Nicolas Malinovy stands on the very tips of his toes even though his knees are bent and reaches over with a furtive glance around.
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.”
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?
[a/n: rather happy with this one. Set much before Scarlet, but in the same person’s point of view.]