[identity profile] halfaustere.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] thedirtyverse
April 12, 1962.

Robert's primary fear was that it wouldn't be perfect.

This as a fear, he thought as Colin's driver steered the old Mercedes limo toward the Fitzwilliam estate, was both surprisingly grounded and utterly ridiculous. Of course it wouldn't be perfect – nothing was perfect. Nothing except perhaps for Alice. His intent. He wanted everything for her to be perfect – that was why he was careful, too, to dress in a way that was impeccable without being overly formal. Careful to get a car that would make her smile. Careful to be sure, with Isabella's help, that the restaurant was perfect.

They did, in fact, rent the entire thing out. No one else would be there except for waiters and Robert and his hopeful lady love. The way it wouldn't be perfect, though, that would be if it didn't quite work. Alice had been reticent to accept.

And she might not like her gift.

"What're you so worried about?" the driver – Robert confessed, in secret, to Dawn that he'd forgotten the man's name and she'd laughed and hadn't told him – asked as he stopped the car, got out to help Robert with his door. "I mean, she loves you, right? She must love you for all this, sir."

Robert shook his head a little. "I'm not sure."

And he took off his hat – a different hat, a proper dress hat that was the same navy blue as the rest of his suit – and held it to his chest, and walked up to the door.

Pulling the bell wasn't nearly as terrifying this time as it had been before.

Alice was holed up in her bedroom. She had been holed up in her bedroom for three hours, doing her hair and taking it out, then doing it again and taking it out, then screaming at her reflection and watching television for ten minutes before becoming paranoid that Robert would show up two hours early.

When the bell rang, her panic increased. She wasn't ready! An outside observer might assume she was, as she was dressed and had her stockings on and her hair up and her eyes done, but the only observer to the inside was Alice, and she was brimming over.

It was her birthday. She was twenty two. There were presents stacked around her parlor, all unopened as yet, and the foyer was filled with flowers. But Robert was here and here for a more formal occasion, despite her understanding that there was no way this was a date of any sort. They had eaten at fancy restaurants before. Together. Alone. This was just special because it was her birthday.

She was reluctant, but the sliver of optimism in her mind held out the hope that maybe this would be different.

Still, she wasn't ready.

So the butler, good old Cosmo (known only as Cos), was the one who answered the door. And he smiled in the warm-and-yet-haughty sort of way that a well-paid butler for a high-society family would, and stepped back with a tiny bow. "Miss Fitzwilliam will be down in a moment, sir."

A well-paid and well-informed butler.

A tad hesitantly, Robert smiled. At least it was an earnest smile – he liked Cos, as much as he liked any of the others, though he had a unique fondness for Max, who had witnessed him high.

"Thank you," he said, stepping in and keeping his hat on his chest, and pointedly not reaching into his pocket to check and be sure her gift – her real gift, not the dinner or the restaurant or the courtship, was still there.

Cos shut the door and left the foyer as Isabella knocked on Alice's door in the depths of the house and quietly said, "Robert is waiting downstairs. Did you want me to say goodbye before--"

"Go!" Alice snapped, frazzled and several shades of pink as she shoved on her shoes and grabbed her jacket.

Isabella walked downstairs and smiled at Robert as Randolf emerged from the drawing room, no cane in sight, and held out his hand to greet Robert. "She won't be long," he said.

"She's been doing her hair all evening," Isabella sighed, looking up at the second floor.

Robert didn't in fact inform Randolf of how much better he was looking – he knew that his friend (and because he wasn't currently afraid of them, only their daughter's reaction, Randolf and Isabella were back to being friends) knew exactly how he felt. He did give the lack of cane a much warmer, welcoming smile, though.

"Has she," he asked with a look that really didn't mask his satisfaction at the fact Alice was taking him seriously. "And how are you two?"

"Wonderful!" Isabella said, taking Randolf's arm as he kissed her head. Because he could, really. And often did.

Out came his pipe. "Went hunting this afternoon with Charlie. Rotten shot. Worst I've ever seen. So we took to scaring everything instead of accomplishing anything. It was better for his ego."

"I'm certain he doesn't mind!"

Randolf chuckled. "No, we spend most of our time doing design. He's far better at that."

