(1938-11-20) Cheap Scent
Details for Cheap Scent
Summary: Frid returns from his evening off and finds his employer home early from London, with a peace offering. They have an especially drunken chat.
Date: November 20th, 1938
Location: Upstairs at the Three Broomsticks
Related: Takes place when Fabia's just got home from Familiar Faces; refers to certain whisky-related matters in Nightmare and Good Morning.

Fabia's Rooms

When Fabia left the Broomsticks on Tuesday evening for another of her little jaunts to London, waved off by her trusty valet, it was with the understanding that she'd probably be gone till Thursday afternoon… How unexpected, then, for Frid, to hear a familiar Harry Roy tune emanating from the gramophone in her rooms when he comes in rather late from his Wednesday evening at liberty.

Madam is sitting on the floor, the skirts of a flaming red silk evening gown puddled about her. She has taken off her gloves, taken down her hair, and is tugging off her second stocking — one-handed, with a martini in the other. She can't have been in long herself, though long enough to make a mess of the place.

"Frid!" she exclaims, dropping the second stocking on the floor at her side and waving. She beams gloriously up at him. "You're home!"

"Madam," Frid agrees, straightening his jumper and gripping the doorframe with his other hand. "I am, indeed, home." He nods to that, turning on a simple smile. "As are you, eh? I ah didn't think you would be," he admits, taking a deep breath and giving her the solemn nod of the 'I'm not drunk, honest' man.

Suddenly Fabia is displaying a special smile of the most intent interest. She tucks her legs beneath herself, disentangles the toes of one foot from a fold of her frock, and surges upward; her martini sloshes dangerously, but doesn't spill. (It has, let us be quite clear, already been reduced to a fraction of its previous size.) "Why, Frid…" She wafts barefoot across the sitting-room to him. "Are you a little squiffy, sweetie?"

Frid holds up a finger, protesting, "It is still, technically, my night off, madam. But I only had a few, and I'm hardly squiffy. Anyway, you already drank all my Lagavulin!"

How she pouts! "I didn't drink a drop of it, sweetie, I wouldn't. But it was my guest's favourite; now, what could I do?" She spreads her hands wide open, palm up, in a helpless and Gallic gesture of resignation. A hostess has certain responsibilities, as Frid must surely be aware. She hasn't quite come within reach of him; now she darts away again, to the large alligator-skin hatbox on the sofa. "Oh, do come in, sweetie, it can still be your night off, but now you're here you might as well… you see, I brought you something from London!" She's rifling through the contents of the hatbox. Mostly her laundry. Well, that she always brings him; but apparently tonight there's something else.

"Well, you don't like it," Frid points out. "Couldn't she have had the Islay?" He grumbles, rolling his eyes as he sways in. "A… hat? I didn't bring you anything. I feel terrible. I may never forgive myself." Apparently drunk Frid has the sarcasm filter as an added bonus.

It's true, not liking it does make it easier not to drink it… "It's all right, sweetie, I only pinched it." And then Fabia extracts the precious object from its cocoon of crumpled and champagne-stained garments; and holds it aloft where he can read the label. It's another bottle of Lagavulin. Almost, but not quite, full. "Get yourself a glass, sweetie."

Frid points at her. "I could go off your guest if she's a whisky drinker, you know," he points out solemnly, picking his way to the drinks trolley to withdraw a short glass. He glances back over at her, judging her martini level with an expert eye, and begins making up another while he's there. "But then that bottle was barely half full anyway, and this one? Mrs. Fairfax, you are a marvel, a true lady, and an upstanding member of society. Who'd you nick it from?"

"I nicked it," says this upstanding member of society (currently a sitting-down member of society, with her hands clasped demurely in her lap), "from the bar in my gentleman friend's hotel suite, which I was making use of in his absence to wine and dine and enjoy the particular talents of one of London's most notorious courtesans." A true lady is allowed to smirk just a little when she says that, isn't she? She'd be a marvel if she didn't.

"One day, madam," Frid insists, searching for olives. They must be somewhere here, surely? "One day, I will learn your secrets. And I will find a rich, generous young lady to keep me."

