katja drops into an exaggerated curtsey, invitation still folded in her trouser pocket. hair scandalously loose around her shoulders. if misses hastings wants to spend an afternoon with ‘the woman once known as katja sørenson’, then that’s who mathilda intends to give her– even if she had the patience for a moment’s more pretending, she doesn’t think that’s what the woman is after, anyway. something in the tone of the invite gave her an inkling to it; she’s met the type before.
“what would you call me? why not choose for yourself. then you can ensure the answer is something interesting.” mathilda slinks into the chair, crosses her legs, and already she’s leaning forward towards the other woman. as if she’s something too natural, too animal, to know what shyness is, let alone when to slip modestly into its facsimile. “otherwise, give me something in return. a secret for a secret. an admission of past and person. what’s your worst, sweetheart?”
“i’d call you a number of names.” a gentle tip of her head to the side, and the few strands of hair that she had chosen to pull from their pins fell along the length of her neck. what sharp contrast to the wild movements of the other! winnie felt electrified by the way she moved, she sat, she looked. the simple form of her body existing without the weight of what that existence might mean. “never the same thing twice --- the name of an old lover i would never confess to miss or the name of a man i once dreamed of.”
the exchange was offered: a secret for a name. it only delighted winnie further, this play of an old game, this inquiry. a brilliant smile found itself on her features, and she brought her cup of tea to her lips, taking her time to think of something worthy of the strange woman.
“a secret for a secret,” she mused. “they must be equal in value, yes? how odd, then, that you ask for my worst.” do you think your name the worst you can offer? do you think your true self, your first self, as something small and ugly? finally, she took a sip of the tea. finally, she answered, “on the subject of names --- i think i shall keep mine, hastings that is, despite the fact my dear husband has chosen a less than noble path for his future. there is something delightful to stealing this last thing of his, to turning it into something that is wholly mine.” a meeting of their eyes. “will that suffice?”
she is lovely in the way foolish things are; reminds them of sapphire-breasted birds that trill on their windowsill in the morning and return in the paws of their tabby with their necks twisted come sundown.
they have taken them apart, bone by bone, and imagine this girl before them is built not too differently. fracture-sweet like a melody should you know the right places to touch her.
“is that so? tell me, princess - “ this is a game where you and i step closer and closer, angling heads just to make some sliver of space between us exist. scandalous.
“ - have you heard of a story where the princess survives in the end?” do eyes glimmer gold like the linings of your childhood home? or do you just want them to?
“i have not myself, but i would not be opposed to hearing one with a different ending. or another with the same kind of tragedy. one can never get enough of misery, especially when you live in it.” they return back to their space behind the desk, smiles widening as they pull a key from one of the many hanging on the wall behind them; ornate and bronzed. they step out from the front and gesture for the girl to follow, heels clicking softly against the carpet.
“i would be more than happy to help, miss. how about i lead you to your room and you tell me what kind of story you wish to hear from me?”
winifred has played the game before --- it was the only game she knew, if she decided to be honest. ( honesty was a luxury that she had never quite found herself in the right mind to purchase. ) and the other, this stranger in a strange land, seemed a master at it. how rare that was, to find an equal! to find someone who saw the beauty of it all, the despair of it.
the receptionist looked at her with eyes that said: let me see the bones of you, the white-spun framework. if winnie was playing their game properly, she might shyly look away. she might let the other believe they have won her, for she had always been such a delicious thing to win.
but winnie did not look away. there was glimpse of gold in the receptionist’s gaze, the same color of her wedding band. she did not look away out of spite and bitter longing.
“if the princess survived, she would not be remembered. if she was allowed to grow old --- have you ever heard of a story where the princess is allowed age and ugliness?” the receptionist pulled a key out, and winnie watched, mesmerized, empty. the other spoke of a tragedy with the familiarity of someone who lived in one. “so the princess will always die. swallowed by ice or shot by someone who might be a friend. and we talk of their tragedies, breathless. but remember: i ran from the title. i grow old now.”
winnie followed; of course she followed.
“mrs. winifred hastings,” she introduced herself. take my name, take my hand, take me. “i want to hear a story of you.” she thought for a moment, feeling the weight of the request. “i don’t care about the truth. tell me a story of how you wished something had happened. change your history for me.”
He half-anticipates, half-attunes to it, rather than hears it proper. The swish of skirts, the soft thud of flesh and fabric against the woodprint; the benchmark Winnie always rose up to, rose up against. He connects point to motion, thigh to desk; can imagine she’s hoisted herself there like some hunting trophy in reverse. Henry’s letter opener, not one weapon less.
