The Lancer Fanfiction Archive

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Barb

 

 

FTimestamp: Knockin' On Heaven's Door
Second Timestamp for "Man Plans, God Laughs", which is part of a sequence of stories, following 'In Earnest'. Follow the link to see the story order

Waiting in the circular courtyard behind Grandfather's austere town house was a coach and pair of Thoroughbreds. At the reins was a man with the reddest hair Scott had ever seen. The man hopped nimbly down and opened the coach doors when Scott approached, his expression dour.

"Scott, this is Darby," Julie introduced him. "You haven't formally met him yet."

Darby bobbed his head. "How do ye do, Sir?"

Scott hesitated for the briefest of moments. "Fine. Just fine."

"Pleased to make your acquaintance, I'm sure," Darby said lifting his bowler hat.

An awkward silence settled in the coach as Scott took his seat next to Julie, facing Raymond Dennison, her father. The sumptuous leather under his fingertips was cool and smooth, squeaking in time with the turn of wheels.

"I gather you would prefer to accompany my daughter to the ball alone."

"Father!" Julie admonished.

Scott glanced at the velvet trappings and fine woodwork. "And I gather you'd prefer me not to accompany her at all."

"For both your sakes, I believe we should take things slowly. I don't want my daughter pushed into a family or social situation that she does not wish to be part of."

"Or think I'm suited for," Scott said.

"I'm merely remembering our conversation a few years ago, when Julie first entertained the idea of seeing you, in which you made it clear that you were happy to join the Federal cause and had no wish to assume familial liaisons. You father's standing, well, that's a thing of the past, eh?"

Scott nodded. "True enough," on both counts, he added to himself.

"You've given me every reason to believe you're as reluctant to tell the world Julie will be your wife as you believe I am to inform it you're my son-in-law, so do not attribute my consideration for your feelings to snobbery."

Scott was tempted to apologize but personal judgement told him snobbery was exactly the reason Raymond Dennison was as yet to make an attempt to bless any relationship between him and Julie. All the luck to the old man in keeping it under his hat, he thought. "So for the time being, I'm merely Scott Lancer and you're…Mr. Dennison."

"That will be sufficient."

Scott volunteered no further conversation. Instead he looked at the scenery. This close to the ocean in an abandoned field, no one bothered to water the soil. There was nothing as organized as irrigation. Grass looked to be knee-length—higher in some places—dry, bleached-out blonde. It would crunch under his foot he realized, untended, barely surviving. Must have been a wet spring to have grown so high, then to be brutalized by the summer's killing heat, by a lack of water.

He was thirsty himself.

He closed his eyes, shutting out the view, because everything was spinning and he felt sick and chilled. And Scott realized that he hadn't eaten all day, leaving nothing to twist around in his stomach except sulfurous bile. Something to which the present company had contributed greatly.

When he opened them again, their coach, one amongst many, had pulled into a brick-lined courtyard.

He took a deep breath of clean air, before helping Julie down from the coach. Then he took several more as he watched the corpulent form of Raymond Dennison exit the very same. The smell of cooking odors coming from the kitchens behind the open ballroom door were particularly tantalizing, making him snake out his tongue to catch a bit of errant saliva.

The lawn was thick with party-goers and jocularity.

In some ways, the entire room was like a stage: immaculately lit with candles and coal lamps, large mirrors reflecting the dancing floor, the mood boisterous, despite the occasional loud outburst emanating from the band and their violins. The room was just the right size to accommodate fifty or more people, some standing, others seated on dark leather chairs and sofas scattered artfully. Red lilies bristled in crystal vases like sabers after a bloody battle. Large French doors were open to the evening, where private decks offered views of forest and river. A gilded piano the size of Grandfather's foyer sat unused.

Scott spotted a tray full of raw oysters on the buffet table, some kind of roasted bird with the feathers reinserted, a platter of gleaming smoked salmon the color of blood.

He craned his neck to take a good look at the crowd; nowhere did he see any sign of Dennison. Where did the man go? Usually, he wasn't far from his daughter. And the daughter was very close to Scott at the moment.

Julie came up to his shoulder, perhaps.

