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Early January of 1962.

Alice had finished what might have been lunch had any of them (them being Vi and Mallory and Alice) actually eaten. All it really was, was an hour of irritating everyone around them at a little London cafe by laughing very loudly at things that weren't even funny. There was also Alice's first participation in a Robert discussion with any interest, but they had disliked her continual lack of enthusiasm (she still pretended to be less interested than she was).

So Alice left when the other two had to return to work, which was the hospital right near their chosen lunch spot, and decided to go shopping before driving home.

Only a mere three minutes later, though, there was a voice behind her. Actually, there was a person behind her – many people, even – but one voice was louder than the rest, female, with tinges of a Northumberland accent, and somewhat familiar.

"Even in winter days that hair stands out – Alice!"

Alice stopped just short of dead and turned more enthusiastically than she had talked about Robert (eee Robert). The completion of her turn involved a little bounce on the balls of her feet.

"What are you doing in London?!" she chirped.

"Internship! Bertie does some rounds here and so he's got a place, actually he works at the hospital right by here right now," Dawn, of course, didn't know that Alice knew that already, "and we got the pharmacy to take me on. Did you know I studied pharmacy, I never said that, did I?"

Alice shook her head and grinned rather brightly. "I ought to have known you'd all be mediciney. My two best friends work at the same hospital and they both fancy Robert! They'd kill me if they knew I said that."

"I'll let you tell him yourself," was Dawn's cheery response. It sort of delighted her. More people should fancy Robert. He was too prudish. "He'll die."

"My friends deserve it. They've been going on about him for years."

Wait, she said in person. Alice blushed belatedly.

"Want to come bother him with me, then?"

"I'd love nothing better!"

"My current plan involves getting some kind of sweets and storming the office, which really isn't far from here. Little hidden clinico-administrative building they don't tell anyone about so people don't harass them for lab results or money. Or hypochondriacs. Well, the hypochondriacs don't show up, anyway."

"It might be amusing if they did," Alice mentioned. "Or perhaps rather annoying."

"Distracting, mostly." Suddenly, Dawn looked disoriented. "– And now I've forgotten where my sweet-getting plan ended. Know anywhere good? These streets confuse me."

"My aunt Anne used to take me to shop near here, but it was still rationed after the war and then it went out of business. I don't know London very well."

"I guess that makes two of us and we'll have to get lost, then," Dawn decided, not sounding bothered by it.

"Oh, let's do!" Alice agreed. "My mum would say that no one gets more help than a helpless and attractive female! Especially since we usually aren't helpless at all. But that's my mum for you."

"My mum would probably've died to meet yours," Dawn added, starting to wander mostly aimlessly in the direction Alice had already been wandering. "I think we've still got a poster somewhere."

"I haven't got one, but it would be awfully strange if I did. Daddy has her Playboy cover on the wall and that's well worse."

Dawn giggled. "I can imagine! My parents never did anything interesting. Well, that's not really true, but nothing interesting outside the field."

"What did your parents do? It might not make any sense to me, just as a warning."

"Um, the pacemaker. I try not to tell people that because it's like boasting. They were on the team, though, in the fifties."

First, Alice was happy to understand what it was. Second, she was very impressed.

"Really? The pacemaker? You must be very proud!"

"Not that their names are on the final product or anything to get credit, not really, and it wasn't truly finalized until just a few years ago so – well it's not like they came up with the idea, either, I think Robert remembers that but nobody else alive was likely to be old enough to –" Dawn backtracked quite a bit, trying not to let her parents sound like heroes too much. "The second person to get an internal one died about a year ago and they're still mourning. Never even met the man. Never saw him."

"Gosh, my auntie did talk all about, but she's the only one in the family who's in the medical field. Uncle Nigel is in the House of Lords. Daddy made Princess Grace the crown for her wedding! But he's just managing things in London now. My brother Charlie is in charge now."

"I remember her, I think! Robert's friends with her. Anne Westin?"

Alice's eyes widened. "Yes! I'm very close to her. She and my uncle still work in Cape Town."

She couldn't believe it. First her grandmother and now her aunt. He was very out of her league.

"War buddies, I think. I remember a picture. Rupert and Robert, he said, people switched them on occasion."

Dawn found the entire thing hysterical. The world was so damn tiny sometimes.

Alice suddenly got excited. "I wonder if Uncle Rupert has a picture! I'm going to demand to see it."

"He probably looks exactly the same. Robert, I mean. Except his hair might be – no, it was a war, they'd have cut it off. He probably whined about it. He still whines about it! Three hundred and whining."

"I can't imagine him whining." She really couldn't.

"It's not really whining, per se, but he gripes. Gripes and complains. And it's funny."

"I suppose most people do as they get older. Really older."

"I bet he always did. But I don't know. Nobody's really around to tell me!"

"Good point!" Alice agreed, laughing. "I’m afraid I don't know him at all well enough to guess."

"On my part it's just a theory. There has to be a sweet shop somewhere," muttered Dawn, growing irritated with the streets of the city for not providing one in front of her.

"Must you have sweets to enter his office?"

"If I want to appropriately annoy him. I told him I'd bring sweets, and he said I might attract the hypochondriacs."

