(1938-11-03) Intentions
Details for Intentions
Summary: Valet and mistress behind closed doors. Frid interrogates Fabia about the intentions of a certain gentleman friend she's taken up with recently; then she foists Saccharine Powder upon him, but the afternoon doesn't quite unfold as she intends…
Date: November 3rd, 1938
Location: Upstairs at the Three Broomsticks

Fabia's Rooms

The mithtreth, sorry, mistress of the Three Broomsticks wakes just before lunch-time, drinks her tea and eats her aspirin, does her ballet and has her bath, and then doesn't know what to do with the other nine hours before she'll go through the Floo to London to meet a certain gentleman.

She tries to read her book; can't concentrate. She re-arranges a vase of flowers, with middling results, and tries them in four different places round her sitting-room, with increasingly worse results: after all, the shape of an arrangement must be chosen with due consideration for where it shall be seen. She puts them on the floor under an occasional table, where it shall hardly be seen at all, and that seems best. She smokes a cigarette. She changes back into her pyjamas, puts Chopin on the gramophone, and does a little more ballet, which soothes her nerves rather better than the cigarette; but by the time Frid climbs the stairs with her light, late luncheon, really more of an early afternoon-tea, every piece of furniture in her boudoir has at least one evening-dress draped over it, and the floor is littered with the silk covers which protect them from one another in the wardrobe and the scented sachets which hang inside them.

"Oh, Frid!" she exclaims, upon his advent, turning toward him within the magnificent dressing-gown of the late B. Travers, Esq., which doesn't turn quite as fast as she does and thus is still swaying about her seconds later. "London tonight, and I can't think of anything suitable to the season that the tulip gentleman," she calls him this, usually, even knowing his first name, "hasn't seen me in before. Perhaps I ought to go up early and try to get a new frock?"

Frid eyes the collection of strewn gowns, as he sets the lunch down. "I'm sure, madam, we must have something he has not yet seen. Besides which, I assure you that any gentleman should hardly mind seeing you in the same dress more than once, if he even notices." He moves to pick up one of the frocks, holding it up and raising an eyebrow. "This one, madam?"

"I don't know whether he'd mind, but, sweetie, I mind!" The trailing hem of the dressing-gown catches one of the silk dress-covers and drags it along the floor, like the exhausted ghost of a frock, as Fabia gravitates toward her luncheon-tray. A salad, a few little bits of this and that, and a glass of cool Sauvignon Blanc… "Oh, no, not that one, he saw me in that one for hours, we actually went to the theatre that night," she objects, going straight for the wine rather than the food. "Besides, it doesn't show off my necklace as well as it ought."

"Perhaps your tulip gentleman might offer to pay for a new frock, then," Frid mentions, lips pressing together for just a moment. "I do wonder exactly what his intentions are, madam, and I worry for you. Diamonds are not a casual gift."

"Oh, Frid," Fabia drawls, wine glass in hand, raising an eyebrow at him, "you sound positively paternal! I'm touched, but, sweetie… You've not said a word about my men friends till now — rather prided yourself, I thought, on not saying a word." She winks, and sits down, and speechifies between bites of a very thin sandwich. "But what is there to worry about? Nothing, I promise, but what to wear! The diamonds — didn't I tell you where they came from? We bought them with money we won playing together at a chemmy game! He hardly mortgaged his ancestral pile to adorn me."

Frid eyes the bottle of wine, considers, and decides to err on the side of professionalism, folding his hands behind his back. "In general, madam, I have never considered your previous gentleman friends to be more than a casual distraction," he admits, clearing his throat quietly. "I am merely concerned for your good character and wellbeing."

His employer observes these calculations whilst devouring the final bite of her tiny, triangular sandwich and utters: "No, Frid. If we're going to talk about this, you have to sit down too."

"I should simply like to know his intentions, madam, so we might plan accordingly," Frid insists stubbornly, although he does retreat to one of the chairs, frowning just a touch. It's very hard to look the part in an armchair and puts him at a distinct disadvantage in these sorts of arguments.

"Have a sandwich," Fabia insists. She gets up, puts the sandwich in question into his hand, and retrieves an extra glass from the drinks trolley, into which she pours what she considers an appropriate quantity of the Sauvignon Blanc. Well, if he can step out of his usual role, she can step into it, can't she?

