Chapter 1

The steady clicking of Chanel heels against the pristine hospital floor slashed across the otherwise peaceful atmosphere with an almost brutish quality to them. They were heralding the arrival of a lioness, although said lioness felt no bigger than a cub at the present time, walking down the white hospital hallway.

C.C. Babcock wasn't unfamiliar with the uncomfortable feeling and awkwardness attached to doctor's appointments, but this was a necessary evil. She'd never liked doctors, truth be told, but when you find that ten pounds have melted off you in record time, you have near-constant night sweats, are dealing with enlarged nodes in non-sanctum areas and have lingering airway spasms, you know it's time to pay the doc a visit.

Such was C.C.'s case.

Being a woman whose life's pace was dictated by her work schedule, C.C. didn't usually pay attention to her own health. Medical check-ups were a burdensome task that could be pushed back for months on end, for all she cared.

But then again, even the mighty Bitch of Broadway couldn't ignore each and every red flag her body decided to throw her way. However reluctantly (and even if she'd internally chalked up her maladies as stress), she'd eventually decided it was time to pay the doctor a visit.

So, here she was. Already sat on one of the uncomfortable plastic chairs outside her doctor's office, waiting for her name to be called. She was feeling very much like a prisoner about to go to the gallows.

Seconds bled into minutes. The producer couldn't help glancing every so often at her Cartier wristwatch – was this how eternity felt like?

Eternity eventually stopped dead in its tracks, however. After about a thousand more hours (in her head) and fifteen extra minutes (real time), a nurse carrying a clipboard with a list of patients came in from a side room and immediately started to scan the multitudes of sick and injured waiting there.

"C.C. Babcock?"

Suppressing the need to shout "At last!", the producer finally got the satisfaction of moving from her seat (she'd been considering getting up to pace, even if it was the worst movie cliché ever) and followed the woman along the corridor.

"Doctor Harris will be waiting for you, when you go in."

This was it. She could finally sit down with a doctor and get some answers as to what was going on. Straightforward, and simple. It was the way she liked things to be – as efficient and easy as they could be, all the while bringing about the results that she wanted.

And she hoped this would bring about results that she wanted...

The door she was directed to was slightly ajar, and a voice called for her to come in when she knocked. So, she went.

Dr Harris, a middle-aged woman wearing what looked like fifty different sweaters all thrown together into one underneath her white coat, looked up from her paperwork, smiled and rose from her seat when she saw C.C. come through.

"Ah, you must be C.C.! It says on my notes that you prefer that to Chastity-Claire," she said brightly, sticking her hand out for the producer to shake. "It's a pleasure."

C.C. took the proffered hand, not fully sure how to take this new doctor. She reminded her a bit of Nanny Fine, and she didn't know if she found that comforting or not.

"Likewise, Doctor."

Dr Harris gestured at the seat in front of the desk, "Please, take a load off your feet; no sense in standing for however long we're here...!"

C.C. wanted to reply that she wanted it short enough that it wouldn't matter if she was stood, but she knew she couldn't control that. So, she thanked Harris and took the seat.

There was a weird sense of deja-vú to the whole thing – almost like being back at the nurse's office at school. She'd always hated the nurse's office. The cleanliness, the excessive whiteness of it all, and the pungent scent of bleach had always made her skin crawl.

She had to concede, however, that Dr Harris' office was much nicer than the nurse's office. It was clean and was slightly more inviting, probably because the walls were of a soft beige colour and its owner had decorated it with nice paintings and fake flowers.

"So," said the doctor as she pulled out a small notepad and a blue Bic from a side drawer, "What brings you here today, Miss Babcock?"

C.C. listed her symptoms one after the other then. She tried not to think much about how many they were and how admittedly worrying they seemed – she was probably overthinking, she told herself, It's probably nothing…right?

The doctor's expression didn't seem to agree with her wishful thinking – her warm smile had soon turned into a seemingly worried frown, and she hadn't stopped jotting down notes since she'd begun talking. Again, it made C.C. feel incredibly vulnerable, so much so that part of her wanted to simply stand up and take her leave.

She couldn't and wouldn't do so, but she could dream.

She found she could only sit in silence after having listed all her symptoms, legs and arms crossed and heart hammering in her chest. She didn't like being on this side of the table when she was usually the one doing the judging over other, but what else was there for her to do?

It was unsettling, though. The silence. It felt ominous.