"Oh. Well, I'm much better than a hypochondriac! I'm quite good at annoying people, as well. Males, mostly."

"Will you attract hypochondriacs, though?"

"I could pretend to be one! I'm an actress, after all! Sort of."

"Oh my god you should. Pretend I've brought you in because you think you're dying and begged me to help you. And have falling hand syndrome! Please," Dawn added. "It'll be the most beautiful thing. Especially if someone else is around and he can't say you're immortal, you idiot."

Alice made a squealing sound. "That is brilliant!!! Oh, let's do!"

"He'll die. He'll absolutely just crack up and die, especially if you actually do that thing –" Dawn stopped walking, as if to demonstrate the falling hand syndrome in question, which she did. "The thing he hates when people do." She put on a higher voice, raised her hand to the top of her head, and as she talked, lowered the hand in question to each corresponding part: "There's this pain in my head, and my eyes are sore, and my jaw hurts, and both of my shoulders, and my chest is agonizing ..."

And then sighed, and then grinned, and then kept walking. "It's still this way, anyway."

Alice started laughing. "That's what I did to stay home from school! I've got it down to a science."

"Then I think you're absolutely good to go. Play it up more than I do, I'm only mocking people I've seen do it before. You're a far better actress, I already know that."

"I might swoon. D'you think? Too much? I can do a complete wipe-out to the floor."

"He'd probably try to catch you."

Dawn didn't think about the fact Alice might've liked that. She tried not to think about people wanting to be touched by her semi-brother.

Alice tried not to think about it, either, but for different reasons.

She was definitely going to swoon.

"Ooh, I can't wait! This is better than shopping."

The street never ended.

Dawn really hoped she wasn't lost – and right when she was giving up and thinking about finding a pay phone, saw the right stoop up ahead. "Oh! It's that building, the grey one, good."

Alice felt one funny rush of nerves and fiddled with the buttons of her peacoat.

"So were you wandering for sweets before you saw me?"

"I was, yeah, but this is better. You make a much more suitable surprise. I can say you stole the sweets, you hypochondriac."

Alice looked haughty. "I've been known to steal sweets."

"Clearly, that is the answer." Dawn, on the other hand, looked thrilled as she walked up the stoop, boots clicking.

The engraved plate on the outside wall said Capio Medical Group Auxiliary. No names.

"Oh, isn't this impressively austere," Alice remarked. "Oh! I should be acting. I must get into character."

She cleared her throat and cradled her head. "The stairs," she wailed, "so. Many. Stairs."

Dawn had started to say something about how impressively austere was probably Robert in two words. Or she'd thought about it, anyway – and then she was looking at Alice, instead, and laughing.

"You really are brilliant," she confided, opening the door, and opening another door, and then glancing about the hallway as if trying to pick one of the six remaining doors.

"I'm afraid I can't be any help at all, darling, as I seem to have gone blind!" Alice exclaimed, sticking her hands out in front of her. "Oh, the planes, the planes! We'll never get out of this foxhole, Johnny! And I've got a girl back home!"

"Here," Dawn said, slipping into her own role and taking one of Alice's arms in hers, biting her lip slightly and looking grave. "Do I look concerned enough?"

Alice peeked up at her from her bizarrely doubled-over position and said, "Aye, Johnny, that'll do just right."

Dawn tried not to laugh again, and kept herself composed, and said, "Here, just a couple of steps," picking what was hopefully the right (unmarked) door and greeted with what was, in fact, exactly right. An office with dimmed lights and a thousand plants. A tall, skinny green icebox. Two desks, both of which had people at them.

Robert Capio and someone else were throwing balls of paper at each other.

"It's no good," the someone else said.

"This is no excuse to hit me with –" Robert stopped, looked up. "Yes?"

"I've brought you a patient," said Dawn. "We met on the street and she's really gravely ill."

Both Robert and his partner drooped slightly.

"Tell me what's wrong," they said in unison, in a dry, uninterested fashion.

"It's all right, Johnny, I think I can stand now," Alice said feebly. Very feebly. And then she gently budged Dawn away and went back to cradling her head.

"I just can't bear it a mo--are those dogs?" Her hands came away from her face and she stared hopefully at the corner of the room. "Oh, Johnny, the hunt's starting. Quickly now, go tell the boys!"

She took a few dangerously unsteady steps forward so she would have a clear path behind her and not turn into an actual patient, the she dramatically clutched her chest and took a shaky breath.

"I'm coming home, Johnny." Out came the fake tears. "I'm coming home!" she ended in a dramatic whisper, let her eyes roll back and shut, and, with a shuddering and tiny sigh, tipped backwards.

Robert the Occasionally Gullible was just a tiny bit closer, and knew the signs of a lot of things. One of those things included people who were about to keel over. Alice was doing a good enough job acting that he had no way of telling if she was acting or really having some bizarre post-traumatic episode brought on by hearing too many stories from her father.

So he leapt over his desk and caught her.

"All right there?" he asked, grinning crookedly just a tiny bit, trying not to show any other sort of feeling (be it irritation or amusement).

Alice opened one eye, then both, then flushed rather deeply when her stomach made a fluttery flop.


"You cured me! It's a miracle!"

