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Jan. 18th, 2008


Beauty and the beast

It wasn't home, but it was home now. As much as Lady Gillian of Dunhanshire longed for her home in early thirteenth England, she had finally resigned herself to the fact that she would never see it again. Today was a rough day. She should have been in the park while Benton was at work. She loved that park, but... But today, she was restless. Today, she wanted to walk in the City, and let its paths take her where it wanted. It always brought her back to where she needed to be. Or if it didn't, it brought her to someone who could see her to where she belonged.

The fall had turned into winter, and the winter had given way into spring. The breeze was warm and lovely, the sun was bright and cheerful, and Gillian... Gillian was restless. Her dainty steps took her well outside the grounds of the City Commons. Pavement rolled onward and onward, and she didn't particularly notice where it took her. A strange building here, and then long stretches of open road where it seemed like there should have been something. There should have been something.

But Gillian didn't notice. She hummed to herself as she walked. She sang old tales that had belonged in her uncle's Great Hall, tales of warriors and knights, of battles that were won, of maidens saved by the fierce hand of their champion. It reminded her of the Mountie who had taken her into his home. Perhaps it hadn't been quite proper, but there was nothing improper about Benton Fraser. He made her feel safe. He made her feel....

Well, she couldn't say it, not even to herself, not even after all these months. It was a foolish girl's hope, and the man was clearly uninterested. Better to call him a friend and a benefactor, and leave it at that.

The road she had been walking turned to gravel. She frowned and looked - really looked - around where she had managed to come. The City Commons was nowhere in sight. In fact, not much was in sight. Just a strange building with many, many doors. There seemed to be a main one, sheltered by a canopy. Perhaps they had water inside. That would be nice. She just realized how terribly thirsty she was.

Her knuckles rapped a soft, polite question against the door of the Bates Motel.

It was nearly always dark at the Bates Motel. Even during bright sunny afternoons, the place had a certain eerie dark quality about it. Norman had tried to fix that. His plan was to paint the motel a light shade of yellow. Something sunshine-y. But everything was still in cased in black and white. Even himself. Though, Norman never seemed to notice. Perhaps he was merely too accustomed to it.

It had been slow recently. Norman had taken that one trip into the city with Hannibal, but that was the only time. He didn't feel right about going alone. And he had Mother to take care of. He couldn't be spending his days out enjoying himself when his poor Mother was left to rot in the big empty house. Even if he did have quite the desire to leave.

Norman had been in the back room, tidying up the office, when the knock came on the door. He perked his head up for a moment, shoved a bag of something beneath a desk and peeked over at the window where a shadow of a woman stood. A potential customer, perhaps? He hoped. Sometimes it was nice to be slow. But Norman preferred the company of others. Strangers. Well, motel guests. Just knowing that someone needed a place to stay was a nice change to his daily routine.

He straightened his shirt and hurried over to the door, pulling it open. It used to ding when the door was opened, but it had since broken. And Norman had gotten around to replacing it yet.

"Hello! Come in! Welcome!"

Gillian stepped over the threshold and smiled warmly, seeming to bring a shred of color into the dismal scene. The one who greeted her was handsome, in a strange and awkward kind of way. She was glad to see how heartily he welcomed her inside, however, though it didn't quite set off the strange sense of unease to the place. The poor man.... Did he live here? She imagined he had to go out walking, himself, sometimes, just to escape from this place.

"Greetings, kind Sir," she said with a polite curtsy. "My name is Gillian, and I've walked.... Oh, I've walked a while from the City. I was hoping you had a...."

What had they been called? Silvery box, with an inverted half cup and a round ...

"..a..a fount?"

That wasn't quite right. "A water fount?"

Norman was a little surprised, and partly perplexed, by her strange accent and manner of speech. But he didn't let that deter his sweetness. He did have his own kindness, after all. Norman was a good man at heart. It was just Mother who was such a horrible influence. Norman thought she was up at the house in bed. Where she was safe. Where everyone was safe.

But Norman was often misled.

"Oh! A water fountain? No, I'm sorry. Costs too much, you know. All that p-p-plumbing."

He cleared his throat with a cough.

"But I have a little kitchen back here. If you'd like for me to get you a glass of water. My name's Norman, by the way. Norman Bates," he smiled, offering his hand.

Her eyes grew soft when he stuttered. The poor man! He must be shy about such a thing, but he was still welcoming her in with all the warmth that an old friend would.

