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Pure Snow

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There was zero light where the woman hung, arms chained high and head drooping like a tattered rag doll. Gravity bound her to the bricks, propping her up whenever her legs would give out.

Only the sounds of rats quickly scurrying across the muck covered floor and her shallow breathing filled the cloistering room, a sharp contrast to the piercing whine that had gotten worse as a result of her last thrashing with the guardsman in charge of her wing.  

One noise within the darkness.

It was a noise in the back of her head that drove her to pieces, a sound stretched so thin, sharp, and inescapable that she had no idea if anyone but herself could hear it. She didn't have the strength to worry about it. During her tenure in her solitary cell, the only thought that ran like a strong mare through her tireless mind was that of Enid.

Always, the young girl would be there some way or the other.

Her small sister Enid, short, black hair coiled into docile curls, streams of tears falling down her face onto her blood-stained slippers. In her dreams, the running picture of Enid watching her getting dragged into the dark wagon did its best to reoccur as often as possible, rain that evening doing its best to wash the cracked scars on her face as she was thrown into the back of the vehicle, little Enid scampering to the departing wagon so fast and wailing as she witnessed her older sister getting carted away.

The memories of Enid were growing frighteningly dim, plain flashes that waned away with the passing years.

Time wasted away in the loony bin, hellish moments melting together with every tray of stale greens passed under her door, every treatment leaving her mind numb (save for the ice-cold tingling left between her fingers), and every hose down of frigid, dirty water that left her gasping and thrashing like a cod on the floor, asylum workers muffling their snickers behind their gloved claws. 

Madness was not far. Any day now it would reach from beneath her bed and sink its bony fingers into her, taking her life before she could find something pointy enough to do it herself.

A faint voice in the back of her head decidedly shoved the perilous thought from her head, if only for a moment, instead choosing to beg for a cigarette.

Something warm and tangible that would distract her from the rats that were trying to pick at her bare feet as if she were already dead. 

She told the voice to shut the hell up, as it had been asking the same thing from the beginning of her imprisonment. Ask for something more manageable, she told herself, perhaps a carriage ride with the king-

And then it came.

Something tangible, indeed.

CLANG, a solid steel door being shoved open, screeching against the uneven floor.

Her head felt weighed down with stones, unable to move save for the cracking open of her hazy eyes in response to a shadow now resting on the ground, dark and tall, moving right towards her.

Suddenly the figure was beside her, looming over her and fiddling with her chains. They fell away, iron on iron upon the floor, and she quickly dropped onto the ground in a motionless heap.

She opened her mouth in an attempt to ask, What the hell is going on?

The only noise that came out was a low, rasping cough, one that hacked its way throughout her body, causing her to convulse on the floor. It seemed that the sudden drop was a mistake, quick movement the bain of her existence. The figure cursed beside her, acting quickly by placing their gloved hands underneath the woman and dragging her by the underarms out of the room. 

Rude bastard, she thought, opening and closing her mouth in a 'fish out of water' manner, still trying to speak. Her lids felt like heavy curtains, held aside by the weakest string in the world, allowing only blurry figures and grey masses into her vision. She could not tell where she was being dragged and eventually stopped trying to make a sound, only coughing whenever she felt a bump underneath her back, tearing at the tender skin near her waist. The dragging felt to go on for forever.

Then the two stopped, and the woman felt herself being hoisted onto her own two feet, standing uneven on weak legs and breathing heavily. She finally lifted her head to look around and noticed the warmth of the sun, peaking its way through the silver clouds and landing on her trembling, bare arms. 

Perhaps they were in the courtyard, the woman thought, preparing herself to be hosed down once more. She couldn't remember the last disrespectful move that she might have made against an asylum staff

"Feels good, does it?" The figure beside asked her, voice startling the woman.

It was the voice of a girl. Inquisitive and contained, well brought up, perhaps.

The woman tried her best to open her eyes, but they began to feel heavier by the minute, and all she could do was nod gently in response. She wondered why a girl was being allowed inside of a Birmingham asylum, but could not (to her frustration) voice her question, instead, lingering in the silence and rare warmth she had been granted. 

Suddenly, a flask was being pressed into her own hands, cold and sloshing with liquid.

"Here," the girl said, helping the unsteady woman raise the container to her chapped lips, "Drink."

