much before Scarlet.

Almost there.

Nicolas Malinovy stands on the very tips of his toes even though his knees are bent and reaches over with a furtive glance around.

Got it!

He grasps the strap of the purse tightly. She’s in his grasp and he slides it off the chair back, holding his breath without meaning to. The owner doesn’t notice anything. He backs up fast.

“Oi! Watch where yer goin’!” Nic freezes, one foot perched on top of a larger one he hadn’t meant to step on. The man quickly backs up, obviously sizing the other up. But then he sees the bag. “Whaddyou think you’re up to, boy?”

Nic gulps and glances at the door, his only escape. The man sees this and narrows his eyes. “Answer me.”

“I…”

And what he dreads happens – the girl he stole from turns. It distracts the man in front of him, who he later finds out is her father – and he bolts for the exit. The man’s hand grabs for him a split second too late. He’s out the door.

The stuffiness of the interior isn’t much relieved in the humid air. He knows these streets like the back of his hand, so why is he panicking so?

I just stole from Cheyenne. The thought gives his something of a thrill, like he could break her hold over him, but it is not long before the fact that he severely tarnished what she thinks of him in turn tarnishes his pride. What have I done?

“What d’you think you’re up to?!”

He looks back, purse still in hand, and her father is fighting his way through the crowd toward him. Still. Now he knows where Cheyenne’s stubbornness– no, determination, comes from. Both continue to struggle forward, one with one goal pounding through his head and the other a thousand disconnected thoughts.

Almost there… His feet pound the pavement ruthlessly toward a large building. They know him there; he’ll be safe unless the man offers them money. There should be time bought, in any case.

He bursts through the door viciously and slams it behind him. The hotel is almost empty. That’s good. The woman at the desk looks up mildly as if this is an everyday occurrence. He risks a passing wave before heading into a closet to bury his treasure behind long coats and umbrellas, and before going back out he checks a small hole in the door. Moments later he was glad he hesitated: the father strode in without warning and this time Nic could tell Miss Hudson was startled, even though she masked it in impressive time.

“Can I help you?”

“I’m looking for a boy,” he answered without any preamble. “Short, wiry, good-for-nothing. I believe his name was Nicolas Paul Malinovy at one point, but he’s most likely going by something different now.”

“Aye, I’ve seen him around.” Miss Hudson nods. Nic holds his breath for a second time and not the last. “He’s not here, though.”

“Impossible! I saw him enter here! You must understand, he stole something of great importance.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t believe we are talking about the same boy.”

“Damn it!” Cheyenne’s father pounds his fist into his other hand, looking furious, and exits the building. Miss Hudson makes sure he was gone and then there is a soft “You owe me big.”

Nicolas opens the closet door with a small grin. “Yeah, yeah.” Drags the purse out from behind the jackets. Her eyes widen. “What– what did you do this time?!”

He shrugs, a bit embarrassed at the reality that he had a life before… before this. Before stealing just to get by. “I… wanted to know more about her.”

“You–” she shakes her head incredulously. “So you stole her purse? Who is this she, anyway?”

He hesitates for a moment this time. “Cheyenne Lennox. The man there was her father.”

“Ch–” She stops and he is afraid he’s said too much. “The Duke? Nathan Lennox? That Lennox? What in the name of all that’s good on God’s green earth–” here she makes a strangled noise “Why them?”

He shrugs. “I used to know her.”

She stares at him as he opens the clasp of the beat-up bag and pulls out a sketchbook. “She showed me when she started this particular one.” He opens and flips through it, but backtracks after he spots familiar features.

She’d sketched him. Several times in quick succession, judging by the dates. On the last sheet she wrote a few notes, on his eye and face shape, and he clutches the notebook close.

Miss Hudson is still staring when he shuts it and seems at a loss for words as he looks up. “So… how did you lose contact?”

He shrugs again. “Her dad didn’t like me.”

“I could sort of see that–”

“Then you shouldn’t have asked!”

He didn’t mean to snap, he really didn’t, but it comes out short and harsh and not at all him. And Miss Hudson slips back on her own sort of mask, and reaches over. He flinches but all she does is offer a key. “You know the drill.”

He nods numbly and takes it, starting for the stairs to the second floor.

Cheyenne drew him… and he snapped at Miss Hudson… she drew him… was he stuck in her head and she felt like drawing, or did she genuinely miss him…?

Who could tell?