"Oh, is it," he murmured, dryly amused.

"I'll call the papers!" his companion said.

"Not if I don't first!" Dawn ran for a phone. The two nearly collided.

Alice grinned and made no move to, well, move.

"You're very good at being a doctor."

Robert, too, was forgetting to stand up entirely straight and let go of her. It didn't really seem all that important.

"Thank you. I have been doing it for a while."

"How are you?" she asked, belated.

"I had been quite fine, and now it seems as if our grant-writing has been rudely interrupted." Robert shot Dawn a glare; Dawn was busy reading the papers on his desk. While sitting on his desk. "And get off that, also, it isn't a chair – Alice, would you like a chair?"

"If I must. I'm comfortable now!"

She batted her lashes.

"Let her sit in your lap," Dawn suggested, having not gotten off the desk at all. "You make a great chair."

Robert, flustered, didn't say anything – and the other man didn't either, just watched them.

"Oh, I’d love it!" Alice continued giving him obnoxiously flirty looks.

Robert didn't, actually, balk. Not entirely. He just looked a little uneasy.

"Oh, go on," his writerly friend said. "We won't tell anyone –"

"Stop being such a prude," added Dawn, who was back to reading his papers again.

"Stop reading patient data –" And then Robert gave up and sat down in one of the room's many waiting chairs, not letting go of Alice in the process. "I surrender."

Alice looked pleased with herself and unbuttoned her jacket, smoothed her dress, and perched on Roberts lap.

"I hope you're enjoying the interruption!"

To be entirely honest, he wasn't. He found Dawn's presence delightful and he really did like Alice, and found people pleasant for the most part, but they had deadlines, something Dawn never seemed to believe in.

On the other hand –

"I am glad to see you again," he conceded.

"Dawn found me. I was having lunch with my best friends. They both fancy you."

Robert started to cough, which is what happened when one chokes and laughs at the same time.

It was the writer, his friend, though, who actually asked, "Who are they?"

(Robert wasn't so sure he wanted to know.)

"Oh, I shouldn't. Ice already said too much," Alice debated, frowning.

Then she perked. "Oh, what the hell. Violet Darlington and Mallory Walker."

A thoughtful pause.

"Nurses," Robert guessed. And hoped, really, because if he'd guessed wrong he'd look like an idiot.

"Freshly out of school! I was there with them for a month. And I've been hearing about you for four years."

Alice crossed her legs. "You quite lived up to expectations, I must say."

"Oh no," said Robert, because what else could he say? This time around in medical school he'd been somewhat of a troublemaker. It was the friends he chose. "I am sorry."

"Why apologize? It's a compliment - hey, did you take a picture of my lipstick stains?" she asked, twisting around to face him.

Robert couldn't help it. He started to laugh, again, quietly, and had to leave it to Dawn to answer the question:

"It's on the wall in the doctors' lounge. Saw it this morning."

"Oh, ace! You know I want to see it."

Suddenly, Alice abandoned Robert's lap in favor of sitting next to Dawn. She left Robert with her jacket.

"I don't know what this is about, but the typesetting is pretty," Dawn told Alice, offering her one of the pages.

"Stop. That," Robert spluttered, on his way to the coat hanger.

"Ooh, I wonder what's wrong with them? Poor Johnny. Stuck in a foxhole."

"Put them down," Robert said in a teasingly agitated voice, but Dawn, at least, paid him no heed.

"I wonder if there's one named Johnny," she said thoughtfully, paging through.

"Dawn –"

But Robert didn't get up to stop her.

"Oh, let's find one!" Alice said, ignoring Robert, though she did send a little grin at him before rifling through more pages.

Robert rolled his eyes – and his partner held up his hands and said, "I think I'm going to take off."

"Whitaker, do not leave me with these creatures," he murmured. Dawn laughed.

"We won't hurt you, Bertie! We're just messing with your work – oh, here's a John!"

"Before you go, Whitaker, be a doll and come here!" Alice chirped.

While Robert may've looked nervous, and Dawn amused, Whitaker looked horrified. But he did as she asked, swallowed slowly and wandered over, looking at the two women from through his long bangs and didn't say anything.

Anyone should fear the daughter of Iz Fitzwilliam, and rightly so, because she took a hold of poor Whitaker's face and properly snogged him.

The nervous look on Robert's face vanished; it turned into a grin and a wheeze and then the sort of hollow laughter that leaves one desperate for air, as he found himself cracking up at the way Whitaker's long fingers curled into the pockets of his trousers, the man frozen and shocked at the sudden contact and enjoying it, too, which may've been the worst part.

For Whitaker.

Not for Robert and not for Dawn, who had fallen off her perch from laughter, too, and Robert leaned over to help her up and the Capio 'twins' were clinging to each other, trying to remember to breathe.

"Er," Whitaker practically whimpered.

"Oh, was that good for you, as well?" Alice fanned herself and adjusted the hem of her dress. "I do need a new boyfriend."

Which was when she grinned at Robert and Dawn.

"– I, er, I'll get back to you on that," stammered Whitaker.

"Run along, boy," Robert told him, despite the fact as far as Whitaker was concerned they were about the same age. "You are probably late for something anyhow."

