. She felt like she'd hardly packed at all, even with two large bags and the typewriter. Then again, she really only needed clothes. Her computer and phone and all their associated wires and chargers were locked into drawers on her desk, paper pads and notebooks in their place in her backpack. There would be opportunities to do laundry. Shoes were her biggest problem. Comfortable day to day sneakers on her feet, neat pumps just in case, red heels that hurt and made her feel ridiculous, but maybe she'd want them...

She thought the buzzer was the mailman until she heard Alan talking to someone in the hallway.

Looking out through the smallest possible gap between door and frame, she felt her stomach lurch. The Sharpes walking in, looking faintly unreal and out of place in their little apartment. Alan was loudly showing them through to the living room as an attempted warning, asking if they wanted coffee. They asked for tea. Of course they did...

Edith rushed to her mirror, brushing her hair, wishing she'd straightened it or curled it properly, anything but the frizz it had settled itself in, knowing she wouldn't have time to do any makeup. The heels and brush landed in the top of her larger bag before she zipped it shut and hauled it onto her back, like a turtle beneath a huge shell.

"Hello!" she said brightly, eyes downcast as she shuffled into the living room, not ready to look at them fully. "I wasn't expecting you so early."

Alan was filling an ancient kettle that probably belonged to the tenant before the tenant before the tenant before they moved in. Did they even have tea? Oh, dear...

"We told you about Niagara Falls, didn't we?" Lucille asked, shoes on the floor so she could curl up in one of the armchairs like an enormous cat. "A local girl like you must have been hundreds of times. We thought you could show it to us. And besides, it's about time Thomas did some heavy bag lifting. We couldn't possibly leave you to carry everything by yourself."

"Oh. Well, that's very kind of you, but I'd have managed."

Alan had emptied two cupboards and suddenly held a dog-eared cardboard box of teabags triumphantly above his head. God only knew how long that had been rattling around.

"How does everyone take it?" he asked, trying to be subtle as he read the instructions.

"Oh, Lucille likes her tea as she likes her men," Thomas said.

"Sweet?" Edith guessed.

"Lemony and dark. No milk for her and just a splash for me. No sugar, thank you."

"We're saccharine enough already," Lucille said.

There was an awkward silence as Alan made tea to the best of his ability, unearthing an ancient bottle of lemon juice from the fridge. Edith was deeply grateful that Lucille was scanning their bookshelf with what appeared to be a mix of amusement and curiosity and therefore not seeing what was about to be inflicted upon her. Edith felt restless next to such stillness, pulling out a couple of small tables from a nest covered in envelopes and junk mail.

She was horribly aware of every crumb on the carpet, every stain on their furniture, the fact that they hadn't dusted in weeks, or was it months?

"Is this your father?" Thomas asked from behind her.

Edith span round to find him holding it, the only photograph she had on display, the brass-effect frame and plastic protecting a picture of her father with his arm around her shoulders, smiling proudly. Alan had taken it on the morning of their high school graduation, before they'd put on their gowns.

"Yes, it is," she said, resisting the urge to take it out of his hands and carefully put it back on the shelf in its proper place.

"And how does he feel about you running away with the circus, as it were?"

"He, um..." Deep breath. "He passed away last year."

It still hurt. And it was the one place where words didn't seem nearly enough. She couldn't express the pain, physically did not have the ability.

He looked at her, eyes full of sympathy, but not pity. It was a subtle difference, but one she appreciated.

"I'm sorry to hear that," he said, putting it back, taking care to straighten it.

"Tea!" Alan said brightly, even managing to spirit up a tray from somewhere.

He was good at this, polite conversation. Asking about the tour and their music and travel. Good bedside manner, as they said.

Edith was barely listening. What would her dad say if he was still here? Would he be encouraging her or warning her? It was difficult to say. He'd always told her to follow her ambitions but he was never a fan of rash decisions.

She wished she'd been able to talk to him about it.

They finished their tea, bitter on her tongue, and she could put it off no longer. Alan and Thomas helped her carry her bags down the stairs and to what she supposed could charitably be called a bus. A mini-bus maybe. It was old and gray, sliding doors on the sides that seemed to scrape as they were opened.

"Beautiful, isn't she?" Thomas said, carefully placing the typewriter into the back as Lucille climbed up into the driver's seat. "First thing we bought in dollars."

"She's certainly something," Alan said, his face not hiding his true feelings at all.

He hugged Edith tightly, his arms seeming to completely envelope her as he made her promise to call and promise to write. She knew better than to tell him not to worry. He would anyway.

She waved at him until they turned out of her street, heading through town.

"Your friend is jealous," Lucille said, glancing left and right at traffic lights.

"What? Alan? No. He's just... No."

In the rearview mirror, she caught a little snippet of an expression that said Lucille was not buying that for a second. But she was definitely wrong. Alan had know her for a long time, he'd seen all her ups and all her downs. He'd just be worrying like he always did.

"So are you going to be sharing the driving?" Edith asked, trying to change the subject.

"Alas, no," Thomas said. "With the trailer back at the hotel and everything being on the wrong side of the road, we decided we ought to get a professional. We'll meet her after we see the Falls and then it's off to Detroit."

"Have you been?" Lucille asked.

"To Detroit? No. It's close though. Three or four hours through Canada I think. But... But I thought you said we were going to Connecticut first?"

"My mistake," Thomas said. "Wrong itinerary page. That comes much later."

"Geography was never exactly his strong suit," Lucille said. "Misread the map, didn't realise driving all the way across New York State made no sense."

"That's why she does the planning and I focus on enjoying myself."

Edith made herself smile, wondering what it must be like to be so laid back as to completely mistake your next destination and yet not care. But she was more thinking about the idea of the driver. A female driver, another outsider. Maybe someone she could bond with.

She'd have to wait and find out. Lucille was heading out towards the freeway, towards Canada and waterfalls and months of the unknown.

Please let this have been a good idea.

Chapter Text

Edith had indeed been to Niagara Falls many times. Half an hour away, it had been the site of many school trips down the years. But crossing over to the Canadian side was at least going to be a little novel.

Still, it was 30 minutes when surely she was on the clock, as it were. Maybe not a full-scale interview, but she should start getting to know them. Gaining their confidence. Learning about them.

Maybe that was why other journalists had fallen foul of their tricks. They hadn't had time to understand them and figure out what was true and what wasn't.

"What made you want to become musicians?" she asked.

Lucille laughed.

"Oh, very good," she said. "Subtle, really."

Thomas tutted lightly.

"Be nice. What else was she meant to try?"

A shrug and Thomas sighed.

"Our mother was very determined that we should learn instruments," he said. "She spent a lot of time and money trying to cultivate a love of classical music in us. Piano from the age of three, Spanish guitar, cello, flute..."

"I thought you were self-taught?" Edith asked.

He fixed her with a stare in the mirror.

"We're self-taught rock and roll stars," Lucille said. "If it was up to Mother, I'd be a concert pianist and Thomas would be a conductor. If it was up to Father, he'd be a banker probably."

"And what about you?"

A pause, bitterness practically radiating from her.

"I'd be a convenient womb in a loveless marriage to one of his friend's idiot sons. If he cared to think about my future at all."

Edith knew her eyes had widened, knew she must look shocked. The way they talked about their parents, so formally, so distant. Mother and Father, not Mum and Dad. It was strange. And such old-fashioned thinking too.

Thomas was squeezing Lucille's shoulder comfortingly, and her death grip on the wheel eased as she sighed.

"Trust me, Edith, I need to have a significantly elevated blood alcohol level to even start wanting to talk about our family. Suffice to say, we've spent a long time rebelling. I used to say we'd do what they wanted over their dead bodies, but even that hasn't happened."

Could she mean... Were their parents really dead then? Or were they just extremely estranged?

It reinforced to her just how lucky she'd been with her own parents. They might have both passed now, but they'd given her more love and encouragement in that time than some managed over fifty years. She felt oddly guilty about it.

Border control was visibly surprised by them showing up on a quiet day. Two glamorous Brits and their strange American friend, just popping over the invisible line to look at the waterfall, nothing to worry about officer.

"What's in the back?"

"Oh," Edith said. "It's my luggage. They just picked me up, we're going travelling. But since we're so close, we figured..."

He looked at her passport carefully, the blue cover looking strange next to the maroon-ish purple of the Sharpes' ones. Birthplace Buffalo, NY, that's probably what he was looking at.

"Work visas..."

"We're musicians," Lucille said. "We're playing a few little concerts and it's very important to have the correct paperwork."

From her seat behind, Edith could just see her smile, the way she was sitting up just a little more, her shoulders curved in slightly. Not flirting, not really, but something close to it.

"Have a nice visit."

The barrier raised for them to pass, Thomas passing Edith's passport back for her to put away as they drove up the road and pulled into the busy parking lot.

It was always busy, even so early in the season, even when it was still freezing. Edith kind of liked it, the way the spray would freeze and cover everything in a beautiful, sharp second skin of frost, spiky and glittering. And she liked the icicles that grew too, huge white spears.

"Do you know anything about the hydroelectrics?" Thomas asked.

"Um... A little. We did it as a project at school, but that was years ago."

"I'm sure there will be plenty of information about it provided," Lucille said, zipping up her parka. Dark green and a little battered, probably vintage. "Our tutors used to call him the little engineer. Always wanting to know how things work."

She opened the back of the bus and pulled out a holdall, handing Edith the Poloroid camera.

"You never know," she said, clanging the door shut and heading off towards the welcome centre.

It was surreal. Edith felt like she'd accidently gone on vacation with strangers and been charged with taking their photos. Not to mention that she wasn't quite sure how to use the camera in the first place. It felt strange to raise the viewfinder to her eye instead of looking at a digital screen for one thing as she took an experimental shot of the Sharpes' backs as they read the first information board, the icy blue curve of the falls just about visible behind them.

Clunk, whirr, a little white square. Shake it like a Poloroid picture...

Not very good. Over exposed, the figures like dark shadows against a white background with only the vaguest hint of something else there.

But the quality wasn't the point, the point was that the little picture was unique. There wasn't even a film to order more prints from, no negative. This was it. Of course, it would be scanned and copied and so on later, but it she tore it up now, there'd be no trace of it, not even ghosts of megabytes.

"Edith?"

They looked amused, Lucille waving the marker pen teasingly.

"You have to keep that one," Thomas said as she caught up with them. "The first one is special."

He let her lean on his back to write on it. First - T + L @ Niagara Falls

Lucille tilted her head to the side.

"That's interesting," she said. "Using that symbol. I don't think your typewriter even has it. But I like it. It's a sign of how even use of punctuation evolves over time."

"What was it before?"

"It was for accounting. Two items at a rate of $4 is $8, that kind of thing."

They paid her entry fee for going behind the fall, souvenir rain poncho and all. No amount of protesting convinced them otherwise.

"We haven't even paid you yet. Think of it as work expenses."

Despite how awe-inspiring the waterfall was, as always, Edith couldn't quite shake her faint feeling of unease during the couple of hours they spent doing the rounds of viewing platforms and museums.

"Are you being extra nice so that I write that you're nice in my first article?"

Lucille smiled at her, frowning slightly.

"Do you think everyone you meet has some kind of ulterior motive, Edith?"

"No! And I... Not ulterior, just..."

"Oh, don't pay attention to her," Thomas said, glancing at his watch. "She's just playing with you. And we should be going or we'll be late for Finlay."

He drove, taking them back across the border and into the suburbs of an unfamiliar town. For all she was born and bred, Edith didn't go beyond the city limits... ever, really. She had no idea where they were. It could have been anywhere, really.

They pulled into an ordinary street, neat little square lawns, white wooden shutters.

"Look at this place," Lucille said. "It's every movie ever. Or it will be, when the leaves come in properly."

They stopped by a house like all the others, children's trikes on the driveway. Not going to be stolen. A safe neighborhood.

Edith watched as a young woman came to the door, a toddler on her hip. Surely they weren't intending to take a baby on tour?

"That must be the daughter. Charm offensive needed, Thomas. She thinks her mother has seen quite enough excitement for one lifetime without going off with us."

As if on cue, a suitcase appeared, an older woman right behind it, a look of determination on her face. Edith did not like the idea of arguing with her, but that was clearly what was happening. Something about bad ideas, blood pressure.

"Don't you go telling me off about blood pressure. Sitting around getting fed by you isn't gonna help me shift any weight. I need to be out there, Juney. I need excitement in my life. I'm not dead yet."

She hadn't slowed down, bypassing her daughter and grandson to hand Thomas her bags.

"Mrs Finlay," he was saying, practically bowing. "I would hate to think that we're in any way causing conflict here. And what a handsome fellow this is! Hello, young man."

Lucille chuckled as before too long, Thomas was holding the little boy, having his nose and eyebrows thoroughly explored by small hands. The mother was clearly not prepared to be moved, so the daughter dutifully embraced her, still evidently disagreeing but finding peace somehow.

And then she was in the bus in a flash, adjusting the seat, waving, demanding that Juney give her husband a hug from his mother-in-law, and with that they were pulling away.

"Edith, meet Mrs Deborah Finlay," Lucille said. "Finlay, this is Miss Edith Cushing, our writer."

"Nice to meet you."

"You too. Very excited to be part of this little trip. Of course, June thinks I'm going to combust or something, but I keep telling her, if you've been shot like I have, you take every opportunity that life throws your way."

Edith head whirled a little, trying to make sense of what she'd just heard.

"Sh-shot?"

They all laughed, all three of them. Lucille leaned close, conspiratorily.

"Mrs Finlay now, but formerly Detective Finlay," she said. "Injured in the line of duty."

"Get to know me better, maybe I'll show you the scar," Finlay said. "Now, where's this trailer I've heard so much about? Let's get this show on the road!"

She cackled, the lines around her eyes clearly showing where they'd come from.

"I've always wanted to say that."

Chapter Text

Geography really wasn't their strong point... There was no other explanation of the ridiculous way they went back to Buffalo to pick up a rickety trailer from a paid parking lot. Apparently all the instruments were in there. Guitars, keyboards, synths, probably dozens overall. Worth an absolute fortune.

They had an early dinner in a tiny local burger restaurant, all chequered tablecloths and formica counter top.

"This isn't quite right," Lucille said, turning over the laminated menu, faded and stained with the ghosts of generations of spilled drinks.

"How do you mean?" Edith asked.

"Not nearly enough clichés. The waitresses ought to be on rollerskates for one thing. No red stools at the counter, no pot of coffee for top ups."

"I promise," Thomas said. "At some point, we will stop at a diner and you can experience being topped up by a skating woman."

"I want her to have one of those names too. Like Marge. Or Ginger. Lorraine. Julia."

Finlay laughed. She seemed to do that a lot.

"And milkshakes served in the bottle?" she asked. "I know what you mean. Trust me, you young folk always manage to find the good stuff in the past. The fashion, the music, whatever. But I was there and, my God, I would not go back if you paid me."

It was strange. The Sharpes had a kind of magnetism about them, but Finlay radiated warmth. Edith had barely known her grandparents, but Finlay had that kind of grandma air about her, like she'd been waiting all her life to offer little tidbits of wisdom.

"It's not an era or a nostalgia," Lucille said after the disruption of food arriving was over. "It's a faintly unreal sense of the country. That's what's interesting. Americana, that's what we're after. All-night diners, mom and pop businesses, eagles all over everything."

"You don't have family businesses in England?"

"Of course we do," Thomas said. "But we have a somewhat filtered image of the States. It mostly comes from films and television. Every bar is the bar from 'Cheers', every school is the school from 'The Breakfast Club', that kind of thing. Everyone in New Orleans loves jazz, everyone in California is blonde and tanned, everyone in the South sits on their porch swing drinking sweet tea, everyone in Maine is in a Stephen King story. Preconceptions and fixed ideas from popular culture. In much the same way the rest of the world takes 'Downton Abbey' as some kind of documentary."

"Though of course, we are genuine nobility," Lucille added.

Edith blinked at them. Was that a joke? Was she walking into it if she believed it?

"Are you serious?" she asked.

"Extremely minor nobility," Thomas said, picking up his burger bun to look suspiciously at the drooping lettuce beneath. "Barely worth mentioning. No one knows what a hereditary baronetcy is."

Well, he was correct on that front and it just made Edith more unsure. That might not even be a real thing. It might be more attempts to fool her.

"She doesn't believe us," Lucille said, tasting a drop ketchup from the tip of her finger before deeming it acceptable.

"I don't know... Hereditary means you got it from your parents, but..."

She glanced at Finlay. Was it alright to talk about such matters in front of her? Where was the line?

"But we hated our parents," Lucille finished for her. "So why maintain any part of the family line? For a start, a baronetcy is not like monarchy. It doesn't just transfer. You have to go to the registrar with birth certificate, marriage certificate of parents, death certificate of the previous baronet, proof that you are the eldest surviving male heir of the first baronet..."

"Our seven times great grandfather," Thomas said.

"All that to be Sir Thomas. So much effort. But then again, just thinking of how furious Father would be, the proud legacy on the shoulders of a libertine showman."

"Less of the libertine, please. You'll scare her off."

"Oh, I'm sorry. Don't worry, Edith, my brother is three steps from monkhood and wouldn't dream of trespassing against your modesty."

Edith was fairly sure her face remained pink though the rest of the meal, no matter that Finlay told her to pay no mind to such teasing. It was difficult though. She felt like a half-plucked chicken sitting between two peacocks.

They slipped back across into Canada without a problem, different border guard, planning to hit Detroit in the evening for supper and bed.

Lucille seemed to be keen to go shopping during the day before the show and Edith got the distinct feeling she was going to be taken along whether she liked it or not. She wasn't exactly keen on clothes stores at the best of times, let alone going with someone so glamorous. Then again, maybe by herself Lucille would be different to how she was around her brother.

They seemed to find everything they saw strangely amusing. Especially going past towns called London and Chatham, evidence of the British colonialists. Edith wasn't entirely sure she got it. There was an edge of irony to it, a faint hint of superiority.

By the time they crept back across the border and into Detroit, it was getting dark.

"Motor City," Finlay said. "What a place."

What a place they were staying at, for a start. A real old-fashioned motel, flickering lights and all. And only three bedrooms booked.

"It's cheaper this way," Thomas said when Edith questioned it. "Besides, we're used to sharing dressing rooms with no privacy. Don't worry about us."

A tiny room, really just a square with a bed in it and a cupboard that held a bathroom of sorts. Toilet, sink, shower, all crammed in together. Still, it was clean. Comfortable enough.

The travelling and second-guessing had tired her out a little, rubbing her eyes while chewing gas station sandwiches, but Edith felt she ought to call Alan before going to sleep, let him know she hadn't been murdered.

"Yet," he said, after she'd carefully followed the 'calling outbound' procedure on the motel phone. "They're biding their time."

"They're not. They're nice. Well, nice-ish. And we have a driver now. A witness."

"The driver's in on it."

She laughed, yawning a little with it. At least he seemed to be more relaxed about the whole thing now.

"I'll be out late tomorrow night at the first show," she said. "But I'll try to tell you all about it the day after."

"Just call regularly. That's all I ask. And be careful. Seriously."

"I will. I'm practically asleep here, sorry. You on lates still?"

"Yeah. I should be going actually. Sleep tight. Don't let the rock stars bite."

He was ridiculous sometimes.

Chapter Text

"Oh, you need to try this on."

Edith tried her best to stifle a yawn. She felt like Lucille had woken her at the crack of dawn, graciously letting her quickly wash her hair before reappearing with a greasy breakfast bought from a van - and Edith was really starting to wonder how she kept her figure so well if they were going to live on this stuff for the next few months - and now they were in a fairly deserted store that sold...

Well, if you were into this sort of thing and had the look for it, it was very nice. But it took the right kind of person to get away with tailored leather trenchcoats and so many chains and artful spiders and bats.

She turned to look at what Lucille had found and instantly scoffed. Red PVC corset, really?

"I... I don't think..."

"Just for the fun of it. Not to buy. Unless you look really good in it."

Edith's cheeks were probably in danger of becoming the same shade as the plastic as Lucille pressed it into her hands and continued flicking through everything from camisoles to full ball gowns.

It wasn't the worst changing room she'd ever been in. The lighting was soft and yellowy, not the harsh fluorescence of some stores that seemed determined to make everything as unflattering as possible and point out every imperfection. All the same, Edith was incredibly aware of her body as she tugged off her t-shirt, every freckle, every stretch mark from her teenage years, the strange gray-peach of an ancient bra making her skin look dull. Like she needed to exfoliate so hard that it would come off, shed it like a snake.

The corset went on surprisingly easily, wrapping around her back and hooking together with steel fastenings. She only started to have trouble halfway up, the sheer lack of space forcing her breasts upwards into an unusual angle. It was fine once it was on, but she already felt awkward. It had completely changed her shape, lifting and squeezing, forcing her body to yield to its plastic boning.

"Can I see?"

"Um..."

Lucille leant round the curtain and grinned, Edith wrapping her arms around herself defensively.

"No, come on, let me look."

Trying not to wince or blush too much, Edith turned back to the mirror and was sure she could physically feel Lucille's eyes roam over her. She possibly had never been less comfortable in her entire life. A mongrel being examined by a sleek pedigree. Rust next to chrome.

"You look good like this. Really. But I know, it is a little over the top. And $90 dollars is steep. But still. You look sexy."

Edith met her own stunned gaze in the reflection.

"I, uh... I don't..."

"Sorry," Lucille said, laughing as though it was nothing. "Probably counts as sexual harassment since I'm your employer. I'll let you change back into yourself."

She vanished, leaving Edith to extract herself from the corset and pin it back onto its little hanger. She tried to compose herself, taking the time to pull her hair back, maybe just a little too tight. This was a test, a game Lucille was playing with her. Seeing what she'd do, teasing her, seeing how far she could go.

Hopefully she'd stop it after they got properly used to one another.

She caught up as Lucille was paying for a few items, noticing the nervous young man hovering nearby.

"Is that... Is that Lucille Sharpe?" he hissed.

Edith frowned.

"Yes?"

"Oh, my God... Oh, my God..."

Of course. Crimson Peak were famous in exactly this kind of scene. He was probably going to the concert later. He ran his hands through tight curls, nervous.

"Do you know her? Does she mind people asking for selfies?"

"I... I work for her, but I don't know..."

He'd already approached, the very second she turned with her bags, babbling, telling Lucille he was a huge fan, how he loved the music, how it would make his life if she would deign to take a picture with him.

"Put your phone away," she said. "You'll have it on my terms."

Edith found herself taking a Polaroid of them together, worried about the lack of light in the store and what it would do to the exposure, but getting an atmospheric picture out of it. Lucille seemed to glow, the fan standing with a rictus grin, awkward and stiff.

"Collect the set," Lucille said as she signed it. "I believe my brother is exploring the Henry Ford museum. If you're lucky, you might find him."

As they left, Edith looked back to see him trying to take a picture of the photo with his phone. It would be online in seconds, looking like it had been artificially filtered into submission.

"Do you mind that kind of thing?" Edith asked, remembering the blank paper back with the typewriter. Anything she could jot down would be helpful.

"Honestly, it doesn't happen often enough to bother me. Not in person. Not out in the street like this. Maybe if they interrupted me one too may times I'd snap at them, but I find it amusing more than anything else. I don't really understand it. Smiling together in pictures, like we're friends."

"They want to document having met you."

"Yes. It's just funny that he might frame that picture and have it on the wall in his house. They remember these moments so clearly and yet, apart from a few, they mean absolutely nothing to me."

Edith stumbled over a loose paving stone, only just staying upright.

"But... I mean, they're the ones who buy your music..."

Lucille laughed, high and loud.

"Not the fans, the pictures. I couldn't tell you where I've had my picture taken or who with. It just makes me think about how often something might mean the world to me, but be hardly remembered by someone else. You know, like how you remember kids being mean at school, even though it's been twenty years and it couldn't matter less, but you still remember and ache a little."

Edith couldn't imagine that anyone had ever been mean to Lucille. She couldn't imagine that anyone would dare. But she knew the feeling well. The strange things remembered and focussed on at 2am, the classmates whose names and faces had long ago faded but whose thoughtless words seemed burned into her memory forever.

They took a (highly expensive due to the distance) cab to the Henry Ford - or the Edison Institute as it was more properly known - planning to meet Thomas for lunch. If they could ever find him.

The museum was enormous, a huge entrance like a town hall and an entire park of space in behind it for exhibits. Then again, it was supposed to have dozens of important vehicles.

Which, in turn, meant Thomas could be anywhere.

"Should have known," Lucille said as they headed for the Michigan Café, the only eatery that didn't require a museum ticket. "Say one o'clock but then put him in a building full of machines and he vanishes."

"Should we wait?" Edith asked.

"Not if we want to eat before it closes at four."

She ordered for him with a casual assumption that she knew what he would want. Though to be fair, when Thomas did arrive, twenty minutes late, he barely seemed to notice what he was eating, bright and cheerful with excitement. He looked softer somehow, younger almost. Renewed and refreshed.

"They have everything here! Prototype helicopters, all kinds of experimental engines, the car Kennedy was shot in, Rosa Parks' bus... It's amazing."

Lucille tilted her head to the side, carefully spearing a piece of celery on one tine of her fork.

"You know as well as I do that there were others before Rosa Parks," she said. "Where's Claudette Colvin's bus for one? Practically written out of history for being too young, too loud, too teenaged girl..."

"The ends can justify the means, as you are well aware. The cause needed the right kind of unimpeachable, respectable, strong adult to rally around. They won, that's what matters. Besides, you've read about her. The information is out there for anyone to learn from. That's hardly being written out."

Edith sipped her water, feeling vaguely uncomfortable. She couldn't quite put her finger on what was upsetting her. Something about the tone of their voices. As though they were interested in winning their little rhetorical battle rather than the history or the fact that it was still in living memory and vitally important.

Maybe it was the distance they implied. Like they were examining something on a distant moon hundreds of years ago instead of something relatively recent and tangible. They were observing the facts, not engaging with them.

She wished she hadn't had that thought. Feedback from an early assignment flashed through her mind. Well written, but fails to engage either reader or subject. Not so much dry as shallow. Work on crafting a profile, not on merely reporting words.

Was taking an impromptu journey engaging with her subjects enough? Or had she now swung too far the other way?

"Where's Finlay today?" she asked, trying to wriggle out of the awkward feeling.

"We'll join her after we eat," Thomas said. "As I understand, she's been on a Motown themed walking tour and invites us to join her to visit Hitsville USA before we prepare for the show. And I trust you had a good time shopping this morning?"

"I, um... Yeah."

"You don't sound very sure."

He seemed genuinely concerned and Edith tried her best to force a smile.

"I made her uncomfortable," Lucille said. "Tried to push an outfit on her that she found distasteful."

"No," Edith said. "No, it was fine. Just... It just didn't suit me, that's all. I wasn't uncomfortable. I was fine."

She was protesting too much, she knew it, but Lucille was making her sound like a child, raising her eyebrows at her insistence like she didn't believe a word of it and leaning over to rummage in her bag.

"I got some nice things though."

She held up a camisole in deep red in front of her chest, the deep neckline somewhat disguised by lace that seemed to be attached to a kind of choker collar. It was a strange combination. The silky material of the bulk of it looked like lingerie, but the modest chest covering was almost Victorian to Edith's eye.

And it would suit Lucille. It would stand out so clearly against her skin, make her neck seem all the longer. Would she wear it for one of the shows? Edith could see it in a Polaroid already, surrounded by smoke on the stage.

"I'll model it for you later," Lucille said, getting a half smile from Thomas. Edith was a little surprised that he would care much for clothes, but then again so much of their identity was caught up in appearances and look. Maybe they always critiqued each other's outfits.

The show seemed far too close and yet not nearly close enough when Finlay arrived to collect them, positively giddy to have a chance to see relics from some of her favourite artists.

The first show Edith would ever write a report on, and it was due as soon as she could get it done and sent off.

Somehow, she wasn't sure she'd get much sleep that night.

Chapter Text

Edith sat in her little motel bed, pen in hand, and crossed out her opening sentence for the fifth time.

Her ears were still ringing from being so close to the instruments, standing in the wings with the camera, trying to get good shots. She'd spread them all out on the second pillow, trying to decide if any were useable.

There was one of the crowd she liked. Just the front row visible, singing along, mouths all open in the same shape, reaching for the stage, some with phones to try to capture something, others with their bare hands. And there was one of Thomas almost silhouetted, his hair wild and slightly damp, the slightest hint of shining eyes in the shadow.

But a good shot of Lucille... That was proving more elusive. Which was very strange, because Edith had been hardly able to keep her eyes off her. It was almost hard to believe that the creature she had seen on stage, aloof yet giving, accessible yet strangely Other, was the very same person who spoke so bluntly and was untroubled by nuance and social norms. She was a little prickly, a little guarded in person, at least about herself. Edith found herself wondering which of the was the 'real' Lucille. Maybe neither. Maybe both.

Eventually she chose one of her playing bass guitar, the curves of the instrument complementing her slender frame, her wrist looped delicately around the neck like a coiled snake.

She thought of how long she'd watched those elegant fingers moving up and down the frets, soft pads pressing on the strings, holding them down to draw the notes out, and swallowed hard.

What was wrong with her? This was so inappropriate. And it made no sense. Yes, Lucille was beautiful and skilful and Edith had to admit that she had always enjoyed watching people who were good at what they did - she liked watching artists drawing for example and dancers and science demonstrations - but there was absolutely no reason to be blushing over it.

She'd had crushes before, on boys and then on men. It was possible to find someone objectively attractive without it being anything deeper. Lauren Bacall was beautiful, for example. Women in Pre-Raphaelite paintings. Kim Min-hee. Lea Salonga.

They'd spent half the afternoon looking at pictures of beautiful, talented women at Hitsville USA. Gladys Knight. Diana Ross. Mary Wells.

She was quite capable of appreciating attractive women without getting the giggles, thank you.

It had to be the elusiveness drawing her in. She was trying to see who Lucille really was and as such she was getting a little too single-minded, too focussed, and mistaking that for interest. Maybe if she spent a little more time with Thomas by himself she'd get more perspective.

Or maybe she'd develop an inappropriate fascination with him as well.

Detroit greeted Crimson Peak cautiously but soon opened its arms wide to them, she wrote. This city of innovation and experimentation was ideal for their strange blend of classical and classic influences. Attendees did not imagine the insertion of more than one borrowed Motown phrase, though the sweet tones of 'Baby Love' were perhaps a little too ironic when slipped into the middle eight of 'Progestin', the Sharpes' cheerfully devastating ode to emergency contraceptives.

Was that harsh? The song made her uncomfortable enough with its driving, pulsing beat that seemed to echo in her ears and the way the strong note never fell where she expected it to. And then when she'd listened to the lyrics and realised what it was about...

She couldn't help wondering if it was fictional or not. And if it wasn't, then which of them had written it. Was that Lucille waiting breathless in a pharmacy and weeping through the cramps and ultimately relieved that it had worked or had Thomas had an accident with a girlfriend and then written a song from her perspective? And if there was a woman out there who inspired it, what did she think about her experience being used like that?

And did the Sharpes even care?

Music was their passion but also their product. If someone provided the inspiration for a song, Edith couldn't quite imagine them asking permission or even mentioning it.

Maybe they'd write about her one day.

She wasn't sure if she'd like that or not.

The little room wasn't helping her creative process. She'd been in a smoky environment all night, inhaled far more dry ice than she was used to. Air, that's what she needed. Fresh air.

The concrete floor of the motel walkway was chill beneath her feet despite her socks, but the cold was just what she wanted to soothe her throat. A few good gulps and she could get back to it.

She was leaning against the railing, watching the headlamps of cars moving on and off the freeway like glowing ants, when she realised the wasn't alone.

"You should be in bed, young lady," Finlay said, looking right at home in a bulky robe and thick woolly slippers. "You've had a long day."

Edith made an attempt at a smile.

"I'm supposed to write about the show," she said. "But I can't quite find the words."

Finlay joined her in her leaning, a cup of what looked like hot chocolate steaming gently into the night.

"Seems to me lots of journalists will be writing up the shows," she said thoughtfully. "But none of them will be able to write what you can. You're the one with the inside scoop. You're the one getting to know them personally."

The little laugh was out before Edith could stop it.

"I think I could spend years with them and not get to know them."

"Well, early days yet. They're strange folks but it takes all sorts to make the world go round. Just got to get used to each other. Between you and I, it feels like they haven't met too many people, not properly. Very self-reliant pair. Which is good but, well, might take a little while to get behind the armour. But that's what people want to know. What are they like, really? What don't you see in public? What goes on after the lights go down and all the wires are packed away? Keep trying. You'll get there. But a sleepy writer is no good to anyone. You need your rest."

She was right, Edith supposed. And she already had some insights. At least, she thought they were insights.

Her own words about lies from her audition article came back to her as she wished Finlay goodnight and promised to go to bed right away.

The Sharpes lied. They did. So her insights might not be insights at all. She was the lead in a detective novel and she had to interpret the clues as best she could.

Right. New page in the notebook. That other paragraph could come later, after she'd set the scene.

I do not know if the things I am going to write over the next few months will be true. My own observations will be as accurate as I can make them. However, when it comes to the enigmatic Sharpe siblings, I don't believe anything can be treated as absolute truth.

Especially anything Lucille says, she added internally.

Along with their tour, they are here to explore both notable and common parts of the cities they pause at. Tour-ism is the order of the day.

"Order of the day"? Cliched, fix that in the edit. And the section about the Detroit show could go here.

Some songs are easy to interpret. Lyrical storytelling seems to come easy to them. As for the more abstract or the instrumentals, asking the meaning would be unlikely to be met with a simple answer. Or rather it would, but that answer is unlikely to be all there is to it.

They change their answers as readily as they change keys.

The next tour stop is Columbus, Ohio, and I believe we will have travelled through Cincinnati and played in Louisville, Indiapolis, Chicago and perhaps even Milwaukee by the time I send another article.

So many places. And so many other little towns circled on the map, ideas for places to stop.

And she was already tired.

She hauled her things down to the bus the next morning, notebook tucked into her belt, and had to type up her article on the road. Even with Finlay driving as carefully as she could down the lakeside, there were bumps in the road that made the letters dance in front of her eyes, having to close them tight to avoid feeling sick. The Sharpes were carefully giving her space though, not trying to look at her notes. Complete creative freedom.

Singing songs from Hairspray as they drove through North Baltimore didn't help her stress levels though.

"That's Baltimore, Maryland," Edith found herself saying, unusually harshly, fingers juddering against the typewriter keys. "Whole different state."

She didn't miss the look Lucille gave her, surprised and maybe a little intrigued. Edith wondered if she was annoyed at being corrected or if she was glad that Edith wasn't afraid to challenge them.

Maybe it had been yet another test. She carefully didn't look up again and willed her cheeks not to go pink.

They drove into a town called Findlay where the Sharpes insisted on stopping and taking a picture by the sign. They had to be in odd sight, a beat-up bus pulled over, a woman grinning as a Polaroid whirred. A scene from the wrong decade.

Edith wrote on the back of the pictures which she thought could go to magazines and which were for the book as extra content. Finlay @ Findlay, one of the Sharpes at Niagara Falls, a picture from sound check showing wires and clutter everywhere.

She was putting them all in an envelope when they were waiting for their for lunch to arrive in a town called Delaware - the Sharpes saying something about not even Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Newcastle-under-Lyme being this confusing - and looking around for a post office when Thomas frowned at her.

"You don't have to show me," he said. "But have you put in any pictures of yourself?"

She hadn't even thought about that.

"No. I haven't taken any."

"Well, that won't do. We'll have to fix that."

He wouldn't let her seal it, squeezing Lucille's shoulder at he stood up and beckoned Edith to follow.

She stopped dead when he approached the single bathroom at the back of the cafe.

"In... In there?" she stammered.

"How do you think they took selfies on these things? We're just going to use the mirror."

And thankfully it was on a wall perpendicular to the cubicle and not opposite it. Edith stared at her own reflection, how short she looked with Thomas looming behind her, smiling.

"If you line up the shot and then bring the camera down to chest height, so everyone can see your beautiful face..."

She blushed hotly, almost cringing in embarrassment. It was just an expression, for goodness sake, he didn't mean anything by it...

"It's alright," he said softly and, God, she could feel his presence right there, not touching her but close enough to her back that she could feel his body heat. "Just relax, it's OK."

She lined up the shot and brought her arms down, keeping her gaze steady, not looking at him even in the mirror, keeping her face carefully blank as she pressed the button.

"I look like a mannequin," she said, trying to break the tension once the picture had resolved into focus.

Or a puppet he was controlling, looking at her, eyes on her face in the reflection, arms folded but slouching to the side with effortless cool.

"You remind me more of those porcelain masks. You know the ones? Smooth. Painted so delicately."

Her laugh was too shrill as they came back out, getting frowns from a few other patrons.

"That sounds more like Lucille than me."

"Mm. But I know that she keeps under her mask. I'm not so sure about you."

Edith was still wondering exactly what he meant by that as Lucille carefully wrote T and Edith in Not That Delaware along the bottom, slipped it into the envelope and smiled as she sealed it up.

Chapter Text

"I have the article right here in front of me. And you're one of the cover headlines so that's good."

Edith swapped the motel phone to her other ear. She had invested in anti-bacterial wipes to clean them and the TV remotes after Lucille had told her about a news report she'd read about hygiene in such places in more graphic detail than was necessary, but now she was regretting sitting on the floor. It might have been vacuumed, but perhaps not thoroughly enough.

"How is it?" she asked.

Alan made a moderately impressed noise.

"Well, it sounds like you. Either they're keeping their promise and not editing it, or whoever's doing it is really good at imitating your style. You sound kinda... I don't know. Critical. But it's good. It's fine."

Edith frowned at the wallpaper border, terracotta orange and almost crusty-looking. Maybe it had matched the faded curtains once upon a time.

"That doesn't sound good," she said.

"No, it is. It is. And you look good in the picture too. You're, uh... You're getting along with Thomas then?"

Ugh...

Ever since that day with the camera, she'd felt hyper-aware of his presence. And she'd noticed how strangely quietly he moved. It wasn't like he deliberately snuck up on her. Half the time he didn't even seem to notice. She'd startle and he wouldn't even react. Or he would by smiling and laying his hands on her shoulders and asking how she was, as if she was completely ridiculous.

She'd started glancing at him too often. And he was never looking when she did. She might as well not exist half the time.

It was stupid. He'd made her deeply uncomfortable one time, that shouldn't translate into attraction. Or not... Not uncomfortable as such. He'd made her realise that she liked having his attention. When he spoke to her, she felt like he really listened. And even though she felt incredibly unintelligent next to him - next to both of them - on the rare occasions she was able to add something to a discussion, he seemed genuinely interested.

She had something akin to a crush and it was awful.

"Yeah, he's fine," she said, trying to keep her voice steady. "I tend to spend more time with Lucille and Finlay though."

"OK. Just be careful around him."

"Why?"

Maybe he had sounded a little defensive. But she didn't need to be looked after. She was fine. Alright, so she'd forgotten what day of the week it was and she was starting to lose track of their exact location on the map - somewhere near Cinncinnati she thought - because of all the stops and the way they were weaving around to see dozens of small towns and hamlets, but she was fine.

"Well, you know. He's a rock star. They have... reputations."

"Reputations? What's that supposed to mean?"

"I think you know what it means."

She scoffed.

"Well, he's not like that. We're friends, that's all."

Maybe not even that... She honestly wasn't sure if their relationship went beyond professional.

"I don't want you to get hurt, that's all."

"I can look after myself."

Did he not hear it? How patronising and imposing he was being? Thomas had no interest in her. At all. And he'd made that abundantly clear.

"Look, I just... I'm sorry, of course you can, I'm just asking you to be careful. They're manipulative people."

"What makes you say that?"

There was a heavy pause.

"Did you sign any kind of non-disclosure agreement, Edith?"

That was a very precise question all of a sudden. Had she? Surely not. After all, they'd given her full creative freedom, they weren't checking her work and she was allowed to write whatever she wanted.

"I don't think so. Why do you ask?"

"Just I was doing some research on them and I came across this girl who says she worked in their recording studio and..."

There was a crash from through the wall. Like a glass smashing. Edith flinched forwards, heart hammering. Weren't Thomas and Lucille in that room?

"I think I should go check on something," she said.

"No, Edith, this is important. She said she couldn't talk about it for legal reasons but that she was praying for you and that anyone who knew you should tell you not to trust the Sharpes under any circumstances."

"Me? Me personally?"

"It was in response to the article. I'm trying to contact her, but she hasn't got back to me yet..."

A door slamming. Stamping footsteps. Something was definitely wrong.

"Alan, seriously, I have to go. It's probably nothing. She'll just be some bitter groupie or something. It's nothing. I'll call you tomorrow."

She didn't even bother waiting for him to say goodbye before hanging up and rushing for the door, grabbing her room key on her way out.

She knocked without giving herself time to be worried about it.

"Did you forget your fucking key?" she heard Lucille snap before opening the door, her scowl instantly softening. There was a faint fuzziness about her eyes, liner running a little. She'd been crying.

"I..." Edith started. "I thought I heard something. Are you alright?"

Lucille sighed, leaning against the door jamb.

"Of course. I dropped one of the tumblers and Thomas is pissed that we'll have to pay for it, that's all. Come in and sit with me."

Edith wasn't really given a choice, just led inside by the hand, having to sit in the only chair as Lucille flopped back on the double bed.

Yeah... "Dropped a glass." Never mind the obvious splash mark on the wall. No, that had been thrown. It had clearly been thrown.

Her stomach rolled. Had Thomas done that?

Maybe Alan really was on to something. Maybe he wasn't as nice as he seemed.

"I feel like going dancing," Lucille said. "We should go dancing, you and me. Tonight."

"Oh, I... I'm not sure I really have an outfit suitable for that."

"You can borrow something of mine."

There was a sudden rattling in the lock, and Edith couldn't help but go tense. Surely Thomas wouldn't do anything in front of her?

He was holding a dustpan and brush, freezing the moment he entered the room, faint guilt passing his face before settling into a gentle, concerned frown.

"I hope we didn't disturb you, Edith. Dropped a glass... Such butterfingers."

"We're going dancing just the two of us," Lucille announced, digging through clothes on the floor. "Is that alright?"

The tension was incredibly high, thick and choking, as Thomas crouched to sweep up the broken glass.

"Do whatever you like," he said, shrugging.

"Great!" and Lucille's voice was far too bright now. "Don't wait up."

Edith looked back as she was dragged out of the room, catching Thomas's clenched jaw and fists. Lucille obviously wanted to be away from him.

"Do you have scissors?"

She was trying to unlock her door, unsure what that meant.

"Only nail ones."

"Oh, that's fine. I just need to cut some stuff."

For a moment, Edith was scared to get them. What exactly was "stuff"? She wasn't going to hurt herself or anything, was she? And, of course, they were right at the bottom of her washbag, taking forever to find...

When she turned, Lucille had taken off her blouse and was apparently trying to pick between two t-shirts, lips pursed critically. Edith's eyes hit her breasts first, black mesh bra barely actually concealing them, and then down her stomach, the slight swell of her hips hitting her jeans, trying desperately to look away.

She looked so normal. Yes, slim and beautiful, but she had the pale lines of stretchmarks, freckles, dark hair under her navel. Real flesh. A real body.

There were even scars...

Edith turned away, mortified, stammering out an apology.

"Oh, come on, Edith. I doubt I have anything you haven't seen before. Here, try this on."

She caught the pink shirt Lucille threw at her, facing the wall as she hurriedly pulled it on. It was far too big, swamping her.

Arms wrapped around her, circled her waist, a belt scooping the fabric in. Lucille moved her by her shoulder, frowning lightly as she started cutting around the neckline.

"Hold your hair up," she murmured, very close to Edith's face. "I'd hate to catch it by mistake."

A deep V-cut revealed more cleavage than Edith was usually comfortable with, the sleeves hacked off, the shirt turned into more of a voluminous mini dress.

"Lose the jeans," Lucille said.

No, no, it would barely cover anything...

"I haven't shaved in days," she said truthfully. "I'd... I'd rather not."

Lucille tutted and shrugged, fluffing out Edith's hair into waves.

"OK. Let's do your makeup."

Edith wasn't particularly good at staying still when someone was coming at her with pointed things, but she did her best. Heavy shadow, contouring, the kind of thing she never did for herself. She wasn't sure it really suited her, but then Lucille was smiling at her and she seemed so much happier and Edith was so glad just to be there with her as they went down to reception to call for a cab.

"Take us somewhere with music," was all she said to the driver, so free and spontaneous and everything Edith wanted to be but was afraid of.

Naturally enough, they ended up in a cheap club, complete with laser lights and sticky floors.

"This is exactly what I need," Lucille said, heading for the bar, pouring herself into one of the stools and ordering two cosmopolitans.

They didn't serve those. Edith suddenly found herself with a shot in her hand and then burning in her throat.

"Two more," Lucille said.

"Bad night, huh?" a man said, tilting his beer in their direction.

"Want to make it better for me?"

He laughed nervously. He was at least ten years older then her, not in the best shape, and clearly hadn't been expecting something like that.

"You're kidding?"

Another shot. Edith coughed heavily, Lucille rubbing her back and then draping her arm around her.

"Sorry," she said. "Happily taken."

With that, she led Edith to the dancefloor, in amongst sweating bodies, elbowing anyone who got in her way. It was easy for her. She was tall, she could see. Edith felt like an ugly duckling in her wake.

"Why did you say that?" she yelled over the music, Lucille having to lean down to hear her.

"I thought it would be funny to see his face. Come on, dance with me."

She tried. She tried so hard. But it was difficult to get into the moment. Yes, she had rhythm, maybe even something like grace, but... But nothing in comparison to how Lucille could let the music flow through her. So loose but so controlled, every motion, every sway of her hips and movement of her head so perfect. Pushing anyone who tried to dance with her away gently bit firmly. She was a swan indeed and if you weren't careful, she might break your arm.

She moved sinuously, smiling, beckoning, teasing just like she did on stage.

A performance. A performance just for her. What was she hiding behind that smile?

More shots. More dancing. And then suddenly Edith was alone. Lucille?

Lucille?

The alcohol had hit her gradually, moving her from tipsy to drunk, heat in her cheeks, images becoming more separated from one another, music pounding in her brain.

Someone was grinding against her from behind, touching her... Uh, no, no, stop... Please stop.

She tried pulling away, but hands tightened on her hips, pulling her back...

Lucille loomed out of the press of bodies, plucking the wandering hands from her body, growling something and pulling her away, back towards the bar, big glass of iced water in her hands and freezing its way down into her stomach.

"I think your girlfriend needs to go home," the barman said pointedly. "She looks beat."

There was a horrible taste at the back of Edith's mouth, not enough air in her lungs and she couldn't even figure put what was wrong with that sentence. Her head lolled against the taxi window, vibrating and buzzing.

Stairs were hard. She needed help. Lucille had her arm around her waist, easing her up to her room, rummaging in her purse for the key.

Oh, Thomas was going to be so angry...

She didn't remember going to bed, just that she felt thoroughly awful by the time she realised that pounding sound wasn't in her head and it was morning and therefore that was the door and...

And Lucille was fast asleep in bed next to her.

She stumbled to her feet in a daze, finding Thomas was the one knocking, unsurprisingly. His eyes flicked down her body and she was suddenly aware that she was only wearing the shirt Lucille had cut onto her the night before and it didn't cover much. It was only for a moment before he looked away.

"Is she here?" he asked quietly.

"Uh... Uh, yeah. Yeah, she is. Come in."

Was this wise? She wasn't sure.

She'd just have to hope.

"Lucille?"

She groaned, flopping onto her back.

"Edith," she croaked. "How about you take a shower? I think my brother and I need to talk in private."

Good idea. But she couldn't quite resist pressing her ear to the door in an effort to catch a little of what they were saying. Just in case.

Quite what she intended to do if she heard anything worrying, she wasn't sure.

"...nothing," Lucille was saying. "Some dive, barely even a club. Full of kids and gross old men. I just needed to get some frustration out. I'm... I'm sorry."

Why was she the one apologizing? He ought to be doing that...

"Did you sleep with her?"

Edith's heart throbbed painfully, eyes wide. She hadn't even thought about... that when they woke up together. She couldn't remember anything after arriving back. Surely they hadn't? Oh, God, she felt sick.

She still had her underwear on. They hadn't. She was almost certain they hadn't.

"Of course not," Lucille scoffed. "She was drunk. Blackout drunk. Even if I'd given her the fuck of her life, she wouldn't have remembered it. We just slept in the same bed. It was nothing. Back off."

"You back off. You're the one... What?"

There was a sudden knock on the door, right under her ear.

"Are you OK, Edith?" Lucille called. "I don't hear the water running."

She leapt away from the door. Caught listening...

"I'm fine," she said, yanking the shirt off. "Couldn't quite figure out how the shower worked, but I think I've got it now."

Standing under the weak stream of warm water soothed her aches a little. The outer ones anyway.

She wished it was so easy to rinse out the creeping sense of unease from her stomach.

She definitely didn't have all the pieces of this puzzle yet. Something was wrong here.

And she didn't know what.

Chapter Text

"This city is called Gary," Lucille laughed. Quite why it was so funny, Edith wasn't sure.

She was trying to at least start the article she'd be filing from Chicago, trying to gather her notes from shows in Louisville and Indianapolis, but her brain kept shutting down. She'd been spending too long listening to their lyrics, really listening, hearing references to soft skin and long hair and, well, OK, they weren't necessarily written by Lucille and even if they were, they didn't necessarily refer to women, but...

But what if they did? And what if Lucille liked... liked her?

She wasn't sure how she felt about that as a possibility. Flattered, maybe. Shocked. Scared. And she didn't know why that last one. It was just Lucille. It was just attraction. Nothing had to happen.

She hadn't called Alan since that night they went dancing and he was probably worried sick. And then there was that girl he'd spoken to. What if she wasn't a jealous Thomas groupie but a jealous Lucille groupie?

"Sure, Gary, Indiana," Thomas said from the front seat. "They filmed Nightmare on Elm Street here."

"No, they didn't. It was Los Angeles. I'm certain of it."

"Not the original, the remake."

Lucille scoffed and huffed, arms folded.

"Lucille hates remakes," Thomas chuckled, doodling in the corners of his map.

"Oh, me too," Finlay said. "I don't mind a new version of an old book from time to time, but if the original said what it needed to, there's no need to mess with it. Though I never did like those scary movies much anyway. I saw enough murder in my work life without making up pretend ones too."

"How long did you work homicide?" Edith found herself asking.

"I didn't. But, well, every so often a robbery goes wrong or you get called to a domestic and find... You know, I don't really like to talk about it so much actually."

"I'm sorry."

A smile in the rear-view mirror. Edith liked Finlay's eyes, their dark brown colour so warm and with such depth. Rich. They had an alertness to them, but no sharpness at all. You could tell she would see right through any attempt to lie to her, but that she would be kind. She'd pretend not to see embarrassing things or she'd overlook a trace of tears. Compassion, that was the word. They were full of compassion.

"You reuse bits of music all the time in your songs," Edith said, trying to break the awkwardness that had fallen upon them. "Is that really any different from a film remake?"

"Of course," Lucille said. "My problem with remakes isn't the remake itself, it's the lack of imagination that goes into it. The same story told the same way with slightly better effects, if that. Retellings and reimaginings and even reboots are different. And with music... Well, that's just theme and variations. That's music theory. For example, every single album we've ever released has a track based around a lullaby from our childhood, but even if you're listening for it you might not hear it. Maybe we've put it into a major key. Maybe we've put the chord structure backwards. Reflected it, so every up tone becomes a down tone and vice versa. Making a new thing out of something old."

"All art is theft, Edith," Thomas said. "And I can't even remember who said that."

"Probably lots of people. It's true. But you have to change it, that's the point. Otherwise it's not art, it's... photocopying."

Edith found herself scrawling that one down. It would sound good as a headline. It raised questions, it would get a reaction.

There was a lot to see in Chicago, she knew that, but if she was going to get the bulk of this thing revised and typed, she really didn't have the time to go out anywhere, much to Lucille's dismay.

"If it's not due until later in the week, surely you can come keep me company," she said as they hauled their stuff up the stairs of a hotel - an actual hotel, not a motel this time.

"I really think I should get it finished."

Lucille grunted, leaning against her suitcase for a moment and then picking it up again.

"You know, I read somewhere that the human brain can only concentrate for two hours at a time," she said. "So you do two hours and then I'll bring you lunch."

It wasn't a suggestion. Edith desperately tried to think of a way out, an escape. She'd been avoiding being alone with any of them, even Finlay. She was scared of giving something away, of being too obvious.

"You don't need to do that."

"I'd like to."

The carry case for the typewriter banged against Edith's shins. She almost hoped it would bruise, just for the distraction. And she knew that was an unhealthy thought and not a helpful one, but she couldn't find much energy to care.

Maybe she should call Alan...

Work first. Rattling keys as she dumped the typewriter onto the little desk, even the rustling of paper upset her, seeming much, much too loud and yet not nearly loud enough.

Two hours. She could do this. This was journalism, it was what she loved. She tried to think back to her college seminars on detachment. They had been more for aspiring television reporters, but the tips they had provided were still useful. Use emotive language, but remain aloof. You can't cry while reading the news, no matter how awful or unjust or upsetting the subject matter.

For God's sake, Edith. They're just musicians. It's hardly a war zone or a famine. It's not a murder.

Where was that quote?

"You have to change it, that's the point. Otherwise it's not art, it's photocopying."

So says Lucille Sharpe before Crimson Peak roll into Chicago for another concert. As someone who has been to all of their performances, I can confirm there is no Xeroxing occuring.

