Down the Rabbit Hole

(OOC: Sorry about my absence, if this feels rushed I apologize :/ )

- October 7th, Highholm, Hospital, Morning -

Room 4B, left hall. A shred of paper had been slipped into the plaque stating a name. Poorly scribbled on in a hurry.

Stella hesitated to turn the knob but there was no going back now. She'd come this far and she was determined to get some answers. She gave the door a gentle push before entering as if walking on glass.
The room was dim with the greying light caused by the Maelstrom above, not a colored flower or comforting gift in sight. Everything looked untouched and pristine like time stood at a pause. Like it stood in her chest, continuing on with every thump, thump.
Still it felt wrong like their was a part missing. Her heels quietly clacked on the tiles as she neared the bed. And there she found him, Westley, reading a book with a single leg propped onto the snow white sheets. A smile was present on his face even before he noticed she had entered. Literature always made him smile in the darkest of times.

"It's about time," he set the book aside and propped himself into a seated position faster than a person in his state should. He didn't bat an eye as they were too busy being filled with a childlike wonder. Or maybe they were just glazed over by the drugs. Quietly she placed a small bouquet of white roses onto the empty table. Whether they were real or not she couldn't give less of a damn.

"You look more beautiful than I think you ever have... or maybe I'm dead and there really is some sort of sanctuary," he let out a laugh as if he'd been tickled from the inside out. Stella did not understand the humor.

"No more flattery," she spoke abruptly birthing a silence too still for her to mind.  "You made it clear to me you didn't want a visit, yet here I'm standing. I'll ask questions and I need you to tell me everything you have laying heavy in your heart, that's if you truly even have a heart."

"Are you doubtful? And what makes you think I wouldn't want to see you?"

She brushed him off. "I'm not sure you've ever told me the truth but I refuse to leave until I decide whether or not to forgive you. I can't even count on that now to save your soul. But your trial is nearing and they will have a hell of a lot more questions to ask so think of this as your preparation session. It'll be the only one you get. So please, be honest. It'll get you a lot further. And don't waste my time."

He remained quiet and nodded. She took a few steps and pulled the chair over to the bed, seating herself. "For starters, I need you to clarify why you chose some rebels over preventing my possible arrest."

Westley sighed, "Hanton said he'd handle it. I believed him which was probably the worst thing I could've done. Yes, he got you out of it from the looks of things but... I was so lost in protecting the future that I got coaxed into arriving at the mill-- which was then in my name --and now," he looked down to his legs, "Now I'm convinced that he let me out so I could've been killed in the explosion. To all of them I'm just a problem. To you. If I had stuck to my word and went to the reading none of this would've happened. And for that I am sorry."

Convinced he let me out... so I could be killed.

As much as she wanted to deny that as a possibility she couldn't knock it out of the park yet. Edward was capable of many things and he was a clever devil when it came to manipulation and power. Strangely enough a part of her strove to be a little more like him. In Dusk that's how you held power. At least that's how it looked.

"Alright, but you didn't have to go to the mill or leave the Palace at all. Now that you've mentioned it, tell me why you kept the contents of David's will a secret? And is that why you skipped out, fear of how I'd react?"

"You know I'm a man of my word, I swore an oath to my brother. It might've been stupid but... in all honesty I was terrified of his anger if I did break that promise. I was just terrified of him and sick of everything he did," he spoke quietly. "But that's not it. I didn't follow through like he wanted."

"Why is that not surpri-"

"The bank, Stella." There was a pause. "In the bank I've separated funds into an account made specifically for you. Find the teller, request access to the account set for Stella Corbet under my own, and they'll ask for a password that is December."

"December, huh?"

"The month we met."

Without permission her mind slipped back to that day and she floated in her thoughts momentarily. It was so beautiful then, as close to beautiful as life in a smoggy dumpster of a city could be. Everything was untouched by all the recent darkness. Living was much more simple, it was easy to live. But in the present you could step off your doorstep and get blown to smithereens or take a bullet straight through the chest. Dying was the easiest thing to do in Dusk right after locating whorehouses and bars yet some just couldn't figure out the formula.

"Once again, you didn't tell me this? Not a simple "Oh that's right, I have money to support you, Stella. I'm not a total douchebag! Taking things that belong to you?""