"'Tis pleased I am to meet your acquaintance, Lord Norman," she said formally. "If I would not be an imposition, it is glad I would be to have a glass of water." She set her hand in his, but not as someone would to shake another person's hand. No, it was clear she expected a courtly kiss, for that was the manner in which gentlemen greeted ladies. Unless those gentlemen were Benton. He always bowed. Her smile grew warmer at the thought of him.

Norman's stutter was a nervous thing. He had the tendency to get very anxious over little matters. And he liked strangers! But they also unnerved him. Why, he was never quite sure. But he supposed it had something to do with Mother. Mother never liked Norman getting close to other people. Only her. She was the only person in his life.

Lord Norman! Oh she's a sneaky one, isn't she? Trying to get close to my son!

Norman's cheeks flushed a little in embarrassment.

When she placed her hand oddly in his own, Norman wasn't quite sure what to do. So he just gave it a little shake. Nothing forceful.

"I'll be just a moment!"

And he hurried off to the back of the motel office to pour her a glass of water from the sink. Faucet water was all he had. But it was better than the swamp water, so that was good. When he returned he held it out for her.

"I have n-never met anyone who speaks like y-y-you do. Are you from far away?"

She stared at her hand when he hurried away, not sure why he'd shaken it like that. Strange... But when he returned, she gratefully accepted the glass and did her best to curb the unladylike instinct to gulp it all down in a single drought. She managed to sip.

"Yes," she answered, smiling again and sipping. "My home is in Dunhanshire...Ah... England? When I was last there, it was 1203 in the year of our Lord. Prithee, your mind may imagine my shock when arriving here! 'Tis still a struggle, but most have been kind to me. You are very kind." Another smile, another sip, this time less desperate.

She didn't tell him about the trouble at the hospital, or about the unusual happenings between herself and Sir Napier. It was rude to discuss such things.

"Is this your home?" she asked, looking around. It was dark, but so very large! And the windows alone must have cost a fortune! All in all, it was a fine keep, and would withstand a great bashing of the elements. In this age, it did not seem that men lay siege to their neighbors, so she didn't think to factor in the lack of a moat.

It saddened her when she realized that she hadn't. Moats were a part of her past, but clearly not a part of her future. She missed her home. She missed her family.

The year 1203? Oh, that couldn't be right. She must have been wrong. That was so long ago. Norman remembered learning about that time in school. Many many years ago. Though he couldn't remember much of it now. Dates and facts were never easy for Norman to recall. They never seemed as important as other things.

But she must have been wrong.

No! She's just lying to you, Norman! She's trying to trick you with her whore-ish ways! Listen to the way she talks! She has slut written all over her!

Oh no! She couldn't be like that! She was so polite and pretty. Norman refused to believe it.

"I live up in the house on the hill with my mother. But this is my motel. It's not much. I don't get much business either. But it's a good place."

"Oh, yes," Gillian agreed immediately. "It seems to be so. You have so much space, and it isn't drafty at all! Even my uncle's keep had a terrible draft in it - it was the way of things! Wind and winter make formidable enemies of comfort, but I see you have managed to conquer them!"

She gave him a brilliant smile and drank more. It was so good to be drinking something! How long had she walked? And how far?

"It must be very nice living with your mother. I didn't get to see the house - I only just noticed this ..m... motel..." The word was unfamiliar, and she tested it on her tongue carefully. "What kind of business are you in?"

Had he said inn or tavern, even, she would have understood. But motel? It was as foreign to her as hauberks would have been to him.

"Heh, well, I guess you could say I'm in the motel business."

She was a strange one, wasn't she? Not understanding what a motel tell was. Mother didn't trust her, but Norman was trying to be polite. Norman was always very polite. Sometimes too polite. To the point of suspiciousness. Somehow, despite living with Mother, he'd managed to find a sense of courtesy.

Dirty whore doesn't deserve to live, Norman! Get rid of her! Get rid of her or I'll get rid of her!

"Twelve rooms, twelve vacancies. I rent them out to travelers. Sometimes high school kids. You know how those after p-p-prom events are. I don't like renting to them, but sometimes I don't have a choice. Especially during the slow season."

He paused for a moment.

"It's a very nice house. I've lived there all my life."

Except for that time when he was taken away... Or, more correctly, when Mother was taken away.