Marcus veers from the window, sharp, and invective already on his mouth, an order to cull such girlish impulses—but then his eyes stick to her. Sweet, saccharine, show off. It still works. He takes it in, the full sugar span of her body. And he smiles. Ducks his head, temple pressed to glass. Blinks at her, sandpaper eyelids; thinks he might lay his head on her lap, if this was another story. If this was still a point where he could receive it.
❝ You can put it down. This… tittering charade. You’d give me a telling off, and I know it. About how I’ve just turned diplomacy on its arse. How I’ve fucked over every rule in the book. The book. Winnie, the truth is, the sodding thing can burn. ❞ He drifts away from the window; something both aimless and purposeful at once. Drapes his body closer to the desk, closer to the shape she leaves on it. In the sun-down waver, his shadow cuts into hers.
❝ I won’t speak to them as rhetoric; won’t give them some grand Catilina to chew on, gawk at. I’ll talk to each one by one, when the moment calls. As men do. As people must. Real people. Not tacticians, not theater. I’ll tell them why I want to move further into Asia, and beyond, and I’ll do so outside of diplomacy. What a notion to fancy—that the outside even exists. That chaos can take out the veneer. That something genuine can be gleaned underneath it all. Hearts of men, hm? You ought know best. ❞
The Captain’s laughter rings tired, rings low. He sketches a wave. Sweeping dismissal, disavowing notion and note. Not dismissive of her, though. Or, fairer still, not of her as she is today, but of her as she was—of them as they had been. Pawns, rooks, waltz steps and cannon salves. They had thought the world of their own cunning, mettle and might; had blasted on about their ability to see through, see beyond. And yet they walked right into it. Hadn’t they? Her ring, her ringless finger; his epaulets, the rust and oxide of it.
Winnifred, dearest: what a poor show we cut. What a long time it took for us to make a call. A choice that was really ours; not pushed, not pulled along, but seized. And is this even it? Can you tell me that much? Are we finally breaking into something else, or just tearing ourselves mad, tearing ourselves to shreds out of the mold?
❝ Yes, Lady Hastings; I do believe I will keep the shadow. Believe, between you and I, there’s little choice in that regard. I’ll simply not have it be English. ❞
“you’re filling in words for me, my sweet man --- pretending they come from me, when they come from yourself.” he asked her to put it down, to take the charade and set it aside; she took a new mask instead, a mask shaped like a mirror, and held it over her features. the mask said: you cannot ask for honesty without giving it. the mask said: the honesty we shape has never been anything more than the shadows behind us.
she turned, her hands finding either side of his face. ( for a moment, she imagined a world where she might hold him instead; she found herself grateful that love had never tainted this thing they carry between them. ) “marcus estrada, listen to me. brave men have never followed the book, and i am so tired of not being near to a brave man.” here it came, the belief, the devotion --- the knowledge that she would never be the brave one. “do you think you are the only one who would burn it, if given a match?”
captain, you made the shot; it is time to live with the kill.
captain, let me help you turn the bullet you used into gold, let me convince the world the blood you have spilled is wine that we can drink, that we can be merry from. let me continue the only path i have been allowed.
winnie let out a sigh, the same soft parting of lips she had given to her husband when they shared a bed. a false glow and a relief it was done. “that is enough, i think, for now. do you hear it?” her hands dropped from him. she hoped she might remember it rightly, as she spread it from passenger to passenger. ( the captain will hand us the newborn foal of truth and trust us in a way we have never been trusted. speak to us in a way we have never been spoken to. ) “they’ll be grateful for the show of heart and might, and they won’t think of anything else. you will make a fine captain, marcus --- you will be what we need.”
is that how victory is measured, then? who is left standing on the field after the battle has concluded? who gets to place his foot atop his dead enemy’s chest and use his blood for ink? mary shelley lives, but was it not she who had taught that the line between those that still draw breath and those who are buried is gossamer thin? is not victor standing here now the very proof of the thing–that the dead should be burned to their ashes, or their wrath should be feared by their self appointed conquerors? he wants to ask the woman who stands before him, her pearlescent teeth sharpened into fine points by the wars of the english roses, how one is meant to survive such a game, to be remembered when his withered hands can no longer pick up pen–
but then again, perhaps she stands here with him now, gazing at him with eyes that he is surprised ever managed to convince anyone that they were anything other than calculating and penetrative, because she would have no answer to give to such a question. perhaps he is not the only one onboard in the business of trying to stage a resurrection. may the rest of the world tremble at such a thought–for what could be more terrifying, more miraculous, than the return of the queen, victor stood beside her with his pen as sword?
