[identity profile] halfaustere.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] thedirtyverse
April 1, 1962

Outside the door of the Fitzwilliam Estate in Corsham, Robert Ellingsworth Capio (M.D.) was standing and staring at the pull of the bell. Staring, and thinking. Taking an assessment of what was going on.

Mentally talking to himself.

Inside, Charlie Fitzwilliam was chasing his younger sister Alice around the foyer. Robert didn't know that, but he did know he kept hearing screaming. It wasn't quite passing through the layer of thought currently taking up most of the space, though – if he'd realized they were Alice's screams, maybe he would have actually gotten the nerve to go indoors more quickly, in the very high off-chance she was in danger in her own home.

Danger would put off what he was about to do more. It wasn't like he wanted to put it off, either, not really – he wanted to make sure it was all right. He wanted to fix things. He wanted – he wanted Alice to be his, truth be told, and he needed to do this to make it right.

And yet, he was still afraid.

Afraid of what, though? he asked himself.

Disapproval, he replied. Rejection before I even have the chance to request it of her.

But it's only Andy! Anne's brother!

No, this is Randolf, Alice's father.

Alice's father. And Alice's mother, and Robert was somewhat less afraid of Isabella. She knew, she had to know, what he wanted,a nd if she hadn't approved, she would have simply told Randolf not to speak to him.

Somehow, that didn't assuage his terror any.

(Randolf kept a loaded rifle near the door. He'd seen it used on Alice's ex-boyfriend. As a threat, not as a gun, but the thought was the same.)

And you love her, don't you? the inner voice reminded him. I mean, hello?

When his inner voice started to sound like Mikey, Robert realized it was time to ring the bell, and so, with a strong inhale, he did.

Charlie had Alice around the waist and was half-way through hoisting her over his shoulder when the bell rang. Alice yelped on instinct, squirming violently to get down, her lanky limbs flailing and kicking in every direction but the right one.

"MUM!" Charlie shouted. "BELL!"

"Yes, yes, darling, I know," Isabella said calmly, appearing from behind them. "Take your sister upstairs, please. Stop making such a ruckus!"

"It's impossible, you know. She's awful. You really should get rid of her."

"CHARLIE, PUT ME DOWN!"

"You're showing the entire world her business," Isabella pointed out.

Charlie tossed her over his shoulder and Alice flopped for a moment before beating at his lower back.

"Go on!" Isabella insisted, pushing Charlie towards the stairs, which he took with ease and ran into Ruth (though not literally) half-way up.

Isabella, who was paused by the front door, watched until she was certain Alice was out of the way, then opened the door. (Had anyone asked her how she felt about what was going to happen, which she was fairly certain was only one thing, she would have screamed for days.)

"Oh, Robert! Darling, come in! How was your drive?" No pauses, only excitement.

She only hoped she wasn't jumping the gun.

"Slow," Robert admitted with a slightly nervous smile, unrolling his left sleeve just to end up rolling it up to his elbow again. He'd spent the entire trip over, trapped in traffic at least half the time, imagining different ways Randolf could throw him out of the house. Not one daydream ended with Alice in his arms – then again, that didn't really make them daydreams. "But managable, thank you for asking. And how are things here?"

"Loud! Just as it used to be before the boys moved on. Charlie's home for a couple of weeks, though I'm sure Alice told you," Isabella told him, stepping back to give him room to come in. "Andy and I are in the parlor. Did you want me to get you anything to drink? Tea, coffee, liquor, wine, champagne?"

Some ketamine might be nice.

Are we back on that already?


"Ah – coffee, I think," was what Robert actually said, because in some circumstances he found stimulants calming. An odd surgeons' lounge habit. "If it's no trouble."

Isabella shut the door and walked into the foyer. "It is absolutely no trouble at all! I'll have someone send for it in a moment—ah, Helen!"

Helen, who was passing through, stopped and said, "Yes, ma'am?"

"Could you bring Robert some coffee—how do you take it?" she asked, looking at Robert.