"If you'd like, we could go up there and I could make us some s-sandwiches. I make a good sandwich. So I'm told."

"Prom events?" Well, she definitely didn't know what that was, but... "It sounds rather unsavory..." The tone in his voice suggested it more than anything else. "I'm sure that's the right thing to do." But she was understanding more what a hotel was, so she felt better about the entire situation. She didn't need a hotel, but the mention of food reminded her that she'd not eaten much at all.

"I would be charmed to try one of your sandwiches, Lord Norman," Gillian said, settling her glass in one hand as she took his arm with the other. Her fingers rested delicately against the inside of his elbow and she looked up at him trustingly.

She said yes? Just like Marion had said yes. Only with Marion, Norman brought the sandwiches down to the motel office because Mother was in a bad mood. But Mother wasn't in such a bad mood this evening, right? She didn't seem to be. Actually, Norman was of the opinion that she was asleep in her room. Which was good because Mother needed the rest. She was getting old and a little confused. And Norman was a good boy! A good son! He was taking care of her. Or, he wanted to take care of her. To the best that he could, of course.

Which would never be good enough for Mother.

He grinned.

"Wonderful! I mean, great! It's just a little walk and a few steps."

And then she touched his elbow and his face flushed a little. It was a different experience. One he knew that Mother would disapprove of greatly. But Mother wasn't here, was she? So Norman took a deep breath, smiled, and led her up to the house.

They didn't enter through the front door, but the door on the side of the house which went directly into the kitchen. It was a decent sized kitchen, but it's style was rather 1950s-ish. The wallpaper could use a change, as could some of the appliances, but Norman did a good job of keeping up with the cleaning.

There was a yellow formica table in the center with two chairs. Once Norman saw that she was seated, he quickly began to pull out a plate for her.

"Would you like something to drink? I have milk and ... tea."

Settling into her chair properly, she stroked the top of the yellow table gently. She hadn't ever seen a color like this on a table, and never this type of table top either. How very strange, how very unique!

"Oh, tea would be lovely! Thank you!"

She was trying to find ways of distracting herself. For all his kindness to her, the house around them felt ... dark. It felt... The hair on the back of her neck tingled, and she rubbed at the tense muscles there before turning to look behind her. It felt as if something were watching her... Something...

Tucking her hands properly in her lap, she crossed her ankles, told herself it was just her imagination, and smiled properly for her host. He really was being very nice to her. It wasn't at all the way Laird Naipier had been, and he was definitely her friend, wasn't he?

Swallowing as another icy wave of discomfort snaked down her back, she asked -- and her voice was more subdued than before, now -- "We aren't disturbing your dear mother, are we?"

"Oh no! Mother is fine. I am sure that she is upstairs resting."

But was he sure? Norman glanced over to the doorway that led towards the hall that housed the stairs to the second level. Where the bedrooms were. Where Mother was. She was being quiet all of a sudden and Norman didn't know what to make of it. Was she angry? Upset? Tired? He knew she didn't like having Gillian there, but she wasn't disturbing anything. Was she? Just a simple sandwich. A cup of tea. Nothing more.

Norman set the tea kettle on the stove and looked into the cabinet where there were two boxes. One was cardboard with newer Lipton tea bags inside of it. The other was an old tin container with a flower design. Norman's hand paused over the tin.

Don't do it, Norman! Don't do it!

He pulled his hand back and went to the fridge instead, removing the necessary meats and cheeses to make a sandwich with. Every now and again still glancing over towards the doorway as though he half expected Mother to enter at any moment.

"I hope you don't m-mind turkey. That's all I have. I really should go to the store soon."

He spread out a few pieces of bread on the cutting board and removed a large knife from a drawer.

"It does my heart well to hear it," she said softly, watching him as he moved around the kitchen. There was a hesitation in him, one she'd never seen before from Benton when he cooked. She wondered just how late it was, as she hadn't been paying attention to the time when they went up to this house. She was sure it wasn't late enough to have worried the Mountie, and the City had a way of folding her from one area to the other with quickness she couldn't manage on her own two legs.

Being late had become a trouble of the past.

When she heard him stutter out the next question, she smiled warmly to try to settle him. He seemed so... So nervous. In truth, his nervousness was infectious. She was beginning to feel quite ill at ease, herself.

"Turkey sounds delightful," she assured him, her voice soft and gentle. "Thank you for your kindnesses, Sir Norman, for they are many indeed."

