Duchess

Duchess

Fandom: Rule of Rose

Summary: Diana sulking in the basement. Inspired by Jennifer’s revelation that Diana spent a lot of time in the basement, lamenting the fact that she wasn’t growing up the way she’d envisioned.

The basement was almost painfully cold, dimly lit and impervious to sound. It was filled with dolls that made the other kids nervous, and smelled of mold and decay and rodent leavings. Most importantly, it offered nothing tempting or exciting to combat the various negative aspects, which meant it was an ideal location to escape the chaos of the orphanage.

She was perched on the edge of a wooden stool more splinter than seat, one boot-clad foot dangling limply, swooping in small, lazy circles. Red hair spooled across the old, scarred workbench where her arms had been folded into a cradle of heavy fabric and bone, protecting her face from making any unnecessary contact with the filthy table surface.

The knuckles of her left hand pressed uncomfortably into her right cheek. A red crayon twirled idly between the fingers of her right hand, leaving red slashes In the ruined wood. When it accidentally slipped from her grasp, she let it; she watched it roll away until it disappeared from her line of vision, and then she closed her eyes. With nothing left to interest her, she let her fingers curl in until her nails dug into the soft meat of her palm, pressing until it hurt, squeezing until the bright sting of pain began to feel good.

She thought of the debacle still taking place upstairs. Of Hoffman, trying to piece it all together. Of the other children, scrambling to cover up their involvement.

She thought of his hands in her hair, stinking of shoe polish. Dry and grabbing and rubbing and poking and rubbing and

Jennifer watching. Staring at his hands from across the room, petting and rubbing and reeking of stale smoke, though he’d made such a scene out of it, that whole financial debacle that was supposed to force him to give up his precious cigars. All the while watching with that look of helpless stupidity that Diana had come to associate with her.

She thought of her helpless tears and of

Meg watching with clinical interest. Though she brought Diana and flowers and other worthless trinkets, though she professed her love and devotion, her eyes behind those oversized glasses had watched unblinking as their dear old headmaster had vivisected her with practiced hands, cut into her with bloodless knives, opened her up wide to reveal the writhing maggoty mass beneath the ribbons of smooth skin. She had seen Meg cry before, as often as not a direct result of something she herself had done, and she had looked away, because it was undignified, because it made her uncomfortable to have Meg snotting and weeping and tear-sodden in front of her; Meg had watched with unwavering dedication, savoring every second of her vulnerability. Craving those crumbs of humanity.

She thought of his voice, so desperate and understanding, nearly begging her to give him some explanation with regard to his stupid beloved

mermaid

koi, the sole unlucky inhabitant of that disgusting aquarium that that always made his room stink of fish, begging, tell me what happened, tell me, but she wasn’t going to do any such thing, not with

Eleanor watching, or at least looking in her direction, the empty bird cage spinning half-forgotten in her hand. Clockwise, stop, counter clockwise, stop, clockwise, stop. Though the red bird it used to contain had since been lost to the ravenous demands of the Aristocracy, still it hung from Eleanor’s fist, that little prison as permanent as an appendage. Perhaps Diana would cut it off for her, and finally free her from that Forever Land foolishness that shackled her to the past.

All of them watching like Diana was something to be pitied.

They were wrong, of course.

She was

a beautiful mermaid

the Duchess, after all. Outranked only by the Princess, a bed-ridden little lump of frailty and sickness. Easily usurped should the desire arise. She didn’t expect it to, though – too much responsibility, none of which appealed to her. Let the phlegmy little worm be in charge. Diana had all she truly needed – plenty of power and ample opportunity to abuse it, and she was content with that, or at least as close to contentment as she would be able to attain.

The door opened unexpectedly, without so much as a courtesy knock to warn her that her moment of peace was about to be interrupted. Gray eyes slit open and focused on the figure standing in the door frame, empty cage in hand.

“What do you want, Eleanor?” Without waiting for a response, she turned and dropped her head back onto her arms with an audible sigh. Of course, it would be Eleanor. Her day simply hadn’t been dreadful enough.

“The Princess has called a meeting,” the Countess replied, sounding bored. It vexed Diana the way that the younger girl addressed her. It was insolent.

“What does she want, then?” Her voice sounded thick, muffled against the sleeve of her dress. She wished Eleanor would go away. She wished Wendy had sent Meg, instead. Meg would make excuses for her so she wouldn’t have to go all the way up to the attic.