"So, doc," said the producer, breaking the silence she felt she could bear no longer, "What is it? Stress? Lack of sleep?"

Dr Harris did not reply. Instead, she reached for some plastic gloves, slipped them on and got to her feet as she gestured over to the examination table at the other end of the room.

"Miss Babcock, I need to see the inflamed area in your groin," she said instead. "Please, if you'll remove your pants and lie down…?"

If she'd been feeling like running away before, her to do so had just grown tenfold. Millions of questions were pouring into her mind – Why hadn't the doctor answered to her question? Was she sick? Was it bad? What was going to happen to her?!

None of them could be answered presently.

At least not if she didn't do as the doctor had told her.

C.C. soon found herself standing by the examination table, slowly undoing her pants with trembling fingers. She tried not to think as she undressed, focusing only on her breathing and the soft rustle of her pants as they were removed and subsequently folded. The doctor said nothing throughout the process apart from politely asking if she'd like her to place her pants, socks and shoes atop the small footstool that lay next to the examination table. C.C. nodded as she climbed onto the examination table and lay down there.

She made a (pointless) effort not to look while Dr Harris glanced at the inflamed monstrosity between her legs. The moment she gently felt around the area, however, C.C. couldn't help but gasp.

"Does it hurt if I touch the area, Miss Babcock?" asked the doctor, pulling her hands away from the affected area.

The producer shook her head no while silently admonishing herself for behaving in what she considered to be a childish manner. She was an adult, for the love of Christ! She had to be able to bear a stupid examination, like any other normal person.

"No," C.C. rasped, "no it doesn't."

"How long has it been there?"

"Around two weeks, I believe," C.C. said. "The nightsweats have been around for longer, though – maybe three weeks or so."

"I see," said the doctor in a tone that made it evident that there had to be something wrong with C.C., "Could you please sit up, Miss Babcock? I need to listen to your breathing."

C.C. mumbled a fearful "sure" and complied. Was it normal for the world to spin around her like this while having a routine check-up?

"Now," Dr Harris said as she picked up her stethoscope from a small metal tray atop a wheeled cabinet opposite to the examination table and adjusted the earpieces. "I will lift your shirt and hold the stethoscope against your chest. I want you to breathe normally until I tell you otherwise, alright?"

C.C. nodded, unable to speak.

"Excellent. Let's begin then," said Harris before gently lifting C.C.'s shirt.

Once again, and just like it had happened when she'd been waiting for the doctor to see her, C.C. felt that time had slowed down to a crawl. Seconds might as well have been centuries, and minutes millennia. The fact that she could clearly see the worry on Dr Harris' face did nothing to soothe her nerves, either.

C.C. was shaking by the time the doctor had pulled away from her and was removing her stethoscope, and not precisely because she was half-naked.

"I want you to get a CT scan," Dr Harris announced, "If you'll get dressed, the nurse will take you to the scanning room."

Only a few of those words made any sense whatsoever to C.C.. Those words being "scan", "nurse" and "imaging". And all of those were terrifying, let alone the ones that she hadn't heard before and didn't understand!

She never liked asking anybody for anything, but she was desperate. The doctor would have to tell her. The doctor knew what was going on and would have to tell her, wouldn't she? It was the rules of being a doctor, wasn't it? They had to tell their patients if something was up, it stopped them from getting sued when the patient complained because they didn't like the fact that their arm was hanging off, or something!

"What is that?" she asked, voice quicker than she wanted it to be. And only speeding up. "A scan? What kind of scan? Is there something the matter? What is it?!"

Harris pulled a face that C.C. didn't particularly like, and gave a soft sigh that the producer liked even less.

"I...have some suspicions, but we need to get you this scan first. That'll tell us all we need to know, before you come back here and we even have to think about a possible diagnosis."

That sent a chill down C.C.'s spine that didn't leave once it was finished leaving fear icicles all over her vertebrae.

Diagnosis. She didn't think she'd heard a scarier word all day. It implied she was sick - sicker than she previously thought she'd be. But how sick was that?! She'd been counting on it really being nothing at all, and yet now everything seemed to be flipping on its head and she was so sick she couldn't even think straight about it!

There wasn't anything she could do about it, either. That was the worst part...

All she could do was nod, quietly thank Dr Harris, and head out to where the nurse was waiting so that they could go to this "scanning room".

