ACT I: In Which Arthur Makes an Accidental Discovery
Arthur Hastings hated running in the dark. He also hated being chased by two older men dressed in blue. He also particularly despised that these two things were happening simultaneously at this moment due to one small error on his part.
Why the hell did I think stealing five pounds of sugar in front of Ms. Dickins was a good idea? Oh, good call, Arthur, make eye contact with the owner of the house you're burgling, then grab her sugar right in front of her. Which could be considered one of the most valuable things in Wellington Wells. Brilliant.
Arthur stumbled on the uneven cobblestone for a moment, pounding heart leaping into his throat and making a strangled attempt to abandon him. Catching himself, Arthur paused, glancing around wildly before spotting a hole in a fence. Glancing behind him and seeing the glint of a badge, Arthur dove for the fence as a dog would upon seeing a squirrel. Eagerly and without much grace.
Scraping his back along the top of the hole, Arthur pulled himself through just as he heard a whoosh, the bobby's baton slamming into the fence, the force of it sending him tumbling forward painfully. Scrambling back up onto his heels, he watched the hole from a crouch.
A moment passed, and a head with a stretched smile poked through the hole. Arthur stumbled back and, bravely, without a single crack or hitch in his voice, called out, "I-I have a weapon, and I'll smash you to bits if you crawl through that hole!"
The head jerked away, and another voice called out, "Please come out, Mr. Burglar. We only want to have a little...chat."
Whispered, a bit too loudly, came, "You go 'round the back while I keep 'im occupied."
Chest tightening, Arthur jolted to his feet and made to beat a hasty retreat down the alley when something at the end caught his eye. An unnerving sense of dread filled him as he peered closely at the figure. It looked to be taller than him, wearing dark clothing with a splash of yellow from the boots. It also seemed to be...sniffing in his direction...and staring straight at him.
Looking around wildly for any method of escape, he spotted a white door. Digging around in his pockets (while frequently glancing over at the doctor creeping towards him), Arthur pulled out a lock pick and picked the lock as fast as his trembling fingers would allow. When the lock gave an affirmative 'click' of success, he unceremoniously threw the door open, slammed it shut, and locked it.
Backing away from the door, he jumped when someone gave a twist of the knob. Ears straining to pick up a muttered conversation on the other side, Arthur felt a sudden cold chill against his leg, accompanied by a low vibration and humming. Whipping around he saw...
He blinked, just to make sure he wasn't seeing things. There, on the first floor of the house, was a fully stocked laboratory set. The machines on the center island purred lowly, and Arthur only jumped a smidge when one hissed quietly. Peering over the center, he could see bits of broken glass on the ground, especially around the equipment.
Steeping carefully around the shards, Arthur scavenged what he could from the mess. Metal bits, metal tubes, a few containers of herbs that smelled like Gilead petals mixed with rowan berries, and one odd smelling sandwich he decided to save for later. Pulling out the drawers, he found one odd looking dress, not unlike the one he'd seen Sally wearing.
Sally...I hope I don't fuck it up when I see her again. She'd probably love this laboratory, I bet. I wonder who'd have a lab built in the city? Seems like an odd choice, given Haworth Labs being so close anyways...
Giving the place another sweep, Arthur went back towards the door, keen on not staying long enough to find out who really did own the place. Listening closely at the white door, Arthur paused.
A noise, distant, yet familiar, rang in his ears. It sounded like...someone crying? Peering up the stairs, Arthur weighed his options.
Well, I could go back out into the streets and risk the doctors and bobbies after curfew. Or, I could risk upsetting whoever lives here. If it's a fellow Downer, perhaps we could lend each other a helping hand. Who knows, maybe they'll have a Letter of Transit they'd be willing to trade for.
Crouching down, Arthur quietly made his way up the steps. The noise increased in volume as he ascended, and sounded less like crying and more like...screaming. Or wailing, akin to a police siren, at least in intensity.
Cautiously opening the upper level door, he couldn't help but raise an eyebrow at the odd decor. Large masks lining the wall, a picture of Sally wearing a dress that really did not fit her form at all.
I can imagine something a little more form fitting than tha-no, wait, stop yourself Arthur. ...nope, too late, though she could pull off a rubber cat suit better than I did.
Glancing over at the mess of bottles and tins of milk sitting on the counter, Arthur followed the sound up the spiral staircase. The crying was nearly deafening, and Arthur hesitated before opening the door.
Easing himself inside, his eyes, ears, and unfortunately nose draw him towards the crib sitting just off to the side.
No. No, it can't be, there hasn't been a baby in Wellington Wells for years, that's...