which is why he gives his best boyish grin and shrug of his shoulders, rubs a hand across the back of his neck. a diamond in the rough–something made from nothing at all, isn’t that what every well-bred woman wants? proof of her powers to alter the world around her? “i do not fault them for their shortcomings of imagination.” he chuckles, shrugs his shoulders again. “horror, terror, those are the most difficult emotions to put to page because all human beings experience them differently. not to mention the fact that our minds are not meant to fathom fear in a pure and honest way–we have too many defense mechanisms.”
he meets her gaze, and raises an eyebrow before he moves his eyes just beyond her shoulder, to where the rocky coastline of the island stretches out before them like an infected gash, cutting across the constant motion of the sea. “you deserve better than to be simply impressed, ms. hastings, you should always be amazed by words, by story.” he says, and plays at worrying his bottom lip between his teeth in thought for a long moment, as if the words aren’t already fluttering around his mind like anxious moths around a streetlight. “you ask how i would describe it? i would say that we are like dante, but our horrors are worsened because we lack our vergil to make sense of the things we have seen. i would also tell you that it is a terrifying thing indeed, to make it to the lowest level of hell, the icy abyss where satan fell from heaven itself, and find that the devil will not show his face to you. to find that the devil has been everyone you’ve known, shared a meal with, a glass of wine and a kiss with, all along.”
"and romance at the center of it, yes?” the same of one could be said of another: we have too many defense mechanisms. we cannot experience true horror or true love because of it. she decided to adore him then, in that moment, for that breath alone --- to believe his boyish grin, to believe he could be more because she had the capability of making him so. she cupped his cheek a moment, fingertips brushing against skin, rolling herself onto the toes of her kitten-heeled shoes. a touch there and then gone, a deal made that neither of them yet had the words for: we have use of one another. “what is horror but romance turned feral? what is terror but the realization of it?”
and then he spoke again, let the words swallow him, look out from him, complete the missing pieces of him.
she proved herself a wondrous audience; who could resist being captivated by his words, by the way he crafted them together, ice bit by ice bit? he balanced himself carefully, lovingly: she heard his words and the response that would come to them.
( is it true you knew him first, mrs. hastings? is it true you were the one who allowed him to thrive? might you introduce us? )
“it sounds like we may have a virgil after all,” she returned, her voice soft and thoughtful. in awe, as she ought to be. “you have done more to make sense of it than a good portion of the crew, and how easy you let slide such dangerous ideas!” a hand to her chest, curling in the loose strands of her pearls. “you must know your danger; you must know how you will spark the curiosity of us. asking us to peer closely at the faces we know, to see if we might find dear lucifer reflected there. you say it is terrifying, but it sounds all that and more.” she gave a startled laugh as she realized it. “you’ve made it sound romantic after all.”
open to all
the north wind murmurs with rumours, gossiping with the sea breeze and bringing home whispers that slip through the cracks of the city and into the ears of its people. they leave the windows open for exactly this reason: the north wind will come with news, the west with secrets, and the stray tabby needs a way to come in once its done with it wanderings.
prepared, they are, since the first mutterings of a foreign ship started to mumble some days ago. the rooms have been ready for quite some time now, and as the wind speaks louder and louder outside the hotel, they know it is only a matter of moments.
the door opens and they are nothing if not expectant. the wind stills and the stray tabby lifts its head from its curled rest on the countertop, the receptionist behind it already smiling in a way that is both warm and distant.
“haven’t you come a ways to reach me? come in, come in - it’s cold and there is nothing but space here/” they beckon. the cup of tea in their hands is freshly brewed, waiting for you.
“tell me, what is your home to you? i promise we will do our best to replicate it.” large gold hoops dangle from ears as they tilt their head coquettishly, eyes surveying the stranger with lips split into rosebud smiles. “or perhaps you tire of home? tell me what kind of place you wish to be in and we can see what strings we can pull for you, how about that?”
it was, of course, the luxury that drew her in --- a glimpse of her former life, a glimpse of golden things and well-deserved loveliness. winifred hastings would willingly look past the oddities of the port, the emptiness of the hotel, the beauty that covered up hollowness if it meant that she could be within it for a while. let her pretend, let her match it. something displayed, something false. ivory covering up scales.
“oh, i’ve come so far!” she exclaimed, clasping her hands together. it did not suit one like her to be delighted by luxury; she ought to expect it. but she was delighted. she felt she might cry with the relief of it. ( with the relief that no money was requested, no proof of her furs. ) the receptionist beckoned; foolish winnie came.
what is your home to you?
winnie did miss her home. she missed her clothes, her pearls, her staff. she missed her friends and the gossip she told of them. she missed being mrs. winifred hastings.
