The Sorrowful Wife

x-posted @ my a03 account

Fandom: Rule of Rose
Pairing: Hoffman/Clara
Summary: Days, and years, and entire lifetimes have passed since Hoffman abandoned his post as the headmaster at the Rose Garden Orphanage, but those little brats are still a constant thorn in his side. But not Clara, his sweet Clara. His refuge, his salvation… his terrible sin. His sorrowful wife.
A/N: This story is part of a 14-part album fic challenge, in which each song from a single album will serve as inspiration for the story. The album I chose is “And No More Shall We Part” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.


It has not been easy.

I have not slept well since it happened.

Since I left.

I see it in my dreams, that horrid building. It waits for me, crouched in the corners of my wandering mind, looming in the creases of my eyelids, so that when I lie down at night and close my eyes, it drops heavily into view. I see it plainly, every inch and every detail. The enormous, rusted lock on the gate. The rows of darkened windows punched into the grimy walls. That odd picture they’d drawn of the dog, candy spraying from its screaming mouth.

Stray Dog gives us sweets.

I took Diana by her shoulders and shook her until her head wobbled and her eyes filled with tears. “What is this “stray dog” nonsense?”

Stray Dog kidnaps kids.

“Answer me, damn you!” She cried out when I struck her, but only once. After that, there was only the sharp sound of my hand on her flesh, and the anger in my voice as I demanded an answer that she would not surrender.

The shame bubbles up in me, every memory is a slap to my own face. It is inescapable, what I have done.

Inescapable, yes. The irony of it. I left in the middle of the night like a coward and a monster, but I am still there. I can never go back, but I can never leave.

I am trapped there as surely as they were.

It has not been easy.

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Barefoot in the Dark – Prologue

Fandom: Rule of Rose

Summary: A child goes missing without explanation; Eleanor resolves to find her. Also available at ao3.

It was vicious cold outside on the balcony, but she didn’t mind so much. It was just as vicious cold on the inside where Diana and Meg skulked and slithered; where Miss Martha the cleaning witch scolded and complained; where Mr Hoffman petted and whispered and slipped into the dormitory to watch them undress, insisting that he was simply there to keep them on task.

Hurry up and take off your dress, there’s no time for dawdling. When was the last time you changed your underwear, you dirty little wretch? No mummy and daddy is ever going to want a child who can’t take care of themselves. Give them to me, I’ll take them to the filth room for you…

Where everyone stopped what they were doing to point at her, the new girl, and hiss and snipe to each other as they stared at her with open distrust. The new girl, as if though she’d done it on purpose.

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Sorrow’s Child, chapter 2

Sorrow’s Child

Fandom: Rule of Rose

Summary: Game events from Clara’s point-of-view, probably. I actually have no idea where I’m going with this.

Chapter 2

Mr Hoffman bids us good morning. His voice crackles and breaks over the speakers.

I’m the last one awake; the others are already crowded around one of the long tables that crouch in the center of the dormitory, grinding crayons down to misshapen stubs as they hiss and giggle at each other.

The table is festooned with paper and colored sticks of wax. Scraps of paper lay scattered about, bearing the words “Boarding Pass” above a large fish. A scrawny mermaid lingers on a black slash of rock; an enormous pink pig idles in a sea of grass; a red bird strains for the empty sky, tethered to the wrist of a scraggly child, the words “Forever Land” carefully etched across the top of the page. Forever unreachable.

They go silent as I approach. Diana puts her crayon down and crosses her arms across her chest, and smiles at me with enough hostility to make me flinch and look away.

“We thought you were dead,” she says, sounding disappointed. Margaret presses her knuckles to her mouth and snickers, ever faithful to our tormentor.

They look at me across the table and wait for me to respond, but what can I can possibly say to diffuse their rage?

The door opens, and Jennifer slips in, her short, boyish hair still mussed with sleep as she tugs at the sleeves of her rumpled dress.

