The fog of ice seemed to have lifted slightly but in its wake, a thick layer of snow had started to fall again. Here in the forest hills, it seemed to be worse than in town. Whereas they had street cleaners that made their rounds, complaining about the work and cursing the hand of nature daring to impress on the progression of their modern world, in the mansion in the trees, Victor felt more comforted by the sight of it. Let the world freeze and let the whole thing be cut off from him. He’d felt this stinging need to have it all disappear and it was as though the world felt compelled to humor him. Better than this, it had rendered him alone and able to sit with his thoughts and his emotions, both of which felt overwhelming at the moment. Victor felt the ice in his soul, collecting like the pitiful flakes that drifted past his window. He felt the weight of the isolation they brought and it made him feel more secure in his forced fragility. He had managed to get some of his spirit back but it was still weakened and he found that walking had become a chore. A difficulty that he was not accustomed to and it frustrated him to no end. It pained him to think of what he might look like these days as he leaned on the cane his doctor provided him. He imagined he must seem like a doddering old man. He would not allow anyone to know that his attempts to get to his study and to resume his work had caused him more than once to collapse when his legs would not hold him. It was a shameful sight.

The head maid had all but taken to mothering him as much as he would allow and between her and the child, he was getting stronger and eating more these days. Still it was a damn nuisance being this ill and though he knew better than to be short with his staff, he felt the itch of their attention. It had been worse when he was suffering and bedridden from the poison. At this point, he could at least stand and even dress himself, though he was told by the doctor that had taken up residence in one of the guest rooms that he was to do little whenever he could. He resented the advice but took it all the same, preferring not to end up bruised and humiliated by his own inability for longer than necessary. He was grateful that his health was improving, even if it was not as swift as he would have hoped. The pain had nearly faded for the most part during the day and it was only the ache of waking and the settling that caused him any grief lately. The young girl had told him that it was a side effect of the poison and that it lingered but could pass before spring if he nurtured his health. With the head maid giving him all but no choice on how much he rested and the doctor insisting that she had the authority to tell him such things, he could imagine that he may well end up feeling better sooner.

The wind shifted and he felt the cold of it and thought of the child again. He frowned, looking down at the snowy grounds of his home. He felt the conflict welling deep in him as he thought of the girl and her confession to him. He felt a fool for not having noticed it before. She bore the same deep sadness of their faces that their family had worn for generations. Their dark eyes and the haunted expression of one who has walked with the burden these names come with. He knew such burdens like few others. Many of those families were gone now. Old families who had lost fortunes to careless, greedy relatives. Bloodlines that had lost their sway with the world. Whole families that sent their members off to be slain in the great war. He well understood her tears now as well as the chains hung around her neck. He knew the pain of being born to these relic bloodlines. They were born with this heaviness and learned the true value of the weight later. He knew that she was aware of what it meant to be saddled with such a horrid name and yet she was so young. Still, childhood was something of a luxury for the likes of them. She carried that curse of a name in secret and knew the hardship of the density that it carried. The weight of that darkness. She knew that desolate nightmare as well as he knew what it meant to be born in the house of the bleakest winter.

A part of his being wished that he could draw forth the hatred he felt spring in him as he thought of that ungodly name but he found he could not. On the surface, he knew a part of why. She was so very young and he could not bring himself to look at her and see his enemy. He refused to see her that way at all because he knew it would be all it would take to slip into the cruel skin of the fiend that his own father had tried to make of him. He was trained to see even the smallest children as pawns in his household and he had done what he could to choke it down. Bury it under years of rage and hatred of his own blood. And here he’d been handed a trial that he could not have anticipated. He felt that old school of thinking sounding deep in his mind at the mere mention of her name and it would have been so much easier to let it bubble to the surface to truly let his temper out. But he would not. Somewhere in him, something had promised that this would not be. He hadn’t even let a small grip escape on his resolve and that same night, the child who bore a last name that he hated with a passion slept soundly in the house on the grounds and he had gone to bed that same night without having raised his voice once. He was not ashamed to say that it was comforting to him, if only because it had provided him one escape from what he’d sought to flee. He could find no love in his heart for the name but he could not look at her and see her fear him so. She already feared so much in this world and he could not bring himself to be yet another monster to add to her darkness. She was nothing more than a child and he could not see the father he despised so surface in him to treat her like that.