Upstairs, Alice had opened the door and was waffling on the threshold.

"That sounds like fun," Robert admitted. Robert, who would prefer to play with the dogs than do any actual hunting, and had been that way for most, if not all of his life.

No, he liked the hunts as a young boy, before he was actually allowed to go on them, and then he decided he preferred the hounds themselves.

"And I do," Robert continued, "look forward to seeing his designs. Perhaps purchasing something."

For Alice.

No,
Robert corrected himself mentally. You can't get a Fitzwilliam a Fitzwilliam diamond.

"They'll be beautiful, we're certain. I'll have to buy everything," Isabella said, hoping Alice wasn't going to be too much longer.

Upstairs, Alice was walking down the hall, her mouth so dry she thought she would choke on her own throat. As she neared the stairs and kept out of sight of the people below, she nearly stopped and ran back to her room. She had been avoiding Robert spectacularly over the past couple of weeks and having a dinner with him was making her extraordinarily uneasy. It would only stir up all of those damn feelings she had been sitting on in order to suffocate.

And then, that continuously optimistic slice of mind continued to remind her that maybe this was different.

But how could it be?

Dressed in a short white ensemble, the skirt happily lined with crinoline, Alice hardly felt like it was another night out with Robert.

But that was exactly the problem.

And on step number five, she stopped again.

When she stopped, Robert noticed. Of course he'd heard footfalls – but in this particular instance, he noticed her, saw that she'd stopped walking, and realized, in that moment, that all he was holding was his hat.

He hadn't gotten her flowers.

What a fool. Of course, there were flowers everywhere, but Robert hadn't gotten her flowers, there were none from him – nothing to say, specifically, that Dr. Robert Capio remembered Miss Alice Fitzwilliam's twenty-second birthday and wanted to honor it every way he could. He'd gotten her a gift and he'd arranged for a dinner and he had plans, if not specific words, to ask for her courtship. But he hadn't gotten her flowers. Not in a bouquet that he could hand her.

Not, of course, that he'd have been able to hand her anything anyway, because the second he really looked at her, his head turned and his eyes moved to meet hers, and he smiled, stupidly, transfixed.

She was always beautiful, and got more beautiful every time he looked at her. How had he waited this long? How was he surviving? It was building up and building up and building up –

"Alice," he said, softly, almost but not quite allowing a blush his collar might've hidden half of anyway.

Alice smiled a self-conscious smile and slowly finished her descent to the foyer. As she did so, as Robert spoke, Isabella and Randolf looked up and Isabella was quick to react.

"Oh, princess, you look beautiful!" she said as said princess walked to them, blushing violently as her parents fussed.

"I should have got my camera--"

"Mum!" Alice hissed.

"Let them go in peace, Izzy," said Randolf gently, though he was beaming ear-to-ear in a way that made Alice quite suspicious.

"It's just dinner," Alice murmured. "I'll be back when I'm back!"

Was Alice trying to flee out the front door? Yes. However, she was doing it in a dignified way that merely involved her standing in front of Robert looking nervously at her parents.

"You do look beautiful," Robert told her, more softly, as he offered her his arm. She was stunning – she'd always been stunning, he'd thought she was stunning that first night he spoke to her! Not that that was why, he'd been interested in more than her beauty, and of course he still was. Always would be.

And then, more loudly: "Good night, Iz. Randolf."

'Randolf' was proper. 'Iz' was better than 'Izzy,' and he wasn't about to call her Isabella.

Alice turned even more red as her mother began to fuss with the collar of her jacket and Alice had to beat her hands away, though she held fast to Robert's arm out of instinct.

"Have a lovely time, darling!"

"Be safe, princess!"

"I will, I will!" Alice called, pulling Robert towards the door.

They had never acted so overenthusiastic before and she was tempted to turn around and remind them that this wasn't a date, but lingering for more embarrassment wasn't on her mind. She was red enough as it was.

"I have to tell you a secret," Robert told her softly, conspiratorially, before he let her get a chance to catch a glimpse of the automobile he took over.

He wasn't above joking even when incredibly nervous.

"Whose car is that?" Alice asked, forgetting to ask what the secret was because she had never seen this car in Robert's possession. Didn't know he had it in him to own one!