She barely heard the nurse when she said the scanning room was nearby – for all she cared, it was on the other side of the Sahara desert. She was gripped by a paralysing fear – fear of the unknown. Of not knowing what could possibly be wrong with her.

So many things could be going awfully wrong with her! And she had done nothing about it. It made her want to slam her face against a brick wall until she either lost consciousness or woke up from what could only be a nightmare.

Her every thought was laced with fear. She was trying to keep the bad, ugly thoughts at bay, but somehow obsessing telling herself that surely she'd be fine felt like it wasn't enough.

After all, she knew they were empty words.

She had no idea if she'd be alright or not. She had no idea what was wrong with her to start with. She was adrift, and for now she could only hold on tight and hope for a speedy arrival to safe land.

By the time they got to the scanning room C.C. had managed to recover some control over herself and was trying to keep the shaking to a minimum. She hadn't had a CT scan before so, in spite of the fear, she wanted to ensure it was performed correctly.

She was asked to remove her jewellery and shoes then, which she quickly did before lying down on the long table and letting the nurse drape a blanket over her lower body.

Funny, she was so nervous she'd barely noticed just how cold the room was.

"Miss Babcock?" said the nurse, bringing C.C. out of her thoughts. "I need you to extend your left arm so I can insert the IV line."

"IV line?" C.C. replied – there were alarms howling in her head. She hated needles. "Nobody said anything about an IV line!"

The nurse placed a soothing hand on C.C.'s shoulder. This wasn't her first rodeo, clearly. She knew this was a first timer and, in her experience, those required a little extra patience.

"It's just to inject the dye into your system, Miss Babcock," the nurse said, "You see, substances like bones are easy to see. But soft tissues don't show up as well. They may look faint in the image. To help them appear clearly, we need a special dye called a contrast material. They block the X-rays and appear white on the scan, highlighting blood vessels, organs, or other structures."

Well, that made didn't mean that C.C. liked the sound of it any more than she had done before, but still!

But she supposed if she stood any chance of finding out what the hell was going on (at this point, what choice did she have but to find out?), then she had to let it happen.

She nodded slowly, "Okay...what do I have to do?" Well, that made didn't mean that C.C. liked the sound of it any more than she had done before, but still!

But she supposed if she stood any chance of finding out what the hell was going on (at this point, what choice did she have but to find out?), then she had to let it happen.

She nodded slowly, "Okay...what do I have to do?"

The nurse helped C.C. to extend her arm and placed it on an armrest attached to the examination table, "Just keep still, and keep your arm out like this. I'll put the line in, and the contrast will go in after that. You might feel hot, in your throat and your genitals; it will make you feel like you're going to urinate."

C.C. wanted to interrupt that she was loving the sound of it already, but the fear was more overwhelming than the urge to be sarcastic. She needed it to be done and over, and stopping to talk would only delay it.

"-But it's just the contrast doing its job and the feeling will pass in a few seconds," the nurse finished with a smile. "Now, keep your arm right there..."

Not even knowing if she was allowed to turn her head while the IV was connected, C.C. chose to shut her eyes instead. It didn't stop her from feeling it go in, having to suck in a breath when that happened, or the odd coolness of foreign liquid flowing down the tube into her veins.

But it did mean that she didn't actually have to see it happen. It was weird enough having to feel the hot sensation of...something...warming at her throat, like she'd just eaten an entire bowl of chilli in one go. It took all her strength not to try and sit up to look down, when the warmth spread there, too!

How the hell was it warming two different places, on two opposite ends of her body?! Why was it making her feel like she'd just gone to the bathroom, out in the open, on a hospital table?!

But she didn't even have time to ask – just as the nurse had said, the feeling lessened in her throat almost as soon as she'd thought of it, and she remembered that the nurse had said the whole peeing thing it was just a feeling.

Thank God. She would probably have killed herself out of humiliation if she had gone to the bathroom on the table...

She must have visibly relaxed after, because when the nurse came to check, she looked pleased.

"All done?" she asked, not waiting for a nod or anything before continuing. "Then we can move on with the procedure. Now, I have to wait outside, so listen to what the technician says and this'll be done in no time."

Well, it wasn't like she had much else of a choice. All she could do was stay where she was, while the nurse got to gather up some of the equipment and leave the room, closing the door behind her.

It was the first time C.C. had envied a person whose job absolutely did not pay enough.

"Miss Babcock, can you hear me?"

