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Bedlam Girls #4

“A lady doctor?”

Kian was skeptical.

The woman was slim, fair haired, and dressed like the rest of the doctors in the facility. The rest of the doctors in the facility were however, male, and the neat trousers, shirt and white coat looked less sinful on them. Kian was trying very hard not to look her directly in the eye, or anywhere else.

“I don’t trust some of the staff here with these girls,” said the woman. She was being very patient with him, as though she received this kind of reaction all the time.

“None of the staff go near the girls, except for me,” he said with a scowl.

“Which is why you and I are having this little talk,” she said. “Now, you have three of them in the wing, presently, is that correct?”

“Two,” said Kian. “One of them was released last week.”

The lady doctor raised her eyebrows.

“I was under the impression that admissions to your wing of the hospital were permanent patients only.”

“She made a very convincing argument.”

The woman opened the folder in her hands and tapped the page with one finger.

“Which one did you let go free?”

Kian didn’t answer the question, he didn’t like the way she phrased it. The Bedlam Girls may have been prisoners but he had built up enough denial to ignore that little fact of the job. Prison guard was a less respectable title to share with family and friends.

“I’ll ask again,” said the lady doctor, still patient. “Which of the patients was released?”

“Aurora Kale,” said Kian.

“Define released,” said the lady doctor.

“A gentleman who she appeared to know came in on the pretense of visiting and warned me that I would be attacked if I did not let them go free.”

“And you let them,” she said. He wasn’t entirely sure if it was a question or not.

“She made a very convincing argument,” he repeated, and left it at that.

“Hm,” said the lady doctor. She set the file down on the desk of the room that she claimed was her office. But as Kian had never seen her before, and had never known the room to be an actual office, and no one had ever spoken to him about a lady doctor, and she was scarily fixated on the Bedlam Girls. His Bedlam Girls.

“Why exactly are you here?” he asked. “You’re clearly not a doctor, and you clearly want one of the girls for something. I’m not going to let you hurt them.”

The woman laughed, which was unexpected, and unnerving.

“Kian, I am not here to harm those girls. I came because of you.”

Kian frowned.

“What?”

“I have heard rumours of you, Kian,” she said, “of the things that you’ve done and the way that you’re… different. I had thought, perhaps, that I knew you, but you are exactly as you say. That does not make you any less interesting to me.”

Kian crossed his arms.

“So all of those questions about the Bedlam girls… ?”

“Were to see how you would respond,” she said. “Aurora told me that you tried to defend them, and that you let people think that all you had to do so was the power in your hands.”

“You’re a friend of Aurora’s,” he said, scowling again. “I should have known.”

“She speaks very highly of you,” said the lady doctor.

“I have nothing highly to speak of her,” he said. “Is she doing alright, out there?”

“Aurora has returned to the world as though she never left it,” said the lady doctor. “Which is not something that I can say about you. You seem to have deserted the world outside these halls altogether.”
She was more perceptive of him than Kian had expected, and she frightened him. So he took a step back, and another, and then another, and he left the room without saying another word.
The lady doctor followed him.

“You can’t run away from me, Kian,” she said. “I know what you are.”

Kian ignored her, and he ran anyway, back to his Bedlam Girls, where he could pretend that nothing could harm him, or harm them.

Bedlam Girls #3

The third Bedlam Girl was easily the oldest of the three, and her name was Claudia van Praag. Kian had heard so many stories about her from the other nurses that he was no longer certain what was truth and what was a lie. They said that she was friends with a false prince and a faraway king without a crown. There were stories about things she'd done for governments, people she'd killed.

As a general rule, Kian tried to ignore them all. He didn't need stories to make him more afraid of a Bedlam Girl, any Bedlam Girls. Whether they were properly insane or not.

Claudia's arrival had been preceded by a man in a suit, who was in a meeting with the hospital director for all of ten minutes before the director emerged, pale and trembling, and informed Kian that there would be a new admission to his ward the next day. He was told not to ask any questions, he was told not to form a relationship with the patient, and he was told in no uncertain terms that she had entirely lost her mind and everything that came out of her mouth was to be completely disregarded.

She arrived the next day, belted up in a straitjacket with a scarf wrapped around her mouth so that she couldn't speak. She wasn't struggling, or trying to communicate, she just watched the people around her with a dark look in her eyes.

Kian had thought that she was being treated more like a prisoner than a patient. And she didn't really look like either. She was just a girl, maybe eighteen years old at the time, with white skin and black hair and a bright red silk scarf stopping her from saying anything in her defence.

That had been two years previously, she had been the first to arrive, and now they didn't talk all that much.

But when they did, Kian always came away... unsettled.

“You know what I'm going to do when I escape this place?”