Tip-toeing forward, he reached out and grabbed the railings on the crib for support. The smell overwhelmed him for a moment, and he looked away, swallowing the brief nausea that assailed him. Holding his breath, he looked in at the crying baby.
They looked back at him and quieted for a moment, hiccuping and gasping, their little face red and covered with large, redder freckles. A looming sense of dread threatened to strangle Arthur, and he reached down and, as gently as he could, poked the baby in the cheek.
They started wailing at the less than acceptable touch, and Arthur scrambled away. Panting, and feeling a claw of fear stretching up into his throat, he did the best thing he could think of. He ran.
Tumbling down the side of the spiral staircase and landing on his shoulder, Arthur got right back up and sprinted for the exit. He wasn't abandoning the baby for his sake, no, there wasn't-well, there was a real goddamn baby-, no, no. No, the baby, they would just-he would just be prolonging their suffering, he could hardly take care of himself, life was harsh enough already, he had to-
Arthur's hand was on the door, and the crying of the baby sounded in his ears just as loudly as when he'd been upstairs. It rang, ringing like, like...
The roaring of a train flashes in his mind. The panicked screams of his brother, someone he knows can't take proper care of himself, echo and linger. The screams of his brother sound distorted this time, mixing with the cries of the baby, the very real baby upstairs.
Taking a deep breath, Arthur pried his white-knuckled grip off the doorknob. Setting his jaw, he marched back up the steps.
No. I can't...I can't abandon something, someone, so helpless again. Who knows what happened to their mother. Had to have been a Downer. With that doctor prowling around out there, I wouldn't be surprised to know she's been taken away to the Garden District, or worse.
Eyeing the kitchen on the second floor, Arthur figured he'd make some milk first before heading up. Grabbing up a nearby bottle, he set to work. Waiting for the water to boil nearly killed him as he listened to the crying of the baby-upstairs. Once the food had been prepared, he quietly walked up the steps to deliver it.
Easing the door open, the smell and loud cries nearly made him bolt again. The nagging reminder of Percy calling his name, desperately, terrified, made him stay.
Setting the milk down on the dresser (where he spotted a much needed book of baby care), Arthur peered down at the baby. They stopped crying for a moment before starting it up again, unhappy to be there, in their own...
"Hello!" he waved down at the infant. They continued screaming, tears running down their cheeks
"I'm, uh, I'm Arthur, and you're the...the first baby Wellington Wells in many years. I don't know what's happened to your mum, but she's not here now. So, I'm going to be your. I'm going to be your dad."
The baby wrinkled their nose and wailed. Arthur sighed in response and rubbed at his nose.
"I'm sorry. That wasn't very comforting, was it? Well, I suppose I should, er, help you out a bit? As Mum always said," Arthur said, rolling up his sleeves and spying a few ready-made nappies nearby. "'Always be open to new experiences.'"
With the...ordeal out of the way, Arthur stood back and admired his handiwork. Cleaned and smelling much better now, she was currently lying in the crib, looking up at him and whimpering softly.
Why is she still unhappy now?! Oh, wait, I forgot to feed her.I wonder how mum used to do this...
Feeling a bit like an arse, Arthur reached down and gently picked her up. It took a bit of awkward maneuvering, but he eventually settled with having her nestled into the crook of his elbow. She squirmed a bit, and felt rather warm. Grabbing the bottle, he sat down on the bed and stared between the bottle and the baby for a few seconds.
Nibbling his lip in worry, he slowly brought the bottle towards her. She jerked away from it and made an unhappy noise.
"No, no," Arthur said softly, bringing the bottle a bit closer. "You have to drink if you want to feel better. I promise it's just as good as your mum made...I hope."
The baby stared at him for a moment before reaching up her pudgy hands and pawed at the bottle. Slowly, she drank it down, her movement slowing as the bottle drained. Arthur yawned, watching as her eyelids started drifting shut, jerking open the next second as she resumed drinking. A few more minutes passed as she fought sleep, her battle fierce yet short lived. Then she gave a sort of satisfied sigh and relaxed into sleep.
Arthur sighed as well.
I didn't wake up this morning expecting to be a...oh, she's really cute when she's sleeping.
Looking down at the sweet little babe sleeping in his arms, he couldn't help but smile. Standing up, he walked with the care of a tight rope walker over to the crib and gently, gently set her down. She stirred slightly as he moved his hand and he froze, eyes wide. Her breathing mellowed again, and Arthur backed away.
Plopping down on the soft, round bed nearby, Arthur closed his eyes.
What kind of pickle have you gotten yourself into now, Arthur? Won't Sally be surprised...