"Scott?" She waved him down towards her, and kissed him on the cheek, her lips brushing past his ear. Her perfume was sweet, clung to him. She was dressed for a performance-as though the party was for them alone-a deep blue dress with sparkly somethings that reflected the light.

Behind her glittering blue shoulder, Raymond Dennison's eyes cast daggers, affronted by Julie's show of affection. He took secret delight in the man's distress.

A man stepped up to the piano and sat down. At the first musical notes, Scott turned Julie's card over to see his name listed for all the dances. And he grinned like a madman.

He captured her hand, easily nesting it inside his own. She laughed, and then he did and that felt good. So good. Her eyes, dark as his were light, danced and he could see her expression was relieved, even as she brought her arm around him, to fit into him like a puzzle piece.

He swept her into the strains of the waltz. Yet each step taken felt heavy, as if slogging through the worst of mud. He stumbled trying to keep up the tempo.

A savage slicing pain sheared through his head, white hot, a fire poker jabbed through his temple. The breath he'd taken was released, not lightly, but in a series of pants, the kind animals made when they are injured. He saw the room, the chandelier, and tried to keep focus on them, because he couldn't control this, didn't want this.

Scott ran a hand across his face, felt the cold sweat there.

He drew away, hand on the side of her smooth face, one lock of rich brown hair snaked across her forehead. Not pressure. Pain. Breath caught. Real, awful pain, and Julie stared into his eyes, not understanding, pulling him to her and that was excruciating. With a groan, Scott collapsed into her, head resting on her shoulder for one moment, trying to collect himself, the pain suddenly huge, not normal, not right.

She looked up, eyes wide in the lamp light, face flushed and shining. Her hands, which had been around his shoulders, released him. "Scott?" she whispered.

Without warning, the ballroom filled with white light, diffuse, blinding, so abrupt and soundless that he didn't have time to react in any way. It washed the interior to a glowing indistinct circle, blinding in its intensity.

In one length of breath, the light vanished, and the ballroom plunged into inky blackness. The empty soundless void was replaced with a scream that went on and on.

******

"Is his fever down? Will he be all right, Lieutenant Baker?" he heard a low murmur, perhaps not meant to be heard, or to not disturb.

It took a long time for the answer. Scott drifted out again, only surfacing to hear, "I don't know, Atherton. But I think the crisis is over, thank God."

Threaded through the woodsmoke was the bitter odor of unwashed bodies and frank putrid smell of old blood and decay. He tried to move, bit back a sound as his back whined, lanced up to his head.

"Scott!" came a hard voice beside his ear and he was jostled so hard his teeth rattled.

John had a fist twined in his shirtfront, and it took Scott a good few seconds to recognize the expression on his friend's face, which was fear combined with stark worry, all tied up in dark glower. John had grown that particular expression in the last six months. Since they'd been imprisoned.

"What did I do?" His words came out garbled, seemingly far-away. He pushed John's hand away, and tried, unsuccessfully, to sit up. He peered about, half-hoping for sky. Any sky. The boarded-up windows were still closed, and no light paled behind them. He could tell it was raining, though, from the bursts of tic-tic's against the hidden glass.

"Stay down, you've been sick," John said softly. Scott met his eyes, wondering if he could be pushed on this. Nothing but hard determination there, no pushing back.

John rubbed a hand over his eyes. Scratched his chin and the angry expression softened slightly, right into sarcasm. "You started talking about eating. Cakes, cookies, even a chicken for heaven's sake. I thought I was going to have to put my hand over your mouth to make you pipe down."

The dream…something about Raymond Denison and a ballroom. Julie. He had dreamt out loud. "Maybe I should have invested in the fermented molasses the guards have in their bottles. Perhaps that would have settled me."

John chuckled, but it had a hollow ring. "As if a bracer would help your winning personality any." He stared at Scott intently. "It was close this time. Don't do that again."

Scott nodded.

One more blanket was scrounged and John brought up a tin cup halfway filled with brackish water, and Scott wouldn't at first drink, but then he did. It was all one room and once he was settled under the thin blankets, eyes heavy, head pounding, he heard the scrape of boots leaving and the sighs of weary men.

I should get up, he thought, utterly uselessly.

Scott grimaced, willing to let the dream drop. Wanting dearly to forget the sticky longing of it, the hunger.

 

 

~end~
10/23/2017

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