( didn’t she? didn’t she? cling to the only thing you know, beauty. )
“home is a palace,” she announced boldly. “i am a princess there, did you know? my feet hardly touched the ground. but i will tell you a secret ---” she leaned nearer to the receptionist, secret smile matching secret smile. “i ran away from it all. left it behind. so i will not request much. a soft bed, a warm bath. tea taken with someone new, willing to share a story with me about something other than the sea. is it possible? will you help me with this?”
She’s heard the voice before. Is acquainted enough with most of the ship to guess a name purely by absence. And still the woman is right, they have not been properly introduced, not by the measure of names.
“Mrs Hastings. Do you prefer that, or would you rather something else?” It might be a double-barreled question, when she’s fairly certain she hasn’t heard of another Hastings aboard with any connection. Yet she could have slipped, it’s likely, when she hasn’t taken to greeting every single person as a potential new friend in quite a while. Since before the island, in fact. It seems silly to let it eat at her conscience, after all of that, and still it does.
“I’m Ayla. That suits me just fine.” Reaches gently, to loop her arm with the other’s. “There. You shall never have to be alone again, if you do not wish it.” A terribly unkind idea, that Winifred has been left without company. A much easier problem to solve than anything else.
Holds to fall in step, as the other leads at her side. On a now rogue vessel there are still hauntings of society.
“Have recent events plagued you beyond that?”
Her tone does not shift, makes her seem such a docile thing. And it’s casual anyhow, she’s genuinely interested. Would rather have an answer from someone who can not disappoint her, someone she has no expectations of.
“Or are you glad to be leaving London for the future?” Turns her cheek only slightly, to look to Winifred beside her, the implication of requesting permission, “If you don’t mind my asking? It does seem to be what everyone’s taken up with.”
“lady hastings, if you please. after all, a title is all a woman may possess these days, although --- ” she glanced ‘round the hall, leaned in nearer. there was always a point to gossip: it might be an anchor, a bond; it might be an iceberg with a hidden depth. “i’ve heard rumors that a group in new york is trying to organize a women’s rights convention. can you imagine? if it happens, ayla dear, you may call me winnie.”
there came the sigh of relief at the feel of the other’s arm. marcus might save them all with guns, steel, and vicious authority, but sometimes, all it took to save another was the touch of skin to skin. this was their secret.
perhaps winifred simply trained herself to look for the hidden meaning; perhaps she learned it was always there, intended or not. the girl asked her question with such sickly sweetness, winnie could not help but see it as a dollop of sugar mixed with a sprinkle of poison somewhere. and winnie would take it all, let it settle in her stomach and do with her as it pleased.
ayla dowling, she might love you for a day. until she finds her next well-painted doll.
winnie turned her head to ayla with a delighted pearl of a smile. “you may ask me whatever you wish, dove.” what did questions reveal, where answers failed? had the other guessed as much? a cascade of motive. “i left london because i could. i had a dream of it, a dream of hosting a ball on the ice. all the officers in their finest clothes, and my husband madly jealous of them as i danced all night. he brought me roses at the end and declared himself mad for me all over. is that not a wonderful, shallow reason to go the ends of the world?”
“now, here is where i confess: you cannot ask such a question without expecting one in return.” she led the girl farther down the hall, taking a turn in the narrow space. “why are you loitering near the sickbay?”
She comes to him with the steadiness of a ship’s chandler, a seasoned gait and a supply to match it. What will you buy today, her face says, even as her hands rifle anywhere but on the money purse. Shall it be turpentine? Varnish? Or just the usual repairs to pride to purpose? His St. Helena in the fog.
He’d known Winnifred Hastings all his grown life. No, earlier still: boyhood. Was around sixteen when she’d first come to London, and was looking much the same, in the gist of it, the nub of sharp teeth, bets you call but cannot match. For all that the clothes on her were quite another sight. He remembers furs, silk hats that drooped like lambrequins. Remembers silver nets, feathers, plumage, until the rumour went that you could see the trail of her through every bedchamber she visited. Molting snake skins, molting whims.
He would take her down at Carlton, have her laugh the roughshod machismo out of soldiers. He’d show her the dregs, the faint residue, that still stood proof there’s a life outside England, or France, or the States. In return, she would set him up with new money, bloodless money. There were some places not even his father’s bills could reach: what you needed was clean gold, the kind that shines like a newborn’s forehead. It was Hastings’ friends that gave it to him, back then. It strikes him, now, that neither of them had loved the things they had to do for it. No, perhaps never. But that’s all there was, no? Noblesse oblige.