The sudden voice seemingly coming from out of nowhere made the producer flinch, but to her credit she kept her arm (and the rest of her body) firmly in place.

That, she reasoned, must have been the technician.

"Loud and clear," she replied.

"Fantastic. Now, things are about to get loud in there, but I want you to pay attention to the signs right above you. Can you see it?"

C.C. replied affirmatively.

"Good. Now, when the first sign lights up, I want you to take a deep breath and hold it. When the second sign lights up, I want you to breathe normally, okay?"

Again, C.C. replied that, yes, she'd absolutely gotten it. She was also on the cusp of demanding that he simply got on with it, but she reminded herself that some things simply couldn't be hurried. She'd have to exercise her patience and dance to the technician's tune.

"Alrighty," the technician's voice said through the speakers, "Let's get this over and done with..."

A loud whirring noise immediately followed, and just as the technician had said, the first sign lit up. C.C. took a deep breath – as deep as her lungs would allow – and held it while doughnut-shaped scanner began to pick up speed and the table she was on slowly moved through the scanner.

It seemed an eternity before she was allowed to breathe out, but eventually the second sign lit up, signalling she was free to breathe normally again.

The cycle was repeated several times in the course of the next few minutes.

It seemed like she'd been in there forever, before the whirring started to slow.

But that must've meant that it was stopping at last, so C.C. was more focused on that. Thank God - she'd soon be free to move and breathe as she wanted, and she'd be out of the buzzing examination coffin they'd stuck her in!

That would be one relief. Then her main source of anxiety would bear down on her; the test results themselves.

She tried to put it out of her mind as the sliding tray table began to move back out, eventually coming to a halt (making her feel a bit like a newly-revealed prize on a game show) and the voice of the technician came on over the system again.

"Okay, Miss Babcock - just lie still, the nurse'll be in soon to take out your IV."

C.C. thought she could do more than that - the room was freezing and the blanket they'd covered her with was the only thing keeping a layer of frost from settling on her body. She wasn't about to let go of the only remaining warmth she had left!

Not that she got very long with it. The nurse was in there with her quickly and removing the drip even quicker than that.

"There we are," she said, bright but also with an underlying seriousness that made C.C.'s stomach flip over as she was allowed to sit up at last. "You can put your shoes back on now, and any jewellery you had on before. It'll be a few more minutes and then we'll have the test results ready, okay?"

C.C. nodded, but everything was far from "okay". She methodically and nearly robotically pulled on her shoes when the nurse brought them over. All the jewellery she'd been wearing before was slipped on or pinned back in place soon after, too.

It was just a matter of time now. The nurse left her to it to get the results from the other room and she was alone.

She wondered how alone she'd end up, if this all went to hell as badly as she was fearing...

But she didn't have much time to think about it, and she wasn't going to start crying over it, either. C.C. Babcock never cried, never showed weakness, never let her emotions get the better of her when she needed to be strong.

She was going to do this, no matter what.

That even went when the nurse came back with a sealed envelope. The test results that would determine her future from that moment on.

"Here we are - just take these back to Dr Harris and she'll go through them with you. She'll be able to answer any of your questions and explain what it all means."

She then handed C.C. the envelope.

The producer took it with the same enthusiasm a person might have if they had been handed a live grenade. She wanted the thing as far away from her as humanly possible, no matter what the paper inside said. It could be the best news in the world, but the fact that it had even had to happen was bad enough for her to want them and their stupid little words and numbers gone.

But she couldn't throw them in the trash. That wasn't dealing with the problem. And, as much as she knew she liked to avoid dealing with... certain problems, this one couldn't be ignored.

She couldn't carry on with her day if she was sicker than she thought.

So, thanking the nurse, she made her way back to Dr Harris' office.

The door was open when she arrived, but she knocked anyway. Harris must have been expecting her, but it was the polite thing to do, especially seeing as the woman herself had her back turned to the door and was busy going through a file cabinet.

She looked up when she heard the knock and smiled, "Oh, C.C. – come in and take a seat, we'll take a look at your test."

"Sure," C.C. said (actually, it was more like she mumbled) and took a seat opposite the doctor before sliding the envelope over to her.

She didn't want to hold onto the piece of paper that would potentially change her life for any longer than she absolutely had to. She'd much rather let Harris deal with it while she braced herself for whatever diagnosis lay hidden within.

"Alright, let's take a look," said Harris, opening the envelope and gently removing its contents.