It was the final meal of Jesus, the plentiful feast of saints condensed into a pitiful half a cup of what might have been water taken from a horses trough.

She did so, however, cool liquid clearing a heavy fog that had been clogging her throat. Water spilled onto her clothing, wetting the front of her shirt, sticking onto her skin, and falling to the rough ground with a messy splash.

Clearing her throat as if to test herself, she chuckled slightly. 

"Thanks," the woman huffed, her own voice weak but producing sound at last.

 "... Of course," the girl replied quietly, reaching her hand into her coat, walking behind the woman with slow and precisioned steps.

The cool metal of a gun was then jammed into the woman's back.

Another huff of warm air did the woman release, her short chuckle suddenly morphing into a full-blown, disbelieving laugh into the unresponding open. Good grief, she thought, knees buckling slightly, about damn time.

"So he sent a child to kill me, huh?" The woman smiled, dry laughter dying in her throat, testily leaning back into the pistol behind her. She spoke openly, not at the girl with the gun behind her, but to the bitter passing breeze. "Edwin Hollander can't kill his own cuckoo bird so he sends a little girl to do the job for him. Fitting, wormy bastard getting off scot-free, hands so clean that Churchill bends to spit and polish them hiself' till they fucking shine." Her voice darkened to a whisper as the words trailed off of her heavy tongue.

The girl didn't respond, gun trembling slightly against the woman's back. 

"What's this?" the woman sneered, "You scared, little birdie?"

A stiffened, panicked jolt from the girl did not go unnoticed. "No," she muttered, adjusting her grip on the pistol, steadying herself as she brought up her arm to clasp the grip with both hands.

"Good," the woman muttered, slowly rubbing her thumbs across her raw wrists while staring out into complete nothing, still unable to discern her location. She could hear the horn of an automobile somewhere to her right and paused briefly. It would appear that she was to be shot outside of the asylum, somewhere in the back. How dignified.

A sparrow chirped as if to cut the heavy air between the females, and the woman silently cataloged the bird call as the last thing that she would hear on the face of this tumultuous earth. She supposed that it wouldn't be too bad of a final sound, and she hoped that the shot would be quick and clean, just the way she might have done it herself. Fucking sentimental, she deemed herself, feet now rooted firmly to the ground. A part of her wondered why she wasn't keeling over, where the unexpected strength she had towards the barrel of a gun came from (the last encounter she had with a warden's pocket pistol, nearly shitting herself with the thought of another bullet being put through her). 

"Well then, you might as well get on with it," the woman rasped. Her hands had tied themselves behind her back. She did not kneel, refusing to die on anything besides her own two feet.

A small respite.

The cocking of the gun elicited nothing but silence, and a final saying from the female executioner.

"I... I'm sorry, Monty” the girl whispered, quickly shifting her aim slightly and firing a bullet into the woman's left shoulder. Everything went to shit at that very moment.

BANG.

FUCKING HEL-

The woman fell on one bended knee with a gasp, tight pressure an explosion within her shoulder, bringing one hand to cradle her bullet wound and craning her neck to look at the girl.

THAT VOICE, Monroe thought, eyes finally adjusting from the ground. 

Before she could fully turn around to look, a slice of a blade against her neck fell upon her. Monroe was choking on her own blood before she could get a clear view.

THAT FUCKING VOICE-

"Run," the girl said, picking up her bleeding prey and shoving her forward. "RUN!" she ordered, quivering voice shooting to the high heavens in alarm and desperation.

Monroe did not, clinging instead, to the coat of her would be killer with her recently shot arm. Pain flared all over Monroe's left side, but she pushed her way through, pulling on the girl until she could get a clear view of her face.

Coiled, pitch black locks against a grey sky were the first things that she saw. Then the dark, brown eyes, filled with horror and regret, staring down at Monroe. Freckles, then the damnable freckles, scattered across the girl's tanned skin.

Enid. All grown up now, probably taller than Monroe, though she couldn't tell bleeding out on the cobbled ground. 

Her younger sister had just shot her.

And was letting her get away.

Monroe's breath caught in her throat, and she realized that Enid was trembling violently, Monroe's blood pooling onto her thick coat, staining it a darker shade. In Enid's right hand, a sharp blade dropped with a clank onto the floor, falling from her blood-slicked fingers.

