William sighed nervously as he hovered behind the door.
Family day came every Sunday, from two to six, and included both families who were visiting children put here in pension, and families looking to adopt amongst the flock of orphans put here every year.
This was a private facility, where parents gave up their rights as legal guardians, for a fee, in exchange for care of the child till the age of eighteen.
As a private facility, the state had little to no control over the Silas Institute, though each and every adoption ought to be overseen and approved by a social worker provided by the state. Public system, after much resistance from the head of the institute, Ms. Lilita Morgan, usually referred to as "The Dean", had managed to install a mandatory visit twice a year, one scheduled, one allegedly not, although everyone knew the Dean could get the date long in advance, usually even before those supposed to conduct the visit.
But none of this helped the boy get ready for the very big task ahead of convincing a family that his sister needed to be adopted far away from here. A soft hand on his back snapped him out of his thoughts. He looked up and saw Perry, gently smiling down at him, before smoothing back in ever mussed up hair:
_There, you look very dashing Mr. Karnstein,"
He grinned. He and Perry had worked a plan all through the week, growing closer in the process:
_Do you think they will like me ?"
The small boy giggled at the fierce tone the red head had used. He leaned into her, half hiding in her leg as they waited for the other kids to come in. Carmilla once more was nowhere to be seen. Perry looked at the boy practically tucked in her jeans, her heart swelling with love for the little man next to her.
She had always liked the small boy, but in the last week, she had completely fallen in love with him. His iron resolve to save his sister, his easy grin, his piercing shrieks when she tickled him. Everything.
Though she stepped away from him when she heard the tell-tale sound of heels clacking on the tiling. She had also fallen in love with just how incredibly smart the small boy was, as he immediately grasped why she had stepped away, she knew in the way he didn't try to fall into her once more, despite his obvious tension rising.
She turned around as the Dean walked toward them, six feet of power suited, middle aged glamazon. Her hand a deathly grip on Carmilla's, trotting behind her, desperate to keep pace with the giant next to her. She stopped next to Perry, a pleasant smile on her face as she pulled Carmilla in front of her:
_Good afternoon Perry, would you mind cleaning this little one up ? I found her as such in her room, what a shame,"
She purred as she let her hand run in the young girl's ruffled curls. Carmilla did her best not to shy away from the touch, though the tension in her face and shoulder was palpable, as she looked straight in front of her, motionless:
_Yes of course Ms. Morgan,"
Perry murmured, gently ushering Carmilla next to her:
Lilita walked away without a second glance at the small brunette. Perry waited for her to be out of sight, probably to welcome the families, before kneeling in front of Will, Carmilla right behind her, looking away from her brother. Will teared his eyes away from his sister before looking at Perry, his eyes swollen with worry:
_You do exactly as we planned darling ok ? I'll be back as soon as possible," William didn't say anything, but she could see in his eyes just how terrified he was, "Don't worry about anything, sweetie, you'll be amazing,"
She rubbed his arms again, as she had gotten used to do whenever she needed to insufflate courage to the little boy in front of her. He quickly threw his arms around her before reluctantly letting go. He sneaked a glance at his sister, but she walked away as soon as Perry put her hand on her shoulder, never looking back, completely numb.
Perry looked at the interaction with knitted eyebrows. They quickly reached the infirmary, she put her down on a bed. The young governess smiled down at the small brunette, gently ruffling her hair before walking out, earning a glare from the small brunette in the process. She smirked, this was the first emotion she saw out of the girl of the day. She quickly came back to see that Carmilla hadn't moved an inch, hands crossed on her knees, looking down at the ground, completely closed off to the outside world. She sighed as she laid the material down on the table next to her, and turned to face the brunette:
_Hey sweetie, do you mind if I look you up ?"
The brunette gently shook her head, still mute. Perry sighed, closing her eyes in defeat before gently pulling Carmilla's arm apart. At first glance she appeared fine, but the haunted expression she wore left no doubt in Perry's mind that she was anything but. Her arms fell limply to the side as she let Perry handle her like a ragdoll. The red head gently untied her collar, and pulled the dress over her head, leaving the frail girl swimming in her underdress. Perry's breath caught in her throat at how emaciated the girl was. A sack of bones… She couldn't help it. She leaned and pulled the small girl in her arms. She stiffened immediately, ready to bolt. Perry only held her tighter, running her hand in the soft curls:
_It'll all be over soon darling, I promise, I won't let that devil woman lay another finger on you…"
She knew it was an empty promise, she had no power whatsoever as so what happened to her, but the way Carmilla melted in her arms was all that mattered right now. The small girl eventually pulled back, her obsidian eyes glossy with unshed tears:
_Please take care of my brother first, please ?"