Frid just eyes her at that, looks to the sandwich, looks back to her, then finally takes a bite of it, watching her warily. The wine he sets down on the arm of the chair, balancing it there with two fingers on the stem. "Thank you."

"There, sweetie," and Fabia beams, satisfied with her arrangements, and sits down quite near to him with her own glass of wine. "You are so sweet to be—" Her fingers flicker through the air, her head makes a slight dancing motion as she repeats his rather fantastical phrase of a moment ago: "'Concerned for my good character'; but I thought you must have known me well enough by now to know, I haven't got a good character. Whether a gentleman's intentions are utterly dishonourable doesn't matter one jot; because, you know, mine aren't so noble and pristine either. It doesn't matter," she repeats.

"Your reputation matters," Frid insists earnestly, the effect ruined by a crumb of bread clinging stubbornly to his moustache. "What do we even know about this gentleman? A man does not buy diamonds on a whim, madam, even from the winnings from a night of cards."

"I know more than enough," is Fabia's slightly smirking reply; God only knows what knowledge has sprung into her mind. "I'm silly about all sorts of things but I've always had rather a good sense about men. I knew you were a good one the moment we met, didn't I?" she puts in triumphantly, pointing at him as she utters the pronoun. "And I really don't see what's so sinister about diamonds. Lots of men used to give me jewellery once upon a time — you've seen the pieces I still have! — the only thing that's unusual about Jasper is that he still wants to give me jewellery. I don't intend to hold that habit against him, I assure you…" Giggle.

"And your gentleman is still of the belief that you are staying with family in London?" Frid queries, finally taking a sip of his wine. "At which point, madam, is he going to start asking uncomfortable questions? I ask you solely out of concern for your own wellbeing, as I'm sure you know. Is he expecting you to spend more time in London? Do you intend to leave this establishment in the hands of the former manageress?"

She gives him the filthy look he deserves for asking such pertinent questions; and drinks her wine in silence while she tries to think of some sort of answer which won't sound as though she has just thought of it. "If the current set of fibs and distractions fails, I'll think of new ones," she says simply. "I've always done it; there have always been things in my life that… didn't make sense, if a man should happen to try to add them up. And any woman keeping two or three lovers on the go at once, soon learns to be plausible at short notice. I'll manage him, don't worry. We aren't together constantly — that makes it easier. Two or three nights a week in London," or four, "is no reason to give up the Broomsticks, is it? I do need to fill in the rest of the time, you know, I can't stand," her eyes flick across to the chaos of frocks in her boudoir, "just sitting about waiting to see a man."

"Very good, madam," Frid decides, setting down his wine. "The burgundy, perhaps, tonight?" he suggests, perhaps by way of appeasement, giving a short nod towards another discarded frock.

Fabia's face answers for her. Not the burgundy. She's incapable of imagining anything more horrific than the burgundy. She shakes her head. "Perhaps not," she sighs. "Oh, Frid, you still look worried. What is it, really?"

"I am merely concerned, madam," Frid insists. He takes another bite of his sandwich, pausing to chew it. "You will inform me of any changes in circumstances, I trust?"

She looks at him blankly. "Such as? … Oh, when he tires of me, I suppose." A rueful sigh. "Probably not for a while yet, I shouldn't think, he seems rather fond. But you know everything that goes on with me Frid, you'll always know."

"Or if two or three nights a week becomes rather more," Frid notes, "and my services are no longer required here."

The horror of the burgundy frock pales by comparison with this — this unthinkable thought, which widens Fabia's eyes and parts her lips till she resembles a startled and most elegant goldfish. She shrieks, "Frid!" and is promptly struck by mirth so intense that she has to put down her glass lest she spill the half-inch of wine remaining in it. One arm curled around herself, the other hand clutching the arm of the chair, she laughs, and laughs… And finally gasps, "Oh, Frid. I don't think I shall be going to London to be a kept woman, not now. But if I do, I promise to take you with me. I couldn't manage without you — you must know that." She leans toward him, suddenly glistening green eyes imploring him to know it.

Frid clears his throat quietly, giving her a somewhat awkward smile as she bursts out laughing. "I have always done my best by you, Mrs. Fairfax, and I hope to continue to do so." He hesitates, deciding then that the best course of action is just to drain the rest of his mostly full glass of wine. "The pale blue, then?" comes his next suggestion, deflecting the subject as best he can back to the safer… mostly safer… topic of her evening wear.