Something akin to betrayal ran its course through Monroe's spine, burning through her like a rampant fever.

It wasn't betrayal, though. Years had passed, there was not a chance that they were still sisters, even through legality; there was a good chance Hollander had burned both girl files long ago, erasing any familial relations they might have ever had.

Not betrayal, just simple shock.

She wondered briefly if Enid knew what the hell she had just done.

No questions were asked, and instead, the woman wordlessly shoved Enid to the side, pulling herself up with her good arm and stumbling away. Enid stood there, weapons trembling in her wet gloves, frozen in place. Her mouth was open, and it seemed as if she wanted to say something, perhaps explain herself.

Monroe didn't want to waste the limited time she had pooling out of her neck explaining that a family reunion might not have the best idea right then and there. She shook her head at the girl as if to prevent her from saying anything else, just to walk away; Enid's job was finished. With her new vision already waning around the edges, Monroe could feel that she was bleeding out, fast.

So she hobbled away, hands pressing against her throat and shoulder, quick as she could through the dusty Birmingham back alleys and away from Enid. 

She did not look back to see her younger sister fall to the ground, tears in her eyes plopping onto her bloodied hands.

With this messy ordeal, their connection had been severed. All that was left was for Monroe to die amongst the Brummie filth that lived on the streets, choking on her own blood, gasping futilely in a wet pool of maroon red.

Fuck if she admitted to herself that she didn't want to die though. It was a last-ditch effort, cheap on the hope that perhaps if she admitted that she wanted to live, she just might.

Walking, stumbling, crawling, the alternation between these three for 'god knew how long' brought her to the doorstep of a dimly lit on the outside pub, the only place along what felt like possibly the longest street in England that was occupied at the time. Monroe could hear boisterous laughter coming from inside, the sight almost distracting her from the lightheaded feeling that was wrapping her head. It wasn't as if there were any hospitals nearby that she could drag herself to, a pub might as well be the next best place for her to die in.

Tripping over her feet some, she drifted towards the front, ornate doors of the establishment greeting her, slumping against the glass and pushing her way in. Immediately, a golden warmth enveloped her like a woolen blanket that had just been drying in front of the fireplace, and she blinked slowly to take it all in, unaware that she had been shivering cold in the first place. Men and women were dancing alongside each other, raucous jazz blaring in the background and drinks clinking all around. Monroe thought faintly that she must have looked out of place, blood-soaked shirt ripped all over slapped right into a whirlwind of a party. 

The heavy music pounded against Monroe's head, and her glossed over eyes staggered their way back and forth between the undisturbed partygoers. Spotting an empty seat at the edge of a booth, she pushed past the revelers, head held down, and let herself fall onto the dark cushions. 

Any moment now, Monroe thought, waiting for the warmth of the party to fade away and silence to finally envelope her. She was swimming on the land, any noises wading through a tunnel of cotton in her ears. Her eyes fluttered, and she saw a small shot glass on the table in front of her, untouched and filled to the brim with amber liquid. Monroe's hand reached out for it at the same time as another, bumping bloodied fingers and bandaged knuckles

She turned her head slightly to see that she had a seatmate, a man in a suit, staring at her with bright, blue eyes. 

He glanced down at her sliced throat and bloodied clothing, face passive, before pulling his fingers away, looking Monroe dead in the eyes, and downing the shot himself.

Rude, Monroe wanted to say, the awful shouting match in her head winding itself down, Can't even get my final drink after getting sho-

Unfortunately, she had finally passed out from blood loss, head smacking rather ungracefully onto the sticky countertop.

The piercing whine had finally stopped.


Polly Gray wanted to say that nothing less than a tornado in the middle of Small Heath would faze her at this point.

The Shelby clan had seen it all when it came to people. They turned through a rotating door of deadbeat men and gritty women, all clambering at the heels of those had the fortune of relaxation up on the top shelf. The Garrison had surely seen it all, charming characters moping their way in with empty pockets and stumbling out with a new bill to pay for Blinder service and/or several bottles of heady liquor wasted during the long night.

Class acts, they were, dressed to the spades and congregating away from their poverty to the short sanctuary of The Garrison Pub, Birmingham's finest neighborhood establishment.