C.C. was mildly surprised by the sheer amount of x-rays that had once been contained in the envelope, all of them not scattered over Dr Harris' desk. C.C. had to keep herself from glancing at the images, but even if she had she was sure she wouldn't have been able to interpret them. To her, they looked like an indistinct collection of black and white smudges. It was beyond her how Dr Harris (or any other doctor for that matter) was able to interpret them and make out the things that should or shouldn't be there.

She supposed it was good one of them could.

Silence swelled in the room as Dr Harris went over C.C.'s study, interrupted occasionally by the flicking of pages in the little report that came attached to her study. Harris' expression had turned serious ever since opening it, and C.C. wasn't sure how she should feel. There was nearly unbearable nervousness, of course, and the wait was agonising, but the doctor wasn't giving any indications as to whether she was seriously ill or not.

Maybe she was overthinking. Maybe she was making a world out of nothing. For all she knew it could be something minor that could be fixed with some rest and antibiotics.

Maybe she had nothing to fear.

But again, what did she know?

Fear gripped C.C.'s heart again just as the doctor looked up from her x-rays – her expression didn't bode well. Why would she look so worried if things were okay?

God…this had to be bad!

"Miss Babcock, has anyone come with you today?" asked the doctor in a soft tone that C.C. recognised as the tone most people used to soften certain blows before delivering them.

"No," replied the producer, "I came on my own."

"Oh. I see," Dr Harris said, frown deepening. "Would you like to call–"

"What is it?" C.C. interrupted her, her voice strained – she couldn't stand the waiting anymore. She had to know. "What's wrong with me?"

Harris sighed. She wasn't fazed or surprised by the way she'd been spoken to. She'd seen this reaction many times before and she frankly couldn't blame the patients. She understood the need to know what was wrong, but she'd much rather the patient was accompanied by someone when she broke the news.

Now a dual task fell on her. It wasn't her first time doing this, but it never got any easier.

"Miss Babcock," Dr Harris said, reaching over for C.C.'s hand and grasping it in her own, "There is a tumour between your left lung and your heart. That, combined with the symptoms you've described, makes me think you have Hodgkin's lymphoma. A…a type of blood cancer."

C.C. had never been hit with an actual ton of bricks before, but in that moment, she realised what it must have felt like.

Like the whole world was coming crashing down on you, leaving behind only tremendous pain, fear, and no way of stopping what was happening.

It was...almost overwhelming, how one word could change absolutely everything.

Cancer. She had cancer. There was a tumour growing in her body that she was starting to want so desperately to claw out with her own bare hands in her rising panic that she was only half-listening to what the doctor was saying.

It was coming in and out in a haze...

"...We don't know the staging yet, but from what I've seen, it's three or over and advanced, but the type is very curable..."

Staging. Oh, God, of course cancer came in stages! Advanced - she knew what that meant. And Harris might've said that it was very curable, but what were the chances?! The odds?! Was she going to live, or would she be one of the statistics who didn't get so lucky?! Would she have a timer hanging over her for years? Months? Weeks, even?! She'd heard of people spotting it so late that they barely saw to the end of the month! Was she one of them?!

Her chest was hurting, and her breathing was shallow, shaking and rapid. Was that her terror, or was it her tumour?!

She didn't know. But right about then was the perfect time to ask the doctor what she was going to do. There had to be something, didn't there? An eleventh hour reprieve from the nightmare her life had suddenly become?

"What do I do, doc?" her panicked words garbled right across Harris' explanation. "Tell me what to do here – I've got nothing and I–"

She'd been about to admit for the first time in decades that she needed help, but Harris raised a hand to calmly silence her and spoke.

"You've got to stay here, so that we can perform a few more tests. The important thing is not to panic, or to worry yourself too much. As I said, if you have the type I suspect, it's very curable. We're professionals and we'll find out exactly what we're dealing with."

Being the perennial cynic, C.C. couldn't bring herself to fully believe the doctor. Modern medicine had an answer to most ailments, yes, but it was not infallible. Mankind could play God all it wanted, but it was still unable to twist nature's arm on every occasion.

She'd seen it before – people who had every chance to get better, people who, had life been fair, should have overcome their illness...

And yet, they'd become another statistic. They'd been the unlucky ones who belonged to the small percentage of patients who didn't make it to the other side.