–FiN–

[a/n: rather happy with this one. Set much before Scarlet, but in the same person’s point of view.]

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scarlet.

A breezy chill swept through the vicinity.
A perfect morning.
A bell dings in the back room and he turns.
It’s ready.
He smirks. They’ll never guess.
And besides. There’s Plan B. There’s always Plan B, consciously planned or not.
Cackling dies in his throat as he glances around, making sure there is nothing left in this room, and then moves on to the next. There still was one last touch to each, but he was saving that for last.
It is picturesque, surpasses his best expectations, though not his wildest. No, his wildest are not to be considered, not yet. He still has to find the scents! Yes, that is next.
Now he passes the decorative vase filled with lavender, the teddy bear that used to give such comfort. They did nothing for him, personally, but the Emperor’s daughter loved them; even though her younger brother preferred the monster next to it.
He smiles, more of a grimace that never reaches even his lips. He was the real monster here, according to them.
He throws his head back and stares at the ceiling a minute, and his eyes widen madly as a scene, a memory, flashes before his eyes.
“Nicholas!” A smile lit her face. A genuine smile! Were there ever such a thing, it would be this. He tried for one in return, but he could never match this radiance, and he knew it. That did not deter her.
“Nicholas,” she repeated, nearly out of breath from dashing up to him. Her crimson hair waved in the wind that was prominent even then.
He nodded a greeting, quickly falling back into his usual posture. “Cheyenne.”
Her smile missed a beat. “What’s wrong?”
He shook his head, a bit too vigorously to be realistic. “Nothing.”
She frowned. “Nick…”
He scowled at her. “What?”
She swallowed, not making eye contact. “…Nothing.” He cocked his head at her.
“Chey…”
She smiled at the ground. “Yeah?”
“You…” He shook his head. How could he tell her she was beautiful, tell her to smile because it lit up her corner of the world so easily… But how could he tell her that?
“Well…” she started, and he stopped trying to think of a polite way to phrase his thoughts and let her speak.
“I was wondering if you’d be our best man?”
He went cold with numb shock as she continued to stutter through an explanation of how he had proposed and when the wedding would be, and how she would only have a Maid-of-Honor and he a Best Man, and how her Maid would be someone from their school days… but he did not hear any of this. He was not listening.
Cue the peculiar, aching feeling of heartbreak.
Having to stand there and be asked to help this process along.
And he tilted his head down to look her square in the eye, an incomprehensive anger, a rage, built up inside him, and he shoved her away. She looked stunned at this. And he yelled at her, actually yelled at her, one single word —
WHY?
Her eyes widened and he turned away at this, striding in the opposite direction and she called after him, screamed after him, and he didn’t turn —
He never looked back.
Oh, Cheyenne.
Did you know you were going to marry the future Emperor of all the Western Atlas?
Now he shakes with the pure emotion of the memory and screams at the world, a bloody, curdling cry. The cry of a dying animal.
Maybe that was more suiting than first impression gives away.
The screaming continues for a good long minute and he is almost frothing when finished, looking around with renewed purpose. Clenched fists pummel the air in vain attempt to relieve this sudden feeling.
He hurries to climb out the broken window in the back that he’d entered from, gather the scented things and tear off the bright red petals, one by one, life by cruel life, until none are left – red was her favorite color! – gathers them up and leaves the stem behind. When he reaches the first room, he sets them down and presses two petals gently between palms, as if trying to make them absolutely flat. Tore each in two and laid two halves under each pillow. Gathered those remaining up again, and moved on to the next room. Repeated, until he got to her room — he put the rest gently in a circlet around where her head would be. Smiles sadly and bitterly at them.
Should he have yelled at her like that?
If nothing else, it justified his feelings.
Striking a match against his face, he drops it to the carpet. Turns and leaps back out of the window, for good.

I put tulips under all the pillows and then set fire to the house.
Cheyenne had loved flowers. Especially tulips.
Had been fascinated with fire, and how it danced and made shadows on all the walls.
Would this make her happy, this combination of the two?
It is only later he notices a long cut staining the pale skin of his arm red, with a scarlet blood that seems unreal.
After all this, he figures, should he still have blood beating through him?

[a/n: written for a library challenge; prompt italicized. past tense is the flashback. this tune seems to fit, if you prefer listening and reading — Double or Nothing; Nine Lashes. Chesh, it’s not terrible. I don’t think.]