"The one I stole. My secret being that I stole a motorcar for the occasion," Robert admitted, sounding more cheerful than guilty about it. He had, of course, appropriated it with something less than what one might consider permission exactly ("Colin, I'll be taking your Mercedes." "Okay.") but it wasn't the same as taking it in a holdup.

Not that it was easy for anyone, even someone with such a wild mind as Alice's, to imagine Robert in a holdup. Robert couldn't imagine Robert in a holdup, and Robert could dream up a lot, nonsense or otherwise. Dawn couldn't imagine Robert in a holdup – stop thinking about holdups, Robert, this isn't one.

The driver came into view, holding open the door. "Ma'am and sir," he said.

Much more formal now that he wasn't mocking Robert.

Alice glanced at Robert over her shoulder and got in. This was the best impression of a date she had seen. This was a better impression of a date than any of the dates she had been on. But knowing better meant she knew this couldn't be one, so she kept the thought to herself instead of scaring Robert away, and put her hands in her lap.

Still quite for Alice, but April had been strange so far and was only getting to be worse.

As Robert sat down next to her, letting the driver shut the door and go about to his own seat and, well, drive, he weighed in his mind the options of telling her where they were going versus surprising her versus asking her versus being vague.

(She was still being quiet. She didn't want to be there, did she? She'd smiled at first! But. But. But.)

"It's not quite as far as London," was what he said.

Alice looked at him (she couldn't not--he was so handsome and it wasn't fair). "How far, then? Where is it?"

That settled whether he'd tell her, at any rate –

"Swindon. Near the theatre, but not quite at it."

"If it was at the theatre, it would be the theatre."

Robert laughed. He couldn't not laugh around her the same way she couldn't not look at him – she just brightened his mood every moment.

"Well! Of course it would. But it's not on either side of the theatre, either. Not visible from the theatre. Is that satisfactory?"

"What if I wanted to go to the theatre?" Alice lightly asked her purse.

"The theatre is a terrible place for a dinner–" date, Robert cut off the last word. It wasn't a date yet. She hadn't accepted yet. Unfortunately, it was rather obvious he'd cut off a part of his sentence.

"An excellent place for a show," he saved, albeit barely, "but a terrible place for a dinner."

Alice eyed him suspiciously as she had done many times in the past, and suddenly went from being a lady to being Alice. Slouching down, she bent her legs and rested her heels on the edge of the seat after kicking off her shoes.

"I suppose. What about dinner theatre?"

"Do they do them? I haven't been to one in Swindon. We could go to one sometime, if you like," he added.

And hopefully, he added to himself, that would be a date.

Alice shrugged.

Yes, she liked. She liked that idea very much. She wanted to go all sorts of places with Robert but her intentions were so different from his that she didn't want to give him an idea. Not a single one. Not anymore. It was difficult just sitting in a car with him, especially when there was an uncertain supper ahead.

It was quiet.

It was quiet with Alice, and to Robert that felt alien all by itself. Alice wasn't the sort to be quiet, he'd learned. Alice was free and wild and rambunctious and fun and everything he'd ever admired about any one person all bottled into one. She was somewhat like every close friend he'd ever had and somewhat entirely different, and all her own, and more to him even than any of them had been.

As time passed – time Robert lost sense of, because he was busy worrying about if this had been a mistake, and reminding himself that no, it wasn't a mistake, because this was what he wanted ... but why hadn't he just straight-up asked? Who straight-up asked? How was that anything like him? – as time passed, Robert came to realize he was still holding his hat in a deathgrip.

Robert put his hat on his head.

Robert asked, "Would you like your gift before dinner – would you like your gift to lighten the drive, perhaps, or should I wait? Or should you like it with dessert?"

He wasn't sure how long he was going to wait to formally ask her to be his, either. The current plan was something mid-main-course.

Finally, Alice looked at him, mostly because she was so taken aback that she couldn't stop herself. "You got me a gift? I thought dinner was the gift."

"Of course I got you a gift!" Robert, for his part, was surprised she'd think he hadn't. What kind of a potential suitor – what kind of a friend wouldn't get her a gift? "It happens to be your birthday. Dinner is for the occasion. An event. An event makes a poor gift."