He'd given up a long time ago on the whole avoiding eye contact part of his contract. He'd also given up on pretending that these girls had a future on the other side of the wall, but he didn't let it stop them dreaming. Aurora's liberation had been a fluke, and he knew that it wasn't going to happen again, just like she wasn't going to come back to help them.

“What are you going to do, Claude?”

“I've told you not to call me Claude,” said Claudia.

“I'm sorry,” said Kian, and he was genuinely contrite. “I didn't think.”

“You're not really a thinker, are you,” said Claudia, giving him a look that could wither a vegetable garden. “I am going to escape this place some day and when I do I will hunt down every single man who put me in here. They will all suffer in the way that I have suffered for them.”

“For?”

“You don't have any clue who I really am,” she said. She was sitting cross legged on her bunk, her hands resting on her legs, watching him as he moved around the cell, setting her food on the table and making sure that she had all of the right things and nothing that she could use as a weapon. The peacefulness of the position unnerved him.

“You're a Bedlam girl, same as all the rest,” said Kian. He didn't look her in the eye.

“I'm not like them,” she snarled, “I'm not shut in here because I'm crazy. I'm shut up in here because I know things that I'm not supposed to know. I am a danger to so many people on the outside and the day I give them what they want is the day I die.”

“Every patient in here claims that they're not crazy,” said Kian. “What makes you any different?”

There was an alarming glint in Claudia's eyes.

“I'm going to prove it,” she said.

the Bedlam Girls #2

Once upon a time Brianne Langely had been well respected amongst her peers, but not amongst her teachers. She was the product of a Proper Boarding School education, if only because no governess could stand to be her teacher for more than a month. The school itself had been built especially for causes such as Brianne Langely.

'St Valentina's Academy for Difficult Young Ladies'.

Brianne was the only one to actually end up in Bedlam, most of the others had been either reformed to perfection or been imprisoned with strict husbands and stricter lifestyles.

Commitment to the Royal Bethlehem Hospital was restricted to those who had come home dripping wet and claiming to have leapt from the heights of London tower to land in the Thames.

When he had first heard her story, Kian wasn't quite sure which part he believed less. The part where she had survived the Thames? The fall from the Tower? Being put in the Tower in the first place because someone had thought that it would teach her a lesson?

Although the girl herself was a little fuzzy on the details of how she had ended up in the Tower in the first place, Kian had heard several versions, most of them having her being put there as a prisoner, some of them involving a quest for truth, justice and the glory of immortality.

She was his favourite Bedlam girl, partly because she seemed the most sane. When they had first met she had given him a polite curtsey and then thrown all social tradition to kiss his hand even though he was only a nurse at Bedlam and she was supposed to come from properly esteemed stock. Or maybe that was a lie. At any rate, someone in her family was a peer of the realm and someone spent a lot of time in a suit of armour, as archaic as the costume was.

Kian had the sneaking suspicion that Brianne had spent most of her early life in the country behaving like a peasant and spending more time than was appropriate with foreigners. She certainly had some odd ideas, and most of them came out during the weekly ritual of tea time.

Tea time went like this;

Kian would deliver the meals to every patient in his assigned wing, Brianne Langely first, and then the third Bedlam girl, and on to everyone else. Then he would return to Brianne, where she would have finished eating her meal, with a tea pot and two cups, and they would sit and drink and converse like civilised people.

The tradition had started when Brianne had been there for two weeks and he had arrived at her door to bring her the food. She had snaked an arm through the bars to grab him by the shirt and then given him a sheepish smile.

“I'm dying for some decent conversation,” she had said, “and a good cup of tea. Who do I have to speak to to get either?”

No Bedlam girl had ever asked for anything so politely before, most requests in the second wing of Bedlam involved screaming and crying and the occasional death threat. They usually also involved requests for weapons and liquor and visits from the Queen. Brianne was the first one to behave in a manner that was devastatingly British.

Kian hated to refuse anyone a cup of tea.

That had been almost an entire year previously and now it was tradition; every Sunday night, he sat with her in the chamber and they drank tea and talked... anything that she wanted to discuss.

The first opportunity after the liberation of Aurora Kale, what Brianne wanted to discuss was, of course, Aurora Kale.

“I don't think that she was genuinely mad,” said Brianne thoughtfully. She was holding the cup up near her nose so that she could smell it before she drank it, as always.

It took Kian a moment to realise what she was talking about.

“Aurora?”

“Lady Kale,” said Brianne, the correction coming automatically, but then, when she tilted her head to reconsider Kian saw the ways her mouth twisted up at the corners when she was thinking of something that amused her. “Although I suppose,” she continued, “We are all equal in here, and she'll be back, of course.”