Grabbing his coat, Whitaker sped out the door, and the Capios dissolved into laughter again.

"What was that for!" Dawn demanded. "Not that I object any – just felt like it? Inspired?"

"I do it to the nervous ones," Alice said, pleased with herself.

She looked up from additional dress adjusting and winked. "Nervous, Robert?"

"What?" Robert wheezed. "Not often –"

"He's lying!" Dawn interrupted. "He's not nervous often but he is around pretty girls. Pretty girls with red hair and nice legs and no nylons."

"Who might that be?" Alice asked, eyeing him as though seriously offended, but truly she was about to faint from internal glee and flutter.

"Nothing and nobody –"

Dawn hit him with a folder. "I can tell he likes you."

"Dawn Harriet Capio-Ainsworth, you stop –"



"You hung that photo up on the wall for a reason!"

Robert shook his head, clucking his tongue, and gave up.

Alice had gone red. Redder. Reddest.

"Oh. Well, I like you too! And as a sign of our friendship, I won't snog you."

"How disappointing," said Dawn, at the same time Robert said, "I appreciate it."

And then he hesitated.

"Er, I think. What am I to say to that?"

"Well, it has to be a surprise!" Alice told them, hopping down from the desk.

"So you'll do it some other time then," Dawn said hopefully.

"Most definitely!" Alice agreed. "Unless he lands himself a girlfriend."

"Him? I don't think he's ever had a girlfriend. Not as long as I've been alive."

"I am right here," but Robert had no other protest past that one.

"Well, have you?"

Had he?

What counted as a girlfriend?

"Define it?" Robert did, in fact, sound uncertain. Because he was.

"A female you cared for enough to have sex with?"

Oh, very scientific.

"Well, that, yes." Her name was Eliza de Sune and they had been friends. Never courted. Never in love of any kind. But it fit that particular definition!


Alice looked intrigued. "Tell me about her!"

Robert, on the other hand, looked a little sick.

"She died a very long time ago," he said.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't think."

"It's quite fine," he said, and smiled, because it was. It had been a very long time ago, and it didn't quite hurt anymore. Not the same way. "I've healed. Dawn never even knew her."

"Really long time ago," Dawn filled in. "Did my parents?"


"Is that why you never married?" Alice asked. "Did you love her very much?"

A very small part of her felt, well, jealous. It was silly, just a new crush, but there all the same.

"Oh, no! I didn't – that sounds horrible. I did love her. Not romantically. We were very dear friends and I cared enough about her to have sex with her, which did not quite make us lovers. It made us –" He lost track, waved his hand, flailed just long enough for Dawn to fill in for him.

"Experimenters," she suggested.

"Yes. That. She was my best friend, though, and I miss her a great deal."

"Oh. I haven't seen my oldest best friend since she moved to America in 1950. I hardly experimented with her, though. But I have with plenty of stupid boys."

"I have not," Robert said with a small laugh. "Experimented with stupid boys."

"Or, I bet, any boys," added his not-twin.

"I kissed a girl once! During a game of spin the bottle."

"I really should, sometime, just to see –" Dawn stopped talking midway, as Robert had begun to laugh. "What?"

"Well, you might be giving Miss Fitzwilliam ideas."

"You'd like to see that!"

"Dawn Harriet!"

It was too late.

Alice ducked her head and smiled coyly, then made a ridiculous kissy face and batted her eyelashes.

"I will, you know," Dawn warned, and wasn't sure which of them she was warning. "Come here, Alice, unless you'd rather not stand up."

"That is my desk –" But Robert knew it was even later.

"We could snog on his desk and he'd never forget it..."

More eyelash batting.

"He'd probably sell it."

"I would do no such thing! I love that desk. Regardless of what's been done on it."

"Oh, that's encouraging," Dawn added, walking over to the desk in question and putting a hand on it. "I'll be sure to have sex with Mikey on it when I'm done kissing Alice."

"Are you and Mikey dating? I wasn't certain."

Alice jumped onto the desk and nearly knocked everything off of it.

"We are, for now –"

Robert chortled.

"– he thinks we'll break up any day or be together forever, I'm not sure, should I kiss you or would you rather kiss me?"

"I'll kiss you so you don't get in trouble," Alice decided, and licked her lips.

"Michael Leakey would not give a damn, I don't think, regardless of –"

"Bertie, you don't know anything," Dawn corrected, and gave Alice a teasing mock of a seductive smile.

Alice grinned, leaned forward, and closed her eyes as she pressed her lips to Dawn's.

As Dawn resisted the urge to squeak, and instead parted her lips a little for a proper kiss, Robert choked and ended up laughing again.

The entire afternoon had turned utterly absurd. He hadn't expected they'd actually do it.

"Wish I had a camera," he said, and then realized how that sounded. She was (sort of) his sister – "For Mikey."

Alice was so shocked that she cut the kiss short and stared at Robert.

"You naughty boy!"

"So he could see what his girlfriend gets up to in her spare time!"

"His girlfriend who's your sister!" Dawn shrieked, and tossed a paperweight at his head, forgetting what happened when you threw things at Robert and he was properly startled.

That being, that the paperweight froze in midair and then settled itself on the ground.

"– don't do that in public," Dawn reminded him, the same time Robert said "Whoops."