So how can he explain it to her, now, that everything he’s doing is against it?
❝ Rest easy, Lady Macbeth I won’t ask you to clean my mess for me. ❞ The smile is donned, but doesn’t reach anything else. Marcus draws back to the window hull. ❝ Though there’s something to be said, here, isn’t it? About your art with a sponge, with a brush? About how good you’d be at twisting it inside out? ❞ He speaks without turning: a strategic misstep, perhaps, a thing that goes against the tenets of manipulation. Or perhaps it’s exactly the opposite. He wants her to know he’s not playing his hand.
The Captain’s eyes stay trained to the waves. The sea, the open sea. His fingers seize into a fist. ❝ You can tell them whatever you want. Weave a story, muck the whole thing up, it’s all the same. None of them will understand anyway, will they? How a life could look without England’s long shadow hovering like a crow to the dead. I’ll have to show them, first. We’ll have to. What do you say, Winnie? Will you kill the past with me? ❞
they were partners, even here, even now --- even without recognizing it, even while leaving it cold and trembling. tell me a joke, i’ll give you a laugh --- both roles crucial for a successful comedy. tell me a tragedy, i’ll show you a broken heart. one could not move through the world easily without the other; they allowed themselves to build it, separately but together, standing on the tender, breaking backs of connections. even if he thought himself through with it here, far into the melting ice, she knew the truth of the matter: they had fashioned themselves into these dark creatures, they had chosen to dance with masks. shedding them would not be so easy.
he did not look at her, so she made herself something that must be looked at.
“oh, marcus. you’re so dramatic.” she walked to his desk and found her seat on top of it.
“‘ none of them will understand ’? have you spoken to the guests at all? they long for exactly that --- for understanding to what’s occurred. because, and you must believe me on this, they are eager for you; you've given them a way forward, if only you remind them.” weave a story, he asked, not realizing it began in the great cabin, it began with the pair of them. a thrill traveled through her: here was where their hands closed around the neck of the past, here was where they squeezed. “few took such a long, dangerous voyage because they love england. there’s power to be had in the need for escape.”
a slight tilt of the head, a review of his form against the window. “is that what you want, captain estrada? to find a new life somewhere away from the english shadow?”
Each flower that fell ‘round his feet only heightened the young man’s fervor. It was all the encouragement he needed; the boo that followed once he’d finished, brow sweat-beaded, was all the heckling he didn’t.
“Thank you, w— miss Daisy,” minds himself of the day’s name and gives a hasty half bow, now that the crowd’s largely left them. Them and, this bastard. Busking, no matter how pretty the music, was an oft ugly grind. The last time he’d let his guard down on the heels of a set, someone had made off with his tip collection hat. This time, he’s ready ( and perhaps he overcompensates, ) when the boo is followed up by a spent cigarette flicked square into the hat.
The rancor has Leo’s head snapping about. His response is passionate, to say the least. He’d never exactly gotten by on good behavior coming up. Leo wrinkles his nose in a searing scoff, lets out a “Yeah? Let’s see you up here, you—” and starts forward. Grinding obscenities to dust between his teeth, violin clutched in a vice-grip at the neck as he all but makes a break for the man.
there was excitement to being a starving artist --- to the freedom which came from giving into one’s art, a sort of agreement between oneself and the world. i will foster this talent, if you protect it. but what about when that agreement was broken? what about when you held out your work to the world, and the world spit at it in return? excitement of a different kind: a burst of violence, a burst of heart. leonard lit up brilliantly at the sound of the heckler. nearly as beautiful as the music itself --- what one might do to defend it.
but she did not want to see her dear friend hurt, and, for as young as she was, she already had her fair share of experience in redirecting such unexpected explosions. this, at least, was born of something easy enough to soothe.
winifred daisy stuffed her half-drawing away as she followed behind leo with light steps. the heckler had the gall to grin at them both, but just before leo reached him, she looped her arm around his waist, using their momentum to pull him entirely past the other man.
she directed a brilliant smile over his shoulder at the heckler. “now, now, do remember your manners,” she gently chided, grip firm on her dear, passionate musician. turning back toward leonard, she stood on the tips of her toes and ruffled the mess of his hair. “even god had his critics,” she told him, and instead of waiting for an answer, she continued pulling him ( note: dragging him, with a shocking amount of strength for someone so small ) away from the scene.
time: several days into august.
“i’m so glad you found your way here,” came the greeting as the other woman entered the space. an invitation had been put forth, as proper etiquette dictated, and an invitation had been answered. mrs. winifred hastings invites the woman once known as katja sørenson to mid-morning tea and conversation in the wardroom. of course, tea was never just tea. on the grand table meant for officers and only the richest, winnie made sure the whiskey also sat, innocent and ready to be touched.