Was that a brand name? Were they allowed? Shit. Maybe it was one of those ones that was so common it was a verb now? She wrote a question to the editor in pencil in the margin. They could always take it out if there was a problem.

The Sharpes have a deep interest in a sort of Anthropology Americana. They examine the people they interact with like butterflies in a collection, as something beautiful but fleeting. To be under their gaze is to be beneath the microscope. Fortunately, they have not yet brought out the pins.

Not that their songs aren't spiky. Indeed, perhaps somewhere out there are the inspirations for some of their more explicit story songs, feeling the stab of having been pierced.

Get under their skin. Reveal things. Give insights.

Though they are striking together in their similarity, perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the Sharpes is in how they differ. As always, performance is different from reality. In private moments, Thomas is restless, doodling or reading, always tapping his fingers. Lucille, on the other hand, has the air of a deep lake, the ripples of the surface barely revealing any turmoil that might lie beneath.

And what that turmoil might be was no one's damn business.

That was the problem. Since that night, along with worrying about her own feelings and Lucille's and where they might intersect, she'd been thinking about the run up. The fight Lucille had obviously had with Thomas.

Which of them had thrown the glass? And why? It wasn't her right to ask. Everything was normal again, or apparently normal. She shouldn't ask. She had no right to ask.

But with the kind of intensity and dependency their lifestyle demanded, any kind of violence should be a red flag. They were barely ever out of each other's sight, each other's company. It couldn't be healthy to live like that, regardless of how heated things got.

Maybe that was why Lucille was so determined to spend time with her. A bit of peace and respite. A little time with someone who wasn't her brother.

Was she being terribly cruel? Here was Lucille doing her very best to be friends and she was interpreting all sorts of things into it that might not be intended. How conceited to think that even if Lucille liked girls that she'd therefore like her. That wasn't how it worked. You weren't necessarily drawn to someone just because they fell into your broad preferred category.

But she was thinking too much again.

Edith forced herself back to her work and wrote up accounts of show after show. She had to take notes every night or they just blurred into one. Half the time, she couldn't even tell where she was when she woke up.

Several hundred words later and there was a knock at her door. A childish urge told her not to answer it. Just pretend not to be in. Like that would work...

No, she opened the door and there was Lucille, fresh-faced and happy, holding out what seemed to be sort sort of artisan salad box as a peace offering.

"Vitamins and minerals for working brains," she said. "I wasn't sure if you'd like tuna, so I just got veggies."

It was delicious, Edith couldn't deny that, sweet chilli sauce countering beets in a way she wasn't sure completely worked but liked anyway.

Lucille sat on the bed, carefully as far from the typewriter as possible, not even trying to sneak a peek while Edith took out her pages and laid them face down. Integrity was important.

"So about the other night," Lucille said with no preamble. "I've been wanting to talk to you about it. I do hope you weren't embarrassed."

"Oh, well, I... It's none of my business."

Head tilted to the side, like a bird of prey contemplating something small and fluffy, Lucille looked at her intently.

"I meant that you were drunker than is perhaps usual for you," she said. "Why, what did you mean? What's none of your business?"

"N... No, nothing."

"Edith... You can tell me, don't worry."

Everything about this situation told her to run, told her not to do this. She felt over-tightened, about to warp and break. Out of her depth.

"You and Thomas had... You had a fight," she said in the smallest voice possible.

It was a subtle difference, the shield going up. A change in the eyes, maybe. Barely visible. Just a hint that internally, Lucille had taken a step back.

"And why would you be embarrassed by that?"

"Because... Because it's private and I intruded."

A softening, faint but there. Edith wondered what answer she'd expected.

"It's difficult sometimes," Lucille said quietly. "Thomas and I have no secrets from each other. None at all. It's hard to have someone who knows you that well, no matter how much you love them. I lost my temper, that's all."

"What about?" Edith asked, the question slipping out before she had even thought about how intrusive it was to ask.

A sigh, not of annoyance. More like tiredness.

"Creative differences. We were sketching out a new song. He was hearing things in my lyrics which weren't there. And I got upset. It was nothing a night of dancing couldn't fix."

She leant back against the headboard, thoughtful as she stirred her own lunch a little, fingers delicate on her plastic fork. Holding it more like a needle.

"I had fun, even if we did drink too much," she said. "And I'm sorry you had to deal with creeps."

She'd barely remembered that what with everything else, the horrible feeling of unwanted hands on her.

"I knew you'd keep me safe," she said, surprised to realise it was true.

A smile. A real, genuine smile without even a hint of artifice. Edith felt almost blessed by it, glad to have made it happen. Maybe Lucille didn't get to play the hero too often.

"Have you nearly finished your article?" she asked. "I feel bad leaving you cooped up indoors when there's so much to see out there."

It was nearly done. And though she had wanted to call Alan, she could always do that in the evening. He was more likely to be both at home and awake then anyway.

And Chicago was nice, as cities went, she thought. Skyscrapers and boulevards and so on probably. Big and important. She ought to go out and see it, since she was here.

"Alright," she said. "Where shall we go?"

The Cultural Center was Lucille's first choice. All gorgeous marble in a rainbow of shades, semi-classical architecture and the fabulous glass dome, the Tiffany ceiling.

"It's like being inside one of those lamps," Lucille said, the yellow-tinted filtered light reflecting off her skin.

"You know, for years I thought that Tiffany's was, like, an upmarket bakery," Edith said. "I'd only heard of the film. I thought they were famous for breakfast pastries."

"And have you ever been?"

"What? To a Tiffany's store? No. Much too expensive for me. Have you?"

Her eyes were drifting to Lucille's jewellery and wondering. Those earrings, that necklace... Could they be worth thousands of dollars? Maybe. Edith couldn't pretend to have much of an eye for that kind of thing.

"Only to look and laugh. My stuff is all either fake or inherited. Plastic and cubic zirconia. If it looks good, I don't much care what it's made of. The ring is real though. Rubies and diamonds, gold."

The famous ring. She never seemed to take it off. In her research before getting the job, Edith had read a lot of theories about it, everything from it being a gift from an old flame who had died - and wearing it on her ring finger could support that - to tin-hat explanations of magic, claims that the stone was in fact glass mixed with blood from one or both Sharpes.

And considering that in interviews Lucille didn't reveal or deny anything about it...

"If I asked where it came from," Edith said carefully. "Or why you wear it, would you tell me the truth?"

It was difficult to describe Lucille's expression. Not smiling, more thoughtful than that, but with a hint of amusement in there too.

"Depends on what you count as truth."

Well, that was an incredibly helpful answer. Edith decided to bite anyway. What was there to lose?

"Why do you wear the ring?"

"It's important to me."

So far, so not earth-shattering.

"And where did you get it?"

This was a smile now, but all amusement had gone, leaving mischief in its wake. Edith knew before those red lips even parted that she was about to hear pure fiction.

"I took it from my mother's cold, dead finger."

Edith blinked once or twice and then shrugged. If you can't beat them...

"I suppose she wasn't exactly going to miss it," she said.

Lucille let out a cackle that was much too loud for the atmosphere they were in, grabbing Edith's hand and pulling her towards the exit.

It was a nice day, if a little chilly, and there was a large park just opposite, so they took their time walking hand in hand out to see Lake Michigan. It was strangely nice, though Edith still felt awkward, her skin probably horribly clammy. And she still wasn't sure if this was a sign of anything beyond friendly intimacy or not. Or how she felt about that.

It was a lovely place, a huge central fountain surrounded by rose gardens and four smaller ones, water feature statues with odd names. Crane Girl, Fisher Boy, Dove Girl, Turtle Boy.

"Do you think they're actually meant to be children?" Edith asked.

"With abs and tits like that? Hardly."

Was it coincidence that they bumped into Thomas? Or had they decided to meet earlier and failed to tell her? It was difficult to say. Given that he was also heading for the Field Museum, maybe he just so happened to also be out in the sunshine, looking so out of place among the families and older couples in their bright colours and pastels.

"They have the largest Tyrannosaurus Rex ever found," he said, not even a hello in passing. "And apparently she's named Sue."

"Really? That's adorable," Lucille said. "Can't wait to meet her."

There was no tension between them, any storm well and truly blown over as they linked arms. Feeling intrusive, Edith tried to let go, to let their hands drop, but Lucille just squeezed her fingers.

She only let go so Edith could take Polaroids of them surrounded by the bones of long extinct creatures and looking suitably spooky with it.

The red ring had left a little indentation on the meat of her palm.

Chapter Text

First thing to do in Milwaukee was to call Alan. It had been days and Edith was starting to feel guilty. Though it didn't feel like days. Or rather the days all merged together and made it difficult to tell when each began and ended. And napping during the afternoon to keep up with the Sharpes at night wasn't helping.

Their fight seemed totally forgotten. They had reverted exactly to their playful, irreverent selves, singing in the car, commenting on every little thing they saw as either being strange or just the same back at home and then that in itself was strange, wasn't it?

Then again, she doubted their home was exactly normal for most people in England. Allerdale Hall. Edith felt like she'd read the name during her research, but she couldn't remember looking it up.

"How is it?" she asked. "Living in a castle?"

They laughed. They always laughed at her questions.

"It's not a castle," Thomas said. "Not in the real sense. The current house is only mid-eighteenth-century for a start. There weren't too many wars at that point. Not internal ones anyway; we were much too busy invading everywhere else. But there was no need for big defences like you'd find on a fortress. It's more a statement of wealth and power than actual use."

"And of course we've had to gift most of it to the National Trust," Lucille said, slightly bitterly. "So there's always tourists poking around. Though I think of what our mother would say if she knew they were selling organic flapjacks and cafe lattes in the old kitchen and I can't help but smile."

The National Trust. Held for the nation. Virtually held for everyone rather than owned by the family.

"Isn't it awful though?" Edith asked. "I'd hate having people in my house all the time."

"Oh, me too," Finlay said, flicking the blinker on to merge lanes. "I'd be so embarrassed. But I suppose you two are classier than I am."

Thomas smiled at the back of her head.

"I doubt that very much," he said. "No, we have the top floor closed off from visitors and mainly stay up there. It's maybe a little unconventional to have a freestanding oven in the old nursery, but it does us well enough."

How odd to think of them hiding away anywhere. Maybe that was why they liked touring. Getting away from the people snooping around them and their ancestors.

"Is it haunted?" Finlay asked. "I've always kinda wanted to spend the night in a haunted house. A real one, I mean, not a fairground one."

"Well, put it like this," Thomas said. "Our house is a few decades older than the founding of your country. We've had plenty of deaths over the years. We must have had. It wouldn't surprise me if a few of the maiden aunts or crusty grandfathers were still holding on."

Edith shivered a little despite herself. She didn't like thinking of living where people had died. Too active an imagination as a child, too many fears about what was under the bed or under the stairs or under the couch. Always under things.

Years later she'd read about a theory of instinctive fears that suggested little girls were more likely to fear what came from below as female apes slept in trees and therefore feared predation from beneath, whereas male apes patrolled on the ground and so little boys were frightened of things hidden at the side; in wardrobes or behind curtains.

Quite how much store could be put in that, she wasn't quite sure. But she'd certainly never been frightened of the monster in the wardrobe, no matter how often it appeared in films.

Ghosts on the other hand... Maybe at one time she'd wanted to believe in them. Back when... Well, it was understandable. But not so much anymore.

"Where does the word 'Milwaukee' come from?" Lucille asked as they drove past the sign. "Is it Native American?"

Edith wasn't sure, but that sounded plausible. She'd never really given it a second thought.

"Lots of Germans came here," Finlay said, a little tentatively. "But I suppose it would be pronounced Mil-vau-kee in that case."

She was following road signs and soon enough had them pulling into their home for the night, faded three stars on the sign suggesting its heyday had passed some time ago.

Still, it was clean and there were beds and that was what mattered.

"What's the plan for today, then?" Thomas asked. "I'm keen to see the Grohmann Museum, but I'm sure Lucille will want to see the bird's wing at the art museum."

"Of course. But come on, a mechanical wing would be right up your street, I'd imagine. Think of the engineering! Surely you can bring yourself to come with me."

Smiling, cheerful and playful, more like children than adults. They'd been travelling together for... was it weeks now? And Edith still couldn't completely get her head around them.

"I really need to call Alan this morning," she said apologetically. "He'll be really worried if I don't check in."

She was expecting a real telling off from him, if she was honest. They'd had an understanding and she had broken it. He'd have every right to be angry. It was only because he worried.

"You go," she said as they dragged their cases out of the bus. "I'll meet you back here for dinner. Maybe catch up on a little sleep. Maybe write a little."

They didn't much like it, but they relented when she reminded them that it wasn't that far from Buffalo if you took a more direct route. They could tell her where was interesting and she'd come back herself some time.

Wiping down the phone with her antibacterial wipes, like she was wiping off fingerprints. It was amazing how quickly that little ritual had taken hold. Would Alan even be home? She ought to have tried to make a note of his schedule for all that it would be almost impossible to follow.

Ringing. Ringing. A click.

"Hello?"

Edith hadn't expected to be this nervous.

"Hi. It's me."

"Edith? Oh, my God. Where are you? I've been going crazy."

"I know, I'm so sorry. It's been busy, that's all. We just got to Milwaukee."

"And everything's... fine? Nothing's happened?"

Edith thought about broken glass, about shouting, about Lucille cutting off bits of t-shirt and telling Thomas that no, they hadn't slept together and holding hands in Chicago and...

"No," she said. "No, everything's normal."

He exhaled heavily.

"Good. And you're eating right? Getting your veggies? Not just living on chips and coffee? Sleeping OK?"

"Yes," she lied. "Absolutely."

Maybe those were bigger bags under her eyes than normal in the mirror...

"Listen," Alan said, very seriously, even more serious when that hadn't seemed possible. "I've been speaking to the woman I told you about. She can't tell me anything, but she agreed to give me her number to give to you so you can speak to her yourself. Have you got a pen? Her name is Enola Sciotti."

The number he gave her seemed very strange.

"It's Italian," he said when asked. "She's Italian. She's from Milan and she went back there after working for the Sharpes. But her English is perfect."

Edith hesitated suddenly. Call Italy from this phone? But the Sharpes paid the hotel bills and they'd definitely know if she made an international call...

"Alright," she said. "I'll contact her when I can."

"Please do. Seriously."

She'd need to find a payphone.

Were there even payphones anymore? Oh, and then the change... Feeding coins into the slot for hours, how much was it going to cost?

And it was probably nothing anyway. A working relationship that hadn't worked out, that was all.

She couldn't believe that it could be anything more than a misunderstanding. The Sharpes were easy to mistake, she thought. Their humour, their manner; maybe they had offended this girl, Enola.

All the same, she couldn't help but be a little concerned. Maybe she should try to subtly ask Lucille and Thomas about it, get their side of the story. Not directly, but maybe ask if they'd ever travelled with a journalist before. See what they offered about it.

It felt wrong to suspect them somehow. Yes, they sometimes made her uncomfortable, but it wasn't deliberate.

She'd hate to see what it would be like if they were trying.

She managed to find herself things to do. Organising some of the pictures she'd taken over the last few days. She needed more Polaroids already. Was it the publisher who was handling that? Yet another thing to ask the Sharpes about.

No sooner had she got them out of her mind then the pair of them appeared at her door, Finlay in tow, talking about how silly it was they had forgotten about lunch, but they'd seen the most darling park to have a picnic in and she simply must come.

Sitting on a park bench with cheese and sliced ham and crackers - and, yes, they had Lunchables in England too, though Lucille couldn't recall ever actually having them - watching as Thomas let Finlay use his back as a vaguely flat surface on which to write a postcard to her daughter (but mostly her grandson) and Edith felt even more sure that whatever this business was, it could only be a misunderstanding.

They were unlike anyone she'd ever met and, yes, they were strange and sometimes a little tone deaf and maybe their close working relationship got a little intense, but they weren't actively cruel.

At least she didn't think so.

"Have you been on tour before?" she asked, unable to fully get the thought out of her mind. "Overseas, I mean."

"Oh, of course," Lucille said, deftly wiping crumbs from her lips. "We've done a few in Ireland, and in Europe. There's a big goth scene in Scandinavia, so we've been there a few times. Germany. France. Italy. Not Spain yet, but I'd love to go."

Edith's heart thudded in her chest, willing herself not to look guilty. Italy, where Enola was. What had happened? Was that where they met her?

"And did you have someone like me with you on any of them? Or in your studio?"

Was that too obvious? Would they become suspicious at these sudden questions?

Lucille laughed.

"Oh, Edith, I don't think we could have found someone else like you if we'd done interviews for years."

That shouldn't feel as good as it did, being told she was special. And yet she practically glowed with it.

"No, I meant... I meant a journalist, you know."

Lucille shook her head.

"Not a journalist, no. We had assistants sometimes, but that's not quite the same, is it? But no, none of them were like you. You're far more interesting, not to be rude about them. Nice people, mostly, but we were always strictly professional."

Edith blinked a little.

"What do you mean?" she stammered. "Aren't we professional?"

"Oh, just... Well, yes, but I meant that I never went out dancing with any of them, that's all."

Oh... Oh, of course.

Of course that's what she meant.

Chapter Text

They paid for everything. They were always around. Edith felt unbalanced by the realisation, the fact that the only times she was left alone really were when she was writing and when she was sleeping, and even then, the Sharpes were seldom further away than in the next room.

She could hear them sometimes. Conversations she couldn't quite make out, calling through the bathroom door to one another, laughing.

The laughing was the worst. No matter how much Edith tried to tell herself they weren't laughing at her, part of her couldn't resist thinking that they must be. She was a joke to them. Like when the popular boys at school would ask out plain girls for a dare and then laugh regardless of the answer.

She couldn't sneak out. They'd know. They'd ask what she was doing. They'd think she was breaking contract somehow.

Of course, she could just come up with an excuse. Say she needed to buy a card for an aunt's birthday or something, sneak off. But what if they wanted to come with her? It wasn't like she could say no.

How strange and unsettling to realise she was in a cage.

The question rattled round in her head. How to get a little time? When could she get away from them, just for the length of time it would take to make a phone call?

But to Italy. And to hear... well, what exactly? How long would it take?

She told herself to stop worrying. It was probably nothing. Just a professional dispute. Happened all the time. Alan was just freaking out, like he always did.

Still, maybe she could still learn a little more if she tread carefully. And maybe if she focussed more on Thomas than Lucille.

It almost made her blush to think like that, but he was the more open of the two. Or at least he appeared to be. Then again, she was still suspicious of that fight, the idea of him "hearing something" in Lucille's lyrics. Hearing what? A criticism? A jibe of some kind? Something about himself?

Something important enough that in the ensuing argument a glass was thrown. Edith had had her share of rage, but never even been tempted to do something like that.

Or rather she had, but she'd never acted on it. Think about doing bad things, but don't listen. Ignore the intrusive thoughts. Almost everyone got them sometimes.

Her thoughts had been wandering around all day. How to get him alone, how to get a chance to talk with him and subtly ask about Enola. Not by name, but the same vague questions about previous assistants. Maybe he'd let something slip that he wouldn't while his older sister was listening.

Come on, Edith. Journalists ask things. Bite the bullet and do it.

She waited, smiling through dinner, waiting for her chance. Waiting for Lucille to not be there, even for a second, so she could ask...

Nothing so much as a bathroom break.

"Are we boring you, sweetheart? You seem far away."

Lucille's voice cut through her thoughts like a scalpel. Precise in tone and content to startle her. And it was getting difficult to remind herself that it probably wasn't deliberate.

"No, not at all. I'm just a little tired."

"Do you need to go back to the motel? I can head over with you."

"Please don't trouble yourself."

"I have to go anyway. I left my make-up bag behind."

Edith's heart leapt, though maybe it was more of a lurch. She was going to be away for a while. Not long, but a while. And that meant Thomas would be alone...

"No, I think I'd rather power through or I won't sleep properly tonight. I'll go to soundcheck. Ask Thomas some searching questions."

If she said it jokingly enough, they wouldn't think anything of it. And she gave Lucille her best smile, the nothing-is-wrong smile, the carefree, happiest smile.

She'd learned to fake that smile a long, long time ago.

"Only if you're sure."

She was sure. Incredibly sure. Practically vibrating through the rest of the meal waiting for it to end. Trying to work out how far it was going to be to walk to the concert venue. How even Finlay was going to be busy, not overhearing their conversation, so she could ask him anything.

And then the fear hit. The nerves. The last time they had been alone together, she'd been so far out of her depth that it was a wonder she'd ever resurfaced at all.

Thomas gave her a quick smile as they set out to walk together, Finlay planning to drive Lucille to the motel and back. Which was going to severely cut down on the amount of time Edith had to talk to him, but maybe that was a good thing.

For every step he took, she had to take about one and a third. The rhythm was strange. Jarring.

"What are these hard questions you wanted to ask me, then?" he asked, the hint of a laugh in his voice.

What happened to your last assistant?

No. No, she couldn't be so blunt.

"Um... Whose idea was it to start the band in the first place?"

So searching. So deep... Edith could practically hear the thousands of times down the years that the question had been asked before.

"Oh, Lucille's. Absolutely hers. I'm a good enough technical musician, but she's the artist. She was always writing poems and songs and music. It's natural for her. I have to work at it."

He'd given her a proper answer all the same. That was kind of him, she supposed.

"She likes you, you know," he said softly.

"Who?" Edith said, realising how stupid a question it was a second too late.

"Lucille. And that's not something that can be said about many people."

If it was darker, the blush probably wouldn't have bothered her so much, but as it was she quickened her steps to hide it, trying not to seem flustered.

"Do you not like me then?" she asked jovially, reaching for the stage door handle. Make a joke. Shrug it off.

He paused, looking at her as she swung the heavy sheet of metal open.

"I do. I like you very much."

The clang of the door closing echoed in her ears, the crunch of crumbled plaster underfoot, the smell that theaters all seemed to have - paint and smoke and sweat - filling her head.

Why was her heart beating so fast? What did it matter? He meant it in a friendly way, they both did.

Edith thought about the night she and Lucille had been dancing. How the next morning he asked if they'd... If they'd...

The memory still made her feel a little ill. She shouldn't have drunk that much. It was embarrassing. But then that lead to other questions.

If she'd been more sober, would Lucille have done something?

And would it have been unwelcome?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But that wasn't Edith. She didn't do that sort of thing. She didn't act on her desires. Braver people did that, she just sort of waited for sex to happen on someone else's instigation.

So, was she waiting for Lucille to instigate something? No!

Of course not.

"Did Lucille like your other assistants?" she asked, almost chasing Thomas up the corridor towards the stage where the instruments were waiting.

"She tolerated them. Why do you ask?"

Why did she ask?

Because she wanted to know. Wanted to understand what was happening between them all.

"I... I just... wondered."

Even with the auditorium lights on, the actual performance space seemed dazzlingly bright. Edith's instinct was to hang back, to stay out of the way, but Thomas beckoned to her.

"I should check the tuning," he said, as though nothing odd had been said between them. "Would you mind dreadfully helping me? I'll need an A on the keyboard."

Forgotten piano lessons reared in Edith's memory, the boredom of playing scales that meant she never practised and finally quit. She pressed the key only to hear no sound while Thomas waited politely, guitar in his arms.

"You have to turn it on first."

Of course. Of course, how stupid... And, of course, it wasn't plugged in, a Frankenstein of adaptors attaching it to an extension lead and then the wires weren't in at the back so she had to crawl to get them and...

"Ow!"

"Are you alright?"

"Yeah, just... Just a splinter from the floor."

She could feel it, her ring finger throbbing, turning red around the second joint, but she couldn't actually see the tiny shard of wood.

And suddenly Thomas was there, crouched beside her, slightly blurry in the tears that had leapt unbidden to her eyes.

"It's not even that sore," she said, even though it was, it was sharp and urgent pain.

"Let me see."

He took her hand so gently, not squeezing or pressing, looking at it critically and then, to Edith's horror, bringing it to his lips.

The gasp was out before she could stop it as he sucked gently on her flesh, tongue occasionally flicking against her skin, feeling for the splinter. The heat, the care, the way he glanced at her from under his lashes wearing a little frown of concern.

It could only have lasted a few seconds before he let out a little hum and released her, carefully picking the sliver of board from between his teeth.

"Better?" he asked.

Edith looked down at her hand, damp and pink, wiping it on her top without thinking.

"Yeah. Thank you."

He smiled at her, helping her back to her feet.

"When we were children, I was forever getting splinters," he said. "And it was much quicker and easier for Lucille to suck them out than to go crying to Mother. Tweezers and a telling off. No sympathy. It's not bleeding, is it?"

She didn't have time to react before he took her hand again to check. Not much blood if it was.

"My sister feels things very deeply," he said softly and out of nowhere, nearly a murmur that seemed to rattle in her chest, low and startling. "More than other people do. She's passionate and that can make her seem demanding or... smothering sometimes. But you'd tell me if she made you uncomfortable, wouldn't you?"

Would she?

"Of course," Edith said, not sure if she meant it. "And she doesn't. She's... just a little intense. Sometimes."

He smiled warmly at her, easing her towards the piano stool like she might faint.

"Good. We do love having you with us and I'd hate for you to be scared of us."

A dozen thoughts raced through Edith's mind. Broken glass and shouting. Laughter through the walls. Treating everything like a joke and how that made her so frightened that they thought she was one too. The feeling of Lucille's arm around her. The feeling of Thomas's lips against her skin. How frequently they touched her, just a little, just in a friendly way. Fingers at the nape of her neck as they passed behind her. Hands touching as they checked the map. Feeling their breath in her hair as they looked over her shoulder, waiting for a Polaroid to develop.

"You don't scare me," she said, truthfully but so unsure of what emotion her body and brain were trying to express. "But maybe... Maybe you make me nervous."

She turned away, fingers on the keys to find the right note.

"You'll get used to us," Thomas said behind her. "I'm sure you'll relax soon."

Chapter Text

A sound entered Edith's foggy dreams, distant and distorted, slowly dredging through the mists to her. The room was in darkness and for a moment it was difficult to focus or to believe that she was really awake at all.

The phone? Was that her room phone ringing?

Flopping sideways in a too-soft bed, she lifted the receiver, attempting to mumble a greeting into it, but her lips didn't seem to work. She managed some kind of sound at least.

"This is your five-thirty wake up call, ma'am. Good morning."

"I didn't... I didn't ask for one. You must have the wrong room."

"Room 36, Miss Edith Cushing?"

"Yes, but..."

"And you're accompanying Mr Sharpe?"

Despite her disorientation, Edith felt herself flush red, trying to burrow into the blankets as if she could hide from her own embarrassment. That moment of something like intimacy before the show was still prominent in her mind and when Lucille had arrived, there had been a rush of... of guilt, almost. Like she was lying to her somehow by not mentioning it.

But nothing had happened! What should she do, confess that she'd had a splinter and that Thomas had helped her? It was nothing. It was less than nothing.

And why would Lucille care anyway? It wasn't like they were... They weren't...

"I'm travelling with the Sharpes, yes," she said, wondering how the receptionist could possibly be so chirpy at such an hour.

"It seems they mean to leave at six, ma'am. Long journey ahead?"

Maybe. Where were they on the itinerary? She couldn't even think of it.

"I guess so," she said. "Thank you."

"Good morning, ma'am. Have a nice day."

She'd try, but it hardly seemed likely. Her dad used to say that nothing good happened before seven or after midnight. Go to bed and get up at sensible hours.

Mind you, he also used to say that rain drove spiders indoors and that you couldn't trust a man whose hands were too soft, so maybe she shouldn't put too much store in his wisdom.

Getting out of bed was torture but a shower helped her feel a little more human, throwing her things into her bag without care and dragging both it and the typewriter to the door, only to open it and come face to face with Thomas's middle section.

He moved back from being about to knock, looking her up and down.

"Would you like to dry your hair?" he asked. "I'm sure we have time."

"I... No, it's fine," she said, even though she knew it was scraped into a wet bun that promised to tangle up horribly. "Why didn't you tell me we were leaving so early?"

A smile, a chuckle that might be self-deprecating.

"Well, I always find that if I know I have to get up early, it's impossible to get to sleep. Therefore, I thought if you didn't know, you'd be more rested. It's four hours to Des Moines, give or take, and Lucille is simply desperate to see the instrument collection in Salisbury House. We thought we could arrive there at around ten, spend a few hours and still have time to have an afternoon nap and visit a laundrette before the show tonight."

He'd picked up her bags and set off, knowing she'd follow him. And everything he said made sense. Kind of. Perhaps she was overreacting.

Lucille looked perfectly poised as she loaded up her bags, bare-faced and with her hair in a long braid down her back, smiling at their approach.

"Don't be angry with me," she said, coming forward and laying her hands on Edith's shoulders - damp from her hair, shirt probably gone transparent and showing her bra straps.

"I'm not," Edith said, trying to sound convincing. "Just tired."

"Aw," Finlay said. "I'll try to make it a smooth ride. You get your rest."

Usually, Edith couldn't sleep in cars. No problem when she was a kid apparently. They would soothe her as a baby by taking her out, the hum of the engine helping her drift off. She wondered when that had changed. When the fear of falling asleep in a moving vehicle had slipped into her very being.

Still, she must have been exhausted because she woke with a start and, mortifyingly, something like a snort. Had she been snoring? She didn't think she snored...

Oh, her hair was a thicket, lopsided and knotted.

"We're nearly there," Thomas said from the front seat.

"Wait till you see it," Lucille said. "It's based on a building in England. Some rich guy had it built, even imported 16th-century oak beams for the aesthetic of it. A house built to imitate something that had been knocked down and rebuilt over and over for close to five centuries. Isn't that fascinating?"

"Yeah," Edith said, wishing she could muster up a little more enthusiasm.

Lucille smiled at her and rummaged in the seat pocket until she unearthed a tiny hairbrush.

"Turn round for me. It's the least I can do after waking you up at such an ungodly hour."

In truth, Edith didn't want to. She wasn't a child. She could do it herself. But things were already so awkward. How much worse could it get?

Freeing her hair from the cheap tie she'd put it in, Lucille began easing out the tangles, holding it at the roots to make sure it didn't pull or hurt, humming as she worked.

It wasn't a familiar tune.

"Is that a new song?" Edith asked.

The brush froze in her hair for a moment. Or maybe she imagined it did.

"Yes. Maybe. I'm still playing with it. We both are. But I like what Thomas has done with the music. Just trying to squeeze lyrics into it now."

This was interesting. Their process. They rarely spoke about it.

"Can I hear what you've got so far?" she asked, pushing her luck.

A long pause and then a cough from the front seat.

"I think that's a no, I'm afraid."

Lucille sighed.

"I'm just trying to pick a part I'm sure of," she said. "Let me think about it."

She finished brushing Edith's hair and swiftly put it into a braid like her own. Matching, in different shades.

"She's good, isn't she?" Thomas asked. "She was the only one who could get my hair to lie flat when we were children."

"Wet comb," Lucille said, looking out the window and pointing. "Look. I think we're there."

It was an odd building. Pretty. Edith could easily understand why it had been a passion project. All the same, it seemed so out of place. Out of time.

They were on the wrong day for a guided tour, but they could take themselves round with the help of little information cards in all the rooms. They read about the man who built it - he seemed to have made his fortune by inventing a new kind of face cream - and his wife. She was called Edith too.

"Is that all there is about her?" Lucille asked the friendly volunteer in the dining room.

"Uh..." the woman said, blinking rapidly in a way Edith identified with strongly. The Sharpes brought out that rabbit-in-headlights response. "Well, she had four sons..."

A smile, but one of her false ones.

"Funny, isn't it? So many women in history and all we talk about is who they married and who they birthed."

"And that's if they get talked about at all," Finlay said.

She was examining a statue of the Madonna and child, its antiquity obvious by how decrepit it looked. Edith had a strange urge to try to clean it, but maybe washing it too harshly would damage it beyond repair.

Perhaps it was the unsatisfactory answer that sparked Lucille into mischief. Or maybe she would always have done it. Maybe being that rich just gave you a sense of immunity to the usual rules.

They entered the rooms with the old instruments, some Edith couldn't even name and a large, beautiful, antique piano as a centrepiece. It was enormous, the strings shining like necklaces, a wonderful carving of twisted plants on the side panels.

"Is there a lock on the door?" Lucille whispered.

"What?" Edith asked.

"Close the door and lock it. I've thought of part of the new song I like enough to give you a little preview."

"I don't think we should..."

"Please?"

Edith looked to Finlay, the most adult among them, a former detective no less. Surely she'd put a stop to this.

"I'd like to hear it," she said, shrugging.

Still unsure, Edith found herself walking slowly to the large wooden door and pushing it shut, turning the large brass key that was conveniently in it as Lucille played a chord on the piano.

"Ugh," she said. "Needs tuned, but it will do. Thomas, you play. From the bridge."

Edith had seen them play so many times, but not like this. Not intimate like this, only four people in the room, the pair of them back-lit by the huge window bathing the room in sunlight.

Thomas played a few notes and then began playing an actual tune, though at least he was leaning forward to touch it and not sitting on the delicate-looking stool.

Lucille beckoned, bringing Edith and Finlay forward to look at the little hammers striking the strings. And then she began to sing.

"You don't know," she began before adjusting for the strange notes. "You just don't realise... La-la-la, I haven't quite got this part yet, but then it goes two, three - What are you writing? Won't you write to me some day? Show me the words noted down if you can't get them out..."

Every hair on Edith's body stood on end. She'd had shivers listening to them before, but not like this. Hot and cold and terrified and thrilled all at once. This was about her, she was sure of it. This was a song about her...

"Write to me what you can't bear to say, write to me and don't delay, write to me what you don't know and maybe I'll... Maybe I can help you let go..."

What was her heart doing? Did she like it? Was she scared? She didn't know. Nothing made sense...

There was loud hammering on the door, plaintive calling to open it and stop touching the antiques immediately. And Thomas laughed. He was having fun as he headed for the door and began to apologise, explaining that they were professional musicians from England and very sorry but they couldn't resist such a wonderful instrument...

Edith didn't hear most of that. Finlay was trying her best not to giggle and hiding by pretending to look at a painting of some women possibly singing or playing the lute or something...

It was hard for Edith to tell since Lucille had pushed her into an alcove, one hand on her waist squeezing hard, and pressed a harsh kiss to her lips before turning away fast enough to make her almost question if it had happened at all.

No lipstick. No trace.

She was always one step ahead.

Chapter Text

Edith stumbled through the rest of the museum in a daze. What had just happened? Had that just happened? And what did it mean?

Lucille was acting perfectly normally. Or normal for her, anyway. Little biting comments about everything they saw, laughing lightly from time to time and shaking her head.

Was she... Was she hiding? From who? From Thomas? But they were so close, why would she hide if she... liked someone?

By the time they headed back out to the bus, Edith had almost convinced herself that it hadn't happened at all. She was so tired that she'd dreamt it and then forgotten what had and had not really occurred.

"You should sleep," she heard Thomas saying to Lucille. "I can handle the laundry, don't worry."

"No, you always put the wash on too hot and then it all shrinks."

"Good thing you suit undersized things, then."

Something had been sitting at the back of her mind ever since Thomas had mentioned going to a laundromat and now it clamoured for attention. You needed quarters to operate the machines. There would probably be a dispenser of some kind, bigger money in and coins out. She could get change and while the clothes were spinning she could find a payphone and...

"I've already had a nap," she said, even though she was still tired and quite shaken generally. "You should both sleep so you're fresh for the show and I'll go."

Thomas smiled at her. Lucille did not, at first, but then she seemed to brighten up.

"You're an angel," Thomas told her. "But are you sure you can manage? We have quite a lot."

"I used to take all my roommate's stuff down in college. I'm sure I'll be fine."

'Quite a lot' turned out to be quite the understatement. Edith and Finlay's week's worth was only three quarters of Thomas's alone. How had he gone through so many shirts?! Edith stood in the doorway of their motel room trying not to look judgemental as he squeezed it all into a hurriedly emptied backpack.

"I'm afraid her ladyship is still organising herself," Thomas said, dressed in something that might be pyjamas and which was much, much too loose around the neckline.

"I just don't want to forget anything," Lucille snapped, appearing in a short, white silk nightdress that forced Edith to desperately look anywhere else than at her as she took three more plastic bags.

She was turning pink, she knew it.

"I'd say separate out the darks," Thomas said. "But, well, you've seen our outfits."

"Are you sure you can manage?" Lucille asked.

"I'm sure."

Edith had just turned to leave them to sleep when Lucille called her back, reaching under her flimsy nightgown to take off her underwear, folding them neatly before handing them over.

"Might as well," she said.

They were warm from her body, soft and painfully ordinary, just black cotton briefs.

If Edith hadn't been blushing before, she certainly was now as Lucille looked at her with something strange in her eyes, a faint pleading.

"I'll see you later," she said, almost a question, though Edith wasn't sure what she was asking.

"Yes," she heard herself say, somehow, voice almost croaking her throat was so dry.

She was still clutching them unconsciously when she got to the front desk to ask where the nearest laundry place was. After all, surely the girl on reception looking it up on her phone didn't count as her using modern technology, right? She was just asking.

As if that was what she was concerned about as she set out with a scrawled set of directions, looking out for payphones as she went. She was going to betray them. Call someone from their past because despite everything else she was feeling - might be feeling - she didn't trust them.

How could she trust people who lied all the time and who would kiss innocent bystanders and then say nothing about it and leave those people floundering and not sure at all what was going on or where they stood or anything?

Ugh...

The laundromat staff were extremely helpful and friendly, almost overly so, one of them coming to help her separate things out - Thomas apparently forgot his own white, flowing shirts and how little they'd appreciate going in with Lucille's scarlet blouses or any of their jet black jeans.

"Wow!" her new friend said. "This is nice stuff. Where'd you get it?"

"Oh, it's... It's not mine. It's just my turn to do the laundry."

One or other of the Sharpes normally did it. Edith found herself wondering if they went through her pockets hoping to find something interesting.

Several minutes of forced conversation later, she had three machines going - lights, darks and one with anything that looked like it might prefer a delicate wash - and she could finally try casually asking if there was a payphone nearby.

"We have a phone in the back you can use."

"It's an international call, I'm afraid."

The woman looked at her strangely, and no wonder. Who used a payphone these days, especially to call another country?

Eventually, after some discussion, one of the staff said she had a friend who used to call her parents from a sort of internet cafe a few blocks over when her cell got broken and she was pretty sure they had international rates.

Edith cemented her position as someone who would be mentioned at home today by putting a twenty through the quarter machine, setting three aside behind the desk for the dryers, and setting out with her coat pockets faintly rattling.

It was a surprisingly long walk and Edith's nerves did not settle on the way. She'd told Alan she would call Enola. She was just getting it over with.

Italy was not a place people regularly wanted to call, it seemed. The old man running the place scratched his beard and hummed before calling to his daughter to ask her opinion. A ledger had to be produced to find the base charge to call mainland Europe, and only after paying it with a chunk of her coins was she let into a tiny booth with a dusty phone and a distinctly less dusty computer in it.

The keyboard looked very tempting after wrestling with the typewriter, all worn keys, so soft and easy. But no. She was here to load up her quarters and dial Enola's number. And to sincerely hope it wasn't the middle of the night in Italy.

It took a long time to connect, a faint ticking sound in her ear, and then finally the dull buzz of a ring tone.

"Si? Ciao?"

"Am I speaking to Enola Sciotti?"

It would be typical if Edith had somehow had the wrong number.

"Yes. Who is calling?"

"I'm, er... I'm Edith Cushing. I'm working for the Sharpes."

There was a long pause, longer than the time delay, and then Enola spoke with a distinct tone of fear in her voice, her accent going slightly thicker as she whispered.

"Are they with you now? Are they watching you?"

Edith startled slightly. That hadn't been what she expected at all.

"No. No, I'm alone. They don't know I'm calling."

A long exhale.

"Do not trust them. Do not tell them we spoke."

The machine was already beeping at Edith to add more quarters. Overseas calls were expensive.

"I won't, I promise, but I don't have long," she said, loading in coins. "My friend said to call you."

"Yes, Alan. He is very nice. I'm not supposed to talk about it, but..."

"What?" Edith asked, desperate. "What is it? What do you need to tell me?"

"You must understand that they did their best to ruin my life when I asked about it. They made me sign the non-disclosure forms, they threatened me with libel, they refused to give me references, they pretended I'd been inappropriate with Thomas and that's while they fired me when that isn't true and I had to come back to Italy with nothing and..."

"What is it?!"

Enola took a long, damp breath, like she was close to tears.

"I... I don't think the death of their mother was an accident."

Chapter Text

Edith felt her stomach drop through the floor, scrambling for her notebook, pulling the lid off her pen with her teeth.

"Quickly," she said, feeding more quarters into the phone. "Tell me everything."

"It was a car accident, long before I worked for them. The brakes failed. Worn out, an old car and she wasn't wearing a seatbelt. Except... Except they had me clear an office in the house - which wasn't even my job, but they made me do it anyway - and I found the... The piece of paper from the mechanic and it said the, uh... The things for the brakes, you know, the things that make them work..."

"The brake lines?" Edith asked, shorthand appearing on the page almost before the words had gone through her head.

"Yes. They were replaced only a month before. They could not have worn out. I think... I think Thomas or Lucille swapped them for the old ones, knowing it would look like an accident."

No... No, surely not. That kind of thing didn't happen in real life. That happened in TV movies and airport mystery novels. It didn't happen to real people, certainly not without someone being caught.

"Are you sure?"

"I'm certain!"

Alright, the Sharpes were a little... odd, but murder? No. She couldn't believe that.

"I would be offended if someone accused me of killing my mom, that's all. Maybe enough to refuse references."

"You don't understand! It's a game to them. Everything is a game and they don't care who-"

The line went dead. And she had no more quarters.

Edith placed the phone back in its cradle with trembling hands.

What was she supposed to do now? And what was that about being inappropriate with Thomas? Had it really been that he'd been inappropriate with her? Or was it a complete lie, based on nothing?

She wasn't jealous. Just curious. Curious about people the Sharpes used to work with and whether they'd been as off-balanced by them as she was.

She left the cafe even more confused than she'd entered it somehow and made her way back to the laundromat with her mind swirling.

The women there had put her loads on to dry. Very thoughtful of them, nicer than they needed to be. And then she had the embarrassment of asking to use the phone in the back after all. She had an urge to call Alan right away.

He had to be on shift as she heard the robotic voice of his answerphone. It was a relief, really, not to have to share what she'd just learned with him. She needed to sort it out in her own mind first.

"Hey, it's me. I'm in a laundromat in Des Moines. Listen, I called that Enola girl - can you tell her I'm sorry the line went dead? I ran out of quarters. I'll call you after dinner or maybe tomorrow. Bye."

Her voice had sounded so normal. She was proud of that. Almost as proud as she was of coming up with a plan of what to do next.

She separated out Lucille and Thomas's clothes, warm and smelling of something pretending to be jasmine flowers from the machines, but left her own and Finlay's muddled up. She needed an excuse to hang around in her room for a few minutes.

Retracing her steps back to the motel, Edith tried to rehearse how she would ask the question.

"Hey, how would you... Is it possible to... Did you ever hear of someone...?"

When she finally managed to drag everything up the stairs and find the right room number, she had about six different possible ways of saying it.

Finlay yawned as she opened the door, her hair out of its usual bun and standing like a cloud around her head, smiling as Edith hefted the bags in and began making two piles.

"Mmm. I hope they didn't charge you too much. This smells like it's had softener on it and everything."

"They were very nice, but I think mainly admiring of Lucille's things rather than ours if they gave them special treatment."

Finlay chuckled, rolling some socks into balls. There was never going to be a good time to ask, Edith figured. Might as well just go for it.

"How easy is it to stage a car crash?" she asked, avoiding eye contact by folding a t-shirt.

Spluttering. An unexpected question. Obviously.

"Why would a nice young lady like you go asking a horrible thing like that?"

Ah... Ah, why would she?

"Because I... have an idea for a book. A murder mystery."

That seemed to placate Finlay at least a little.

"I told you, I never worked homicide," she said. "But I reckon it'd be hard. Those smart cookies down in forensics can spot all kinds of things. A deliberate crash? Yeah, I'd bet they could detect that. There'd be something wrong with the marks on the road or something."

That ought to have made Edith feel better than it did. Really, she needed more details about the accident before she could decide if Enola's story was credible. And where would she get those? Asking the Sharpes outright would be suspiscious as hell.

"Maybe I won't write it," she said, fishing out the last of her underwear. "Maybe I'll write something nicer."

Worn out brake lines. Not cut, just old. She still couldn't help wondering. That was suspicious, it couldn't be denied.

Oh, she needed a nap... Too many thoughts and feelings and questions and then dinner and the show and notes. Too much for one day.

Lucille opened the door on her third knock, hair mussed from sleep. She looked softer. Glowing almost. Maybe she'd just done her primer.

"Do you want to come in?" she asked. "We've got the travel kettle on. Nice cup of chamomile will help you sleep."

"Oh, no, that's alright. There won't be enough cups. I'll just... I'll... I'll see you at dinner."

Edith wished she hadn't seen the way Lucille had been surprised. Maybe even offended. Certainly confused.

Perhaps she was taking this as a rejection of her advances. Was it a rejection? Maybe. Maybe not. Edith wasn't sure yet. There was a lot to think about. Lucille was her employer, for a start. First job and already considering sleeping with the boss? What a cliche.

And then there was Thomas. Edith couldn't deny finding him attractive too and she didn't think she was good at hiding that. She wouldn't want Lucille getting jealous of her own brother. They were too close, in life and art. The risk of causing a rift was too much.

Enola's accusation sat heavily in the back of her mind, a toad on an egg ready to hatch out a monster.

She didn't want to get involved with murderers or even potential ones. She needed to know more. After all, if they'd been accused of something so awful, maybe that would be enough to get rid of their assistant. And they were quite ruthless - she could easily see them seeking retribution if they were offended.

Oh, God, she hoped Lucille wasn't offended...

The motel bed creaked as she flopped down on it, sending up a faint smell of damp. She just needed to sleep, she figured, kicking off her sneakers and wriggling out of her jeans.

It wasn't easy to drift off with her mind so full, but she must have managed it. Knocking woke her for the second time in twenty-four hours. Dinner already? Ugh...

"Hang on," she called. "One minute."

"It's me," she heard Lucille say. "It's just me."

There was something about the intonation. 'Just.' Alone. Secret, almost.

Edith opened the door, jeans on but not done up. And there was Lucille, clutching a dark red shirt.

"You accidentally mixed this into your own laundry and I want to wear it tonight," she said, stepping inside without being asked.

"No, I didn't."

"No, but that's what I'm going to tell Thomas when he gets out of the shower and asks why I came through here. We need to talk about this morning."

Edith blinked a few times and closed the door, stomach rolling. This was too fast. Too blunt. There ought to be more dancing around first.

The morning felt like it had been weeks ago.

"How did it make you feel?" Lucille asked, sitting down on the very edge of the bed. She didn't bother specifying exactly what she was talking about.

"I don't know," Edith said truthfully.

"Then let's cut it down. Did you dislike it?"

That was cutting it down? Edith paced like a caged tiger, trying to escape the truth.

"No," she said eventually. "No, I... I didn't dislike it."

"Good," Lucille said, standing up. "That's all I wanted to be sure of. Thank you for returning my shirt."

She made it to the door before Edith felt able to speak up again.

"But... But we can't!"

Lucille turned on her heel and shrugged.

"We can't what?"

"We can't... have an affair."

Jesus, who was she? What decade was this?

"An affair? I didn't realise things were so serious."

"You know what I mean," Edith said, blushing angrily. "You're my boss. We can't have a relationship. It's unethical."

Lucille stood at the door, nodding slightly.

"The kiss was an experiment," she said softly. "One we both enjoyed. I was merely suggesting more experiments, not a relationship as such. You could say no to any or all of them. But, frankly, you seem like you could use the closeness. The intimacy. The stress relief. A little fun. Think about it and let me know. No hard feelings either way."

She left. And Edith decided to sit on the floor for a little while, unsure of what else to do.

She didn't want to be anyone's experiment.

And yet the idea didn't completely repulse her.

No strings. Lucille probably wouldn't tell anyone. And she was very attractive, that much was obvious. The thought kept returning to the back of Edith's mind that maybe she could do this, maybe she could get away with it...

Ugh, she didn't know what she wanted.

Or maybe she was just scared to admit it.

Chapter Text

Edith almost sleepwalked through dinner, distant and distracted but strangely jumpy all the same, practically leaping out of her chair when Finlay pressed a hand to her forehead to check her temperature.

"You look so peaky."

"I'm fine."

None of them looked convinced, though Lucille was the one who spoke.

"Maybe you should sit this show out. Take an evening for yourself."

It felt like an insult and that made Edith all the more determined to go.

"I just need to freshen up a little," she said carefully. "I can handle it. I mean, I've barely eaten today, that's probably all it is."

Excuses. She knew it. Lucille knew it. And for all that there had been some indication of secrecy, Edith had the distinct feeling that Thomas knew it too. Or at least knew something. So what did that mean? And how much of Lucille's... suggestion was he aware of? It was none of his business really, and yet she couldn't help but wonder what he thought about it. His sister's sex life.

He probably didn't give it a moment's thought. They were rock stars, after all. They probably slept with whoever they wanted and laughed together afterwards.

Finlay was the only one she could trust, and yet Edith felt if she was completely open with her about all her worries and concerns and thoughts that she'd sound irrational at best.

"Don't force yourself," Lucille said. "Don't make yourself ill."

Edith wolfed down her remaining food and excused herself from the table while everyone else was half done. She needed to get away. She needed to be alone for a few moments.

She needed to call Alan.

The smell of anti-bacterial wipes made her feel slightly sick, but she wiped the receiver and buttons down anyway, tapping in the number with the ease of repetition.

Please be home... Please be home?

"Hello?"

A huge sigh of relief. She needed grounding and Alan had always been good at that. Good at being realistic. Good at talking her down.

"Hi," she said, feeling very small and tired.

"Are you alright? You sounded a little shaken earlier."

How could she explain this without sending him into a panic spiral?

Well, for a start she wasn't going to mention murder or that she was considering a fling and definitely not in the same sentence.

"Can you look something up for me?" she said. "I thought I had notes on it, but I can't find them and it's a really sensitive issue. I don't want to just flat out ask about it."

She listened to him chat about his day as he turned on his computer, wishing she could be a better friend and actually take in anything he was saying.

"OK," he said. "Go ahead, what do you need looking at?"

Deep breaths, Edith.

"I need the news reports from when their mother died if you can find it."

Alan went very quiet, making her cringe.

"Why do you need that?" he asked.

"Because... For my articles. I think losing both parents gives an insight into their psyche."

Shallow. Sloppy. Obvious.

He sighed and she could hear him typing.

"OK..." he said. "Right... I've got 'Lady Sharpe Dies in Accident'... I've got obituaries. Ooh, here's one. 'Baronet's Daughter Cleared of Manslaughter.'"

Despite herself, Edith's heart leapt. Cleared? Perfect! An accident. It was a mistake, that was all. All the same, she tried to keep her voice steady when she asked him to read it to her.

"OK. Wow, this is some old web formatting, hang on. Uh... Right, 'Lucille Sharpe, daughter of the late Baronet James William Sharpe of Allerdale Hall, was cleared today of causing death by dangerous driving and manslaughter. She was driving her mother, Lady Beatrice, to a social event when she lost control of her vehicle and collided with a tree, suffering whiplash and fractured ribs. Her mother - who witnesses reported refused to wear a seat belt at any time due to discomfort - was killed instantly.'"

The idea that Lucille had been driving the car... That put a different spin on things. Either it was a very dramatic way to avoid being accused of murder or a clear sign that they had nothing to do with it. Surely the risk would be much too great.

You'd have to be very certain or quite mad to do something like that.

"Does it say anything about what caused it or just that she lost control?"

"It implies that she was accused of speeding but they found that the brake lines had worn out and she was unable to slow down on a hill. She paid a fine of £250 for not ensuring passengers were wearing seat belts. I guess they figured causing your mom's death would be punishment enough. Imagine the guilt."

Edith thought about how much the Sharpes seemed to hate their parents. How badly they spoke about them.

"Yeah," she said. "Must have been awful."

"Are they going to be OK with you writing about stuff like this?" he asked.

Ah. Yes. Write about it.

Come to think of it, she couldn't remember ever hearing them talk about it in all the interviews she'd read and watched. They avoided questions about their family where possible.

And her job was to get the inside scoop. To write things other people didn't or couldn't.

"I guess I'll find out," she said. "What was that you were saying about your new schedule?"

"Oh, it's the worst..."

She wasn't really listening, again. But that was a secondary worry. She was much more concerned about a dreadful idea that had begun to surface in her mind.

If she became intimate with Lucille, then she might be more open to talking about more personal things. Now, arguably that was unethical, but on the other hand they knew that she might write about anything she learned on the tour. They hadn't implied that anything was off-limits.

Of course, she might never work again after this. They could easily blackball her from the industry if they wanted to.

Then again, she could always see what kind of revelations her fishing dredged up and decide whether to share them later... And music journalism had never really been the plan anyway.

Was she just making excuses for herself? Maybe. But maybe that was better than having no explanation even in her own mind.

She had to excuse herself from Alan eventually and get ready, genuinely wanting to freshen up a little. She took a quick shower and used the little motel hairdryer to fluff her tresses out, put on make up, heavier than normal. She wanted to cover up any shadows. She wanted to look the part.

The camera felt like a shield, or maybe a weapon, weighty around her neck. Powerful.

She looked at herself in the mirror, a last check, and suddenly felt a strange calling, pulling out her darkest shade of lipstick to write a message on it.