On that afternoon, right when the Peaky rabble had set down their caps for the time being to play around with upper-class ladies, Polly was sitting at the bar counter, right beside the band. The best view of the house could be found where she was located, hawk-like vision casually scanning the room while taking a frugal sip of her gin. Shelby Company Limited wouldn't hold up for an hour without a semi-sober woman, at the very least, manning the helm. Despite the constant vigilance, the pub was doing well, and the jolly mood of the room made its way into Polly, who had returned to the bar after flirting with two well-groomed young men.

Right as the music reached a high note, Polly noticed out of the corner of her eye a female, hunched over and entering from the front of the merry room. Long, knotted black hair covered the mystery woman's face, and Polly's gin began to burn the inside of her mouth, as she noticed with bated breath that the new woman was drenched in blood.

"Jesus Christ," Polly swore. Even on a holy Sunday, you couldn't keep The Garrison nice and well without a mad whore running around the parts.

Her grey heels clicked onto the wooden floor where she stood at attention, carefully inspecting the other woman's action. Polly watched with disdain as the teetering woman stumbled around, finding a spot slightly away from the congregation and seating herself without fuss next to Tommy Shelby.

Another rash customer.

The matriarch watched with a sigh and returned to her own bar counter seat, not interested in the next deals of a whore and her nephew. She nursed her gin for a short while more, pulling out a cigarette case from her pocket and popping a new one between her lips. Just as the last notes of the trumpet were blared out and silence cleared the room, a sudden thud, and a quick motion out of the corner of her eye called Polly's attention back to the woman in the corner booth with Tommy.

The whore had passed out, head slamming onto the oak tabletop, throat dripping out onto the floor.

 "Jesus fucking Christ-"  Polly spat, pushing away from her chair and through the raging crowd. Reaching the circular booth, she could see up close the extent of the damage. It was a massacre, what was presumably a once white shirt stained dark red on the girl. "Jesus fucking Christ," she repeated, staring down at the near exsanguinated woman, "We aren't allowed one day of the week without someone bleeding over our counters?" 

Tommy looked faintly amused at the prospect, tilting his head towards the girl. "You'll be grateful to hear that I had nothing to do with this," he rasped, leaning in to get a better look at the girl's face. It was a new sight for Thomas, a woman coming into the Garrison, asking for a deal half dead. She hadn't even gotten a word out before passing out, seemingly malnourished, face covered in bruises, stone cold and raggedy, almost as if she had just been dragged from the bottom of a wharf. 

Polly was slightly disturbed at how unnerved Tommy was at the sight.

"Well, are you planning on doing anything Tommy, or are you going to just sit there with your head up your arse? Doesn't matter if you pumped a bastard into her last week or you met her today, get someone to take her out back, people are starting to notice." And they were. A few revelers had turned their heads to glance at the bizarre scene, snapping their heads away when they were caught watching by Polly.

Tommy chuckled, face devoid of mirth. "They've seen worse Pol," he murmured, before calling his brother who was dancing with half a glass of rum to the table. "We all have." 

John Shelby turned his head and exited from the floor, walking with a stagger and bumping into a few different women with a big grin over to Tommy and Polly. He paused right as the girl at the table came into view, smile fading. "What the hell is this, Tommy?" he asked, slurring his words some and speaking much louder than necessary. Polly wacked the tall man in the side, hissing for him to shut the hell up. 

"Take her out to the back, anywhere away from the Garrison. She's making a mess of our floors," Polly said under her breath, tilting her chin at the conductor of the threesome band playing up front, indicating another song in order.  

John grimaced, mechanically dragging the limp girl from the booth, both quickly and tragically falling to the ground in a spectacular heap, John's heel slipping over an emptied glass of spirits that had been left rather hazardously on the worn down hardwood.

"Ah, hell," the man cursed violently, legs tangled with the unconscious woman who was now lying on the floor, half of her shirt fallen off and uncovering her left shoulder. 

Polly's eyes glanced at the pathetic sight before suddenly honing in on the girl once more and bulging right out of her sockets. Without hesitation, she dropped to the floor herself and began roughly pulling John off of the woman and cursing him out, John himself grumbling with confusion and rubbing what was certainly going to be a sore spot on his arse tomorrow. 

Without words, stoic bastard of a nephew #1 and complaining louse of a nephew #2 as well as the restless party behind the Shelby corner all just a background nuisance, ticks on a hound, Polly Gray knew that the Shelby's were fucked.