The red hair gave her a watery smile, gently stoking the girl's cheeks:
_I'll always take care of your brother love, that I promise,"
She insured, because that was a promise she could keep, that she would keep. If they couldn't find a family for the both of them, which she prayed with all her might they would, she'd take William in a heartbeat. Even if she had to kidnap him, she would not leave him here without his sister. Though there weren't enough deities to whom she could beg for this never to happen. Separating those two… It would be the worst evil of all.
The small brunette nodded gravely, squeezing her hands tightly. She looked so old in that moment, like she would never smile again. The sight filled Perry with an ice cold rage, and iron determination to get those two out before the end of the day, no matter what. Carmilla cocked her head to the side, gazing at the fire-kissed woman before her with thinly veiled curiosity. Something had ignited her sea green eyes, they shone with such fierce resolve Carmilla felt a small shiver travel down her spine. But not the dreadful one she felt whenever she heard or caught a glimpse of the Dean. This shiver was a shockwave of the determination she read in her governess's eyes, it was a light she knew she could trust with her life. She suddenly felt lighter by tenfold as Perry gave her a gentle smile. This woman would help them, would help Will, she was sure of it. So she smiled back, her first genuine smile in what felt like an eternity. Perry rubbed her arms the way she had noticed she did with Will, the way that always seemed to make him lighter:
_We'll get you through this darling, I swear,"
There wasn't a trace of doubt in her voice, nor in Carmilla's faith in her words.
They quickly made it back to the hall used for family day. Carmilla was walking as straight as she could, her chin thrust forward in defiance. Perry's word made her feel strong, they made her feel more confident that she had in ages. Though her hand tucked in hers as they made their way through the door also help a great deal. Perry stopped a few feet through the door, and knelt before the tiny girl:
_I'm going to see what Will has been up to, ok ? Try ad mingle with the other children," Carmilla couldn't help the feeling of dread that ran through her at the idea of being left alone, "don't worry sweetie, I'm keeping my eyes on you, always,"
Carmilla nodded her resolve, tightly squeezing Perry's hand, hoping it would convey what her words could not. Perry beamed at her, and rearranged her hair one last time before standing up and walking away. The small brunette sighed as she let her eyes roam the room, in search of a possible companion to interact with. None attracted her eyes. She had never really been a social butterfly, her… upbringing not really helping the matter… She sighed as she made her way to the room, finding an empty table to draw. She had always loved drawing. It was one of the rare hobbies Mama allowed, as she found it distinguished and stimulating. Her words not Carmilla's… she grabbed a pencil and a white sheet, and gave free rein to her hand.
_Well hello there little man, who do we have here ?"
Perry had spotted Will the second she had walked into the room. His gleeful laughter echoing through the room like a beacon. The young boy whipped his head around at the voice, and grinned as he raced out of his chair into the red-head's legs:
He shrieked in delight as she lifted him easily, poising him on her hips. A gentle laugh snapped her out of her delight as she turned to the noise, Will's head tucked underneath her chin. Her gaze fell on a young woman, her ginger hair styled in an undercut, dressed with a lumberjack shirt and tight pants, and smile too big for her face that made Perry's breath catch:
_Your boy is a darling,"
She rasped in a surprisingly deep voice. Perry blushed as she put Will down, who scurried back at the table to fiddle with some crayons and paper:
_Oh, he's not mine, but he is a darling, isn't he ?"
The other woman frowned, obviously confused:
_Oh… I'm sorry I'd have sworn…"She glanced at Will's drawing, and gently pried one from the pile, "This is you isn't it, though ?"
Perry took the drawing from the other woman, and gasped. Her heart skipped a beat as she indeed recognised herself, if the bright orange curls were any indication. She stood in the middle of the drawing, a smile on her face, surrounded by a sulky looking Carmilla and a beaming William, and written, "Me, Mama and Carmia" underneath. She covered her mouth in shock as tears pearled in her eyes. She was snapped out of her daze by a soft hand on her shoulder:
_Does something to you doesn't it ?" The other woman smirked as she gently patted her shoulder, sending small tingles in Perry's arm, "I'm Susan by the way, but everyone calls me Laf,"
Perry chuckled as she quickly dried her tears:
She laughed, amused. The small tingles travelled down to her stomach as Laf laughed with her:
_Yeah it a diminutive of my last name Lafontaine,"
Perry cocked her head to the side, curious:
_Do you not like your name ?"