“katja hardly seems to fit you now. what might i call you?” a question that might define or strangle, offered with a teacup set in a nearby spot. “or rather --- who do you choose to be today?”
for here was the truth of the situation, written in delightful betrayal and dramatic reveal: the little translator had finally become interesting.
WHEN – AFTER THE MUTINY
WHERE – THE TOP DECK
WITH – OPEN
how transformative is light.
had it not been days ago, that this place had seemed something brought into being by the lips of dante himself? had they all not gazed out of windows, stood upon the top deck in the darkness, and expected to hear the moaning of cain carried across the empty space by the eternal wind? had not estrada, in all of his endless wisdom, looked cassius and brutus in the eyes as they dangled above the mouths of the devil and pretended he did not see them there, before he enacted their final crime? had he not looked upon the spidering cracks of ice and imagined himself as that very angel, cast out of heaven, fallen to this place to be trapped?
he looks upon it now, cast in sunlight, and such things feel like moments from a dream, poorly remembered upon waking. it’s almost beautiful, in such a way that exists in complete opposition to the terror that the darkness had inspired–the ice has now given way to homer’s wine dark, black blood sea, strong and promising movement in every rolling wave, the sun casts light upon every rock spire on the island, making it appear more like a fortress, a castle a maiden might emerge from, beckoning weary travelers inside with the promise of rest. even the cold somehow feels more gentle in its bite, like a puppy that has not yet grown teeth, or chooses not to use them while engaged in play with a littermate. it laps gently at the exposed skin of his cheeks with rough tongue.
he inhales it deeply, feels the corners of his mouth pull upwards–before he hears the approaching footsteps behind him. he does not speak, in the hopes that the person will think him engaged in serious contemplation, or overwhelmed by the events of the past forty eight hours–but they are undeterred. so he exhales and turns his gaze towards the rocky shore, shrugs one shoulder with a clipped gesture.
“i keep thinking about ozymandias.” he says quietly. “that the wind will blow away the sand and there they’ll be–his trunkless legs of stone.” he shakes his head, does not meet their gaze. “at least then it would all make sense–he warned us that if we looked upon his works we mighty would despair.” a breeze forces him to tuck his hands into the pockets of his coat, and he finally glances over, to meet the gaze of his new companion. “it’s a poem–shelley. percy, not mary–though i think mary is the superior author.”
there was something truly romantic contained within the field of literature --- a view of the world that only the writers seemed to understand, despite their desperate drive to describe it to others. he lived within it; he wore it with every breath. he looked out, and somehow, the weight of the in shined from him.
winnie did not know if she hated or envied him. his gift was becoming clearer, his purpose more so. and what of her? always the question. what of her?
“of course mary is the superior of the two --- she’s the one still alive.” how frowned upon they both had been within the hastings household; how much she had enjoyed bringing together those deemed scandalous in the arts all the same. ( her husband had never quite understood that what she was doing was entertaining the future. ) what secrets did they possess that so emboldened them to greatness? a more direct question: did she see it within the young man, that hunger, that terrible drive that left poets dead but remembered? “but i must admit i have grown to hardly care for either shelley here. don’t you find them lacking in the imagination of true horror? could they ever have conceived of what we see today?”
a laugh like they were in on a secret together, and then a shy covering of her mouth with her fingertips, as if afraid that secret might make itself known. “answer me this, my charming man: how would you describe it? impress me.”
She’s paced the hall there many a time, or witnessed Jack do it. The absurd thing is that she wouldn’t wish to go back to it, not if it meant happiness had been missed for other people. Even if it changed the present. For who could tell what horrors would be in place of the ones they suffer now.
Halts pacing, to lean against the wall, hand pressed there to hold. Hold on. Take a breath, close her eyes, count the cracks of ice she can see and hear. Count the seconds that pass as she watches Vladya be taken. Count the times she can see Philippa’s breath or believe she does.
A noise scatters her thoughts, as gunpowder streaks across her vision for it too. Imagines it must track back to footsteps, the heavy indignity of those that are armed. And really that means anyone, for the hallway already has her, and she’s set up camp with them. They keep to her head, and her back, and her gaze. The flash of rifles, and the grasping of arms, both types. The welcome home.
Thinks to walk into sickbay, for she’ll be tortured by whoever approaches, or she’ll be tortured if Pippy is past the doors. At least there she could be some use, instead of standing. Oh, she’s not, she’s.. Oh. Immediately pushes against her hand to stand up, straight, shoulders back, chin up, posture perfect. Fuck if they’ll get to see anything different. Fuck their hair-trigger intimidation.