Yes, she'd have to clean it off before leaving the next day, but as she lined up the camera to take a picture for Lucille, she really didn't care.

It was a pretty good shot. Her hair flowed out around her head, gold like a halo, her face obscured by the Polaroid, her arms seeming more graceful than she thought they were in reality.

She'd tuck the little square photograph into the strings of Lucille's bass when her back was turned. Hide it in the pocket of her coat. Something spontaneous and reckless.

Of course, she just ended up handing it over silently in the back of the bus as Finlay drove them to the venue, watching the way Lucille's frown of confusion turned to a smile as she managed to read what it said in the orange glow from the street lamps.

Yes. When?

Chapter Text

It was hard to begin writing without worrying that she was committing some kind of betrayal. You couldn't be sleeping with someone and also be planning to write about a time in their life that they'd done their level best to keep private.

Not that they were sleeping together. Not yet anyway. Edith had spent the whole evening during and after the show in a state of nervous excitement. The concerts had always felt like a strange combination of intimate and epic, but Edith flattered herself that parts of Lucille's performance were just for her. Like secret messages.

She sounded like one of those people who became obsessed with celebrities they'd never met, who thought every press conference contained something just for them. But this was different. Those smiles were for her. She knew it.

The night was long. Edith had rather... Well, she'd expected... She'd hoped... that Lucille would come to see her in the night. But then again, how would she explain to Thomas why she was sneaking off in the night?

And besides, she wasn't ready when she really thought about it. She didn't even know how that kind of sex worked and... Well, she knew how it worked, but she'd never done anything like that. The idea of it was almost frightening. It was easy with men; she'd never really had to actively participate much if she hadn't wanted to. They just sort of got on with it.

Not that she'd never had good, fun sex, of course. She'd had her flings and her holiday romances. One or two.

And that's what this would be. A bit of fun. She was a young, open-minded young woman who could totally have sex with her kind of boss.

She really was not good at lying to herself.

On the third night that she spent alone, listening for a knock at the door and not even able to remember where they'd driven to after getting out of the most recent venue, she tried to imagine what it was going to be like.

Or, more accurately, she tried to fantasize.

It was surprisingly easy. She already knew a lot of details to help her. The scent of Lucille's perfume, the way her fingers tended to be on the chill side, the sound of her laugh.

The softness of her lips even.

She started there. They had already kissed, even if it was brief. It wasn't difficult to imagine something longer, more intimate, open lips and brushing tongues. Maybe they'd begin standing? No. No, she didn't want to spend time thinking about the logistics of ending up horizontal.

Lying on her side, she started slow, imagining cool hands stroking her shoulders and down to her waist. Lucille would reach under boldly, pull off her t-shirt, eager to feel skin.

The rest of her body was warm, Edith remembered from the night they went dancing. Like her heart radiated heat that never made it to the tips of her fingers.

After a moment or two, Edith took off the shirt she was sleeping in, the feeling of the sheets helping her feel more immersed, trying her best to be present within her own mind.

Pulled close, lips against hers, a hand through her hair, maybe gripping there...

Huh. Yeah, she quite liked that idea. She could hardly imagine Lucille whispering sweet nothings to anyone after all. Flint-hard Lucille, sharp and beautiful like a diamond, surely she would be a little rough, soothing any stings with kisses that could easily turn to nips of teeth.

She'd never thought she'd like something like that, but the idea of trying it out with Lucille was exciting. She could feel her pulse quickening, heat rising in her core, lips parting around sighs as she ran her own hands - too warm, too small - over her own body.

Lucille would use her nails. Those always perfect nails, red or black or sometimes deep midnight blue, not hard enough to break the skin or leave marks, but enough to let her feel that she could, that she was holding back. And Edith would have to trust that she would.

Gently, experimentally, she teased her own nipples, gasping at the idea of Lucille exploring her body like this, with fingers and maybe even with her mouth.

She'd like how easily she could make Edith gasp, she'd enjoy having that power. She'd grin, one of her legs pressing between Edith's own, giving her that little bit of friction she was suddenly desperate for.

The heel of her own hand was a poor approximation, her hips jerking forward in search of more, and soon she rolled onto her back, tugging off her underwear.

What would it be like to be totally bare before Lucille? She shivered even to think of it, how she'd be scared, embarrassed, excited, wanting, she didn't know exactly.

Lucille probably wouldn't let her hide behind the blankets as she was doing now. She'd lounge beside her watching her face as her hand strayed lower and lower, running feather-light touches up the line of her thighs before insistently moving between them.

She couldn't pretend it was someone else's fingers, but that didn't really matter. Everything was easy, slippery beneath her touch, eyes clenched shut and her own gasping breath in her ears.

Too much... Not enough... She needed more, she wanted Lucille's lips against her skin and her voice whispering to her, praise perhaps, telling her how good it was of her to let go and let the sensations run through her body.

Closer and closer, fingers moving frantically, she chased her climax, nerves alight with it almost. She could almost hear Lucille chuckling at her predicament, wrist growing tired and aching but so close, so close, slipping one finger inside herself in the hope of getting enough sensation to...

"Ah! Hah..."

She didn't nornally make a sound. She didn't want to risk Alan hearing what she was up to. But it had been so long in coming, she'd worked so hard for it, that the little cry was one more of relief than anything else. Satiety. Completion.

Edith lay in the dark, breathing hard, trying to wipe her fingers on her clothes and not the bed sheets for all the hotel staff probably dealt with worse. Her body hummed, warm and relaxed even awkwardly shuffling her way back into her night things.

It was easy for her to imagine being acted upon. Imagining acting on someone else? That was harder. Stranger.

But she wanted to. She wanted to touch Lucille, wanted to make her feel good.

In a way, she wasn't even sure she was really attracted to women as such. Just Lucille. She didn't want to do this with just any woman, just Lucille.

Then again... it wasn't like she wanted to do stuff with just any man either. And that was an odd thought. She'd always kind of expected to be interested in men and then she was interested in specific men and that was how it was meant to be. Being interested in specific women?

That was a little unexpected.

She lay in bed and wondered why. Why that was surprising to her. She had no problem with anyone else's sexuality, whatever it was. Was it just her own that gave her pause, questioning herself? Whether she knew what she was feeling at all?

Bisexual. It wasn't like she didn't know the word. But applying it to herself? That was a big step. One she wasn't ready for yet.

And yet she could so easily imagine kissing Lucille, moving down her body, between her legs, trying her best with her mouth. Because, despite it all, she liked her. And she wanted to please her. Impress her even.

She sighed, alone in her motel bed, rolled over, and tried to sleep.

Chapter Text

Edith pulled her most recent sheet out of the typewriter and screwed it up. No amount of Wite-Out was going to save that bullshit.

The next sheet tore as she tried to insert it and soon had a bloom of red spreading everywhere where she somehow managed to cut herself trying to free it. Stupid machine. Stupid words...

Stupid Edith.

She couldn't type like this, tasting iron from her bleeding finger. Band aid, band aid...

No band aids. Great.

She didn't want to see Lucille. Though she didn't want to admit it, that was the source of this block she had. They'd been through Omaha and Sioux Falls and then driven for days through the - admittedly beautiful - South Dakota wilderness. Which had mostly involved marvelling at beautiful rock formations while the Sharpes kept singing 'Take Me Back to the Black Hills' regardless of which mountains they were actually seeing.

Stupid song followed her into her sleep even...

Meanwhile, her bed remained lonely. And she didn't know why. Lucille wasn't even flirting with her that much. It was frustrating, to say the least. What was this? Did it only count when Lucille was the one making the moves?

Or did she want Edith to take control? Did she want her to make a move?

Well, how was she supposed to do that when Thomas was always there?! She felt hyper-aware of him, certain that he knew what was going on between her and his sister. How he felt about it was a different question.

She crept along to Finlay's room, knocking on the door a little too hard, a few flakes of old varnish fluttering to the floor.

It was evidently later than she thought. Finlay opened the door in her dressing gown, hair loose and wet and skin glowing even more than usual. She'd had a bath.

And she'd clearly been crying.

Edith was a little taken aback. Cheerful, laughing Finlay, crying? It seemed wrong. Completely and horribly wrong. Unnatural even.

"Oh, it's you, sweetheart. Everything alright?"

"I... Uh, do you have a band aid?"

"Of course. Come in."

Bustled into the room, Edith found herself being tended to by the gentle hands of someone who had soothed dozens of skinned knees and paper cuts.

"Oh, it's not so bad," she said. "Fingers are the worst. Always bleed far too much. Heads are much the same."

The sting of antiseptic was almost nice. Grounding.

Dangerous thought. Push it away.

"Are you alright, Finlay? You seem a little..."

"Oh, don't you worry about me. Just reading something sad, that's all. Got myself all worked up about something I can't change."

That sounded familiar.

"Why can't you change it?"

"Well... Mostly because it happened over a hundred years ago. I've been reading about the history of this place. Thought it would be interesting to take a history anthology along, read a little something about every region we pass through. So I've just learned what happened to the people who lived here when the European settlers came. Chopped up the land into farms that were too small to cultivate properly. Sold it back to them at inflated prices in return for citizenship. Imagine that, having no instant right to citizenship of the country you've lived in your whole life. And then I thought about the people who still face that issue now every day and how powerless I am to help with that and... Well, I let myself get a little upset. Injustice never sleeps."

Ah. Well, that did rather make her own worries pale a little in comparison.

Somewhere in the depths of her mind, a voice spoke up. A kind woman from her teenage years. A woman assigned to her.

You must grieve, Edith. It's not good to store these things up to this extent. Yes, yes, I... I know, Edith, but just because others are going through worse things does not invalidate this feeling for you. Shall we talk about your father, Edith? How is he coping? Is that why you're doing this, Edith?

She'd hated how often her name was mentioned.

"It's good to cry sometimes," she said out loud.

"Oh, you don't have to tell me. I made a career of being tough. Gotta be tougher than the boys, of course. Can't let them see you cry. No matter what I saw and dealt with, you get through the day and let it out when you're alone. But you've gotta do it. Bad things can happen if you don't."

Yes. Yes, they could.

"Of course, Miss Lucille gets rid of it in her music instead of crying," Finlay continued. "I wonder if it works well enough, though. You see it sometimes. A sadness in her. And in Thomas too, though somewhat less. They could do with letting it out more often, I fear."

Edith forced a smile and nodded. But an idea was growing in her mind now. Something to help with this wretched article.

"We're going into Yellowstone tomorrow," she said. "I hope we'll have time to stretch our legs a little. Get some fresh air."

"Doesn't it smell of sulphur? From the volcanoes?"

"I don't know. I expect we'll find out. Thank you for the band aid. I'll let you get some rest."

It was even later now, but all the same, she managed to force a piece of paper into the typewriter. She had to get this down before it rushed out of her head like water out of a net.

Forgive me if I begin with a personal confession. I did not cry at my mother's funeral. My father was heartbroken and I wanted to be strong for him and I locked my tears away. I was ten years old.

Being orphans is something which connects me to the Sharpes. I almost feel as if they knew that about me before employing me to be their tour writer. If I were in a more fanciful mood, perhaps I would call us kindred spirits, in a way.

I fear however that we feel very differently about our parents' deaths.

Was this going too far? It wasn't like she was accusing them of anything. It was common knowledge that they hadn't got along with their parents. They didn't hide that.

Of course, it's rather a different situation. I can trace my family back only a few generations of steel workers and laborers. The Sharpes carry their family with them everywhere.

I am not only talking about the hereditary title of baronet which they have carefully maintained, even for the pure irony of the fact, nor the stately mansion they reside in when at home in England, filled with the belongings and memories of their ancestors.

It is no secret that the Sharpes did not have a good relationship with their parents. It is in their music, when you know where to look. But what some will not know is that Lucille witnessed her mother's death. She was driving the car when it suffered a fatal accident and was injured herself.

Edith's hands were trembling slightly. Her cut finger throbbed.

I am yet to ask her about the precise circumstances. It doesn't seem appropriate somehow, not yet. But such an experience cannot have left no mark. A duo who discuss everything from philosophy to cartoons in their lyrics surely haven't missed out a life-changing event like that.

Unless they don't want to talk about it. Understandable. But that does beg the question of what else they don't talk about. What other things they keep out of sight and reserved only for themselves.

What was she even trying to say? Was she implying that Lucille liked women and ought to talk about that publicly? What right did she have to say someone ought to come out if they didn't want to?

Then again, she wasn't actually saying that. This wasn't pettiness over their stunted love affair. She was just saying that the Sharpes were not as open as they sometimes acted.

They have a reputation in journalism for changing their answers and stories frequently. In my time with them, I've learned that you can't always trust what they say. But I believe when they sing, there is truth.

Get out your albums and listen again. Listen well. You might discover something new.

Oh, it would do, wouldn't it? A couple of hundred words for a side column. A few recent Polaroids from shows and on the road and she'd still manage to meet her deadline.

She proofread it in passing, thinking to go to bed right afterwards.

And one sentence needed changed. It would haunt her if she didn't alter it.

She carefully blanked out the word accident and corrected it in black pen - a fatal collision.

After all, she still wasn't completely confident that there was anything accidental about it.

Chapter Text

She hadn't been reading her map well enough. She'd been imagining a brief drive through to Yellowstone, but apparently this was the day they had to cover Montana as well. Hours and hours of driving, getting just north enough to reach Billings and then down to Cody in Wyoming.

To her shame, Edith ended up napping most of the way, being woken up in the early afternoon having entirely missed a whole state.

Thomas smiled at her, his voice soft.

"Where's your article?" he asked. "We're at a post office. There's still time to head off to Old Trail Town."

"To... To what?"

"Open air historical buildings," Lucille said from the front seat, reading a tourist leaflet.

Edith rummaged through her day bag to find the large manilla envelope, entrusting it to Thomas to post. And then it would be done and gone.

"It looks so interesting," Finlay said. "There's a school house and a general store, real old buildings all transported to one place and preserved just as they were."

"Mm," Lucille said. "And the grave of someone called Liver-Eating Johnson. What a nickname to have. I wonder if he drank Chianti with it."

So tasteless. All the same, Edith was a little surprised to see her disapproving look met by Lucille's eyes in the mirror. What expression was that? It wasn't amusement or offence, just... Just observing. Watching. Seeing what she thought.

"Maybe he just really liked liver," Edith said. "Lamb's liver or something."

Of course, it was exactly as Lucille said. He'd sworn revenge for the murder of his wife by a neighboring tribe and reportedly ate 300 people's livers.

"You know," Lucille said as they looked at the man's grave marking, a statue of him upon a horse. "At some point I think it stops being about revenge and starts being about liking the taste."

"Of liver?" Edith said, possibly unwisely.

"Of killing."

It meant nothing. It was just a comment, not an anecdote.

All the same, worry lanced down Edith's spine, like being struck by lightning.

"Well, revenge is very complex," she tried. "Who knows when it's satisfied?"

Lucille hummed slightly. Like she agreed.

What had her mother done to her?

No, no, no, that was jumping to conclusions about both Lucille and the old Lady Sharpe. You could have a bad relationship with a parent without there being some big, dark secret buried away back there.

They explored old cabins each with their own stories of former occupants from outlaws to heroes, the old post office, the school house with its tiny benches and smell of chalk. The amount of skins and horns made Edith uneasy for reasons she couldn't quite figure out.

Or maybe it was something else. The fact that these were real buildings, real things and yet they looked like they were props from a film set. Real things shouldn't look this unreal.

Not the saloon, though. It felt more like a contemporary bar, if you ignored the jugs and the animal heads. Then again, taxidermy was having a resurgence, wasn't it?

Thomas was instantly at the ancient piano, playing a little ragtime with only a few out-of-tune notes. Edith didn't even have it in her to worry about whether that was allowed or not, touching the antiques.

For one thing, she was much, much too worried about the way Lucille was hovering near her at the bar, like she was a flame attracting a moth.

"I'm sorry," she murmured, under the music, out of Finlay's hearing where she was examining the old posters and news cuttings, bright white against the scarlet wallpaper.

"What for?" Edith asked, all innocence.

"You think I've been ignoring you. It's not deliberate. It's just been... hard to get away."

Edith had nothing to say to that.

"I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to be... flexible."

"Wait, you mean?"

She hadn't meant for it to come out like that. So cutting. But still, Lucille had broken down her defenses, stormed the battlements, overcome the portcullis and then retreated. It didn't make sense.

"Sorry."

That seemed to be a yes. On the other hand, it wasn't like she was going to meet anyone else out here...

Edith gave the smallest of shrugs and blushed at how good Lucille's smile made her feel. They were OK. They still had intent for... things to happen.

She wasn't a teenager anymore, she shouldn't get flustered at being strung along like this. Ugh.

"What even is sarsaparilla?"

She hadn't realized Finlay was nearby, hence an innocent question. Like they'd just been talking about the artefacts.

"Oh, it's... It's a plant, but they made a drink out of it. Non-alcoholic. Temperance movement, you know. An alternative to whiskey."

"This girl knows so much," Finlay said, squeezing her shoulder.

She was being so kind to her, even more than normal. Maybe she'd seemed particularly vulnerable last night. In need of support.

Thomas hit a clump of notes all at once, a horrible, discordant sound, spinning round on the piano stool looking animated and gleeful.

"Lucille, will you play for me?"

"Sounds like you have something particular in mind," she said, smiling wryly at him.

"You're much better at transposing than I am. But we're in Calamity Jane country. Will you play Secret Love for me?"

She chuckled, taking his place and testing the notes.

"You know that after Bill Hickok died, she went after his killer with a meat cleaver? Or so they say. That's the kind of woman I can get behind. Right, what key do you want it in?"

It was interesting to see them try out chords until Thomas was happy. Instinctive almost. In sync with one another.

Lucille's playing was fluid and florid, adding far more ornamentation than Edith remembered being in that song. Still. Pretty.

"Once I had a secret love, that lived within the heart of me..."

Thomas started, a rich tenor. Edith had never heard it sung by a man before. So smooth and gentle, rising and falling in the shy verse before surging up to the triumphant chorus.

"Now I shout it from the highest hill..."

Other people were coming in, following the siren call, some of them even joining in, and applauding politely afterwards as Thomas leant down to whisper something in Lucille's ear and kiss her cheek.

Every inch the loving brother. Maybe she hadn't got a good grip on him after all, Edith thought. One fight didn't mean anything terrible had happened.

When did she start second guessing every little thing?

Whatever he'd said, Lucille seemed to agree, laughing as she started playing something more lively. Showing off. Always ready for an audience.

Thomas left her with a squeeze to the shoulder, coming close to Edith and speaking quietly.

"Are you looking forward to seeing Old Faithful tomorrow?"

She nodded, not wanting to disturb the music.

"I plan to walk some of the route. I'd love for you to join me."

"Lucille's not planning to go?"

He chuckled a little, smiling at her.

"Oh, no. Too much risk of getting a tan. It would ruin her aesthetic."

Edith hesitated. Being alone with Thomas had been very confusing last time. Then again, it could be like exposure therapy. If she spent more time with him, he wouldn't be so scary. And the idea of a real, proper walk in the fresh air was wonderful...

"OK," she mumbled. "Sounds fun."

He slung an arm around her, giving a quick squeeze. There was nothing in it but friendliness and companionable camaraderie.

Her racing heartbeat was probably palpable under his thumb.

Chapter Text

If Yellowstone did have a sulphuric smell, either Edith had got used to it quickly or it was subsumed by the stronger scent of trees, moss and general outside.

After so long in a small bus and then in motels and sweaty concert venues, it was very welcome, even if Edith was kind of dreading having to find conversation with Thomas for a couple of hours.

Finlay pulled into a small car park with a large information board with all the trails marked on it to drop them off. All the way though, Thomas had been consulting a paper map he'd picked up in their most recent motel's lobby. He seemed confident that he knew where they were and where they were going.

He obediently stood still while Lucille rubbed sunscreen into his face and neck, her hand slipping inside his shirt a little to make sure she didn't miss any inch of potentially exposed skin.

"Are you sure you know the route?" she asked from behind oversized sunglasses and a wide hat. How that had survived being in their bags without being crushed, Edith wasn't sure.

"It's well marked and it's not strenuous. We'll be fine. And we have plenty of water and snacks if we get too hungry before lunch."

"Alright. Have fun. We'll see you at the Inn."

Even waving goodbye for a temporary period made Edith nervous. Lucille had lent her a large water bottle and Thomas had a backpack with bug spray and blister band aids and food, everything they might need for a relatively short walk, but suddenly she was thinking about all the things that could go wrong out in the wilderness.

Weren't there bears out here? Wolves and elk and forest fires?

Thomas adjusted the straps of his pack, inhaling deeply.

"That's better," he said, setting off with Edith at his side. "A bit of nature. I've been missing it."

"Do you do much hiking at home?"

"When I can. Lucille doesn't much like it. Parks and gardens suit her, but she prefers mud to come in mask form. Likes her wildness to come from within. I haven't always liked the outdoors. Father used to try to make me go fox hunting and grouse shooting when I was young and I never much took to it."

People passing them had large packs, the occasional tent. Even out here, Edith felt out of place in her t-shirt and sneakers and fraying jeans. They could tell she didn't belong out here, even as they smiled and said hello.

"I've always thought how odd it is that people speak to strangers on a country walk," Thomas said. "In the town, they wouldn't even look at one another, but out here..."

"Maybe they feel like they ought to prove they're friendly," Edith offered. "There's not much by way of police out here. It would be a good place to kill people. For serial killers, I mean. The bodies wouldn't be found for ages, probably. So you say hello and say what a nice day it is to gain a little trust."

"So mistrustful! I don't expect that kind of idea from you."

"Well, maybe I'm more cynical than you think."

It was good to get some exercise, even gently. Her thigh muscles tingled slightly, breathing fresh air, hearing birds and bugs. This had been a good idea after all. Even Thomas was surprisingly good company, talking about the trees and spotting the flash of feathers or flutter of butterfly wings.

"Does this remind you of home, if you do a lot of walking there?" Edith asked once a silence had stretched a little far for her liking.

"Maybe in the summer. Temperature in the mid-twenties. Or, er... I don't know. The fifties Fahrenheit, is it?"

"That's a bit chillier. This is more like the seventies."

"Never can remember the equation for that conversion. I can do pounds to dollars and kilometres to miles and kilograms to the other kind of pounds but temperatures... No. But, yes, the trees are familiar, for the right kind of forest. No oaks, as far as I can see, but they're a little south of our home usually. Of course, the estate's forest was all cleared centuries ago. I considered trying to have it replanted, but the National Trust prefers to keep the grounds as they were when the family were at the height of clay production. I'd love you to see Allerdale one day. The earth is bright red, you know. It's very striking."

"I've seen pictures. Online, when I was researching you."

"Oh, of course. I used to play in it when I was a child. Painting my face like it was make-up. Building mud castles. Of course, I'd be soundly punished for it. The stains were a nightmare to remove, worse than grass."

This was unusual. He was telling her about his childhood without much prompting. The outdoors making him expansive perhaps, feeling free and easy. Still, it seemed like an interesting vein to mine, Edith thought, wearing her journalist hat.

"Were they terribly strict, your parents?"

"Yes. And no, I suppose. They were neglectful more often, but any time they did pay proper attention to us it was to criticise or punish us for whatever we had or hadn't done. Lucille wasn't ladylike enough and would never snag a husband and I had neither a stomach nor a spine. I'm sure they remain thoroughly disappointed in us now if there is an afterlife."

Not ladylike? That was strange.

"But Lucille is so... elegant and poised."

A fond sigh.

"Yes, but she's also headstrong and stubborn. And angry. They felt she ought to behave herself better. By which they meant be more submissive. Or at least less contrary. Idiots. They'd have stripped her of almost everything that makes her who she is if they'd had their way."

"What's she angry about?"

A brief beat, their feet crunching on the ground.

"Is that a trail marker, do you think?"

He acted like he hadn't heard her. It was strange. Then again, maybe he figured he shouldn't be telling her Lucille's very personal business without permission.

It did make it sound as though something had happened though. Something bad.

It put a shiver up Edith's spine. She had so many questions unanswered, but being clumsy in the asking would get her nowhere.

The rain crept up on them. One minute it was a sunny day with a little breeze, the next a heavy shower rolled into view. The trees offered scant shelter, their branches dripping even more heavily upon them.

No coats, not even rain covers. Edith could feel her hair becoming stuck to her scalp, her clothes clinging. And she knew they had to be because Thomas...

Thomas was wearing a white shirt. The rain did what water did to white clothes. It cleaved to his flesh, revealing stomach muscles beneath pale pink skin and dark chest hair and even...

She was looking at his nipples and hurriedly looked away, thoroughly mortified. She was practically sleeping with his sister, this was not right, it was voyeuristic and pervy and wrong.

He laughed, running his hand through soaked hair, slicking it back, just visible out of the corner of her eye.

"Edith," he said gently, and despite the soft tone she practically trembled.

He moved round her, too deliberately for her to turn away without being obvious, doing her best to seem natural as she folded her arms much too high, trying to hide how visible her breasts were through thin cotton.

Water dripped down his face, like tears or like it was caressing his cheeks and lips that he was openly biting while looking at her.

"You know, I really like you, Edith," he said. "There's no pretence about you."

"That's not true," she heard herself say, vulnerable, unable to protect herself.

"Maybe you hide things," he conceded. "But what you show is entirely yourself. You might conceal some of what you are, but you don't try to project something you're not."

He'd come closer and Edith found herself backing away, only aware when her foot slipped off the side of the trail.

"Hey, careful," he said, reaching out for her shoulders. "We can't have you tumbling off the edge."

His hands were so warm and he looked so handsome like this, like all those tortured heroes she'd spent her teenage years reading about, but Lucille was high in her mind, the promise they had almost made to one another...

Or, well, not a promise, but they had an understanding at least.

"I wonder if you realise how interesting you are," Thomas said, looking at her with such intensity, his thumb moving slightly over her collar bone and she couldn't choose which was worse to look at, his practically naked chest or his disarming face and...

"That's why Lucille likes you so much. And why I do too."

"Lucille?"

A chuckle, low and soft.

"I've seen the way you look at each other. She's really quite taken with you. But I see the way you look at me too."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Hm. I think you do. But it's your choice. I'm just letting you know that the option is open."

"What option?"

Her voice had risen close to a squeak. She couldn't decide what she was feeling, whether this was frightening or exciting or something else or both.

Thomas wiped a stray hair from her face, his fingertips so soft.

"Perhaps I've misunderstood," he murmured, stepping back.

Edith felt herself slump slightly, out of relief perhaps, but also something worringly close to disappointment. He'd been so close, like he was going to... do something.

If this was supposed to make things less awkward, it had failed miserably. She tottered after him like a baby deer, shaken almost. But he hadn't done anything or said anything bad, not really. He'd just been close to her and stopped her falling backwards and told her he knew about her and Lucille.

"Does Lucille know you like me too?" she asked, voice almost back to normal.

"Of course. We have similar tastes and very few secrets."

"And... And what did she say about... About you and me...?"

"That it was up to you."

"To choose between you?"

A snort.

"Not exactly."

"So, what, you'd share me? Take turns?"

Was that insulting or intriguing? She'd never been wanted by two people before. Not as far as she knew anyway.

It was quite exciting to feel wanted, but want wasn't the same as get...

"If that suited you. But you're not interested, so we'll say no more about it."

That's right, she wasn't interested, was she?

Was she..?

Then again, she'd never get a chance to do this again. And no one would ever know.

"I never said I wasn't interested."

Thomas stopped walking, looking at her in surprise and grinning, that wide, laughing grin he had.

"I knew it," he said. "You are wild."

She felt wild even considering it. Where was her meek, cautious self? Who was this woman who had come on this trip, the one lying and suspecting but also wanting and desirous, and so unlike herself in almost every way? Or was this how she really was? How she would be if she was free?

She needed to call Alan. Alan kept her grounded, kept her herself. Kept her sane.

But Alan wasn't here. Thomas was here and he was approaching her again, curious, leaning down and capturing her lips.

Her arms flew of their own accord, wrapping around his shoulders as she let herself be walked backwards until she hit a tree trunk, solid at her back, scratchy against her scalp.

And then he lifted her, forcing her legs apart for him to step between, something like a whimper escaping her throat as a strong hand ran daringly up the outside of her thigh, stroking hard, the heat from his body so palpable through her sodden clothes...

She pushed against him, getting a confused look as he moved back and put her down.

"Someone could see," she said helplessly. "And I still need to think about it a little. It wasn't a yes. It was a maybe."

He nodded, adjusting his shirt a little.

"Of course," he said. "Of course. Take as long as you need."

Maybe she wasn't so wild after all, she thought, even if her lips felt like they were burning and there was a distinct thrum through her whole body.

Chapter Text

How could she walk into the Old Faithful Inn like everything was normal? She couldn't even appreciate the beautiful building inside or out.

Thomas was getting some looks from other visitors as he swept in. He did look striking, she supposed, so tall and dramatically windswept. She felt like a drowned rat next to him.

"Oh," she heard from somewhere to the left and then Lucille swept towards them. "Look at you! Poor things. Like puppies in a canal..."

Her eyes hadn't reached Edith's face. They were lingering decidedly further down.

Maybe the embarrassment would heat her up enough to evaporate the rain out of her clothes.

Before she really knew what was happening, Lucille was brushing her hair, plaiting it up with practised fingers.

"You look delicious," she murmured softly. "But you're shook up. Everything alright?"

"Mm," Edith mumbled. "Just... talking with Thomas."

The man in question was happily heading towards an impressive wall clock, Finlay offering him tissues to at least dry his face off.

"Talking?" Lucille asked, but with a certain depth to her voice. "And what were you talking about?"

"He asked me a question and I said that I needed to think about it."

Lucille knew, didn't she? She had to know exactly what had gone on.

"Oh, quite right. Take some time. But just remember that I saw you first."

She did know. Good. That was... good.

Edith didn't know how exactly she felt about being claimed like that. She had her own desires after all. She wasn't just a thing, some cake that they both wanted a piece of.

But then again, she was thinking how exciting it was to have kissed Thomas in the woods and Lucille's fingers were brushing the nape of her neck and just that simple touch felt good. Her wants were her own but she wanted them, both of them in slightly different ways.

It wasn't like she was expecting a relationship after all. It was just a fling. It wasn't that deep. Friends with benefits, as they said.

Waiting for the rain to ease, they ended up learning about the history of the building. It was quite patterned, full of the earthquakes and forest fires that came with being in such a dynamic landscape. Edith looked up to the upper floors, out of bounds for being structurally unsafe, and tried not to worry about the roof falling in on them.

"Built with electricity between 1903 and 1904," Finlay said, her voice low, as though they were in a cathedral or a temple. "I never really think about when that must have come in. Power at the flick of a switch."

"Well, in 1850, future Prime Minister William Gladstone famously asked Faraday why electricity was valuable," Thomas said, right in his element with all the engineering. "And he replied, 'One day, sir, you will tax it.' I believe our forebears had the house hooked up to a local grid in the 1890s, but I'm not certain."

"They still stumble across some of the old wires from time to time," Lucille said. "And then it's all panicking and getting the electricians out. Most of it's long unconnected. They'd be much happier if they just kept old cupboards shut."

The shower passed and Edith felt almost damp rather than sodden as they headed towards the geyser itself.

"We'd have had to wait anyway," Finlay was saying, leaflet in hand. "It only goes off every ninety minutes or so."

As a result, the path was busy, full of hikers and families with matching raincoats and sandwiches, bored kids kicking their heels until the steaming crater began to spit plumes of water upwards, little by little.

In a strange way, it reminded Edith of a firework show. Maybe it was the noises people were making, maybe the sense of beauty tied to the knowledge that touching it was a terrible idea.

"Reminds me of something," Lucille murmured, smiling faintly.

There was something about the way she said it that put Edith horribly on edge, hearing Thomas let out something between a sigh and a laugh.

"What?" she asked, not sure she wanted to know.

"An overfull kettle. I hope we can get a cup of tea before we have to set off. I bet they used to drink it straight from the geyser."

"They certainly used to wash clothes in it, apparently," Finlay said. "I'd be worried about losing them, personally. Dropping things in holes in the earth and expecting to get them back again? Doesn't seem likely."

They sold tea in the Old Faithful Inn, but it was rather busy. They elected not to bother, to wait until dinner time. There was water, after all. It wasn't like they were going to get dehydrated.

Edith was ravenous by the time they pulled into their hotel for the night, a family-run place in Jackson, Wyoming. She hadn't even realised her stomach was rumbling over the sound of the engine. Too much energy expended, lunchtime much too long ago.

Come to think of it, had she even had lunch?

"I'm going to shower," Thomas said. "In hot water this time. Any dinner ideas?"

"Lots of it," Finlay suggested.

Yeah. That sounded good. Half an hour to have a quick refresh and then food...

Peeling off her clothes, a faint layer of fluff left clinging to her from rain and then sitting in a hot vehicle all afternoon, Edith felt like she was shedding a skin. Her hair had become looping waves under Lucille's attention, but she couldn't preserve them under the stream of water even if she'd wanted to, swapping the plait for a high ponytail.

She went to knock on Lucille and Thomas's door once she was ready, but got no answer. Maybe they were already downstairs waiting.

Finlay was, at least. She looked very elegant in linen trousers and a blouse, so different to the way she normally dressed, all comfort.

"It's nice to be fancy sometimes," she said. "Besides, you young folk are so effortless. It's really not fair."

"They are. I'm just ordinary."

A light chuckle. Edith wasn't quite sure what that meant.

As if on cue, the Sharpes arrived, each with their hair slicked back. Quick showers if they'd both managed to have one in that time.

The receptionist recommended a local place, nothing too special but the food was hot and filling and the house wine was drinkable. Very drinkable.

No. No getting drunk. She'd made that mistake once before in present company. This was a pleasant night between friends, that was all.

And very pleasant it was too. Laughing together, chatting about what they might see over the next few days. There was an elk sanctuary nearby apparently.

"Which ones are elk?" Lucille asked, casually stroking the stem of her wine glass. "Are they caribou?"

"That's reindeer," Thomas said. "I'm fairly sure elk are just elk. Though it doesn't help that I keep thinking of moose, which I think are different again."

Seeing them talk together by candlelight, Edith was struck by how similar they were. The dark hair, the high cheekbones. Maybe she had a type and that was why she was so attracted to them both.

Maybe her type was faintly snobbish mysteries. It would be typical.

The question of what had happened to their mother had taken something of a back seat in her brain, but it was still there, faintly bubbling away.

"I didn't believe reindeer were real as a kid," she said. "I found out about Santa when I was about eight and just made the assumption that they were mythical too."

She was angling to ask about childhood Christmasses at Allerdale. But just asking outright would be much, much too obvious.

"They're all female, you know," Lucille said, not taking the bait. "Santa's reindeer. The males shed their antlers after the mating season at the start of December while the females keep them through to calving in spring. So they're either females or juvenile males under a year old."

"Do they use them to fight?"

"I think it's for discouraging rivals away from food supplies. Can't grow a strong calf if you have nothing to eat."

"And if you have a biggest knives on your head, I suppose you're getting first choice," Finlay said.

"Sounds like a good system to me."

Thomas was shaking his head and talking about how elk were just big deer, like the red deer in Britain, but Edith wasn't really listening. Her brain had been somewhat short-circuited by the distinct feel of a hand on her thigh.

Lucille was masterly at this. Her eyes were still on her brother, listening intently, but her fingers were trailing up and down Edith's leg, gentle but unmistakable.

Was she turning pink? She couldn't let Finlay know, couldn't let her suspect. It was important somehow. She wanted to try to maintain at least an illusion of professionalism, even if she was failing horribly at it.

She could push Lucille's hand away. She was fairly sure that she'd stop.

But Edith didn't want her to. That soft, tingly sensation was just too good.

The hand stayed there even as Lucille asked the waiter to take a photo of the four of them, the old-fashioned camera getting quite a reaction.

Despite the relatively low light, it was a good picture. Thomas's arm casually on Finlay's shoulder, the paleness of his skin contrasting with hers, Edith slightly pink but in a glowing manner, not like she was embarrassed or drunk.

And nothing visible from the waist down. Any under-table activities safely hidden.

"I hope they use that one," Lucille said, carefully writing the date and place on the border. "It's exactly how I want to remember this trip."

Somewhere along the walk back to the hotel, her hand slipped into Edith's, squeezing lightly.

There was a question hanging in the air between them.

Chapter Text

"Goodnight, Finlay."

Cheek kisses and yawning and happy smiles and then Finlay's door clicked shut and Lucille span on her toes, her face impish and keen.

"Shall we?"

Despite herself, Edith felt her eyes slide to Thomas where he was standing behind his sister. Was he really alright with this? Or would he be jealous? She didn't want to cause a rift between them.

Oh, that sounded so conceited...

He winked at her, half smiling.

"Have fun."

It ought to make her feel better, knowing they were all entering into this with their eyes open, but now the nerves had set in.

Her hands were almost shaking as she opened the door to her hotel room, the light seeming much too bright, making her rush to swap its glare for the softer bedside lamp.

"I've never..." she began. "I've never done anything like this before."

"Of course you have. It's just sex."

"Not with... Not with a woman though."

She couldn't even look at Lucille, too nervous, keeping herself half turned away and practically shivering when she felt hands on her shoulders.

"Don't be frightened."

She gently pulled Edith's hair out of its tie and then moved it to the side, her breath so warm against her skin as she began kissing her neck, so softly. Edith could hear her own breathing, shallow and tense, acutely aware of body heat behind her.

And then Lucille's hands began to move, slipping down her body, stroking over her waist and under her shirt, feeling her skin, exploring.

She couldn't hold back the sharp gasp that slipped out when Lucille moved to her breasts, the touch electric even through her bra. The sensation of laughter had her flushing scarlet, embarrassed at being so easily responsive.

"You need this, sweetheart. You're so tense. I'll be very gentle, don't worry. Unless you don't want gentle, of course."

Her voice... Pitched low and almost melodic, somehow dizzying.

Edith thought about her fantasies, of being pleasing, not... Not submissive as such but maybe a little... Maybe a little bit?

"Edith?"

"I don't know..."

"Do you want this?"

"Yes! But I want... I just want to make it good for you."

If she wasn't mistaken, Lucille was thrown for the first time. Confused.

"It will be good for both of us. Come here. Let me look at you."

Her underwire had left imprint marks on her skin, every blemish or imperfection seeming amplified, but Lucille's eyes rolled over her like she was perfect, followed quickly by her hands, down her thighs, up her back, her ass, her stomach, everywhere.

"You are so beautiful," she said softly. "Thomas was quite right."

How could she mention her brother at a time like this?

"What about?"

"That if you were so attractive clothed, nude you'd be irresistible."

She was dreaming this. She had to be. Stunning, aloof rock stars did not find ordinary journalists irresistible. They just didn't.

She needed a distraction and reached for the hem of Lucille's t-shirt.

"It's only fair."

Lucille gave her something of a smirk, peeling off her black jeans, like a snake shedding its skin. How could she look so confident? How was she so sure?

Were those scars on her legs?

Edith didn't have a chance to wonder, finding herself pushed backwards, flopping onto the bed, the breath knocked out of her.

Lucille crawled up her body, her eyes blazing, capturing her lips in a burning kiss.

Was this really only their third? Or fourth maybe? Lucille kissed like she was claiming, like she was taking ownership, and Edith found herself letting her, lying still like a startled rabbit.

A faint grunt and Lucille took her hand, planting it firmly on her back.

"You can touch too, you know," she whispered. "Go on. It's alright."

It was difficult somehow. It felt like trespass. Like she shouldn't. But she made herself be brave, made her hands move, stroking Lucille's back and then lower, feeling the curves of her body, daring to slip down to her thighs...

She was so warm. Her hands were chill, but her body was so warm, rolling to the side and pushing a thigh between Edith's legs.

The pressure was good. Lucille's touch was better. She knew what she was doing.

Edith did not.

Lucille took her hand again, guiding her, the heat, the slick...

"I don't... I don't know what to..."

"Shh... Of course you know. Show me how you like it."

"The angle's wrong..."

A beat and then she moved, turning onto her back and settling between Edith's thighs, almost lying on top of her, heads right next to each other on the pillow.

"Show me now?"

Right. OK. She could do this.

It was strange, reaching down further than usual, touching someone else's flesh. Her body expected sensation that didn't come, a mounting sense of anticipation growing in her core.

Pressure, using her whole hand at first before daring to move her fingers into Lucille's slit, almost lost as she tried to find the right spot through touch alone.

Not entirely alone. Lucille let out a pleased hum, rocking her hips upwards, touching her own breasts in a way that made Edith unexpectedly excited. The red ring glimmered, catching her eye, hypnotising.

Still, she felt very inexperienced, rubbing little circles, hoping it felt good.

"Press harder."

Instructions were good, that was helpful. Lucille moaning was even better, the way her body rolled, breathing growing heavier.

"Mmm... Mm, that's good. A little faster."

She was doing this. She was actually doing this. It was difficult not to feel a sense of shock, of surprise. This was not a situation she'd ever expected to find herself in.

Her wrist was going to start hurting soon but she couldn't stop, especially not when Lucille reached past her, sliding a finger into her own body.

It was easier then. Lucille gasped and almost writhed above her, going tense as she strained towards coming, arcing upwards in a way that put all the weight of her shoulders onto Edith's chest, but it was a good ache, a good, solid, grounding feeling.

And then she was shaking and sighing, eyes closed as she gasped for air, all the tension gone from her body.

She'd done that, Edith realized. Her touch, her fingers. It felt like magic. Powerful somehow.

Lucille kissed her cheek and turned over, sinuously making her way down her body.

"What are you doing?" Edith asked, suddenly feeling nervous again, exposed.

"Taking my turn," Lucille replied, settling between her legs.

She almost wanted to say no. She'd only had a guy go down on her once and the sheer embarrassment of being seen like that had made her panic...

"I..."

"Shh... Just relax."

It felt strange at first. Alien. A sensation she wasn't used to, her arousal still humming within her but tempered by worry and then...

"Oh..."

Then Lucille changed position slightly, moving higher, paying attention to her clit with a strong, impossible rhythm.

Edith gasped, gripping the sheets, feeling the vibrations as Lucille laughed at her.

"See?" she said. "I knew you needed it. No one's ever treated you right. I can tell."

If the color wasn't already high in her cheeks, Edith knew she'd be blushing helplessly.

"Look at me."

"No..."

"Edith."

It was torture, but she did it. She looked down, trying to ignore her own body, focussing on Lucille and her beauty. The way her hair was slipping out of its braid around her face, the hints of pink on her cheekbones, those eyes...

"That's better."

She couldn't keep it up when Lucille bent back to her task though. She seemed to completely lose control of her spine, head tipping back, harsh gasps echoing around the sparse room, all the want and need of the past days culminating in a rushing crisis, finally crying out, almost a yelp.

She never made a sound normally...

Lucille looked decidedly smug as she crawled back up the bed, angling Edith's head as she wanted her for kisses.

And then she sighed happily and got up, pulling on her clothes.

"You're not staying?" Edith asked, dragging the blankets over her body, cold suddenly even as her body glowed.

"Oh, I couldn't. What if Finlay saw me leaving tomorrow morning? I'd rather she didn't have any inkling of the tangles you, Thomas and I are getting into."

That was fair. Maybe.

"But this was fun. We must do it again some time."

She laughed at Edith's expression, being talked about as though she was afternoon tea or something.

Another kiss and she swept out of the room, leaving Edith to tingle and wonder and finally pull on her pyjamas.

It had been fun. She didn't think she'd ever come like that with another person involved before.

And she was definitely, on balance, having thought it through, not averse to doing it again.

Some time.

Some time soon.

Chapter Text

The morning after. Edith woke sprawled across the mattress with a faintly heavy heart. She'd felt much the same when she'd lost her virginity, she remembered. Not regret. Not as such. More like disappointment that it couldn't happen for the first time again. There was a loss of potential experiences, different ones, different ways the first time could have happened.

It was a strange, mixed feeling to have.

She showered, examining her memory. A lesbian experience. And not just a kiss or two, but a proper sexual act.

She'd been embarrassingly unsure at the time, but in the cold light of day, she felt somehow accomplished. She hadn't let her fear ruin things. She was so free and... cool, almost.

That was a ridiculous thought. It wasn't some feat of style or even skill.

All the same, sleeping with... fucking rockstars was pretty rock and roll.

She called Alan. It had been a few days. She needed to let him know she was doing well.

He groaned as he answered, distinctly in pain.

"Ooh," she said. "Late one?"

"You are much too cheerful for this time of day," he croaked.

She did her best not to laugh. It was cruel. Poor thing. He got terrible hangovers on the occasions he went out with his resident friends.

"I'm feeling pretty upbeat. Woke up on the right side of the bed, I guess."

"Did you get a breakthrough, then?" he asked, maybe a little reproachful about her good cheer. "About their mother's death?"

He might as well have made her swallow a rock. A hot one, one that would scald her lips and sear her insides. Her stomach dropped, a horrible ache there suddenly.

"Er, no. Not yet. I just had a fun day yesterday. We went to Yellowstone. Got some fresh air and exercise, slept well. It was good for me."

"Nm. Lucky you."

Suddenly she couldn't bear to talk to him. He knew her too well. He'd hear she was hiding something. She ought to have prepared better before even thinking of calling.

"I'll let you go back to sleep," she said.

There was an awkward pause.

"Did I say the wrong thing or something?" Alan asked.

"No, no. It's just you sound like shit. You need to recover. I'll call you tonight if you'll be in."

She'd been having such a good morning...

"You didn't used to say stuff like that."

"What?"

"You said I sound like shit. You didn't used to say things like that."

Hackles well and truly up, she felt herself tensing, angry.

"You do sound like shit," she said. "And in case you forgot, I am an adult. I'm allowed to curse if I want to."

"I never said you weren't, I just meant... It was just a comment, I didn't mean anything by it."

Sure...

She sighed.

"OK. I'll call you later. Bye."

Her unworn pyjamas were still on top of the desk and they wouldn't fit back in her bag for some reason and...

And there was a knock at the door.

She opened it to find Thomas standing there, looking a little surprised that she seemed so frazzled so early.

"Good morning?" he said, a faint question in his tone.

"Hi. Just... Just packing up. Are we leaving?"

"Not just yet. I'm going to get breakfast if you'd care to join me. Lucille's taking her time getting ready but she'll be down soon and Finlay's off for a morning walk."

She didn't exactly have an excuse to not go...

She could feel his confusion. Wondering why she was out of sorts.

"I got the impression from Lucille that you had a good time last night," he said as they walked side by side down the corridor.

Bright red really wasn't Edith's colour, but she couldn't keep it away from her face no matter how badly she tried.

"We did," she said quietly. "It's not that. I called Alan and he made a comment, that's all..."

Thomas span round in front of her at the bottom of the motel stairs.

"You told him? About you and Lucille?"

"What? No! God, no. No, no. It wasn't anything about that. It was nothing. I shouldn't even be mad about it."

He let it go and they headed for what was called a restaurant but seemed more like an open breakfast area. They served bacon and scrambled eggs. Toast. The usual. Thomas ordered on Lucille's behalf from a quiet corner table.

"I was worried that she'd... upset you somehow," he said softly. "Maybe been too rough."

This was not happening.

"I'd rather not discuss... that with you, if you don't mind," she stammered.

After all, it was his sister! Surely he couldn't want to know the details.

"Sorry," he said, not sounding it remotely. "I was... You know, fishing for tips."

She raised her eyebrows, lost.

"Tips?"

"What you like, what you don't like in the bedroom. You never know. Maybe you like things rough."

The combination of the calm voice and attitude had thrown her completely. How could he just talk about it? So openly, where anyone could hear?

"Do you?" she asked, trying to fight back, to unbalance him.

"Sometimes. Depends on my mood. Sometimes I like sweet and sometimes I like to give up control. To let go and know the other person will catch me."

He liked it when other people were rough with him? When women were rough with him? Somehow she'd expected... something else.

She tried to imagine playing that role. Ordering him around. Wrapping her hand around dark curls and pulling, hearing him moan half in pleasure and half in pain, running her nails down his back, making him wait, making him beg...

The plate being put in front of her made her jump.

Thomas smiled knowingly across the table.

"We can discuss this later," he said.

Was Lucille's arrival a blessing or a curse? A welcome distraction, but a different issue in herself...

"What are you two conspiring about?" she asked, slipping elegantly into her seat, spearing a piece of butter for her toast on the tip of a knife in the same motion.

"Nothing," Edith said immediately.

"Ah. Don't worry. We all have our secrets."

Edith thought about their mother. Lady Sharpe. How she'd died. What Enola had said, what she thought she'd found. Secrets everywhere. Secrets she needed to get at.

"Yes," she said automatically, just to fill the empty air.

Thomas chuckled.

"Oh, I doubt you have anything to hide, Edith," he said. "Certainly nothing dark."

She wasn't so sure about that, but she wasn't going to let him twist her around anymore. She'd had quite enough of that for one morning.

"We could find out," she said, slicing her bacon. "You go first."

A beat of silence and then Lucille laughed.

"Be careful, Thomas. She bites."

"Ah, but I like that kind of thing."

"Where are we off to today?" Edith asked, desperate to change the subject. "I've lost track."

Thomas glanced at her, a faint knowing in his eyes. Recognizing her discomfort. Had he been pushing? Testing her limits?

Just playing?

"We're taking a long drive south," he said. "Down to Utah. I can't wait to see the salt flats. I've never been anywhere like that. A little sight seeing if we have time and then into Salt Lake City."

"All I know about Utah is it's where Mormans started. Though I'm sure they're not how I imagine."

"How do you imagine them?" Lucille asked, wiping a tiny speck from her lip without even smudging her make up.

"Oh, I just... I meant the stereotypes. Multiple wives and so on. I mean, you see it on TV, but I'm sure that's a minority."

Then again, were they not in something of a similar situation? Who was she to judge?

"Then again, I suppose if everyone is happy..." she said, backpedalling a little.

"I'd have no problem with it if only it was a little more equal," Lucille said. "They call it polygamy when really it's polygyny. One man, many women. It's only fair that a woman ought to be allowed multiple husbands too."

That made sense, Edith supposed.

"And anyway, the average guy interested in that sort of thing tends to just want a harem," Lucille continued. "They think being polyamorous means they'll get all the sex they want and have none of the emotional responsibility that comes with being in a relationship. If you can't be there for one person, what makes you think you could be there for two or three?"

Thomas set down his mug of coffee with a faint clinking sound.

"Almost sounds like you have experience," he said.

"I've had a proposition or two. Oddly enough, I was never tempted. If it had just been sex then perhaps, but none of that... possessive bullshit. You know, 'I can sleep with whoever I want, but you have to ask first.' It's dumb."

"I can't believe anyone would try that on with you," Edith said quietly.

After all, Lucille was so... spiky. She clearly wouldn't put up with anything like that.

"Never underestimate the stupidity of the overly confident. That's part of why we chose you for this trip, remember? You're clever, but you also knew your limits. You didn't try to blag your way here. Do Americans say blag? It means lying, or twisting the truth slightly. Or it can mean talking your way into getting something."

Edith could feel herself blushing, unsure what exactly to make of that. And the phrase stuck in her mind as Finlay returned from her walk, sticking with her long enough to start making notes for her next article in the back of the bus.

The Wyoming countryside was glorious even as they drove through rain showers, Thomas sat next to her. If she wasn't mistaken, the Sharpes were almost... taking turns with her.

"Never underestimate the stupidity of the overly confident." Another expression from Lucille Sharpe that seems both straightforward and contradictory.

After all, anyone who has seen their performances on this tour would be hard-pressed not to describe them as confident. The ambitious set changes from show to show might only be possible for such a small group, often seeming to switch on the fly. If they could be in charge of lighting too, I'm sure they'd like to be.

Perhaps the confidence is well deserved.

She really shouldn't keep focussing on Lucille so much. People would think she had a crush. Or know she had a crush.

People probably already thought she had a torch for Thomas.

"What do you think of 'fake it till you make it' as a concept?" she asked the vehicle at large.

"Hate it," Lucille said, sunglasses perched on her head.

"Why?"

"Well, generally because if I'm hiding something, I don't necessarily want that to go away. Or I might be performing something I don't want to be the rest of the time."

Hmm. Interesting. Edith glanced at the back of Finlay's head, spotting her frown in the rear view mirror, concentrating on the road. She was not to be spoken in front of freely, but that meant she could equally be a shield.

"Like... vulnerability? Do you think you have to hide that?"

The change in Lucille's demeanor was small but just perceptible. Her shoulders moved forward just slightly, her head tilted to the side.

"We tell stories for a living," Thomas said. "More or less. Vulnerability is useful. It can bring out truth."

"So are they true stories?"

"Depends on your definition of truth."

That wasn't an answer. Not a real answer. Time to go back to her first point of attack.

"I don't think of either of you as vulnerable. Not outwardly. Was it the music industry that hardened you or something else?"

A silence. A bad silence. Finlay glanced at her in the mirror, maybe silently pleading her to stop.

"What are you getting at?" Thomas's voice was calm, but there was a hardness behind his eyes. Like a shield.

And he'd reached through to the front, squeezing Lucille's shoulder. Comforting her.

Ah. Shit. Maybe there was something there, something really, properly private that she shouldn't be prodding at.

"Nothing," she said, looking away. "Nothing, just... Wondering."

The atmosphere was horrible. Good job, Edith. An enclosed space was just the right place to ask an awkward question where nobody could walk away.

"Sorry," she said quietly, trying to sound as sincere as she felt. "That's a hard line. I understand."

Lucille sighed, reaching up to take Thomas's hand, reassuring him she was alright perhaps.