"Black, if it pleases," he said with a deferent smile, as Robert had a tendency to be deferential to pretty much everyone.

Isabella laughed, a door upstairs slammed, Helen jumped slightly and curtsied with another 'yes, ma'am' before dashing downstairs.

"There might be wild herds of giraffe upstairs," Isabella explained as she led Robert to the parlor. "Alice and Charlie were having a bit of a tussle just before you arrived."

"Oh, dear."

It did, at least, explain the noise. Robert didn't actually say 'so that's what crisis breaking my eardrums was,' but the thought crossed his mind for an approximate second. It also felt wrong to discuss Alice as a friend's child instead of the woman he hoped would become his lady. And yet she was a friend's child –

The entire thing was far more complicated than he'd ever have liked.

It was far too late to escape it, and Robert no longer wanted to.

"They'll never grow out of it. That boy will be thirty in a little under two years and he hasn't had any children of his own! He and Ruth have been married nearly a decade. She's probably smart to keep him from it, really. He's still so immature. Bless his heart."

Isabella stepped into the parlor and smiled at Randolf before shutting the door.

Randolf rose to his feet, using his cane. His leg had been stiff for a week or two. It didn't stop him from extending a hand and smiling tightly.

"It's good to see you, Robert," he said, though he looked a bit grey. And it had nothing at all to do with his age.

Robert – who was three hundred and one and still had not had any children of his own, either – merely smiled back. His smile was a bit more welcoming, and very obviously more nervous than the confident Robert normally seen about Randolf. Often, he regarded Randolf with respect and camaraderie, even, as they had served at the same time – normally he was a distant friend, and at this moment he was more a superior.

"And you, sir, of course," was what he said when he found the words (this took another eternity inside his mind, but there was really no noticeable pause at all), shaking hands. He held back the impulse to ask after Randolf's health with more than, "How have you been?"

He wasn't working.

Randolf almost neglected to notice the addition of 'sir' to the greeting. He was half-way back to his seat before it sank in, and right then he nearly collapsed all the way down. Izzy was right, wasn't she?

"Well, quite well. Leg's a bit stiff."

"He's seeing his doctor tomorrow," Isabella said, sitting down on the arm of his chair, as she rarely sat more than a foot or two away from him. "He put it off so long it's only got worse."

"Izzy!" Randolf said, waving his hand. "Enough."

"Don't enough me," Isabella said as Helen set a tray of coffee down on the nearest table and quietly exited again. "Anyway—"

There was a loud thud upstairs that managed to rattle the cup against the saucer.

"What on earth is going on?" Randolf asked, looking at the ceiling.

"Alice and Charlie."

"And an elephant or two!"

"She does have that old rocking elephant toy," Isabella pointed out, staring at the ceiling as though it was going to crash down on their unsuspecting heads.

Randolf shook his head. He was nervous. Almost afraid. Why he had to be so directly involved, he didn't understand. Isabella was keen and happy about these things, but this was Alice! His Alice. His baby. Sure, he wanted to walk down the aisle with her, give her away, the whole thing, but it wasn't going to happen until she was at least fifty.

He put it off so long it's only got worse.

Kind of like someone's feelings for someone else, hmm? the inner voice teased, and Robert continued to try to ignore it, picking up his coffee with a soft "Thank you" directed at Helen, and tried to decide if, perhaps, he ought to sit. Randolf and Isabella were both sitting, they counted him as a friend, he wasn't an outsider – he stood, anyway, because of the words that came out of his mouth next.

"I am sure, as you both are intelligent and aware people as well as excellent parents, that you will fail to be at all surprised when I say I've come to speak to you regarding Alice." That's not enough. "And how I feel in regard to her."

Where Isabella felt like squirming around happily, Randolf felt himself grow even whiter. But he was polite. He liked Robert. Respected him. Knew him well enough to trust him, especially around his daughter, but that was just it. Alice was his only daughter and she had dated terrible young men. It was better to keep her at home with her parents.