On the back of the woman's shoulder, almost obscured by dried blood was a scar. A brand. Just above the exit wound of a recent bullet was a mark, burned directly onto the girl. It was small and awfully distorted, but it was noticeable, letters still able to have been made out.

CSW.

Crestwell. 

Blood began to drain out of Polly's weathered face, and she realized that she hadn't a clue what to do with her fucking hands, both hovering in agony just above the body on the ground. Tommy stood up out of the booth to take a look at what was wrong.

When his own blue eyes focused onto the scar, Tommy stared it down for a moment, before looking away and reaching into his pocket, taking a cigarette out of its case and lighting up in one fluid motion. His original gaze of slight amusement slowly morphed into one of casual annoyance as he processed the information. John and Pol looked up at him, Thomas Shelby inhaled deeply and exhaled just as heavily.

"Fuck," he offered, adjusting his hat and standing above what could only have been classified as, "new trouble."

On that night in the 1900s of Birmingham, England, Monroe Crestwell and Thomas Shelby finally met.

Chapter Text

Monroe had always hated books.

It hadn't started right from her youth but had been an acquired (bitter) taste, tied solely to the singular experience brought on by one novel years ago.

A Vindication of the Rights of Women was a book penned by Mary Wollstonecraft in the late 1700s, detailing the full scope of problems that arose with women being unable to receive the same degree of proper education men did. Rejecting the paternal setup that women were predestined to follow during the time period, Wollstonecraft presented within her essay thoughtful and impassioned arguments that defended the right to educated women rising up and contributing to society as "companions of men," equal under the eyes of God.

Monroe Crestwell's fifty-seven-year-old mother kept her copy of the novel next to her bed for almost every day until her cold, autumn passing. Her mother read through the pages night after night while their father was away, drafted to fight in the war, leaving Alexandra Crestwell in charge of two daughters and a temperamental pharmaceutical company. Whenever she had the free time away from her management work, Mrs. Crestwell sat in one of the sturdy chairs in the study and buried herself within that battered book, nimble fingers tracing their way through the pages as her daughters watched from afar. 

Monroe was raised dutiful and vivacious, and true to her nature helped her mother whenever she could. Whenever Enid was being fussy, Monroe gently ushered away the servants and helped to put the young girl back to sleep. Whenever the company was struggling to keep up in finances, Monroe supported her mother by working through the recipes and papers herself. From the ages of eighteen to twenty-two, the young woman found that life went far smoother if she simply silently took care of things from the background.

Even when the family received news that her father had died in the war, Monroe watched as her mother and sister wept throughout the large, desolate house, mourning by going right back to work, the way her father would have wanted her to.

She remembered one night, while the oil was burning away on her desk and she was checking through various reports of the company, how her father had pulled her aside right before he was sent off to tell her, "You're a grown woman now Monroe, and I need you to make sure this family stays safe while I'm away."

"You must keep this family together. Do you understand?"

She was young, and clearly did not understand, but nodded nonetheless.

Her father was not a man of many words of emotions, but whenever he stated something, even under his breath, Monroe would listen with intent. His voice was gruff the morning as if it had been stretched quite thin, then smashed back together by a drunken lout with two left fists.

Staring at her solemn father, her mind drifted back to the raging fight that she had listened to her parents go at the night before, accidentally hiding outside of their door for a brief moment while retrieving a glass of water, before rapidly whisking away to the comfort of her bed with a grimace stricken to her face. Enid had crawled into her room later on that night with the same look on her face, dark curls ragged and soft eyes grim, and they fell asleep in the protection of each other's arms for the first time since Monroe's youth.

From the moment that Phineas Crestwell left his wife and children, Monroe's mother distanced herself from everything apart from her work. Her daughters only ever saw her at mealtimes and when she read that damned book in the study. Alexandra Crestwell started to look more like a walking corpse with every new day and soon, she had stopped speaking to either of her children. Even Enid ended up locking herself in her room, where she would only go out to play with the horses on the estate, avoiding her mother whenever she saw the woman, book in hand. 

While she would never admit it, Monroe could feel herself growing bitter.

