Single women have a dreadful propensity for being poor. Which is one very strong argument in favor of matrimony.

-Jane Austen

Bright light splayed, launching itself in every which direction it found itself able, and caught most haphazardly in one Alexander Norwood's eye. He did not look away, though he winced, for having to look away would be not only weakness but a refusal of the pain; and it was only the pain, silent and maddening, that kept him reassured that he was still living.

The coin rose again, flipping into the sun that slipped past his curtains, tossing and turning in dramatic descent until, once more, it landed perfectly in his palm. The muscles contracted, preparing themselves to push the sixpence once more into the air - and paused. Alex, in the entirety of himself, halted. He glanced at his hand. At the coin. He wondered, just briefly, why he was so intent on catching it each and every time. Would it not have been a more interesting game to push it upwards and watch for the random results of its final location? For what reason was he so fixated on making sure, in every constancy, that it returned to him? Was he so limited, so bordered, that he could not act even distractedly without being so inexhaustibly predictable?

Metal flew across the room in a sting of light and rushing power, the coin burying itself in the shadows of a corner. Alongside it went his stoic determination and, retracting the arm that had so forcibly thrown the sixpence, Alex tottered forward in his chair. Elbows found knees and fingers found hair, both pressing contact - one in an attempt for stability, the other in a raking, desperate plea. Alexander massaged his scalp, messing his coiffed golden curls in a silent search for tangible thought. Perhaps, if he pressed hard enough, the answers would arise - could they, just possibly, push through the murk of his consciousness and into his very hands?

For beyond anything else, Alexander knew that there had to be answers.

He was alone. That fact in singularity required explanation, as it had not been but a week since the state had bore itself upon him. Elizabeth - beautiful, carmine haired Elizabeth, whose skin he had held within his arms a fortnight before - was gone. She had left him. On the good knowledge of James, it appeared as though she had left him forever. She had left, and he remained. He remained, and she had left. Somehow. For such an implicitly simple concept, he found the situation terribly difficult to comprehend.

Darkness broke away, the wooden floor reflecting outside light as the door slipped open. Alexander turned his head up, curious expression satisfied once his eyes settled upon his perpetrator.

"Hello, Alex," she greeted, and that familiar smile pressed itself to her lips. "Do forgive the intrusion. But I must ask. Where have you been?"

"Lucy," Alex stated, eyes blinking lightly in the newly lightened atmosphere. "How did you - no one informed me - I asked that -"

"Well, sir, I do believe I know you quite well enough to understand that should you be absent from general society over the course of more than week, there is something serious afoot."

"Ah."

"So in all predictability, there would be some obstacle at the front door to heed my entrance. I am an intelligent woman, Alex, and you showed me my way yourself - I came in through the servant's door. Sarah asks that you eat something tonight."

"...ah."

The happy expression upon Lucy's face faltered, and, closing the door behind her (as it would not do to have some passing maid find her snuck into her friend's chambers), she took tender steps towards the chair that held Alex. Concern rose in vivacious amounts as she approached him, noting the tiredness that haunted usually lively eyes; the sadness that etched sad, descending lines to his mouth. This was not the man she knew.

This was not the man she loved.

Lucy kept her silence until she was just before him. Only then did she extend her hand, brushing fingers gently beneath his chin to turn his eyes up to meet her own. Eyebrows creased in worry.

"What has happened, Alex?"

"Nothing." The word was not aggressive so much as it was relented. Alexander himself was surprised at it's appearance in the conversation, for it had not been at all what he had intended to say. But he had said it, and it would remain imbedded in their conversation - better not, he supposed, to confuse it with explanations and excuses.

An apology, however, was formed in his eyes as he regarded her own tenderly formed ones. Lucette Hastings did not deserve socialization with the disposition he was experiencing, and it had been for a very similar reason that he had retired (rudely canceling any and all previously organized plans) to his room from the bustle of London life. He had hoped in vain that no one would think to seek him out upon his absence.

Knowing Lucy, he should have known better.

Alex examined her, eyes and mind feeling as though, after the absence of her for so many days, they required a reintroduction to her form and figure. As always, they turned primarily to her eyes, meeting her gaze with only the barest of flinches at what he took to be a reprimanding expression - they were not so startling as they might otherwise be in a more classically beautiful woman, but they were piqued with an awaiting wit and zealous nature that he had envied in her all his life. Then to her nose, the soft feature that would keep her from ever being more than quite pretty. Her lips, a line of irony to the other, more understated features of her face, were full and always expressive, though perhaps he was biased. There were no other lips in London that Alex would trust to tell so clear a truth as he would Lucy.

Today her dark curls were, as many other days, pulled to the back of her head and hidden beneath her bonnet. Her dress, almost always more simple than that of the other ladies whose company he kept, was a glorious rose colour. It set off rather magnificently, he noted, the colour to her otherwise blankly pale complexion. With the line of fringe cutting across her forehead, the sweetly rounded lines of her face were today accented happily. Lucette was a sweet looking girl, with a plainness that was made inherently pretty by the active life she invested in it. With such endearing appearance, there was many a day when Alexander found himself cause to wonder how she had not yet been engaged.