The door slams shut behind her. Diana and Margaret jump in their seats, startled by the noise. Their attention shifts, and takes their animosity with it.

Diana smiles again and unfolds her arms.

“Well, Jennifer,” she says, “you’re as late as ever. Won’t Mr Hoffman be impressed.”

With their focus on fresher prey, I sneak out of the dormitory, my relief a dull ache beneath the throbbing shame of my cowardice.

But she would have done the same, I think.

Only Margaret willingly submits herself to Diana’s cruelty. The rest of us scatter like mice and pray that we’re quick enough to avoid the claws at our backs.

* * *

Wendy is sitting up in bed by the time I bring her breakfast in. She offers me a tiny smile before erupting into a coughing fit that rattles her fragile body.

“Good morning, Clara,” she says when it subsides. She sets aside a stuffed bunny to make room on her lap for the food tray. She frowns slightly at the sight of her morning meal, but doesn’t waste energy complaining; Jennifer would sneak her sweets throughout the day, supplementing her diet with candy and chocolate and biscuits. Oatmeal was merely a formality as this point.

I poke my fingers through the wire bars of Peter’s cage while she fiddles with her utensils and lets the food grow cold. The rabbit huddles against the back of the cage, wide-eyed and shivering. He watches me with cold distrust.

The rejection embarrasses me. I pull my hand away from the cage, a tiny spark of anger flickering to life in the middle of my chest.

Stupid rabbit. It shouldn’t even be allowed inside, its hutch is out in the yard. Animals belong outside. Wendy’s frailty affords her special treatment, though.

Wendy smiles at me across her untouched oatmeal. “Thank you,” she says, gently pushing the tray away. “It was very good.”

Peter’s face twitches. Red eyes stare dumbly ahead at nothing.

Stupid, wretched thing.

* * *

The kids are playing Airship in the hallway.

I suppose that’s what the boarding passes were for.

They abandon their game and go still and quiet whenever I approach.

I make up reasons to excuse my presence – Mr Hoffman needs something from some room, Miss Martha needs something else from another.

They just look up at me impatiently, eager for my departure.

I go back to the sick room.

The sheets are rumpled. There’s a small wet patch near the middle. I rip them back from the mattress, my fingers curled as I claw at them.

The stains are waiting.

* * *

Wendy is lying down when I bring her her dinner.

Peter watches from the back of his cage, eyes wild with helpless stupidity.

I shove the cage roughly with my foot as I approach the bed, softly calling Wendy’s name in an attempt to rouse her.

Her eyelids slit open; her blue eyes are pale seas of pity. “I’m not hungry,” she moans.

Another coughing fit.

I gather up a small mountain of candy wrappers and stuff them into my pockets; Mr Hoffman will scold the both of us if he finds out she’s been gorging herself on sweets instead of “proper” food.

“You should eat something,” I try, knowing already that it’s useless. She moans again and presses her face into her pillow. “For me?”

Nothing.

I dump the mealy vegetables into Peter’s cage before leaving.

He’ll eat them, or he won’t. Either way, his cage is so filthy they’ll hardly be a noticeable problem, even if they’re left to rot. Most importantly, Mr Hoffman will be pleased to hear that “Wendy” ate something healthy for once.

* * *

It’s still dark out when something spoils my sleep. A door opening and closing. My stomach curdles as I draw my knees up, curling into a tight ball of clammy skin and pulsing blood. Lying beneath the thin, scratchy blanket, I wait for the hand on my shoulder, the silent, undeniable command to follow.

Seconds tick by, birthing minutes.

I can’t help but look.

Despite the late hour, the dormitory is empty.

There’s a boarding pass at the foot of my bed.

Sorrow’s Child, chapter 1

Sorrow’s Child

Fandom: Rule of Rose

Summary: Game events from Clara’s point-of-view, probably. I actually have no idea where I’m going with this.

Chapter 1

It’s raining again…

All of the children are outside, even Wendy; she’s been doing much better, coughing much less frequently. Mr Hoffman said it would be okay, just for a little while… we need to indulge her from time to time.