"I do look enchanting in pale blue," Fabia agrees. She gives him a sideways glance, shaking her head slightly, as she polishes off her own glass of wine. "As though I'd let a mere lover separate me from you, Frid. The very idea," she sniffs.

Frid quirks a very slight grin. "Of course, madam. I confess I am most pleased to hear it. Are we expecting company tonight before you leave, or shall I run a bath?"

"Oh, it's too early to change," Fabia sighs, "and I'm not expecting company, but perhaps if I'm excessively fortunate, a little company might turn up anyway." She pauses. "Oh, Frid, will you be my company? Have another drink with me to pass the time? We can talk about something apart from men, if you like."

"I seem to recall that the last time we drank together, the conversation was rather more about women," Frid notes, rising to his feet to collect the bottle of wine and top up her glass, and then his. "I'm not entirely certain I preferred it."

Ah, but he doesn't say no, does he? A grateful little smile from Fabia, who endeavours, then, to address herself to her salad. "Well, if we don't talk about men, and we don't talk about women, I'm not sure what that leaves," she murmurs, between bites. "Frogs? I don't know a great deal about frogs. The inventory trouble downstairs? Heaven preserve me from the inventory trouble downstairs, when I'm trying to have a pleasant afternoon… Oh, I know! The gold lame!" she exclaims suddenly, dabbing at her lips with her napkin, and turning in her chair to gesture toward where she more or less recollects leaving it. "He only saw me in that one for about four minutes, the only thing he'll remember about it is the buttons." She beams. Yes, this is a helpful change of topic.

Frid settles back down with his glass. "I assure you, men pay very little attention to the clothing a lady wears. Provided it covers enough to be decent, and uncovers enough to be interesting, any more is irrelevant."

"Plenty of men are oblivious," Fabia agrees, "goodness knows, if one dressed purely in the hope of pleasing and diverting men one would be in for a lifetime of crushed vanity; but the tulip gentleman…" She sighs. "He has quite a memory for little details, and one never knows which he'll choose to remember. I took Miss Silver to meet him, you know, she was dying to, just for a moment en route to an engagement, you know the sort of thing, and he recognised on her a pair of earrings he'd given me all those years ago… I hadn't the least idea they were from him, I had a vague idea they'd come from a Russian gentleman. He didn't say a word then, but he asked me later. Quite mortifying for a moment."

"Aha," Frid responds, it all suddenly becoming quite clear, and relief evident on his face. "I had no idea you had given Miss Silver your earrings. I'm very pleased that they sufficed."

Fabia has a mouthful of lettuce; once she's swallowed it, she gives Frid a peculiar look: "Yes, I gave her a pair of earrings ages ago… What do you mean?"

Frid pauses, wine half way to his lips, running his tongue over his teeth as he considers the best way to broach the subject. "Ah. So will I need to budget for her more recent visits?"

A near-choking incident with a candied almond, covered rather smoothly by another sip of wine. "You thought — oh, my," Fabia murmurs. "You thought all sorts of things." She tries to resist, but no. No. She must do it. She winks at him. "I always think, I suppose, that you must know everything that goes on with me; I never think that… Anyway, sweetie, it isn't that way at all. And even if it was, it wouldn't be. Not everything's about sex and money, even in Miss Silver's life."

"Do forgive me, madam," Frid responds quickly, eartips turning a soft pink. "I had assumed, given her profession… well, quite. Ah, well. In which case, I am sure we can budget a new dress for your mysterious gentleman."

"You're blushing," Fabia says fondly. "I thought I'd cured you of that, in five years." She considers what he's said, while picking at her salad; she really isn't in the mood to eat it… "I don't see, though, why I shouldn't do as you suggested." A pause, to see whether he recalls, then, "Have the tulip gentleman pay for a frock or two." Another pause. "I didn't say some things weren't about sex and money."

"I do apologise, madam. I shall have my blood removed and replaced with something less obvious," Frid suggests with a wry smile. "Vodka, perhaps. I am sure that if anyone could convince a gentleman friend to buy for them a new dress, though, it would be you. Your powers of persuasion are legendary."