"It's fine," she said. "I understand too. Got to have that killer headline. Tragedy On Tour: Sharpes Tell All maybe. What Really Happened..."

She trailed off and Edith itched to know the end of that sentence. What really happened where? When? To who?

"All the same, I shouldn't pry into your private business," she said carefully. "There are lines that probably shouldn't be crossed between employers and employees."

The look Thomas gave her could have curdled milk. There was definitely something they were hiding and even if she didn't write about it, curiosity was rising right to the brim of Edith's being.

"Curiosity killed the cat," they used to say to her. And then her father said, "Ah, but satisfaction brought it back."

Strange saying. How could they bring the cat back if it was dead? Or was this part of the nine lives thing?

Pretty powerful satisfaction to bring something back from beyond the grave.

But not now. There was far too much tension in the air.

Chapter Text

Four hours on the road didn't actually feel very long anymore. All this travelling had started warping Edith's sense of time almost.

Breakfast or no, she was starving by the time the reached Salt Lake City. Ravenous.

"I'm going to take a nap before sound check," Lucille said, dragging her bag out of the van.

"Not coming for lunch?" Finlay asked.

"Just bring me back some crisps and I'll be fine."

Chips, Edith's mind supplied. She felt a little guilty. There was still discomfort in the air.

They were staying in a small boutique hotel, all doilies and frills in place of the functional cleanliness of the motels they'd spent most of their time at so far. It was nice, but Edith felt a little like she was walking into the home of a distant great aunt. There ought to be a bowl of dusty hard candy or a furious cat somewhere.

The receptionist was too young to be that great aunt. She was maybe in her late fifties or early sixties, smiling widely at them.

"Yes, of course," she said as they checked in, fetching keys from a glass cabinet. "We've been expecting you. Miss E. Cushing, Mrs D. Finlay and Mr and Mrs Sharpe..."

"Oh," Edith said awkwardly. "Oh, they're not..."

"Don't worry. Mr and Mrs is perfectly fine," Thomas said, smiling and slipping his arm casually around Lucille's waist. "Technically it's Sir and Lady Sharpe, but we don't stand on ceremony too often."

The poor woman's eyes had gone very wide, stammering apologies. Like she thought some minor royalty had stumbled into her little guesthouse.

"I'm so sorry... Please, let me offer you the honeymoon suite. No extra charge."

"You're so kind," Lucille purred. "Thank you, we'd be delighted."

Edith had a strange feeling as she and Finlay made their way up to the second floor.

"That was... odd," she said.

"They're just playing," Finlay said. "You know how they are. Like kittens with a canary."

Yes. Blood on the carpet and feathers everywhere if you weren't careful.

How had this day gone so wrong? She'd woken with no regrets, feeling good. And now she'd been snippy with Alan and she'd upset Lucille. Ugh. Maybe she'd feel better after a meal, but she wasn't exactly betting on it.

The sunshine seemed to mock her. Too cheerful, too bright. And it must have shown on her face too if the conversation was anything to go on.

"You mustn't torture yourself, Edith," Thomas said, the pair of them and Finlay walking down a quiet street. "You can't avoid what you don't know about. It's not your fault."

He'd changed his tune. Maybe in the five minutes he and Lucille had been alone they'd had a little calming down session.

"It's mainly a defence mechanism, if I'm any judge," Finlay said. "If you don't mind my saying so, I've seen a lot of trauma. People react to it in different ways. Some like to talk, some clam up completely. But I've had more years of experience than you've been alive, I would say."

She was so wise. And Thomas wasn't trying to dispute anything she'd said. That was interesting. It played into some of the vague indications she'd been thinking over.

"So it was... It was trauma?" Edith asked. "That made her... cautious?"

Thomas didn't reply right away. He was examining the menu of a sweet-looking cafe, but clearly decided to keep looking for the time being.

"Both our parents died in traumatic circumstances," he said eventually. "And that wasn't even the full extent of it. What's that Larkin poem? 'They fuck you up, your mum and dad...'?"

"'They may not mean to, but they do'," Finlay supplied.

"Exactly. I don't think there was any lack of intention from our parents, that's all."

An unguarded admission. Or was it? Was this another careful answer, rehearsed and repeated? It was difficult to say.

Edith wanted more though. Much more.

"How did your father... pass?" she asked.

Thomas sighed. He didn't seem distressed though. More like... irritated, and not with her.

"Well, he had a drinking problem, which didn't help matters. It's different with our background, though. If someone living on a council estate - projects I think you'd call the same thing, inner city deprived areas - got up and started drinking at ten o'clock in the morning, they'd be called an alcoholic. Father starting on the port at breakfast and having a few pints over lunch and wine at dinner and then brandy at night was treated like it was perfectly normal. That's just what landed gentry do. Some of them anyway."

"So it was liver disease?"

"No. Stupid man tried to fix the heating in part of the house himself instead of calling in a professional. Ended up with a carbon monoxide leak and of course we didn't have any alarms for that kind of thing. I was away on an orchestral course at the time, but Lucille was home and had to be hospitalized. He could have killed them all. They think Lucille would have died if she hadn't had her window a little ajar."

A horrible shiver ran up Edith's spine. Oh, she felt sick suddenly.

"How old were you?" she asked.

"Fourteen. So Lucille was sixteen. She was in hospital for three days in an oxygen mask. She was very thin at the time, thinner than she is now, and so her body was very badly affected. Selfish fucking idiot. I might have killed him myself if he hadn't done the job for me."

That angry side. Edith thought of the fight she'd overheard, of thrown glasses. He was still something of an unknown, really.

"Mother had been out with friends, as she often was. Came home to find them both unconscious, called ambulances. I think it was a bit of a relief for her, really, becoming a widow. She'd probably have preferred it if they'd both gone though."

What an awful thing to say. Edith was a bit shocked and Finlay clearly was too.

"I don't much feel like a sit-down lunch, do you?" Thomas said, a smile falling into place like a mask. "How about we just get something from 7-11, find somewhere to sit outside? There's got to be a park or something."

Yeah, that sounded good. Something was clawing at the back of Edith's mind, though. Losing one parent in an accident was one thing. Losing both?

Was that less likely? After all, both her parents had got sick and died. It just happened. Some people were unlucky that way.

Still... Enola's voice kept echoing in her mind. She had suspected things. She had suspected foul play. Did she know about their father too?

But in both events, Lucille had been at risk. Thomas just said, she could have died in the gas leak and she was injured in the car crash. Surely that meant she couldn't have had anything to do with it?

But there were those scars on her legs, the ones Edith had only been able to glimpse when they slept together, not look at properly. What had caused them? The accident? Some other incident?

Had someone else done that to her? Or were they self-inflicted?

They hated their parents so much... Could it be more than just a personality clash? Could there be something more sinister there? And could that have driven them to...?

What did she eat for lunch? She had no idea. She didn't taste it.

Both parents dead and Lucille the only witness to what happened. It wasn't like Edith could just ask her about that.

Would she have risked herself? Her own safety? Had she cared about her own well-being at all?

Edith wished she didn't recognize that feeling. She wished it felt foreign and alien and strange. But it didn't. Not really.

"You're miles away," Finlay said gently.

"I... Yeah. Maybe I'm tired."

She wasn't. Not in the sense of wanting to sleep. But she did want this day finished. She wanted to be waking up again, feeling like she could start over.

"Maybe a little nap needed? We should take Miss Lucille something to eat. Sorry, Lady Lucille."

She giggled a little, taking it all in good fun. Was Edith the only one not seeing the funny side? Wasn't it a bit odd to pretend to be married to your sibling?

Maybe it was just to get a free upgrade. Lucille certainly seemed much brighter when they returned and Thomas insisted on having Edith help him deliver a picnic's worth of food.

"You have to see this bed," she said, pulling Edith inside. "It's incredible."

It was certainly... pink. Satin sheets, or at least the polyester equivalent. Lacy edgings. A huge, quilted headboard.

"Do you think it's padded to stop anyone banging their heads?" Lucille asked, leaping onto the mattress. "I mean, seriously. All it needs is to be heart-shaped and it would be perfectly cartoonish."

She seemed to get an idea suddenly, smiling, taking Edith's hand.

"Go get the camera," she said. "I want this immortalized."

What exactly? She'd get to find out, she supposed, obediently going up to her room and returning with the Polaroid.

Thomas was sitting on the bed, casual, his legs extended and crossed at the ankle, looking like a witch's cat in a fairy's cottage. Lucille was excited, grinning at her.

"Do a little photoshoot for us," she said. "It'll be fun."

It started normal. Funny. The two of them so out of place, sitting very primly in their dark clothes. And then Lucille shuffled down onto her back and told Edith to stand on the bed, get a few shots from above with the pink as a backdrop.

They were both looking at her. Like it so often did, the camera became a shield, the clunk and whir of it, pictures falling like leaves, Thomas suddenly breaking eye contact and leaning over to whisper something in Lucille's ear.

They were always whispering together...

In the final picture she'd taken, Thomas was looking away, looking at his sister, lips parted slightly in speech but still somehow achingly handsome.

And Lucille was gazing straight at the lens. Daring. Hypnotic. Challenging and beckoning all at once.

Edith felt like her whole being was exposed. Like she was being pinned down and dissected.

And she didn't like that feeling one bit.

She was the journalist and they were her subjects. She shouldn't be the one on the back foot. She should be in control.

Despite what they'd done together, she couldn't trust Lucille, she was realising. There was so much she still didn't know.

Complacency was the enemy. She ought to be vigilant for any opportunity to discover what had really happened in their past.

She was examining the pictures at the shabby-chic desk with its branded notepaper when Lucille wrapped her arms around her from behind.

"I'm sorry for earlier," she murmured. "I'll talk to you about it eventually. I'm just not ready, that's all."

In spite of everything, it still felt good to be held. Like a cage, but one Edith wanted to stay in.

Maybe because staying on Lucille's good side seemed to be safer than the alternative.

"I'm sorry too. I didn't mean to dredge anything up."

That was a lie. Of course she had. That was her job.

Lucille kissed her neck and Edith tried to imagine her sick in hospital, poisoned by the very air she was breathing.

And wondered whether she'd knowingly taken that risk.

Chapter Text

Calling Alan. She had the beginning of a rift to heal.

"Hello?"

He sounded better. Probably eaten something. Slept it off.

"Hi," she said softly before getting to the point. "Sorry I was such a... Sorry I was so snappish earlier."

He sighed softly.

"Something put you off suddenly. Do you want to talk about it?"

Not really, but she ought to.

"I'd been neglecting the actual journalism side of why I'm here, I guess," she said, sinking into over-soft pillows, the sharp scent of disinfectant wipes comfortingly familiar. "I'm not on vacation. I'm here to work. It was just a bit of a bumpy reminder is all. Not your fault."

He didn't sound fully convinced, but he was happy enough to let things slide, it seemed.

"So where are you now?" he asked.

"Utah. We're in a cute little hotel, but there's a show tonight so I guess we might see some of the city tomorrow."

"The sightseeing is practically a job in itself by the sound of things. When are you finding time to write?"

"Oh, you know... Evenings. And when we're driving sometimes, writing stuff by hand and typing it later. I need to get some done before we head out, but I had been so mean to you this morning, I couldn't leave it..."

"Oh, shush. I get it. I'm the same with patients sometimes. It's hard, when you're around someone all the time, to remember that they're not your friend. Not really. They're work."

Edith blinked at the ceiling, all swirls of plaster and strange shadows.

"Yeah," she said, feeling a little numbness in her lips as she spoke. "You're right. They're not my friends."

They were... something else. Some undefinable relationship. Her bosses, but her lovers too. And they terrified her, which probably wasn't healthy regardless of there being sex involved.

But they certainly weren't her friends. She had to remember that.

"So why the big night last night?" she asked, trying to change the subject. "Any particular reason?"

"Not really. Just got invited out. Wouldn't normally go, but I've been a bit bored without you here."

Ah. That was sweet.

"I'll try to call more often."

He chuckled, maybe a little sleepily.

"Yeah, I'd like that. Go write. Speak soon."

"OK. Bye."

Yes. Write.

She dragged out the typewriter, but something in the back of her mind was bugging her. Really bugging her.

Carbon monoxide, Thomas had said. What was the chemical code for that? CO?

Didn't they have a song with CO in the title?

She'd been at every one of their shows so far and she couldn't quite bring it to mind. Yet. She'd have to pay extra attention tonight.

She looked at the pictures she'd taken in the honeymoon suite. Some of these were... intimate, almost.

And if she was wearing her journalist hat, she knew that people liked intimacy.

She selected one of them lying together, pale against pink, their hair so dark. And on the bottom, she wrote L & T in the honeymoon suite

Right...

Thomas and Lucille Sharpe are brother and sister, but they're so close that it's perhaps not surprising that people sometimes don't realise this. And they positively revel in that fact.

Today, we arrived in Salt Lake City. The Sharpes share hotel rooms, ostensibly to save money but also I believe to discuss and plot together. And this includes sharing beds.

Many siblings, especially male-female mixes, might prefer their own rooms and would correct anyone who mistook their relationship immediately. Not the Sharpes. Not only did they trick the receptionist into thinking they were husband and wife, but they accepted an ungrade to the bridal suite, complete with its individual decor.

It's safe to say, they are rather closer than most. They are all they have and always have been, through unhappy childhoods and the death of both parents. Which perhaps explains why they do things that others would not.

For one thing, they

Her fingers trembled. She'd been about to write that they shared sexual partners. But how would she know that? They wouldn't have told her something like that so openly. She was saying too much. She was giving herself away.

What could that sentence turn into? What innocent thing?

For one thing, they perform love songs together.

Right. Yes. Good. Not exactly relatable to most, probably, but, well... A lot of their music was highly personal. Not the kind of thing you'd want to share with family. Songs about love, hate, loss, regret...

Why couldn't she think of the one song she was thinking of? It was something with CO... Co-something but spelled capitalized. Maybe she'd leave the article for now to include something about it, something about their father.

She couldn't even sleep when she tried, lying awake in the dark, unable to get comfortable. It was annoying her too much.

She took a shower - had she already had one today? Maybe - and tried to remember. It had to sound different. A subtle little joke.

Without thinking about it, she braided her hair. Like Lucille did. Even unconsciously, they were affecting her.

She was putting on her make-up and trying to gather her pens and spare pens and notebooks together when there was a knock at the door.

Surely it wasn't time to go yet?

"Edith? Are you decent?"

Thomas's voice. His hand on the door handle, coming in before she could even speak. She should have locked the door.

Her hand had frozen, her eyebrow pencil stuck in the air as he smiled at her in the mirror.

"Sorry," he said, not sounding like he meant it in the least. "Still, I think we're rather beyond worrying about not being quite put together in front of one another."

Were they now? She blinked and tried to get back to it, like she wasn't rattled by his very presence.

"Am I late?" she asked. "I can miss sound check if I am, get a taxi to the venue."

"No, not at all."

A pause. Was he here for a reason or...?

"So," he said vaguely, sitting on her bed - a far more conservative yellow and blue flower pattern. "When do you want to do this?"

"Do what?" she asked, like she didn't know.

"Well, while I understand entirely, your and Lucille's relationship is progressing a little faster than yours and mine."

Her heart stuttered a little. Why were they like this? Hadn't they ever heard of taking things slow?

"What do you mean, you understand?" she asked.

"Just that it's different. You and I have more to discuss. Are you on the pill?"

What?

She was blushing right through her foundation, even as she tried to keep her breathing steady and consider that they were both adults having an adult conversation and that was allowed and even sensible.

"No, I'm not," she said. "I'm one of those lucky people who gets... side effects."

She'd started on it young, hoping to get some control over an irregular cycle, but a combination of it and... other things had meant she'd had to give it up. It hadn't been good for her.

"Mm. Coil? Implant? Although I expect they're pretty expensive over here."

"No, I haven't... needed anything for a few years. Not long-term anyway."

Not that that was any of his business.

"Right," he said, nodding. "We'll just be extra careful, then. I gather that the morning after pill is deeply unpleasant."

Edith carefully started on her mascara, something to focus on.

"I haven't decided yet if I want to sleep with you," she said.

Oh, and that had him surprised. She couldn't see clearly, but she saw the motions blurrily. The tilted head, like he thought he'd misheard, the forward lean, getting closer.

And then a slight laugh, covering himself.

"I thought we understood each other," he said. "And I think we could have a good time together. I see the way you look at me. It's just us out here, you, me, Lucille and Finlay. You don't have to deny yourself anything, if you want it."

Despite his body language, he was on the defensive and she liked that. The pair of them, him and Lucille, spent their days rattling other people, keeping them off balance, and they didn't like it being turned back on them.

Maybe that was why they liked her. She intrigued them.

And she liked being in control.

Finished with her make-up, she turned to face him properly.

"Please don't assume anything about me, Thomas. And I'll do my best to pay you the same compliment."

He looked at her, a strange, hungry look. He liked this assertiveness.

"Do you want it?" he asked.

She thought for a moment. About her own desires for once and not what anyone else would think. About how Lucille demanded and took, how Edith sometimes liked that and wanted to give up control, but how equally she was interested in experimenting with being powerful.

Thomas could give her that power. That feeling.

"Yes," she said carefully. "But on my terms and my terms only."

The skin around his eyes crinkled when he smiled.

"Then I await your command. Ready for sound check?"

Yes. And maybe she'd finally remember which song she was thinking of.

Chapter Text

Edith sat in the center of the little auditorium - was it weird to have a completely seated venue for a show like this? It seemed weird - checking the acoustics and taking the occasional photo. She was going to need some new Polaroids soon.

The tune hit her suddenly, cutting through her thoughts. Yes, that was it! That was the song she was thinking of, or she thought so anyway. A lighter piece with Lucille on vocals normally, though for now they were just testing the cello tones of the keyboard and the softer drums.

It was coming back to her - one of the less angry ones. Melancholy. Bitter more than enraged.

And why she couldn't remember the lyrics; because Lucille practically whispered them. Soft and harsh all at once.

Maybe it was more reflective. Kinder perhaps. The feelings they'd never reveal in speech.

A thumbs up from one of the sound engineers and they were moving to the next instruments. Edith could do nothing but scrawl down what she remembered. Artificial cello, muted but constant, steady bass drum, whispery vocals. She'd have to listen out for it.

It was important somehow.

And she wasn't going to just ask them outright if they'd written a song about the trauma of their father's death. She already knew too much.

Journalist hat. Keep your sources sweet and in the dark.

Excited by potentially having something new to reveal, she found herself beginning to sketch out the rest of her article. In shorthand. Just in case any of the crew found it.

I recently wrote about the Sharpes' mother's death, a terrible accident that left Lucille hospitalized...

She crossed out "accident" and replaced it with "incident".

Their mother can be felt in several of their songs, but their father's presence is more subtle. It requires some background knowledge, such as the fact that he died due to a carbon monoxide leak.

She really hoped the song had some relevant lyrics. She was having horrible flashbacks to writing complete nonsense in English assignments and trying to back up her assertions with irrelevant quotations.

Though they don't speak of him much, a picture is formed of a troubled man, an alcoholic in an unhappy marriage.

She wasn't going to accuse him of... anything without evidence. Unless the Sharpes wanted to talk about it and she wasn't going to push them.

He'd clearly been neglectful of both his wife and children, but when it came to anything more than that, it wasn't for her to speculate.

The usual hustle and bustle of getting show ready mainly passed her by, finally settling in by side of stage near the technician's light so she could see to write.

This did not seem to be the usual audience. More a theater audience than a gig one, like this was a classical concert. It was more subdued than usual, but professionalism was setting in. The music was the important thing, more so than the audience, or certainly that was the impression Edith got. Like Thomas and Lucille would perform just for the sake of it. Like they were just playing at being rock stars some of the time.

And when the song came, the one she was waiting for, it shocked people. Woke them up. Audibly made them worry.

Mainly because Lucille began it with a horrible gasp, like something had happened, like she was hurt. The only reason Edith didn't panic was because Thomas was carrying on, like he'd expected it.

She was sure it didn't normally start like that. That was a new addition. Maybe because they'd been thinking about the incident?

Lucille was holding her own neck, making a choker of her hand, eyes closed. So striking and Edith could only just tear her eyes away to take a picture.

"I can't breathe," she whispered right against the microphone, almost not speaking at all. It was just the sense of words, the idea of them.

Edith shivered.

Thomas knelt and played the bass drum by hand, softer than using the pedal, solid, steady thumps, like a heart beat.

With a trembling hand, Edith noted down the lyrics she could make out from Lucille's strange, airy singing.

When I'm done
You'll be gone
And I'll breathe

Once you leave
I'll be free
And I'll breathe

It hurts, but not much
I'll be out of your clutches
I'll breathe

My mind is crushed
Face is flushed
Soon I'll breathe
But I must
Trust
Me...

The way she performed it, punctuating the lines with desperate gasps, like she was suffocating... It made Edith feel sick. It sounded so painful, aching, horrible rattling in her throat.

But there was nothing specific or concrete. Maybe it was just a metaphor. Maybe it was about struggling to break up with someone, some toxic relationship. Probably she was just reading into it far too much.

During the polite, stunned applause, she sidled over to the technician again. He was relaying instructions to the lighting and sound crew above.

"Do you have a set list?" she asked quietly. "Can I check what that song was called?"

He didn't even answer her, just pointed at the title on a hand-written list. Thomas's handwriting.

And suddenly she felt very cold.

COdependent

CO. Carbon monoxide.

"Is there a phone I can use around here?" she hissed.

"Try front of house," he grunted.

"Thanks."

She didn't know what she was going to ask, but there was one person she knew who would know about these things.

Reception was more or less closed and they didn't seem to care if she needed to make a phone call. It wasn't like they were using the landline.

Edith's fingers trembled as she dialled Alan's number, listening to the ringing tone, hoping he wasn't out somewhere or at work...

"Hello?"

"Alan?"

"Yeah? What's up? Aren't you at a show?"

"I am, but... Listen, I need you to tell me everything you know about carbon monoxide poisoning."

Too blunt. Too rushed. There was a long, heavy pause.

"Edith, what's going on?"

Her heart was pounding. She couldn't tell him what she half suspected. He'd panic.

"Years ago, there was a leak at their house and I think that's what one of the songs is about. It would be great to write about, but I'm not certain. What are the symptoms?"

He sighed. He didn't like this, evidently.

"Kinda like flu. Headache, nausea. Increased heart rate. Shortness of breath. Confusion. Loss of consciousness, convulsions and death. But that's pretty rare in adults, especially accidentally."

"What do you mean, accidentally?"

"Well, most serious cases we see are people trying to... You know. Kill themselves."

"And how long does that take?"

Another pause.

"Edith, are you alright?"

What?

"Yeah, I'm fine. I just want to know how much danger they were really in."

"Well... In sufficient amounts, sufficient concentration, it can be a matter of minutes. If it was a sudden leak, like a burst pipe, they were in real trouble and they're lucky to be here. But like I say, most deaths by it are deliberate. Especially with detectors these days."

Deliberate. Delib...

"Could you murder someone with it?"

"Oh, sure. If you put them in a car or trapped them or something. Be easier if they were already unconscious of course."

Like if they'd passed out drinking. Already asleep, breathing in the fumes, not even aware that they were suffocating...

"OK," she said. "Thanks. That's really helpful."

"Are you sure you're alright? You sound shaken."

"Oh, it's just a horrible thought, isn't it?" she said, trying to force her voice to sound normal. "Just an awful thing to happen."

"Mm. Alright. Look after yourself though. Don't dwell on negatives."

Familiar words. Familiar instructions.

"I will," she said. "Look after myself, I mean. Take care. Bye."

The Sharpes wouldn't even know she'd been gone.

Chapter Text

Edith managed to sneak back into the stage wings like she'd never been away, trying to look neutral. Like her brain wasn't rushing at several hundred miles an hour.

Could they have killed their father? Their mother? Yes. They could. But that wasn't the same as saying they did. Ability and culpability were very different. Anyone could be a killer but hardly anyone was in the grand scheme of things.

And, yes, it was probably possible that it wasn't an accident, but then again what were the actual logistics of killing someone like that?

Having to make sure he was passed out drunk, then, what? Dismantling the heating? Unscrewing a pipe? It was pretty outlandish, wasn't it?

But that song... There had been hatred there in Lucille's voice. Real malice and melancholy.

She didn't know what to think any more. Enola had suspected too and they'd ruined her. She couldn't breathe a word to them. After all, if it was true...

The concert finished and she hadn't written another word. How could she? Even writing that COdependent might be about their father's death seemed like an accusation. An admission of her suspicions.

"You look exhausted," Thomas said, beside her suddenly, making her almost jump out of her skin.

"Uh," she said, slamming her notebook shut. "Uh, yeah, a little."

"I think Lucille is too. You two should go back to the hotel. I can pack things up here. It won't take long."

There wasn't a reason to say no...

It felt so strange being alone with Lucille. Strained. Bad.

"Have things changed between us?" Lucille asked softly, their driver talking to someone else on his phone - hands free but enough to make Edith nervous nonetheless.

Had things changed? Well, they'd slept together and they hadn't really had a chance to talk about that. Not properly.

"I... Yeah, a bit," Edith admitted.

"We should have tea while Thomas is busy."

"At this time of night?"

"Green tea. No caffeine."

Hmm. Maybe it would help. She'd stop imagining things, stop mythologizing the Sharpes into remorseless killers.

"Alright."

It wasn't particularly late, maybe only ten o'clock, but the hotel already seemed deserted. The room keys worked in the front door though, probably via some very clever mechanics, so they didn't have to disturb anyone.

And so Edith found herself back in the pink room as Lucille fiddled with socket adaptors to plug in her tea kettle.

"In England, the entire electricity system is based around the production of tea," she said. "Higher voltage to boil the water quicker. Peak time at the end of the weeknight soaps or after football matches when everyone goes and puts the kettle on. I heard once that to have a British-style kettle in an American home would need the whole house rewired to prevent the fuses being blown. I don't know if that's true though."

She was speaking very softly and quietly, gentle. As if she could sense Edith's fear.

"We should talk about this," she said. "I thought you had fun."

"I did," Edith insisted. "I really did. And it's not that I regret it or anything, it's just... things are progressing quite quickly. I'm not used to that."

"Mm. I told Thomas he shouldn't go up and bother you. Too direct, that boy."

That wasn't really the problem at all, but Edith wasn't about to correct her. Maybe... Maybe if she heard what had happened to their father from Lucille, from the actual witness, it wouldn't seem so scary.

"He told me about when your father died," she said, the cup very hot beneath her fingers. "The accident. How you had to go to hospital."

"Mm. Do you feel sorry for me?"

Did she?

"It certainly sounds unpleasant."

"Well, the poisoning wasn't fun, but I didn't exactly weep at his grave."

Should she ask why? Should she try to find something out?

"It must have been difficult," she tried. "Living with an alcoholic."

"Yes."

Was that all she was going to say?

"Do you want to... talk about it?"

"Well, like I said. One day. Not now. Drink your tea."

It wasn't fair to push. But maybe she could share something instead. Try to build some trust between them.

"I remember when my mom died. I was ten. And it was just... strange. The house was full of memories, everywhere, waiting to surprise you. I felt like I had to grow up suddenly, I had to be the householder. My whole life revolved around trying not to let my dad get too down. I hated it when he was sad."

"What about you?" Lucille asked. "What about when you were sad?"

She really did have an uncanny ability to cut right to the heart of things.

"I got good at hiding it."

Lucille sighed gently and clinked their cups together.

"I'll drink to that."

Edith smiled a little. There were some similarities between them maybe, deep down. Just they'd been hiding rather different emotions, she thought.

Still, it had helped. She was being ridiculous. People didn't murder their parents in carefully planned accidents. That kind of thing only happened in murder mysteries.

An unhappy childhood didn't make people into killers. And thank goodness or there'd be a lot of them around.

Unless she was just thinking what she wanted to think and ignoring the evidence... Then again, what evidence?

"Do you want me to talk to Thomas for you?" Lucille asked. "Ask him to back off?"

"Oh... No, I think we have an understanding."

A knowing smile.

"He's accepted that you're in charge, then?"

"Mm. Is he like that with..." and she could feel herself blush even to say it. "With all his girlfriends?"

"Only the ones he really likes."

Was she being teased again? Maybe. Still, she felt rather better, both from the talk and the tea.

"You should get some sleep," Lucille said, getting up and stretching, beginning to let down her hair from its complex braids. "I think Thomas is keen to visit the Planetarium tomorrow before we head off. I doubt we'll have much time for sight seeing really, not that I particularly want to go into the big Mormon temple. I'd probably burn up on entry."

"I'm sure that's not true."

A soft sigh and she approached, gently resting her arms on Edith's shoulders and looking down at her tenderly.

"You're very sweet," she murmured. "Don't lose that."

She leant down to kiss her forehead and then further down, tilting Edith's chin up to access her mouth.

And despite it all, despite all her fears and misgivings, it was still electric. She still wanted more, even while a sensible part of her brain screamed that she should be more careful.

Especially when the door opened and Thomas was there, leaning on the door frame, looking at them fondly.

"Joining us?" he asked.

Lucille threw one of the frilly scatter cushions at him, laughing.

"I, er... I'm just heading upstairs," Edith said. "Goodnight."

She was maybe relieved to be out of the room, leaning against the wall a little. Trying to get her breath back, like she'd been running.

And then she was struck my the idea that she could listen at the door. This was an old building. She might be able to catch something.

Was that unethical or was it just journalism?

Heart hammering in her throat, she tried.

Murmurs only. Nothing audible. A sigh. Something terse. They were disagreeing about something.

And then Thomas said something in a low tone and Lucille laughed. Her reply, when it came, was playful, giggling.

If they were disagreeing, it was quickly made up. And she wasn't hearing anything clear and should really stop being so nosey. It wasn't like they were just going to casually confess the moment she left the room.

"Ah, another wonderful day without our parents, whom we murdered in convoluted ways..."

She tried to be quiet, creeping away up the stairs. The faint sound of Finlay already snoring gently when she passed her room was comforting, soothing almost.

At least she didn't need to worry about Finlay being a possible murderer.

Probably.

The typewriter seemed to be looking at her, like a great squat toad sitting on the desk. Faintly accusatory. Asking her what she was going to do - accuse them publicly of murder? Or even allude to the possibility?

Where was her proof? A song? Suspicion from a former employee with an axe to grind? It wasn't like postmortems would show anything they didn't already know; alcohol and carbon monoxide on the father, trauma on the mother.

She was stuck and she knew it. Couldn't ask them. Couldn't ask anyone else. She'd already put Alan into a spiral of worry.

If they were killers - and that was a big if - they were very clever about it.

If risking your own life could be considered clever.

A horrible thought suddenly entered her mind. What if Lucille had nothing to do with it? What if both incidents had been deliberate, but meant to kill her too? What if it had been Thomas all along?

No. She tried to calm the sudden fluttering butterflies in her stomach. Thomas loved her with a fierceness that was unusual, even in the closest of siblings.

And Lucille loved him. Maybe enough to risk her life to protect him from parents who weren't just neglectful.

The very idea made her shiver as she got into her pyjamas and slipped back into the oversoft bed. She needed to get these thoughts of abuse and murder out of her head if she was ever going to sleep.

Or maybe not. She was exhausted after all, and the bed was very comfortable.

The next thing she knew, sunlight was streaming through the frilled curtains, announcing a new day. And she felt rested. Strangely rested, in fact, considering.

Right... Planetarium and maybe a few other sights and then on to Idaho.

And further and further from home.

Chapter Text

"I love how it sounds," Lucille said from the front seat. "Boise. Boys-ee. It's like 13-year-olds rejecting a t-shirt."

Edith felt like she hadn't left the bus in days even though it couldn't have been more than an hour or so. The scenery was beautiful, stunning mountains and shimmering lakes and bright snaking rivers, but she really had crashed since the morning's peace into a kind of cranky, tired limbo, unable to sleep but unable to really engage in anything either.

"What do you mean?" she asked, trying to drag her mind towards the present.

"You know. 'I can't wear that, it's too boys-ee.' Though I suppose you'd say boyish. That's odd, isn't it, that it's girly but boyish? Girlish is more to do with size."

"What would you prefer?" Thomas asked.

"Girl-esque."

It was nearly a five hour drive from Salt Lake City. They'd spent the earlier part of the morning sight seeing, but Edith was quite glad they hadn't gone into the temple. Maybe it was the height of the building, but it just felt ominous to her somehow.

She was restless. And hungry, if she was honest. They'd had breakfast at the hotel, which had also made her antsy as Lucille described the honeymoon bed as springy, sending their poor hostess away blushing.

Finlay was saying something about boys being much worse about not wanting to wear anything with even a hint of pink anywhere on it, some grown men too. Edith was only half listening, distantly becoming aware that Thomas was gently stroking her wrist with the side of his little finger.

For a moment, she just stared at it. It almost didn't feel like her flesh. Or it felt like her arm was separate from her, a phantom.

"You OK?" he murmured softly, looking at her from under his lashes.

"Mm. I slept really well. I don't know why I'm so tired."

"Stress, maybe?"

Ha... He didn't know the half of it. And he couldn't know the half of it because that would mean admitting that she thought that he or his sister or both had murdered their parents. No matter how she tried to rationalize it, the risk kept coming back into her head.

"Might be," she admitted.

"Well, you know where I am if you want to... talk about it."

At least he wasn't being overly pushy. The ball was very much in her court. And while she was used to pursuing what she wanted from a professional standpoint, this kind of thing was very different.

What were you even meant to say?

He gently slid along her hand and linked their pinkies together. A childlike gesture, especially considering what they were discussing.

Sweet, in its way. She couldn't keep the smile from her lips.

"Should we stop for lunch soon?" he asked, louder, no longer in their private conversation.

"Ooh, that sounds good," Finlay said. "A bit of fresh air too."

"How far away are we?" Edith asked.

"Another two hours, give or take."

Yeah, she definitely wanted to stop then. Actually stretch out her legs if they could find somewhere suitable to stop.

"Do you know there's a large Basque diaspora around Boise?" Thomas asked. "Nearly five percent of the population, or something like that. From that sort of north Spain, south France area all the way over here. I've no idea why. Maybe we can find out."

"I don't trust them," Lucille said bluntly. "You can't trust a language with no close relatives. Too many Xs for a start."

Not for the first time, Edith felt like they were the ones speaking another language. She was distantly aware of European politics, but hardly knowledgeable on it.

"Are they the ones that want to be their own country?" she asked.

"Some of them probably do, but you might be thinking of the Catalonians," Thomas said. "The right to self-determination and all that. You lot know all about it."

Edith frowned, confused.

"'You lot'?" she asked.

"Americans."

Finlay laughed, tapping her hands against the wheel.

"You almost sound like you were there at the Boston Tea Party," she said. "Still bitter about it?"

Thomas's eyes twinkled, mischief about them.

"On the contrary, it helped keep our family afloat by scuppering our eight times great grandfather's business rivals."

Edith couldn't imagine knowing about such a distant ancestor. Although maybe they didn't. Maybe it was just more playing at being mysterious aristocrats.

"I'm quite looking forward to Boston," Lucille said. "It's only an hour to Fall River. We can visit Lizzie Borden's house."

A gut-wrenching jolt went through Edith's entire body, practically snatching her hand away from Thomas. Oh, she felt sick... Lizzie Borden, famous parent murderer. Accused, anyway. The very idea of Lucille seeing her as some kind of role-model for getting away with things...

"Oh, you can count me out," Finlay said emphatically. "I know you like all that spooky stuff, but I can do without it, thank you."

"Edith?" Thomas asked.

His eyes had changed. No more sparkle, no more softness, a kind of darkness there, intrigue too.

God, she wished she didn't find that attractive...

"Oh, you know," she said. "I'm not sure I'd like it. I just find it a bit ghoulish, that's all."

"Ah, ghoul-esque, there's another one," Lucille said.

Edith forced herself to chuckle. She was frightened to look back at Thomas, feeling his gaze on her. Did he suspect what she suspected? Was she too obvious?

They could destroy her at a moment's notice. She had to hide in plain sight. Avoid suspicion.

Very carefully, she opened her purse, used a tiny bit of moisturizer on her hands, and then offered her pinky back in Thomas's direction. Like it had just been incidental movement.

He looked at it slightly suspiciously, but then smiled and seized her entire hand in his own.

Smile back. Let that latent attraction out. Go along with them.

Lucille was wrestling with a paper map, squinting at it.

"Alright," she said. "I think if we take a minor detour west of the highway, we can find somewhere to eat in a place called Hagerman and stop by some kind of fossil museum if that sounds good."

Edith didn't especially mind, but it sounded interesting. When else would she get a chance to go to these places after all?

It wasn't quite what she expected. Not dinosaurs, but prehistoric horses. Apparently they'd dug up dozens over the years, but on display they only had a cast of one, both for the safety of the fossils and the fact that it could emit radon particles.

"Of all the things I expected to see on this trip, a radioactive horse skeleton wasn't exactly up there," Thomas said, reading the sign over Edith's shoulder.

Standing just a little too closely behind her, if she was honest. The warmth of his body was radiating through her T-shirt. He'd let go of her hand as they stopped in the little town, probably so Finlay didn't see. Edith got the feeling that he and Lucille liked disguising what was really going on from a former detective.

She tried to push that thought from the forefront of her mind.

"Did you have horses growing up?" she asked. "On the estate?"

"We certainly practised equestrian pursuits, but the horses weren't ours. They're too expensive to keep. We rented from local stables. But it wasn't really my scene. Lucille's always been a better rider than me."

"I've had more practice," Lucille said, hearing them from across the room.

"Father always wanted me to get into blood sports. Fox hunting. Shooting. I was never terribly interested."

"I was. But Mother felt such things weren't ladylike. And, of course, being ladylike was the most important thing in her world. That and breeding. Like pedigree dogs."

"What did your mum think was most important, Edith?"

The question surprised her. She was the one who asked things and they answered, offered information now they were more at ease with her. And besides, she'd been very young... Her mom hadn't really had time to give her much advice for adult life.

"Um... Well, she always wanted me to have faith in myself. That I shouldn't write anything off just if someone said I couldn't do it. So self-confidence, I suppose. Sometimes I don't think I'm doing very well with that though."

"She sounds like a very wise lady," Finlay said. "And I reckon you're doing alright."

Edith made herself smile. She was hiding her doubts well, then. She wondered idly if Finlay would think so if she knew what else was going on right under her nose.

Such as in the cafe they found to eat in since the fossil centre didn't have its own food outlet. It was subtle, she'd give Thomas that. Probably didn't look like much to anyone else, but she could feel his hand drifting just a little lower than was normal as they stood at the counter.

"You must tell me if I make you uncomfortable," he murmured very close to her ear, almost making her shiver. "Or if you want me to stop."

She shrugged, like she couldn't care less about his flirting. Like she was impervious and immune, waiting to be impressed, which, of course, encouraged him to try harder.

In reality, her heart was pounding when he sat next to her and began stroking her thigh beneath the table gently at first but then more insistently.

Two fingers on the outside, then his palm over the top, then reaching round, like he was asking permission...

Conversation floated around her head, incomprehensible, her brain completely taken up with the fact that she'd parted her legs at his touch and was letting him run his fingers up and down the inside seam of her jeans, higher and higher...

If she was wearing a skirt, even a short one, she'd be completely exposed now...

Couldn't they see? It seemed the most obvious thing in the world to her, feeling like she was waking up, sudden embarrassment slamming into her, jerking her legs shut even though it trapped his hand right there...

He chuckled as though at something Lucille had said, stroking inwards once, hard, so she felt it right through to where she was suddenly almost distressingly aroused, before withdrawing subtly as though nothing had had happened. Like he hadn't been practically groping her in public.

Her nostrils were flaring slightly, trying to breathe normally, hoping her face hadn't lit up bright pink.

She needed a moment.

Chair scraping across the floor, she leapt to her feet, mumbling something about going to the bathroom and took refuge in the dark little cubicle behind the security of a locked door.

She gulped for air, resting her head against the tiled wall, enjoying the coolness, trying to make her body calm down.

For a mad moment, she considered trying to finish herself off, but she wouldn't have time. It would be better to relax, to cool off. To breathe and let her heartbeat return to normal levels.

Once the embarrassment had mostly subsided, she went to the sink to at least wash her hands, rubbing the soap aggressively between her fingers, scratching herself, just catching with her nails.

Deep breaths. Nice and calm.

The dryer made marks appear on her skin, red against white. And then they faded. Like they'd never been there. Like her blushes.

She was proud of how normally she managed to walk back to their table, eating her tuna melt panini and actually listening to what was being said about the best route to Boise, the potential places to visit once there, what time they had to get to the venue tomorrow.

"There should be new Polaroids waiting for you, Edith," Lucille said. "We called up and requested them a week ago. There should have been time for them to order some online."

"Ooh," Finlay said. "Isn't that cheating the no internet rule?"

Lucille hummed vaguely.

"Well, sometimes the best way to do something is via a surrogate. I'd have preferred to do it by post, but unfortunately that doesn't seem to be an option anymore. I don't even have a chequebook these days, so unless they'd accept cash sent recorded delivery, it seemed like the only way."

"Sometimes you have to compromise, I guess. And you'll need more pictures for your articles."

Edith thought of the three-quarters finished piece that she had notes for, the uncertainty of exactly how much suspicion she should reveal just yet, and heard herself agreeing.

Things were growing clear to her. They were nearly on the west coast, as far from home as possible, far from anyone or anywhere she knew. She had some fears, which she couldn't yet be certain of, but which could be a risk to her career or even her safety regardless of their basis in fact. And she was going to sleep with Thomas soon.

Both because she wanted to, wanted to bring this tension to a head, but for other reasons too like pretending she didn't know anything about their past or Enola or any of those things, and that compromise sat very ill with her. Was it really her decision if it came with caveats like that?

As for how she felt about the Sharpes, that was less clear. She was attracted to them both, certainly, drawn by some irresistible magnetism, but at the same time they terrified her.

Like a moth circling a candle flame, she couldn't quite shake the feeling that sooner or later - maybe sooner rather than later - she was going to get burned.

Chapter Text

"Are you not... worried?"

Edith was sitting on the floor of yet another motel room, another questionable carpet design, another phone cord that didn't stretch far enough for comfort. And another call to Alan to confirm she'd made it to Seattle safely, even if they had ended up getting takeout on the road for dinner.

"Worried about what?" she asked.

"Well, I've read your most recent article. It sounds like you... I don't know really. Like you're implying something. At best that they never loved their parents and at worst that they... facilitated their deaths. But if that's true, then they're very dangerous people and you should get out of there."

Knees bent, tapping her foot, Edith tried to think of an excuse to stay when she knew he was right.

She was restless. They'd gone through Boise without much incident other than Thomas taking every opportunity to touch her, to talk to her in that low tone that went straight to some primal part of her, speeding up her heartbeat, making her mouth go dry.

They both used it, she'd noticed. Him and Lucille. But Lucille only used it when she was overtly and definitely flirting; Thomas would use it for the most casual remarks. She was convinced that he knew what it did to her. That he liked watching her squirm.

"You're reading too much into it," she said. "Their parents died in tragic accidents. All I'm saying is that it could mess you up."

"You'd know."

She rankled a little at that. He'd jabbed a sore spot, a forgotten wound.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

He sighed. He actually sighed at her, like she was somehow being unreasonable.

"Just that... you really weren't OK when your mom passed and you tried to hide it. It just makes me worry sometimes that you might be hiding other things."

Guilt blended uneasily with annoyance. He was right. She was hiding. But her sex life was none of his business.

"I'm fine," she said firmly. "I loved my parents. The Sharpes didn't. It's a different situation. I'm just trying to explore it. I'm not... I'm not having a relapse or anything."

"Be careful, that's all I'm asking. When your dad was sick, he asked me to look out for you. That's all I'm doing."

Ugh, he was insufferable sometimes.

"I don't need to be looked after," she insisted. "I'm not a child."

"I didn't mean it like that."

"Well, you could have fooled me."

An awkward moment, a pause.

"You've probably had a long day," Alan said, being unfairly calm. "I know I have. I'm going to go to bed. I'm sorry. I'm not expressing myself well."

She couldn't quite let it go, but she made herself apologize back, leaning her head against the wall afterwards.

She was just so... frustrated. Lucille had been suffering from migraines the last day or so, sleeping a lot beneath an eye mask, and Edith had found herself growing more and more desirous of touch. Actual skin contact. Thomas's teasing made it worse, always pushing but never crossing the line.

She'd caught herself fantasizing about him. Stuff she wouldn't ever do in reality, like having sex in public places or in concert venues. She wanted him. Wanted them both. But somehow she felt like she'd lose something if and when they slept together. Like the reality wouldn't be what she'd imagined.

Still, even a make-out session sounded good right about now.

She made herself take a shower. Maybe freshening up would help. And sleeping, even though it was early.

The hot water did make her feel a bit better, brushing her hair into a braid afterwards. Right. Everything was fine. Nice, relaxing evening. Next deadline still ages away.

She'd only just come out of the bathroom when she heard the knock.

Cautiously, she went to the peep hole. Thomas. What was he doing here?

He knocked again and, a little flustered, she opened the door.

"Oh," he said, his eyes flashing over her towel-clad body. "I'm sorry. Lucille's still not feeling very well, but I'm not quite ready to go to bed yet and I wondered if you'd like some company."

She blinked at him, feeling so exposed, so vulnerable. His eyes kept flicking down, noting her bare skin, her modesty only barely protected.

"I'm disturbing you," he said softly, gently. "Good evening."

In a split second, Edith thought about opportunities lost, of chances not taken. She was scared, yes, but she wanted too...

"No," she said, grabbing his wrist. "No, you should come in. It's fine."

He looked at where she was touching him and seemed to loom over her for a moment, so much taller, following her into the room.

She was alone with a man. Almost nude too. Obviously not for the first time, but this felt different. She was off the edge of the map.

Here might be monsters.

"More migraines?" she asked.

"I'm afraid so. She just needs to lie very still in the dark and sleep. Doesn't need me bothering her."

He was so different in these moments. Unguarded. Concerned for his sister, considerate. Not at all like he sometimes was, when she found him genuinely unnerving.

Even though it had been weeks ago, she still remembered shouting through the wall and broken glass, his face the next morning. Of course, people had disagreements, but that generally didn't involve violence, even against inanimate objects.

And then there was all the stuff about their parents...

"Are you alright?" Thomas asked, sitting in the desk chair. "You seem a little distracted."

"Oh, I'm fine. Just... frustrated at Alan."

"Can I ask why?"

How to put this? She found herself sighing, sitting on the edge of the bed and tracing a puckered stitch in the cover with her fingernail.

"He just worries too much, that's all. He thinks I need to be taken care of. That I need to be rescued from myself or something."

"And do you?"

What kind of a question was that? Edith adjusted her towel awkwardly where it lay against her thigh, feeling even more exposed somehow.

"No," she said uncertainly. "No, I'm fine."

He half-smiled at her, leaning forwards just a little.

"It's alright to be scared," he said gently. "Especially when you find out you're capable of things you would never have dreamed of."

His tone was kind, but it sent a chill down Edith's spine.

"Like what?" she asked.

"Like dropping everything to run away with the circus. Like getting involved with thoroughly unsuitable characters. Like following your wants regardless of what society says."

Her heart was pounding, eyes wide, like a rabbit in front of a big rig, frozen in place. Her arms and chest rippled with goose flesh, hair standing on end. Something was putting her on edge and she didn't know what, some instinct yelling from the back of her brain.

"I'm not scared," she said, though it came out closer to a whisper.

He moved towards her suddenly, deliberately, like a panther or a snake maybe, almost into her space.

"Aren't you?" he asked.

She shook her head no, even though she was suddenly terrified, worried that she'd made a terrible mistake in letting him in and now she couldn't go back.

His touch made her flinch, a hand on her thigh, leaning close so he could whisper in her ear.

"Are you sure?"

She pushed him away, panicked, unable to hide it, trying to scramble away back up the bed.

"OK," he said, hands help up. "Sorry, sorry. Relax, I won't do anything you don't want."

"What the fuck?"

Her voice was breathless, clearly scared, and she hated that.

"You need to know yourself better, Edith. I could tell you were lying. But I mean it. It's alright to be scared. It's how you deal with that fear that matters. It can even be helpful. Why are you so determined not to be afraid?"

She got under the covers, a physical barrier, protection of a sort.

"I don't know," she said, trying to force herself to sound calmer.

"Oh, I think you do. Lucille told me about how you tried to look after your father when the two of you were bereaved. And now you're alone and you want to take care of yourself. You want to be completely self-sufficient, completely self-reliant. You don't want to admit any vulnerability, even when it's written all over your face."

She fumed a little, feeling her nostrils flare. How dare he?

"You don't know me," she said, shaking her head furiously. "You might think you do, but you don't. You don't know anything about me."

He sat down again, maintaining a careful distance between them.

"I know you're an orphan," he said. "That you loved your parents. That you fear failure and disappointing people."

"Doesn't everyone?"

He shrugged.

"Personally, I couldn't give a shit."

Edith scoffed. They were all talk, both of them.

"You care," she said. "You care so much about people thinking that you don't. It's obvious. If you really didn't care about what your parents thought, you wouldn't put so much effort into disrespecting their memories. You wouldn't bother being a baronet, you wouldn't live in the big house..."

His face had changed, his lip curling.

"Disrespecting," he said flatly. "They're lucky that's all we do. We could have their memories stamped into the dirt."

"Well, why don't you?"

He was angry. Really angry. And Edith was intrigued, smelling a lead.

And, of course, pushing the focus away from herself.

"Because..." Thomas said. "It would bring scrutiny we wouldn't welcome."

"You're rock stars. You're not exactly recluses."

"Our personas are not us. You know that. We're... constructs. Archetypes. The romantic hero. The femme fatale. The bad boy. The vamp. We're not real. Our real selves are only for us."

"And are you your 'real self' when you're being creepy as fuck?"

He let out an amused huff.

"I was just playing with you," he said, like that made it alright. "Pushing your buttons. Seeing what you would do. And you tried to be brave and tried not to show that you were scared, even though I was being dreadful to you. That's intriguing. And that's me speaking, not 'Thomas Sharpe'."

The air quotes fell into place so easily. Edith shifted uncomfortably, the towel cloth rough against her skin.

"You have to realize how hard it is for me to trust you, either of you, when I can't tell the difference. I understand that something... bad must have happened in your childhood, but sometimes I don't think even you two know what's real anymore."

He nodded vaguely.

"That's fair. It's difficult. There are some things that are private, even from lovers."

Edith felt herself blush.

"Is that what we are?" she asked.

"You and Lucille certainly are. Or getting there. You and I are still flirting. Deciding what we want, how far we want to go. And your fear of vulnerability makes it difficult for you to vocalise your desires."

Maybe that was true. Maybe he was right.

"It's easier with her," she said. "When she's unhappy, you know about it. She gets angry or she clams up. But you... You just go... strange. I don't know how to describe it."

"And does that scare you?"

Deep breath.

"Yeah."

He smiled at her, open and honest.

"See?" he said. "Was that so hard?"

She gave him a withering look, sighing and flopping her hands onto the blankets.

"I want to sleep with you," she said softly. "But part of me can't shake the feeling that it would be a bad idea. I mean, I'm already involved with your sister. It's weird. Even though it's not like I'm cheating on her, it's weird."

"Alright. Why do you think that is?"

She sighed.

"You sound like a psychiatrist," she said.

"Have you ever seen one?"

"Have you?"

"Yes."

That was surprising somehow. And yet not.

"Can I ask why?"

He shrugged, looking away.

"Our parents were not very nice people. We were scarred by them. And I tried to get myself fixed."

"Did it work?"

He laughed, a little bitterly.

"Did it fix you?" he asked.

Edith hesitated.

"No," she said. "But that's not how it works. They helped me develop techniques and strategies to feel better than I was. To look after myself better. It's not like things can just... be solved overnight."

He was looking at her oddly. Like he hadn't expected her to say something like that.

"That's good," he said after a moment. "That it w helped you. I found that I couldn't open up properly to a stranger, which rather hampered matters. And Lucille never went at all."

"I mean... They have client confidentiality. You're supposed to be able to say anything."

He chuckled. That had really tickled him for some reason.

"Yeah, well. I didn't think so. Music became our therapist. That and each other."

Edith didn't think that was the healthiest of approaches, given that they had both been negatively affected, but she wasn't saying that out loud.

"Maybe one day we'll know each other well enough to talk about some of it," she said instead.

"Maybe," he agreed. "But for now, I should leave you in peace, I think."

He stood up and came towards her so differently, not with any kind of threat, soft-footed and gentle, leaning forward to place a kiss on her forehead before turning towards the door.

"You could stay," she said, hearing her voice before she really knew she was speaking. "Just to sleep, I mean. Not to... do anything. Just so Lucille isn't disturbed."

He looked her right in the eyes, trying to gauge what she really meant. But she meant what she said. Just platonically sharing a bed.

"Alright," he said. "But one of us ought to be wearing something other than a towel."

Yes. She should. And she was going to take her pyjamas to the bathroom to change into in private.

Was this a mistake or was it just exposure therapy? If she managed to stay with him and nothing bad happened, maybe she could begin to calm down and stop being so on edge all the time.

She spotted herself in the mirror, the braid down her back, so similar to how Lucille did her hair. She hurriedly undid it, brushing out the damp tresses until they almost weren't wavy at all

Thomas's clothes were neatly folded on the chair when she emerged, his body mostly hidden under the blankets, though she almost stared at what she could see. Bare shoulders, the top of his chest. The parts of him she'd glimpsed that day in the rainstorm.