Alice's eyes widened. She had seen a lot, but everything Robert did was fascinating. He was fascinating. And not in the sort of roguish, extremely hormonal way the other boys had been.

But then, this wasn't a boy.

And that was why her crush was stupid.

"Mikey knows first hand I kiss strangers."

"I thought maybe, either way," Robert ignored Dawn's warning and pulled the paperweight into his hand from ten inches away from it, "he might like to see. I should throw this back at you."

"You should put it back on the desk like a perfectly normal human would," Dawn told him.

"She is always trying to get me to be a perfectly normal human," Robert confided in Alice, voice despairing. "Back in the old days – I love saying that – back in the old days, we didn't hide it. What we could do."

Alice watched his mouth instead of listening.

Then she realized she missed something and snapped out of the trance.

"What - hm?"

"What?" Robert and Dawn both parroted, not realizing she hadn't heard.

Alice turned pink and shook her head until her very short and curly ponytail bounced.

"Okay," Dawn said. "Sure!"

"I'm lost," Robert pointed out.

"You always are."

"She's very cruel to me," he added, an aside.

Alice smiled nervously and turned even pinker. "I was watching him talk instead."

Red, now.

"Is there something interesting about the way I talk?" All Robert knew was that he had an accent that stood out a little from the bland speech of Londoners. His voice had a bit of local flavor. So did Dawn's, though it was less Northumberland than it could be.

Dawn shook her head. "No, dear. He's a bit of an idiot, Alice, don't mind him."

Alice was too red to function.

"My brothers are bigger idiots - not that you're an idiot! You're not. At all. In any sort of way..."

She trailed off and pretended to be invisible.

"Yes he is." Dawn.

"I appreciate you think higher of me than she," Robert said.

"Family is meant to be critical. I'm certain she loves you very much. Idiocy and all."

"I did until we became contemporaries, technically speaking," Dawn said. "He was a lot more exciting before he was my twin. Now he's a pain and a bore."

"Well, um," Alice considered, "dump him!"

"He'd stop paying my tuition," Dawn lamented.

"Can you dump family?" was Robert's question.

"I meant demote him to whatever he used to be. He can't have been your twin for very long. And yes," Alice added, turning to Robert, "my mum dumped her mum cause her mum dumped her."

"Really. Hm." Robert had turned thoughtful. He knew absolutely nothing about where Isabella had come from, hadn't thought to think about it. Dawn, though, was actually thinking about it.

"I don't know what he – strictly – hang on." She started counting on her fingers. "My great-great-great uncle, and the only reason it's that small is that my grandfather was over a hundred when he decided to have children. Or something. It would be longer, I think, otherwise. If some people weren't really old when they had kids."

Alice giggled. Found herself unable to stop.

"I see why you're her twin instead. When did that start? You're not much older than I am, are you, Dawn?"

"I'm twenty-four," said Dawn, "and so's he, according to a lot of people. I think it's been nine years? Since we were able to look the same age."

"I had to establish background in order to go to medical school again. Have to stay current," Robert added.

"Wow, that's mental. But in a brilliant way! Me, I'm going to get married, have five kids, and die when I'm one hundred and four because I like that number."

"When I was a hundred and four –" Robert hesitated, then laughed. "What do you know of the revolt of the colonies? The ones that are now the United States?"

Alice shrugged. "I went to stage school. Mummy and Daddy and I go on holiday there loads. Chicago mostly."

"Well, when I was a hundred and four I put my name on the Duties in American Colonies Act 1765 – the fourth Stamp Act, I think it was. It gets to be somewhat hard to remember. I still regret it. Caused such a bloody war," he murmured, and really did feel guilt for all the lives lost over a battle of power.

Robert hated politics.

"Fogey," Dawn muttered. "You started a war."

Alice's eyes went wide again. "Wow." Again. It was his age doing it, not the war. She liked America just fine because her mother lived there.

Then she drifted off and watched him rather dreamily. He was so impressive. And handsome. And funny. And perfect. And he had a yo-yo.

Dawn and Robert kept bickering about the war, for another couple of minutes. Eventually, Robert conceded; Dawn was right, he was a mean old fogey who'd kicked a bunch of colonies when they were down. On the other hand, it inspired the creation of a country. She found that inexcusable. He gave up.

"I preferred a hundred and thirty-one anyway. Invention of the mobile hospital."

Alice was still gone. Gone and out and holidaying (with Robert on a tropical island).

"They've changed a lot, haven't they," Dawn mused, having had no idea whatsoever what ambulances were like when they were invented.

"Yes, and they're a bit harder to break. Though they could still be used a lot more efficiently."

"I think we're boring Alice to tears."

"Hm? What? Oh! No, I could listen to Robert forever."

Well, that was embarrassing.

Robert flushed a bit.

"Don't say that," Dawn urged, "because he could talk forever."

"Start talking, then!"

"About what?" Robert tilted his head a little.

"Gee, anything!"

So Robert talked. He told a story that he was assuming neither of them were listening to – a story he'd told Dawn a million times before, anyway. It wasn't the most amusing story ever; just a tale about how he'd chased a basset hound through Scotland Yard. The original Scotland Yard.