It's possible she et all the olives with the last batch of martinis, while she was dressing yesterday. After all, he was to have had all tomorrow morning to put her flat in order for her return…

Fabia giggles, watching him at work, always looking after her even though it really is his night off. She rescues the rest of her present martini from the coffee table and gets on with it, so as to be quite ready for the next one. "I didn't know my secrets still worked as well as this," she admits, shaking her head. What a few weeks it's been! In demand again, after all this time! "But sweetie, what a dreadful threat; what if there's a comfortably-off, generous, mature lady who just can't let you go?" She leans forward a little, fluttering her eyelashes. Guess who.

Frid laughs, shaking his head in amusement. "I have no intention of leaving you, Mrs. Fairfax," he assures her amiably, giving up on the olives and instead just putting the stick into the glass before carrying it over to her. "Who else would steal me a whisky she doesn't even like?" He holds out her martini, swapping it for the Lagavulin, and with great satisfaction pours himself what most people would call a generous measure, and Fabia would call barely a taste. "Your health, ma'am."

"I'm madly relieved to hear it. Your very very good health, Frid sweetie." Fabia returns the toast with marginally too much enthusiasm, for one holding a full cocktail glass; she splashes her frock. Well, she thinks to herself, glancing down at the spreading wet patch over one knee, this frock has seen worse in the last twenty-four hours. Gin at least is less likely to stain than… "Did you have fun?" she asks him, patting the empty place on the sofa next to herself and the hatbox.

Frid carefully seats himself, taking a small sip from his glass and leaning back. "Oh, absolutely, madam," he agrees. "They were outstanding. Very modern, you'd have probably enjoyed it. And then of course we stopped for a few refreshments and ended up on the Embankment. All very childish, you understand. I don't approve one bit."

"I'm sure I'd have enjoyed it as much as you enjoy disapproving of it," Fabia pouts, "but you never think to ask me." An old complaint. She always wants to get in on any fun that's going; but she never presses too hard… Frid must, even she recognises, have a few minutes to himself now and again.

At first she's too busy shoving the hatbox onto the floor so she can curl her legs up underneath herself without running her feet against it, to notice anything much; but when she's facing Frid properly, siting sideways now in one of her favourite positions, with her arm resting against the back of the sofa — her nose twitches at a whiff of something more than gin. She leans closer. Smoke, and beer, altogether to be expected, and also… Now she's quite frankly sniffing Frid, her nose almost against his neck: "Good heavens, sweetie, the least you could do is buy her a bottle of better scent!" she exclaims, in a tone not of censure but of unmitigated delight.

Frid leans away automatically as she starts to get uncomfortably close, cheeks flushing, for which we will blame the whisky and of that he takes a large sip. "I have no idea what you mean, madam," he insists, although he does give himself a surreptitious sniff, more a brief pause as he inhales.

It's hopeless. There's no escape. Fabia is prowling with feline grace (not to mention feline evil intent) across the narrow gap between them — and now she's got hold of his necktie. "Just checking your collar for lipstick, sweetie," she explains gleefully, "I'm very curious to know her shade… Sometimes you can tell just by the shade whether a girl is more likely a blonde, a brunette, or a redhead. … Or you could simply tell me, and I'll let you go." What a completely reasonable offer. She's an upstanding member of society, and a true lady, remember.

Frid rolls his eyes in exasperation, holding his hands up (but still not spilling his drink). "There were a number of us, madam!" he insists, as haughtily as he can. "Just friends! We all go out to see the bands when they're over from the states or the dominions!" A perfect truth, or at least part of it, but with Fabia that close, it's not so much lipstick on the collar as a smudge on the underside of his chin and neck. AFTER the dance band is another matter.

His mistress misses nothing. And, of course, she can't leave well enough alone. She lets go of his necktie and trails his fingertips up beneath his chin (secretly thrilling at this contact with a gentleman she adores but has never, ever so intimately explored)… "An intense coral red," she giggles; "do tell me, was she worth it?"

Frid looks even guiltier at that, leaning further from his employer even as she moves in closer. Much further and they'll be horizontal, and that's never going to look good if anyone walked in. "She's a lovely girl," Frid defends, colour almost matching that smear of lipstick by now, his hand going up to rub where she touched and remove all evidence. "You can't put a price on that."

"Sweetie, I don't put a price on that," Fabia promises, giggling; surely he'll recollect how often he has been assured that she and Corina aren't on financial terms… She lets Frid brush himself clean, but keeps leaning closer, apparently uncaring of how they might look, or even how they might be. She knocks back most of the rest of her martini, and throws her arm out wildly in the direction of the coffee-table. Perhaps she manages to put down the glass, perhaps she doesn't. "How lovely is she?" she demands.