"You wouldn't have a t-shirt I could borrow?" he asked. "I'm feeling somewhat under-dressed."

She found the biggest she had, an old one from her college writers society that she'd only brought along to use as pyjamas anyway. It sat strangely on him, a little too small for his shoulders. But still. Better to have him covered. It would make them both more comfortable.

The thought of his bare legs was one she tried desperately to put out of her mind as she slid in beside him.

"You confuse me, Edith," he said, conversationally. "You're so wild and yet so restrained. It's a strange combination."

What an odd choice of words.

"I'm not wild," she said. "I'm very boring really."

"We wouldn't have invited someone boring along with us. You intrigued us right from the beginning, when you challenged us in your audition article."

That felt like a lifetime ago.

"I called you liars," she said.

"Do you still think we are?"

"Yes. But sometimes you tell the truth too. But it's surrounded by enough myth and... fog that it's difficult to spot. And you're the confusing ones anyway."

He frowned lightly, seeming genuinely surprised.

"How so?"

"Well... Sometimes you're really nice to me and we have fun and then suddenly everything turns and I can't predict when or why that happens. Like, is it a negging thing? Is that why you do it? To make me want your approval?"

She definitely wasn't admitting that it was kind of working. She'd found herself strangely enchanted by them. She wanted to make them happy, even while she was terrified.

"It's not deliberate," Thomas said, his voice kind but in a way that felt forced. "We struggle a little with vulnerability too, especially Lucille. So when someone starts to matter to her, she finds that difficult. They have the power to hurt her and she doesn't like that one bit."

Hm. So she 'mattered'. And that's why they blew hot and cold with her.

It sounded a lot like an excuse.

"Lucille is the most important person in the world to me," he continued. "We are all each other have, in terms of family. Growing up, we had to take care of each other. Still do. But we both like you very much."

Edith hesitated.

"Lucille said it was just sex," she said uncertainly. "Just playing."

"Well, she doesn't exactly play with just anyone. And nor do I."

"I bet you have groupies following you around everywhere."

He shrugged, turning out the light on his side of the bed.

"They don't interest me in that way."

Edith tried to ponder what that meant as she followed suit, plunging the room into darkness.

The bed practically vibrated with the force of her heart beat when he took her hand beneath the covers.

Chapter Text

Somewhat to her surprise, Edith woke first. The whole room seemed strange, stranger than most, Thomas lying next to her even more so. He seemed softer than usual in sleep.

She observed him for a moment in the weak sunlight. The bones in his face, the almost straight lines of his eyebrows, the pale pink of his lips.

And then he stirred slightly and she hurriedly closed her eyes, feigning sleep, hiding. She didn't want him to know she'd been staring.

A deep inhale, a stretch, a sigh.

"I know you're awake, Edith."

She'd gone a little tense. Perhaps that was what gave her away. She tried her best to breathe evenly, naturally. She didn't know why it was so important suddenly.

He chuckled lightly, tracing a cheek with his fingertip, gentle and careful.

"Sleeping Beauty," he murmured. "And maybe that's the key."

The touch of lips against her own made her almost shudder, keeping her eyes closed even as she kissed back, very clearly alert and active in this game, deepening it of her own accord and unable to resist a little sigh when he withdrew.

"Still asleep," he said. "Clearly I'll have to do better."

The sound of him moving sent thrills through her, though she wasn't quite sure if they were good thrills or not.

When he next spoke, it was right into her ear.

"Do you know what happens to Sleeping Beauty in the older versions of that story?"

His hands were on her now, gentle but firm, stroking down her back and thighs, her bare legs where her shorts ended, firmly pulling her until she was hooked around his hips.

Skin to skin, she couldn't resist arching closer, his hand straying beneath her T-shirt, up her spine, pressing his thigh between her legs hard enough to make her gasp, clutching at him desperately.

He was in no rush suddenly, no pushing, just the firm grind and the heat of his skin, the insistent press of his lips, a mounting wave of pleasure deep within Edith's core that made her want more, that tempted her even as a more sensible part of her brain was murmuring about safety, about talking first...

He moved his attention to her neck, the sensitive skin there, her fluttering eyelids still closed as he rucked up her shirt, breathing heavily against her skin and continuing downwards...

A knock at the door startled her, eyes flashing open, a held breath finally slipping from her body in a rush that almost made her ears ring.

Thomas groaned and moved off her, his cheeks slightly pink, sweeping his hair back. And Edith almost didn't want to move, wanted to pretend she'd heard nothing, but the idea of someone being there listening to them made her skin crawl.

The room was chilly next to her heated skin as she went to the door, checking the peep hole only to find Lucille looking the very picture of misery, holding herself, eyes wide and plaintive.

Edith opened the door immediately.

"Are you alright?" she asked.

Lucille barely even looked at her. She stumbled forward, still clutching at her own arms, her eyes flicking from side to side like she was lost.

"He's gone," she whispered. "He's left me."

"Who's gone?" Edith asked. "Thomas? He's right here."

A faint frown, a look towards the bed where Thomas was sitting up and then a sigh of utter relief. Almost a sob, really. Lucille tottered forward like a newborn fawn, falling into his arms, muttering about being alone, being afraid.

"Hey," Thomas said gently, rocking her slightly. "Hey, it's OK. You're alright. You're safe."

It was like she was trying to hide in his arms, almost like a child, Edith closing the door awkwardly. What on earth had happened? Why was she so... small?

"Can you give us a minute?" Thomas half whispered over Lucille's head.

"Sure. Of course, I'll just... Yes."

She took one of her cases into the bathroom, like she was just going to get dressed.

She'd never seen Lucille like that. Maybe she was still ill. Maybe that was it. Maybe she'd had some kind of nightmare. Or a fever dream. Thomas seemed to have seen this before, though. He knew how to handle it.

She hurriedly tugged on some clean clothes and tried to listen at the door. It was just plywood, not very thick. A screen on hinges more than a door.

At first she couldn't hear anything but Thomas's gentle reassurances. Soft words about never leaving, about always being there. About how he should have told her first before staying away for the night.

"Has it happened, then?" Lucille asked, her voice still a little scratchy, though she was clearly trying to modulate it back to her usual tones.

"No, not yet. You interrupted us."

"Sorry."

A brief pause, a loud sniff.

"Look, if you don't want this to happen, we can just stop," Thomas said. "We don't have to."

"No. No, it's fine."

"There are no guarantees anyway. Don't... You know."

"Yeah."

They spoke in half sentences. Don't what?! Edith practically vibrated wanting to know.

"It's just a little difficult not to be jealous, that's all," Lucille said, sounding much more like herself.

She really could put the mask on easily.

"I think that's a little rich coming from you."

"Yes, well... You know me."

Ah. So she was jealous. Edith felt a shameful glimmer of pride. Lucille wanted her all to herself. And yet she seemed very keen for her and Thomas to get together. For the audacity of it? The taboo of sharing her lover with her brother? That surely had to be it.

There was another quiet moment, a decidedly strange one really and then Thomas said, "I do know you and I know you won't want anyone seeing you with puffy eyes."

"Mm. I'll go shower."

"And I'll be down soon."

Edith lunged for her toothbrush as she heard footsteps, pretending she'd been innocently preparing for the day ahead and not listening in on a private conversation.

"Edith?" Lucille called through the door.

She opened it where it had never been locked, looking a little sheepish in a way that was most unlike her.

"I'm afraid I rather embarrassed myself," she said while Edith shook her head and tried to protest through a mouthful of toothpaste. "A little night terror, that's all. Nothing a bit of breakfast and fresh air won't fix."

Waving lightly, Edith finished up at the sink and found Thomas changing back into his clothes from the night before, sliding his belt on with an efficiency that she found strangely alluring.

"When we were children, our parents confined us to two rooms," he said casually, as though they were simply discussing where to visit in Seattle. "A nursery and a sort of day room. We weren't generally allowed elsewhere in the house. It was dangerous. Or we might break things."

"Even for meals?" Edith asked.

She was remembering her own childhood, sunshine-tinged memories of omelettes and cereal at a scrubbed wooden table, lasagne and stews and other hearty meals with her parents.

"Sometimes we ate up there. We had a nanny from time to time to watch over us, but they never stayed long. We'd be brought down more for inspection than anything else. Dinner parties, trying to play at happy families. And when she was seven, they tried to send Lucille to boarding school."

"Tried?"

"She had to come home. She'd been... unwell. I remember crying when she left and crying while she was gone, crying when she came back. I missed her terribly. The only person I had in the world."

"Why was it bad for her to come back, then? If you missed her so?"

He fixed her with a look, one of cold and open honesty.

"I was five years old, but even then I knew that bad things happened to Lucille. And I knew, deep down, that she came back deliberately because she wanted to protect me."

Edith's heart ached, tears pricking in her eyes. Seven years old... She couldn't imagine that. Her own life at seven had been dolls and ponies, schoolyard games, story books, day trips to the beach. Idyllic. It was awful to even think about.

"Oh," Thomas said, seeing her distress, pulling her into a hug. "It's OK. It was a long time ago. But she still has nightmares sometimes. She still... You know. Suffers. She hasn't had a turn like this in a few years, but a combination of a strange place and not knowing where I was must have shaken her. She'll be embarrassed. Just act normally for her, OK?"

Edith nodded against his chest, trying to get that phrase out of her head. Bad things. It seemed so monumentally understated. Such a small, vague phrase.

There were a lot of things she wanted to ask.

She wanted to confirm that that was why they had killed their parents, as she suspected.

But that would mean admitting that she suspected them of something awful, regardless of how justified it might be.

"Was it..." she tried, having to steel her voice before trying again. "Was it just physical abuse or was it...? Was it...?"

She couldn't even say the word. She couldn't.

"Was it worse than even that?" she settled on.

"I'd really rather not talk about it right now."

That was fair. It was a lot. Edith found herself sniffling all the same, gulping for air as he stroked her hair.

"Shh... Don't worry. They're dead. They can't hurt us anymore."

That felt almost like a mantra. She wondered if he'd been whispering that into Lucille's ear a few moments ago.

He gently pushed her back a little, hands on her cheeks.

"Take a bit to compose yourself," he said, running a thumb over her trembling lips. "And we can resume where we left off later."

How he could even think of things like that after what he'd just told her, she had no idea.

He kissed her softly, licking into her mouth just a little to push it into more intimate territory, and then left her.

It was one thing to suspect, quite another to be told outright that their parents had abused them. One of them anyway. And the other presumably... turned a blind eye? Failed to protect their children?

And now she had some ethical questions. Her first instinct was that this was not for publication. This was private. And yet...

She sighed and flopped on the bed for a moment.

And yet now she was automatically wondering if this was even true. She thought it was, but she couldn't be certain. Everything they did was calculated and none if it could be trusted.

Except the music. Thomas had said that music was their therapist. Music had the song about their father's death and Lucille was always singing about being hurt and scared, wasn't she? Maybe there was something more concrete there, something more solid.

She didn't especially want to eat. There was a hollow clawing in the pit of her stomach and she didn't want to risk feeding it. But breakfast was a good idea. Sitting down together. Forcing a sense of normality.

She'd do it for Lucille. To comfort her, to help her back to a waking world where all was well.

And now she was thinking of Sleeping Beauty again.

The breakfast room was light and cheery and she could hear Finlay chortling, a warming, pleasing sound. Lucille had clearly made a joke, her hair still wet and in a variation of the usual plait; she'd coiled it round and round, pinned to her head, like the style you saw on Greek statues.

Thomas brought them toast from the buffet bar. It would be rude not to eat it.

And, of course, they acted like everything was normal. They talked about where they'd go in Seattle.

"The Space Needle, of course," Lucille said. "We have to do that."

"There's something nearby that you'll like too," Thomas said, sorting through a pile of leaflets he'd managed to collect from the motel lobby and proffering one at her.

"Pacific Science Center," she read. "Sounds more like your scene than mine."

"Ah, but..."

He turned a page and her eyes lit up.

"Tropical butterfly exhibition. Live ones?"

"Mm. A whole greenhouse of them that you can walk through. I thought you and Edith could enjoy yourselves there while I look at something thoroughly boring and mechanical and then we can meet Finlay over at the Museum of Pop Culture."

Bugs. Pretty bugs, but bugs nonetheless. Edith was not totally sure of this. But then again, seeing Lucille smile, so different from that shaking, fearful creature she'd seen a little while ago...

"Sounds good," she said.

And maybe, a treacherous little voice said, in such a calming and apparently joyful environment, maybe she wouldn't mind Edith asking a few painful questions.

If she was brave enough.

Chapter Text

At least bugs were on the ground, Edith figured. She'd never thought of herself as being concerned about heights especially, but the Space Needle had left her feeling somewhat woozy, hiding behind the camera as if looking through the viewfinder made the world less real.

Lucille was very clingy, she noticed, trying to cover it a little but very rarely far from Thomas's side. It wasn't so obvious on the viewing platform, where even unflappable Finlay was holding on tightly to the railings, but elsewhere it was almost like she needed support to walk.

And as the two of them made their way to the butterfly house, as they were told to remove anything hanging about their persons so as to avoid accidentally harming any fluttering wings, that clinging transferred to Edith.

In many ways, she was flattered. She felt trusted and wanted. When Lucille somehow thought Thomas had vanished, she'd immediately come to her for comfort and support.

Maybe there were more to these feelings after all.

It was good to see her smile, open and happy, flashes of color rushing around them, the rich scent of flowers and compost floating in the warm air.

"So why do you like butterflies?" Edith asked. "They're not exactly... Well, they don't fit in with your whole aesthetic."

"Maybe why I prefer moths really," Lucille said. "But for the same reason. Because they're beautiful. And because they change completely during their lifetimes."

Edith watched as one landed nearby, its wings beating gently in a shaft of sunlight, warming its blood.

"Metamorphosis," she said vaguely.

"Exactly. You'd think the body of the caterpillar and the butterfly was the same, like it just sprouted wings, but that's not really true at all. They completely break down into a sort of soup and rearrange their body parts into something different. They go from being a small, ugly, wriggly thing to taking flight."

She sounded very wistful for a moment and then returned to her usual flippant tones.

"Of course, the caterpillars only want to eat and the butterflies only want to eat and breed, so it's not like they gain any particular enlightenment during the process, but all the same."

They read about the different types housed here, endless Latin names, strange abbreviations.

"I wish we had pretty ones like this in England," Lucille said.

"You must have a few, surely."

"Well, red admirals. Peacocks. Tortoiseshells and painted ladies. I hear people get purple emperors, but I've never seen one. Nothing big and beautiful like this."

Edith wondered how best to begin asking personal questions. It seemed like a good time, relaxed and gentle. No pressure.

Lucille gasped suddenly.

"Don't move," she whispered as Edith froze in panic. "Give me the camera. There's one in your hair."

The picture came out well, considering how uneasy Edith was at the idea of a live insect on her head. She looked like she was from a bygone era. Like a late-60s folk album.

In fact, she looked strikingly like her mother had at the same age. She could only remember seeing one picture of her before her marriage. After she died, those things had been put away. They were probably still in boxes from the old house under her bed. Some kind family friend probably put them aside for her.

And she still hadn't gone through any of it. Too busy.

"You're very beautiful," Lucille said, writing the location and date along the bottom of the picture. "Have I mentioned that today?"

The heat in her cheeks came easily, bretraying her as she tried to be brave.

"So are you."

Lucille chuckled, stroking her cheek gently.

"I meant on the inside too. And I'm not that. This is my cocoon, this body. Inside, I'm... I'm not a very nice person."

It was lucky it was quiet in here and Edith felt bold enough to take her hand, squeezing it lightly.

"I'm sure you aren't," she said. "Or that it's not your fault."

A sigh, a stroke of her thumb.

"Thomas has been telling you stories, has he?"

"Nothing... Nothing specific. That you were sent to boarding school but that you had to come back. Because you were sick. And that it gave you nightmares and that's why this morning you were... not yourself."

"Oh, Edith..." she breathed. "I'm afraid I was born sick."

That was a strange sentence. Was she being literal and talking about a diagnosed mental illness? That was how it tended to be, right? It wasn't like the cold. You didn't just catch it one day.

The word "predisposition" hunkered down uncomfortably in her mind, even as she tried desperately to evict it.

They had to carefully check themselves for stowaway butterflies before leaving, but Lucille headed for outside instead of the rest of the museum.

"I need some fresh air," she said. "And we need some privacy."

It felt very cold after the warmth of the greenhouse, a chill wind rushing through them almost, both of them unconsciously hunching their shoulders for warmth.

"I needed to go home," Lucille said very softly. "Because Thomas was still there and I needed to protect him."

"What from?"

"They'd have broken him if I wasn't there. You don't... You're going to find this difficult to believe, but some parts of the aristocracy still operate in the old ways. Especially our parents. A good marriage for the heir, that was the main thing. That was the only reason our parents were married. Because Mother had money and wanted a fancy, historical house and she wanted the perfect children too. Unluckily for her, she got us instead."

That was a very different reason to what Thomas had said. He'd said she was protecting him from... from abuse.

"Thomas said they hurt you," Edith said quietly. "Physically, I thought."

"Well, they resented me. I was an albatross, a millstone around their necks. Thoroughly unsuitable in most social situations. An embarrassment."

That wasn't an answer. That wasn't a confirmation or a denial. And so Edith made a decision.

"I promise, I won't put any of this into my articles," she said. "I get it. This isn't a public thing."

Lucille looked at her strangely.

"You write whatever you want," she said. "That's our agreement. Besides, what will people do? Arrest them for it? They're dead. They can't hurt us anymore."

Exactly the same words Thomas had used. Definitely a mantra.

"You still have nightmares about them," Edith said, trying for vague, trying to leave empty air that Lucille might want to fill.

"I have..." she sighed. "I have nightmares where they take Thomas away. Where they hurt him, change him, make him like them. Where he hates me. Where he's married to some insufferable breeding sow."

There was a bit of an awkward pause where Edith tried to work out if she was just being cruel to an imaginary woman or if she meant a literal female pig.

And wasn't that another fairytale? The princesses wed to a boar who gored them to death on the wedding night... The symbolism wasn't exactly subtle, was it?

"I know what you're thinking," Lucille said. "That we have a deeply unhealthy relationship."

"That wasn't what I was thinking."

An arm snaked around her waist, cuddling her close, a welcome warmth as lips pressed to her hair.

"I'm sorry I disturbed the two of you this morning," Lucille said.

"Oh, that's alright," Edith said, blushing awkwardly. "We had a talk last night and I think we're... We're on the same page now. It's a bit of fun, but there's... There's more between us. All of us, in different ways. And that's a little frightening for me."

"For us too. We're not used to someone else being in our little duo."

Edith thought about what she'd listened in on in the morning, that talk of jealousy.

"I don't want to come between you," she said. "You and me can be exclusive if that's easier. I'm sure Thomas won't mind."

Lucille laughed, steering them back towards the museum building.

"Edith, I really don't know how much clearer I can be," she said. "I want you to fuck my brother. What more permission do you need? Would you like it in writing?"

"No... It's just a strange situation, that's all."

A family with excited children barrelled past them, loud and happy. Much more like Edith's childhood than the Sharpes'.

Then again, you never knew what was behind closed doors. Money worries or relationship problems. Illness.

"You should do it soon," Lucille said, dragging her back to reality. "Everything will be easier then. Once the tension gives way."

Maybe she was right. Maybe she'd finally be able to calm down a little, relax into their company.

Of course, it was still a big step. It would be irreversible. She'd be sleeping with two people at the same time, which was big enough without all the other complications. Like the fact they were siblings. Like the fact she suspected they'd murdered their parents.

Like the fact that she felt less and less horrified by that idea the more she learned about the former Sir and Lady Sharpe.

"Did you know what in some species of butterfly, males have been known to mate with females that are still in their chrysalis or that have just emerged? I guess because they can't run away."

That was quite the mood whiplash.

"That's horrible," Edith said.

"Well, it's nature."

"Just because things are natural doesn't make them not horrible. Parasites are natural. Things eat their own young in nature."

"Maybe you're right. Maybe that's why Thomas prefers unnatural things."

She'd spotted him in amongst some kind of robotics exhibition, squinting at the wires in one of the displays. He was unaware of their presence, his mouth a little twisted as he tried to work something out.

Edith felt a slight chill as Lucille let her go to sneak up on him, running her fingers over his shoulders, making him shiver slightly as he smiled.

"Feeling better?" he asked.

"Getting there. Edith?"

"What?"

"Are you getting there too?" Thomas asked.

It was pretty clear what they were really asking. And it was becoming more clear to her what she was eventually going to do.

"Yeah," she said. "Yeah, I'm getting there."

Chapter Text

"You know, you're exactly the kind of woman I'd have wanted Thomas to marry and exactly the type our parents would never have accepted."

Edith choked into her lunch salad.

"Oh, what?" Finlay asked, her bag of t-shirts from the Museum of Pop Culture squished into the side of the booth. "What's wrong with our Edith?"

"Well, she's an American, for one," Thomas said. "Father would have considered that a fundamental character flaw."

"And our great grandfather never knew her great grandfather. Obviously you can't really know someone unless you knew at least four generations of the family. Thomas was supposed to end up in the House of Lords, you know."

Well, Lucille was definitely back to her normal self.

"I don't think I'd want your parents to like me," Edith said carefully. "Since they're so prejudiced."

"Ah, but the real question is would your father like us?" Thomas said. "Everyone knows it's the bride's father whose opinion counts most."

Edith genuinely tried to think about it. What would her dad think about these strange people with their dark past, their habit of lying, their peculiar ways, even before the sexual mix they were in?

"Probably not," she said.

Lucille cackled delightedly, wrapping an arm around her shoulder just as Thomas's foot tangled with hers under the table.

Having them both touch her at once sent a strange pulse through her. A strange combination of excited and sickened. She liked them both, she wanted them both, but something in her felt it should be kept separate. They were brother and sister, for God's sake!

At least it was a friendly touch from Lucille and a more intimate one from Thomas. She could keep this divided in her mind.

Or she could until Lucille let go of her and then placed a hand on her thigh...

"I'm just going to go to the bathroom," she said, leaping up, figuring that was the easiest way to step away.

"Oh, me too," Finlay said, dabbing her mouth with a napkin. "I haven't seen a sign for them though."

They found it with the help of one of the servers, a simple tiled room with three cubicles. Plain and a little run down, with a heavy door that thudded shut behind them.

"What's going on, Edith?" Finlay asked quietly, very stern, unlike her usual jovial self.

Edith's heart pounded loudly in her ears.

"What?"

She was stammering, blinking far too often.

"You think I don't see the three of you? You've got it bad for one of them. Now, I don't know which and I know it's none of my beeswax, but let me just tell you they are bad news."

It was almost shocking to see her like this. Yes, she was a former detective, but she was normally so cheerful, so friendly and bubbly. Seeing her being so serious was very disconcerting.

"What do you mean?" Edith asked, pretending she didn't know anything, knowing the guilt was likely written all over her face.

"I looked into them before taking this job and either they have the worst luck in the world or they contrive to have calamity follow them around. I decided to come along partly to keep an eye on them. And I understand why you like them. I like them too, despite it all. They're charming, intelligent, funny... But you don't have a mama to look out for you anymore and I can't sit there and watch you go like a lamb to the slaughter."

She was trying to help and Edith knew that, but she was very curious all the same. What exactly did she know?

"What did you find out?"

"Well, for one thing, they've settled a lot of claims out of court with injunctions attached. Employment stuff. It's a red flag, that's all. Either they continually mistreat their staff and have them silenced or they have secrets they don't want getting out. Or both. And worse than that, their parents' deaths... Well, the circumstances are very suspicious."

So she thought so too.

"I've been investigating too," Edith said. "And I think you're right, but I think I know why they did it. If they did it. Their parents were monsters. I'm trying to find out the details, but..."

"I understand there may be mitigating reasons, but it's still murder. Just be careful. That's all I'm asking."

"I will. I promise. I'm taking a calculated risk. I'm staying safe. Keeping them happy. Besides, I've done nothing to them. They have no reason to harm me."

"I hope so. I'd never forgive myself if anything happened to you on my watch."

It was nice to think she had a guardian angel, even if it was bringing home just how crazy her current course of action was. "Maybe" was fairly quickly giving way to "definitely" where the killings were concerned.

And yet her fear was giving way a little too. She understood why. They'd been abused, they'd finally snapped. It was understandable.

Except they hadn't done it in a moment of anger, had they? The carbon monoxide leak had involved planning, research, premeditation...

She needed to know the full story. Needed to. And that meant gaining their confidence, making them think she was fully seduced and wrapped around their fingers.

Finlay hugged her, warm and comforting.

"Thank you," Edith said. "For looking out for me."

A smile and she left, adding more credence to their cover by returning to the table separately. Edith was left alone, looking at herself in a cracked mirror. Did she even recognize the person looking back at her?

Means to an end. That's what this was. A bit of fun and a good story and for her own peace of mind to finally know the truth. She had to know.

She washed her hands and got back to her food, aware that she was going to have to wolf it down probably to catch up.

"So, plans for the rest of the day?" Finlay asked.

"Not many," Lucille said. "Just resting up before the show, I think. And I might start a new song. The butterflies have inspired me."

"A little different from your usual subjects."

"A little bit of something different can do you a world of good, I think. Edith, what about you?"

She swallowed a large forkful of rocket hurriedly before replying.

"Writing too. Getting my notes together before the West Coast."

Starting her notes, more like. She'd been very remiss of late. Too many other things going on.

"Well, remember to take breaks, won't you?" Thomas said. "We can't have you getting worn out."

"I think Edith has more stamina than you think," Lucille said, somehow making it sound utterly innocent when Edith suspected it was anything but.

Oh, this was so uncomfortable...

She tried her best to focus on her food and not what she now knew was Finlay's careful mask of happy indifference. The Sharpes thought they were subtle, but they clearly had nothing on her.

"Well, I'm going to explore Seattle a bit more," Finlay said. "Time outside before the drive tomorrow. I'll see you later."

She gave Edith something of a pointed look as she left. A very clear warning. Which she ought to take.

"She knows, you know," she said softly.

A pause and a glance between the Sharpes.

"Knows what?"

"That there's something going on between us. She's not blind or deaf. You might think you're being subtle, but... But you're not."

Lucille sat back, folding her arms a little defensively.

"Do we embarrass you?" she asked flatly.

"Honestly, yes."

"That's funny because sometimes you don't seem to mind."

Edith could feel herself blushing, wishing she was better at confrontation.

"Sometimes I don't just... Just there's a time and a place for it and it's not in front of her. She told me off in the bathroom about it. It was mortifying."

"Why? What's wrong with us?"

Ah... Oops.

"You're my employers. It's unethical. Even if I do... like you."

There was a horrible pause before Lucille wrapped an arm around her again.

"Alright," she said. "That seems fair. It's important to have boundaries. No more flirting in front of Finlay. We'll just have to save it all up for other times."

Edith felt a heavy breath leave her, more a sigh than anything else.

"Thank you."

Lucille frowned at her, like she was dreadfully concerned for her health suddenly.

"Thomas, this poor young lady is positively vibrating with tension. You really should sort her out."

"Gladly, if that's something the young lady wants," Thomas said, looking at her over the top of his coffee cup with an intensity that felt almost palpable, almost like it could burn her. "I confess I have been daydreaming about just what might have occurred this morning had we woken a little earlier."

Edith was glad he wasn't going into details. She'd had quite enough embarrassment for one day. She felt like they were laughing at her, that they enjoyed teasing her. Sweet little inexperienced Edith. So easy to make her blush with just a few words.

"Maybe you can tell me what you daydreamed," she said, trying for casual. "In private."

She couldn't miss the way his gaze had settled on her lips. And, yes, she was nervous but also determined. She wanted this. It felt like proving herself somehow, making a definite step forward, showing that she wasn't something fragile and delicate but a woman who knew her own mind.

Which might be easier if she felt she actually did know her own mind, but she was learning from the best as far as pretending went.

"Alright," Thomas said. "And what else would you like to know?"

"Do you have protection?"

"I'm going to settle the bill," Lucille said, sidling past Edith's knees.

Thomas watched her go, waiting for her to be out of earshot maybe. Worried she was jealous perhaps, despite being given so many assurances.

"I got some when we first discussed it," he said.

"Wow. Someone was confident."

"Someone was hopeful."

She blinked at him a little. How strange that that was what disarmed her, that was what made her pause. A flicker of humility and doubt.

It made him even more attractive somehow.

"I'm not used to... planning it like this," she said. "I'm used to it just sort of happening."

He smiled and took her hand, squeezing it lightly.

"Let's just see where we end up, shall we?"

Edith ended up back in her hotel room, waiting for him to arrive, unsure what to do with herself. This felt very awkward.

The knock on the door made her almost tremble, scolding herself for being ridiculous. It was just Thomas. It was just sex. She'd feel better once it had happened, less tense, less worried.

Thomas looked very soft when she opened the door. Not looming or intimidating. Almost apologetic. But still, his eyes ran over her heatedly, a smile around the corners of his mouth.

"I'm glad you're not undressed," he said, closing the door behind him. "I was rather looking forward to that part."

Edith didn't even have time to blush. He was already tilting her chin up, steering her into kisses. Firm, unrelenting, making her head spin. She didn't realize how much she was leaning on him until he pushed her effortlessly onto the bed.

Her breathing was fast already, watching as he tugged off his belt and unbuttoned his shirt, tossing it aside. She reached for the bottom of her top only for him to tell her to stop.

"Let me," he said, crawling on top of her and capturing her lips again.

His hands ran eagerly across her flesh, going very quickly, moreso than she was really comfortable with for all that she was excited too.

And then she remembered what he'd said about liking the lady to take control. How enticing an idea she had found that.

She ran her hand into his hair and gripped hard, getting a confused but aroused moan as she pulled his head up to look at his face. Smouldering didn't really cover it. His eyes were dark, cheeks pink, an almost feral expression. Like he was planning to devour her.

Right. Taking charge.

"Slow down," she said firmly. "We haven't been dancing around each other all this time just to rush now."

He licked his lips, grinning at her.

"Mm. You're right. I'm just a little eager. You've been driving me crazy for so long."

He sat up, kneeling between legs she hadn't even realized she'd parted for him, and pulled off her shirt, just staring at her for a moment.

"I've been waiting for this," he said, touching her, running a thumb over one of her nipples, grinning when she shivered. "The things you do to me, Edith..."

They were still wearing far too many clothes. She awkwardly managed to unhook her bra and get rid of it, but she couldn't really do much else.

"We need to... Need to move up the bed."

"Not yet," Thomas said, running a finger down her chest, biting his lip. "This angle is perfect."

He replaced touch with kisses, moving down her body and flicking open the button on her jeans. She felt the cold as he pulled them off too, embarrassed as he stood at the end of the bed and finally looked at her completely naked, hungry and wanting.

"Oh, look at you," he breathed. "Lucille was right. You really are beautiful."

She barely had time to be even more mortified as he dragged her across the mattress and dropped to his knees.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"Seeing if you taste as good as you look."

Oh...

He teased her first, kissing his way up the inside of her thighs, squeezing her flesh, making her wait.

"Thomas..."

"You want it?"

"Mm-hm."

Finally feeling his mouth on her made her keen. Oh, he knew what he was doing here. His tongue moved unpredictably at first but then steadily, constantly, making her grip the sheets helplessly, gasping for air.

It was relentless. He was like a machine, an unending rhythm back and forth against her clit. She was barely able to think about how strange this was, how unusual in her experience to be so focussed on.

Fuck, she was getting close already. So close, so close, just needing a tiny bit more, yes, yes...

And then he stopped. Just as she was on the edge. A sob slipped out before she could stop it, making him chuckle.

"All in good time," he said, reaching for his fly. "After all, we're not rushing, are we?"

She somehow managed to get up the bed, actually getting her head on the pillows, and watched as he produced a condom from his back pocket and rolled it on. Good. Right.

He really was teasing her now, joining her on the bed, kissing her again, a slight bitterness on his tongue that made nerves rear their head again, but then again, she was almost dizzy with want now. Delirious with it.

He ran a thumb over her cheek, probably tracing a blush.

"You OK?" he whispered.

It was a surprising question.

"Yeah," she said. "Yeah, I'm fine."

Another kiss, passionate, almost strangely so, as he finally - finally - pushed into her.

She found herself clinging to him, taking a moment to adjust, eyes closed.

"Still OK?"

"Mm-hm."

He stroked her hair, being very gentle with her, little kisses and slowly rolling his hips. And suddenly she managed to relax into it, canting upwards, meeting his thrusts, making him groan so quietly.

"There you go," he murmured. "There you go, sweetheart."

She couldn't remember the last time sex had felt like this, strangely new.

Except she did remember. With Lucille. Because that was new and different and she'd been so frightened but she'd wanted so much too and now the whole world was strange and she didn't know who she was anymore.

A particularly hard thrust made her cry out, forcing her back to the present. And yet she wasn't sure Thomas was there. His eyes were strangely glazed, like he was thinking of something else.

"Hey," she said, not able to manage much more, placing her hands on his face, making him look at her. "Hey."

He shook his head a little.

"Sorry," he said. "Trying to picture unsexy things. Make it last. But you're making that rather difficult."

It was good to laugh together. She didn't want it to end either, but on the other hand she felt that if she didn't come soon she might explode.

"Just let go," she said. "Just... Mm..."

His heavy breathing as he sped up was almost unbearably erotic to her, so quiet, tinged with moaning. She couldn't help herself though, trying to hold back her cries, lips tightly pressed together and moaning into Thomas's mouth as he kissed her.

"Let me hear you," he whispered. "Don't hide. Tell me what you want."

It was difficult. She didn't like talking during sex. It embarrassed her, the way her voice went high and pleading.

"Edith..."

"More," she sighed. "Please, I'm... Ah!"

She was used to handling most of her own pleasure, but Thomas was apparently not having that, supporting himself on one arm and managing to get his other hand between their bodies.

"Tell me how you like it," he said, using his thumb right against her clit, rubbing in little circles.

It was difficult to speak. She was busy gasping, but she still needed more...

"Faster," she managed. "Oh, faster."

She was so, so close now and having someone else's hands on her somehow made it all the more intense, the rush coming through her quickly, a pulsing, desperate push, feeling herself clench around him, gasping for air.

"I'm nearly there," he said, going fast and hard, sending aftershocks through her oversensitive body, finishing deep inside her with an almost inaudible moan.

It had probably only been a few minutes, less than ten, but Edith felt like it had been hours. Feeling his cock slip out was strangely like a loss. Made her feel empty.

Thomas flopped on top of her for a moment, just a moment before rolling off and pulling her into an embrace, kissing her breathless.

"You are spectacular," he said, ensuring that if she wasn't already pink-cheeked, she certainly was afterwards. "Maybe we can do this again some time."

"Yeah. Yeah, I think I'd like that."

Another few kisses and he got up, knotting the condom and dumping it in the trash can, getting dressed.

"I'll let you do some work, then," he said. "And I'll see you later."

"Yeah," Edith said, feeling maybe a little bereft that he was leaving so quickly. "Cool."

At least he kissed her again before he left, running a hand over her naked hip.

Strangely, as she slipped beneath the blankets for a moment of recovery, she was almost certain she heard him talking to someone in the corridor.

Specifically, talking to Lucille.

Chapter Text

The Sharpes are...

No.

As Crimson Peak grow close to the halfway point of their epic tour, certain revelations...

Ugh, no.

Edith groaned at the desk in her Portland motel room. She knew what she wanted to write. About how the Sharpes had suddenly changed somehow over the last few days. But that would mean admitting a few things.

Lucille in particular had gone a little strange. Bright and cheerful in a way that seemed a little forced with only occasional flashes of her usual caustic wit. Like when they had been talking about the Oregon Trail.

There had been a lot of talk about dysentery. A lot. About how it was still a problem in many parts of the world, the lack of sanitation making disease prevention difficult.

"You don't realize how lucky you are sometimes," Finlay had said. "Just having plumbing makes such a difference."

"We only got on the main sewer system when the National Trust took over house," Lucille said, managing to lounge in her car seat. "When they put extra toilets in round the back of the old stables."

"What were you on before?" Edith asked.

"Private water supply, courtesy of an ancestor. It used to run blood red at first whenever you turned a tap on because of the clay. Every shower was like that scene in Carrie. I think Mother believed it had some kind of skin rejuvenation property. Like a mineral treatment."

"And did it?"

"I think there are other things she could have done. Like not scowled so much. I'm just grateful she never discovered botox or she'd have blown what remained of the family fortune. Then again, I doubt she could have become more poisonous, even with injections of botulism."

Edith had scrawled that down, though she didn't know where she might slip it into an article. And now she was finally at the typewriter, finally alone, and she was completely failing to get going.

She'd started the article that day after sleeping with Thomas. Or rather she'd tried to. She couldn't concentrate. She kept thinking about Lucille waiting outside the room.

She must have imagined it. It didn't make any sense. Why would she be waiting outside, listening in on her brother having sex? Gross.

It must have just been housekeeping or something.

The Seattle gig had been much the same as most of them, a mostly goth audience. It had gone well, but there wasn't really much to say otherwise.

A knock at her door was something of a relief, just for a distraction.

"Laundry," Lucille sang, holding up bags. "It's my turn to do it. Unless you'd care to join me. Bit of company."

Maybe a break would help.

"Writer's block?" Lucille asked, carefully not looking at what was written on the notes scattered about the desk. "Yeah, me too. New song is just not coming together at all."

"I feel like I'm just retreading old ground," Edith said, getting her things together and zipping up her jacket. "Nothing much has happened since my last article."

"Ooh, Thomas would be very upset with that review."

Edith tried to give her a withering look.

"You know what I mean. Nothing much that I can write about for public consumption. The concert was much like the others. It's fine, I just need to get my head together. But my head is full of you two and not journalism."

Lucille seemed to think about that for a moment, her room key clinking against the quarters in her pocket for the machine as they descended the stairs.

"My head is pretty full of you too," she said. "You keep coming into my songs."

This was a potentially interesting vein to pursue. After all, if she was inspiring music, the past might have done too.

"How many of them are real?" Edith asked. "The story ones. I mean, there's that one about emergency contraception for example."

"That one's based on reality. Some of them are, but not too many. They're not really literal. They're metaphors, you know?"

"So that song is... It's about you?"

"Mm. A pregnancy scare when I was seventeen. It was probably nothing, but safety first. Deeply, horribly unpleasant safety."

A horrible ache went through Edith's stomach.

"Seventeen is young," she said, doing her best not to infer anything else.

"Above the age of consent where we're from. With caveats, of course. You can't sleep with your teachers or anyone else in positions of authority or they'll be in trouble."

Still...

"Who was the dad? If you don't mind me asking."

Lucille laughed. Like it was a fond memory.

"Oh, you know," she said. "First love, love of my life and all that. But we were just kids. It was the best option."

She seemed fairly carefree about it. And that was three years after their father died, right? Maybe once he was gone, their lives weren't so bad.

"Did your mom not mind you bringing boyfriends over?" Edith asked. "My dad would have freaked if he thought I so much as knew a boy. Except Alan. He liked him."

"I was very good at hiding what I was up to," Lucille said. "Big house. Sound didn't carry that far. And she went out in the evenings a lot."

"And what about Thomas? Did he mind?"

"Not a bit."

Setting a precedent of keeping one another's secrets was probably in his interest, she supposed.

She waited until they had reached the peace of an automated laundromat before daring to ask anything else.

"Is that the last time you had to use it, then?"

"What, the morning after pill? Mm. I learned to be more careful. I had an early miscarriage a couple of years later, though. Only a couple of months down the line."

She said it so very casually. Edith was almost shocked. Then again, if she hadn't wanted it...

"I wasn't in the right frame of mind anyway," Lucille said, separating out Thomas's white shirts. "Mother was still alive for one thing. She'd have dealt very badly with me being an unmarried mother. Probably make me put it up for adoption. Or worse."

"Worse?"

"Adopt it herself. She fucked us up good and proper. I'd hate to think what she'd have done to a grandchild."

They occupied three of the rattly machines - lights, darks and delicates - Lucille pulling herself up onto one of the tables for folding on rather than using the chairs. Forever slightly rebellious.

Edith wrestled with what to say. She had to be careful not to reveal just what she thought she knew. Had to pretend she believed stories of accidents. That she had no suspicions at all.

But she also had to be brave.

Deep breaths, Edith.

"You have scars on your legs," she said carefully.

Lucille pulled said legs up, hugging her arms around them, resting her head against her thighs.

"Yes," she said.

"I... I wondered how you got them."

Her eyes seemed huge where she gazed at Edith, enormous and sad.

"I have a lot of scars," she said quietly, like she was worried someone would overhear although they were quite alone.

"But they're all in easily hidden places. Your legs and back... There aren't any on your arms or..."

"So what about this one?" Lucille asked, pointing to the faint scratch above her lip. "It's not exactly hidden."

Edith had noticed it, of course. It was the only flaw on her otherwise perfect skin. A tear on an oil painting, moth damage on a silk dress, a chip in bone china.

"How did you get it?" she asked, knowing she was being led, but willing to go along with it.

A soft sigh and Lucille closed her eyes. Maybe it made things easier if she didn't feel observed.

"Have you ever been slapped?" she asked. "Hit on the face?"

"I... No. No, I haven't."

"I got this from the back of my mother's hand. Her ring caught me. Normally she was very careful not to leave marks, but... Well, she was very cross that day."

Her voice had gone very soft. Gentle. Like she was telling a bedtime story.

The ring, though... The red ring? Then why did she wear it, literal evidence of mistreatment? A weapon that had literally left its mark on her.

"Why?" Edith asked. "Why was she so angry?"

"Oh, she caught me doing something I shouldn't have been."

"And how old were you?"

Another gentle sigh.

"Twenty. And then she died about a month later."

"The car accident?"

Lucille's eyes flashed open, suddenly sharp and hard.

"How do you know about that?" she asked. Not angry, not surprised, just... flat and cold. Like plunging into icy water.

Edith blinked and stammered. Had they really not told her? She felt sure that they had, at some point. Maybe Thomas had mentioned it?

Shit. Shit, shit, no, Enola had told her, hadn't she?

Think, Edith, think...

"I read about it before we met," she said. "When I was looking you up. Old news reports. But... But it sounded so awful that I didn't want to ask. I'm sorry."

She had a sudden urge to flee. To run away into Portland, a city she'd never visited, and just hide. Where, she didn't know. No money, no phone...

Lucille sat up, her legs stretching like a spider's, head slightly tilted.

"Well," she said icily. "You certainly were thorough."

It was like she could read Edith's thoughts, see right through her skull to where her mind was whirling. A less planned killing than the carbon monoxide poisoning, the crime of passion she felt she could excuse. A lifetime's abuse, a young adult deciding to end it. A simple switch of the brake lines.

And if she was twenty then Thomas was eighteen and conveniently ready to inherit the house...

"It must have been traumatic," Edith said carefully. "Since you were in the car at the time."

A tiny softening. That harshness leaving just a little.

"It was the inevitability that was the worst of it. Like when you trip and see the ground coming up to meet you and you know it will hurt. I knew we were going to crash. But I lived, more or less unscathed. And I suppose she can rest easy, knowing the last mark she ever put on me is on my face forever."

She daintily jumped to her feet just as the machines finished and began transferring their wet things to the dryer.

"I don't think anyone who hits their child should be allowed to rest easy," Edith said. "Which rules out both your parents, I think."

A clunk and whir as it started up, Lucille humming lightly.

"You're much too clever, Edith," she said. "So many people can have the truth right under their noses and never see it. You can take all kinds of fragments and put them together. We've been telling you things without even realizing."

Maybe she felt a little guilty that she'd been going over their heads. Talking to Enola, asking Alan to look things up for her, sharing her concerns with Finlay.

She put the lace and other drip-dry garments into a plastic bag to take back and hang up at the motel as Lucille hugged her from behind.

"No show tonight," she murmured. "After dinner, we should have tea."

Despite herself, Edith half-relaxed into her embrace, still pleasant regardless of it all.

"Do you mean tea or tea?" she asked.

"Both."

Edith was somewhat aware of the security cameras as Lucille kissed her neck. Hopefully no one actually monitored them.

"Only if I get enough writing done," she said.

Chapter Text

Edith dumped her bag of fresh laundry on the bed and practically leapt on the desk to dig through her photographs. She needed a good one, an obvious one.

One of Lucille's face...

She found one that was absolutely perfect, an introspective image she'd got in Seattle that had previously been put aside in favor of more dramatic shots.

It showed Lucille at her keyboard untangling some wires, her head tilted in such a way that the stage lights made her scar all the more evident.

Yes. That was exactly what she needed.

Her hands flew over the typewriter, the keys clacking loudly, the carriage return clunking and dinging.

EXCLUSIVE: Lucille Sharpe's pain at hands of mother

Oh, God, this made her feel awful. Made her feel dirty and sick. She was becoming what she'd always hated, a sensationalist hack. It was one step from clickbait.

On the other hand, the truth was important. It told you a lot about the Sharpes when you knew what they'd been through. The isolation, the abuse... Well, alleged abuse maybe.

Besides, she'd be sensitive about it. No exaggeration here. Just facts.

To the extent that anything the Sharpes said could be trusted as a fact. Still, Edith felt she was beginning to read them better and Lucille had seemed very genuine when she talked about it.

Right...

Scars often have a story, whether an accident on a bike ride or the marks of surgery. But some have a far darker history.

Lucille Sharpe recently shared with me the story of how she received the prominent mark above her lip.

Did she really want to say prominent? It wasn't all that obvious. Only in certain lights.

She drew a line through it. She was being careful and sensitive after all.

And maybe she was thinking about Alan's feedback on the article about the carbon monoxide when she composed the rest of it. She didn't want to imply Lucille had had anything to do with her mother's death, regardless of what she suspected. A tragic accident, all the more so since it happened so soon after they fell out. Over whatever that was about.

A short time before the elder Lady Sharpe's death, she and Lucille had an argument that escalated to violence. Lucille was struck across the face with a backhand, her mother's ring slicing into her flesh. It left a permanent mark.

The red ring Lucille wears is the very instrument of her injury, a constant reminder. I doubt most people would want to carry such an object, maybe not even keep it, something tied to pain and betrayal. But perhaps there is a logic to it - owning and controlling the very thing that hurt you.

Hm. That was echoing something in the back of her mind. Maybe something a kindly teacher had once said about taking control over grief, turning that yawning emptiness towards something productive. Controlling what you can, finding something to be in charge of.

That last bit hadn't been particularly helpful in the long term in retrospect.

She wanted to write about the other scars, the hidden ones, but she needed a plausible excuse for having seen them.

Hmm...

While changing for shows, sometimes further marks can be found on Lucille's body, all in carefully concealable areas. While I don't particularly want to cast assertions onto the dead, I wonder if Beatrice Sharpe had raised a hand to her children more than once. I don't think it is too far a leap to wonder if these scars were left on Lucille by her or, indeed, another person, especially since the positions of some would be very difficult to achieve through self harm.

Well, that was something else the editors would have to put in a content advisory for. Still, she'd thought of it right away. Others would too. It was probably the first conclusion people came to with... with scars like that, lots of them. That they were self-inflicted.

She was sure they couldn't be, though she'd need to look closer.

And Thomas didn't seem to have any, or at least she hadn't seen them. It was like only Lucille had been hurt physically, or at least in such a way that left marks.

Well, why? Because she was a girl? Because she refused to conform to some idealised vision of a daughter? Because she led her brother astray somehow?

Or maybe they'd thought it would be easier to hide. Self-harm was more commonly reported in girls. Easier to explain away as the lies and exaggerations of an ill child.

Edith tried to put some of her thoughts together into something tangible, spurts of clacking keys and long silences where she tried to find just the right words.

It was important to get it right. One day, Lucille would read this, would read all of it, and the idea of her feeling upset by it...

Well, it didn't sit right in Edith's stomach. So much for total artistic freedom. It was difficult when your conscience kept bothering you.

She didn't realize just how much time had passed until there was a knock on her door, Finlay coming to remind her about dinner.

Had she had lunch? Maybe. Maybe not.

Come to think of it, she was quite hungry. If there weren't other people around, she might forget to eat altogether, commenting as much to Finlay on their way down to the van.

"Oh, you want to be careful with that, sweetie. Those yo-yo diets will ruin your metabolism. I'm forever saying to Juney, you got to eat - maybe not a whole lot, but your brain can't run on nothing and nor can your body."

Edith let a beat of discomfort slip away out of her heart, hoping it hadn't been too evident on her face.

Driving into Portland proper maybe wasn't the best plan as they took a while to find a place to park and then even longer to find somewhere to eat. At least the Sharpes were being true to their word - not so much as a double entendre all evening. No touching. No licentious hints.

They were just friends and colleagues having dinner together. Nothing strange about it.

"Are we still on for tea before bed, Edith?" Lucille asked casually on their way back.

To give her credit, it really did sound like she was just talking about the hot beverage.

"Um," Edith said, thinking about the page currently emerging from her typewriter. "I'll need to tidy my desk first, but sure."

After all, if they were going to have sex, it seemed rather rude to do it in the bed where Thomas was also sleeping.

"Well, you head up while I'm getting the kettle."

The nerves began to grow in her again, putting her papers neatly in her folder. Things had been strange earlier. But then again, this was an opportunity to really look at Lucille. To really look at her scars.

She had just put everything away in a desk drawer when the knock came, a soft, gentle rapping. Everything felt a little off. She had something of an ulterior motive here perhaps, wanting to see Lucille's body.

Or maybe she was just telling herself that, trying to avoid the thought that she was rapidly falling deeper into this mess than she had ever meant to.

The kettle was a bit of a surprise. She'd assumed tea was just a cover.

"Making sure Finlay doesn't suspect?" Edith asked. "If she sees you?"

"I thought we could have some afterwards. Extra warmth in the afterglow."

At least that implied she was planning to hang around long enough to cuddle. Edith watched her fiddling with the sockets and felt a real sense of tenderness towards her. A desire to take care of her, maybe like no one else ever had.

Lucille flinched a little when touched unexpectedly, Edith moving her braid aside to kiss the back of her neck, right at the top of her spine. A little sigh echoed around the sparse room, leaning back into Edith's touch just slightly, letting her run her hands over her.

Outside her clothes at first, but then growing bolder, touching her skin, the soft smoothness of her stomach, easing off her shirt.

And now she saw them. The scars on her back, from a far better angle than ever before.

They had a variety of widths and lengths, depths too. Silvery lines. The dark shade of her bra straps bisected a few of them.

Some of them definitely couldn't be self-inflicted without some serious contortion.

"I know," Lucille said, so soft it was almost a whisper. "They're ugly."

Edith hesitated. They certainly weren't beautiful, she couldn't say that. They were marks of pain and suffering. They were awful, really.

"Beauty doesn't matter," she muttered, undoing her bra, faint red marks revealed beneath it.

She leant forward to kiss them, gently pressing her lips to channelled skin, like stretch marks, like she'd grown after receiving some of them. Edith hoped it seemed... accepting. She wasn't scared of them or disgusted by them.

"Trying to kiss them better?"

Always making jokes...

"I would if I could," Edith said.

Maybe Lucille was surprised by such sincerity, turning to face her, the perfect, unmarked skin of her chest so different to her back.

"I can think of better places to try," she said, her breath warm against Edith's lips as she brought their mouths together.

Almost without her noticing, Lucille had her out of her t-shirt, running her hands over her back, those chill fingers making her shiver.

Somehow, they tumbled onto the bed together, Edith trying her best to undo buttons on jeans without much success, especially when Lucille rolled on top, half pinning her in place.

"You have no idea how envious I am of you," she said softly.

Edith blinked, unsure.

"Why?" she managed.

"A lot of reasons."

She was kissing her way down Edith's body, letting her wrists go, though Edith didn't move them, her heart hammering in her chest as Lucille pulled of her jeans and dumped them off the edge of the bed.

There wasn't really enough room, the metal bedframe creaking rather alarmingly with every shift, Edith trying to pull herself further up, resting her head amongst the tangle of her pyjamas.

And suddenly Lucille was there again, looming over her, stroking her cheek so gently, running fingers through her hair.

"I'm glad we picked you," she said.

Edith's breath was stolen by a simple press of her still-clothed thigh, the strange texture of denim rough against her skin, just the briefest moment of pressure before Lucille once again slipped down between her legs.

"Is this alright?"

"Uh-huh..."

"Mm. Good. Getting more confident to ask for what you want."

Was she? Really she felt she was kind of letting the Sharpes do things with her. Which she enjoyed, but she wasn't exactly an active participant as such.

Maybe she could change that.

"I want to do this to you," she said breathlessly.

Lucille looked up at her, all hooded eyes, shining lips.

"Are you sure?"

"How hard can it be?"

Lucille just laughed and fixed her lips to the inside of Edith's thigh, sucking a mark there, her teeth digging in just a little. Marking territory, soothing the sting with kisses afterwards.

Her nails dug into Edith's hips, pain mingling strangely with pleasure, a sharp sensation that spoke to a long buried part of her brain, something she'd tried to push away. But it was alright here. She felt... She felt strangely safe. Lucille would take care of her.

Funny how much surer she was of that when half her brain was practically shut down by excitement.

Did that make her judgement better or worse?

She gasped out at the first pass of Lucille's tongue, still a somewhat alien sensation. She was teasing, little licks, even gentle sucking, making Edith squirm in her grasp.

A memory of Thomas slipped through Edith's mind. Unbidden, unwanted. He'd been relentless, but gentle with it. Lucille was harsher, spikier, more in control.

Fingers slipping into her was a welcome distraction, no tentativeness here, two straight away, the surprise making her let out a little cry.

"Too much?" Lucille asked, stroking her with firm presses.

