- — – — -

- V

- — – — -

Alan made sure that Marianne was safely shut in hecase as he sat back against the wall beneath the shop window, tugging his worn hat into his hands from where it had been serving as his tip jar. He slipped his sensitive fingers into the bowl of the hat, tentatively fingering several inch-wide disks of metal. Alan ran his thumb over the edge of one of the coins, a faint smile spreading over his full lips as he recognized a full pound with plenty more where that had come from. His words to Father Roderick had indeed been true—mild nights and jolly walkers in London had purses that were kinder to the wandering performer.

Alan carefully and very slowly shifted his earnings one by one into his coat pocket. As soon as he'd done so, he felt around quickly to make sure that he hadn't missed any money. Scooping the lone forgotten pound into its rightful company, Alan stood up, stretching. He took a moment to set his hat atop his cranberry hair and pick up dear Marianne, and decided that he'd spare a few pounds for a good bed in a clean boarding house.

Alan checked one last time that the violin case was securely shut, and bundled his grey wool coat tightly around his wiry frame against the mist settling over the London twilight. His fingers tingling from an our of violin on the street, Alan tapped his cane lightly against the cobblestoned street.

His stomach danced at the slight adrenaline rush—after all, it had been a while since he'd been in London, and he didn't quite remember the narrow streets as well as he might have liked. He knew roughly where he was at the moment, but as to his destination, he was about as informed as an ant without antennae in a hive full of rushing bees.

The bees of London, of course, were strolling on all sides of him, occasionally nudging or shoving the blind Irishman to the side in their hurry. Their chatter rang in his keen ears, and Alan could catch bits of conversation from all sides of himself.

"—and dear Mr. Jeffrey is hiring a hackney to Worcestershire for the weekend. Isn't it fantastic that he was able to—"

"—bu' if tha' bastard doesn't hold up his end of the deal than I swear to Mother Mary I'll—"

"Mr. Wicker wants to propose, Mary! Isn't this exciting?"

"What about my finances, Mr. Willard? I had thought that surely there was some way we could have prevented me having to—"

"I'm sorry, dear sir, but I fear that at this point there's no alternative. We might be able to get you into Mr. Harrshire's office for—"

"Watch where yer goin', you low-down—"

"Pardon me, Officer, but I—"

Alan's ears pricked as he turned slightly, trying to pinpoint the nasal voice addressing the police officer without appearing nosy. Police officers, he'd learned throughout his travels, were gold mines for safe directions and even reliable transportation, particularly north of Derbyshire. Alan's senses placed the officer a little to the left, across the street. The blind Irishman bit his lip, wincing. He never liked crossing streets, especially in large cities and at night when the rowdies were pouring out of the Kingfisher and the Red Mare and all the other decent taverns in London. Drunks behind reins were never good things to have, whether you were a blind traveler or a native bee in London. Listening for hooves on the streets, Alan tentatively stepped into the street, tapping his cane as he took a few steps.

Alan's ears pricked at a sudden shriek. "Get out of the--!"

There was a loud clattering of hooves on the cobblestones, and before Alan had time to comprehend what was going on the blind violinist was slammed to the ground. Alan knew no more.

- — – — -

Alan groaned slightly, unable to tell if his eyes were open or closed. He's been knocked unconscious once before, as a young boy, and it had taken him almost a full day in hospital just to puzzle out whether he was dead or alive.

"Oh, the poor fool… someone had told him to get out of the street…" someone mused.

"I don't think he's breathing!" said a different voice, close to Alan's face.

Of course I'm breathing! Alan tried to say, though his lips produced nothing but a choked noise that sounded more like a cursing infant with a mouth stuffed full of bolls of Egyptian cotton. His bottom lip felt like it was split and streaming blood.

"Stop carryin' on like that! He's breathing just fine! Don't you give this poor lady another more ter stress her out, God bless her…"

"Is there a doctor on the street?" the venerable man near Alan said.

"I'm… fine…" the blind violinist croaked, realizing his unseeing eyes had fluttered open. Alan tried to sit up, but was simultaneously stopped by both a sharp pain in his ribs and the man sitting near him.

"Easy now, Dublin," one man said, nicknaming the violinist upon his accent. "I wouldn't want ter be moving yet."

"…of course…" said Alan slowly, wincing as he tentatively tested each of his limbs. One arm twinged, and he hissed slightly in pain.

"Are you all right, sir?" asked a woman's voice a little concernedly. Alan recognized her as the woman from the church an hour or two earlier.

The Irishman groaned, putting his movable hand on his forehead, "I migh' be once sommun' tells me wot 'appened… ow…"

A strong arm appeared in his sense of touch out of the misty dark on Alan's left arm. "Why sir, this wot say you walked out straight'n front of a hackney-coach an' is' poor driver couldn't stop in time…"

"I'm so sorry, sir. We wos so near you the 'orses wouldn't slow. I only saw you go right down under and I stopped the coach fast as I could," confessed another voice, presumably the poor driver himself.

"No… no… it's all righ'… won't your fault…" said Alan, flinching as his right arm twinged painfully again, "but I fear I can't say tha' I'm perfect right… agh…"

"In the Lord's name, I'm sorry," said the woman from the church—Abigayle—who sounded like she was leaning over him.