“It’s a brand new day, I don’t suppose the whole thing’s been called off?”
“I’m sure no one would mind.”
“oh sweetling, if only dreaming were that simple.” she knew she should find it heartbreaking to see such a beautiful thing made sad --- to see it marred by the terror of the island. rumors abounded as to what might have occurred, and winnie cared for each of them, nurturing the may haves right beside the certainties. it made the truth ambiguous and lovely in its tragedy, instead of just sad.
her gaze flickered to the door of the sickbay, to the intriguing idea of what awaited inside. did ayla dowling intend to reunite with her fellow conspirator? was it not winnie’s duty to pull the woman away from such dull endings? from ending up dead on a table, like that poor girl inside --- like the girl that winifred hastings had unraveled once upon a time, the girl that had found new life after her old one had imploded?
a new life now gone, winnie thought. a new life that did not matter, winnie thought cruelly.
but ayla dowling was a woman known in a different way; winnie was simply the woman who understand what that meant.
“will you walk with me? i’m afraid everyone’s so taken up by recent events, i’ve been left painfully alone. here i am, wandering the halls like some house cat, hoping for a touch of attention.” she held out her arm, returning the woman’s crafted smile with one of her own. doe, meet peacock. “mrs. winifred hastings. i don’t believe we’ve ever been properly introduced, which is a tragedy of its own.”
location: the great cabin.
“my dear captain.” all the proper titles, all the proper greetings --- a slight curtsy and demure smile, a straightening of her spine and a fidgeting with her necklace. she wanted to be the only thing soft out here, even while the ice around them turned back to water. as silence began to creep its way back to the room, she let out a delicate sigh, as if she was the one with the weight of the ship on her shoulders, as if she was the only one here who sought to understand him. “we are simply having a dreadful time of it, aren’t we?”
she spoke to him like she might her husband: oh, you grand and brilliant thing, look at this idea you have, let me support all you are. “if only there was some sort of news i might return to the other guests. sparkling words from our captain --- something to raise our spirits. after all, even our dinners seem to have taken on a tragic quality to them, and tragedy can only hold our interest for so long... i trust you, i’m sure you know, but the others hardly recognize you yet.”
location: the streets of east london.
time: flashback --- july, 1828.
upon waking up that morning, winifred had decided two things: today, i will be named daisy. today, i will be the apprentice to a great painter. the stains on her skirts might easily be paint instead of mud, and she had weaved flowers into her hair, taking her new title seriously. on her way to their usual meeting spot, she picked several more for gift and gratitude. ( stole them might be a better phrase for it, plucked straight from an old man’s basket as he headed down the street. why should an old man have them, when the flowers were much better suited for her fair skin? ) it was a marvelous day.
the music --- oh, the music greeted her like home, and she stood for a moment, watching leonard play. she tossed the flowers to his feet, and how perfect he looked, how righteous. he might be a vision planted at the creation of the earth; he might be playing the first music the angels heard.
winifred hastings would have clutched her hands together. she would have felt faint with love and pinched her cheeks when others looked away to ensure she was flushed with it. but she was not winifred hastings today. she was daisy, and she had paint on her skirts.
she took out a small scrap of paper and began to sketch on it --- the delicate slope of the instrument, the way he held it, the looped way the music hung in the air. she knelt, using her knee as a table. ( had she ever used her knees in such a way? ) she wanted to laugh, she wanted to share the moment as leonard finished, but the world crept into her sphere.
from behind her, a man called out to the musician with a rancorous boo.
— NAME: WINIFRED HASTINGS.
— AGE: 35.
— GENDER: cis female.
— ROLE: guest.
— FACE: rosamund pike.
You were once shining, a faultless star among the vast expanse of England’s finest societies. You were the source of rumor, of ideas and inventions, which everyone else took as scripture. A powdered deity in a god-fearing world. Your power was never tied to your fortune - at least, you never thought it was. But when your coffers emptied overnight and you were left with only your name, you found your acolytes dispersing - no one wants to realize their god is false, no one stays in a ruined temple. Back home, you are nothing. But aboard this floating triumph of strangers and adventurers, you cling to your divinity, your pearls, your silk velvet and lambswool - you boast them, like a weapon of your own making. Here, you can forget what you’ve lost and hope for something more to be gained - for there is nothing left for you in England.
✹ THE NOBLE — When news of their familial scandal hit, you spread the sordid details quick as wildfire, as your audience and influence had you wont to do - nothing personal. You expect hostility - you receive gratitude. Strange creature. A part of you envies the liberation they have found in their family’s collapse.