Westley grimaced and looked down. "I fucked up too many times to count, that I can't change. But it's there and it's waiting for you to claim. But there's something else you'll be more hesitant to claim."

"What the hell could that possibly be?"

"I'm not the last of my blood. I have a son."

She felt a silent, deadly breath fill her lungs. Westley never had a son, it was impossible. He might've if she hadn't just lost the baby but that was over and done with. There was no more direct Corbet title. It was only her and she wasn't their blood.

"Nonsense. Claire died before you could have any children," she snapped in spite but also tad of jealousy. To have a man like him, the ability to have a family... Stella found herself jumbled in emotions.

His expression read something of guilt, pain maybe. "Claire wasn't the Claire I speak of. Claire was really a courtesan I found myself involved with when I was barely your age, I didn't know what I was doing. I'd like to think she loved me which is why she stopped taking clients and after a while it was just me. She really tried to clean up her act when she found she was expecting. And she had the child even if I urged her not to... I... didn't want my reputation damaged. It got so bad that I distanced myself from her and my son when he was born. Things got messy and we split."

"You were a selfish asshole, of course you split."

"And after the split I began writing him numerous times a month, letter after letter. Like I was trying to explain to him my regret for not having visited or even stayed."

Her mouth stood agape only slightly, his words absolutely baffling. It seemed so far fetched but also somewhere within reach. There was something about Westley only she could read, however, and it made all the difference.

"A-and what about when you introduced her? How did you know he was your son?" Nobody ever really saw Claire's face, just once to be exact. And she was so beautiful, someone so much so that if she were breathing could easily match to the presence of Stella herself. Part of her wickedly felt relief knowing there was no one to compete with now. As for this supposed son, with the mother working as she did, there was a possibility it wasn't even his.

"I paid her to pose as my wife, create this little fake world everyone believed. I thought to myself if I could prove to them it wasn't all a hoax just once that it would let me slide for years to come. That I'd be fine."

"Just once?"

Westley sighed and shifted his body where his good leg was planted on the ground. He reached beside the head board and grabbed his crutches before standing, moving toward one of the windows. He peered out of it intently.

"When we first put our relationship into place she stopped her business for a little over a year, of course he was mine. And then I rejected them and she reverted back to her old ways just to keep the boy fed. It wasn't until Claire contracted something that it changed, died later that year causing him to be removed. Gods, Stella, he was only seven and he's never seen me since! A family took him, friends of Claire's, but not once did I have the courage to face him again."

"D-does this boy have a name?" Accepting this boy would threaten everything she'd gained, the power, the money. A male with a direct blood title could ruin everything.

"Should he do as I asked you'll find out depending on how this trial ends. Keep an eye open for the surname Bishop. He'll have the files of his birth I had put away for secrecy as well as some of my letters."

Stella slumped down in her chair. "Well shit. So that's it? Dumping all of this onto and expecting me to do what with it?"

"You came in here asking for answers and I gave every one. Take all of this however you damn well please because after I receive whatever sentence they deem fit I'm gone and I can't take all of this with me to my grave," he now stood a mere foot from her. "This might be one of the last chances I have to explain everything in private where only you will hear. Now that I'm more mobile and my respiratory is in stable condition the Council will go forward and rip me to shreds as brutally as possible. And from the looks of it, things might happen soon. I can talk. Move. Voice the truth no matter how costly. I don't know how long I truly have and I hate to drop it all this way but... they will not hesitate," he paused, " and you shouldn't either."

"Why take advice from a man who lies?"

"You're one to talk, taking how much advice from the High Inquisitor and First Citizen? What I'm trying to say, Stella, is that no matter what this city does to you, you need to rise above it. Above the elites and what they do. Above what I've done so poorly. Stop being used."

"I've been used all my life. It's what I'm good at," tears covered her eyes with a sigh. "The only way to survive this cesspool is do things how people want you to, how Josiah and everyone else takes control. It's wrong but-but if I cheat and lie and manipulate already how am I any better than Edward? Josiah? I threatened the secretary up front just so she'd let me into your room which allows no visitors. How do you save yourself from something like that? This rabbit hole just gets deeper and deeper until one day I spiral out of control."