Alan chuckled and waved it off, wincing at his sore ribs, "My lady, 'twos an 'onest accident," he said, tentatively groping for his violin and hoping to his dear Lord that Marianne had fared getting run down by a stagecoach at least a little better than he had. He felt the handle and gingerly ran his fingers over the case, which felt mercifully intact albeit a little worn from years of traveling with him. Alan relaxed slightly—it was good news that the case was at least in one piece. He leaned over to check Marianne herself and pain stomped furiously on his injured right arm.

Alan didn't curse—and he had only once in his life under highly mitigating circumstances—but for that one painful moment, he gritted out yet another exception to his rule. He clenched his teeth with a small yelp-groan and flushed pink in embarrassment at swearing in front of a lady.

She didn't seem to mind, and sounded ready to curse herself. "Oh, Lord, you're hurt," she moaned miserably, "what've I done. In such hurry to get home, I've nearly killed this poor blind traveler… oh, the devil will have me."

Alan very gingerly sat up, cradling his hurt arm to his chest as an onlooker joked about Abigayle's newfound one-way hackney to hell. "Please, Miss Lady, it's not so serious…" he said, feebly trying to soothe her.

Abigayle, though she could be cold, wasn't a heartless being. "No, no, none of that! You're hurt… Lord, I'm sorry… how can I repay you?"

"It's not necessary," said Alan, though his stomach rumbled at the same moment and contradicted his words all on its own.

"I won't have you sleep on the street after this," Abigayle said firmly, "have you a place to stay?"

"'As where I wos headin', Miss Lady," said Alan, chuckling slightly, "I'd sleep happy if you just tell me the way to a decent inn."

"Please, sir, you can stay the night in a guest room at our house. It's the least I can do."

"Miss, I—"

"Please, I insist."

"There's no deterrin' you, now is there, Miss Lady?" chuckled Alan, "but thank you. I could use a real bed fer a change."

"Mind your arm, sir."

"Please, Miss, call me Alan."

"Alan," she repeated once out of habit, "please, Alan, I insist you come stay for a meal. It's the very least we can do for you after nearly getting you killed."

"I'll pay," Alan offered, "I don't wont ta freeload—"

"Dear Mr. Alan, please! It's nothing of the sort."

"This time I insist, Miss Lady," said Alan, with a small smile, "Hospitality never comes for free in days like these."

"Don't be ridiculous, Mr. Alan," she said, impatiently glaring around at the onlookers as if too shoo the ones that were still hanging around. A few scurried off. "I won't accept the money."

Alan chuckled quietly, "Thank you. There are few people in the world who are tr'ly kind anymores."

Abigayle shook her head and extended a hand to help him up gingerly, "It's a short ride to the outskirts," she said, "but we can summon a doctor to the house once we get there. It shouldn't be more than an hour…"

Alan managed to get to his feet, blushing slightly. "I… I don' try to be demandin', Miss Lady, but… my violin…?"

Abigayle nodded once, "of course…" She gingerly lifted the violin case and held it out to his outstretched hand. Alan's pale, long fingers glided over the battered leather for a second before tightening around the handle.

Abigayle made sure he had a firm grip before releasing the violin as the coachman swung the door open, helping Abigayle in first and then offering an arm to Alan, who didn't realize the bid of aid and managed to get into the hackney by himself. Abigayle glided him gently to the seat across from hers.

Chills ran down Alan's spine as he realized there was another in the coach, sitting right across from him. By the feel of things, Abigayle's companion from the church was watching him intently, and Alan's stomach didn't favor the feeling.

- — – — -

"Mr. Fullbright," said Abigayle, as she sat down and smoothed her skirts, "this is my younger brother, Salem."

Alan gave a shaky but fully polite greeting to the other—younger—man. Salem just kept staring, twisting his fingers into the fabric of his loose trousers. He fidgeted. The whole suit was stiff and rough to his sensitive skin but held a familiarity like a repetitive but misty dream. Salem had fought valiantly to try and keep the suit away for the visit to the church but—he couldn't remember quite how—Abigayle and Mr. Mercer the butler had somehow managed to wrestle him into it.

Salem watched the milky-eyed stranger intently, his dark animal eyes taking in the worn clothes, the torn gloves, the wool coat and tweed cabbie and the almost unnatural cranberry shade of the man's hair, pulled back at the nape of the stranger's neck in a short ponytail. Salem leaned forward slightly in his seat. The man interested his senses but Salem kept his hands in his lap, picking at the rough fabric of the suit, making a small humming noise in his throat under his breath.

His sister nudged him slightly, "Salem, this is Mr. Fullbright," she said gently, touching his forearm. "He's going to stay with us for the night."

Please. Please stay calm. Please don't ruin this, Salem. I like this man.

Please…

Salem leaned forward a little more, and smiled softly at the man, "Hello," he said, in a vague and childlike voice.

Abigayle relaxed slightly, untensing at the thought that there was much worse he could do to the traveling violinist. At least, that was what she thought before Salem leaned forward, grabbed Alan by his coat lapels, and kissed him hard on the lips.

- — – — -

A/N: Yes, I know the chapters keep getting shorter and fewer and farther between, but it's mostly because I run into good stopping points at what would be the middle of the chapter, like, for example, the kiss. There's a reason behind it, but you'll have to keep guessing for a few chapters. Chapter 6 is well on its way, ladies and gentlemen... please don't abandon Salem now!