"No... No, it's fine. Just... wasn't ex... Ah! Wasn't expecting it."

Half a chuckle vibrated through her core, the relentless rubbing of those fingers sending her a little dizzy, wanting more, trying to arch herself to the right angle.

"I know," Lucille murmured. "I know."

She finally gave Edith what she wanted, what she needed, flicking her tongue back and forth across just the right spot, hard and fast, practically beckoning orgasm on from inside with the tips of her fingers, steady as the drum beats in her music.

It was almost embarrassing to come so fast, but she couldn't help it, biting her lip so hard, feeling herself growing close sooner than she expected. It was like there was some sort of switch that just flipped, her thighs trembling, growing more and more tense and then suddenly feeling that tension release.

A snap almost. A piano string breaking.

She couldn't help the sounds. She'd been holding her breath without realising and the sudden rush of air she was desperate for came with something close to a yelp.

And Lucille was not stopping. She kept going until Edith physically pushed her away, overwhelmed, practically seeing stars.

She felt like a doll in Lucille's arms, barely able to move her own muscles for a few moments. Helpless really.

"You don't have to reciprocate if it's too much," Lucille said, finally taking off her jeans. "I can handle myself."

"No," Edith managed. "No, no, I want to."

"Want to prove you can?"

"Want to make you feel good. You deserve it."

The air was thick for a moment, Lucille almost visibly taking an internal step back. Protecting herself?

"Alright, then," she said, settling herself on the pillows. "I suppose you can have a go."

Determination rolled through Edith's whole being. She could do this. She wasn't some kind of prude and she'd prove it.

Still a little sluggish, she tipped herself upright and shuffled her way down the bed.

Like she'd said, how difficult could it be?

Chapter Text

Curiosity had once pushed Edith to try tasting her own fingers after masturbating. It was a little bitter, a little strange. Not completely unpleasant, but she'd understand people not liking it.

She also remembered the first time a guy had come in her mouth, an early boyfriend who had been a bad idea all round, neither of them knowing what they were doing really. She hadn't been expecting it. She'd almost choked, surprised, gagging. He'd apologized, at least.

But it was different to be looking a vagina in the eye, as it were. The soft flesh, the deep pink. No one's genitals could exactly be called beautiful, she didn't think, but... Well, she'd definitely seen worse.

Right. And all you had to do was go for it, right? Enthusiasm went a long way, probably.

She glanced up, finding Lucille lying with her eyes closed, serene, waiting. Waiting to be impressed.

The first pass was easy, quick, ripping off a band-aid, trying to copy what had been done to her. What she'd learned. Focus on rhythm and consistency... Exactly where was the clitoris from this angle? Was it better to be intense first or more gentle?

It was probably sexier if you could get your head out of the technicals.

She swirled her tongue around it, gratified by a gasp from Lucille, feeling her leg muscles jump just a little. That was good, she was doing it right.

Or was she?

"Tell me if I... do anything wrong..." she said.

Lucille chuckled, though it seemed a little forced, a little tense.

"Oh, don't worry. I know how much you need positive reinforcement."

Maybe that cut a hair too close to the bone if Edith was being honest, but she couldn't deny it really. She thrived on being told she was good at things. On encouragement.

"Well, I intend to deserve it," she said, faux confidence probably not convincing in the slightest.

She decided to start gently, wide licks before pointing her tongue, flicking it back and forth, hearing Lucille hum in pleasure. A hand ran across her scalp, a gentle rub of nails at the nape of her neck, a firm grip in her hair. She could see why Thomas liked that, though Lucille wasn't pulling. It didn't hurt, but the slight tug was grounding, drove her to keep it up.

"Mmm... Mm, that's nice."

Thinking of Thomas, Edith tried to mimic what he'd done to her, that strong, steady rhythm.

It wasn't as easy as it seemed. Her tongue was already a little tired, but she was determined. She wasn't ready to try using her fingers inside yet, too worried in case she accidentally hurt her.

A little suction maybe? Just to rest her muscle for a moment?

Lucille practically yelped, her whole body jerking.

"Fuck," she gasped. "Oh, God..."

That was exactly the kind of reaction Edith had wanted, her heart throbbing at it, feeling a hint of arousal pooling in herself once again, doubling down, being careful not to let her teeth come into contact with such sensitive flesh.

The grip on her hair grew sharp for a second, making her grunt in pain, trying to take a moment to breathe.

"Don't stop," Lucille said, trying to soothe her scalp with soft stroking. "I'm so close."

Right, right, OK. A last push, a final surge...

It was the gasps that would stay with her. The desperate intakes of air, the muscle spasms and the knowledge that she'd done that. Her. Those sounds, however quiet, were all for her.

It was a clumsy flop back up the bed, but worth it for kisses, Lucille's hands upon her back, just to be held for a moment.

And it was just for a moment before Lucille sat up, sighing happily.

"Right," she said. "Tea."

Edith tugged on her pyjamas, wondering how to ask for cuddling without sounding horribly needy, watching Lucille sway to the bathroom to fill up her kettle in the sink.

"Was that alright?" she tried. "I've never done that before."

She could see Lucille's wry smile in the mirror.

"Better than alright, I'd say," she said. "There's very, very few people who have ever seen me like that."

Edith was a little confused. Did she mean in a sexual way? Or... Or coming maybe?

"But you're so..." she said before completely losing her nerve. She'd been going to say experienced, but that felt like an insult if taken the wrong way.

"So what? Go on."

"Well... Sexual. A lot of your music is about... that."

The steam from the kettle swirled in waves, dewy on Lucille's bare skin as she poured.

"I'm sensual," she said. "There's a difference. It's all about the illusion. I have a... complex relationship with actual sex. By which I mean even more complex than most people do, if you follow what I'm saying."

Not really. It seemed to Edith that the Sharpes were all free love and no strings. They'd got into bed with her quickly enough. Maybe it was a bit different though, being so far from home, so isolated. It was different for her.

Like she was feeling vulnerable or cold, Lucille started covering up. She didn't bother with underwear, her shirt hanging just a little strangely without it. It was oddly thrilling to know she was bare underneath. Which didn't even make sense; everyone was bare under their clothes.

"You don't follow," she said softly, deftly picking out the teabags and dropping them in the trash. "It's alright. Don't worry about it."

But Edith wanted to follow. She wanted to know.

The cup was too hot, almost burning her fingers as she put it on the nightstand, Lucille slipping back into bed alongside her. At least that was a relief, that she wasn't going to be left alone right away.

"I'm here if you ever want to... talk about it," she said. "No pressure, no judgement. Off the record if you want."

An arm around her waist, a squeeze, Lucille inhaling against her hair, lips tickling her when she spoke.

"Thomas did say you were like a therapist."

"It might... I don't know. Help."

She felt the shrug, Lucille reaching for her own cup, seemingly immune to the heat.

"What do you want me to say? Should I talk about how we were isolated children who never learned to make friends with others? Or how we were never given unconditional love by our parents and that makes you mistrust love in all forms? Or do you want to get into the really dark stuff, the proper evil that fucked us up?"

That had been quite the change in mood. Whiplash inducing really. Edith knew her eyes had gone a bit wide, a bit shocked.

"I don't know," she managed. "Whatever you feel comfortable with. Even if that's nothing."

A sigh, a shake of her head.

"Not tonight. Tonight I just want to drink tea and cuddle up. Bagsy being big spoon."

It sounded nice, Edith had to admit. This was more what she'd been craving, the simple, warming stuff. She picked up her own cup, sipping gently.

"Are you... staying the night, then?" she asked, trying to seem like she didn't mind either way, desperate not to pressurize the situation.

"No, I'd best not. I'm a very restless sleeper. I'd hate to keep you up with my tossing and turning. But I'll stay until you drift off, sneak out as quietly as I can."

It was still something, Edith reminded herself. The tea was soothing, if a little bitter, warming too. She leant into Lucille while she had time, glad of it.

"So, you thought I treated everyone I meet like this, did you?" Lucille asked, a kind of amusement in her tone.

"No! Or... Well, I don't know. You'd have no shortage of offers, I'd have thought."

"You don't have to take up offers just because you get them. Besides, I don't really meet a lot of people. We don't even have assistants anymore."

Edith thought about Enola and tried not to seem like she was rattled by the mere mention of such a person.

"Any particular reason?"

"They're expensive. And they have a terrible habit of falling in love with Thomas, which is very inconvenient."

Enola had denied having any kind of relationship or even fondness for him. But could she have been lying? Embarrassed maybe? After all, Edith could quite understand it. He was dashing and charming, he had that look about him that a lot of women - a lot of people - liked. She'd had sex with him; it wasn't like she could pretend she wasn't affected by it all.

"Do you think he ever... With them?"

"Jealous?"

Edith shrugged. They were encouraging honesty after all.

"Just want to know how special I am, I suppose."

Lucille turned her with one finger on her chin, kissing her gently, soft lips and the slightest hint of tongue.

"Very special indeed."

And suddenly she was tired. Maybe it was just the post-coital atmosphere catching up with her, the comfort of a warm body nearby. She finished her tea, shuffling down beneath the covers, sighing happily as Lucille wrapped an arm around her. Warm. Safe. Kisses on her cheek.

She woke alone, rested but uneasy somehow, her mouth tasting faintly metallic. She felt like she'd had a nightmare, but that she couldn't remember it. Something just on the edge of her memory.

It was like trying to see an optical illusion. The more she tried to look at it, the more it eluded her.

The kettle was gone. There was no sign that Lucille had been there at all really, save for the used cup neatly left on the desk. Not even a note.

Ugh, why would there be a note? They'd see each other at breakfast. It wasn't a surprise to wake alone.

She still felt a little strange though, closing her eyes, trying to empty her mind and let it drift back to her.

There had been... moaning. Had she been dreaming of Lucille? Was that it? But then why did it feel so weird? Why did she feel so uncomfortable about it?

And why couldn't she remember seeing anything? Usually her dreams were very visual, very vivid. This wasn't.

But, yes, there had been Lucille moaning quietly, that held back keening noise and some heavy breathing and then...

"Thomas..."

What?

She bolted out of bed, heading for the bathroom. What the hell, subconscious? Where had that come from?

Her cheeks were bright pink in the mirror, utterly mortified, trying to remind herself that dreams didn't mean anything. After all, she'd had that sex dream about Alan's dad once and it didn't mean anything. It didn't mean she actually wanted to sleep with him. The brain just put pictures together. Or sounds in this case.

All the same, it was distressing. She'd basically imagined Thomas and Lucille having sex. It was unseemly at best.

She could explain this away. Having seen both of them in that situation, her brain was just combining memories. Her feelings for them were all tangled up and her unconscious mind had just thrown things together.

Showering helped, always did. Brushing her teeth helped. Clean and ready for the day and absolutely no inappropriate thoughts.

So she was telling herself, anyway.

It was harder at breakfast, seeing Lucille casually tasting part of Thomas's food from his fork without even trying to avoid touching it with her lips and tongue.

They were just close. That was all. And her brain was just over-active during a rare good night's sleep.

"Are you alright, Edith?" Thomas asked, sensing her distraction. "Slept well?"

"Oh. Yes. Bad dreams, I think. Or... strange anyway. I don't know."

She was blushing. Another time, they would make comments about that, say she'd been having... fantasies. Instead they just shared a look, a tiny moment that Edith wasn't even sure she'd really seen.

"Dreams can't harm you," Lucille said. "Trust me."

No. No, they couldn't.

She'd forget about it soon enough, no doubt.

Chapter Text

It was a long way from Portland to San Francisco. Ten hours in the bus if you took no breaks. Edith was glad that a night stop seemed to be already written into their plans, even if an exact location still seemed uncertain.

She'd been feeling almost itchy ever since that strange dream. It was just so different to her usual ones, both in content and style. And when she'd gone back up to her room to get her bag for the day, she'd almost been convinced that she could smell Thomas there.

It was her imagination. That was all. But despite knowing that, it still felt like the more she tried to push it out of her head, the more it dug and burrowed into her brain. All through wandering around Portland, seeing Washington Park with its beautiful sculptures and through the evening show, just that sound of Lucille moaning his name that her mind had invented whirling round and round.

She needed a distraction. The article was nearly finished, but sitting down to work on it wasn't going well.

It was the guilt. She felt horribly guilty, a rolling sickness in her stomach. Yes, a lot of people had implied a lot of things about the Sharpes over the years about whether or not they were really brother and sister at all, but it was another thing to dream about... that.

She called Alan the next morning before they had to leave, knowing that she clearly had an agenda as he talked about his sisters, news from home, a friend of his announcing that she was pregnant, all the usual subjects. It was good to hear about normality. Ordinary people going about their ordinary lives with bills and food shopping and dishes and all those other little things that she felt she'd almost forgotten about.

Still, she wanted reassurance more than anything.

"Alan, you're a doctor," she said out of nowhere, getting a laugh in response.

"What tipped you off?" he teased. "I knew I should have hidden the stethoscope."

At least she could crack half a smile.

"What are dreams for?" she asked. "I know it's not really your area, but... Look, I know it's stupid, but I had a nightmare and it's really freaked me out and I think if I hear some science then maybe I can calm down and forget about it."

"What kind of nightmare?" he asked.

"The kind I'd really rather not voice."

He let it go, much to her relief. They knew each other well enough to know when pressure would and wouldn't be helpful, she felt.

He sighed lightly and she could picture him so clearly, leaning against the couch cushions, one arm curled behind his head.

"Well, I'm no expert, but I think there's a lot of theories. Some people think nightmares are to do with rehearsing trauma in a safe way, for example. So, you know, from an evolutionary perspective, being able to cope in dangerous situations is advantageous so if you experience something that feels like a dangerous situation in your sleep, when you're safe, then it might help if it ever actually happens. And then there's a lot about memories - your brain is filing stuff away and so you see random images as it's trying to sort through it all. You know how you can walk through a familiar door into somewhere completely different, but in the dream you don't notice how strange that is? I think there might be something in that."

Just trying to process memories. Combining random things. That made sense.

"Has that helped?" Alan asked.

"Maybe. It was just... It was a really dark thing and it kind of frightened me that my brain could come up with it, that's all."

He made comforting noises, which admittedly did make her feel a little better.

"I'm always here for you. Even if I'm not in, I'll call back if you give me the hotel number. It must be difficult being out there with strangers."

"They're not really strangers anymore."

"Still. You're far from home."

God, where even was home? Buffalo? Yeah, she supposed it was. But she didn't exactly get out much to explore the city. And always renting made it difficult to put down real roots somehow.

Somewhere in the back of her mind, home was still the house she'd grown up in. It was still the patterned wallpaper that had probably long ago been stripped or painted over by the new owners. It was still creaking floorboards, a small, bright room at the end of a corridor.

A house full of a strange blend of good memories and intense sadness. It was odd.

She remembered how people had asked quietly if her dad planned to move after Mom died, if he truly felt comfortable staying in the house they'd shared. And she hadn't understood how he could be as sure as he was when she felt so haunted by the simplest things.

Books her mother had bought and would never read. Clothes in the dry-cleaner's bags that would never be worn. Half-used bottles of perfume.

The money from the house sale was all in the bank. She pretended it didn't exist. It was going to be a deposit one day, hopefully. If she ever reached that point.

And she was thinking of the Sharpes too, as usual. How they lived in the house that their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents had lived and, in some cases, died. Maybe you got used to it.

Living in the house where you'd been abused though... That wasn't something she could imagine. Maybe it was like the red ring. Maybe controlling the house made them feel safe. They seemed to delight in having opened the place up to the public, after all, against their parents' wishes.

"Thanks," she heard herself say rather than consciously voicing it. "I'm lucky to have you. As a friend. I'll call you from California."

"OK. Glad to help."

And that was why he was a doctor. He wanted to help people.

The idea of home and what home meant was still within her as she carried her bags out, ready to move on. Was it strange to be in America? Did they miss England terribly? Was Allerdale Hall home or was it just somewhere they slept? There was a subtle but definite difference, she felt.

Thomas ran up the last flight of steps two at a time to help her. She'd given up on telling him she could manage just fine.

"We think we've decided where to stop on the way," he said, taking the typewriter bag from her. "Medford, Oregon."

"Any particular reason?"

"None at all. Never heard of it. I like the sound though. Medford, where the doctors cross rivers."

He'd completely lost her, smiling at her confusion.

"You know," he said. "Med like in medic and ford like crossing a river. You say that over here, right? This isn't one of those things where I've accidentally said something offensive in American, is it?"

"Oh. No, no. No, we say that."

He helped her into the back of the bus. Maybe it was meant to be charming, but it grated on her a little bit. She was perfectly capable.

"So, what's the weirdest thing Americans say that the Brits don't?" she asked, aiming for playful, hiding behind it.

"Fanny," Lucille said from the front seat. "First time I heard someone say fanny pack, you don't even want to know what I thought of. It does not mean the same thing where we're from."

"What does it mean?" Finlay asked, starting the engine and setting off.

"Well, if I'm being polite, it means vagina. Still, I suppose we have the same problem with rubber. To you it means a condom, to us it's an eraser. There's probably been a lot of confusion over the years with schools making sure they have a rubber for every child..."

Edith had been hoping for more chips versus crisps if she was being honest.

"It's the Vs that always get me," Thomas said. "To be fair, that's not just you. Everyone outside the Commonwealth does that."

"The Vs?" Edith asked.

He held up two fingers, palm towards her.

"This way round, it's fine," he said. "It's peace or it's two. But showing the back of the hand is like giving someone the finger."

"Why?"

"No one really knows. There's a theory that it was about archers having their fingers cut off by the French at Agincourt, but I think that's widely considered a myth. For one thing, as far as I can tell, the French have never heard of it. It's a handy thing to remember if you're ever over there and trying to order two of something though. Not that anyone will say anything if it's clearly a mistake."

"We're very good at not saying anything, as cultures go," Lucille said. "Anything to avoid a fuss, that's us."

That felt like she was alluding to something uncomfortable and Edith was glad when Finlay asked her next question for her.

"Anything you've missed since being over here?"

They seemed to be a little taken aback by that. Like they hadn't really been thinking about it.

"Probably the same kinds of things you're missing," Thomas said. "Your own bed. Familiarity. Waking up hearing somebody playing the grand piano."

"Grand piano?" Finlay laughed. "Chance would be a fine thing. I wake up to beeping alarms usually. Not missing that. Some of the motel phones have really quite pleasant tones."

"I can get out the keyboard if it means that much to you," Lucille said. "Didn't realise it did."

"It's alright. Reminds me of home, that's all. Don't you miss the house?"

She shrugged, humming lightly.

"A little," she said. "I miss the age of it, I suppose. Even the old stuff here feels strangely new. But I wouldn't say I'm homesick."

Edith saw her chance and tried to grab it.

"Do you think of Allerdale as home then?" she asked.

There was a generally confused pause.

"Of course. It's where we live."

"Yes, but..." and it was difficult to put what she was trying to say into words. "But, you know... The place I live is just a building. It's not my home, or I don't really think of it that way. I suppose it's different since you live in the place you grew up, but I was thinking of how now it's open to the public and it's changing..."

This was bad journalism. This was leading your subject. Not that it seemed to be having that effect.

"Thomas feels like home," Lucille said. "I can't be homesick when we're traveling together. And the house is the house. I don't know what more to say. It's ours. We've never tried to move anywhere else."

"What about boarding school?"

"Half a term hardly counts, if that. I didn't exactly take to it."

That felt like progress, Edith felt. They'd just mentioned childhood and and Lucille hadn't so much as blinked. So either she was hiding her emotions or she was becoming more comfortable being open.

It was maybe a little self-aggrandizing to hope it was the latter and due to their relationship.

Oh, she really was falling into this unofficial therapist thing, wasn't she?

Still, there were worse things to be, worse places to be, worse company. She let the scenery wash over her with Finlay chatting about how her home only started like her own once she'd completely overhauled the kitchen to put her own stamp on it.

At one point, Thomas took her hand, and she didn't bother pulling away. It was quite nice just to be connected with someone. And she liked that his little half smile and wink in her direction suggested something and nothing all at once. A playfulness. A casual understanding between them.

She tried to let herself relax, to resign nightmares to nothing more than that, and amused herself by deliberately taking her time before responding to Thomas's questioning eyes with a firm maybe.

After all, maybe there was a lot to do in Medford, Oregon, even on a fleeting visit.

Chapter Text

"It's bigger than I expected," Lucille said as they made their way into the Medford. "And that motto. 'Great Performances Daily', huh?"

"Must have known you were coming," Finlay offered.

"We could, you know," Thomas said. "There's bound to be an open-mic night nearby if that's their selling point. Little spontaneous acoustic gig since we're here? What do you think?"

There was a brief pause as Lucille considered it.

"Yeah," she said eventually. "Yeah, that sounds fun. It's been years since we did one of those."

She'd heard them play their instruments and sing often enough that Edith had absolutely no doubt they could, but so much of what she thought of as their core sound was based on loops and electronic additions that she found imagining something completely devoid of that impossible.

"Which songs would you do?" she asked.

"Berceuse if they have a keyboard," Lucille said. "It's already quite sparse. Suits that pared back sound. Thomas, your pick."

Edith knew that song well. It was the lullaby. The first song they wrote, according to some publications. It was certainly more... naive than most of their other compositions. Simpler. But sometimes when they performed it, Lucille playing and singing, Thomas providing wordless harmonies, it could still give her goosebumps.

She didn't quite know why. It was terribly melancholy, but there was something else about it too.

"I could... I could do Lost Things if you didn't mind," he said. "I know it's yours, but..."

"No, no. No, that's fine. And if they let us go to three, I think we should do a really inappropriate cover. I'm thinking jazz Wannabe. Ooh, or Saturday Night done as a dirge maybe."

"Would people recognize that here? Did it chart? Edith?"

She'd been making a mental note to ask about Lost Things later. She didn't know it, which was odd enough, and she thought she knew Lucille well enough to know that she was hiding something. She'd answered much too quickly for it to seem natural.

"Er..." she said, blinking. "The Elton John song?"

"No," Finlay said. "That's Saturday Night's Alright. That's my era. I'm just following the road, by the way. Shout if you see a motel you like the look of."

"Maybe it didn't cross over," Thomas said thoughtfully, scanning road signs. "It was pure Europop dance, to be fair. The beat sounded extraordinarily like a duck as I recall."

"She's too young," Lucille said. "It's early nineties. She wouldn't remember."

Edith breathed steadily, trying not to let her cheeks turn pink. Yes, alright, so she was a little bit younger than them, but she wasn't a child. She didn't appreciate that implication or the tone it was given in.

"Spice Girls will probably go down well," she said.

Thomas maybe noted her slight discomfort, reaching over again to squeeze her hand. She gave him a smile and a shrug. It wasn't worth being offended over really.

Eventually, they found a place to sleep. Nothing particularly remarkable but at least the bed was soft as Edith tested it a little. The idea of a song she didn't know had excited her, some potential material revealing itself. Why didn't they perform this one often? Why was it Lucille's in particular? Had she written it alone? What was it about?

It was all very intriguing.

The shower was not. It worked, but barely, a sad little spray, enough to wash off the day but Edith felt her towel was doing the most of the exfoliation.

She was brushing her hair when the knock came, Lucille bouncing into the room. She seemed more relaxed and happy than she'd been earlier, maybe just keen for adventure, kissing Edith easily on the lips in greeting.

"I've had the most wonderful idea," she said. "I can't believe I almost missed it. But you have to come too, it'll be fun."

She was glowing and relaxed. Maybe their shower worked better.

"What idea?" Edith asked.

"Instead of going to San Francisco and just staying there, you and I and Thomas should take the bus down to San Jose and visit the Winchester Mystery House. I've always wanted to go, and Finlay isn't interested so she can take our stuff and we'll meet her at the next motel."

It rang a vague bell in Edith's head.

"Isn't that, like, a haunted house?"

"Yes," Lucille said, apparently thrilled by the very idea, sitting cross-legged on Edith's bed, looking elfin, fae, other worldly. "Do you know it? It sounds amazing."

"I think so. The widow of the gun company guy? And she was trying to confuse ghosts by constantly building and so the house is all stairs to nowhere and doors without rooms and that kind of thing?"

"All the ghosts of everyone ever killed by a Winchester weapon. You have to come. It'll be fun."

It did sound intriguing.

"Yeah, alright. I had no idea you were so into the supernatural," Edith said, tying her hair back, still wet.

"Rather comes with the aesthetic, I suppose. Though that's a chicken and egg problem."

"Living in such an old house must help. All the noises they make."

"Yes. And, of course, Allerdale's haunted."

Edith looked at her in the mirror, looking for a tell, a sign that she was joking. There wasn't one. She seemed completely sincere.

"Seriously?"

"Of course. We've got the lady in blue, the workman in the basement mine... Mother used to hear unexplained moaning all through the night."

She wasn't able to keep a straight enough face after all.

"You're teasing me," Edith said.

"Just a little bit. It's an old house full of draughts and creaks and tourists love that stuff. But, well... I've always found that alive people cause me more trouble than dead ones. So, you're coming?"

"Sure."

A smile, another kiss.

"Great. And I suppose I should warm up my voice if I'm going to be singing tonight."

They elected to have dinner first, a guitar case taking up half of their booth, Thomas idly practising chord progressions against his palm as they waited for Lucille to finish ordering at the bar.

Edith found it oddly fascinating, watching his fingers move fluidly from one position to another. His hands were delicate as well as large, lightly roughened by moving over strings and frets but mostly soft and smooth, his nails pale pink, a hint of colour contrasting the blue of his veins.

He caught her looking, raising his eyebrows in a brief flick, and she looked away, blushing.

"Right," Lucille said, flopping down next to her. "Apparently they have informal performances here sometimes, so I said we'd play a few tunes. Barmaid didn't make much of me, but she clearly liked the look of you, Thomas. Same old, same old."

Edith swallowed back the urge to say plenty of people found her just as attractive. Not with Finlay so nearby.

"I'm quite looking forward to hearing you play," she was saying. "The concerts are much too loud for me."

"I hope we impress you," Thomas said.

A large jug of cocktail was delivered to the table - Long Island iced tea maybe - and Edith hesitated. Last time she'd drunk anything around the Sharpes, she'd made a fool of herself.

But one glass probably wouldn't hurt. Sweet, but not particularly strong, she didn't think. She could switch to water afterwards.

Her notebook felt like it was burning a hole in her pocket as they ate, the camera digging into her side. This was so stripped back. So raw. Something she could write about that was different at last. She was running out of ways to describe full concerts.

In time, a couple of chairs were brought out and placed on a slightly raised bit of floor that seemed to serve as a stage. No microphone. No keyboard either.

"How will you do Berceuse without a piano?" Edith asked.

"A capella, I suppose," Lucille said, standing up and unpinning her braid, letting it fall in a great rope down her back.

It swung from side to side as she walked through the room. A hush fell, like people could sense something was happening as she took the stage, Thomas at her heels.

"Good evening," she said, sitting down. "We're going to sing a few songs for you, if you don't mind."

It wasn't exactly welcome, Edith didn't think. People were out to eat, drink, have a good time. They didn't appreciate being interrupted.

Not that the Sharpes seemed to care. Lucille began singing, her voice rising and falling, eyes closed.

Edith wished she had a video recorder. Or a dictaphone. Something to record this.

Was it some kind of obsession that she couldn't keep her eyes off them? How could people just carry on conversations? Couldn't they see this? Couldn't they hear it?

She took a couple of pictures, focussing on Lucille in one and in Thomas watching her in the other. Their gazes met, each regarding Lucille's face, and Thomas shrugged, smiling. He understood, she felt. He knew how talented his sister was, how she'd taken so much pain and made it beautiful.

Maybe you had to know that to really appreciate it.

And maybe that meant very few people really could.

There was polite applause when Lucille finished, Thomas testing his strings' tuning one last time before beginning to play.

Edith tried to come back to herself. She had to pay attention. Try to deduce some meaning.

"They're very good, aren't they?" Finlay said.

"Yeah," Edith said, scribbling on the page to make the ink flow. "Yeah, they are."

"I can see why you like them. Skill is very attractive."

It really did feel like her dad trying to ask her about boys in a strange way. Uncomfortable.

She managed to get her pen to work and tried to note down the words Thomas was singing.

It was difficult. The meter, the pace was very strange. She was only catching snippets for most of the first verse. He kept repeating something though. I see you.

I see you? What did that mean? Who? Who were they seeing?

Or was it from another perspective? Was someone seeing them? Seeing Lucille? Watching over her maybe - and was that a caring or a more voyeuristic, threatening seeing?

"Is she alright?" Finlay asked.

Edith looked up from her notebook, surprised out of her concentration, trying to see what Finlay was seeing.

She was right. Lucille was wearing a distinctly pained expression, blinking a lot. Like she was trying to hold back tears.

There had to be a reason why they didn't sing this one often. It had even deeper meaning than their other songs. More than reflecting on their father's death. More personal, more painful.

She wished she could hear it again, really tease apart the lyrics and unravel their meaning.

I see you in the night
The light, the cage, the tank, the wires
I see you in his eyes
Reflecting all my mind conspires
I see you in our faces
His devotion, her desires
I see you when we tried and failed
And lost and lost again
Irreplace, unmistake
Innocence and hope and faith
Inescape, undeny
Chances, dreams and you and I...

Edith wasn't sure she was getting this right. Some of the lines had too many syllables. Some of them had to few.

Lucille visibly composed herself afterwards as Thomas leant over and whispered something to her, nodding, rolling her shoulders.

"Are you sure?" he said, or Edith thought so, watching his lips.

"It was my idea."

He slid his hand back up the guitar neck, his fingers pressing against the strings, picking out a chord, picking out notes one by one as Lucille set the rhythm with steady taps of her heel.

It was almost like bluegrass, a lilting, barn dance style, if you ignored the lyrics.

It took the other patrons a few lines before the recognised it, that back and forth before they sang in harmony.

If you wannabe my lover
You gotta get with my friends...

There was laughter. Enjoyment. Someone got out their phone to record it.

"Sing along if you know the words," Thomas said.

It was amazing how lyrics stuck in the brain really. It had to be years since she'd last heard that song but still most of it was in her head.

It was a bit more suggestive than she remembered, if she was really honest... She didn't really feel comfortable singing it with Finlay next to her, tapping along. They were both feeling the awkwardness, she thought, especially with the hint of moaning Lucille was putting into her performance.

Oh, she even knew that those moans were fake. Knew what the real ones sounded like. Not that they weren't effective. She busied herself in taking a couple more pictures, trying to appear professional, taking measured sips of her drink. Steady breaths. Nice and calm.

She was quite glad when it was over, more enthusiastic applause, Lucille heading back to the table while Thomas put his guitar away.

"How was it?" she asked. "Could you hear us alright?"

"Loud and clear," Finlay said. "That middle song was so sad though. What's it about, if you don't mind me asking?"

Ah. Useful. Doing Edith's job for her. She tried not to be too visibly listening in.

Not that it did her much good really.

"Oh, nothing in particular. People like sad songs. It sells."

That was a lie and Edith knew it. She'd never heard that song before and that meant it had never been a single or on their studio albums. Her fingers practically itched to start writing, to start looking for theories. She caught Lucille's eye, hoping to glean something else from her face.

Nothing but a perfect mask.

She was trying to think of just how to word her questions to make them seem harmless when Thomas asked her to help him fetch four water glasses and a jug from the bar.

It was a ruse. He didn't need help.

"Can I come to your room tonight?" he asked quietly, right on cue.

"What for?"

"To spend time with you."

Hm. Was that what they called it these days?

"We're spending time together right now," she pointed out.

He let out something of a chuckle, like he was glad to be challenged.

"Well, how do you want me to word it?" he asked. "Do you want poetry or filth?"

Even the idea of him saying anything dirty had her blushing as he asked for ice water, the barmaid openly flirting with him. Maybe it was how she earned her tips.

"You have such a nice voice," she said. "That accent..."

"Thank you. My girlfriend thinks so too."

Edith stammered, undignified.

"I'm not your girlfriend!" she managed. "Stop. Don't listen, he's being... ridiculous."

They weren't dating, for God's sake! They were employer and employee. And anyway you couldn't date one out of two... friends with benefits. That wasn't how their arrangement worked.

He picked up the glasses, two in each hand, turning back towards their table.

"I'll come up and see you later. We can discuss."

Well, there was nothing to discuss.

She was going to make that quite clear.

Chapter Text

Edith's anger had had the opportunity to stew by the time Thomas knocked on her door, sighing immediately when he saw her expression and running a hand through his hair.

"You're cross," he said.

Even the word seemed belittling somehow.

"You don't get to upgrade our relationship just like that," she said. "You'd been performing, people might look you up... It could get out. And then I'd look... bad. Unprofessional."

He shrugged, seemingly bemused that she cared.

"I'm sorry," he said. "But I meant it. I think we have a connection beyond the physical."

What the hell was he trying to say?

"You're not seriously suggesting we... We are not dating. We can't!"

"Why not?"

"Because, for one thing, that kind of relationship usually implies exclusivity and, in case you've forgotten, I'm sleeping with your sister!"

She hadn't meant to yell that. God, she hoped the walls here weren't too thin.

He was pacing just a little, shaking his head, sighing softly. Exasperated. Like he had any right to be annoyed.

"I get it," he said. "Alright? I do. Lucille and I, we don't form relationships like other people do and we know it. We're fucked up. So meeting someone who seems to understand us..."

"But that's just the thing. I don't understand you. I don't think it's actually possible for anyone to understand you. You both hide so much."

"It's not deliberate. It's habit."

"Then break that habit. Tell me what Lost Things is about. All that stuff about seeing people - seeing who? What?"

He laughed. He actually laughed, moving to sit on her bed.

"Oh, come on, Edith. You're smarter than that. It's not about seeing anyone. You'll work it out if you think about it."

Riddles. Lies. Deliberately confusing her.

"It clearly means a lot," she said. "So how come I've never heard it? How come it's never been recorded?"

"Lucille's never been happy with any studio version we've produced. She was talking to you about the Winchester House, right? Well, that song is similar for her. I don't think she ever stops rewriting it in her head. Not really. There's always a couple of new lines, changed lines. I don't normally sing it, but this was... an anniversary, of sorts."

Edith got the distinct feeling that he hadn't meant to let that part slip. An anniversary? Of what? What could it be?

"Think about it, Edith," he said. "Given what you know about Lucille and how she likes to write, how she likes to hide things in her lyrics, what is she really saying?"

Not taking her eyes off him, Edith reached for her notebook and flipped back to her scrawled attempts at getting the words down.

OK...

"Well, the title is Lost Things," she said, feeling like she was answering a question in high school English and wasn't prepared for it at all. "So... So things like 'hope' and 'faith' and 'chances' are things she thinks she's lost. 'Innocence' too. And then there are these cut off words, like someone's being interrupted. 'Irreplace', 'undeny'... Or maybe it's that she wants to go back and undo mistakes? Undeny something, so tell the truth about it? But I still don't understand 'I see you'. Is it an acrostic or something like that?"

"Nearly. It's to do with the words themselves."

Why couldn't they just say what they meant?

Well, she knew why... Because they were more secrets in clothes than actual people.

About the words. Right. Present tense. First person. Irregular verb. This was not helpful.

'I see'... Icy? Icy you? Icy ewe? That was just nonsense.

She thought about COdependent, how the clue was written, not heard. How else could it be written?

I see you...

ICU?

"Intensive care unit," she whispered.

Thomas stood up and took the notebook from her, setting it back on the desk with an easy toss, tilting her face up with one finger.

"You see?" he asked. "You do understand."

The kiss was strange. Different but also not different at all. She felt he was trying to put something into it, something deeper than their underlying frisson of attraction.

And it was somehow tempting, so tempting, to fall into that. Like a reward for solving a puzzle. She found herself letting him walk her backwards, lift her onto desk and step between her legs, running his hands up her thighs, squeezing hard.

She forced his face away with both hands, her head bumping into the mirror as she moved back.

"How many times have you been to the hospital?" she asked, slightly breathless. "And why?"

He sighed, already slightly flushed, slipping his thumb beneath the hem of her shirt to get at bare skin.

"Can't I tell you about it afterwards?" he asked.

She didn't want him to try to wriggle out of it.

"Why?" she asked. "Why not now?"

"To get rid of tension?" he tried, kissing her neck. "And, of course, because you're still a little bit angry and that's only a hair's breadth from passion..."

She felt herself bristle, which was probably exactly what he wanted, frowning at him.

Then again, he looked very, very enticing right now. Her libido was punching her intellect and looked to be winning the battle.

"Swear to me that you'll tell me," she said. "No bullshit, no evading. No saying it's not your story to tell - if you want to do this, if you want to convince me you're serious..."

"I swear on my mother's grave."

No, no, no, no...

"You're more likely to spit on it. Do better."

He liked being sparred with, she thought. He liked it when she was spiky and harsh.

"Quite right. I swear on... Hmm..."

"On Lucille's life?"

He looked at her very seriously, playfulness vanishing from his face instantly.

"No," he said. "No, not that. She's fought too hard to control it herself."

Well... Well, alright.

"Will a promise be sufficient?" he asked, idly stroking her back. "My word as a gentleman?"

"Is that worth anything?" she asked, feeling her breathing speeding up. "You don't care about the title... Mm..."

It was difficult to concentrate when he was running his hands up under her shirt.

"I promise," he whispered, breath hot against her lips. "As myself."

It would have to do. Her t-shirt hit the floor, his hands easily fitting into the dip of her waist as he plundered her mouth, almost like an invasion, taking what he wanted.

Waiting for her to start taking back.

She yanked his shirt out of its neat tuck, letting her nails graze up his back, or what she could reach of it before trying to undo the buttons.

They were annoyingly fiddly, especially since she couldn't see and was distracted by his grip on her and the challenge in the press of his lips.

A moan rolled out of his chest as she arched against him, breathing hard, a little pride in her chest. Just making rock stars make audible sounds of pleasure while about to fuck on a desk, no big deal.

Actually...

She gripped his hair, pulling him away, his eyes flashing open with perhaps a hint of frustration in them.

"Are we really doing this here?" she asked. "There's more comfortable spots."

"However you prefer," he said. "Except against the wall. It's more difficult to hold someone up than you might think."

That was the voice of experience, but she didn't have time for that now.

"Bed then," she panted.

She wasn't expecting him to pick her up, forcing her to cling to him in a thoroughly undignified way as he deposited her on the mattress.

And then there was all the awkwardness of finishing getting undressed, retrieving a condom, and Edith working out exactly how to be demanding.

"I want you on your back," she said.

He looked at her, so casual in his nudity, utterly unconcerned.

"Alright," he said. "Works for me."

She wanted to be in control, fully in control, watching as he got comfortable and then straddling his waist, beginning to shuffle back.

"Oh," he said. "I thought you wanted... Never mind."

"What?"

"Just thought you'd like a preamble. An aperitif, as it were."

She frowned at him, unsure, but followed when he beckoned her up the bed until he could move her. And then she realised what he was getting at as he encouraged her to kneel directly over his face.

"That's it," he said softly. "Not the best angle, but I'm sure we can make it work."

This was new territory. She found herself gripping the headboard, gasping as he leant up and ran his tongue up her slit, such an unfamiliar sensation.

He let out a slight hum, leaning up, finding her clit like it was easy, licking and sucking at it until she was practically trembling, unconsciously rolling her hips into it.

She'd never done anything like this before. It was too involved, too... Oh, she didn't know. Too forceful, too demanding.

And yet as Thomas's fingers dug into her flesh, she couldn't help but wonder which of them was really in control.

He stopped as she was really getting close, a whine torn from her throat, laughing at her.

"Mm... Sorry. Getting a crick in my neck."

She gasped for air, her whole body tense as she tried to crawl back down the bed, being captured in a kiss that tasted salty and strange.

It was almost embarrassingly easy to sink down onto his cock. She was so ready, so wet, sighing and taking a moment just to breathe.

But she was also desperate, close and needy, her hips already rolling as she planted her hands on his chest for better leverage, almost like she was holding him down.

As if she could. He was a lot stronger than her and she knew it, strangely excited to have him apparently at her mercy.

He wasn't even daring to touch her, just watching through hooded eyes and occasionally letting out a faint moan, allowing her to use his body for her pleasure.

She could almost hear her own heartbeat, trying to rock her hips faster and harder, having to use only one hand to support her weight and the other to touch herself.

Only then did he reach for her, adding his force and thrusting upwards, jolting her whole body as she chased an orgasm that seemed so, so close...

It came in waves, the initial gasp when she suddenly had to inhale, unaware that she'd been holding her breath, feeling her whole body seem to tense and release, that heat rushing through her, the feeling of clenching around Thomas's cock and being ready to collapse almost.

He caught her, rolling her onto her back and looming over her, hair tangled and breathing hard, reaching down to find her clit and almost making her wince with sensitivity.

"Can you handle a bit more?" he asked, pressing his thumb firmly against it, circling before shoving his hips forward in a hard thrust.

She wasn't sure, and yet it felt good overall, pleasure the highest among the overwhelming sensations, gasping and whimpering as he kept up a fluid, steady motion.

"Let's try," he said, biting his lip in concentration, like he was trying not to come.

He wanted her to get off again first.

It was the sheer relentlessness that took her, that constant rub against flesh that had already felt so much, just shy of painful at times and yet also that familiar warmth beginning to build, finding herself arching upwards, silently begging for more, feeling it as he swept some of her own slick up to better lubricate such never ending touch.

She hardly ever came twice so close together, certainly not thanks to anyone else, feeling tears at the corners of her eyes, a sting in her throat, sure that if he stopped she would die of frustration and tension and need and...

"Ah! Oh, fuck..."

He'd been moving his hips so slowly but now his thrusts shook her, drawing everything out, making her gasp and moan, unable to do anything but take and take until he finally stilled.

She felt drenched. Sweaty and hot and wet, her body already beginning to chill, in need of a shower before bed probably.

And before that...

"Right," she sighed, flapping her hand weakly against the mattress, swallowing hard. "Now... Tell me."

He let out a long exhale, sweeping his hair back and gesturing down his body.

"Let me at least deal with this first," he said.

Perhaps condoms were uncomfortable afterwards. She let him dispose of it, slipping under the covers but sitting up, trying her best to look like she meant business.

"Why were you in the hospital?" she asked. "And when?"

Thomas sat on the end of the bed, still nude, like some Roman statue, unable to look at her.

"We were in and out quite a lot during childhood, especially Lucille," he said. "Because our father was a violent alcoholic and our mother..."

He took another deep breath and let it out slowly.

"Our mother was a sexual sadist who tortured her own child."

Edith felt like her whole body had been plunged into ice.

Chapter Text

No wonder he'd wanted to put it off until after they'd has sex. Edith felt like she needed to scrub off all her skin, like she never wanted anyone to touch her ever again. She felt sick. Really sick. Like she might throw up.

Thomas had finally looked at her, his face somehow gaunt suddenly, like hollows had opened in his cheeks in no more than seconds.

"You're white as a sheet, sweetheart," he said, looking away again, running a hand down his face. "Go clean yourself up. I'll wait."

The shower couldn't be hot enough for her, turning the dial as far as she could. Her skin turned pink as she scraped at it, wishing she had a brush or a sponge or something.

The mother... All this time, she'd been assuming that any abuse of that kind would have been their father's doing.

Why had they killed him first if she'd been the one who...?

She could hardly bring herself to think the words, tears threatening as she tried to get a grip on herself, knowing she needed to be calm for this.

Deep breaths. Focus on that.

Easier said than done.

The towel was pleasingly rough at least. And she could hear Thomas talking softly. To himself? Surely not.

She opened the bathroom door quietly, finding him half-dressed, using the phone on the desk. He didn't seem disturbed by her being there though, giving her a nod.

"Yeah," he was saying. "Yeah, I know. I'll try not to wake you. Uh-huh. No, I'm sure she won't. Alright. Love you."

Lucille, Edith surmised as he hung up.

"You're sure I won't what?" she asked.

Thomas sighed, shrugging on his shirt and starting to button it. They both felt the need to be covered, it seemed.

"I'm sure you won't treat her any differently when you know more about what happened to her. We talked about it and we think it's best that I tell you. Save her re-living it. I can't be sure I know everything, but... Well, I know enough."

That made sense. Edith didn't feel like anything was ever going to be the same ever again though. She slipped under the covers, holding on to them like a child with a security blanket.

"I... I thought maybe your father..." she tried.

Thomas sighed again, sitting next to her on top of the blanket, kicking his legs up onto the bed and staring at the ceiling.

"It's a common misconception that women are never child sexual abusers," he said, like he was reading from an internal script. "And it is rarer, certainly. Statistically. But statistics don't mean much when it happens to you."

Edith wasn't sure what she wanted. The details would be awful. She couldn't bear them, she didn't think. But saying that, maybe the best option would be to let him talk. See what he said.

That therapist role was calling to her once again.

"Father was brutal," he said. "I can't deny that. He would snap at the least thing. Nearly killed me once. He hit all of us, Mother included. Started when she was pregnant, as these things often do. And maybe that's why she was so cruel to Lucille. Maybe she blamed her for the shift from a boring, loveless marriage to an actively abusive one. I don't know. And I don't care what her motivations were either."

"Nearly killed you?" Edith heard herself whisper.

"I was... Twelve or thirteen, I think. Around that age. I don't even remember what I'd done or was meant to have done or not done. He choked me. Not with his hands but with a belt, till I almost passed out. Or maybe I did. I remember waking up in hospital in a lot of pain, but perhaps they sedated me."

"But why didn't someone do something? The doctors, someone?"

He rubbed his eyes, deep in painful memories.

"Because people like us don't get their children taken away," he said. "Our parents were respectable people. The type that don't have that kind of problem. Only poor people are troubled."

"But a child being strangled..."

"Do you know how common self-strangulation is in pubescent boys? You'd be amazed. They call it the choking game. Something about testing limits, believing a lack of oxygen will get you high. It was easy to lie about. The doctors had all heard of it."

"Why didn't you tell?"

"And make things worse?"

Oh, her heart ached. They must have been so scared. Trapped and unable to get out.

And if he was around twelve... Wasn't that only a little while before their father died?

That would be a good reason to kill him, if he was that dangerous. If it was potentially him or them.

"We're supposed to be talking about Lucille, not me," Thomas said. "What do you want to know?"

Put on the spot, Edith shifted uncomfortably.

"I don't know," she said. "It's so awful, I..."

She flinched as he reached out to her, trying to be comforting, drawing his hand back immediately.

"Then I'll start and you can tell me to stop," he said.

It was like some kind of nightmare bedtime story, her heart rabbit fast in her chest, clutching her own knees and trying to keep calm.

"I don't know when exactly it started," he said. "Might even have been before I was born. And you have to understand, it wasn't because Mother was attracted to children in any way. It was born out of hatred, out of a need to control and humiliate. She owned Lucille, like a dog."

"You wouldn't treat a dog like that," Edith said, thinking of the scars on her back, her legs, a horrible sickness still in her stomach.

"No," Thomas sighed. "No, you wouldn't. But you understand what I mean. Lucille couldn't escape. She had nowhere else to go. And when she talked about it, she was treated as a liar. An ungrateful brat. After all, our parents were very, very respectable. Father was tipped to become a Lord if he could only get his drinking under control."

"But how did they get away with it?"

He shrugged.

"The same way anyone gets away with abuse. Isolated victims. A sort of normalization of it. A sense of shame."

"Did your father... know?"

"He might have known that she hurt her, maybe not the other aspects of it. But he didn't care if he did."

"What... What kinds of things would she do?"

He paused for a moment, getting his thoughts in order.

"It was all about control. That was what she got off on. She would make Lucille stand naked in a corner or kneel in front of a bed with her hands clasped for hours, not even allowed to visit the bathroom. She'd hurt her, again and again until she stopped crying out. Take pictures. Make her touch her, make her... do adult things. And if you don't have another frame of reference, if you don't know that it isn't normal, then how are you meant to guess?"

"But your nannies... Your tutors, your music teachers, someone should have done something."

"We had new ones every few months. No one really stuck around long with Father drunkenly shouting or leering at them. I think a few may have tried, may have noticed something amiss and asked difficult questions, but they were always persuaded that they were wrong. Just mistaking the unpleasant domestic atmosphere caused by a drinking problem for something more sinister. And, of course, there was always the threat of libel. If we so much as implied we were unhappy, it would get worse for us, especially Lucille, so we learned to keep it secret. We became compliant in our own suffering."

"It wasn't your fault."

He looked at her sharply, nostrils flared.

"I know it wasn't," he said coldly, suddenly so harsh, so frightening.

Edith could feel herself blinking, unsure what to try to say to that. She was trying to help, that was all.

"She... Your mother took pictures?" she whispered. "Surely that would be evidence. You could prove what happened."

He softened again. Maybe aware that his rage had bubbled up, trying to restrain it.

"Lucille showed them to me after Mother died. Just after the accident, when she was still in the neck brace. Dozens over the years, processed in a dark room in the basement. You couldn't see Lucille's face in them, but it was obvious it was her if you knew her. The hair, the build. That was her back covered in scars, all red and bruised and bleeding. It was her hands tied, so tight that the circulation was cut off. It was her bound face-down to a bed with an adult's hand on her..."

"Stop!" Edith stammered, trembling. "Please, stop, I... I can't."

He'd closed his eyes, unable to look at the world, his voice barely above a murmur.

"She used to threaten Lucille with them, even when she was older. Say that if she was disobedient or insolent, she'd give the pictures to bad men who would come and do worse things to her. We burned them all in the fireplace, sitting on the rug, drinking antique wine because no one could stop us. And that was the night we decided to become rock stars. Because we were finally free."

Edith could see them so clearly, younger, only just into adulthood, taking alternate swigs from the same bottle and destroying the evidence of so much pain.

"I'm glad they're dead," she heard herself say, even as her own mother's voice seemed to echo back to her from long ago, warning about speaking ill of the departed.

"Me too," Thomas said. "They can't hurt us anymore."

She still had questions though. And even though she felt bad, she had to ask.

"Why didn't you tell anyone when you were older? When you were teenagers, maybe?"

She'd hit on something, something painful. Almost like guilt. Thomas was clenching and unclenching his hands.

"I think... I think Lucille thought that if she tried, if she accused Mother, we'd be written out of the will," he said. "She... She was afraid of ruining my life. Robbing me of my inheritance. She thought we'd lose the house, end up in care... She wanted to wait. And then... Then the accident made telling rather redundant."

His voice had changed, becoming strained. He was trying not to cry, blinking rapidly, sighing out his breath.

"She was always trying to protect me," he whispered. "She could have gone to boarding school, she could have escaped from Mother, but she thought that if she wasn't there then the same thing would happen to me. Seven years old, willingly walking back into hell..."

It was horribly awkward to see him distressed. Edith wasn't sure what to do. Did he want to be comforted? Should she say something?

He took a few deep breaths, visibly taking a grip on himself.

"Anyway... I try to make it up to her now, even though that's impossible. I try to look after her like she looked after me. I try to keep the nightmares away. She's my closest friend and confidant and... Everything, really. We need each other. And I think you're the first person to understand that. The first person we've felt... safe around."

When had the tears started falling? Edith wasn't sure, but she was weeping now, silently feeling as drops rolled down her face, soaking into her T-shirt.

She knew now that she was not going to write any of the details of this in her articles. This was not for public consumption, at least not through her.

Trying to wipe her eyes, she cleared her throat a little.

"Do you think I could... go down and see her?"

"Oh. Er. Well, she might already be asleep."

"I'd like to."

He seemed resistant, but at the same time, maybe he understood. She had a strange need to have contact, to see Lucille peaceful and resting or as her usual spiky self, plotting their route.

The motel stairs were cold against her bare feet, skin sticking slightly against the plastic surface.

Thomas rattled the keys in the lock, struggling with it, easing the door open.

Lucille had left a light on on the opposite side of the bed, but was clearly asleep, curled tightly around half the covers.

For some reason, Edith found herself relieved. Why, she wasn't quite sure. It wasn't like anything new had happened to her tonight.

"Don't treat her any differently," Thomas murmured. "She'd hate that."

"I'll try."

It was going to be difficult.

The open mic night seemed a long, long time ago.

Chapter Text

"It's yellow."

The disgust Lucille put into her voice for such a simple observation even managed to get through the fog of Edith's mind.

She hadn't slept terribly well over the last week and a bumpy ride to San Jose had not exactly helped. The public bus was not nearly as comfortable as what they were used to.

She wasn't coping. She knew she wasn't coping. She'd pushed and pushed and pushed and now she knew too much and it felt like it was haunting her.

She didn't even know that many details really and she was still distressed by it.

And she knew she wasn't managing to act as though nothing had changed. She just didn't understand how Lucille could want any kind of intimacy, any kind of touch like that after what she'd been through, especially from a woman.

The red ring had been glinting in the California sun on their journey from San Francisco and Edith had slowly come to the conclusion that it was much the same thing. She controlled the ring that had hurt her and in a similar way, she had taken complete control of her sexuality. She wasn't going to let her childhood trauma affect her adult relationships.

Was it really that easy? Edith wasn't so sure.

And the very idea of anything she did reminding her of that made her feel sick.

When Lucille took her hand, she was careful not to hold too tightly, careful not to let her voice grow too loud, careful, careful, careful, even though she knew that wasn't what Lucille wanted. Lucille wanted everything to stay the same.

Help would be very... Well, helpful. But there was no one Edith felt she could ask for that. Alan couldn't know the extent of their relationship and without that, he wouldn't understand. He'd just tell her that she was too involved with her subject. He'd just worry.

And Finlay... She'd be well placed to advise probably, but again, she couldn't admit the full truth.

And that left Thomas, the man who had trusted her to handle it all, which she was completely and totally failing to do...