On that night with the flickering lamp casting shadows across her face, Monroe's mind was clouded heavily with painful memories, and in an instant, she found herself stepping right out of her room and into her mothers, tiptoeing across the rug while Alexandra Crestwell slept to the inlaid table beside the bed, where A Vindication of the Rights of Women lay. The novel was worn down, and one could see on the front where the cover was slowly tearing from the paste of the binding as well as the pages it covered.

What Monroe saw that night was Alexandra Crestwell's love of some fucking book surpassing that of her own children.

What compelled her next was beyond Monroe's own comprehension, but in a trance, she snatched the old book off of the stand, rushed downstairs without bothering to close her mother's door, and in one motion tossed the wretched thing into the crackling fire within the study. 

There it burned, pages curdling from the heat and turning into a satisfying brown heap of ash. Not a single part of Monroe felt remorseful at that moment, as she loomed the way she always did, silent. The only noise that escaped her that night was a detestable breath of what could only be described as sickening joy, bubbling within Monroe. 

She did not tell a single person what she had done that quiet night after the deed, immediately taking the black, iron poker that stood at attention beside the fire and stabbing it into the logs and ash, scattering the evidence finely and with haste.

Just as she was returning the poker to its place, she heard the light footsteps of a child, running away from the scene.

For a moment, Monroe froze.

Then, returning to her own room with swift steps, she latched her door shut and sweat bullets over what she had done and who had just seen.

It was plainly evident when her mother came down the next morning that Alexandra Crestwell had known exactly what had happened.

But as Monroe shuddered with every glance at her distant mother, Alexandra did not say a single thing. The only tell that she had a full idea of what had happened to her novel was the look that she gave, cold, grey eyes burning hot through the girl, stabbing her like the iron poker Monroe had used to absolve her of any evidence.

Enid did not say a thing. She may or may not have told their mother what had occurred in the middle of the night, but Monroe decided not to ask.

And neither of them did until that American scum arrived.


Only whispers filled the dark expanse in front of her, pooling through the gaps in her mind and nudging Monroe awake.

She opened her eyes to the sight of her bandaged hands, resting limply by her sides. There was an attempt to lift both up and rub her eyes, but it was met with solid resistance.

Monroe noticed through her blurred vision that she was laying in a bed, now dressed in a clean gown that was very much not her own. Her eyes squinted to cover for how white her blankets were and how they were reflecting a soft light right into her eyes,

The smell of thorough sanitation burned through Monroe’s senses, and she wrinkled her nose and furrowed her dark brows as the cloud in front of her narrow eyes drifted clear. Her first sight as she tenderly turned her head was a comedically oversized houseplant, pushed right beside her bed against the wall. It was gargantuan and possibly drowning in its own lush, green leaves that spilled over the sides and onto the wooden floor. Monroe's gaze narrowed and quickly turned away as she looked to the opposite wall, one where an ornate window with what seemed to be a stained-glass rendition of the baby Jesus, swaddled in linens resided. That wall was not much better, despite not being plant infested.

The dull light that was drawn from the window cast soft shadows against the light blue walls, tiled in fanciful patterns across what Monroe was noticing to be a fairly large room. She wondered absently where hell she was, and why there was so much silence blanketing her across the empty space. 

Only the multicolored Christ child stared down at Monroe, who in turn stared back, seemingly at odds with stained-glass Jesus.

She couldn't remember for the life of her what had happened or where she was.

All that her mind could process as she testily opened her mouth was how fucking thirsty she was.

It seemed that no one had bothered to slap her jaw shut when taking her away, leaving her with a mouth that felt like a sandy hellscape and no water in sight. God had to have been simply pissing his almighty self at how helpless Monroe must have looked then. Going through the motions of a primate to... to-

To fucking what?  She thought, lamenting with a blank stare back to infant-Jesus Christ. I 'm not doing anything. Hell, I need to get up.

Monroe could feel movement returning to her right hand, still no response from the left that she vaguely remembered in the back of her mind had been shot right through. She had no idea what she was on, it made her body tingle and feel numb at the same time which she did not prefer to just being numb all hours of the day, but choices aside, she needed to get off of it as soon as possible. It was reminding her of far too many experiences on the other end of a needle.