"I don't think it makes a poor gift," Alice told her knees, surprised at herself for saying anything, let alone something like that.

True, the only gift she ever wanted was Robert all for herself, but the more time went on, the more she settled for other things. Like flowers from her parents. And something wrapped in brown paper that Don had sent her and she had been anxious about touching, let alone opening.

"Well, it is for you as well. But I'm sharing it. This is something just for you, which you can have whenever you like it."

Robert certainly hoped she would like it, anyway.

An any on any other ordinary day, Alice would have started fishing in Robert's pockets, perhaps even climbing on top of him to hunt in his jacket, but this day wasn't ordinary. And Alice didn't want to see how uncomfortable Robert got if she did climb on him.

Instead, she leaned back against the seat and looked at him. "Can I have it now?"

"You can have it now." Robert turned to the side to look at her, and fished a long, thin, wrapped box – white, with a shiny pink chiffon-trimmed ribbon – out of his trouser pocket, handing it over. "I hope it is not any of the following – too tame, too extravagant, the wrong color, catches too much light, doesn't catch enough – I hope it is satisfactory."

Alice knew what a jewelry box was. Knew one like she knew the alphabet, only backwards and diagonal and sometimes under covers, as well. She was almost hesitant as she reached over to take it, and even more hesitant to unwrap.

Boys getting girls jewelry. Unless they were related, it meant something. It had to. It was important that it mean something or else she would never be able to wear whatever it was he got her, and that was a terrible waste.

Especially when she opened the box and saw the necklace.

"Oh, Robert!" she exclaimed, quick to forget how she was hiding herself from him now. "It's beautiful!"

"I – good," Robert said, and he was relieved, and he could breathe a little easier. Only a little, because the fear, the tight vice around his heart, literally causing pain in his chest – for all he knew it wasn't real, it was there, it wasn't going anywhere – was still present. It would be until he'd asked and she'd said yes.

But he was smiling. Smiling like a fool, a proud fool, a man sick in love, all of which, perhaps, he was. An intelligent fool, but a fool nonetheless, a fool for her.

(Mayhap he'd put that in his speech.)

"I was afraid, perhaps, you wouldn't like it at all – I thought of you, though, when I saw it, knew that was the one. The gold brings out your coloring and so do the emeralds, you and green, it's quite fetching. Bow's just because it's pink, and the box came in that color."

"You don't have to explain the wrappings, silly," Alice told him, unbuttoning her jacket and sliding out. "Here, put it on me!"

She had forgotten a necklace. Maybe it was fate or maybe it was just an accident (likely that). Either way, she took the necklace out of the box and handed it to Robert, then turned so that her back was to him, her hair already out of the way. (Did she wanted his hands on her skin? More than she could possibly explain.)

And Robert certainly didn't object. Not at all. In fact, as he moved to put it around her neck and then close the clasp, he let himself stay closer, let his breath linger on her shoulder, the tip of his nose almost touching it as he inspected the latch. It was a good pretense, getting to stay closer longer than a couple of seconds out of some feigned curiosity to see how it shut.

"Lovely already," he said, from behind her. It looked lovely there; it would be ideal from the front.

Alice was smiling to herself, biting the inside of her cheek to keep her beam away. After all, this wasn't fair, was it? He could do these things to her, make her want to shiver, make her want to completely lose it, and knew it, and he only made it worse.

So when she turned to show off the front of the necklace, she tried to hide the look that had been on her face just a moment earlier.

"It's lucky I wore this dress. It goes with nearly anything."

"It goes with you," he said, still smiling, still the fool caught in stagelights. Robert wasn't afraid of how silly his statements sounded, all of a sudden. She deserved straightforward. "And it looks amazing, it really does. Whomever the bloke is who got it for you, fellow has good taste."

Alice scrunched her nose at him as she rested her fingers on the necklace. "I can't remember his name," she said idly.

"How sad," Robert said in a lamenting sort of tone, shaking his head a litle. "I'm sure he'd be quite heartbroken if he knew he was so easily forgotten."

Alice shrugged and tried to hide a grin around the pink finger nail she was suddenly chewing on. "It's hard to keep them all straight in my head. They all tend to run together."

"More's the pity. Have others gotten you such extravagant gifts?"