"And how much do you want to bet the Council did that purposely, keep visitors away? You're smart and you're powerful but you don't need me to help you understand that. Just because it's how they got where they are doesn't make it any more correct. Do not be so bold as me but do not be silenced by anyone. You mark a moment in history where those who aren't just ruthless men born into money can take charge, be a voice, and take chances. You can write out the destiny of Dusk with just a few words." He pursed his lips as he'd gotten lost in her eyes. "Speak out in a way that people will support you but not deem you a threat. Make everybody like you before you lay the bombs so you'll have the city on your side. Bring crimes within our politics to light and tear Josiah apart. He's continued to wreck this city with no intention of stopping. Deception and manipulation aren't wrong if it's for the right reasons."

"Nobody is ever right for any reason especially not with that hand on things."

"But you can be if you play your cards strategically. Sure, it may be the exact same but the way you use it to your advantage could get you so far. I've no place to speak but it's a truth that hit me the hard way. Now I suffer because of my stupidity. Don't make the same mistakes. I know you won't."

The woman bit down on her lip, "You're not talking about the ideas you have, changing them, are you?" He shook his head in response.

"Goodness, no. Honestly I think what I was aiming for is everything the workers need but with a tainted, prideful mind. If we ever want them to actually do their jobs they need to be treated as people. I'm not saying remove all of the elites or anything like that but at least give them space and a life worth living. They eat mice and garbage for the gods' sake! Live in alleys and sleep in dirt. That's not a life. We have every resource to help them but no one is. You started just like them, broken, alone, starving. And what if there is a little girl out there right now selling herself for a couple of crescents because that's all she's told she's worth? Because she wasn't born a Monteclaire or a Spink? What reason do we have to mistreat them?"

She broke her gaze from his and focused on the floor, contemplating whether or not it was a time to sob. She decided it wasn't.

He frowned as he'd known he pushed too far. Or maybe it was necessary. "Tell me this, love, do you want to be known as Stella Corbet who brought the world hope and light and prosperity, or do you want to be known and forgotten as just some witch who let them suffer and die out because she was scared of change."

"I'm not scared of change."

"No, you're scared of losing everything if you ask for change. You're scared of ending up like you were as a child. But most importantly, you're terrified of being alone because of the choices you make."

"Aren't we all?" She said after a moment of pained silence, aggressive almost.

He grimaced. "I have a question to ask you. After all of this, do you still hate me?"

"You're a sweet idiot, how could I hate you? I never did."

"You were fuming not too long ago."

"I'm mad and quite frankly a little fucking upset but I'd never hate you, even with all that's out."

A quiet hour of gut-spilling had passed but things weren't any easier for the Councilor.

"You kept to yourself for years?" she sounded exhausted like her voice could shatter. Stella swallowed hard. "They're going to eat you alive," she recalled aloud. "Isn't that how you said it? Strange how it found its way back."

"Is it that odd?" he tried a smirk to hide the sorrow. "You can say I'm a coward, I'm well aware."

"Yes, you are a coward but no, it was not a surprise. You played the game like a fool; did you really expect them to tolerate you for long? You go against everything they want, built, and you admitted it all for the world to hear. You can't do that with them. It takes strategy and logic, control of sorts. Being quiet and doing things behind their backs. Gun-blazing, Westley, usually gets people killed. I just hope they don't take it that far. I can't see you die. And I can't face you as an opposite," tears broke the seriousness once more, this time slipping off the edge. "I won't testify against someone I love and who I know had innocent intentions. Who screwed up and accepts it." She stood by him gazing out the window. A bittersweet silence filled the space but she didn't mind. Much needed if you ask me, the Councilor thought. After a moment Westley turned to her with a smile, one arm leaving his crutch as he held his hand out.

"Well, I need to get some rest, I have a long day of therapy ahead. I wish you the best of luck and caution. That being said, Councilor Corbet, I think this is goodbye."

Goodbye? Already? No, that couldn't be right. It was just temporary. Yes.

She appeared stunned. "I need to know, is that all? All your secrets?" There was so much. Stella couldn't imagine anything more on someone's plate.
Thankfully he was always very expressive with his eyes, the windows to the soul. The answer was very clear even in silence. A riddle only she could decipher.

Yes.

And surely hers could be read as their eyes locked and she shook his hand with goosebumps rising on her arms.


Good God, don't let this be goodbye.

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