empty cradle

It is coincidence, really, the timing of this evening, where her work and her traditions intersected. She only visits the graveyard twice a year, after all: once upon the anniversary of her husband’s death and once upon the anniversary of her heart’s death. Normally she makes sure it’s a quiet affair: she tells no one, slipping out after her office has closed and before she returns to her house. She doesn’t bother to dress in black for these events: after all, she knows quite well who’s looking, and she knows exactly how little he cares.

“Tonight was magnificent,” he purrs into her ear; his body is a warm heavy weight against her. His hand presses against her side, his long fingers cupped loosely over her hip. “She deserved it, didn’t she? The little tart! Already blessed with two children, and ungrateful for the third!”

She says nothing. Tonight’s rain is more of a fine mist, damp upon her lips. She’ll have to wash up before she returns home. Grell’s hand moves to rest palm-flat against her empty belly. It’s scandalously improper, but she allows it. It reminds her of a gentler hand from a lifetime ago (will it be a boy? will it be a girl?) and she can’t quite summon the indignation to tell him off.

“Ahhhh~” he sighs, hot against her ear. His breath smells of raw meat, stronger now than usual. He rubs her belly in slow circles; she can feel a hard pressure there against the small of her back. She feels colder than ever, even as she reaches to touch his wrist with her red-stained hand. He giggles brightly and bites her ear hard: more blood for tonight. That’s all he wants, in the end, blood and more until he could drown in the stuff. His hand moves down to cup between her legs — a gesture of possession, she thinks with some irritation, when they’re standing here in front of her poor husband’s tomb. There isn’t enough ambient light to read the embossed words, but she knows the shape of it well.

“Maybe we could have a baby,” Grell coos. He curves his fingers, but through the layers of her skirts and petticoats, she only feels faint pressure. “Like Zeus and his women, maybe a god can succeed where man couldn’t.” His body shifts, bringing hers closer into alignment. A few more minutes, she thinks, and she’ll find herself with her skirts flipped up, rutted against cold stone, and her fingers tighten on his wrist. “Wouldn’t you like that, Madam Red?”

For just a moment, her mind is a traitor, and she thinks: yes, yes, yes, if it would give me my family back, I’d let you have what you want.

Then reason reasserts itself, and she pulls his hand away and turns her body to put distance between them. He doesn’t fight it. When she finally looks at him, his eyes are glowing and his mouth is spread in a wide, hungry smile — but he doesn’t move. His hand is limp in hers. Still hungry for blood, jackal that he was, but clever enough to bide his time. He’ll be the death of her one day, she knows, but for now, power is hers.

“I will thank you to behave yourself properly, Mister Sutcliff,” she says. Her voice is loud and clear, almost strident; it cuts cleanly through a silence left murky by Grell’s mutterings and growlings. She takes a measure of strength in that, drawing herself up taller. “See to it that there is a bath waiting for me when I return.”

Grell stares at her for long, long seconds. Enough rain has gathered in her hair to slide a single cold drop down the back of her neck.

Then he smiles. His tongue flicks briefly over the sharp points of his teeth, but he bows low, in perfect proper form.

“As my lady commands,” he says, and melts back into the darkness. She is left standing frozen, her hair slowly sticking to her skin from rain as much as blood, and something deep in the bit of her belly twists. It is a familiar feeling, one that will never again be hers. Carefully she puts a hand over it and closes her eyes.

“Hush, hushabye,” she whispers. “Sleep well, and goodnight.”

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