A low grunt emerged from Monroe as she propped herself up with the dexterity of a newborn into a sitting position and (with no better word to describe it) shimmied her body around so that it was nearly off of the left side of her bed. In her new position she noticed the high hanging IV drip jammed and taped onto her left arm, as well as the unfortunate position she was introducing herself to with the effort of her right arm. Underestimating the power of her barely functioning hand, Monroe pushed herself off of the bed and onto the cold floor much to the dismay and pain of her unstable legs.

She hobbled as if she were a newborn deer, taking their first nervous steps, struggling her way to the door at the end of the room.

It was lacquered and large, Monroe once again fumbling with her weak hand that was trying to pull it open. The door did not budge, what did happen, however, was that Monroe had shifted all of her weight on her "shaky fawn legs" and mistakenly believed that she had enough coordination to be able to stand upright at the same time.

Monroe's knees buckled and she collapsed to the ground in a wheezing heap.  

FUCK, she opened her mouth to cry out in pain, unwrapped hand doing the most to support her to sitting position.

... No sound came out.

Her mouth dropped open as she hacked into her arm, suddenly breathing much more heavily than before. Trying harder, Monroe decided to scream.

The only noise her throat made came akin to a broken death rattle, similar to one her grandfather had made minutes before he had passed away. She remembered faintly of how he had nearly choked his own lung up, coughing several handkerchiefs red, unable to get out a single word.

Monroe blinked, blankly staring at the floor, tendrils of rage slowly clouding her vision.


John Shelby had his face pressed against the side of the cold, tiled, hospital wall, nursing a godawful hangover.

Away from the prying eyes of the balding doctors and cheeky nurses who had stared at his state when he stumbled by, he had by the grace of god, found an empty broom closet that he could feel the devastating affects of leftover spirits sloshing around inside him in. He grumbled, slouched on top of an empty crate in the corner of a room he could barely fit within, wondering why the hell he was there in the first place.

Tommy and Pol were all hushed when they sent him over in the morning, Pol swiftly smacking him awake and sending him out the door with an address and no trousers on (or recollection) of the night before. He had immediately thrown up on the side of the street before glancing the address and shuffling himself over.

While it wasn't one of his finest moments, and no way in hell or heaven above did he need anyone seeing him shivering in an dimly lit closet, nauseous at the prospect of standing up, the peace of the hospital was a nice change. Quiet, away from the kids and the future fucking prospects of Shelby Company Limited, for which he thought Tommy was a right shit for coming up with.

Hospital air must be changing me. He hadn't smelt a single trace of charming, thick Birmingham smoke since he entered the sanitary place.

It was unnatural, but it was relaxing. Hell, his cap wasn't even on proper, hanging damp from his hands like wet cabbage. Something Arthur would have cuffed him over the head for.

Sighing, John adjusted himself against the cool tile, resting for a moment-

A loud cacophony of clanging sounds startled him straight, John falling off of the crate in surprise.

Scrambling up as fast as his pounding headache would allow, he pushed a drying mop to the side and slammed the rickety door open. Tripping his way out into the hall, John's eyes adjusted to the brightness as he struggled to figure out where the sound had come from.

Another noise, this time more metallic in sound came from down the hallway, right from a room at the very end, a few yards from where he stood. John squinted at racket being made, briefly reminded of what Pol had been telling him to do after getting to the hospital.

"There's a girl I need you to be looking after, she'll be in Room 27. Soon as she wakes up, you bring her over and come find me, got it?"  Polly had barked that morning.

That girl... 

THE GIRL-

"Shit," John swore, hastily scanning the overhead plaques above the rooms lining the halls as he made his way downwards.

24...25...26...27.

He had completely forgotten about the task, (but it was hardly as if he would tell Tommy or Pol that, John thought) slapping his cap on dutifully as he came upon the room.

Yet another crash came from within. Well, she's definitely up, Pol.

The fogged glass only allowed the barest trace of a shadow, one that was moving back and forth behind the door. John mustered the most sobered face possible, one that would keep him from looking smashed as he was, and swung the door wide open.

One step inside and a vase of red flowers smashed a foot away from his head against the wall, water pooling around shards of crystal vase and ripped of petals sliding down to the ground.

John coughed, momentarily stunned at the situation, before becoming rightly outraged at the near-miss of the heftily sized vessel and his head.

"The hell is all of this?" he slurred out, wiping off drops of water that had splashed onto his cheek.