"Gin," Fabia suggests, "much more useful if I required a transfusion in an emergency." She giggles. "Are my powers so remarkable, though? I fail all the time; I mean, it occurred to me just now that I haven't managed to persuade you to indulge in a saccharine powder cocktail, yet… Oh, shall we have them now, sweetie? Oh, do say yes…" She picks a little at the tasseled cord of the late B. Travers's dressing-gown, obviously spoiling for some sort of distraction.

Frid considers this briefly, finally relenting and holding up thumb and forefinger. "Just a small one, then," he decides. "I may yet need my wits about me this evening, even without the need to babysit you."

"Oh, Frid, really. Babysitting." She sniffs; and sails past him to the drinks trolley, salad forgotten as though it had ne'er been.

Of course you can rely absolutely upon Fabia Fairfax to respect your wishes vis a vis the size of your drink. She'd never dream of foisting too intoxicating a potation upon someone whose stated aim is to keep his wits about him. You can trust her, you know you can, even if she has her back to you while she's measuring the ingredients into the cocktail shaker. Even if she hums.

The drink she presents to Frid, the one she retains for herself, amount to scarcely three ounces apiece. "There," she says proudly, "just a small one. Oh, you'll like it, though, it's such fun…" She always does think other people will like the things she likes, regardless of personal taste.

Frid nods polite thanks as he accepts the drink, then holds it up, considering. "Dare I ask what's in it, or is that the challenge? From the colour, I'm going to assume bitters and… I'm not sure. Gin?" He sniffs the cocktail to try to ascertain its ingredients. "Your health, madam," he offers, lifting his glass towards her.

"You'll like it," she tells him again, pointedly not telling him exactly what he's about to consume; and then knocking back her own in several smooth, steady swallows, to give him the idea. Lord, the top of her head nearly comes off, so much saccharine powder in so little liquid. Well, she didn't need the top of her head for the next few hours anyway, did she? She feels beautiful. She sets the glass, oh, somewhere or another, and trips lightly across to the gramophone…

Frid takes a more moderate sized sip, twisting his head away and squinting at the sweetness of it. "Mostly syrup," he guesses. "Or… ah. No. I'll guess that's the green sugar, hm? Just how much did you put in it?" He takes another tentative sip, shaking his head slowly.

"Not a lot," Fabia lies like a rug, "it's just that it is rather sweet… And if you don't eat sweet things a lot, it must taste awful. Oh, dear. Down the hatch is probably best, sweetie." She turns on Noël Coward (and why not, he's often turned her on).

Not convinced, Frid takes another tiny sip, running his tongue over his lips as he settles back in his seat, the warmth beginning to make its way through him regardless. He even goes as far as unbuttoning his jacket, foot tapping along to the music.

Swaying back past her empty glass Fabia picks it up and inspects the rim for any lingering traces of green powder — ah, there's a speck. She licks it off, and puts the glass down again, and wanders back into the boudoir to find a less stiflingly heavy dressing-gown. One of her own, not her dead husband's… Ah, there's the peacock one. Very nice. She drops one and wiggles into the other, belting it casually over the turquoise petticoat and camisole with which it co-ordinates incidentally rather nicely, and twirls back into the sitting-room to see how Frid's getting on.

Oddly enough, mostly there is a stillness in the room, the sounds of Noël Coward becoming more muted as Frid drinks, somehow seeming to come from further away than the few scant feet to the gramophone. The room itself seems to extend somewhat longer than its actual dimensions, although one can't quite fathom how.

Fabia doesn't disapprove of this, as long as she can still see the sofa upon which she intends to stretch out. Mmm… The silken dressing-gown slips away from her bare ankles and calves as she cuddles into the sofa cushions, lying on her side, the picture of lassitude, save for her eyes, which flick constantly about the elongating room, looking for… ah!

A red-haired ballet dancer, cool and queenly, in an 1840s tutu — long, white, full and diaphanous, with gauzy sleeves which seem just to have fallen from her beautiful bare shoulders. She is not smiling. She is bourréeing.

Frid looks puzzled for a long time, sipping on his cocktail as though that'll make sense of it all. "I didn't think we were expecting guests," he finally decides, struggling with some sense of chivalry which insists he ought to stand up and weighing it against exactly how leaden his legs feel right now. The dancer drifts by a bed, not Fabia's bed, it should be noted, but a random white sheeted bed which just so happens to have appeared and nobody seems to question it. "Would she like a drink?" he muses, eyes drifting down to the mud that the ballet dancer appears to be tracking in with each delicate step.