So how could anyone be sure C.C. would survive? What indication was there for Dr Harris to be so adamant about the certainty of her recovery? There were no guarantees, and C.C. wasn't particularly interested in hearing some cheesy spiel about how she had to have hope.

She'd much rather go back home, drink herself into a drunken stupor, and eventually go on with her pathetic little life until it died out, however quick that was.

She was being unreasonable, she knew that, but could anyone blame her? There wasn't a manual on how to react to the news that you have cancer!

If only there was. There might've been a section on a sure fire cure...

As it was, her entire life now had a great big question mark hanging over it. She didn't like that at all, or the feeling that came with it – hence the need to get drunk. At least then, if she had to feel, it would feel far nicer than everything she was feeling right now.

But she knew that she wasn't even going to be allowed to leave. It was a testament to her ability to be polite that she wasn't kicking up a fuss the size of a thunderstorm and demanding to be let go, if she was honest...

It would get her nowhere. Just like the direction her life was now going in.

The little life she had, anyway. Her home, her family...her friends and work at the mansion...that was about it. And now she could suddenly see it all disappearing.

Maybe, in some cases, it would be better if she disappeared first...

But that was a depressing question for later. For now, all she could do was nod at the doctor and submit to being kept there in the hospital for as long as the professionals decided.

"Alright," her voice was much quieter than before and she knew her eyes had trailed off to the wooden surface of Harris' desk, but she didn't care. "Let's do that, then..."

She still didn't fully believe it, but it wasn't as though she could argue back, right? It wouldn't change the fact that she could be dead soon enough, with or without medical intervention.

She might as well see what happened with medical intervention. She'd fought to get things and places all her life and even if she didn't really feel like fighting right now, if she wanted a future, she at least had to give it a shot.

"That's the spirit," Dr Harris said, stroking C.C.'s back in what the producer recognised as an affectionate manner.

She appreciated the doctor's attempt at being comforting, but she'd still take a nice bottle of Jack Daniela over any support anyone could provide.

Being sick entailed treatment — a long-term treatment, probably. A long-term treatment meant that she'd be out of order for however long it took for her to get better. Being out of order meant telling people she was sick.

That last thought made C.C. want to gag.

She simply didn't want to do it. She didn't want anyone to know she was sick! She wouldn't be able to bear the pity or the fear in their eyes. She had enough with her own fear to burden herself with someone else's.

She'd much rather face this shit-show by herself. She didn't want to become a burden. She was too proud to let anyone in while she was vulnerable. Of course she was aware that someone should know, but she'd keep that number to a minimum. Her brother surfaced in her mind, but that was about it.

Her parents didn't need to know, and neither did the Sheffields. She had to come up with a suitable excuse and then disappear until she either got better or kicked the bucket.

But that would come later. She couldn't afford to start scheming just yet. Tests still needed to be performed on her. She still had to know where she stood and how far had her illness progressed. Once the picture was clearer, she'd see about dealing with the Sheffields and her extended circle.

Although, she did still have to call the mansion, to let Maxwell know that she wouldn't be coming to work today. A tiny part of her mind muttered "or ever again" as an end to that sentence, but she ignored it. For now, she didn't know if that was true and she'd much rather not think about it right at that moment.

She had more important things to focus on.

Asking if she could have a few moments to make a personal call, Dr Harris gave her a sympathetic look and told her to take all the time she needed.

That was almost ironic, seeing as her time was clearly borrowed right now.

Thanking Harris and heading out with her cellphone pressed to her ear, she waited for the dialling tone to finish and somebody to pick up.

And, after what felt like forever, someone did.

"The Sheffield residence?"

The tone and formality immediately gave away who it was and C.C. struggled not to roll her eyes. Of course it would have to be the butler that she was put on with! Since when did Maxwell ever answer his own goddamned phone?!

She didn't want to talk to Niles about any of this, but if she was going to relay the message, she had to. Not that she'd pass along any details.

"Hello, Niles," she said.

"Miss Babcock...! We were starting to get worried about you," the butler replied, his usual mocking tone now in full force and clearly ready for one of their usual standoffs. "We'd thought that the sun had been too strong this morning and that you'd finally burst into flames!"

C.C. gritted her teeth. She knew that she could get angry then, and toss something back about him never seeing the sun because of his life of indebted servitude, but she didn't. There wasn't any point. She didn't want to stretch this out anymore - even talking to him was riling her up and she didn't need that kind of aggravation right then...