“You,” she said, blandly, unoffended that Diana had balked at her proclamation. If their roles had been reversed, Diana would have been furious to have been challenged.

Groaning, she lifted her head slightly, so that she could speak clearly. “Is it important, at least?”

She supposed it was a foolish inquiry; nothing was important to Eleanor these days.

No response. Well, that was hardly surprising.

She dropped her head back into the crook of her arm with a groan. She was just so tired lately, and dealing with Wendy and her obsession with that pathetic rat Jennifer was exhausting.

She was probably going to be in trouble, anyway.

She was in no real hurry to be scolded.

Something shifted behind her. Hopefully just Eleanor finally leaving.

“Are you alright, Diana?”

Diana stiffened, shock rippling through her. Eleanor didn’t ask questions; Eleanor didn’t care.

When she looked back over her shoulder, the doorway was empty.

What —

Cold steel bumped against her bare leg, making her jump.

“Are you insane?” She hissed, resisting the urge to shove Eleanor backwards. She left that kind of unsightly behavior to heathens like the boys and Amanda, relying instead on covert brutality and more civilized punishments.

She’d just have to wait and find a good way to land Eleanor in the Onion Sack. She didn’t doubt that Meg would gladly help her in that pursuit. Once she’d dealt with Wendy, she’d find Meg.

“Get away from me.”

Eleanor cocked her head, not giving Diana an inch of space. “Well?”

“Well, what?”

Eleanor hesitated a moment, clearly undecided as to whether or not she actually wanted to pursue this conversation. Especially with the girl who had cut her bird open and filled it with rabbit shit.

Finally, her eyes locked on to Diana’s, and Diana felt the now familiar surge of contempt that Eleanor always seemed to inspire in her.

“Shhh,” she said, addressing the creepy little dolls that always got Jennifer all riled up. “The Countess has deemed us worthy and will now speak. We should be honored to be involved in this most historical of moments.”

Eleanor was unprovoked.

“Well?” Diana prompted, arms crossed. “Speak. I humbly request that you share your wisdom, Countess Eleanor of Forever Land.”

Eleanor didn’t so much as blink.

“You’re always down here by yourself. You barely talk to anyone –” Diana snorted at Eleanor’s audacious hypocrisy. “And you missed last month’s gift.” The smirk slid off Diana’s face, guilt sliding neatly into the vacancy. “Are you okay?” She repeated.

Diana glared at her. “What do you care?”

Eleanor shrugged. “I don’t. But you’re about to be demoted.”

Diana flared up, immediately indignant at the threat. “Because I missed one measly little gift?”

“Because you’re getting old.”

“I am not!” Clara’s miserable face flashed into her mind, but that pitiful creature she did shove away. “That’s ridiculous, and you know it.”

Eleanor turned her face away, twisting the cage one way, then the other. She offered Diana no opinion one way or the other. Typical.

A long moment passed, neither girl speaking. The red crayon she’d dropped earlier caught her eye, and she found herself reaching for it automatically. Rolling the thin stick of wax between her fingers, she felt an immediate wave of comfort roll over her.

It was short-lived.

“Wendy’s waiting.”

“Then she can keep waiting,” Diana snapped, thoughtfully tapping the crayon against the table before turning it over and beginning to draw. Head. Arms. Torso. “Tell her I fell on the way up the stairs and broke my elderly hip.”

The corner of Eleanor’s mouth twitched, but she remained stoic. Shrugging again, she turned her back to Diana and prepared to leave the basement, completely unimpressed by Diana’s show of defiance. She was only hurting herself. Let her.

The door shut quietly, and Diana was once more alone.

The crayon moved automatically, elongating the lower body into something almost serpentine. Two swollen petals at the bottom completed the tail.

Clara’s face swam back into her mind’s eye as she examined her drawing. Stupid, sniveling Clara with her mermaid fixation. Always babbling on about how they were all mermaids, or would become mermaids, or some other such rot.

That stupid girl, with her stupid fairy tales. All her nonsense about the King of Mer-land, drawn to the purity and beauty of mermaids.

The chimera disappeared beneath a sea of heavy red lines, the crayon clutched in her fist like a knife.

The King of Mer-land, hell. Rubbish.

She wasn’t any kind of mermaid, and never would be.

She was devoid of purity, and beauty.

She just had hands that smelled like fish.

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