Robert was trying very hard to play this straight.

It was almost working.

"Oh, nothing much. I got a tiara of diamonds once," Alice lied. They were rhinestones.

"Really!" Robert wasn't sure, quite, if he should believe it. Or if it wasn't from a suitor at all but from her family. "And who did that come fr–oh, but of course you don't know."

(The driver was muffling his laughter, too.)

"Of course not! I don't have time for boys," she sniffed, pulling her jacket on again. "Who are you, again?"

"I'm a doctor," he reminded her, gently. "Here about that memory issue."

Alice gazed off into nothing. "What memory issue?"

Robert shook his head, laughing.

See? the inner voice reminded him. She does this. This is why you're doing this, so stop being nervous.

Robert also continued to wonder when he'd gained a mental version of Sully, something he didn't really have any true desire for. On the other hand, mental Sully was at least somewhat useful.

"We're almost there, at least," the driver told them.

"Do you know where?" he asked Alice.

"Where? What's where?" Alice murmured, doe-eyed and unfocused, head lightly tilted to the right.

"Swindon," said Robert, not being all that helpful. "On an island called England. Country's properly known as the United Kingdom."

"What are those words?" she continued, looking more and more confused and sounding more and more spacey.

Suddenly, Robert realized he was really in need of the driver's name, or he couldn't possibly give the order he wanted. So he stopped and thought for a moment, reaching out to pat the hand of his mad redhead, the addled young patient who couldn't remember her own name.

What was his name?

Something odd and quirky that used to be more common. Something biblical –

"Zebadiah," Robert said, that was it, Zebadiah, and the driver turned to look at him, sideways, while still driving. "I think perhaps we need to stop at a hospital."

"That all right, Miss Fitzwilliam?"

"Who?"

That time, both Robert and Zebadiah laughed; and, after a moment, the car did stop.

"Here's your hospital," the driver said with a laugh, pulling up in front of not a hospital at all but a small building with a name in lights: The Pear Tree. It was rectangular and made of brick and didn't look like much on the outside, for its elaborate windows. A trellis gateway to the back had a lit sign as well: Patio Open.

But the restaurant's door said Closed for private party.

Zebadiah moved to open the door for them again.

Alice continued to look zoned out and pleasantly aloof, even smiling dreamily when the car stopped. "It'll be a bright new day tomorrow, Johnny. The bombs will stop falling soon."

Likely, Zebadiah didn't get it – Robert, on the other hand, began to laugh so hard he started to tilt slightly.

"Come on, soldier," he said, "hop on out. We'll have a bite at the mess."

"Cover your mouth or you'll be gassed," Alice's alter ego told not-Johnny as she grabbed her purse and slid out of the car.

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the soldier didn't stick. "Whoa," said Alice. "That sign--we're alone?"

Robert's smile turned thin and conspiratory.

Was she disturbed, startled? Unhappy with it? Pleased? Isabella had thought she'd be pleased –

"Your mother made a comment about renting out a restaurant," he said, "when I first spoke with her about taking her out, and I decided – we decided, she did help and the credit for the idea is of course hers – that it might be a nice touch. We'll be dining outside, I hope you don't mind? In theory they could therefore put other people inside and we would not notice, but."

But Robert had no good logic for the last bit. Being alone made it – made it more intimate, didn't it, and that was both the beauty and the issue.

Alice nodded, mostly because she had already forgotten what he said, so stunned by the idea that they were going to be alone together at a restaurant. That he had booked an entire restaurant. That was nothing if not--if not really, really romantic! Surely he knew it--and he had asked her mother--oh, Alice couldn't stand it.

Because she was still convinced Robert couldn't understand it.

"I've never known you could do that. I just thought it was done in the films."

"Oh, you can! You need to have sway." Robert held out his arm, and started to grin. She seemed happy – was coming off happy, felt happy if he let magic have its say in the commentary. "The kind of sway where you say you're a doctor and the health department's come to shut the place down, unless."

Alice's jaw dropped and she stared at him, bewildered in a delighted way. "You didn't!"

"No, I didn't," he said, sounding a bit regretful and meaning it, too. She'd seemed thrilled by the idea. Maybe next time, he should.

A waiter, seeing them coming, held open the door to the restaurant.

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