_Oh no I do it's just,"
Lafontaine fiddled with her hands, clearly uncomfortable. A gentle smile curled Perry's lips:
_ Complicated ? It's ok you don't have to talk about it you don't want to," Perry chuckled at the obvious relief that flooded Lafontaine's face, "I'm Lola by the way, but everyone calls me Perry,"
She winked as Lafontaine giggled:
_How dare you make fun of me !"
Perry laughed even more as Lafontaine playfully pouted. She felt so at ease with her, like she had nothing to feel self-conscious about, like they had known each other their whole life…:
_So, Laf, what brings you to Silas ?"
_I'm actually here with my uncle, he's looking to adopt, to hum…"
She smile immediately fell as she looked down tears brimming her eyes:
_What's wrong Miss Lafontaine ?"
A small voice piped in before Perry could. Lafontaine snapped out of her daze and looked at William, who had rounded the table to stand in front of her:
_Nothing little man, just thinking of something bad,"
William frowned, clearly confused
_You shouldn't, not if it makes you sad like that,"
Lafontaine chuckled as she ruffled the small boy's hair:
_Sometimes you don't really have a choice kiddo," The young boy cocked his head to the side, trying to understand, "If you want to make peace with your sadness you have to confront it head on,"
Lafontaine smiled at him, a soft, honest smile that struck Perry in the chest:
_That's… Very good advice, Lafontaine,"
She rasped as she gazed at the woman in front of her, awed. Lafontaine blushed, scratching the back of her head with an embarrassed chuckle:
_Laf !" A deep voice resonated next to Perry, startling her, "I hope they haven't traumatised either of you, they really lack basic social skills,'
They ? Perry frowned as she watched Lafontaine's blush deepened as she smacked the man's shoulder, who just laughed in return as he dropped into a chair next to her, well them, apparently. The confusion she felt must have shown on her face, as she noticed the two sharing a look, before the man turned around to her, a wry smile on his face:
_Yeah, Lafontaine here doesn't really identify as either gender, so they prefer to be referred to as they and them, and seen as a person, rather than man or woman,"
Perry's eyebrow shot up to her hairline. She had never heard of such a thing. She schooled her features as soon as she saw Lafontaine's face twist in pain and embarrassment:
_Hey, don't you go around looking like that," She gently admonished as she gave a small fillip at Lafontaine knitted eyebrow. Their head shot up straight at her, pure shock replacing any other emotion. Perry smiled playfully as she held William to her, "If I've learnt anything here it's that, if you find something that makes you feel good, you hang on to it as tight as you can, besides I think the concept is really interesting,"
She grinned as Lafontaine's mouth fell open in pure shock. A booming laugh snapped them both out of their bubble. The man slammed his hand on the table, hysterical:
_Laf I don't know where you found her, but don't ever let her go !" The two red head turned a deep shade of carmine as the man laughed even harder, William gazing at them, utterly lost, "I'm Mark Hollis by the way, pleased to meet you young lady,"
He pulled out a gigantic hand at Perry, who hesitantly shook it back, glancing at a beet red Lafontaine, she eventually grinned back at the man in front of her, unable to resist the charming smile:
_The pleasure is mine sir, I'm Perry,"
_Oh please call me Mark !" And grinned at her again, before looking down at William, who immediately retracted in Perry's leg, "and who might that be,"
Perry looked down at her little man, a found smile on her face:
_This, is William Karnstein, go say hello Will,"
The small boy took an hesitant step toward the seemingly enormous man in front of him:
_Hello, Mr. Mark…",He murmured, red as a tomato. But Perry's hand in his hair gave him courage, "Can you please adopt my sister ?"
Mr. Hollis's eyebrows shot up in surprise, before glancing at Perry, who looked like she was trying to fit too many emotions on her face. Shock, surprise, anger, love, sorrow. So much sorrow on such a young face. He looked down at William, a picture perfect cross between hopeful and terrified:
_What do you mean your sister ? Aren't coming with her ?"
William shrugged, staring at his shoes intently:
_I would like to…But Ms. Lafontaine said you only wanted to adopt a little girl, and my sister is a little girl, though you shouldn't tell her that, because she would be angry at me…"
_Would she now ?"