Nevermind her intention to relax, Fabia is sitting bolt upright, gazing at the ballet dancer as one might at the idol of a particularly heathen religion. She's a very fine idol, if one likes the type. Small, slim and strong, with every muscle in her arms, her shoulders, her throat, exquisitely defined and elongated… Hardly an opulent example of the female form, but her bodice nips at her waist quite meaningfully, and then those bountiful, not-quite-transparent skirts flow out from just the right point upon her hips, to give her a pleasing silhouette. Her red hair is pinned up in a simple, tidy arrangement, looped down to cover her ears; she is crowned with tiny white flowers. She seems — very stern, with that long nose, that determined chin, lips which look as though they haven't the least notion how to smile… And perhaps — familiar…?

"Don't you know me when you see me, Frid?" Fabia exclaims; as her younger self unfurls her arms with a gorgeous ripple, takes several feather-light steps, and dips down into a breathtaking arabesque penchée, one leg high behind her.

"You?" Frid queries, rubbing his face with one hand. "You look so…" young "…different." And mud spattered. "Magic?" he asks, a frown settling on his features at the very word, a frown that soon changes when a second figure appears, apparently from beside another bed which has grown from nowhere. The sounds of Noël Coward are ever more distant, only the bassline booming out like some faraway thunder, as this second figure, distinctly feminine and in a long, white overdress, settles in to watch the young-Fabia dance.

"Oh, but I was very different, in this role… Myrtha is the Queen of the Wilis, the ghosts of girls who die unwed, jilted by their lovers, who rise in the forest at night and lure young men to sudden, violent death by dancing…" One gloriously flowing pose succeeds another; then a second penchee, on the other side of the room, at the foot of the second bed. "I really had to act, you know," Fabia concludes, giggling. "But it's not magic, sweetie, only a shared… a shared vision… But beds, Frid? Beds?" She hasn't noticed the new girl yet, she's so intent upon herself. But surely it's only a matter of time.

Frid lifts a hand to hover somewhere around his collar, the skin around it beginning to redden and blister unpleasantly. "I don't quite understand, madam," he adds slowly, eyes fixed on the phantom nurse for as the second figure turns, her apparel makes her profession apparent, "exactly why you are dancing here of all places. Luring us all to our deaths? Ha." The sound is hollow, and he screw his eyes up tightly before peering back at the nurse, whose face seems to dance just out of focus. A blur.

The inside of Fabia's henna'd head is buzzing like a beehive; but in five years with Frid, she has learned a certain look, a certain tone… She knew them from the first, really, even when they were only a very educated guess, inspired by nights with soldier boys in her (comparative) youth. She has been gazing with wide eyes (the pupils dilated) and glistening, lately-licked lips at her own magnificent phantasm; but Frid, Frid… Frid and his — she sees the other woman who has appeared in the room whilst she was unaware — his nurse… She puts her feet on the floor, pushes up, takes three unsteady steps and sits, without any great dignity, in the chair next to Frid's, from which she stretches out her hand to touch his wrist, trying to anchor him, in the midst of a hallucination she ought to have known better than to risk, but all the others were so pleasant, who could have—? She could have, if she hadn't been so stupidly, unforgivably foolish. Her heart pounds; her other hand fumbles for Frid's glass, trying to take it from him before he can drink down the remnants of the cocktail she foisted upon him. She wanted him to see her, to see her truly, as she once was, as a dancer, as a beauty; if she hadn't been so bloody selfish…

"It's only a dream, Frid," she murmurs, helplessly, "it isn't true."

Frid hisses with pain as she touches his wrist, a glance in that direction enough to have the skin there livid and raw. He shakes his head, eyes flickering between dancer and faceless nurse. "How can you dance?" he accuses her, tone one of hurt and betrayal. "How can you dance here?"

That sound, that glance; the sudden warmth of his skin; Fabia's hand flies away and she looks at the floor. She sees mud from here to there, mud everywhere. Mud and… worse. But she has hold of his glass — he didn't resist her — and, with a sudden inspiration, she drinks what's left in it, her tongue shamelessly plundering it for every last drop, every last grain… Perhaps whatever comes from her mind, will be strong enough to replace what comes from his.