Ah. Marriage. Again, in the face of even the seeming of romance Alex found his distractions useless, and turned his stare once more to the floor, brushing away Lucy's hand. The oaken planks would not look at him with such concern and pity as she would should he be forced into admitting the truth.

"Nothing?" she questioned him. Humor caught itself, though she felt horrible for it, in the corner of her mouth. "Now. Alex. Really. That cannot be even apparently the truth."

"It's very difficult, Lucy."

"And I would not understand?"

Frustrated, Alex got to his feet in a rush of ambiguity. He walked past her, to the wall, and back again before regarding her with a quick glance.

"No. No, of course that's not at all what I meant. I am afraid that you would understand all too well. I feel perfectly retched as I already am, you see, and your comprehension of both my horrible actions and my horrible state of mind would wither me to simply the most pathetic of persons. I could not bear that."

"Your pride could not bear it."

"That as well."

Lucy paused, frowning at both the insult and the compliment that had been distributed to her. Again, for a second time she reached out to him, resting a hand lightly upon his arm. "Alex," she murmured. "I am here for comfort, whatever it is. I will not chastise you, even if you feel that I should. I am not your mother, nor your sister - I have not that right."

Rapid discontent formulated Lucy's expression, a strong dislike perpetuating itself against whatever had made Alexander so unhappy. He was a kind soul in all regularity, a cheerful one. There was more life to him than to any other man she had ever met, a fascination with joys rather than miseries making him the rarest of human specimens. However, occasionally the young boy in him dominated, sending him on ventures unplanned and generally resulting in mishaps that were easily fixable.

She had expected that it would be one such situation she found when she encountered him. But it seemed, as she grew more accustomed to the haggard look to his expression, that this time it was something more. If he was afraid to share it with even her, as he had done so many times in over a decade of friendship - well. Then there was nothing she could do, no matter how much it pained her.

A vacant pause remained between them, the absence of conversation and the jailing of genuine feeling halting the moment and mounting a wall. The air grew cold with Alex's fear, and for a frightening moment Lucy worried that he would send her away with herself.

This was not the case. Instead, breaking through the momentary frigidity in a storm of warmth, Alex wrapped his arms forcible around Lucy's smaller frame. Her eyes widened, cheek against his shoulder, in the shock of his sudden intimacy, her throat closing in fear and anticipation. The pleasure of Lord Norwood's real embrace had gone long unenjoyed, the action becoming more and more inappropriate as its enactors grew older. It took Lucy a moment, a sharp moment, to consider herself before loosely returning the action. For while her hands, the very tips of her fingers, yearned to press meaningful designs to the lines of his back, and caress the body that held his irreplaceable person, it was with a more ferocious love that Lucy enveloped him. She was long accustomed to the repressing of her innermost thoughts on his glorious character, and without definite reassurance she was in no position to do anything but.

Yet there was a tingle to her spine, and in a moment of almost-hysteria she considered that finally, finally this might be that moment of reassurance.

Falling in love with Alexander Norwood had been an experience that had no beginning and no end. As children they had been introduced, the Lady and Lord Norwood having been most familiarly acquainted with Lord and Lady Faurenford, who, as Lucy's aunt and uncle, had accepted the young Hastings girl into their London home when she had been not eleven years of age. With her cousin Victoria, the three had been rather forcibly placed into one another's company. Lucy, having been at the time noticeably younger than the elder two, had fallen into Alexander's good graces easily, fulfilling his need to protect someone smaller and weaker than himself.

From that point, she had grown to fulfill the position that he also required - someone to learn of his own small weaknesses, and protect him just so much as he had once protected her. It was a silent agreement of great embarrassment to Alexander, but a necessary one. Being privy to his every - or so she thought - manner and mistake alongside his every great personal accomplishments had made love no difficult task. Lucy found him to be a formidably marvelous caricature of a man, and one whose lines filled in just so quickly as she watched. Their friendship was not only one of niceties, but of necessities - and, beyond even that, dependency.

"Lucy. I consider you to be more family than I do many those who hold my same blood - you have every right to scold me, and I am afraid that my actions hold every requirement of causing the deepest of criticisms."

With the release of their holds, Lucy took a, though hidden beneath the folds of her skirts, stumbling step backwards. The shake of her back had halted and her expression cleared, turning blank in an attempt to shelve the foolish hope that had, as it was again and again, been disregarded once more.

Her own emotions were not important then, however; and she turned her attention back to Alexander, curiosity (a selfish one at that) pushing away all other traits in favor of itself. What a blessing life would be should her only emotion have been curiosity - just the need to know, and none of the emotions that accompanied the knowing.

"I doubt you could have done anything so terrible."

"I have been involved these past few months with a woman."

Alexander watched as Lucy's soft features crumpled into confusion just as he had expected them to - it was a look that he had grown familiar to over the years, one that more commonly accompanied some difficult concept she was reading about. It was then that he relented, acknowledging finally that with her determination there would be no secrets kept. If he had not so valued her good opinion, he would not have been so reluctant to share his most recent nightmare. No matter that no harm had come from the situation that could have - the heart in his chest still ebbed and flowed to the memory of finding Elizabeth's absence.