"Didn't you know?" Thomas asked, looking up at the Winchester House.

"I've only ever seen black and white images before," Lucille said. "Somehow I wasn't expecting... This."

Edith squinted up at it, shielding her eyes from the sun. It was, indeed, yellow or at least yellow-ish, a strange scaly effect to the walls from almost tile-like bricks. The roof was a reddish-purple, maroon maybe. And while the architecture was gothic, she could see Lucille's point. It wasn't exactly the Addams Family's mansion.

"Maybe it's spooky inside?" she tried.

"It better be," Lucille sighed.

It was guided tour only, they discovered, for safety reasons, giving them some time to wander the grounds first.

It was... very charming. Yes, the house was an odd shape, but it was very pretty and the gardens were lovely, if a little sad. There were statues, some of them memorials. Edith felt the First Nations one was particularly poignant.

"I wish we had gardens," Lucille said a little wistfully.

"I thought Allerdale had plenty of grounds?" Edith asked.

"We do, but the soil is completely clay. I wouldn't want to torment a horticulturalist with it. Nothing grows except scrubby grass and a few extremely determined trees. Not like this. Palms and greenery."

"They must have quite the irrigation system," Thomas said. "I thought it was all drought and wildfire down here."

Edith was only half listening, half in the conversation. She was trying to work out how to word her next article. It was due very soon, but she had to address the dark cloud that was following her and that was difficult.

Lucille Sharpe was seriously abused throughout her childhood...

The details of Lucille Sharpe's abuse are not for public consumption...

I am not comfortable revealing details of child abuse and therefore will not relay the terrible deeds that have been relayed to me...

"Thomas, can you give us a moment, please?"

Again, the sound of Lucille's voice cut through her thoughts as easily as a fire alarm.

A nod from her brother, calmly stepping away from them, wandering off towards a fountain of what looked like twisted fish. Lucille moved close to her, side by side.

"He said nothing would change," she murmured. "He said you'd treat me just the same."

"I'm trying," Edith said, shaking her head. "It's difficult. I can't stop thinking about it. I'm afraid... I'm afraid of upsetting you, of... triggering a flashback or something."

Lucille sighed gently, rubbing her nose where her sunglasses were pinching it.

"Edith... I live in the house where it happened. I live with Mother's portrait hanging in the drawing room. I don't get flashbacks. Nightmares, sometimes, but never waking flashbacks. I'm lucky that way. I've... I've numbed myself to it, I guess. There was my life before, when that happened to me, and there's my life now - my life with Thomas and music and... And making our own decisions, our own choices."

"You sing about her all the time."

"And that's how I deal with it. I won't pretend I've forgotten; I can't forget. But I won't let it control me either. I need to live my life. And I want you to be part of it. I like you, Edith. And I like having sex with you."

The blush came to her cheeks immediately.

"Stop..."

"What? It's true. You don't remind me of anything bad. You're giving and loving and sweet. It's good and I enjoy it. And you enjoy it too, so why let some shit from the past spoil that?"

She was right and Edith knew it, but it was still difficult.

"I'm trying. I promise."

"I'll take that. Kiss me?"

It was embarrassing to do it where they might be seen, but this was important.

She stood on tiptoe to press a quick peck on her lips.

Lucille laced fingers into her hair and kissed her properly. Lingering and sweet. Still enough to make her heart throb, her hands resting easily on the swell of her hips.

"Ladies," Thomas said softly. "I think it's time for our tour."

He wasn't batting an eye. In fact, he seemed a little pleased, maybe because Edith was evidently trying to work through her discomfort. She was trying to make things better.

Their guide was very knowledgeable, very quick. She talked in a steady rattle about the two ballrooms, forty bedrooms, ten-thousand panes of glass, thirteen bathrooms, three elevators, the special shallow stairs that were easier for Sarah Winchester to climb in her advancing years, pointing out the visible remains of the farmhouse that had been the basis for the mansion.

"When she came here in 1884 and began her life's work, Sarah had lost her husband to tuberculosis and her baby daughter to marasmus. After her death, locks of their hair were discovered in a hidden safe inside the main ballroom..."

They were in a fairly large group, maybe twelve or so people. A mixture of tourists, one or two families from overseas with one parent whispering translations.

"What is... marasmus?" one asked, saving Edith the trouble of asking Alan later.

"It's a severe calorific deficiency. Most cases are caused by malnutrition and poverty, but given the Winchester's wealth, it is more likely that she suffered from some kind of infection or congenital disorder that caused her to be unable to absorb nutrients properly."

They were shown the more unusual architectural features - stairs going to nowhere, doors that opened into empty air, a recurring spiderweb motif upon the windows.

Many of them were stained glass, designed by Tiffany. There was one that made rainbows appear when hit by sunlight, a clever trick with prisms. Sarah Winchester had had it installed in an interior room, far from the light, so the effect could never be seen.

Edith could understand why people believed the house was haunted. Everything was so strange and unnerving; irregular stairs, narrowing corridors, textured wallpaper that almost seemed to move beneath your gaze.

But somehow she didn't see horror. She saw sadness. A deep, deep pain. Yes, Mrs Winchester had all the money in the world, absolutely staggering, unimaginable wealth, but she had lost what was really important to her.

That was a very privileged thought to have. Family was important, certainly, but far easier to appreciate from a position of financial stability, where home and food were never precarious. And she could have used her money for other things. More useful things maybe.

All the same, watching your child waste away, grow thinner and thinner...

And now Edith was thinking of her dad again.

She noticed Lucille wiping her eyes a little, sniffing, Thomas murmuring something in her ear.

Was that her fault? The guilt was setting in, like dry rot. Maybe she could... make more of an effort, as she'd promised.

In the next room, as their guide explained about the redwood used throughout the house and how it had all been stained to a different shade at great effort and expense, Edith sidled close, trying to be subtle as she wrapped an arm around Lucille's waist, squeezing gently.

She got a smile for it. The very beginnings of rebuilding something despite her fears.

She was quite glad they'd come here, despite the discomfort of the journey. Yes, most of the moveable furniture was unoriginal, but that was just to give an idea of how the house might have been. It was the building itself that was really interesting. How many beautiful things had been shut away to remain unseen. The skylights that would never see daylight. Wallpaper embedded with mica to sparkle, kept in the dark.

There was a poetry to it that she loved. And in a strange way, it suited the Sharpes too. There were musical instruments scattered throughout the house that they almost visibly itched to play.

"Is it like Allerdale?" Edith asked as they climbed the stairs up to the attic.

"It shares some traits," Lucille said. "The lifts are somewhat like our one. And the wooden floors. Some of the brass fittings. Our building has an older shell though. It's got more hangovers from the past. And it's physically darker inside, but that might just be the difference between California and England."

Edith quite wanted to see it in person. She wondered if she'd get a chance, maybe once all this was over.

Assuming they were still talking to her and didn't just unceremoniously dump her once the tour was over.

She chastised herself. You couldn't be dumped if you weren't dating, after all. This... whatever they had would come to an inevitable end and then they'd go about their separate lives. And everything would be fine.

"It feels like the house I see in my dreams," Thomas said. "All this would make sense in a dream, you know? Doors going places you don't expect."

And speaking of unexpected, somehow Edith wasn't at all prepared for the shooting gallery at the top of the house.

If the purpose of the bizarre building design was to confuse and placate the restless spirits of all those killed by Winchester rifles, this seemed an unlikely way to go about it.

Half of the room was set up like an antique parlour, and scattered around it were targets.

"There are 38 in total," their guide announced. "One for every year that the house was under construction. Please feel free to try it out."

Thomas declined, but Lucille took up one of the guns. Not a real one, of course. It was some kind of laser tag style game.

And every time a target was hit, something moved. A chandelier rose and fell, shutters banged with the sound of howling wind, a stuffed cat yowled, a rocking chair moved of its own accord and a table lifted and turned. Like it was haunted.

Well... Edith always imagined that supernatural events would be a little more subtle than this.

It was a little ridiculous, but at least Lucille was enjoying herself. It was difficult to say how successful she was being at hitting the little red lights, being one of a few players, but she seemed to be taking it very seriously.

The stillness afterwards was deafening. If unquiet spirits were angry with them, apparently it was a silent rage.

"Worth coming?" Thomas asked as they sat down for lunch, very late in the day.

"Definitely," Lucille said. "I knew I'd like it. I think I might be Sarah Winchester reincarnated."

Edith frowned, uneasy.

"But you've never lost a child," she said. "Or a husband."

"Not as far as you know."

It was somehow reassuring to be teased. Things had not changed. Not really. She just knew something that she hadn't known, but which had always been there in the background.

She could get through this. She could get back to a sense of normality. It would just take a little while, that was all. It would be difficult but worth it. And in the meantime, she could just... pretend everything was fine.

Not the healthiest approach, perhaps, but she primarily wanted the impression of being back to normal until she could achieve it for real. The route didn't matter as long as she got there.

On a second, somewhat more comfortable bus, Lucille taking a nap and Thomas reading, Edith finally got started on her article, deadline looming just a little.

Any readers hoping for a complete run-down of the origins of each and every scar on Lucille Sharpe's skin will be disappointed. I have made the decision not to write about that. This is my choice, but it was not a difficult conclusion to reach.

Perhaps at another date, they may choose to reveal it all, but I will be treating the details as being told to me in confidence. I am simply not comfortable with revealing them.

Suffice to say, their childhood was not only unhappy, but I would venture to say unbearable. They are the only two people who know just how bad it was, a shadow they carry with them always.

With such a heavy burden, perhaps it is of no surprise that sometimes unpleasant themes bubble up in their music.

A vibrant concert in San Francisco in an underground venue far from the bright sunshine culminated in crowd favorite Cursed in a slightly new arrangement...

Chapter Text

"So, how bad was it?"

"Alan..."

"No, no, I'm not looking for details. I'm a doctor, I get it. It's confidential. Off-limits. I really just want to make sure you're alright. Did it... I don't know, upset you?"

Edith was sitting on the floor in yet another motel after a few days of meandering their way through California. She couldn't even remember the name of the town they were in. It began with a B maybe?

They'd seen a lot of forests. Driven down to Los Angeles just to see the Hollywood sign and the other tourist traps.

The Sharpes seemed to have a number fans in the area. They'd been stopped more than once to sign things, take pictures, getting through a few Polaroids.

Some of them had asked Edith to sign things too. She didn't want to, but she did it anyway. She didn't want to be famous, but she supposed she couldn't help it. A certain crowd of Crimson Peak followers were perhaps always going to recognize her.

She wondered if it would all change with the publication of her new article, the atmosphere of those little meetings. It didn't say much, but it said enough, it confirmed something awful. Would the fans feel more awkward about approaching them? Or would they ask personal questions, try to get more answers?

Had she made the right decision, holding back? Or would that just drive curiosity?

There wasn't much time left to worry. It was soon going to be out in the world. Edith had been using it as a convenient shield to hide behind, avoiding being social when she could, saying that she needed to write, and now she felt exposed and vulnerable.

She still wasn't used to knowing and it was easier to just avoid interaction than to deal with it.

Apparently the article was already online having been sent a couple of days ago. She hoped whichever junior office worker was typing up her words and scanning her pictures was being paid enough.

Alan had read it as soon as he could, of course. And it had clearly worried him, despite his casual attitude. He was trying to hide it, trying to sound cool. All the same, she was grateful for the support.

"Of course it upset me," she said. "It's child abuse. And they want everything to carry on as normal and I'm just... terrified of saying the wrong thing. I think Lucille might have post-traumatic stress."

"Does she have the right symptoms?"

Always a hair's breadth from clinician mode. He wasn't even that kind of doctor, but maybe you were meant to at least be aware of potential mental health problems.

"I think so. She says she doesn't have flashbacks, but she has mood swings and nightmares. She gets anxious."

"You get anxious."

"I know, but, like... Really anxious. More than I do. And she uses performance to hide it. There's Lucille and there's Lucille if that makes sense."

"Disassociating?"

Edith considered it, but she didn't think so.

"Most people with a public persona probably do it to a certain extent," she said. "It's a coping mechanism, not anything more than that."

"Well, it might be more like complex PTSD of course. That's when it doesn't stem from one event but several, especially in childhood. It can also manifest with physical symptoms. Headaches, stomach pains, that kind of thing."

Edith thought of her occasional migraines and wondered.

"And Thomas?" Alan asked. "Want him diagnosed?"

"Um... I get the feeling that it wasn't... quite as bad for him. Still awful, but not quite so bad. Not the same kind. He's... He's hurt, but I'm not sure he's traumatised to the same extent. But maybe he's just good at hiding it. They both are, to be honest."

There was a vague sigh, almost imperceptible. More of an exhale, really.

"Don't try to fix him, Edith. I know you. You love a sad baby bird to try and mend. You can't solve everyone's problems, no matter how much you'd like to."

Hmm. How about two sad baby birds?

Although maybe Alan had a bit of a point.

"Any advice?" she asked. "I'm walking on eggshells and it's just putting us all on edge."

And that sigh was definitely audible.

"You won't like it."

Well, that boded well.

"Thanks for the warning," she said cautiously. "But go on. Tell me."

"OK. Well... Remember in the bad times?"

He was right. She didn't like this at all, trying to brace herself for it, taking deep breaths. Staying nice and calm. She'd worked very hard to be good at it, most of the time.

Of course, it was easiest like this. When he couldn't see her face.

"How did it feel when your dad was being weird around you?" Alan asked. "Being so super careful all the time?"

She closed her eyes, resting her head against the wall.

"He was doing what he thought was the right thing."

"I know that," he said, voice gentle. "But how did it make you feel?"

She sighed. He already knew the answer, but he would still make her admit it out loud. She was supposed to talk about this kind of thing.

"It sucked," she said. "And it made me feel worse. But his heart was in the right place. He thought it was his fault and it wasn't, it wasn't anyone's fault..."

"But the effect was the same, even though it wasn't deliberate."

"He didn't know how to deal with it. Neither of us did."

She wasn't hiding her feelings well enough, evidently.

"I'm sorry," Alan said. "I shouldn't have brought it up."

"No. No, no, it's fine."

Despite her careful breathing, a sob had almost slipped from her chest at the memory. That bright, cheerful kitchen of her childhood had suddenly become a place of conflict and unhappiness, the space where her mother used to be like a chasm between her and her dad.

But they had repaired it, bit by bit between them. Her early adolescence, stepping into a new role as primary housekeeper while her father grieved, him stepping up when it became clear she wasn't well, the two of them helping each other get better and forming a stronger relationship than she could have imagined in those early, awkward, dark, dark days.

And then she'd lost him too.

"You're right, though," she said, sniffing. "You're right, I hated it. I wanted things to go back to before he knew."

"But you couldn't. And this is just the same - you have to give yourself time to get used to it. Just... do what you would have wanted your dad to do. Reassure them. Let them know you're there for them. As long as you can handle it, of course."

That was good advice. Upsetting but good.

"I can handle it," she said.

"Sounds like it's good for your work though. They must trust you a lot to talk about that kind of stuff."

"I hope they do. I know they're not supposed to be my friends, but they are a bit. I like them. Really like them."

"And that's why you want to help them. Fix them. Don't worry, it's just because you're a good person."

"Oh, come on, Alan. You're a doctor. You fix people for a living."

"I fix bodies. It's different. And speaking of which, I should really get going. Night shift all week - lucky me."

She did feel better for having spoken to him. He was right. Things wouldn't get any better if she didn't work at it.

And no time like the present.

She washed her face, just freshening up, re-tying her hair. She looked tired, but she felt like she'd been looking tired for ages.

What day was it? What month was it for that matter? She only counted in the gaps between articles. Time was becoming more and more of an abstract concept.

She carefully locked her door and made her way up a few floors until she was outside the Sharpes' room, the peeling paint almost glaring at her.

Last chance to run away and she forced herself not to take it, knocking and waiting.

The creak of floorboards inside, footsteps approaching, maybe checking the peep hole.

"It's Edith," she heard Thomas call.

A beat before he opened the door, looking very soft, tired, his hair slightly tousled.

"Hi," he said, seeming a little surprised to see her.

"I... I thought maybe I could join you both for tea before bed," Edith said.

He smiled, her heart giving a glad thump of relief. This was a good decision.

"Of course," he said. "Come in. Lucille's just in the bathroom. Sit down, get comfy."

He fetched the kettle to the distinct sound of the shower running. They had a couple of minutes alone.

"I'm going to start making a conscious effort to get everything back to normal," Edith said, like saying it out loud could make it more real. "But it might take me a while."

"Alright. I appreciate it. Really."

The bathroom door opened in a cloud of steam, Lucille wandering out with her hair wrapped in a towel. Despite everything, it was awkward to see her.

"Hi," she said.

"Hey. I thought I could come up for tea. Hang out for a bit."

"Yeah. Yeah, sounds good."

She unwound her hair, setting about brushing it, Thomas going to fill the kettle.

Edith watched for a moment before growing brave.

"I could do that for you," she said.

Lucille looked up at her in the mirror, such a familiar sight. Edith felt like they were always looking at each other in reflections.

"Alright," she said, holding out the brush.

It was an old-fashioned type, made of bone maybe, or at least good imitation of it, with very hard bristles. Edith was very careful, working in stages, holding the hair tightly at the root to prevent it pulling, being extra gentle around her scalp.

The faint clink of cups being set out, the rustle of teabags, the whooshing sound of the kettle were companionable accompaniment to her work, finally separating Lucille's hair into three thick bands and plaiting it up.

"Do you have a tie?" Edith asked.

Thomas put one into Lucille's hand without even looking up.

The three of them settled on the edge of the bed, a little awkwardness still rolling through the room. Edith felt a lot calmer though. They had touched and been quietly intimate and nothing bad had happened. Baby steps.

"Are you looking forward to Las Vegas?" she asked.

"I'm looking forward to seeing it, but I don't think I'll like it," Lucille said. "Does that make sense?"

"Not really."

"Well, I want to have seen it, but also the sheer amount of sound and light and... excess is going to be a little overwhelming. Too much stimulation, you know?"

"It might be fun," Edith said.

Lucille laughed.

"You don't mean that."

Maybe she didn't. Casinos certainly made her nervous. The fear of losing big was stronger for her than the chance of winning.

"It will be fun to visit, briefly. But I know what you mean. Vegas seems like... a lot."

"What's your game?" Thomas asked. "Blackjack? Roulette? Or I bet you have a good poker face."

"You're one to talk. You both are."

"That's us," Lucille said, smiling, swirling her cup. "Inscrutable. I think you'd be good at it, though. You're good at reading people."

This had been a good idea. Edith could feel warmth and relaxation flowing through her, feeling very peaceful.

"Are you tired, sweetheart?" Thomas said softly.

Now he mentioned it, her eyelids were very heavy. Maybe she'd finally had a weight lifted from her. Maybe talking to Alan had really helped, maybe getting over this first hurdle...

God, she was exhausted...

"I should get to bed," she said, finishing her tea. "Otherwise I'll... I'll end up falling asleep here."

"I'll walk you down," Thomas said.

This was tiredness like she'd never known. It was almost difficult to walk straight. She was practically swaying, like she was drunk...

Thomas caught her, letting her lean against him.

"I don't understand what's wrong with me," she mumbled.

"Burn-out, I expect," he said quietly. "You've been working so hard and you've been emotionally drained day after day after day. Sometimes it hits suddenly like this and the body just rebels. Where's your key?"

He reached into her pocket to get it, opening her door and guiding her to the bed. She was distantly conscious of being tucked in before sleep took her completely.

Or maybe not completely. She gradually became aware that she could hear voices. Thomas and Lucille.

"I didn't want her to fall asleep in our room," Thomas was saying. "She'd be embarrassed if she woke up there in the morning."

"You could have carried her back. Over the threshold, live out your romantic dreams."

"Yes, because carrying sleeping women around cheap motels isn't at all suspicious. Besides, that's easier if they can hold on."

"Over the shoulder then. Like a caveman."

What were they doing? To Edith's sleepy confusion, she didn't seem to be able to move, or open her eyes even. But she could hear rustling.

Were they going through her stuff? Why?

And why couldn't she wake up?

She heard them leave, the door clicking locked behind them, drifting in and out of consciousness for most of the night.

At least in one of the later periods of wakefulness, she was able to get up, get some water, change into her pyjamas.

And check her bag.

Nothing seemed to be missing. Nothing obvious. All her clothes were still haphazardly folded, her shoes jammed into the corners.

Had they been checking up on what she'd been writing?

A horrible wave of betrayal rolled through her stomach, like sickness, finding her folder. There wasn't even anything new in it. Just pictures from LA.

It probably wasn't that, then.

So... So what?

She found it difficult to drift off again, too wound up, too worried, and at breakfast she was tense.

Should she confront them? Or let it lie with the risk that it would poison the relationship they were only just rebuilding?

Things wouldn't get better if she did nothing, she figured. And maybe there was a perfectly rational explanation.

She still waited until Finlay was up at the buffet for a little privacy though.

"Were you in my room last night?" she asked, trying to sound nonchalant. "When I was sleeping? I thought I heard something."

Thomas looked guilty. Lucille didn't.

"I just needed to borrow your nail scissors," she said, shrugging one shoulder. "I think I must have left mine in San Francisco. I didn't think you'd mind."

"We didn't realize you were still awake," Thomas said. "I'm sorry."

Finlay put down a pile of pancakes in front of her, butter gently melting on the top, saying something about getting a good start to the day.

Edith made herself eat, even though she didn't want to.

She was busy looking at Lucille's hands. Her fingers. Her perfect nails.

And wondering.

Chapter Text

A strange paranoia seemed to have gripped Edith's very core. Everything was a potential threat, a probable betrayal. She knew the Sharpes were talking about her, all the time, she knew it.

And she wasn't going to be having any more of that tea. There was something about it, some soporific effect. It made her fall asleep.

She wasn't sure if she'd go so far as to think they were drugging her. That was mad, that was ridiculous. Why would they be? She was just their pet journalist. They had nothing to gain from that, surely. It didn't make any sense, unless there was something she wasn't seeing.

On the other hand, something in that tea clearly had an adverse effect on her, regardless of the cause. And she'd certainly never had reactions like that before, which was enough to make her cautious.

If they were up to something, she didn't want them suspecting that she suspected though. She was going to have to tread carefully, give an air of complete faith and trust and lack of care. Innocent and easily beguiled.

Was it strange she found such an underhand persona much easier to assume than pretending everything was normal for the sake of a friend... lover... whatever?

It felt more like journalism maybe. She was practically undercover.

Seeing Las Vegas in the daytime was... strange. Very pretty. Unbelievably hot. Very green, considering they'd just driven through miles of desert.

"Irrigation again," Edith said. "Must be expensive and difficult."

"I was reading about this kind of thing actually," Thomas said. "Apparently they're pushing towards something called xeriscaping. Dry gardens. Using plants that thrive in arid environments. But it's difficult to wean people off lawns apparently."

There was a lot to see. The famous sign, a mind-bending building that was apparently some kind of brain health research facility, all manner of weird and wonderful and bizarre structures.

It felt like a pretend city, impossible buildings built in an impossible place.

They decided that none of them were overly keen on the Neon Museum of old casino lights, but the Mob Museum... Well, they thought it sounded fun. A museum all about organized crime when they had a former detective in their little group? And apparently there was a working speakeasy in the basement with moonshine on sale.

The tour started on the third floor and Edith immediately got the feeling that this had been a bad idea.

They had the wall from the St Valentine's Day massacre. Or most of it, at least. Apparently parts had been sold off when the building was demolished, brick by brick, but they had the remains. You could see the pock marks from the bullets.

Finlay seemed uneasy, uncomfortable, and at one point on the second floor entered a room and turned back immediately.

"You know what?" she said. "I'm not feeling too good. I'm going to find a nice little coffee shop and sit this one out. Meet you by the bus in a couple of hours."

It didn't take long for Edith to see what had upset her. They had pictures of murder victims in here. Actual crime scene photos, image after image of violent death under a large sign proclaiming them the Mob's Greatest Hits.

Well, it was certainly arresting. Pun not intended.

She stood staring at it, unable to look away even as it horrified her, aware that Thomas and Lucille were with her, waiting for her to say something, to nervously break the silence like she usually did.

"I suppose... I suppose if you've seen this kind of thing in real life then this might bring it all flooding back," she said.

"She never worked homicide," Lucille said.

"But you still see things, don't you, in that kind of work? Whether you expect to or not. Same with journalism, really."

Thomas gave her an odd glance, like he was trying to figure out exactly what she meant by that.

It was a very good museum, even if the content wouldn't be for everyone. Edith particularly liked the forensics lab. Maybe in another life, she'd have pursued science rather than writing.

There was nothing about how to identify deliberate car crashes or carbon monoxide poisoning, unfortunately. It was mainly about blunt force trauma and wounds, guns and knives. The little places on the body where life could be snuffed out.

"Shall we check out the speakeasy, then?" Edith asked.

"I'm a little concerned about Finlay," Thomas said. "It's very hot today after all. I'd hate for her to get heatstroke."

She was a grown woman in her sixties who knew how to look after herself, but Edith was being yielding and soft so she didn't say anything.

They found her nearby, exploring the local stores, sensibly seeking out air conditioning until it was time to head to their hotel.

The bus was absolutely sweltering despite the sunshades they'd put in the windows. Thank God it was only a short journey to an underground parking lot.

"So, what's the plan for tonight, kids?" Finlay asked. "Hitting the strip? Taking in a show like me? You know what they say about what happens in Vegas..."

"Well, I definitely want to go out," Lucille said. "Edith, care to join me?"

"Sure. Sounds fun."

Alright, maybe her turnaround from walking a tightrope to back to normal was a little bit sudden. She noticed Thomas looking at her again in the rearview mirror, a little concerned maybe.

She smiled at him, trying to act like nothing was wrong, like she had totally accepted that they were just in her room in the middle of the night to borrow her nail scissors. Both of them. Sure, that made sense.

"Am I invited?" he asked. "Or are you planning a ladies' night? I'm sure I can find a way to have fun by myself."

Edith didn't want to let him out of her sight, though she wasn't sure why. What was he going to do, break into her room while she was out? What for? That was still the big hole in her theory, the real reason.

"No, you should come," Lucille said. "I don't want you getting in trouble. You'll be off counting cards, I know you will."

"Well, of course. It's not illegal. It's just maths. How else are you meant to win?"

"By taking chances."

"But why not shorten the odds where you can?"

Edith had the strangest sensation that they weren't really talking about cards at all.

How long had this intrigue been sitting at the back of her mind, ignored? How long had she been deliberately not listening to her instincts?

She'd been so suspicious of them when they first met, and she knew they were liars and probably killers and still she'd let herself be charmed into submission.

And suddenly, the veil had been lifted a little.

"Oh, you won't catch me doing that," Finlay said. "House always wins. But sequins and singing - count me in."

It was difficult to imagine the Sharpes ever going near a sequin willingly. Only if it was ironic perhaps.

"There's a reason we didn't even try to book a show here," Thomas said. "Not the right style, I fear. No, tonight is just for fun and games."

They really were pushing the boat out. This was not one of the motels they'd become used to, or the cheap hotels. It wasn't the biggest or fanciest, not Caesar's Palace or anything, but it was certainly imposing and impressive.

There was even an elevator. It felt like so long since Edith had stayed in a building with more than two floors.

Thomas took the typewriter without asking, even while Edith protested that she didn't need help, telling Lucille he'd be up shortly. It was an obvious excuse to get her alone and he evidently wasn't going to be told no.

She flashed her key card over the door panel, getting a little ding as it clicked open. It was a very nice hotel room. Very plush. Purple and gold furnishings. About six more scatter cushions than were necessary.

"What's the matter with you today?" Thomas asked, putting the case on the desk while Edith dumped her suitcase.

"Nothing. I'm just trying to get back to normal, like I said."

"Whatever this is, it's not normal. Don't lie, Edith. You're not very good at it."

"But you are," she said, reckless, stepping close to him, trying her best to be intimidating.

"What do you mean?"

"Why were you really in my room last night? Why does that tea make me fall asleep?"

He'd set his jaw, but smiled at her, forced maybe, teeth glinting.

"Lucille had to borrow your scissors," he said. "And many people find chamomile gives a soothing effect. Look, I know exactly what's going on, Edith. And it's OK."

"What?"

He ran a hand gently through her hair, like he was trying to soothe a spooked animal.

"Remember you told me that you went to therapy? So you have some... difficulties. Learning the truth, learning what happened to us, I think it's made you frightened and that's manifesting in anxiety. You need to remember your techniques for dealing with that. You're... You're not imagining things as such, you're just jumping to incorrect conclusions."

"Then why were you there with her? Why did it need both of you?"

His hand kept moving, gentle but firm, grounding and lovely and infuriating all at once.

"I hadn't left. You must have been drifting in and out of sleep. Lucille realized she'd lost her scissors and rushed down to quickly borrow yours before I locked the key inside. That's all. What else would we have been doing?"

What exactly did she suspect them of? Going through her stuff for... some unknown reason.

Was he right? Was she just stressed and worried and getting paranoid off the back of that?

She wasn't totally convinced, but she wanted him to think she was.

They weren't the only ones who could weaponize feelings after all.

It wasn't difficult to cry. She felt hurt and scared and soon she could feel tears welling up, rolling down her cheeks, Thomas hugging her close.

"I just..." she sobbed. "I'm just so tired and I can't stop thinking about how awful it must have been and I had to include it in my article and I decided not to put any details but people will still know and then when you read it you'll hate me and Lucille will hate me and..."

It was like once she'd opened the box of fears, even in self-defense, she couldn't stop them escaping.

"Hey, hey... Shh... Of course we won't hate you. We love you, Edith."

"No," she said, shaking her head against his chest. "No, you don't. I'm just... I'm just for fun. I'm just a game."

"That's not true. Maybe it was just fun at the beginning, but it's more than that now. I meant it when I said we had a connection. I love you. And Lucille loves you too."

It was hard to believe that when they were so clearly lying to her. It was hard to believe they even knew what love was.

Maybe there were grains of truth buried in amongst it all, but she still didn't believe that nail scissors story. Not for one second. It was just an excuse for something.

"Are you waiting for me to say I love you back?" she mumbled.

"Do you?"

"No. I... I feel something, but I don't think it's love. Not real love."

Love shouldn't be so scary for one thing. Shouldn't be suspicious, shouldn't be anxious.

"That's alright," Thomas said, laughing softly. "It's a fact, not an expectation."

He held her for a few more moments, waiting for her to get herself back under control before kissing her with enough tenderness that it sent shivers up and down her spine. Good shivers despite it all, her body betraying her yet again.

No wonder she couldn't think straight.

"Dress up tonight," he said. "We're going to have fun. Clean slate. Alright?"

If only that were possible.

"Yeah," she said instead. "Yeah, OK."

He kissed her again and left, leaving her to flop down on the bed. Nice. Springy. Soft and firm.

Dress up, huh? Did she have anything glamorous with her? She had heels certainly, but nothing like a ballgown or anything. She'd mainly taken clothes suitable for press conferences and so on, who knew why.

But she could improvise, probably.

There were other things she could weaponize after all.

First of all, a long shower, using the shampoo and conditioner provided, an actually functional hairdryer letting her achieve something close to sleek, tying it up.

And then she set about making her clothes look less professional than they were.

Black bra under a white shirt, fewer buttons done up than she normally did, skirt worn high around her ribs to make it short... She looked a bit like the secretary in a porn film, but that was pretty close to what she was going for.

She drew a line at wearing her glasses though.

Make-up. Bold. Daring. Attempting something of a smoky eye, the darker shadows helping to hide the marks of lack of sleep.

Lucille would wear red lipstick. To match or not match?

Not match. Differently striking and strikingly different, that's what she was going for.

After testing a few different shades, she decided to use concealer to pale her lips out. It made her look ill, but, like... fashionably so.

It was a victory to open the door to the Sharpes and hear them both gasp slightly.

"Wow," Thomas said, stepping through the door, looking strangely normal in a black suit. A little like he was going to a funeral.

Lucille on the other hand... Never mind the red on her lips; she was wearing a scarlet jumpsuit that covered everything and yet suggested so much. There was something about the cut of it, the way the neckline revealed the curve of her breasts, the way her legs were so clear when in motion but concealed when still, it all conspired to make the nudity beneath so clear.

Thomas took up the camera from Edith's desk, adjusting them with gentle touches and snapping a picture, tucking it into an inside pocket of his jacket before they'd even looked at it. Keeping it for himself.

"Shall we?" he asked.

Edith took his hand when he offered it, Lucille on his other arm, looking like a gangster and his molls in the reflective elevator walls.

They did look good, Edith had to admit. All three of them. She felt short, as usual, despite the shoes, but for the first time in a while she maybe could see some allure in herself.

It was her eyes, she decided. Something intriguing in them.

"So, to dinner first or straight out on the town?" Thomas asked. "Apparently the covered walkways on Fremont Street are stunning."

They didn't make a decision. The receptionist had spotted them, hurrying over.

"Mr Sharpe? Miss Sharpe?"

"Yes?"

"Are you travelling with Mrs Deborah Finlay, room 113?"

"We are, yes. Is something wrong?"

The permanent smile had fallen from her perfect face. This was clearly very serious.

"I'm sorry, we've just had a call from the hospital."

Edith's whole body went cold.

Chapter Text

At least they weren't the only ones in the hospital dressed for a night on the town, though most of the others seemed to be worse for wear via various substances.

Apparently Finlay had gone for a pre-theater meal but began to feel concerning chest pains somewhere between the soup and the main, so concerning that she'd mentioned them to her server and had found herself whisked off to the Las Vegas medical district, probably protesting all the way.

A whole district of hospitals and nursing homes... Well, at least it concentrated expertise, Edith figured.

They did their best to stay out of the way as they waited what seemed like an interminable length of time for a doctor to give them an update. Would they even be allowed to see her? They weren't family after all.

"How are we going to tell June?" Edith found herself asking out loud.

"She might not want the family to know," Thomas said. "We'll find out what it was first, how serious, and what she wants to happen."

That made sense. Edith took off her shoes and tried to subtly tug her skirt down to a more modest length. The lighting in here was clinical and unflattering, making her feel exposed.

"I hate hospitals," Lucille said softly.

Despite it all, despite all her suspicions, a little guilt rolled through Edith then, instinctively putting an arm around her waist. Yes, the Sharpes were up to something, but they were still those frightened children that she'd felt so sorry for. They'd still endured so much. Too much.

It was almost nice to be leant upon, emotionally and physically. Thomas might have his concerns, but it seemed Lucille still trusted her. Or she was good at hiding things, of course.

"I doubt anyone likes them really," Edith said, just for something to say. "Especially if they've been in them for... unpleasant reasons. Not that there are too many pleasant reasons, I suppose."

"Childbirth," Lucille suggested. "Depending on your view on children, of course."

Mm. That was true, Edith supposed. Or if you got good test results or something.

Eventually, a doctor came round the corner looking for them, ponytail swishing with every step, blunt and direct in her report.

"The good news is that it wasn't a heart attack," she said. "It was angina, related to her high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. However, given that it occurred at rest and to a severe level does require further investigation to determine her risk of imminent heart failure and what kind of preventative treatment would be best."

"But she's alright?" Thomas asked. "We can see her?"

"Certainly. But my initial prognosis is that she will require a procedure to widen her arteries and stents to keep them open. She won't be able to fly for a while and she's not to drive anywhere until we know it's safe. If she had a heart attack on the freeway... Well, you can imagine."

Edith could, in horrible detail. And evidently so could Lucille, trembling slightly beside her.

Of course. Car accidents. However it had happened, she'd been through one of those before.

"And how long...?"

"We'll do some more tests to confirm and try to have it done in the next few days. Then I'd suggest a matter of weeks for recovery at the very least."

Weeks. They didn't have weeks to hang around in Las Vegas.

What were they going to do?

They were let through to a ward, behind some curtains, and there was Finlay, hooked up to monitors and looking very tired and miserable. She managed to smile for them, though.

"Oh, look at you three," she said. "All dressed up. Sorry for giving you such a scare."

"Not at all," Thomas said, gentle and warm, all the charm he was capable of in his voice. "These things can't be helped. We just want to make sure you get the treatment you need."

She sighed, chest heaving, frowning and shaking her head.

"They're saying some nonsense about not driving for a while," she said. "And I tried telling them that that wasn't an option, but they weren't having it."

"I'm afraid we might have to listen to them. Health comes first. Now, what shall we tell June when we call her?"

It was not up for debate, no matter how much Finlay sighed and tutted and complained that her daughter would tell her off for this.

"And what about you?" she asked. "You can't cancel your tour. You'll have to go on without me."

"We'll struggle through. And we'll pay for your trip home when you're well enough. And for June to come down to see you if she wants to."

More protests, but Thomas was having none of it. Kind but firm. Insistent. Persuasive. And eventually Finlay sighed and nodded, agreeing that she didn't have a choice.

"These wretched arteries," she said. "You think it'll never happen, that they're always going to behave themselves and then they pick the worst possible moment. Guess I'll just have to rely on Miss Edith's articles to keep me up to date. Get one of the nurses to buy me the magazine."

"We'll call to check on you. And you better give us your room key so we can collect your things."

She smiled, nodding, reaching out for Edith, squeezing her hand.

"Now, you look after yourself, you hear?" she said, her eyes hard, meaningful, saying all the unsaid things. "And look after these two as well. I don't want to hear of anyone tiring themselves out. Promise?"

"Yeah," Edith said, her throat dry. "Yeah, I promise."

She had to lean against the wall to put her shoes back on, tottering out into the warm night air, Lucille gazing up at the moon with large, watery eyes.

"We almost lost her," she whispered. "To a stupid heart attack."

"She didn't have a heart attack," Thomas said. "And they're going to prevent that from happening. She's going to be fine."

It was almost surprising to see Lucille so affected, so openly emotional, letting Thomas embrace her, resting her face against his shoulder. But in another way, it was an impulse Edith recognized - a desire to control the world, to know exactly what was happening, and the shock at being blindsided was upsetting.

"I think," Thomas said quietly. "That we should go back to the hotel, put on our pyjamas, call June and then get room service. We can't go out now. We wouldn't enjoy it."

He was right, but Edith wasn't sure if she was invited, standing awkwardly to the side.

Lucille sighed and nodded, moving away, wiping her eyes where her make-up had started to run.

"Do you want me to call her?" she asked.

"No, it's alright. You and Edith can change while I'm on the phone."

Ah. So she was being included. That was nice. Maybe.

It wasn't like she could lean on anyone else for support right now. The shock was going to hit her soon, she could feel it in the sombre cab ride back to their hotel.

"Just head up when you're ready," Thomas said as she stepped out of the elevator.

Her underwear had left marks on her skin, quickly covered by an oversized t-shirt and leggings as she took down her hair and took off her make-up, reverting back to her usual self. She felt a degree of trepidation, but she didn't exactly want to be alone either, keen to find comfort where she could.

Lucille opened the door and pulled her into a hug immediately, kissing the side of her head. Edith was a bit stunned, unable to do much more than pat her back. She could hear Thomas on the phone, clearly trying to keep June calm.

"Are you OK?" Edith found herself asking.

"It's scary," Lucille mumbled. "And I don't like being scared."

Maybe Edith knew what she meant, squeezing her, kissing back, even letting Lucille make it something more direct, more intimate, while Thomas said goodbye and put the phone down.

She was getting almost used to kissing in front of him now, which worried her just a little. It wasn't like they weren't all aware of what was going on, but still.

"Tough evening," Thomas said, proffering a menu at them. "Comfort food needed, I think."

"They won't have chips," Lucille said. "Not proper ones. French fries aren't the same. They're too thin."

They had a lot of other things though. Pizza and sliders, chicken wings, filled potato skins. Precious little by way of vegetable matter, but that wasn't the point. The point was to recover from shock, and ice tea was a good start. Edith was more comfortable on a chair though, wary of spilling food on the faux-velvet throw.

"This wasn't part of the plan," Lucille said, anxiously rubbing her hands over her knees, satin shorty pyjamas at risk of ketchup stains. "I like having a plan."

"Then we'll make a new plan," Thomas said. "We'll share the driving, stop for breaks a little more often along the way. It's not ideal, but we'll manage."

Lucille didn't seem totally convinced, flopping back amongst the cushions, sighing.

"We've put everything into this tour," she said softly. "We need it to work out."

Thomas casually stroked a hand over the flash of skin revealed at the base of her camisole.

"It will," he said.

"And if it doesn't?"

He paused for a moment, closing his eyes. Like this was a discussion they'd had a hundred times before.

"Then we'll go home and try again."

She sat up, idly pushing his hand away.

"I suppose at least we'll have written some new songs."

"And Edith's book, of course."

Ah. Yes. The collected writings, all the unseen pictures from behind the scenes.

Speaking of which...

"You two look good," Edith said. "Relaxed, kind of. I'll just get the camera, if that's OK."

It wasn't every day you saw performers eating junk food in their PJs after all.

At first she was a little nervous to be walking around in her bare feet, the thick carpet squishing beneath her toes as she walked down the corridor. There was a strangely sterile smell to everything that spoke of redecoration, of constant cleaning.

It was quiet though. She only saw three other people, an older couple swaying their way along, leaning on each other and giggling, and a young man sitting outside his room, tie askew, almost asleep.

Edith was wary to check on him, but she knew she'd just worry if she didn't.

"Are you alright?" she asked softly, half hoping that he wouldn't respond and she could make him reception's problem.

He startled, taking a deep, deep breath, wide eyes, and very wide pupils. He looked like he'd been celebrating for a while.

"Yeah," he said. "Yeah, yeah. 'M getting married. Not now. Next month. Best man's got the door key. Jus' waiting on him."

"Oh. Well, congratulations."

"Thanks. You got anyone special?"

Edith paused, thinking about the Sharpes, how she'd truthfully denied loving them but knew deep down that a part of her would always be with them. She'd be changed by her relationship with them, forever, irreversibly.

"Kind of," she said. "It's complicated."

He smiled slowly, sleepily.

"Complicated can be good," he said. "I've had a lot of fun wi' complicated. But there's a thin line between complicated and messy."

That was certainly true.

She made herself smile back and wished him goodnight, taking the stairs instead of the elevator on her way back to avoid their paths crossing again. She wasn't sure why. Part of her just didn't want to be seen. It felt good to pad silently around a huge building, anonymous and unnoticed.

Maybe the Sharpes wouldn't hear her approaching even.

She crept along their floor, wondering if she'd be able to catch anything through the door. Surely Sin City would invest in a little soundproofing.

Well, she could hear that they were talking, but not any words. Just two different voice pitches. Nothing beyond that.

She knocked, Thomas coming to the door.

"We thought you'd got lost," he said.

"Oh, I made a friend in the corridor."

His eyebrows shot up as she settled back in her chair.

"Trouble?"

"No. Just drunk and locked out of his room. I was checking he was OK."

Lucille smiled at her, the first smile since they'd heard Finlay was ill.

"That's our Edith," she said. "Always looking out for people."

It couldn't shake the melancholy atmosphere though, the sense that tomorrow was going to be different. The pictures she took were suitably moody despite the garish color scheme.

They looked like an ironic album cover, two perfect, porcelain dolls with such dark, dark hair sitting behind a smorgasbord of processed food, an artful smudge of tomato sauce on Lucille's cheek.

"We'll take her bags across in the morning," Thomas said, addressing the elephant in the room.

"I just hate the idea of her lying in a horrible hospital bed," Lucille said. "They can be so uncomfortable."

"She'll be well looked after."

Edith hoped so.

And maybe she felt the tiniest bit of guilt that for just a moment she'd wondered, deep down, if the Sharpes had had something to do with Finlay's sudden illness.

Whatever scheme they were hatching, she was now fairly certain that this wasn't part of it.

Chapter Text

"You mean you're now alone? With them?" Alan asked.

Edith sighed. She'd had to tell him. It would have come out eventually. Best to just get it over with.

It had been horrible trespassing in Finlay's space, her history book on the night stand peppered with markers, her toothbrush in a glass in the bathroom, her pyjamas neatly folded on the pillow waiting for her. And then they'd had to leave the bus several streets over to avoid the hospital parking fees. Edith felt like she could feel her skin burning as soon as she stepped into the sun.

Finlay seemed a little better for having the time to get used to the idea of a hospital stay, but all the same, there was distinct sadness in her eyes as she embraced them all in turn.

"Be careful," she'd whispered in Edith's ear, squeezing her tight.

And maybe she wasn't telling Alan that particular detail...

"I just feel so bad for her," she said, carefully ignoring his implications. "Being ill is bad enough, but being so far from home as well..."

"So who's driving now?"

"Thomas and Lucille are sharing it."

"Is that allowed? They're... You know, foreign."

"Well, they have drivers' licences. I haven't really looked into it. I'll be fine. It just feels bad to have a nice time when we've had to leave Finlay behind."

And they were having a good time. Edith felt a slight weight had been lifted from her, a need to be careful and not say too much. Now they could speak openly. Flirt a bit. Talk about more sensitive subjects.

Not that she had been doing any of that just yet. She was still building up the courage.

"As long as you're comfortable, even with Lucille's track record," Alan said.

"She's very careful. That was an old car with faulty brake lines. The bus is... fine. It's not brand new or anything, but it's not falling apart."

And, more to the point, Lucille didn't want to murder either of the other people she was driving and certainly didn't want to damage her instruments.

Which wasn't to say Edith was always comfortable, per se. She felt like a mouse facing two cats sometimes.

Actually, that wasn't the best of metaphors. She was more equal to them now that she was keeping more of an eye on them, trying to work out what else they were hiding with their tea and snooping.

It was more like they were spies, trying to get information out of each other while not revealing their own.

"So, where are you now?" Alan asked.

"Phoenix, Arizona. Ever been?"

"Nope."

"Yeah, me neither. I'm quite looking forward to Monument Valley, Grand Canyon, all that. It's hot, though. I couldn't live like this, I don't think. We're going to the Musical Instrument Museum tomorrow, after the show tonight. Should be fun."

She really hoped they wouldn't try to touch any of the exhibits though, unless that was allowed.

It had been a strange day, she felt, saying goodbye to Alan and having a quick shower. Being in the back of the bus by herself while Lucille drove and Thomas navigated was freeing and constrictive all at once. She wasn't so constantly observed, but sometimes she'd realize she was being watched in one of the mirrors after all. Secretly monitored.

They'd insisted on taking a detour to a little town off the main road solely because it was called Chloride and they found that amusing. It had been an interesting little place though. A sign told them it was named for the silver chloride found nearby that had led to the mining town's very existence, an inhabited place still while most of its contemporaries had long ago become empty ghosts towns.

It had so much character. Even the old gas station was pretty with its green and red tiles, its ancient pumps.

Edith was less sure about the name of Cyanide Springs, the local historical society's set-up made from timber cabins, complete with saloon, playhouse, sheriff's office, jail... Apparently the museum only opened on Saturdays and if they'd come at the right time, they could have seen gunfight reenactments. They left some change in the collection box since they took a few photos.

Not for the first time, Edith considered how much she missed editing options for her pictures. A little sepia tone would have set everything off nicely. Made it all even more timeless.

A few miles out of town, they followed signs for murals painted onto the desert rocks themselves, vibrant, dream-like vistas, snakes and suns and huge pink talons.

They were definitely not to the Sharpes' tastes if Edith was reading their faces correctly, but they were still fascinating.

"It's just typical really," Thomas said, taking his turn at the driving. "You expect a mildly amusing road sign and then suddenly it's an hour and a half later..."

"These past few months have been rather full of unexpected developments," Lucille said.

Heat had bloomed in Edith's cheeks despite her best efforts to prevent it.

It was all fine, she told herself as she got ready for the show, making sure she had enough film to take pictures, that she had a pen and a back up pen that were both working and an emergency pencil, notebook, water bottle.

One of these days, she might even start feeling like a real journalist.

Maybe it was a foregone conclusion that half the Sharpes' set list would have been reworked with a cowboy, country kind of feel. There was some kind of banjo setting on the keyboard that they were making liberal use of and a slightly lilting feel to a lot of the rhythms.

Was this a little offensive to locals? It was difficult to tell how it was going down.

They played an Eagles cover because of course they did. Not Take It Easy with its name-drop of Arizona. No, no. Desperado.

There was something about Thomas imploring some unseen subject to allow themselves to be loved while Lucille agreed in backing harmonies that felt a little on the nose as far as Edith was concerned.

Being seduced and entering a friends with benefits type arrangement was one thing, but she was damned if she was going to let them make her fall in love so easily.

Why would they want to anyway? Did they just want to break her heart at the end of this? Why?

They were strange and they had done bad things, very bad things, but she wasn't convinced that they were cruel as such. Not to her.

It was difficult not to question that a little in the night, though. They might be that cruel. There was a coldness to them, a harshness. They liked to play games with people and maybe she was no exception to that. Maybe thinking that she might be was a sign of how much trouble she was in, how close she was to feelings she didn't want.

Despite having the air con on, she was very warm, sprawled on top of the blankets. Despite being exhausted, she was finding it difficult to sleep. Despite the soft mattress, she couldn't get comfortable. It was like her body was in a mood with her.

Maybe it was those thoughts of poor Finlay back in Las Vegas. Her surgery had been scheduled for the coming week.

Never having had an operation in her life, just the idea of it made Edith uneasy, even though she knew that was illogical. You didn't feel anything until afterwards and it fixed serious problems. Sometimes it had to happen.

Still, it was an unnerving thought that a stranger was going to be poking around at Finlay's arteries.

She was yawning all through breakfast, making herself eat through vague nausea, probably from the heat, but it was difficult not to be woken up by the Musical Instruments Museum.

Somehow, Edith hadn't expected it to be so big. There were multiple floors, historic mechanical orchestras, a STEM lab about the science of music, galleries from different continents, famous musicians' instruments and, of course, the experience room. A place where you could get hands-on.

From Lucille's face, this was close to paradise for her, sitting down at a harp and running her fingers along the strings.

"I've always wanted to learn to play one of these," she said, plucking notes at random.

"Surely it wouldn't be difficult for you. Isn't it kind of like a sideways piano?" Edith asked, snapping a picture, letting it whir out into her hand.

"Effectively, but it's hard to translate one position to another. It's tough to get my brain around. Trying things at different angles can be challenging at times, as you know."

Edith ignored that, running her fingers gently over a skin drum, trying to feel the texture rather than make a sound.

"Oh, come on, Edith! First of all, that was barely a double entendre and secondly, Finlay isn't here to judge you."

"There are a lot of strangers though."

"Have it your way. I'll save it up for private moments."

For a novice, Lucille was alright at the harp, managing a slow rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Thomas had, of course, gravitated to the electric instruments and was entertaining some children with his attempts to play a theremin, the strange, eerie notes ringing out beneath his hands as if by magic.

"You should play something," Lucille said.

"I don't know how."

"That's rather the point of this room."

It wasn't like anyone would hear her over the children hitting drums or the chatter.

She let Lucille push her gently onto the stool by the harp, standing directly behind her and leaning over, steering her hands and fingers to the strings.

"OK, start here, pluck that one. Oh, harder than that. Good. And now this one. This one. This one..."

Edith could feel the heat of her body, her steady presence, even the soft press of her breasts against her back.

And that made it all the more obvious when she jolted and sighed behind her, like she'd been surprised by something. Like someone had... done something to her, pricked her maybe.

"I'm going to the gift shop," Thomas said, successfully sneaking up on them. "I think I spotted something on the way in that will appeal to us."

He was clearly very proud, revealing his purchases to them with quite a flourish.

"Teacarinas," he said. "Fully functional teacups that are also ocarinas. One each."

Edith looked down at the box in her hands, the beautiful ceramic held within it, and wondered if he was making fun of her.

After all, surely he knew her feelings about tea by now.

Chapter Text

She was going to smash that wretched thing... Thomas seemed determined to learn to play the ocarina as they drove along, and sometimes it was pretty enough, but sometimes it was so shrill...

"It doesn't have the full twelve notes on a chromatic scale, that's the problem," he said. "Everything I know seems to have sharps or flats in it."

Lucille tutted playfully.

"Sir Thomas Sharpe, unable to play sharps? How dreadful," she said. "You can do that one from The Sound of Music. Doe, a deer, and so on."

Oh, no...

He could, indeed, play it. And reasonably well. But that didn't make it any less harsh on Edith's ears.

She was trying to write, trying to cover Las Vegas and its unpleasant ending, paying a little tribute to their fallen friend Finlay, and covering their adventures through Arizona.

They'd see Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon later.

Maybe the teacarinas could suffer a little accident...

She wouldn't really do it. She didn't have the bravery, or the cruelty. It was just a pleasant daydream.

Putting her pen and papers away in their folders, she rubbed her shoulders, trying to ease a little tension from them.

"I might take a little nap," she said. "Early start and all that."

Thomas smiled at her, finally putting that infernal instrument away.

"Understood," he said. "We'll be quiet."

"We're surprisingly good at that," Lucille added.

It was difficult to drift off though. Lucille wasn't as smooth a driver as Finlay had been. And it was hot too, despite the air con.

Still, she was dozing when she became aware that Thomas was talking, his words entering at the edges of her consciousness.

"It's very cute how much she tries to hide it. Reminds me of you almost."

"It's rather a different situation, though, isn't it?"

What were they talking about? What was a different situation?

"Oh, I don't know. You're doing your fair share at the moment, I think. Which worries me a little bit. Are you absolutely sure you're happy to go through with this?"

Lucille sighed.

"We've been over this, Thomas. It's fine. If I wasn't happy, I'd have called it off long ago."

"I don't mean that. I mean afterwards."

"Well, I don't see what other option there is. She won't stay."