In an instance, the woman in the center of the room paused, now presently aware of the man standing before her, looking down with shock and confusion. Taking a good look at her, John could see the wrapped up shoulder and IV stand that she was connected to. He could see a gruesome bite from her dark eyes as she looked at him clearly, almost feral in look, ones he would see from the dogs clawing through each other for leftover scraps behind the wharf.

She seemed to be an ethnic sort, strong jaw and tanned skin that stretched over her collar, peeking out from her unfitted grey hospital clothes with every deep breath she took. Right sickly and five minutes away from death might have been better at describing her though, a pale sheen of sweat coating any exposed skin despite the hospital's cold chill.

Damn, she can't speak English, can she?  John thought to himself, staring at the woman and wondering if this had to do with that Chinese girl Tommy had messing around with horses a year back.

The woman looked around at the destruction of her room anew, as if she had not been the one to instigate the madness, bedside table overturned and amaryllis wilting on the floor. She breathed in, slower this time, and gently ran her fingers over her throat, where thick bandages were wound. She looked bitter and frail, disproportionate to the surrounding damage of the once clean hospital corner.

Suddenly, without noise, she was standing right in front of John, startling him once again. How she had made her way over so quick was beyond him, metal stand and all. Despite the fact that she was a head shorter than him, John found it difficult to avoid her eyes, uncomfortable at the intensity of her gaze.

"You-," he started.

Her hand was held up to his face, where she snapped her fingers twice to interrupt and pinched them together. Her wrist seemed to be convulsing as she shook it through the air, miming something out. 

What the... Is she asking for a pen? 

"Pen?" John asked with bewilderment. The woman nodded enthusiastically, to the point her neck might have snapped off. "Wh- Wha'd you need a pen for?"

She glared at him as if he were a fool, and pointed at her bandaged neck, shaking her head.

"What, you can't talk?"

The woman winced at that, and nodded.

"The hell happened to you then?" 

She did not respond with anything, continuing to stare at him as if he were an idiot.

John gulped, adjusting the brim of his cap and clearing his throat. "I can get you a pencil to write with if you come with me." 

The woman paused, staring at the shattered vase behind John with an unreadable expression, caught between disappointment and weariness. Thinking for a moment, she then moved her hand slowly to John's arm, gently removing his own hand from the pocket of his trousers. He tensed up, but decided to relent, and allowed her to hold his hand out, upturned in the air.

Looking John in the eye for confirmation, she took her own finger and began to slowly trace one letter after the other on his palm, inhaling while tracing and exhaling against every finished letter.

W-H-O-A-R-E-Y-O-U

John realized quite dumbly that the woman had no clue who he was and what he was doing in her hospital room. 

"John. John Shelby." He tacked on the last name in an attempt to see if it would ring any bells in the woman's head. The Shelby name was one written in the records, one that should have rattled people to the core. Her brown eyes gave no impression, instead, squinting and nodding for him to continue.

"Polly Shelby told me to come and get you when you woke up, bring you to her?" John offered, still fishing for the correct response.

Her eyes flickered at that, and the woman glanced to the side, pondering for a brief moment. The unreadable expression was thrown up on her face again, and John started to wonder what Pol might do to him if he couldn't convince the woman to follow.

John's hand had fallen to his side, but the woman brought it back up once more, tracing another set of letters into his palm.

I-W-I-L-L-C-O-M-E

"R-Right," John swallowed, as she proceeded to wheel her IV stand to the doorway. Standing there, shrouded by the light from outside the windows, her shadow wobbled against the puddle of water that had pooled from the vase; the woman's figure was that of a ghost, faint and forgotten.

John felt a nervous chill at that moment, something he later chalked up to the hospital air and hangover. She then turned around, the illusion of a haunting wraith dispelled, and with a disappointed expression, bit her lip and pulled John's palm out and traced carefully.

D-O-Y-O-U-H-A-V-E-A-C-H-A-N-G-E-O-F-C-L-O-T-H-E-S

"Oh," John mumbled, looking at the striped hospital ordained outfit the woman had on.

He did not.  

Pol had sent him out with a wrapped package that he had presumed to be dropped off by Charlie Strong's Yard when he stopped by before heading over. John was now realizing that the light package he had handed over that morning was not boating equipment, as he previously had thought.

On the other side of Birmingham, two boat loaders were staring confused at the cotton dress and black stockings found in the package they had just opened.