"I don't...understand. Who? You..we..."

"She isn't - wasn't - of...appropriate standing."

"Pardon?"

"A farmer's daughter. A wealthy one, but not so wealthy. There was no option of marriage."

"I see."

"Yes."

"And how did you...meet?"

Alexander blinked at her, unsure by what train of thought Lucy was following.

"How did we meet?" he repeated, confusion tinting his words.

"I don't know, Alex. I don't know. I don't understand - when you say that you were involved with a woman, I don't -"

"There is the possibility that she has left with my child, Lucy."

Exhaling largely, Lucy closed her eyes, internalizing, confining her emotions to a single rolling ball within her chest. There were no words to the chaos, her mind launching itself in all directions, her heart swelling with shock and hurt. Never taking a lady's company for too long a period, Lucy had always taken comfort in Alex's apparent disinterest in seriously courting any singular female. Now, this - this was some reason that she had never anticipated.

"Ah." Wordlessly, it was this time Lucy's eyes that turned groundwards.

"She has left with the son of a banker. They've eloped."

Sudden movement. The turn of the tone of conversation brought brighter features back to regarding Alex.

"They've eloped?" Words returned to her, and again she mimicked Alex - though this time in repetition of his words.

"Yes, they've eloped. The bloody cad's gone and made her fall in love with him, and he's stolen her from straight between my fingers. I'll never see her again, Lucy. Never."

"But surely-"

"I've been saved from unfortunate circumstances to deal with in the future? I know. I know. But I loved her, I loved her more than I've ever loved anyone, and more than I'm sure I ever will. I would have found some way to marry her, I would have. I didn't care about it anymore, I was trying to find a way to present it to my father, I just needed more time!" It scared him, just slightly, as his voice slipped past its usual conversational tone to a hinted desperation. His face echoed his disposition, usually magisterial features rumpled and defeated.

"And what if...Alex, but what if she had been trying to...have you marry her."

"I don't care. I love her. Men have done many more a foolish thing for the women they loved, and Elizabeth was the angel I would have given my soul to."

Elizabeth. She had a name. Lucy cringed, pulling her bottom lip into her mouth and biting it, just momentarily.

"There are no circumstances involving the relation that I have not already discussed with James, Lucy. All that matters to me now is that she is gone, and I ache for her."

"James knew?" The horror of that fiend of a man having known such personal information about Alexander before herself shocked Lucy, and tore her most gratefully from the conflict involving the woman. "Why in the world would James know? Are you mad, Alexander?"

Alex rolled his eyes, though his feet felt more sure upon familiar ground. "I know that you do not like him, but he is a good friend. He's kept me from trouble more times than I can count, and my appreciation for him will not dwindle because you've taken distaste."

"But to allow him knowledge of this - this affair. Surely you don't trust him so thoroughly."

"With my life."

"Foolish man."

"When have I not been, just slightly?"

Lucy smiled. The question reminded her, through the raging mass of unsorted reactions, that it was still Alexander. Still her Alexander. And for that, for him, she would try. She would try so very hard, just as she did each day, to repress and reconstruct herself so that they might continue to be functional. So that they might continue.

With this in mind, her chest rose once more before expelling her next phrase. She would end it, and keep her promise - regardless of having promised him she wouldn't, there had been no stopping her firm disapproval from reaching his ears. A mistake, perhaps, but not a regret.

"Well. What a scrape you've gotten into this time," she said. "But I do - and I do not care whether or not you agree with me - feel that the situation has resolved itself in the best possible manner for you. I could not bear to see you unhappy, and I'm afraid - yes, I know you disagree, I know - that you would have been very much so."

Elizabeth was a woman apart from herself. Of course he would have been unhappy. The very least he could do, if Lucy was so destined to never have him, would be to set up a situation where he would be unhappy and increasingly wealthy.

"I suppose."

"And, as for what I came to see you about. I expect to see you at the Faurenford's next Saturday - that lends you another three days before surfacing, and you must be fully recovered by then or our friends will begin to talk. Considering the nature of this indiscretion, I would believe that to be a danger. So you will come back, you will be all as nature intended you, and you will - I promise, as I have some experience in a similar story myself - grow to remember her only dimly, rather than actively."

"I am not so sure," Alexander sighed, a hand trailing through his hair. "But I suppose that can be in order."

"Good. However, I am afraid I must leave you now - I've spent well over the quarter of an hour I promised to Victoria I would be gone, and she is expecting me to join her on her next outing."

"I will walk you to the door."

"Thank you, Alex."

"And Lucy?"

"Yes?"

"You'll have to tell me that story sometime. I didn't know."

Lucy smiled. A sad smile. "Perhaps," she said. "Someday."

It was not until she returned home that she allowed herself some small grief, an allocation of mourning. The rest of the afternoon, for one Lucy Hastings, was spent retired to her room under the guise of a headache. She would lament, she would shed tears, and she would consider.

Then, as any proper English woman would, she would rebuild herself in time for the theatre.

Alexander, in the meanwhile, returned to tossing coins.