But then Isabella spoke.

"Why don't you have a seat, Robert," she said, patting the chair nearest them. "Really. We won't bite."

"I – well, all right."

It wasn't really customary to sit; then again, Randolf probably wouldn't let him get away with kneeling and promising fealty to Alice's honor, either. He and Isabella were a bit modern for that. Quite a bit modern, really – but Robert cared quite a bit for them regardless of their attitudes toward romance and sex.

They were a beautiful couple, anyway. He could hold nothing against them.

He sat.

He sat, and he looked between Randolf and Isabella, and he thought for a moment about Alice, about how he'd come to love her so fast and tried to hide it for so long and was so rapidly failing – and while his feeling was suddenly so strong it might've been radiating off him, his mouth had gone dry and his words went away.

(Outside the door, Alice had her ear pressed to the wood. She had escaped Charlie's clutches when he told her Robert was over, and was now trying to listen in. Unfortunately, she couldn't hear anything at all, and suddenly Charlie was tearing down the stairs and running straight for her.

"NO!" Alice shouted, not regarding the door or the people behind it as she dodged Charlie and tore across the foyer.

"CHARLIE STOP IT!")

Barely able to hear them, the antics outside still brought a smile to Robert's face, as Alice often did, and he couldn't find the eloquence still worth how he felt. There weren't words good enough for her.

Maybe – maybe that was just it.

"I cannot really find how to say what it is that has happened to me," Robert began, "but I think perhaps the two of you know, already, as you have felt it. For each other. So I will just dive into it. When I look at her, I want to smile, and then I do. When I think about her I smile, even when my day has been worse than any day I've experienced. She makes me laugh like no other. I feel as if I am walking on air, sometimes, when I am with her. When she smiles at me, my wings make to escape. Alice is a comfort and a joy to me like no one else has ever been, and I do believe I have fallen in love with her. It has been left to rest that way for too long, as I know she cares for me and I care quite deeply for her, so I must rectify a situation that has become somewhat difficult – and so I would be honoured," madam and sir, he didn't add, "for your permission and blessing in courting your daughter."

That was out, then, and Robert stopped speaking. He didn't let himself think of the fact she might reject him. He only had to get permission from her parents; he would win Alice back.

Isabella looked just about ready to explode. Randolf had even started smiling, despite himself, and was twisting his cane in his hand.

"Oh!" his wife suddenly exclaimed, clapping her hands together. "Oh, Robert. You—oh!" She slipped down and took Robert's face in her hands, planting a kiss on each cheek. "You don't even have to ask! Of course you do!"

Randolf cleared his throat. "Do I not count?"

Isabella looked at him.

"Of course you do—but it's what I say that counts, remember that, Robert."

Robert was in between but of course I have to ask! and thank you, ever so much, wholeheartedly when Isabella spoke again, and he gave her another nervous – if relieved – laugh.

"Yes, I know," he said.

Hopefully Randolf would forgive him. When they were Andy & Iz, of course he knew. When they were Alice's parents, there were customs to worry about.

Randolf smiled, and it wasn't grave, nor was it forced. He leaned on his cane and stood up, with Isabella fluttering to his side to help him stand.

"You know, our blessing was as good as yours the second Alice came home from that, what was it? That gala last winter. She went around the house talking of you and talking of your friends and I said to her, now Alice, don't put your eggs in one basket!"

('You said that because you didn't want her having a new boyfriend!' Isabella did not say.)

"But she did, anyway. And for the past week or so she's been moping around as though someone knocked the stuffing out of her but she wouldn't tell us why! I think we know. I think you know. For a while it simply made me all too aware that she's getting older and that I have to protect her from it. Keep away these boys she parades through the house. She's my youngest, you have to understand. The only daughter I have. I'm highly protective of her and I will do anything to keep her happy. Except now I can't. It's out of my hands. She's doing what I did when I was just a few years younger, and I can't tell her no, or you no, because that doesn't do a thing for the mind. Of course you have my blessing, but you also have to promise me, swear to me, vow to me that you will never do a thing to hurt her, that you will only give her the best, that you will respect her as my daughter needs to be respected, because I can load up that rifle as easy as I can fire it."