She drops the glass in the gap between their chairs and touches his arm, much farther up, just below the shoulder, a caress so light it must hardly be perceptible… She shifts her hand up to his shoulder, leaning closer, murmuring, "It was somewhere else, Frid. Another place. Another time. It — it could never have been like this… Just close your eyes. Please. It isn't real, but the sitting-room is real and I'm real — and I'll keep talking to you till it goes away."

Frid grips the arm of his chair, staring fixedly at the figure of the nurse, a nurse, it must be said, who must have great difficulty bringing her elbows together, and whose uniform is not entirely the sober, regulation affair. She even glows a little bit around her slightly out of focus edges, weaving her way between white sheeted beds covered with the scratchy, green brown wool blankets. "Of course it's not real," he responds, although there's doubt in his tone. "How could it be real?"

"It feels…" Fabia looks down at her bare feet in the mud where her carpet ought to be, and shudders, pressing her lips together. It isn't real. If she ignores it, it will all go away soon. Surely. "It feels too real. Frid, I—" She touches her other hand to his, where it's so tight upon the arm of his chair, hoping to find a little comfort herself as well as to offer it to him.

And the phantasm of the younger Fabia leaps and twirls and floats with surpassing lightness, between the hospital beds or over them, her form exquisite but her face grimmer by the moment. No pretty tulle princess she.

Frid closes his eyes for a moment, that single act reducing the size of the room once more, walls becoming visible, real walls, solid walls, with the late Bertram Travers Esquire's appalling taste in interior decoration, but at least familiar walls. The noise, though, remains, an ominous crack of far off artillery, followed by the crackle of machine guns and the sharp cracks of rifle fire, to which pseudo-Fabia times her leaps and twirls.

Fabia starts at the sudden change, her hand flying from Frid's shoulder to cover her mouth — then she breathes out a sigh and relaxes into the chair next to his, pulling her un-muddy feet up underneath her, curling in upon herself. She leaves her other hand upon his on the chair-arm, though, she can't quite bear to be bereft of the warmth of someone's skin when everything inside her head feels still so peculiar and everything outside her head might become even more peculiar again without notice. If only she could ask Frid for a cuddle, she would. And oh, will the shooting ever stop? But it won't, will it? Not for years… Yes, she was in France once during the war, she knows the sound, though she never heard it as close or as clearly as she's hearing it now.

The phantasm has finished dancing her variations. Arms crossed before her, chin lifted in regal arrogance, she stares coldly down at her audience — down at them, and through them… From the vase of flowers under the table, she draws a branch of rosemary the real Fabia never put there. Rosemary for remembrance. A wand, of sorts, with which to enact the curious ritual of summoning her court.

Faint feminine figures in Romantic tutus and long trailing white veils peek into the sitting-room from all of its corners, poised, briefly motionless.

As Frid allows his eyes to open once more, taking deep breaths as he does, the mud begins to reassert itself, and the heat from his skin once more begins to burn. The dancers in their Romantic tutus enter, pattering across the room in their veils, their pristine white outfits, and mud-spattered khaki puttees.

"Frid," Fabia murmurs, in a low, urgent voice, her fingers struggling to twine through his, "do you remember the first time we went to Paris together? Oh, you must. Shut your eyes, sweetie, and let's think of it. It was, oh, only two or three months after you came to work for me; and I suppose I still had the capacity to surprise you, or at least, you looked surprised when you came into my room and found me already awake and I said, Frid, we're going to Paris today. And I took you to the ballet every night, and you tried so hard to keep awake… I did appreciate how hard you tried. Do you remember the Palais Garnier? The grand staircase, all the lights… row upon row of boxes…"

"Madam," Frid manages, eyes closing once more and a shudder going through him at a particularly loud bang. "I am always surprised if I see you awake in the mornings." Once more the mud begins to fade away to carpet, beds turning into the dresser and wardrobe, while the nurse drifts to nothingness, leaving only the elephant foot stand in her place.