"Not this time," she replied shortly. "I was just calling to tell Maxwell that I won't be coming in today."

There was a hint of interest in the butler's voice when he next spoke.

"Really?" he asked. C.C. could already tell what was coming at this point. "You absolutely can't make it in? Did someone forget to take the nails out of your coffin?"

That did it for C.C.. She'd tried to be civil about it - as much as she could be with that...that asshole anywhere near a conversation she was part of - but he clearly couldn't see when he needed to change! He couldn't see that she was being serious, because her life was hanging in the balance for all she knew, and now the jerk just had to go off and make a joke about coffins?!

She didn't need it. She didn't need him.

No more zingers. No more insults. If she didn't need to be sure that he would tell Maxwell what she'd said, she'd hang up the phone right then and there.

Leave him wondering about it for the rest of his life, maybe. That'd teach him.

She ended up going one better.

"It's none of your goddamned business why I won't be in!" she snarled, her voice reverberating off the walls. "I just won't be! So tell Maxwell that I'm not coming in and then stay the hell out of my life!"

It was only on very rare occasions that he was ever at a loss for words for that length of time. But it seemed like an age before Niles spoke again.

"I see...very well, then. I-I'll be...I'll be sure to pass on your message..."

C.C. snorted out a self-satisfied huff, but she wasn't sure if the sound made it down the other end of the line.

She didn't care if it did. He sounded shaken by what he'd just heard, so leaving him to stew in any silence that followed felt like a cherry on top of the sweetest slice of revenge cake.

It tasted like vindication. And, maybe Niles would actually learn something from what had just happened.

Maybe he'd actually find a real hobby, or at least stop being such a rat bastard all the time.

Maybe he'd be a different servant, by the time she came back.

If she came back. If not, he could probably learn to be better with the next producer Maxwell hired to go into business with him.

She knew he wouldn't miss her, that was for sure. There were very few people in the world who actually would. That's what made not telling...most easy.

Not that she cared what...most people...thought.

"Will that be all, Miss Babcock?"

The question brought her back out of her thoughts. Was that all? Was that really how she could sum up nearly twenty years of knowing a person, whether they were the best of friends or the worst of enemies?

It didn't really take long for the logic in her head to overcome any kind of thought about having people you know around you during a time of crisis.

She knew what the answer to his question was. Especially after what had just happened.

That was all.

She didn't want to have to listen to any more of his smug, self-satisfied words that hit closer to home than he'd ever know. And she couldn't let it drag out anymore, potentially letting somebody else come to the phone and start asking questions.

Maxwell, if he got off that oblivious behind of his to come and check what was going on, would no doubt demand an explanation as to why she wasn't coming in. She couldn't afford that. When it came to Nanny Fine, well, the woman would want to know everything that wasn't her business, right down to the colour of the hospital walls!

And as for the man she was speaking to right then on the phone...he was lucky she hadn't simply told him to hand the phone over to their employer in the first place.

If she was going to disappear, she was going to do it properly. And that meant no ties, or barely any. Niles could relay whatever information he wanted to the Sheffields, she wasn't going to be around to give any kind of explanation.

They'd know when it was done, one way or another. Her brother would take care of informing everybody if she couldn't, so they'd hear through him or her father.

That was the base of her plan covered.

"Yes, that is all," she replied stonily.

She hung up the phone immediately after. She had no desire to say goodbye to him – she didn't like goodbyes, especially when she was not sure if they'd be permanent. Let him and the rest of the world go back to their humdrum routines and not think about her. She'd much rather be alone anyway.

She pocketed her phone with a huff and turned on her heels, towards the exit, where she knew fate was waiting. There was no going back now, whether she liked it or not. Big girls don't cry, do they? And C.C. Babcock was a damn big girl, wasn't she?

Even if deep down she felt as fragile as a glass figurine.

Still, she marched out with her head held up high and her ego unscathed. Her ability to save face had been years in the making, and she wasn't about to throw all that effort to appear like a heartless bitch out the window just because there was a stupid mass of cancerous cells growing in her chest.

No, she had to cling to the last semblance of her old self – expensive heels and a blade for a tongue. She wasn't naïve, she knew she would fade away in due time, but for now she was still the Bitch of Broadway, and she'd be damned if anyone but her own damn illness took that away from her.

She'd kick and scratch and scream and fight all the way to the grave, if that was what it took.