It took about five minutes to tell; Dawn was laughing at the end of it regardless of how many times she'd heard it.

(It ended with the dog knocking Robert and three constables into a puddle.)

Alice grinned and clapped. Because she could. "My dog Theodore knocks my brothers over on command."

She paused. "Well, he used to. My brothers don't live at home anymore."

"Your dog is a genius." Robert sounded as impressed as Dawn looked. "What kind?"

"A corgi. I got him for Christmas when I was seven. He hates me leaving him at home."

"Bring him by the office sometime! I'd love to meet him."

Dawn stared.

"Oh, really?! i will! I don't want to leave him. He's so old. I think I'll die when he does."

"So he'll live until you're a hundred and four!" Dawn suggested. "Excellent."

"I do hope so. And my little Bug, as well. She needs me. My ex - well, one of them - hated my pets. He was jealous of them! He still phones. What a creeper. I've dated lots since him. But he's why I give up."

"Because he was jealous of your pets? Is Bug – not a dog," Dawn autocorrected. "Who's jealous of pets? They're pets, they're adorable."

"She's a cat," Alice said. "And I don't know. He was too possessive. But he was really, really good in bed. Or anywhere we got horny." Iz's daughter was terribly Iz-like about certain things.

"He still rings once a month. If he wasn't insane I'd have a solely physical relationship with him."

Robert's flush had turned him almost entirely white; it had Dawn giggling again.

"Oh, Bertie, grow up. Modernize a little. Just because it's not a clinical conversation doesn't mean it'll kill you! Sex. Sex sex sex. Sexy sex. Sex."

Alice wanted to melt at the sight of him. The flush made the desire stronger.

"I need to get laid," she said, watching Robert curiously and then chewing on her pinky nail. "I'll go mental if I don't soon. It's been ages."

Dawn beamed. "Well, I'd offer to share Mikey but I think he might be a tiny bit tetchy if we weren't both on him at once."

Alice gasped a little, still chewing her nail. "Ooh, I've never done that!"

"Maybe we could then!"

(Robert looked a little sick.)

"Robert looks as though he wants to faint."

"Probably he does."

"– I do."

"I take it he doesn't think much of sex," Alice asked Dawn.

"Not so far as I can tell! I don't know he ever has any."

Robert scowled, and offered no insight.

Alice went back to chewing on her nail and watching Robert. "I bet he's sensual. Three centuries should give you an edge."

There she went to her daydreams again.

"- an edge over what?" asked Robert, sounding sort of guarded.

"The rest of us young people! I'm only twenty-one, though my birthday's in April, so I've got five months left! I wanted to have my party in America, but Vi and Mallory could never get the time off. It's terribly dreadful. I don't know what I'm going to do at all! And then I brought up moving to my own cottage - oh, not very far away, mind you, I couldn't possibly move away! My brothers already have - anyway Daddy said no! He said he'd miss me too much, and I said well, you hated me bringing boys over, and he said become a spinster! Oh, Mummy got a bit cross at him for that, but they never stay fighting long. They're mad for each other. I want to fall in love like that. I'm already older than my parents were and my brothers! It's so unfair, but I could never love Don the way he dwells on me. I'm hopelessly discouraged."

"Well, I haven't really," Robert hesitated as he spoke, waving his hand a little bit. "I do not have that much experience – on the other hand,"

On the other hand there was another topic to embrace, and he was glad to. "On the other hand I suppose you're old enough to live on your own, yes? Did you have an idea of where?"

Alice shook her head. "It would only be temporary. When I marry I get the house, which is what I want, anyway. I love the estate."

"I hope you plan on a lot of children," said Dawn, "because I think I've seen that house and you'd need them to be able to fit without having big silent places, I think. Of course, I've never been in it."

"Five, I think. I want five. It's not so bad, really. It's lonely now, with my brothers gone. We have thirty-seven workers. Sam's gone and got married, though, arse. Sam's my very favorite. He's like a brother, even though he's old now. No offense. He's human." Alice grinned.

"Why would I be offended?" Robert asked wryly. "I'm twenty-four. We both are."

(Dawn hit him with another file.)

"Oh, right. Like I said. Old!" said Miss Cheeky.

"But how old is old?" Offended or not, he couldn't help being curious. Which wasn't like him, really – but Alice was a curious sort of soul, cheeky or not.

(He may as well admit it to himself: the cheekiness made her more appealing.)

"Older than me!"

"Does that make me – us," Dawn corrected herself, "old, then? As we are. Older than you. A bit."

"Yes. You're my brother Scott's age. But Robert's got to be the oldest person on the planet."

"– I might be," Robert said, discovering that this was not the most pleasant thought ever. His blood ran cold for a second. It really wasn't a nice thing to think about.

He wouldn't be there much longer anyway. A few projects to finish, see Dawn married, maybe, and then he'd go.

"That's a bit horrifying," he added.

"I think it's fascinating! Mummy says her mum is old but not as old as you! But as I said at the party - it's better to live than to survive. Have you done everything you want to do?"

Had he?

"In theory, no," he said, slowly, "but in theory no one can. Know everything there is to know."

"I don't mean knowing. I mean, say, I would be dissatisfied if I didn't get married before thirty and have five kids. Or at least three. That's how I'll know I lived my life to the fullest."