"She might. She's surprised us before. And what about...?"

Whatever it was, he didn't say it out loud, but Lucille laughed.

"Oh, you're mad," she said. "You're mad."

"Think about it and tell me you're not just the tiniest bit tempted."

"I realize we have more than a little folie à deux about us, but that's too far. It would never work. She'd never..."

"Think about it, that's all I ask."

Folie à deux... Well, deux was two and folie... Didn't that mean madness? Two times madness? Madness for two?

Maybe she could find a way to subtly ask Alan about it later. Get him to look it up for her.

They'd been talking about her, evidently. Their plans. Their seduction plot. How they intended to make her fall in love and then leave her, just because they could. A fun working vacation activity.

Well, two could... No, actually three could play that game.

She managed a little sleep, being woken up into bright sunshine and an overwhelming sense of orange.

Not just orange though. It was much more complex than that. Orange and red, yellow, green, a dozen shades of fawn and brown... And the sky was so, so blue.

"Sunscreen," Lucille sang, handing the bottle to her. "I'll do your face for you."

And very generous she was with it, paying extra attention to Edith's cheekbones and nose, finishing with a soft kiss. The smell of it was almost dizzying, that cloying, oily scent.

She did Thomas's too, brows slightly furrowed beneath her sunglasses.

"You're at risk of getting freckles," she said.

"Perish the thought."

"As long as you don't try to borrow too much of my foundation when you see yourself."

It was all playful enough, it seemed. And, really, who wouldn't be put in a peaceful mood by this setting, the way the sky stretched above them, the expanse of the landscape, still overwhelming despite how busy with other visitors it was?

The three of them fell automatically into step, Edith in the middle, down towards the main complex for this part of the National Park, almost a whole town in itself, a flat path worn smooth by thousands and thousands of feet.

Thomas's hand trailed down her back. She let him touch. Whatever else was going on, she was a bit tense at the moment and maybe a little physical distraction would put paid to that temporarily and convince him that her suspicions had been laid to rest.

It was harmless. And useful.

Or maybe she just wanted it and was trying to convince herself that continuing to sleep with them wasn't completely stupid.

"You look unfairly good in the heat, Edith," he said softly, as casually as mentioning the weather.

"How do you mean?"

"The sheen it puts on your skin. You're practically glowing."

"Oh, she always looks like that after time with me," Lucille said. "I don't know what you're doing wrong."

He laughed, loud and unexpected.

"I've never had any complaints," he said.

Edith rolled her eyes where neither of them could see. Did they really think they could go back to that fun, exciting, terrifying, flirtatious start to all of this so easily? Even now, with all that she knew?

Everything was different now, deeper. She knew some of their greatest secrets. She knew more than they knew she did.

But then again, part of her liked the attention, liked the danger even, so what did that say about her?

If they'd started a few towns over, apparently they could have ridden out here in style in an antique train, but the walk was good all the same. They were only going out to one of the viewpoints and back, not the full multi-mile trail, but it would still take them over an hour to get there and back.

Despite the heat, the air was not too humid. It felt good to be outside, even on one of the more maintained, genteel paths. Not that that had put off the serious hikers marching past them, like turtles under huge rucksack shells, dozens of those pairs of sticks walkers used.

The path grew narrower, obliging them to walk single file, Lucille leading. How she could bear to be wearing so much black given the weather, Edith had no idea.

Still, it was kind of hypnotic, step after step, the metal studs on her belt glinting in the sun.

It was companionably quiet, a brief respite from conversational quicksand.

And when they finally reached the viewpoint...

"Wow," Thomas said, very much summing it up.

The depth of the canyon... Obviously it was deep, she'd known it was deep, but Edith felt like she hadn't been prepared for the feelings it would evoke in her. A strange mixture of excitement and utter terror. She couldn't even lean on the barrier for fear that it would give way, watching a young girl skipping along the path with her heart in her mouth, terrified of what a trip or slip would do.

It was much better to look up at the layers of rock opposite, a geological marvel. Lines of different colors, different types.

"It's like a great big entremet," Lucille said.

"What's an entremet?"

"It's a fancy cake made of layers. Sponge and jelly, mousse, mirror glaze. Have you never watched Bake Off? They made one a couple of years ago."

Edith shook her head. She wasn't really one for cooking shows.

"Oh, well, when you come to England, we'll have to change that."

It took a minute for that to sink in, blinking, almost convinced she'd misheard.

"Go to England?"

There was perhaps the tiniest flicker of concern on Lucille's face, but only for a second and it was hard to tell with the sunglasses and the hat.

"Yeah. You know, after the tour. To finish the book and liaise with our publisher."

"Don't you need a visa to do that?"

"Well, we'll get you one."

At one time, she would have jumped at the chance. Getting to go abroad, getting to see Allerdale for real? Incredible. But now...

Well, now it became being taken to a foreign country to be toyed with some more and a plan that had clearly been formulated without consulting her. At least here, as far from home as she might be, it was still her country. She was the one explaining occasional confusions, she was the one picking the correct change out of handfuls of coins because the Sharpes still couldn't reliably spot a quarter.

Still, it was tempting, she couldn't deny that.

"I'll have to think about it," she said carefully. "But I'd love to see your house. Seeing where someone lives, how they live, it really helps to get to know them, you know?"

"But you already know me."

Mm. But not everything.

Edith took her hand in a moment of bravery, rubbing her thumb over her knuckles.

"Maybe more than most," she admitted. "But, well... People are multitudes, aren't they? I don't think it's actually possible to know a person completely. Everyone has a little they hold back, just for themselves."

Thomas leant against the barrier at Lucille's other side, maybe whispering something, maybe just exhaling. It was hard to tell.

"We should head back if we're going to reach our next stop in time," he said. "I'll drive."

"I might follow Edith's lead and have a sleep then, as long as she's willing to navigate."

It couldn't be that hard.

And now she was the one looking in the rearview mirror, looking at Lucille's face rather than the road behind, trying to tell if she really was asleep behind her eye mask or not.

Thomas's fingers trailing up her thigh made her jump, only just managing not to cry out in surprise.

"I don't think that's safe when you're driving," she said.

"Automatic gearbox. It's not like I need this hand for anything else."

"Mm-hm. With your sister right there?"

He glanced back at her, brief but unashamed. Like he couldn't see what the problem was.

"She's a heavy sleeper. I could finger you into coming and she wouldn't wake up."

God, he shouldn't say things like that... Despite herself, she felt her excitement rising, just the suggestion giving her a sick thrill.

"You ever had sex in a car, Edith?" he asked.

"I... No."

"It's overrated, in my experience. Too cramped. And that was in a pretty big vehicle, as cars go. This bus, on the other hand... It's rather roomy in the back, don't you think?"

Was he on the back foot, scrambling for ground? What was this? It was a little blunt, a little uncouth.

She felt like he was trying out various tactics, trying to find one that would work, trying to find out whether she'd respond more to declarations of love or sexual confidence.

And when they'd first begun this, he'd very evidently enjoyed the chase, he liked being countered and wrong-footed. That's what he was expecting.

"I really don't understand how you think we'd ever get a chance," she said calmly. "Unless you have a desperate fetish you haven't mentioned that you'd like me to indulge for you. Women draped across car bonnets perhaps?"

She markedly kicked off her sneakers and put her feet up on the dashboard, even though it made her convinced they were going to have an accident and she'd break both her legs, rolling up her jeans to reveal her calves.

And she was pretty sure she wasn't imagining the way he licked his lips just a little.

"Can I see you tonight?" he asked softly.

She smiled sweetly at him, even though he was watching the road.

"I was going to ask Lucille actually," she said.

He shook his head, smiling wryly.

"Well played."

"I think I'm finally learning the rules of the game."

She thought she might finally be winning.

"Of course, it might be that none of us get a chance tonight," he said. "You don't know where we're staying."

That sounded ominous.

"Why? Where are we going?"

He threw her a look, a little triumph in it perhaps.

"It's a surprise."

Ugh...

"Changing the rules isn't fair," she said.

He casually reached out and stroked her hair at the back of her head, lacing his fingers into it.

"No one said anything about fair."

Chapter Text

Monument Valley was so... broad. Huge expanses of flat plains and then the rocks standing proud against the blue sky. They were going to head north through it, up Highway 163, dip into Utah again to stay in a place called Bluff before turning back towards New Mexico.

The rocks almost didn't look natural. The skinny spires particularly looked so odd, thin columns managing to support such big pieces higher up. Edith felt sure that they were going to fall, feeling a little dizzy just looking at them.

"This is what America is meant to look like," Lucille said from the back seat, refreshed after her nap apparently. "Or this bit of it, anyway. The power cables rather detract from the sense of isolation, but I suppose that can't be helped. I still haven't seen any tumbleweed though. I expected it to be more ubiquitous."

"I think it's growing all around us," Thomas said. "But it dies and blows away as a seed-spreading technique. Tumbles off around the desert in search of water. Of course, it's an invasive species really. They think it came across in shipments of flax seeds."

How did he just know all this off the top of his head? Did he have a secret stash of reference books in the trailer with all the instruments or something?

"I didn't realize you were so interested in botany," Edith said.

"I'm interested in most things, I suppose. We both are."

"Probably stems from childhood," Lucille added. "After all, we were safe with our tutors. Study and reading were safe."

It was unlike her to speak so openly about that. Maybe she was trying to minimize how big it was, how much of a wedge it could be in their relationship.

Or maybe it was liberating to be with people who knew. Freeing. Not having to hide.

"I think it's up here on the left," Thomas said.

"What's it called? What kind of a sign are we looking for?"

"I told you, it's a surprise."

Edith looked over her shoulder, finding Lucille's eyes narrowed. Whatever this was, it seemed that she wasn't party to it.

And she wasn't exactly happy when Thomas pulled into an RV park.

"This is not a motel," she said flatly.

"You're right. It's not. But you said you wanted to have the American experience and so I thought what better than a night under the desert stars?"

"If you think for one second that I am sleeping outside..."

"No, we'll take out the seats in the back, borrow some blankets and push back the sunroof shade. It'll be fun. Like camping."

"Thomas James Sharpe, you have never been camping in all your born days."

"I have. When I was about seven, Father made me go to Scotland to hunt deer and we camped one night, out on the heath. Don't you remember?"

"I remember you being taken away for a few days and being very upset about it, but I don't recall you saying you went camping. Was it fun?"

"Of course not. I was a child shivering among the heather while Father got through a hip flask of brandy by 11am and fell asleep cuddling his gun."

"Should have shot him. Terrible accident."

"I was rather too busy suffering from hypothermia, I'm afraid. But this will be fun. Beautiful surroundings, good company. And I was very careful to choose one with proper, private shower blocks. All creature comforts."

Maybe Lucille was warming to the idea a little. Or maybe she had just decided the dispute wasn't worth it.

"Ever been camping, Edith?" she asked.

"Once or twice when I was a kid."

"Don't tell me you were a Girl Scout. You'd have been too cute. I bet you had pigtails."

"It was just family stuff. My mom was quite keen on... nature and fresh air. It will be an experience. Isn't that the point of this trip?"

"I suppose so," Lucille said, undoing her seatbelt. "I'm going to the bathroom, if I can find them."

Edith followed Thomas to the office where they were greeted by a lovely woman, all rolling accent and round cheeks, asking them if they needed electricity connections or WiFi, giving them a xeroxed map of the site with their designated pitch marked in lime green highlighter, merrily collecting blankets and solar lanterns for them.

"So, you're Mrs Sharpe, then?" she asked.

"Oh, no," Edith said, looking at the names written at the top of the paper. "I'm... guest number three. I'm afraid guest number four has been taken ill and won't be with us."

"Oh, dear..."

It did say Mr and Mrs Sharpe though. That was odd. Was that odd?

She asked about it as they made they way back to the bus, laden with thick woven blankets that would be far too hot to sleep under.

"Why do you say you're married?"

"Well, these websites very rarely have Sir or Lady in the drop-down menus."

"Thomas..."

"We just thought it was best, really. You hear about these southern places being a bit odd about unmarried people staying together."

"Not siblings though."

He laughed, an odd burst of it.

"No, but, well, we knew we'd have another person with us. We figured it would be better to pretend some of the party were faithfully wed. Nothing sinful going on."

"Right, so it wasn't just to make fun of the dumb locals then? Tricking them into believing lies? Spreading the myth of Crimson Peak?"

She'd found a break in his armor. He blinked at her, almost stunned, before looking away.

"And what if it was?" he asked. "Would you think very badly of us?"

"I'd just wonder how you expect anyone to properly love you when they know you're mocking them. Like you mock everyone."

He was quiet as they loaded the blankets onto the spare seat in the back, Lucille looking at them like she knew something was wrong, and still quiet as they parked up and started unloading everything.

"I was gone for all of about five minutes," Lucille said eventually. "What's happened? What did you say?"

"It's nothing," Thomas said.

"Which way to the bathrooms?" Edith asked.

She had no intention of going right away. She went around the corner but found a vantage point between two RVs where hopefully she could see them but not be noticed in turn.

If only she'd learned to lip-read...

Lucille was standing with her hands on her hips, clearly demanding answers and Thomas was shrugging, trying to pass it off as nothing, turning away onto to be pulled back. He slumped a little, saying something, shaking his head in resignation. He closed his eyes as Lucille took his face in both hands, stroking his cheeks lightly with her thumbs.

She kissed him very gently on the forehead and turned to follow in Edith's path.

Coming to talk to her.

Shit.

She sprinted to the bathroom block, banging the door locked, hiding. And then remembering that she did actually need to pee.

It was obvious when Lucille came in, the distinct sound of her heeled boots on the tiled floor.

"Edith?"

"Yeah?"

"I'll wait for you outside."

"Uh... OK."

It reminded her a little bit of getting into trouble at school. Not that she'd done that often. More in her teenage years when exhaustion and... other things had affected her work. All her teachers had been very kind and understanding and somehow that was worse in her mind than if they'd just shouted at her.

She washed her hands, pressing them against the back of her neck while still damp, trying to cool down.

Lucille was hiding in the shade of the building when she emerged, drawing patterns in the dust with her feet.

"Is Thomas terribly upset?" Edith asked.

"Only because you're right. We are complete arseholes. It's a coping mechanism, but that's no excuse."

Edith felt her cheeks heat a little.

"I didn't say that."

"Not in those words, but it's what you meant."

Was it? Maybe. Effectively.

"He's a sensitive soul," Lucille said. "He's more upset that he's hurt you somehow. But he hasn't, has he? You'd tell me if he did?"

Probably not, but all the same...

"It's fun to tease him," Edith admitted. "And he teases me back. It's... A battle of wits. But, you know, when you guys make fun of everyone and everything, I get suspicious that you're making fun of me too."

She wasn't mentioning her other suspicions and beliefs to Lucille just yet. They were definitely pursuing some kind of ulterior purpose. She just had to work out what it was.

Oh, and the murders. But they were a strangely unremarkable footnote these days.

Lucille looped her arms around Edith's shoulders, pouting down at her.

"We're never making fun of you, sweetheart. Teasing you, certainly, but you always know when we are. You're smart enough to know and to tease us in return."

"But you talk about me behind my back."

"Well, we mention you when you're not there. Is that the same thing? Usually just disagreeing about which of us you like best. Sibling rivalry is a terrible thing."

This was exactly the kind of thing Edith had meant, making light of her concerns. Yes, it was good-natured and, yes, she knew it was just a joke, but at the same time, it was difficult to be serious with them.

"It's me, isn't it?" Lucille asked, steering her back towards the path to their pitch. "Don't worry, I shan't tell."

"I don't have a favorite," Edith said. "You're... different to each other, it's different."

"In what way?"

This probably wasn't appropriate to talk about, but she didn't have to go into details.

"Well, you're more... instructive. It's not the same as other relationships I've been in, everything is new. Untried. And Thomas is more..."

"Submissive?"

Oh, that had connotations she wasn't sure about.

"No, not exactly. But, you know, sometimes he likes me to make decisions. The rest of it is all games."

He wasn't there when they got back to the bus, the seats neatly placed outside it, a little note tucked under the wipers.

"'Gone to get food, back soon'," Lucille read. "Well, I suppose we're making the beds, then."

Emptying the bus had revealed the slightly crumb-strewn floor, but nothing a borrowed dustpan couldn't fix and with blankets laid across it to soften everything and a couple of lanterns hung from the coat hooks, it was quite homely. A little makeshift nest.

They saw Thomas coming, tall and stark in his white shirt, holding a pair of brown paper bags.

"You'd best go and kiss him," Lucille said. "Let him know everything's alright."

And scandalize the whole campsite by kissing a supposedly married man...

She went out to meet him all the same, unsure what to say.

"Lucille's been mediating, has she?" he said, breaking the silence for her.

"A little."

He sighed.

"Well, it only hurts because you're right. We're not very nice people. You are. And that..."

Another sigh, heavier.

"Anyway, I got enchiladas. And salad, of course, because I know you like it. And in the other bag, ice in plastic, water and peach-flavored tea."

It was a strange little picnic, sitting outside on the bus seats in a circle, Lucille getting out a guitar and playing a few chords as the sun went down.

And the stars... Despite the town's lights, you could see them so clearly, even when they'd changed into their pyjamas and crammed into the back of the bus.

Edith took the left, where her usual seat was in the back, Lucille in the middle, gazing upwards out of the tiny sunroof at the strange blue haze of the Milky Way, her eyes growing heavy as the Sharpes picked out constellations and talked about how strange it was to see different ones from at home.

She wasn't sure what woke her up in the middle of the night. Just the strangeness of being in the van perhaps, or a maybe a noise.

Beside her, she could see Lucille's face in the orange light from outside, soft in sleep.

And Thomas was curled tightly behind her, an arm wrapped around her, his hand...

His hand up under her shirt.

Edith paused for a moment, unsure what to do. And then she tried to gently move his arm to a less intimate place, hearing as he woke up, inhaling sharply.

"What is it?" he whispered.

"You've... In your sleep..."

He moved immediately, rolling onto his back, folding his arms across his chest.

"Must have thought it was you. Sorry."

Lucille stirred slightly, but stayed asleep, frowning. Like she was confused.

Edith reached out a hand to her and soon found her whole arm cuddled, drawing her close.

It wasn't the most comfortable of positions, but somehow she didn't dare move, letting the faint rush of breath, steady against her skin, soothe her back to sleep.

Chapter Text

Edith couldn't get that image of Thomas holding Lucille in such an intimate way out of her head. Even once she'd woken up in the morning and nothing was amiss, Lucille already away to check out the showers, she couldn't shake it.

It was weird, wasn't it? Wasn't it? To be cuddled up to a sibling like that? It spoke of something... taboo, something not right.

And added in to how they played with what people thought their relationship was, labelling themselves Mr and Mrs Sharpe...

She couldn't even bring herself to think it.

It must have been like he said, just a mistake in the night, just unconscious. Just wrapping your arm around whatever - whoever - was nearby.

After all, the three of them had been together. Perhaps there were... pheromones in the air or something to make him mistake who he was cuddling.

It was still making her think of that dream she'd had, or nightmare rather, of Lucille moaning her brother's name. Just a dream, nothing more, but she still felt incredibly guilty about it. Sick with guilt, really nauseous, like she might actually throw up.

Thomas rolled towards her as she fretted, stretching, all tousled hair and that strange sour sleep smell.

"I suppose we should get up," he said. "Get showered."

"Mm."

He reached out and stroked her cheek gently with one finger.

"We could save time if we went together," he said. "If you catch my drift."

Edith raised an eyebrow at him, laughing instinctively.

"You're... You're not serious."

"Why not? If we're quiet."

This was ridiculous and what was worse was that she was genuinely tempted, partially for the distraction, partially the risk and the danger exciting her, the way Thomas was looking at her only adding to that. He was running his eyes over her like she was the most enticing thing he'd ever seen, even all sweaty and gross and wearing a threadbare old T-shirt.

"You want to," he murmured. "I can tell."

She closed her eyes, trying to get a grip on herself, even as her heartbeat was speeding up.

He moved even closer, properly touching her now, a hand slipping down her thigh to the bare skin below her shorts.

"You go first," he whispered. "And hang your towel over the cubicle door so I know which one to go to when I follow you."

She shouldn't do this. She should be sensible, she should be cautious, she should be respectful to these nice people and their RV park and not have sex in their showers.

And yet...

She could hear Lucille singing when she arrived at the shower block. Not loudly, but definitely her, unmistakably the lilting notes of her voice. Not a tune she recognized. And suddenly Edith was unsure, tempted to go call it off immediately. Doing such things around strangers was one thing, but Lucille...

The water stopped running along with the song.

Well, if she was leaving anyway...

Edith took the cubicle furthest from the entrance, flopping her towel over the door and laying her clean clothes and deodorant on the floor, almost shaking as she peeled off her pyjamas.

Might as well actually wash her hair while she was at it. Might calm her nerves.

She heard Lucille leaving, a little sound of surprise as she bumped into someone on the way out.

"The gents showers are round the corner, I think."

"Oh, I know."

Thomas's voice.

"Ah, I see. Er... She knows you're coming, right?"

"Of course! I'm not that dreadful."

"OK. Well. Have fun."

Edith flushed scarlet, finishing rinsing the shampoo out of her hair as she heard a gentle knocking.

She opened the door and pulled him inside, aware that she was drenched, getting a muted laugh for her perceived eagerness.

"Hang on a sec," Thomas murmured low. "One moment."

He left their clothes in one pile, Edith retreating back under the spray of water, heart hammering in her chest, watching as he got undressed and took a foil packet out of his pocket, laying it on top for easier access.

Right. Yes, good.

The water plastered his hair down as he joined her, his hands warm at her waist immediately, stroking up her sides and kissing her gently.

Edith could already feel some of the tension between them lessening, not a lot but a little.

"I know you're up to something, you know," she whispered in a moment of bravery.

"Right now? I should hope so."

"No... No, you and Lucille."

"What could we possibly be up to?"

"That's the problem. I don't know. Ah!"

He'd slipped a finger down between her legs, not into her but straight to her clit, rubbing it firmly, his eyes dark and warm.

"You'll have to stay quieter than that," he said, kissing her again. "Otherwise we'll never get away with this."

She nodded, trying to keep breathing, wanting more, clinging to him, growing brave enough to touch him in return, stroking his cock to full hardness, feeling powerful as he thrust into her grasp.

He didn't say anything as he turned her to face the wall, gently nudging her legs apart with one foot. She glanced back over her shoulder, seeing him open the condom packet, placing her hands against the tiles to brace herself as the water rushed down her back.

She could feel the heat of him as he moved her hair to whisper in her ear.

"You ready?"

She nodded, taking a long slow breath as he pushed in, an angle she'd never tried before, certainly not standing. He wrapped his arms around her, his lips against her neck as he began with firm, deliberate thrusts, barely pulling out he was so tight behind her.

It was wrong, very wrong, and she loved it all the same, hearing someone else enter the shower block, the two of them freezing instinctively.

And Edith was the bold one then, rocking back against him, hearing that sigh of pleasure, barely perceptible except that his lips were right by her ear, going directly to her arousal.

She tried to reach down to handle herself but Thomas caught her wrist, placing her hand firmly back on the wall and giving her what she needed with firm touches.

And now it was harder to keep herself quiet. She didn't think she normally made a sound, but suddenly even a gasp was potentially going to give them away, finding herself holding her breath as Thomas sped up both his thrusts and his fingers and then needing to inhale painfully slowly, almost going light-headed as she got closer and closer and closer...

Her lips parted in a silent cry, her body trembling in Thomas's arms, relying on him to keep her upright.

Thomas let out the faintest of grunts behind her, stroking her heated skin gently, kissing her neck.

She felt like a tottering fawn when he moved back, pulling the condom off and knotting it, like her legs wouldn't hold her, leaning back against the wall and trying to recover.

A smile from Thomas, tracing the flush on her cheeks with his fingers before he washed his hair. Despite all they had done together, this felt almost too intimate. He was completely himself, engaged in a private moment, preparing for the day. It felt too close. Too domestic almost.

She stepped out of the water and started getting dry, still feeling a little dazed. Only a matter of months ago, she'd have never dreamed of doing anything like that. And yet here she was.

Thomas tapped on the wall to get her attention, giving a thumbs up with a questioning eyebrow. Are you OK?

Nodding. She was OK. But she fanned herself theatrically. Too hot.

She still liked it when he smiled at her. There was no pretence there at least.

He was much quicker in getting ready, Edith checking that the coast was clear before they snuck out, tossing the condom into a trash can by the door.

"So, have you told Lucille about your suspicions?" Thomas asked.

That hadn't been what Edith had expected to hear.

"No. No, I haven't."

"Good. Don't. She'd be very upset."

No amount of bodily satisfaction could defeat Edith's mental frustrations.

"You could always just tell me what it is," she said.

He gently touched her nose, not even breaking stride.

"But there's nothing to tell."

If it was a longer walk, she might have tried to challenge him, but as it was, they could already see Lucille wrestling with one of the seats, trying to force it back in, her braid moving against her back like a snake.

It clearly wasn't going well as she slapped the side of the bus, audibly growling.

"Hang on," Thomas said, imperceptibly increasing his stride. "It might be a two-person job."

It wasn't, but there was a trick to it, a catch you had to pull up. Lucille scowled at it like it had personally insulted her.

"Yes, well..." she said. "That's why I don't take seats out of cars. It's unnatural."

Thomas chuckled, wrapping an arm around her and kissing her temple.

"Do you want to drive?" he asked.

"Can do. And then you can take over closer to Albuquerque."

Thomas turned to Edith, gesturing to the car doors.

"Front or back?"

Lucille had put on her sunglasses, but she was definitely watching. Was she feeling neglected? Or fragile? It hadn't been that long since Finlay's sudden illness which had clearly hit her hard.

"Front, I think," Edith said, noting a distinct smirk on Lucille's face as she hauled herself up.

Come to think of it, they hadn't done more than kiss since before Edith learned about her childhood trauma. So as far as Lucille was concerned, any withdrawal would be because of that, because she knew.

No wonder she'd sounded a little upset when she'd realized Thomas was meeting her for a morning tryst, proving it wasn't a lack of libido affecting things.

Trying for casual, Edith softly reached out, resting her arm behind Lucille's head and gently stroking the nape of her neck with the tips of her fingers. Just lightly. Just to make her physical presence obvious. Sharing personal space. That hint of intimacy.

"I need to call Alan tonight," she said. "But afterward, maybe we could... hang out."

Lucille leant back into her touch, a smile ghosting around her lips.

"I'm sure I can find a couple of hours after the show."

Chapter Text

Nearly five hours of driving through New Mexico passed in strangely unequal ways, some flying past, some crawling by.

Even though the gentle caresses of Lucille's fingers down her arms were very pleasant, Edith didn't feel much like eating when they stopped for lunch, eventually conceding to have chicken salad just for the vitamins and calories and to avoid any fuss.

Couldn't write on an empty stomach, after all. Nourished body, nourished mind.

Maybe she felt a little better afterwards. Less nauseous. Less exhausted.

They'd arrived in Albuquerque with plenty of time to spare, giving Edith a good opportunity to call Alan while the Sharpes had a pre-show nap. How long had it been since she'd last spoken to him? She was losing her sense of time even more of late.

He'd very clearly just woken up, preparing for night shift, mumbling along pleasantly as she described their evening of almost-camping, seeing the desert landscape so differently. In a lot of ways, it had been magical.

"I can't imagine going camping with Eunice," he said. "Couldn't cope with being in such close quarters."

"I can't imagine Eunice going camping at all," Edith said. "There were public showers and dirt and everything. It was nice, though. Relaxing. I don't think all this travelling in the heat is good for me. My stomach is all strange and I'm tired all the time no matter how much I sleep."

There was a rustling sound, Alan sitting up in bed.

"That sucks. If I had on my doctor hat, I'd say it almost sounds like you're pregnant or something. Nausea and exhaustion; very common early symptoms."

The rush of fear hit Edith like an ice cube running down her back.

"No, I can't be," she said, trying to keep her heartbeat under control. "I fucked up my fertility a long time ago, you know that."

"You were sick," he said, sounding a little discomforted by her cursing.

"Same result, though."

There was an awkward pause before Alan cleared his throat.

"And you haven't slept with anyone," he said uncertainly. "Which would be the more obvious reason to be... not pregnant."

"Oh. Yeah, that too."

She'd given herself away and she knew it, cringing as he gasped.

"Oh, my God, Edith..."

"It's not what you think."

"Oh, so it's not that you're sleeping with your boss? You know, as soon as I saw that guy, I knew he was trouble."

It seemed so much worse from the outside, she knew that. But he just couldn't understand, no one could. Having that attention turned on you, that open desire... How could anyone resist?

"It's just a fling," Edith protested. "It's nothing."

"Have you been using birth control? Even then, it's no guarantee. Condoms under normal use have around an 18% failure rate."

He was insufferable! And maybe that was why she did what she did next, maybe that was what drew out her impulsive streak.

"It's not Thomas," she lied - or partially lied anyway. "It's Lucille. So I mean it when I say I can't be pregnant."

She could practically feel his confusion and shock down the line.

"I didn't... I didn't know you liked girls," he said awkwardly. "Not that there's anything wrong with that, obviously."

Nor had she, really, until it was Lucille flirting with her. Only in retrospect had she noticed a few times intense friendship had arguably tipped over into unrequited crushes.

"Well, maybe there are a lot of things you don't know about me," she said.

"It explains a few things anyway."

Suspicion laced through her.

"What exactly does it explain?" she asked icily.

"Well... Well, I thought you knew that I... like you. So if you're actually a lesbian then that's why you never..."

Edith stared at the wall, her brain refusing to process what she'd just heard.

"Hang on, you think the only possible reason that I haven't ever slept with you is because I don't like men? Did you miss the boyfriends I had over the years?"

"That's... No, that's not what I meant. I'm sorry."

"I should fucking hope so."

That was deliberate swearing. She wasn't going to be the only one off-balance.

"So... So Lucille is an experiment?"

She'd known he wouldn't understand. And he wondered why she didn't tell him anything...

"I don't know what she is. Maybe this is my first step towards realising I'm actually bisexual. Or maybe I'll never date another man again. I honestly don't know."

"And does Thomas... know? How does he feel about it?"

What a question.

"How do you feel about Eunice's sex life?"

"I really wish I didn't know about it, to be honest. But she can do what she wants. It's none of my business."

"Then I imagine he feels much the same."

There was a bit of quiet and Edith braced herself for another awkward question.

"So if... If you do like men as well, then... Then why haven't we...?"

Ugh...

"Alan, you're my best friend. I just don't feel that way about you. I'm sorry."

She'd really thought he already knew.

"It's OK. I just always... Never mind. I wouldn't want to spoil our friendship."

This was completely horrible. Everything about it. Having to reject him so bluntly... She'd always hoped that he'd eventually find someone else, move on and that would be that.

"I'm glad you understand," she said.

"I still think sleeping with either of them is a bad idea," he said. "I mean... they're dangerous people. Just be careful, that's all I ask."

"I will be."

"Alright. Bye."

From such an abrupt farewell, she concluded that he was quite upset and trying to hide it. All the same, Edith felt almost relieved. She'd told him a part of it. That in itself was a big weight off her, even if it made the rest of it sit uncomfortably in her chest. She was sleeping with Thomas too and that meant that possibly...

No. She couldn't be pregnant. She wasn't even sure if she could get pregnant. Alright, so maybe she hadn't had a period yet this month, but that was fairly normal. She wasn't the most regular of people, sometimes skipping...

She kept repeating that to herself over and over again, to no avail. Maybe being sure wouldn't hurt?

Reception was able to point her in the direction of a pharmacy a few blocks over, past chainlink fences and fly-tipped refrigerators. Not the nicest of places, but necessary.

She couldn't find the tests. Plenty of generic painkillers, multivitamin supplements, band-aids and so on. But that meant she was going to have to ask out loud and that made it all seem more real...

No. This was a responsible and adult thing to do. There was no shame in it.

"Do you have any pregnancy tests?" she asked the young woman at the counter.

"Oh, sure. Folk kept stealing them so we keep them behind the counter. You want the morning after pill as well?"

"I... Er... I mean, I think it's probably a false alarm. Just the test, please."

Walking back was much, much easier, with no unwanted attention.

It was a little surprising to see Lucille in reception in a state of some distress when she returned clutching her little paper bag.

"What's going on?" Edith asked. "What's wrong?"

Lucille spun round, her shoulders dropping in relief, rushing forward to pull Edith into her arms.

"Oh, thank God!" she said. "I went to your room and you weren't there and then they wouldn't tell me where you went."

"Confidentiality," the receptionist said, a little curtly. Like she'd had quite enough of privileged guests' nonsense.

Without acknowledging her, Lucille steered Edith over towards the elevator, like she couldn't bear to let her go in case she suddenly disappeared again.

"Where were you?" she asked, taking the pharmacy bag from her without asking. "Are you feeling sick?"

"Not exactly..."

Edith couldn't work out what the look in her eyes meant when she drew out the pregnancy test. Was that excitement? Worry? Shock?

"Do you think you're...?"

"No. No, no, it's probably nothing. Just made myself worry. But, well, I probably can't have kids anyway, so..."

A shadow passed over Lucille's face, the ding of the elevator doors opening sounding somehow like a death knell.

"What do you mean?" she asked. "You're young, you're healthy."

Was this the time? Was she going to talk about something so private, something she tried so hard to keep from people? Was it only fair? After all, she knew some of Lucille's deep secrets. Maybe she ought to be honest in return.

She took Lucille's hand and led her into her room. She wanted to be away from prying eyes.

"After my mom died, I... I wasn't very well. For a long time."

Confusion hadn't left Lucille's face, sitting on the lumpy motel bed cross-legged, like a child listening to a story. Edith took a breath and tried to get her head in order.

"Mom was ill. Cancer. That's what killed her. And it was weirdly sudden. Within months of diagnosis. Dad was crushed. I was crushed. And I felt that I had to put on a brave face for him, I had to pretend like I was coping even though I really wasn't and so... I took it out on myself."

Lucille shook her head, not following.

"But I've seen every inch of your body and there's barely a mark on you."

"Not all self harm leaves scars."

It was horrible to have to dredge this stuff up. Of course, it never really left her. It was part of the background noise of her life. A fact, nothing more but also nothing less.

She folded her arms protectively, shielding herself, folding herself into the desk chair.

"I was... terrified of cancer," she said softly. "It started in little ways. I started cutting down on sugar, salt, processed foods in general. And then it was red meat, lactose, gluten... Anything non-organic so I restricted fruit and vegetables even. So on and so forth. I was obsessed with reading about carcinogenic foods. The barest whisper of a study, no matter how tenuous, would make me cut things out. It wasn't anorexia - I knew I was losing weight, I could see it and I didn't want to, but it was compulsive, I just... couldn't stop, I had to control everything that passed my lips. I'd lie and say I'd eaten at school or with friends and I'd wear bulky clothes to hide it. Until I just couldn't anymore."

Lucille was watching her like one of her old doctors used to, with almost clinical seriousness.

"Why didn't your father do anything?" she asked.

Edith sighed.

"Because I was very, very good at hiding it. I'm a bad liar, but I'm an expert concealer."

That apparently was intriguing.

"Anyway, he felt awful about it," Edith said. "Blamed himself. Which made me worse, made me hate myself, made me wish I could just... vanish."

Very carefully saying "vanish", rather than "die". She wasn't sure which was more accurate.

"So, what happened?" Lucille asked. "You didn't just wake up cured one day."

"No. Once it all became too much to disguise, I ended up hospitalized in seventh grade. I was severely underweight, malnourished. A bunch of deficiencies because I'd read somewhere that vitamin supplements were potentially bad for you. My hair was falling out, my bones were growing brittle. And then a lot of doctors spent a lot of time helping me develop ways to overcome my fears and anxieties. Dealing with the root issues. Dealing with my... survivor guilt, I suppose. Helping me and my dad learn to manage it. I've been lucky enough never to relapse, even when my dad died, and I can eat pretty much anything now without feeling that instant horror, but... Well, it was during puberty. I didn't have my first period until I was sixteen and they said I might never be able to have kids and I don't even know if I want them or... But then again, an accident could be my only chance, so... God, I don't know how I feel..."

She could feel her own panic rising even as she tried to breathe through it, tears threatening to fall. Lucille stood up and went to her bag, unzipping the pocket where she kept her toiletries without hesitating, like she knew exactly where to find tissues.

"It's OK," she said, moving Edith's box of tampons out of the way and grabbing the plastic packet. "It's probably nothing."

Edith dabbed at her eyes, part of her wondering at just how quickly she'd found them. Was that something to do with whatever they were doing when they were rummaging through her bag, supposedly to find nail scissors? Maybe.

"You should do the test anyway," Lucille said. "For peace of mind. Trust me."

Edith nodded, distracted, feeling like she was in some kind of dream as she stood up, the pharmacy bag rustling in her hand.

Lucille watched her, a strange pause in her motions, like she was unsure whether to go to her or not.

"What will you do?" she asked. "If it's positive?"

Edith blinked at the bathroom door, fake pine veneer over board, chipping off around the edges.

"I don't know," she said.

Chapter Text

Edith sat on cold porcelain and tried to make the instruction leaflet make sense. There were a lot of numbers and caveats. 54% accurate when used four days before due period, rising to 99%...

Well, she didn't know what day it was, let alone if she was due.

Better just to get it over with really.

She was acutely aware of Lucille's presence just on the other side of the door as she waiting for the display to change either way. Either to confirm that she was right, that she couldn't be pregnant, both for biological and contraceptive reasons, or to throw a big choice in her way.

It might be her only chance to have kids. It might be a one in a million thing never to be repeated. But it was the worst possible timing and also probably the worst person.

You were supposed to have children with a long-term partner, not with a foreign rock star who was also your boss and then add in the complex sexual mix they were in and the mistrust and then what she'd say to Alan... She'd have to admit that she lied.

"What does it say?" Lucille asked through the door as Edith pulled her jeans back up.

"Nothing yet."

"I'm going to get Thomas."

"No," Edith said immediately. "No, don't. It's probably nothing."

She heard the door close, leaving her alone in four walls of fear. Maybe she could just never come out. Just hide forever.

Was that a line on the indicator? What did that mean? Was that positive or negative?

Keep breathing. They'd always used condoms, she knew they had. She hadn't really handled them herself, but Thomas knew what he was doing. None of them had broken or anything, she didn't think.

Besides, they'd only had sex a few times. Once was enough, of course, but given the other points that told her this was impossible, she couldn't be...

She heard the room door burst open and reflexively threw the lock across just before Thomas tried to get to her, the bathroom handle rattling.

"Edith?" he said. "Can I come in?"

"I'm not ready."

"Listen, everything's going to be alright. You won't have to worry at all. We'll sort everything out. For one thing, you can come to England without a visa for private medical treatment, so there won't be any trouble there."

Edith frowned at the door. Something about this was too easy. She didn't trust it.

"How do you know that?" she asked.

He was nonplussed, laughing a little, but she knew that laugh... She was suspicious of that laugh. It was what he hid behind.

"What do you mean?" he asked. "It's just something I read when we were applying to come over here."

The fear was in her now. The sleeping tea, the snooping, the control... They controlled everything, right down to what she ate and drank, and now she was saying she might be pregnant and...

"You're not surprised," she said, almost stammering.

"What?"

"You're not surprised that I'm maybe... You should be surprised. Why aren't you surprised?"

That laugh again. No, no, no...

"What, you think I deliberately got you pregnant? How? We always used condoms."

"Maybe you tampered with them somehow."

"Edith, come on. This is irrational."

She slammed her hands into the door, furious. She'd had enough of being lied to and being told she was imagining it.

"You drugged me," she said. "You went through my stuff. I can't trust you."

"Calm down. We will get through this. Just open the door and we can talk this over sensibly."

She was breathing hard, more frightened than she wanted to admit.

"Is Lucille there?" she asked. She felt more safe with her somehow, like maybe there was some kind of feminine connection.

"Yes," came the voice as proof. "I know it's scary, but I think you're overreacting a little."

Was she? Or were they both lying to her?

Her heart pounded in her chest, a strange sensation that waters were rising all around her and she was either going to have to swim or perish.

"Did you kill your parents?" she asked.

It was maybe an unexpected question, but their answer was going to affect everything. Were they going to lie or not? Were they going to threaten her?

She held her breath, waiting. Perhaps there was a silent discussion occurring.

"Yes," Lucille said eventually. "Now, will you come out?"

It was just confirming what she'd already suspected for so long and yet it was still monumental. A sob slipped out of her. Part of her had perhaps wanted to believe that... that they hadn't.

But she'd known really. She'd known and yet she'd carried on. She'd let them keep leading her astray even though she knew.

But then again, she did know. No one else did, not really. She'd worked it out, almost by herself. She'd managed to go behind their backs, managed to see through their lies. Some of them anyway.

And she still knew one thing that they didn't. She still had leverage.

She wrapped the pregnancy test in several layers of tissue, sliding the lock across with a sharp snap.

Thomas smiled at her, trying to charm his way out of everything as usual, holding out his hand. Edith carefully kept the test out of his reach.

"You'll answer my questions first," she said. "Then I'll decide what I'm doing."

He looked to Lucille where she was lounged in the desk chair. She'd dragged it in front of the door. It wasn't a very subtle bit of barricading and any hope Edith might have felt that she would be an ally began to slip away.

"How about you tell us what you know about our parents' untimely deaths?" she said. "Or what you think you know, anyway."

Thomas moved to sit on the floor in front of her, Lucille resting a hand on his shoulder. Comforting.

Edith took a deep breath, unconsciously stepping behind the bed, putting a barrier between them.

"I... I think you made them look like accidents. You... messed with the pipes, caused a gas leak, and you knew your father would be passed out drunk and likely to die. And I think you crashed the car deliberately."

She definitely was not mentioning that Enola had told her about the switched brake lines. A good journalist protected their sources.

"Why would we do that?" Lucille asked, Thomas leaning back against her legs and watching carefully.

"Because they hurt you. It was for survival - you or them. I think you killed your father because he was dangerous and then your mother because of what she did. But you had to wait until Thomas was eighteen so you'd get the house without any fuss."

They looked... impressed more than anything. But there was the tiniest smile haunting Lucille's lips, a hint that there was something else too.

"So why didn't you leave if you thought we'd done such dreadful things? Did you feel bad for us? Poor hurt little things... Was it pity? Or was it just the sexual draw keeping you around?"

It might as well have been a slap. And Lucille wasn't even waiting for an answer, leaning forward like a cat prepared to pounce.

"Let me explain what's going to happen," she said. "We will finish the tour and take you to England, ostensibly to complete the book. While there, we will pay for all medical care. We'll even get you a Caesarean if you want and you don't mind the scar. Sign all the necessary paperwork to grant Thomas full custody and then you can get back on a plane and carry on with your life with all the glowing references you can imagine. No one will ever know."

"And what if it's negative?" Edith asked.

"Then we've put all our eggs in an eggless basket."

That burned and Edith couldn't help the way tears rushed to her eyes, doing her best to force them back and rub them away.

"Why?" she asked. "Why are you doing this?"

They blinked at her.

"She doesn't know," Thomas said softly.

"She does," Lucille replied. "She just doesn't want to think about it."

It was right there, screaming at the back of her mind. Shared beds, bookings under married titles, that closeness out in the desert, that dream... That dream that might not have been a dream. Maybe something had happened, maybe those moans were real.

Had they somehow managed to trick her? Were they not brother and sister at all? There were rumors, weren't there, that it was all fake?

Or was that just it? That was what she didn't want to think about, the possibility she didn't want to consider... That they really were and they were also...

And she'd tried not to notice, she'd refused the evidence of her own eyes and ears because she couldn't bear it.

"Do you remember a while ago, I said that some things were better done by a surrogate?" Lucille asked. "I wasn't just talking about how helpful assistants are."

A lot of things Lucille had said were coming back to her. Of being pregnant by her first and dearest love at seventeen. Of miscarriages. And that would be more likely, perhaps, if you had too many shared genes. And then there were hereditary diseases too. There was much too much risk involved in having a child.

All this time, they'd been using her. They must have planned it from the very beginning, planed to seduce her. Chosen her out of all the writers because she seemed naive and isolated. No family. No partner. Taking her away from everything she knew, keeping her off-balance, tricking her into letting them.

And yet...

"Why did you get involved, Lucille?" she asked.

"What are you talking about? It was my idea. I was the one sticking pins through all the condoms."

"But if the plan was to get someone pregnant, why did you bother seducing me too? You weren't going to get it done. If anything, that was just taking away time that Thomas could have been knocking me up."

From Lucille's face, twin spots of pink upon her cheeks. Edith knew she'd found a weakness, seizing upon it.

"Unless, of course, things didn't go quite to plan."

"You think I didn't want to get to know the future mother of my child?"

"I don't think it was exactly top of your agenda, no. Is that what you were arguing about the night we went dancing? Was it because Thomas had realized that you liked me? That you were developing feelings for the incubator?"

The narrowed eyes told her she was exactly right.

"Don't you have a show to play?" Edith asked. "You don't want to be late."

It was fun to be the one setting people off-balance for once.

"What are you going to do?" Thomas asked.

"I haven't decided yet. I'm going to sleep on it."

"Is it positive?"

Edith fixed him with the best cold stare she could manage, despite the tears and the hurt.

"I haven't decided whether to tell you."

Lucille stood up with a scrape of chair, barely restrained rage.

"If you run, we'll hunt you down and sue you for everything you've got. Breach of contract," she said.

Edith didn't doubt her. But she did doubt that her concern was purely for the little ball of cells growing within her.

Not that she was going to tell them about that yet.

Or maybe ever.

Chapter Text

They debated taking her room key, but Thomas argued it would be unsafe. What if there was a fire and she had to get out?

They did eventually leave her alone. And that was when Edith broke down for a while, locking herself back in the bathroom to weep. A proper cry. Properly letting herself feel lost and small and afraid.

And then she took a deep breath, turned to a new page in her notebook, and started writing out her options.

1. Abortion.

It would probably be the neatest escape. Lie to the Sharpes, say she wasn't pregnant, run back home and deal with it. It would depend how quickly she could get away though. She didn't know how far along she was after all. What if it was too late?

And would she regret it? She genuinely wasn't sure. Maybe she would, but maybe she'd feel a wave of relief. It was probably much the same with having a child. Although it wasn't acceptable to talk about, some people must regret having children.

It was a possibility, but she didn't feel anything like certain.

2. Go along with it

Purely self-preservation. Giving up a child to incestuous murderers to save her own skin. Walking away. Abandoning them.

She drew a line through that. Not an option. She'd never forgive herself.

3. Run away

She could lie, pretend not to be pregnant, finish the tour and run back to Buffalo. It would be hard, yes. It would be very hard. But maybe she felt more comfortable about it.

Why did she feel that way? She tried to interrogate it. She'd accepted a long time ago that she likely wouldn't have children and now that she had a chance, maybe she felt a termination would be losing something. She wasn't like most other women; she had no guarantee that her fertility was reliable.

What if the Sharpes caught wind somehow? Could they sue for parental rights for Thomas? She wasn't sure.

But she had a horrible feeling that they would somehow twist everything, make her seem like an unsafe parent. Bring up her mental health, portray her as unfit in a dozen ways.

After all, she was hardly in an ideal position - she had a precarious job, she lived in shared housing with a man who certainly was not her partner and while being a single parent wasn't impossible, she genuinely wasn't sure if she'd cope.

It was a difficult one.

And then, of course...

4. Refuse to give up rights. Insist on co-parenting

This was probably some kind of madness talking. Go to England permanently? Or develop some kind of long-distance relationship between the baby and the Sharpes?

They wouldn't agree. They wanted to be parents. They wanted to be the mother and father. They wouldn't want her hanging around.

They did love her though, in their own twisted way. She believed they did. And she'd heard them that day, in the back of the bus, half asleep.

"She'll never stay," Lucille had said.

And then Thomas had said, "She might."

Was that secretly what they wanted?

She tried to get a grip on herself, writing INCEST in all capitals and underlining it for good measure. Not only had they both been cheating on her, but it had been with each other. And they had no intention of stopping, probably.

Despite herself, she was curious. Lucille had said she was pregnant at seventeen; that meant Thomas was fifteen. How long ago had this started? And which of them started it?

People said, didn't they, that children who had been abused might abuse other children? She wasn't sure of any statistics on that, but it made sense, didn't it? If that was what you knew.

She wanted to understand. What made people do things like that? Was it the cruelty of their childhood? The isolation?

And how did she feel about it?

Well, it would depend on the circumstances, she supposed. If one had abused the other, for one thing, that would be different to if they had both willingly...

Not that it was OK, obviously. Killing their parents wasn't OK, but she could still understand. Maybe she'd understand this too.

Oh, what was wrong with her? They had violated her body in the most awful way. They'd tricked her, used her, treated her like a walking womb and nothing more. No amount of twisted affection could change that.

The realisation stole over her slowly that technically she'd been... assaulted. Raped, even. She had not consented to this. She had consented to using protection.

It wouldn't stand up in court, she knew that. People had enough trouble proving much more cut-and-dry cases. This would be her word against theirs; she had no proof. Which was more likely - that she'd been the victim of a conspiracy to impregnate or that there had been an accident, a split condom or something?

Maybe in another life, she'd have thought that was what it was. Maybe if they'd chosen a different person, they'd have believed.

If she ran away, would they try again with someone else? Someone more vulnerable?

She felt a wave of protective instinct towards this hypothetical woman. What was to stop them trying again? Nothing at all.

Unless she stopped them.

Maybe this was more unhinged thinking. Giving herself an excuse when she knew it was a bad idea.

She needed more time to think. She needed to get through the shock and think clearly and that might take a few days.

Really, she should seek help. A second opinion. She should call Alan and lay it all out there, or some of it anyway.

She wasn't ready.

She lay on her bed staring at the ceiling, her hand unconsciously resting on her lower stomach. Thinking. Wondering.

The quiet tap against her door startled her more than a loud knock would have, sending her creeping to the peep hole.

Thomas, leaning against the door jamb, looking positively haggard.

Edith hesitated before opening it to let him enter. She wanted a weapon, if she was honest. A blunt object perhaps. Something.

But he didn't look angry. More like... upset.

He looked at her like a kicked puppy, reproachful as he strode in.

"Well, I hope you're proud of yourself," he said.

Edith's jaw dropped.

"Me?" she cried.

Thomas turned to her, gesturing wildly.

"Any reasonable person would have just given a straight answer but, oh, no, not you. You had to be difficult."

"You deliberately tried to get me pregnant against my will and now you're trying to bully me into giving you a child. I'm not the one being unreasonable. If anything I should already have called the police and made a run for it."

"And why haven't you?"

"Because I'm scared! You're murderers. You're liars, you're... I don't even know what else you're capable of. And you know where I live."

He scoffed, looking away.

"Lucille is crying her eyes out upstairs, you know. The set list went completely out the window. She played whichever songs reflected how she felt and I just ran to keep up. It's a miracle it held together."

Edith made herself shrug, like she didn't care at all.

"Maybe she should have thought about that before doing this," she said.

"It wasn't meant to happen! We weren't meant to develop feelings for you. God, I knew we should have chosen a man. It would have been so much easier. But Lucille was scared, and no wonder. She's lost enough pregnancies. Far too many."

"Perhaps if they weren't inbred, they'd have gone to term."

If looks could hurt, she'd have been wincing. It was a look of pure venom, but softening into sadness almost immediately.

"You don't know what it's like," he said quietly. "To have only one person in the whole world. To be trapped. When you need and crave love like oxygen, any kind, and you can only find it in one place. You can't tell me it's wrong. And even if it is, I don't care."

He wanted to talk. She could feel it. And so she decided to let him.

"When did it start?" she asked.

He shrugged.

"I don't know. I know she's the only person who loved me as a child. To Father I was a perpetual disappointment and to Mother just the right combination of chromosomes. Lucille was practically the parent to me. She's the one who took care of me. Protected me. And when we reached adolescence, it became... something different."

"She abused you," Edith said. "She was older, she knew..."

"We both wanted it."

Edith wasn't sure if she trusted that. After all, he'd been very young. Maybe he misremembered. Maybe Lucille had been pulling his strings for a very long time.

He sighed, rubbing his eyes.

"You won't understand," he said. "You can't understand a love like this. It's like a monstrous parasite that feeds on us both but I think if it were removed, we would die. That's not an exaggeration. If I ever thought she didn't love me with every atom of body and soul, I'd... I'd rather be dead."

He was right. Edith didn't understand. Even in the most dedicated partners, she'd always expected autonomy. You were a team, not one being; there was a difference.

But she had other questions.

"Did you even like my writing?" she asked. "Or was it just my uterus you wanted?"

He laughed, a little huff of amusement.

"Of course we liked it," he said. "We weren't going to bring some dullard along. It was practically divine intervention that you were in exactly the right circumstances as well as being smart. Witty. Intriguing."

A faint blush had slipped past her defenses.

"I still don't know what I'm going to do," she said. "This is probably the worst thing anyone has ever done to me. You lied to me, you tricked me, you told me you loved me..."

"We do."

Edith shook her head, lips pressed tightly together.

"You don't do this to people you love," she said. "You don't force them into corners, you don't make them this scared... You don't do that to anyone."

"You're the only person who's ever tried to teach us that.

"But that's not my responsibility! It's not my job to teach you how to behave. You know it's wrong and you did it anyway... Please, just leave me alone."

He didn't argue, running a hand through his hair and heading for the door.

"We could make you very happy, you know," he said. "If you let us."

She sighed. She was so tired...

"Get out, Thomas," she said, unable to put any bite in it. "Go and look after your sister."

It took a long, long time for her to fall asleep.