The sick room is empty, except for me. The bed smells damp, like sweat and illness. The blood stains and drips and spots have faded, leaving a dull red-brown garden, and I can’t help but recall the way she’d screamed… calling for her father as roses bloomed beneath her.

Rain lashes at the window. Voices rise above it.

Laughter.

Screaming.

Then nothing.

I pull the sheets up, exposing the mattress. The stains are darker here. We didn’t try as hard to clean it.

It’s too late now.

I stretch the sheet back across it, smoothing it down with my hands.

The silence unnerves me.

I listen for the rain; it’s hard to find beneath the screaming.

But my head is full of it.

I pull the sheets back, exposing the mattress. The stains are waiting.

The silence eats away at my sanity, sometimes nibbling at the edges, sometimes pulling it away in chunks. At night I can hear it chewing.

I wish they’d come back inside…

Sometimes it’s like I’m all alone in here…

I don’t like… I don’t want to be…

My hands get tangled in thin fabric. Mr Hoffman hasn’t even bothered to turn on his scratchy old records… the ones he thinks create a “cheerier atmosphere” in this dreary land of tiny cast-offs, of unhappy forgottens.

A dusty, old lost and found bin where nothing was ever retrieved, because nothing lost was ever missed.

Faulty products.

Returned merchandise.

I wish…

I don’t know what I wish.

There’s no use in it, anyway, is there?

In wishing?

Wishing lives in a world dying; it opens the windows and doors, it lets in the hurting. The sheets are damp with it. I pull them back to expose the mattress. The stains seem darker this time.

It gets into the walls. It seeps into my clothes.

My skin is slick with it. The stains are darkest there.

Downstairs erupts like thunder. Miss Martha’s voice is feral; they’ve tracked mud into the house.

It’s no wonder, she shrieks, half-mad with fury and disbelief, it’s no wonder the lot of you are still here. Who on earth would be senseless enough to allow this kind of filth into their own homes?

No one, I suppose, though I wish she would keep that kind of cruel honesty to herself. They hardly need reminding. Even Olivia is well aware of the dwindling number of visitors hoping to select a hopeful addition.

I see the way the older ones look at me…

They may still… even Diana… someone might… she’s a pretty girl…

The door opens behind me.

Margaret smiles at me from behind her enormous spectacles. Her little teeth glisten in the menacing curve of her mouth. Her eyes glitter with malice. She bends her knees in an exaggerated courtesy, holding her skirt up with little pincer fingers.

“Miss Martha needs you,” she says loudly. She glares up at me like an insect. Our difference in height has always made her contentious; she seems to feel that I’ve grown older out of spite. “You’d be wise not to dawdle like you always do; Miss Martha is having a bird. You and that filthy rat Jennifer are expected to clean up the mess the boys made in the front hall.”

She’s gone before I can respond. The door slams shut behind her.

I pull the sheet back over the mattress. The stains disappear.

The doorknob twists in my hand; the hallway is as empty as the sick room, and twice as quiet.

The floor is crayon scarred. I step soundlessly onto the train tracks.

I can hear Miss Martha calling for me through the door.

The knob is as smooth and cold as bone beneath my fingers. I can hear the rain, still, clattering against the roof.

Laughter.

Screaming.

Laughter.

Miss Martha and Mr Hoffman yelling above the chaos, reminding everyone that their dirty clothes belong in the filth room, not on the floor.

Mr Hoffman smiles when he sees me. I cross my arms across my chest and watch my feet dragging me across the room.

The mud is waiting. The new girl is holding a mop and bucket, as if though she actually intends to use it.

Children and adults disband, until it’s only myself and the new girl. I join her amidst the mire and muck.

She hums to herself as she idly wipes at the same smudge of dirt, waiting for me to finish.

The speakers attached to the wall spring to life with a static-y whine and Jennifer’s humming gives way to an endless loop of scratchy music.

Our “cheery atmosphere” is covered in mud.