"Don't worry about it! Anything for a friend. Or a stranger. I mean ... Well, what I meant to say is ... for a nice lady like yourself."

Nervous? Oh, poor Norman. He couldn't help himself. He had always been that way. And now with that knife in his hand as he was cutting the bread and turkey. He was starting to feel anxious and worried. Mother was awfully quiet tonight. Too quiet. What was she doing? Was she alright? Norman wanted to check on her, but he didn't want to leave Gillian.

And what about the tea?

He finished the sandwich and set it in front of her.

"You know ... I think I better check on my mother while the water is boiling. Please, eat. I'll be just a moment."

And Norman hurried off towards the stairs.

"Oh, for certes!" Gillian exclaimed, gesturing gently toward the stairs. The concern for one's mother was always precious to the Lady's heart. She herself could barely remember her own mother -- bits and pieces, before her sister arrived. For Lord Norman to have a mother, and to be able to watch over her during her declining years, it must have been such a great responsibility, and a great joy.

She didn't mind that he left, but once she sat alone at the table, she didn't want to be. Carefully picking up the edges of the sandwich in dainty fingers, she bit down and chewed slowly. It was so quiet here. So very, very quiet. As if the place were the only thing in the wide world, and it had been covered in a spectral shroud that dampened sound. She swallowed, the food turning to a hard lump in her throat.

Perhaps she should be getting along soon... With Norman's nervous but gentle and kind presence around her, she felt only that much more worried. The air was charged with static, like the night Baron Alford attacked her father's keep and destroyed her home. She shifted in her chair and bit down on the sandwich again, more slowly.

It was just her imagination. Norman was a sweet new friend. Just her imagination.

Norman thought that his mother had been resting. He thought that she'd be alone. Asleep. Not paying attention to what he was doing. But he was wrong. Mother was always watching. Always listening. And she always knew what was going on.

And tonight, she was not pleased.

Norman had brought another one of those whores into her house! Her house! Filthy, disgusting trash pretending to be all high and mighty. All muckety-muck. But Mother knew the truth. Mother knew what she was. What they all were. They were all the same. No different. And she wouldn't stand for them infecting her dear sweet boy.

The figure that came down the steps moved slowly. It was tall. Too tall for a woman, though it was garbed in a long floral-printed dress and its grey hair was pulled tight into a bun. Quiet. Like the house. With no words. Mother? And when it finally stopped to stand in the doorway to the kitchen, the face was concealed by shadow.

The long sharp knife in the figure's hand, however, was not. In fact, it glimmered under the kitchen light.

She sat unaware, slowly chewing the sandwich Norman made for her. But the fingers of her free hand were slowly stroking the top of her knee, a nervous gesture that made soft shhing sounds with the fabric and the tips of her fingers. She wished, without negative feelings, that Norman hadn't left her. The house was so quiet, so very quiet.... An involuntary shudder ran up her back.

Against the formica table, a bright spot appeared. It was cylindrical and moved a little. Wondering just what it was, she set her sandwich down on the plate and instead traced the shape of it. It seemed to be a reflection...

Gillian turned in her chair...

Mother's actions weren't very quick, except, perhaps, to the unaware. The knife came down upon Gillian's chest the moment she turned around to catch a glimpse of that reflection. It made something of a squishing sound. To the outside viewer, it would have been a very mechanical action. Stab, release, stab, release. But, for Gillian, it was probably much faster. And, needless to say, much more dreadful and horrifying.

But Mother wouldn't stand for any of her kind in the Bates home. Not now. Not ever. She would protect her Norman at all costs. He wasn't perfect. And sometimes he didn't deserve her help. But he was still her sweet boy. And for him she would do anything.

Even if it did coat her kitchen floor in blood.

It didn't register, not at first. Her mind couldn't make sense of this spectral creature above her. But the blade... The blade, she knew. It was the same as the one that cut down her father in front of her, the same as the ones that slashed through the guards - the good men - in her father's forces. It shone brightly, but darkness filled the light of it.

Her first reaction was to bring her arms up to shield herself; the second, to call to Norman to warn him to run... The blade sliced through her arms, cut them straight to the bone and scored that white, strong substance... then sank further to her chest. And her call was nothing more than a high-pitched gurgle in her throat, choked with fear. There was no pain, only fear, fear, terror...

And then the world went black.............