Mr. Hollis looked back up at Perry confused. She looked like she was on the verge of tears. The older man frowned, before looking back down at the small boy standing before him:
_Hey, William ?"The boy looked up at his name being called. Mr. Hollis smiled warmly, "do you mind if I let you with Laf a minute ? I'd like to talk to your governess,"
William stared at him in shock, surprised a grown-up was asking him permission for anything. He blushed and shook his head, looking back down at the ground. Mr. Hollis nodded once before standing up and walking away, silently inviting Perry to follow him. She did, not without one last look and smile at her little man:
_I hate to pry but…" Her head snapped around at the grave voice, it had somehow lost all its joy, "Something tells me this is about more than it might look like at first glance ?", Perry gazed at the man in front of her, caught. She couldn't lie. But she also couldn't divulge the truth, not like that. The Dean held too much power, too good a reputation. She would make certain not one word Perry said would ever be believe, with far too much ease, "Ms Perry ?"
She started slightly, and looked back up at the man, praying for him to understand. He gazed at her cautiously. But he knew that look. He had seen it many times down at the station. The look that said "please don't ask but guess". He nodded again, before setting his jaw. There was something off about this place. He surveyed the room with a sharp eye. Something was amiss. Between the look Perry was giving him, the terrified air on William's face:
_So where is this moody sister Will was referring to ?"
He asked, as nonchalantly as he could, though he was already quite certain he had spotted said sister. Sitting alone in a corner, drawing. He followed Perry's gaze, and fell on two sharp, onyx eyes, peering at him with much more depth and calculation that should ever be found on any of the children here. Her eyes widened as she caught his gaze, and she scrambled to change her pen from her left to her right hand:
_I'll be right back,"
Perry nodded, and walked back to William.
She sat in her corner quietly, like Mama had told her to, when she felt a gaze of her. She looked up and spotted Perry looking at her, whilst she spoke to a man whom she did not know. He turned around to look at her, his clear eyes sharp and focused. Like he understood, more than he led on. She quickly looked back down at her drawing when she saw him stand up and make his way to her. She already knew how this would go down. She'd talk to him, he'd probably tell her he wanted her, but somehow always seemed to retract at the last minute, as they always did. Despite what Perry had told her, she knew she wouldn't get out of here until her eighteen's birthday. She'd fight for William though, teeth and nails. Someone clearing their throat snapped her out of her thoughts:
_Hi," The man smiled, as he took a sit in front of her, "I'm Mark, William tells me you're his sister ?"
The young girl stared at him, unsure how to proceed. Mama had never told her what to do if she were approached. The man, Mark, dropped his hand on the table with a small sigh, though he kept smiling:
_Can I ask you something ?", She kept her head down, eyes trained on her hands, "Why did you change hand when I came over ?"
She jumped slightly, wincing. He shouldn't have noticed that. She should have followed Mama's instructions:
She jumped again, putting the pen down neatly in front of her:
_Mama doesn't like it when I use my left hand, she says it's the devil's hand."
She murmured in a clipped tone, and slightly glanced up at the man, praying he wouldn't ask any more questions. Mama had warned her about too many question…
Mark's frown deepened as he saw the distressed look on the girl's face, all his alarms bells ringing full force. Something was definitely off. He dropped it though, she looked like she was on the verge of a panic attack, he bit down his cheeks, fighting his instinct to dig deeper, and looked at the sheets of paper sprawled all over the table
_Those are some nice drawing you made there, can I see ?"
They really were, especially for such a young child… Practice makes perfect. But this looked like devotion. She leaned back slightly in her chair, crossing her hands on her knees, her eyes still on her stubbornly on her hands. He smiled gently at her before grabbing one or two sheets, and looking at them appraisingly:
_Those are very nice !"He grinned at her as he peaked at the other drawings, a veil on sadness fell on his face, "My daughter used to draw too, she loved it…"
Carmilla cocked her head to the side. She rose her eyes to the man without thinking, curiosity getting the best of her:
_Used to ?"
Mark laughed as he looked at her:
_It speaks !," She blushed with a pout as she looked back down, "Yeah, she… lost interest"
The brunette's head shot up at that. How did one lose interest in drawing ?
_It's a long story cupcake, maybe she'll tell you one day…"
He sounded so wistful, like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders:
He looked back up at her, surprised:
_What are you sorry about, sweetheart ?"
_I don't know, you just look so sad, it's what people usually say when other people look sad…"
Mark chuckled lightly at the girl in front of him. She and her brother were something else, to be sure. Sharp as knives, that seemed to have seen far too much already. He smiled warmly down at her:
_Well thank you, that's very nice… I never did get your name darling ?"
_Carmilla," She piped with a small voice, unaccustomed to the amount of pet names, Perry did use a lot, but it was Perry… "My name is Carmilla,"
_It's a lovely name," He grinned at her as he extended his hand again, she grabbed it slowly, a small smile on her face, "It's a pleasure to meet you Carmilla"