Frid moves his hand to her collarbone, doing his best to maintain some sort of dignified distance, despite their undignified position. "Very lovely, madam," he admits, leaning his arm out to try to set his glass down on the floor at least. "And no, you are not going to meet her!"

At the touch of his hand upon her skin — rather a more intimate touch than they usually enjoy, at least while she's awake — Fabia leans her head back and giggles hopelessly, and then tilts it forward into Frid's shoulder. "You're afraid I might steal her?" she teases. "Really, sweetie, women are only an occasional enthusiasm for me…"

Frid leans his head back, the combination of beer and whisky making it difficult to come up with a plan of action to be able to extricate himself. "I'm not afraid you'll steal her," he finally confesses, a faint hint on the 'her'. "She's a… well…" He bottles out of the frank confession he'd planned to shock her with. "Her time is metered."

It's so easy, so very very easy, for Fabia to slip forward and snuggle closer, in her red satin and her diamonds and her utter familiarity with Frid. Yet there's nothing so especially suggestive about her approach to him; she only cuddles into his side, her head resting on his shoulder, the fingers of one hand curled again round his necktie. "Oh," she breathes, "you mean… you mean you've got a hooker too, sweetie?" A beat. "If only you'd known…"

Frid should have known better than to try to shock Fabia in the slightest, and just exhales in defeat. "I don't have her, Mrs. Fairfax. But it was my evening off, and I can spend that how I choose." So easy to slip into the past tense there, now he's back and beginning to sober up, mindful of his duties. "If only I'd known..?"

"Oh," Fabia giggles gently into his shoulder, letting go of his necktie to tuck her arm around him in a way which speaks in its friendliness of evenings off, not evenings on… "If you'd known… Sweetie, you were so suspicious of the way Corina spoke to you. You thought she had an ulterior motive. But it was, I promise you, she told me so, the oldest and simplest ulterior motive in the world…"

"That's been made quite clear now, madam," Frid insists, his own arm loosely folding around his employer. "You do seem to have this effect on your guests."

Being cuddled by a handsome man is just about Fabia's favourite thing in all the world. Even if he's… only… Frid. Is Frid an only Frid? She can't tell, given how much gin is buzzing about within her none-too-acute brain. "Perhaps I do…" she sighs, nestling against him, without a whit of self-consciousness, all diamonds and decolletage and dreaminess. "But darling, she really did want you. In her bed, or in a dark corner somewhere! I suppose she probably doesn't now," she sighs, after a moment, "not after…" No need to say not after what. "Is your girl — the girl you see —- good to you? Oh, I hope so… I should so like you to be happy, Frid."

"She is very straightforward with me, which is more than can be said of most women," Frid allows, reaching out again to fumble for his glass. "It's quite clear what we expect of each other."

It scans. Somehow, it scans. "Women are so complicated," Fabia sighs. Her progress across the intervening inches of sofa has long since been completed; she really just melts against Frid, despite the extraordinary array of odours clinging to him. (Perhaps somehow she likes beer and smoke and cheap scent, on him.) Her arm, in slipping round him, has brushed his jacket most of the way aside; now she draws back, and lets her hand slip inside the garment in question, holding him snugly about his midsection. She doesn't attempt to become any more familiar than that, though; she seems to have found all she wishes. Her head rubs a little against his shoulder, silky henna'd hair brushing his throat. "Another reason why I like men better…" she murmurs drowsily. "If you want to know where you are with a man, you can just ask; and he'll rarely lie…"

Frid takes a moment to drain the last of the whisky from his glass, giving Fabia's back a companionable rub. "Madam, I don't think you need worry unduly where you are with anyone. Everyone who has ever met you comes away enchanted. They're drawn to you. It's fascinating to watch, I assure you."

The noise which escapes from Fabia then is… practically a purr. She can't resist nuzzling her head a little against the underside of Frid's chin. She's in a place of such perfect harmony and enchantment. All that gin; and all this Frid… "But I do worry," she sighs, "once in a while… So many men I've liked haven't liked me. I can always tell." She sighs deeply into her Frid. There's an inebriated uncertainty in her voice. "You don't like me, you never did. Tell me why, won't you, so I'll know. Did I just meet you — twenty years too late?" She hesitates. "It's all right, I won't…"

"Of course I like you, Mrs. Fairfax," Frid insists, giving her a faint, slightly alcoholic smile. "More than any employer I've ever had, I would consider you, if it's not too presumptuous of me, a friend and not just a boss. There is very little I wouldn't do for you, I hope you know that."