"Oh, Andy!" Isabella scolded. "That was lovely until the end."

Possibly against his better judgement, Robert laughed again.

"I – of course. I do know that. I would rather not be shot and I would certainly never harm her or risk her in any way, emotionally or physically. You have my word."

They had his word, and with the word of a Capio came the art of a Capio; in front of them, still, he could let tradition stand, and raised his hand up in the air, letting what certainly looked like tiny embers appear in the air and burn out, a brief tiny show of floating flame, before he held his hand out to Randolf again.

Randolf, the normal one in the family and still quite unused to what his wife and children could do, let alone what anyone else could do, stared for a moment before taking Robert's hand.

"Haven't got a bloody clue what that was," he said somewhat cheerfully as Isabella wound her arms around his waist and held on.

"My word," Robert told him brightly. "Demonstrated. Something my father did."

"Huh," Randolf marveled, then he flicked his hands a little as though that would do the same thing.

It didn't.

"Ah, well, what can you do?"

"Are you going to talk to Alice?" Isabella interrupted, a gleam in her eyes.

"I – of course, yes, but I have a bit of work to do first," Robert explained, a glint in his eye. "It has to be perfect – her birthday dinner, when I'll formally ask her."

"Oh, Andy! Oh, it's going to be so romantic! I wish I could be there!"

"And Alice hopes you won't be!" Andy told his wife, patting her lower back and kissing her head.

"I wouldn't ruin it. But I am happy! You're exactly what she needs. You are. She's got my wild streak in her. You'll do right by her, I know."

(And Alice had her ear pressed to the door again. Charlie was listening just above her head. Both were flushed from running into every room of the house in under five minutes.)

Robert was happy, too. Stupidly happy. He almost thought he could sense Alice – and wasn't that novel, that she was just becoming that much a part of him? Novel and wonderful and thrilling and frightening all at once, because what if she didn't want it? – but tried to push it aside.

"I hope, I hope it will be. I also hope you'll help me a bit – with where she likes, with arrangements. I do not know what her favourite formal sorts of places are."

Isabella let go of her husband, nearly knocking him off-balance, and took Robert's hand. "Of course! We'll tell you everything!"

"Not everything. I haven't read any of her diaries in years."

Isabella gestured blindly at him. "Oh, hush, you!"

And that had Robert laughing again.

"I – I have no idea how to thank you for this. I cannot thank you enough. I do hope she'll accept."

"If she doesn't, I'll eat his cane!" Isabella said. "I know my daughter. I know everything that goes on in that head of hers. You've nothing to be nervous about. Now, one of her favorite restaurants is in Corsham, actually. It's a formal place with a cozy environment. But she's a fan of a restaurant in London. I'll have to get the names. They're in the address book."

Behind her, Randolf was making 'she talks too much' motions with his hands.

"Someplace glamorous and exciting," mused Robert. "Somewhere where I can rent a room, perhaps, or a courtyard. Have something decorated just so, and make it private. With – twinkle lights and scented candles."

His ideas were acting up again. "A full proper set of courses, followed by a walk, or a boat ride if we're near the river."

Isabella looked near to fainting. Anyone else would assume he was talking about her.

All Randolf could do was chuckle as Isabella grabbed Robert's arm and dragged him to a writing desk. "We'll find somewhere perfect. We can rent out an entire restaurant! With a beautiful view. She'll want to dress up."

"An entire restaurant might be a bit obvious," Robert admitted, flushing a little. "And the hospital fund might be a bit irked – do not tell me you'll help pay! I won't have it, this ought to be on my cent."

Cent. Dime. Whichever.

"But the view, the view – yes."

Sadly, Robert lacked a pen to wave about.

