-- 18th February - Peoples Palace - Late Morning --

A coldness had sank into the room, dull and silencing. For a moment, the world seemed to fall like the snow month earlier, just as chilling. As heartbreaking. Focus swiftly returned to her.

How long had it been? It felt like years since she'd seen his face. Years. The pain, swallowed up in pride and distractions among the leadership she did possess. He hadn't been her problem for so long. So why now, under such dull circumstances as a dying city? And who the hell was Edward to intervene? Did he think that little of her abilities to keep her eye on the prize?

The duo finally stopped and looked to her. The petite girl had lovely brown eyes. 

But Westley had prettier ones. Ones that could lie. Ones that she could gaze into despite that.

"This is a rather urgent meeting, Mr. Corbet. State your business," she demanded after a pained swallow. Put on a face, give them a show. Show the whole damn city what you know.


Some piece of poetry Westley had found astounding from one of his students.
Pity he'd never teach again. Perhaps when it was all done and settled, she could change that too.

But it couldn't be more honest as to her situation. She could not falter for a moment. Her position was dire. A brave face she held. The city looked to her the same way the man she loved was looking at her now.


Westley faltered when she spoke. A play of emotions on his face. Guilt? Pain? Resolution... that was the last. He was always so good at that. Once he had made up his mind on a thing he was unstoppable. He and Edward had that in common. Nothing else, but they had that. He met her eyes and visibly steeled himself before speaking.

"I understand..." his voice faltered and the Spink girl squeezed his had reassuringly and he offered her a forced smile. "I understand that a delegation is to be sent to Graymire." he continued stronger now, more sure of his purpose. "The situation in the City has changed and my crimes as they were are not... I am not now, it would seem, on the wrong side if the law."

He stood there waiting for someone to correct him, to call him out, but nobody did. It seemed that the hall was all too eager to hear what he would say next.

"Still..." he announced, "Still I would make amends for my past behaviour. I without reservation ceed my claim to the Corbet estates and related properties to the wife of my deceased brother... to you Stella." he produced and envelope which he offered and as an aid scurried forward to bring the documents to Stella.

She carefully eyed the contents of the envelope, as much confusion as pain. There it was, right there before her eyes in fine ink. Surrender? Westley? It wasn't possible.

...was it?

He went on, "And I humbly ask that I be allow to make recompense to the City by leading the delegation to Graymire, by bringing peace to our home. I ask that I be allowed to perform this service and that I be released from all other hereditary links to the council. I wish to build a new life for myself and for my... fiance." The Spink girl squeezed his arm at that word and looked imploringly up to Stella seemingly unaware of the potentially devastating implications of that word to the older woman.

Her head lifted. The air was thick with something only she --and probably Edward-- could sense, but there was no name for it. All eyes were on her and she fought to keep a straight face, and luckily, only a tear or two welled in her eyes. Think quick, think quick. She plastered on a smile.

Her love, gone. Her mind, frantic. Her leadership, scaring her half to death. Her fate?

But it wasn't with Westley and that was the problem.

"Fiance?" Stella's pearly teeth almost gritted. "Well, congratulations to you both. I'm happy for you." Her lips pursed. "I recieve the property with much thanks. And as far as the delegation goes, you will be allowed a pardon for everything if you do as you have said. I trust you won't squander the chance because I believe in you. But understand, Westley Corbet, that there is no games or consequential mercy. It's not like anything you have dealt with before. You aren't a criminal in the City's view now, but if this goes bad, I'm afraid it's the end of the line for you. That trust will be discarded as will what reputation you still maintain." She sighed quietly and the tension had left her shoulders for the most part. "And we wouldn't want to break your fiance's little heart with any of that." She smiled at the girl and for a moment she felt something other than hurt. The vision of herself in the same shoes, fallen for this very man. Adoration. Naivety. Really, she couldn't blame her. Thrown into the grasp of compassion and caring. 

However, it stung to see such a youthful girl, one full of innocence and hope, look to throw away everything on a marriage. Stella was there once, but it was arranged, and nobody was this happy when it came to arranged marriages to older strangers. And this sudden? Surely it had to be a mistake! Even after all that had happened, how could they have met and grown this thing into love? This vile little creature of unknown creation, the absence of love in the city. In herself. In her life. Everything was so empty, lonely. A tiring repetition. Yet, here they were, having it all handed to them on a silver platter. What had she done wrong to deserve such nothingness? Had she offended by not praying enough?

The same tears threatened to fall but she bit them back like she bit her tongue.
She needed to get out.
She needed to breathe.
But here, when they let you breathe, all you got was a gulp of smoke, smog, and dust.
Her and Westley's eyes melted into one another, questioning so much at once. After everything...

"Now if that is all we would like to continue?"

(JP with Hob)

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