"I never really thought about it," he mused.

Dawn said, "Not goal-oriented outside the current project, our Bertie."

"How could you live so long without goals?!" Alice asked, genuinely shocked and confused.

Robert seemed unable to answer. He waffled somewhat. He had goals, of course, but not like that

"Well, there's always a current project," he settled on.

"What's your current project, then?" Alice pointed at him. "Mind you, it better be interesting."

Calmly, Robert replied, "Polio," with no other explanation at all.

"He invented the condition himself, you see," Dawn added dryly. "Working on perfecting it."

Alice crinkled her nose.

"You're all so flattering," Robert muttered. "No. Perfecting the vaccine. It has too many kinks."

"There's also the whole opening a children's hospital thing," Dawn pointed out. "I think that's pretty important. But that's more a company thing, so he's not as –"

"Not a pediatrician," Robert interrupted. "Is what it is."

"A children's hospital! Oh, how lovely! My aunt works at one now, but you probably know that, if you know her. Dawn said you knew her during the war."

"I did, though not as well as I may have liked to. Maybe we'll be able to co-opt her to work with us."

Alice shrugged. "I don't understand any of it. I did plays and tap dancing."

"Which I'd love to see," Robert said, not thinking if there was any implication behind it. He would. He'd seen her perform before, sort of, and it was impressive.

Alice shrugged and went back to chewing her pinky nail. "Too late, I'm afraid. I'm not in school anymore and I'm too old for the theatre group I was in. I haven't even done tap for a year."

"You won't dance for us anyway?" Dawn asked, hopefully. "Maybe we'll throw cash."

Alice grinned and shrugged around her nail-biting. "I haven't got my shoes. Maybe one day. I'd knock everything in here onto the floor!"

"We've got a ballroom," said Dawn. "In Morpeth. It's sort of a joke, really, having a ballroom in Morpeth, because who goes to balls in Morpeth."

"Northumbria used to be quite glorious," Robert started to defend it.

"But it's Morpeth – one of the hospital offices with harder floors, though, and more space," Dawn finished. "Maybe, if we can convince you. There might be a bribe – I'll share Mikey with you?"

"My house is ten times closer than that and I know it fits me, I mean, it's huge - oh, and Daddy and Mummy want to meet you, Robert." More nail-biting as Alice carefully observed his face.

Robert was back to being hesitant, suddenly. Or maybe it was just wary. "Oh?"

"I nearly got grounded for life coming home in the state I did! Oh, but it's okay," she added quickly, "I told the story and Mummy was in stitches over it. So they want to meet you."

"Oh," he repeated, and brightened a tiny bit. "Well. All right. Your father probably sort of remembers me. I didn't actually know him but I did see him."

"Daddy knows everyone so I'm not at all surprised. Besides, you seem to know everyone in my family!"

"It's because of the RAF," Robert clarified. "The medics either know or know of everyone. It's all in the paperwork."

"Oh. Right. Of course! So when are you going to see the one-girl show and how long do I get with Mikey?"

"Are you sure you don't want to double team him?"

(Robert made an agonized sound.)

"Okay, okay, I'm sorry, I'll stop – when's good for you?"

Alice shrugged brightly, if such a thing were possible. "I never have anything to do. Mummy doesn't work and Daddy works in London."

"You should come by my father's house and do a duet with your mother," Dawn rambled, "because he'd absolutely die, he had such a crush when he was younger and it turned into this kind of admiration, and Mum really loved her also – oh, I sound like I'm taking advantage of your fame! It's not that at all, I swear, it's just. Generational performance art."

"Stop talking before you run yourself into a hole," advised Robert.

Alice turned a little (read: lots) pink. "I know Mum would love it. So would I, really! But I'm not all that good. Compared to Mummy."

"I'm sure you're fantastic!" Dawn argued, Robert watching the exchange mostly with curious silence. "And then your folks could meet Bertie, too. We can have a little party."

Alice nearly popped from excitement. "Ooh! Let's do!!! Oh, could we?"

"Well I don't see why not –"

"You should maybe speak to your father," Robert pointed out, "but I would certainly not mind showing up."

"It's in Surrey," Dawn said. "Not too far I hope? It's closer to your parents' estate than Morpeth. It's closer to everything than Morpeth."

"Do I sense some bitterness about one's place of birth –"

"Certainly not."

"Ooh, Nana Betsy lived in Surrey! Her estate is empty now." Alice bounced on her heels. "This will be wondrous! I'll even polish my shoes."

"Congratulations, Dawn, you're planning an event –"

"I'll go ring him now," Dawn stood up and, instead of using one of the phones in that office, went to use the empty room across the hall. She knew the office's holder wasn't currently there, and was entirely too keen on leaving Robert and Alice alone.

For Robert, that proved a bit too uncomfortably awkward. He wrung his hands.

Alice watched his hands for a second or two before sitting back on his desk and crossing her legs.

"We're causing you an annoyance, aren't we?"

"I was halfway expecting an interruption," he admitted, wry still, "and certainly hadn't expected to finish this today, so it's not really a problem."

"I'll bet you didn't expect me, of all interruptions."