Isabella waved a pen, instead. "Just tell her it's a slow night! Her birthday's on a Thursday this year." They always knew in order to plan parties. "She planning a party for the Saturday following. That's irrelevant, except that she told us not to tell you."

So she had been a bit stung over the past couple of days!

Charming, thought Robert and his inner voice alike, but between their approval and Isabella's elatedness, he let it go.

"So long as she doesn't mind being out somewhat late on a weeknight, and you don't mind it."

"Darling, she'll be twenty two and hasn't a job nor school. Don't worry! She'll stay out as long as she likes."

(Outside, Charlie slipped and knocked Alice into the door, and Alice swore loudly and hit him in the leg.)

Isabella glanced at the door. "Er, yes, well, she might be our little girl, but she's not a little girl."

"I beg to differ!" Randolf protested, walking over.

"He would. Ignore him. He's full of painkillers."

"I'm full of scotch."

"That's a painkiller!" Robert was happy to come to Randolf's defence in an area he knew well. "Not as good a painkiller as brandy is, but a painkiller all the same. Should we let them in here before either is injured?"

Robert failed to add 'further.' He was expecting a few bruises.

Randolf laughed and shook his head. "Might as well."

He ambled over to the doors and opened them.

Alice and Charlie fell in, Charlie landing right on top of his sister.

"OW!" Alice shrilled. "OFF ME!" She began to elbow him furiously. "OFF, OFF, OFF!"

"Oh, Charlie!" Isabella rushed over to help him stand.

Robert had been laughing, earlier, but calmed again – this just had him burst out laughing for a third time.

And start to applaud. "I would ask for an encore but I think it would only cause further injury!"

Alice turned whiter than she usually was and froze. Stopping half-way to a standing position wasn't the best timing, so she finished straightening her back and looked a little shy.

"We've been doing that all day," Charlie said. "She's impossible--mother, she's impossible! Do something about it!"

And then as Alice wrinkled her nose and stuck out her tongue at his back, Charlie walked over Robert and held out his hand. "It's good to see you, Robert."

"And you," said Robert with a handshake, not adding 'Charles' to the end primarily because it did feel awkward when his parents called him Charlie. "Is Ruth lurking in the wings? How are you doing?"

"She's upstairs trying to sleep. I think she's still jetlagged."

"Or you two should try sleeping at night, hm?" Isabella teased, raising her eyebrows.

"Oh, Mum, please."

Alice decided to shrink behind her father. It was easy. Robert was here and she was mortified. Mortified because she had spent yesterday with Sully and it was only because she truly believed she was going mad. Going mad and going nowhere and when Robert stood with her parents, he looked so much older and unlike the young man (or not young man) she spent so much time with. The one she was completely head-over-heels for.

Robert ruined it. Robert ruined it by leaning to the side and lowering his head at just the right angle to be able to do his best to smile at her. He didn't say anything; he couldn't. It was too soon.

But he did smile.

Alice turned red and grinned despite herself, then quickly hid her face against her father's back. Randolf, feeling the pressure, looked behind himself and tried to pat her arm.

"What are you hiding from?" he asked her.

"Let her hide!" Isabella said. "Don't embarrass her."

"She's embarrassed herself enough, hasn't she? I didn't crush you, did I?"

"No, you prick."

"Alice." Randolf sighed and switched his cane to his other hand.

"Your flexibility remains impressive as always, Andy," Robert said passively, meaning only that. There was no innuendo in it, for all he realized after he'd said it someone could have taken it that way.

He didn't.

"You limber up when you raise children," Randolf said, pulling his pipe from his pocket.

Alice slowly emerged from behind his back and looked anywhere but at Robert. Theodore provided a slight relief as he slowly ambled into the room.

"Maybe someday I'll learn it," was out of Robert's mouth before he thought about what he'd said.

What about 1976?

Forget 1976. That's too close to now – Alice is young.

Yes, but you're not.

But she is.