“How can you be so sure?” asked Kian. “You think she'll be committed again?”

“I don't see that happening, do you?” Brianne said with a light lift of tone. “She never behaved as one who had lost control of her senses.”

Kian thought back to all of the times that Aurora had bit him or attacked him, and the times that he had come to find her mumbling to herself or staring at nothing.

“She looked as crazy as everyone else in here.”

“I'm not crazy,” said Brianne, “and neither was she. She was putting on an act the entire time because it was expected of her. When she attacked that knight it was probably because he deserved it, or because she knew something about him that no one else could.”

He almost didn't hear what she said because his mind was too occupied with the way that Brianne herself could be perfectly civil and ladylike one minute, and deeply disturbing the next. She was so often gripped with moods of violent depression or manic happiness that Kian was scared of her. There was a reason that Brianne was one of the Bedlam Girls, and it wasn't just because she claimed to have survived a long dive into the Thames.

“Knew something? Like what?”

Brianne shrugged.

“It is my theory that Aurora Kale could see more than you or I could. She was the one who first showed us that you are different, after all.”

Kian unconsciously put a hand to his neck near where Aurora had pulled the feather.

“Don't worry, my darling,” said Brianne, smiling into her tea cup. “I won't tell a soul.”

Not that anyone would believe her if she did.

“So you think that because she sees things differently she's going to come back to... what? Visit? Set you free?”

“Aurora and I did not particularly get along,” said Brianne. “But once you are a Bedlam Girl you are always a Bedlam Girl. The shackles of this place can not be cast off so easily.”

He knew that particularly well.

“If you could leave...” he said, “...what would you do?”

She glanced at the window that gave her a view of the sky and twisted up the corners of her mouth.

“Fly,” she said.

the Bedlam Girls #1

Once upon a time Kian had been a boy with dreams.

He had grown up, of course, and realised that dreams were nothing more than fragments of imagination, trapped in the confines of his head. So he got his medical license, just like his family wished, and then, in a fit of rebellion, transferred over to Bedlam to work as a nurse.

They were not pleased with him for that.

So now he played caretaker for the Bedlam Girls.

At least one of them was in love with him, he just wasn't entirely sure which.

His least favourite of the three was liberated by a young man with dark hair and the kind of idle wit that was in very great danger of turning to constant sarcasm.

“What did you say your name was?” asked Kian.

“I didn't,” said the gentleman. He reached out an arm and ran his hand along a wall that, admittedly, hadn't been cleaned in a while. Kian cringed.

“There aren't all that many people who are willing to clean this ward,” he said. “You might want to keep your hands to yourself.”

The gentleman gave him a look of mild interest.

“What's wrong with this ward?” he asked.

“This is where we keep the Bedlam Girls,” said Kian, “That's what you came for, isn't it?”

The gentleman stranger did not respond, and he did not seem to notice that Kian was watching him carefully out of the corner of his eye to see if he did anything... strange. Which the gentleman did not do (aside from the part where he was there to take someone out of the hospital, which was not something that Kian had seen anyone ever do before). He slid his hands into his pockets and observed everything in silence.

“Which patient did you say you were here to collect?” asked Kian.

“I haven't said that either,” said the strange gentleman. “She's not really supposed to be leaving this establishment.”

There was a particular kind of glint in the man's eye that Kian found he really didn't like. The kind of glint that he had never seen before but was fairly certain that he could recognise as dangerous.

“You're going to attack me if I don't do what you ask, aren't you?”

The gentleman laughed, and it was such a genuine sound that Kian was startled.

“Not exactly,” he said. “Tell me, have you ever spent any time with the patient?”

“What does it matter?”

The gentleman gave Kian a toothy grin.

“Oh, it matters,” he said. “Because my girl is not the kind of girl who can leave well enough alone.”

Kian had no idea what that was supposed to mean.

“I have no idea what-”

“I don't expect you do, you're just an orderly.”

Kian did not take kindly to being interrupted, and he most definitely was not 'just an orderly'. For one thing, he was the only person on staff willing to go near the Bedlam Girls. And for another, he was the only male on the premises who was tall enough to reach the things on the top shelf of the storeroom.

Which didn't sound like much...

But they kept the laudanum up there, and some of the nurses had addictions that the people at the top of the food chain tended to ignore. There weren't a lot of people willing to work at Bedlam, and there were a lot of jobs waiting for them in places that were significantly safer, if slightly less interesting.

“I was told at the desk that she was in room 2.16,” said the gentlemen with perfect politeness after a pause in which Kian stopped leading him through the hallway and instead stood there, waiting for new information.

“Room 2.16 is my least favourite Bedlam Girl,” said Kian.