"I certainly did not! Which doesn't mean," he added, more quietly, "I'm not glad to see you."

Alice grinned. All she seemed to be doing in his presence was grinning. It was nice.

"I think Dawn expects me to jump you," Alice told him. "Want to take part in a prank?"

Involving anyone but Dawn, Robert would've balked. But Dawn deserved it.

"All right," he said, if guardedly.


Alice opened her purse and took out her lipstick. The same shade Robert experienced before. She smeared some on her fingers and took out a tissue before jumping down and approaching Robert.

Without asking, she rubbed her fingers on his lips (she would have kissed him, but this was meant to be a prank) and blotched her own lips with the tissue (and rubbed the evidence off her fingers).

Then she loosened his tie, knocked off his hat, ruffled his hair, and rumpled his collar, her tongue between her teeth all the while.

Finished, she stepped back and grinned.

And took her hair down for good measure.

"Oh, that's a nice look for you."

Off came her shoes.

Robert couldn't help but laugh. Absurd, amusing, ridiculous, delightful – it was becoming par for the course.

"Have you got a mirror?" he asked with a quirk of a smile.

"Oh, yes, one moment!"

Alice dashed to her purse and pulled out her compact.

"Here," she said, opening it and handing it to him. As she did so, she pinched her cheeks for color.

He took one look at himself and started laughing. "Miss Fitzwilliam, you've outdone yourself. I think."

"Alice - and you haven't seen me outdo myself. Okay, now you realize we'll have to jump apart as she comes in."

Alice was looking forward to that part.

"At least her shoes are noisy." The wry smile had decided to stay for good.

Alice waggled her eyebrows and decided to lower one of the straps of her dress. This action required her to, well -

"Unzip me five inches," she said, turning.

He didn't quite start. "Why?"

"Just do it!"

Without even an all right, he shrugged, measured an approximate with the eyes and pulled the zipper down.

"Like so?"

Alice pulled her strap down and nodded. "Perfect! Thanks!"

She turned around again and grinned at him.

Robert gave her a tiny bow, upturned palm and everything.

Alice giggled and curtsied.

"D'you think she'll buy it?"

"I think," Robert said whilst mussing his own hair a little (he was nothing if not helpful), "she will for a few seconds and then yell at us, at least. That's clever Dawn - quick, but not instant."

"I'd suggest different things to break apart from, but I mustn't test you."

Even if several of the options sounded appealing.

"Perhaps not," Robert admitted, and was halfway through contemplating it, maybe offering to try something anyway, when the door opened –

He started more than he would at a regular noise, taking a tiny half-step backward partly out of instinct and partly out of the desire to be showy. Dawn stopped in the doorway and just stared for a second.

"You –" she stammered, and looked at Alice, and looked at Robert, and said, "I didn't actually think you w–" and then maybe remembered Alice was an actress, and started to laugh.

"I hate you both."

Quick, but not instant.

"Whatever do you mean, darling?" Alice asked, the picture of confusion and ever the actress. "Nothing at all happened!"

"I'm – not entirely sure I believe –" At least Dawn was breathing, or Robert would've had to be more concerned – she was halfway between frozen in shock and choking on her laughter.

This led to the conclusion of 'glaring at Robert will get you a truthful answer,' which didn't quite work, as glaring at Robert got her a held up hand and a bit of a blush.

Alice widened her eyes and made a oh god you've got my lipstick on you! face while Dawn was looking away.

She was nothing if not thorough when she pranked anyone.

Which of course meant she turned away and attempted to neaten her lipstick.

For all intents and purposes, she still looked horrified.

"You're either very convincing or – very convincing, but in two different ways!" said Dawn. "Robert?"

Robert shrugged, catching Alice's eye and suddenly rubbing at the lipstick stains on him.

"Very convincing of what?! Nothing happened!"

Lipstick saved, she smiled innocently.

"Right. Robert!"

"Nothing happened," Robert repeated amicably.

Dawn groaned.

"I never kiss and tell. But I really should go. It's a bit of a drive back - do we have permission to visit? Mum can be a bit overwhelming, just so you know."

The best pranks were never obviously pranks.

"Of course," Dawn managed, trying to recover her composure. "Humming Cottage, in Surrey, you can ring us here if you like –" She stole one of Robert's business cards with his name, the office's address and a number on it from the top of the desk, holding it out to Alice.

"Oh, yes, please, allow people to stalk me," added Robert. Dawn hesitated, and so he finished with: "No, it's quite fine. We just rarely get personal calls."

Alice took the card, admired Robert's name, and said, "As though you wouldn't want me to stalk you now."

"Well," he gave in, expression softening – then glanced over at Dawn and stopped. "Perhaps we shouldn't discuss it in front of another party."


Alice grinned, pulled on her shoes, hopped over to him, hopped onto her toes, and hopped up to kiss his cheek.

"I'll ring you later, then," she told Dawn as she went to get her peacoat.

"We'll – be here," she replied, eyeing Robert.

"Good evening," he told Alice, politely, not wavering from the role he'd given himself as the almost-caught illicit lover. Overly polite, Robert.

Alice grinned, wiggled her fingers in a wave, and darted out the door.


The Dirty Life Universe

January 2010

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