Victor had been slowly adjusting to his pace these days, getting more strength in his legs. The one seemed to trail in recovery behind the other and as the weeks passed, he was slowly coming to the conclusion that it may never get entirely better. He wasn’t sure he was okay with this development but he knew that he could walk and that was, for the moment, a good enough step forward. He still resorted to making his way from his room only after the morning chores were done, lest the child or the head housekeeper make a fuss. He would be more apt to listen to the former than the latter but sometimes it was difficult to want to and he found that he sometimes needed to test his own boundaries in private. No need to worry the girl or rile up his housekeeper simply by trying to stretch himself to see where he was at and if he’d regained any mastery over his body. He was grateful to find that most of the time he had and his frustration was waning.

The holiday season was coming and though he was not that interested in celebration for himself, the head housekeeper had convinced him that it would bring some cheer to the house. While he would have been content to leave it as it was, he knew that the staff had been feeling a pall of anxiety since he’d fallen ill and it would do good to boost their morale, if nothing else. Besides, just the mere mention of decorations had cast a long lost twinkle in the eye of the girl and he couldn’t deny her that. It was perhaps the only time in recent memory that he’d seen her behave like a child and he dare not think of what the Christmas season had been like for her in the past. With a last name like hers, he could only imagine the kind of misery that a child of her age had already had to experience while others would be able to go about their blissful celebrations in peace and ignorance. His own memories were likely not much better than hers. All the pageantry of being dressed for company that none of them even liked to be paraded around like a prized animal. Then to return to the dread of knowing that their home was a prison and if they hadn’t performed well enough for the strangers who came to gawk, they would feel the wrath of their warden.

These memories were ones that he preferred to keep hidden away from prying or even concerned eyes. It was hard enough to know that the child knew him better than he knew himself, it seemed. He couldn’t deny that he had privately come to accept that sometimes she could look at him and know his mind before, and indeed even if he never, said anything about his thoughts. He had given her tasks to care for in preparation for the decorations to keep her occupied, lest she see him and know. To have this time that she was so excited for ruined by his own lamentations would be a preventable disappointment in a life that had provided so many already. He would not be the source of yet another. Still, he could not help that his mind would occasionally wander back to those dreadful times and when they did, he almost always made a point to retreat. He felt it best to be alone during these moments. He knew that his thoughts were clear from his expressions and he did not care to share this with anyone. And yet, there was only one person he somewhat wished to share these awful moments with. It was not surprising in the least, of course. Charlotte was likely the only reason that he’d survived as long as he had in that house. She had no love for the holidays as far as he knew but she had a way about her for finding the worst in people and turning it in her favor. She’d done this with many husbands prior to her arrival. She’d gotten her start when they were trapped in that isolated hell of a house in France. Christmas, it seemed, brought out the truly wicked streak in her but somehow, it always seemed to be the saving grace for someone and he could not deny that most of the time it was his own back that she’d spared.

He retreated to his study and locked himself inside. After warming the room by starting up the fire, he could properly deceive himself into thinking that he might get something done. Oh, there were things that needed tending to. Some of those things were more pressing than others, of course. A letter from Mr. Gray had arrived and rather quickly. He would have to tend to that no later than this evening or it wouldn’t be able to make the post tomorrow. Still others could wait for a while longer but they would need to be addressed soon. There were accounts to sign off on and a letter from his advisors who had so thoughtfully handled his affairs in England after the mess that Caroline had created there. All to be done and as soon as he could. Still, as he reclined closer to the fire and rested his aching legs, he found that his memories would not be denied. His want to talk to Charlotte would be considered madness by anyone who had not grown up in that miserable pit but he knew that he must. Soon, if possible, though to find out how soon would depend on his letter from Mr. Gray. He could only hope that it would come before the true start of this wretched season and all that it brought.

They had seen so much in that house and yet no one else ever seemed to speak of it. Oh they would whisper about it in private but mostly it was only him and Charlotte who ever spoke of their father’s brutality. To the others, it was simply a thing to be ignored until it was time to escape. It was as though it never happened until his rage would send them all into hiding again. For him there was rarely any hiding to be done in his youth as he was most likely to be in trouble if he strayed from him room. There would be Victor, locked in his cage to watch the world outside, hoping that someone might steal him away. Then, to his utter horror, he learned that he would be stolen but it would not be away. His father had traded his life and his future for the financial stability to do as he pleased. He would hang the entire debt of the household on Victor’s head the day he arrived with a bride that he would have been forced to wed. What his father did with the money that was exchanged for this wretched future, Victor had never figured out. He knew, only because of his own involvement with the house finances, that it had been stored elsewhere. In private banks in different areas in Wales or Southern France or even London. Then, the old bastard, had taken a new trick and had started even burying it on the estate itself. Oh how he hated those fees that he had to pay, taking his precious money away from him. He would hide it in places he thought no one would look. He would hide it in the dank cellar where the wine was kept to get dusty for parties that happened less frequently as they got older. He would hide it in small places he thought young adults might not look, unaware that those were the places that restless children would have known about years ago when they needed a place to disappear during one of his bouts of rage. When Charlotte found one of these, she had quickly figured out a way to make it vanish without getting caught. They had escaped his wrath on that one but their father never dared to leave money around after that. He idly wondered now if that money was still there, rotting away with him as his health failed him.

Still there were more reasons to crave a conversation with his sister than simply to relate to each other on this dreadful season. Among the more pressing was that she had once been able to make a show of her appreciation for these things that people around them so loved. He knew she hated them too but she would be able to pull off the act of enjoying it so well that even their father, whom they could never please, was fooled by her reactions. He knew of most of the tidings of this time and was aware that there were things that would be expected. He had no difficulty providing gifts to the people who staffed his house and if it would create unity within his home, he would provide whatever decorations people wanted to see. He assumed that providing a feast would please everyone so that would be arranged as well. He knew these things in a removed fashion but he never engaged with it and all these moments did for him would drag up dead memories of incidents of his past he would prefer to forget. He knew it did the same for her but how could Charlotte make it seem like she was having the time of her life? How could she make her face into the mask of joy while she trudged her way through these festive rituals that left her feeling as hollow and even angry inside at all that they had been forced to endure? Only she knew and he only hoped that she would be able to help him figure it out.

Watching the flames, he sighed, wondering if he could bring her to the house in time. It wasn’t only for the sole purpose of helping him to put on the mask of pleasure during this coming holiday season, though he would swear otherwise to anyone else. No, it was more than that. It had been years since he’d been anywhere where they celebrated this holiday. Since this was his first holiday season in the house this year, he was being forced to confront these demons in his own home. For the first time in his life since he left that wretched prison in France, he wished more than anything that he wouldn’t be alone while he did this.

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