Victor turned from the windows and limped towards his desk. He might have used the cane but with no one to watch, he felt somehow more embarrassed by it when he used it alone. There was a kind of concession he made when the others could see him leaning on it. It signalled that he was being compliant to the doctor’s demands and though it irritated him, he would do what he was told for the greater good. On his own, however, it only reminded him that he was clumsy and weaker. Though the small desk was set up on the other side of the room from the window, he would not allow himself to rely on that damned stick. He would hobble his way to the shady corner, if only to prove to himself that he could still do it. The desk was a fantastic destination in this way. It represented the only piece of normal life that he could still cling to in these strange days.

Upon sitting down at the small chair, Victor paused as he looked over the smooth surface before him. This desk was more of an after thought when he’d initially had it placed in here. It had been well made but he’d always treated it like more of a decoration. His room had been finished to his specifications to include this space because it seemed barren without some surface for him to collect his thoughts but had always preferred to do his work in the privacy of the study. There were obvious reasons for such things, of course. There were his correspondences with a certain Mr. Gray that he felt best kept under lock and key until he could have the letter burnt in that same private spot. This had been less of a concern since the child had started to clean his room. He never worried of what she might find and the few times she had taken interest, it had been to his advantage to listen. Anyone else might have seen this as a foolish bit of sentimentalism on his part but he knew well enough that she was trustworthy. With her secret now locked between them and her residence on the grounds he owned, there was nothing to fear but he knew that long ago. That said, she was not the only set of eyes that might be about and he knew that there were others around here who might find themselves curious about his business affairs. He’d learned the easier way that ladies of the house that seemed harmless might yet turn out like that crude hag, Old Mary. It would not be the first time that an enterprising sort had tried to find themselves embroiled in his affairs if only to latch on to him for marriage or financial gains. Thankfully, he was well aware of how difficult he was to become enamored with (as Mr. Gray was so fond of telling him) and so far, this had been little bother to him at all. Mr. Gray, on the other hand, was a bother that would need dealing with and there was no time to allow himself to heal first.

It was true that Victor had no more love for this nuisance of a man than Mr. Gray had developed for him. Their entrapment together had been an unfortunate side effect of his connection to the widow and her original charge that had pulled so many strings to have her brought here. That man had been the true master, as it were, of that polyp that was his long standing associate. That said, even under the first agreement, it was soon clear to Victor that much of what was going on was the work of Mr. Gray and his efforts. Something that though he hated the man, he could appreciate and respect. Their work often forced them to rely on the other for information or simply to get things done as they needed to be. When the man who connected them met his untimely demise, the bulk of his affairs had fallen to Victor to make peace with and he’d done it in swift time. More quickly than most would have assumed he could and thus their bond, and their unfortunate entanglement with their affairs, began. Victor could continue without the help of Mr. Gray and they both knew it but he knew that this was a foolish endeavor. Likewise, Mr. Gray would not instantly perish should he decide to take his talents elsewhere but he was well aware that Victor knew his secrets. Knew well the things that his previous employer might have let slip and did, often, reveal to create havoc for the man when he was displeased. Thus far, Victor had spared him this humiliation and kept his word to keep the man from finding himself in the same sorts of threatening positions that he’d been set up in previous. But that might change at any time should Victor choose to turn on him.

It was this frustrating past that had no doubt spawned his temper tantrum in his letter and though it was somewhat understandable given his position, it was rather annoying. Victor was aware of the fact that he’d held on to that information about Charlotte and that it might have been of some interest to him. It may also have gotten the fool killed. It never failed to amaze him that of all the people in the world, the cautious, observant Mr. Gray might be well aware that he should avoid Brother Edward’s so-called violent family but would not think twice about getting close to women who might be even more deadly. Oh Mr. Gray was no ladies man nor did he fashion himself as such. But he had money to burn and would not admit that he could be bested by someone he could overpower. Victor didn’t believe that Charlotte would be interested in marriage of such a man but he would still present a challenge. A challenge and an opportunity, particularly after she’d poisoned him so rottenly. She must be getting closer to Caroline if she was still in town long enough to be caught by the snow but she had to be tiring of this little place and its lack of her luxuries by now. Whatever money she’d managed to find herself swimming in when she arrived could not last forever and without a prospective husband to rely on, she would be in dire need soon. Just the right climate to develop an affection for a hapless fool who had access to money and little sense on how deadly a woman might be. Oh certainly he knew she was a viper but he probably also believed that she was unaware of his presence. Yet another reason why it would have been wise for him to be kept distant. He knew he would deal with Mr. Gray soon enough and he was aware that he must write to him now. The difficulty now, was what to do about Charlotte.

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