Which she was, with very good reason. When the Bedlam Girl in Room 2.16 had first arrived the receptionist had immediately called Kian because she was perfect Bedlam Girl material. Kian, gentle soul that he was, had reached out a hand to guide her and she had immediately twisted around and bit his hand so firmly that she had broken the skin and drawn blood.

It hadn't been the first time that he'd been attacked by a Bedlam patient, but the first time that the patient in question had been a young noblewoman with blood in her hair and strange black tattoos that ran down her neck and chest. Room 2.16 was a little bit of everything and that made her something new.

But unlike the rest of the patients at Bedlam she hadn't lost the vicious spark that she had arrived with.

She was a Bedlam Girl, through and through, and Bedlam Girls never changed. Even Kian was a little bit frightened of them sometimes.

“That sounds about right,” said the gentleman with a chuckle. “Aurora is the least favourite person of nearly everyone in the Queen's court.”

Kian gave room 2.16 a wary look and pulled the chain that kept the key out from underneath his shirt, but he hesitated...

“I'm going to have to hit you now, I suppose,” said the gentleman with a sigh. “I was hoping that it wasn't going to have to come to this.”

He adjusted his stance and raised his hands, curling them into fists as he did so.

Kian took a step back.

“You don't have to hit me,” he said. “I'm going to unlock the door. I just... what do you want with her?”

“I'm going to take her home,” the gentlemen said firmly, and strangely... Kian felt like it was the most genuine thing that he had said since they had met. “She's a monster when she's caged but a treasure when she's free.”

Kian could not at all picture the Bedlam girl 2.16 being a 'treasure' of any kind, and he wasn't even the kind of person who read the society columns.

He unlocked the door, and stepped very quickly out of the way. When the gentleman looked inside the room, however, he was less than pleased.

“She's chained to the wall?” he said in a very quiet voice.

“She's attacked a few people,” said Kian with a shrug, he was staying well back, but he could still see into the room where Aurora Kale, the occupant of 2.16 was curled up against the far wall, iron shackles around her wrists and ankles, keeping her attached to her dismal cell.

She had long ago been changed into the standard grey dress that Bedlam patients wore but she still held herself with the dignified grace to suit the extravagant (albeit... tattered) ball gown she had arrived in, and her tangled hair was still the colour of blood. Every time he looked at her, all he saw was the disgraced beauty who had gone crazy and attacked a knight of the realm with a fork.

There had been events leading up to the breakdown, but it was the fork attack that had brought her to Bedlam.

The gentleman stepped into the room without a trace of fear, and knelt down next to her.

“Aurora?”

To Kian's surprise, she did not immediately leap and attack him, but instead raised her head slowly and stared at him with dark, glittering eyes.

“Where the hell have you been?” she asked.

“You, orderly,” the gentleman snapped his fingers at Kian. “Come and unlock these.”

There were two keys on the string that Kian kept around his neck, both of them for the Bedlam Girls, one for rooms and one for shackles. He had wondered once whether it was wise to have only one key for all the girls in the second wing, but it was a thought that he had never actually voiced to anyone and so he was still the only one with the only key for all of the Bedlam Girls.

He unlocked the shackles that were keeping Aurora Kale in her cell, and then skittered backwards to where she couldn't touch him, but he wasn't quite fast enough.

She leapt forward and latched her skinny arms around his neck, clinging to him like a limpet. For a girl who had been chained to a wall for almost an entire year with little food and no regular exercise; she was scarily strong.

“I'm not going to miss you,” she murmured into his ear in the kind of low, cracked voice that came out of people who hadn't formed large amounts of coherent words in a very long time. “But I won't miss you enough to come back.”

Kian felt her fingers curl around the back of his neck, softly, so softly that for a moment he wasn't sure whether it was her hand or a breeze that he could feel, but then there was a sharp pain and he cried out in shock. The pain he could handle, the action itself was new.

Her gentleman liberator had risen to his feet and was waiting patiently in the doorway.

“Aurora,” he said.

“I'm coming,” said Aurora, who was idly twisting a large black feather between her pale fingers. She then leaned forward and tucked it into the front pocket of his uniform. “If you ever feel like a change of pace,” she said quietly, where her gentleman friend couldn't hear, “come and find me. We've always known that you're just as much of a monster as the rest of us.”

She went to pull herself up from the floor and found that her legs didn't quite have the strength, so she held out a hand to the man in the doorway.

“Edward...”

The gentleman, Edward, helped her to her feet, and then they were gone, leaving Kian where Aurora had knocked him down and pinned him to the ground.

Kian waited until he couldn't hear them in the hall, got up, smoothed out his uniform with his hands and pulled the feather out of his pocket, dropping it on the floor without a second thought.

Then he left the cell, and returned to work as normal.