The walls, however, are receding — there's a suggestion of gilt here and there — "I never danced at the Garnier," Fabia sighs, as the corps of wilis summoned by rosemary and remembrance execute their choreography after Coralli and Perrot. "My mother did, of course," almost the only time she has spoken to him of her parentage, her early life, was that night at the ballet in Paris, when she couldn't resist dropping a boastful little hint or two, "but I ended up all over the place. I suppose I still am all over the place, aren't I, sweetie?" She turns her head to look at him, nervously hoping he won't be looking at her; and then when she turns back to the dancers, her perspective upon the autumnal forest clearing has changed. Sudden distance, sudden elevation. She and Frid are sitting in a red velvet box overlooking the stage of that venerable Parisian opera house, where for one night only, Fabia Iskanderova dances Myrtha! But still in their familiar armchairs, and surrounded by gilded pillars which terminate in elephants' feet.

Frid runs his hand across the suddenly velvet arm of his chair, machine guns giving way to snare drums somewhere down in the pit, and the artillery tuning to A and D as they rumble on. "I am sure the opportunity just never presented itself," he soothes. "I imagine you have always had a terribly busy schedule, while you were still dancing."

If only it had been such a simple matter! If only she had had the time, when it mattered! Still, he means well, and — oh, the upholstery's suddenly rather better than anything the late B. Travers troubled to acquire. Fabia smiles. Yes, Frid did speak approvingly of the chairs, that first night she took him to the ballet in Paris, and how cross she was with him for it! Now she could kiss him for it, because at least it's not mud or gunfire or excruciating blisters raised upon his own skin. She doesn't kiss him. Regrettably. She wiggles forward in her newly-reupholstered chair, for on the stage below the second wili is dancing her variation, and she knows she's next. Oh, she wants him to see! But oh, better that he doesn't, given what else he might see…

Frid lifts his hand to rub once more at his collar, more a reflex now than the response to anything less pleasant. He risks opening one eye, the stage flickering down below them even as the box they're in becomes more solid with joint memory. Even the details of the gilding on the balcony become clearer, sparkling in long remembered lighting. "Tchaikovsky?" he hazards, never a great one for recalling details like which actual ballet he's been dragged along to.

When Frid speaks, Fabia peeks at him even as he's peeking at the stage. "Adolphe Adam," she murmurs. "Sweetie, I'm coming on stage again. There, from the back corner at the right… I can't tell you how my heart's pounding, just now." Her voice is tremulous; and not only from the pleasure of seeing herself dance at the Garnier… "You know I wasn't a ballerina," she goes on, "but Myrtha is a ballerina role, my most important role… I danced her sometimes because I was so awfully good at jumping. You see?" She laughs a little, squeezing his hand, as her phantasm displays a sweeping lack of concern for gravity. Then: "Oh! I'm there twice! That's me in the second row as well, second from the left — do you see the red hair?"

Frid returns the favour, casually rubbing his thumb briefly over Fabia's knuckles as he leans forward to peer down at the stage. "I hope, madam, you are to be paid twice for the performance?"

That small caress soothes Fabia quite disproportionately; she hangs on tightly to Frid's hand, but the tension in the rest of her eases. She's less worried, now, about the ballet girls her mind has brought forth being mown down by Frid's artillery, or, even worse, Frid finding still more pain in what she had so innocently intended to bring him delight… "Probably not," she sighs, smiling dryly. "It was sometimes hard enough to get paid once, when the management knew one would dance for nothing, would dance just to dance…"

The lesser ballet girls — including one of Fabia's personal phantasms, but not the other — appear to be hopping on one foot, in arabesque. Traveling, in fact, all the way across the stage in this guise, in interweaving lines, till each girl has swapped places with her opposite number from the other side.

"That's the problem with dancers," Frid insists with a faint smile, blowing air upwards to cool his forehead. "No financial sense. None whatsoever."

"Oh, none," she agrees unhesitatingly.

Whereupon Fabia as the Queen of the Wilis conquers the stage in a round of magnificent jumps, skirts flying; and dances front and centre before her court of twenty lesser dancers (well, nineteen lesser and one every bit as good); and poses gorgeously whilst they kneel about her to offer their homage.

And then! The rosemary branch; and the imperious approach to the tomb downstage right, to raise from her grave a new member of their unearthly sisterhood.

Tonight, the role of Giselle is danced by Mademoiselle Corina Silver. An anatomically unlikely ballerina; but isn't that the charm of hallucinations?

(Frid watches that with rapt attention, to be sure.)

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