Isabella let out a high-pitched noise that caught both Charlie and Alice's attention. They glanced at her, Charlie from a glass of scotch and Alice from the floor where she was sitting with Theodore.

"Are you all right, Mum?" Charlie asked.

"I'm fine! I'm just fine!"

Randolf had turned a funny shade of grey again.

"Are you all right, Andy?" Robert asked, returning to his previous state of hesitant – though not so that Randolf had become 'sir' again, despite the fact he was, in fact, a Sir.

"Yes, I'm fine!" Randolf said behind a cloud of pipe smoke.

"He's probably just leaning too heavily on his leg--darling, you need to sit. So, Robert, is there anything else we can help you with or do you just want to see Alice?"

Alice looked ready to bolt.

It was exactly unlike her.

"Well, I really should be heading home soon – but I would like to steal Alice away for a moment, if you wouldn't mind?"

She might as well have been accused of murdering someone. Alice looked behind her, at her father's shin, and then looked at Robert again.

Nod, Alice.

Alice nodded.

Let go of Theodore, Alice.

Alice let go of Theodore.

Somehow, between letting go of Theodore and thinking about holding him again, Alice had stood up.

"Okay."

Robert – Robert smiled. Robert tried not to be stilted as he said his good days to everyone else, and said he'd stop by again soon, and stepped out into the hall again. Hoping desperately she wouldn't say no to him. Knowing that he wouldn't be presenting it as a date at first, because the idea was to ask

Almost praying to the stars above, for all they couldn't help him, let her not reject me.

Alice looked at her hands, looked at the floor, and looked at her hands. He was quiet and she didn't know what to say.

"Your birthday," Robert spoke up, nervous, jittery, trying to hide it. Not playing with his sleeves, not nibbling anything, not biting his lip, not putting on and taking off the set of glasses that didn't do anything but look good. "That evening. The twelfth, a Thursday, it's soon – will you spend it with me?"

She knows when her own birthday is!

Shut up.


Alice's heart did its characteristic dance and she felt her skin flush. They had been out for dinner a dozen times at a dozen places and it never meant anything. This was expected. Normal. He just didn't want to make her parents think it was significant.

"Yeah, of course!" she said, trying to be cheerful but still not looking at him.

"I hope I'll see you before then," Robert admitted, quietly. "At the hospital?"

Alice looked at him for a fleeting moment. "Maybe," she said. "If you figure out that volunteering thing."

"Just – come by my office, anytime you think you can, I'll take you down. It's nothing formal. We haven't really got a system – we're still working on – yes."

You're rambling. He knew it.

"Okay. I'll do what I can. I have to be around the house with Charlie here. I don't usually get to see him, that's all." Her hands appreciated the conversation.

"Oh, I understand, of course!" And he did. He missed his siblings, a great deal. He understood.

Even if he wanted her with him.

"I should really be getting back there now," Robert pointed out. It was, in part, true. He was needed in London – and yet not all that urgently. He simply felt, suddenly, as if he would be better off giving Alice space. Something made him feel that way, like how she didn't want him at her birthday party, and something like how she wouldn't look at him.

Alice nodded. She felt both relieved and sick. She didn't want him to go. She wanted him to grab her and dip her and snog her senseless because the tension had grown so unbearable. Surely he felt that way! He had to! It would kill her if he never touched on it! Did anything about it!

"Okay. You'll have to tell me if the restaurant is formal or not. If you're picking."

"I'll let you know when next I see you," he told her, even if he did know, if only because this meant she was forced to speak to him beforehand.

Not that he wouldn't be back there – because he needed to plan the rest of the evening, and he needed Alice's parents for that.

"And I hope that's soon," he added.

I love you, he didn't.

Alice nodded again. She did hope. She hoped every second. She also hoped Sully wouldn't say anything. She hadn't told him to keep it a secret. In fact, she had acted the opposite.

"So, I'll – be going."

Just before he did, though, he reached out to catch her hand just long enough to brush his lips to the back of it, and disappear down the stairs.

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