✹ THE EMPRESARIO — At first glance and upon reputation alone, you think they could be your ticket back into prestige, and you wouldn’t be above knowing them for this only. But you find their hunger makes a lovely companion to your own. Their flagrant ambition startles you, you, who have only known company complacent and lazy in luxury. Not even the stars would be good enough for THE EMPRESARIO.
✹ THE ENIGMA — You have only known a very specific kind of femininity - the only kind that is accepted in high society. But THE ENIGMA contradicts everything you’ve been taught. You see them sauntering throughout the ship with something more refined than abandon, as if this is exactly where they belong, and it astounds you - it makes you nostalgic.
This skeleton is TAKEN by Kat.
🌙 — ALL ABOARD ! The HMS PROMETHEAN welcomes ( WINIFRED HASTINGS ) to the expedition in their capacity of ( THE SOCIALITE ). They are ( thirty-five years old & female ) and might be painted as ( ROSAMUND PIKE ). When you strike up an acquaintance, address them as ( she / her ). Their deeds on land precede their arrival — people say they are ( an absolute darling who encourages vices around her, a beauty of grace and poise, a carefully constructed trophy ) but ( filled with the turbulence it takes to adhere to strict societal standards, hollowed out, longing for attention no matter the kind ) when the tide turns. Their purpose aboard the Promethean falls in line with ( retaining her kingdom of jewels and pearls for just a while longer ).
A (MAYBE NOT SO) BRIEF TIMELINE:
from a smaller, well-off family in new york city (AMERICAN, BABEEYY!) but she was always, always viewed as the darling one, the soft-faced angel, could do no wrongs. learned very quickly that this was a great way to get what she wanted. soft because it gave her what she wanted; soft quickly gave way to spoiled. she is kind so long as she is cared for.
always knew she would marry well one day, doesn’t find any shame of it. marriage was always meant to be an economic proposition. she is not meant to live for herself.
marries when she’s sixteen years old to a man twice her age. he is a friend from her father’s business world traveling from london. she meets him twice before the marriage, and she leaves behind her life, her family, and her name in new york to travel back to england with him.
appears to fit in wonderfully. the life of the party, a lovely hostess, an icon of fashion and inspiration. people learn her name. people envy her name. she quickly learns to navigate the social circles, to utilize gossip to her husband’s advantage, to build a temple. all is well. all is well.
years pass in dizzying splendor until she is nineteen. when she discovers her husband in an affair, she smiles and apologizes for interrupting him. she then walks out of the home but not before leaving A Scene behind. she disappears for the next three months. everyone thinks she’s dead; half the people think her husband killed her. she absolutely loves this attention.
runs around london pretending to be someone else for a few months and then comes home because she Cannot Survive alone and without attention and without money.
goes back to pretending things are fine for the next ~ten years
wow this family sure is dysfunctional, huh. at least she has money and friends, right? right??? wrong! turns out, her husband has a horrible gambling problem. also drinking. also women. also just bad at business. wow, who knew. she keeps their family name together by a thread, but she won’t discover the depth of his problems for a few years.
it happens almost over night. the debt collectors come, and the family name becomes synonymous with a fall from grace. she has no friends, no lovers, no servants, no one that stand by her. when she speaks to her husband for the last time, she tells him that she’ll walk straight into the ocean. that she’ll at least die with dignity, with beauty, unlike him. he laughs at her.
the promethean is a fortress that she thinks she can rule. she sells some pearls to purchase passage and decides to keep up appearances for a little while longer, but the image of splendor is quickly crumbling around her.
jealous of pantea going out in a way that will forever be remembered as beautiful and wholly tragic. winifred thinks about this a lot. probably not healthy. also entirely pro-marcus.
i am mostly thinking of her as:
Ultra Feminine: image is incredibly important to her. the terror of beauty? how there are so many Ideas about beauty and how they have all been pushed onto her and she's swallowed them all and the sort of madness it takes to adhere to them. the relationship women have with mirrors? how you look at yourself and see yourself in parts, you're never really allowed to Just Exist. and her really clinging to that, to the idea that she can find safety within beauty / image / others desire for her. truly viewing herself, to an extent, as an object
truly lots of ideas centered around her believing that she has crafted herself into a deity. that she is adored and important and lovely. and then to recognize how absolutely fragile that status of godhood is? to lose it, when she loses all her money.
true neutral in a lot of ways but kind of like how aphrodite is at the same time viewed with love and terror ? both splendid and cruel at times?
her arc: either recognizing herself as a full human with ideas and purpose outside of status or slipping into the full madness of viewing herself only as an object for someone else to use