It isn't what Fabia meant — but, oh, she hasn't the heart to press him. Not when she's so comfortably pressed against him. How long has she been waiting to have a real cuddle from Frid! Not just an awkward pat on the shoulder, or a hand-clasp, or an undressing when she's too far gone to recollect it in the morning, and can deduce that it happened only by her mysterious change from evening frock into pyjamas. She has already had two marvelous treats tonight, the confession of his negotiable lady friend, and, even more so, this embrace from which he isn't pulling away… She breathes out a sigh, hardly a bone left in her body, and tries to see if there's any way she can get nearer without actually climbing into his lap. "You're my friend, Frid," she murmurs, punctuating the remark with the tiniest of contented moans. "And you are such a good man… I can only hope I am your friend too."

"Always, madam," Frid insists, lowering his chin to rub against her hair. "And I shall be here as long as I'm needed. If your gentleman in London lets you down, or Miss Silver, or any one of your charming friends, I shall always be here with a martini and a shoulder."

"You'll always be needed, Frid," and it's the truest thing Fabia has ever uttered. "Not even just for the martinis…" A beat. "Although I do like the martinis." She breathes out another completely satisfied sigh; her arm tightens round his waist. What time is it? She doesn't recall. She can't tell. "I had… probably better go to sleep…" Her eyes are shut; she seems perfectly ready and willing to go to sleep just where she is.

"Let's get you to bed, Mrs. Fairfax," Frid suggests, patting her back lightly. "I haven't set out your things yet," he admits. "I'm sorry, I wasn't expecting you back so soon." He pulls himself upright, supporting her with him. "If you'll give me a moment, I shall find them for you."

Standing up is a hell on earth, when one has been cuddled tightly against a Frid. But then, one is still cuddled tightly against a Frid, one's arms linked about his waist, as one takes sleepy but not really so very drunken steps toward one's boudoir. It's his idea, not wholly one's, and all one can be is — swept along… "Don't worry about it, sweetie," one murmurs, "just unzip me… or unbutton me, or whatever's appropriate…" One giggles. "Or inappropriate."

"You know I couldn't do that," Frid chides her, tone one of guilty apology as they manage between them to move to the bedroom. "I'm not one of them." He holds her up against him, deciding that's probably the best way to keep her upright, as he reaches around to unzip her. "A drink is one thing, but… there is a line not to cross, madam."

"You're one of you," Fabia agrees softly, beneath his words; and yet she leans into him quite as she would into a lover, her arms twining about his neck for as long as it takes him to unfasten her evening gown. "Only tell me, sweetie," she murmurs, as she lets go, and sways within his grasp, while red silk cascades down over her slender body, revealing a glimmering ice-blue petticoat which covers her from ankles to — hardly anything at all. "Where is the line? Or I'm frightened I'll wander across it one day…" She has stood on her own all she can; she leans against Frid again, one arm round his waist.

Frid looks away to the wall, in case she shows anything more than petticoat. "You are a very wonderful woman, Mrs. Fairfax, and an excellent employer and good friend. The line would be anything that might put that relationship, that trust, in jeopardy."

Fabia makes a little 'mmh' sound, of frustration — and acceptance. "You're right, of course," she sighs, bowing her head, but nuzzling her by-now-not-entirely-tidy cloud of henna'd hair against the underside of Frid's chin. "I don't mean that I'm— but yes…" She very nearly cries out at the horror of separating herself from this gorgeous man she adores; but she does it, so bravely, managing the last two steps to the bed by herself. She falls face-down upon it with a sigh, stretching out, reaching one arm up behind herself to undo her brassiere. There, that's enough for the night. Frid'll turn out the lights. God bless Frid. Frid, the man she can't ever, ever have but will always, always want.

Frid exhales, eyes closing for a moment. "Good night, Mrs. Fairfax," he offers, leaning to pull the blanket up over her, the waft of beery smoke and cheap perfume drifting around her for a moment before he straightens once more and moves to extinguish the lamps, leaving her in peace until morning.

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