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Auld Lang Syne

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It's the night before Faith and Clarence are to leave for Ohio, and Clarence can't say that he's all that excited.

He isn't regretting his decision to go, though. The very idea of Faith going off on his own to a new place soured his stomach the first time he heard it. And, despite knowing that he's going with him, Clarence's heart still aches for his friend because he'll have to turn right around and return to England for the last of their belongings.

Clarence is confident that Faith will be able to handle himself— he does have a lot of work ahead of him after all. But, there's no telling what might happen to Faith while attending to his half of the Chrysalis by himself. Sure, nothing had happened so far, but if Cora's concerned glances were anything to go by, he can't be the only one worrying about this unknown.

Clarence sips his tea.

If he were as much of a drinker as Florence, he'd have drank away all of his worry by now. But, he never could in good conscious do so unless he knew for a fact that his skills were unneeded. And, considering recent revelations, it isn't likely that he'll feel that confident again for a long time.

For now, in this moment, all he can do is try his best to enjoy the company of his new and old friends tonight.

Edgar had attempted to rent the whole of The Bear for their odd group. (Clarence is still unsure of whether Edgar knows the reputation of this particular pub to understand the irony of its name, though he certainly will not be the one to clue him in on it.) Unfortunately, though, apparently the bar had too many events going on tonight to allow for such a loss to their business. Thankfully they were able to reserve a private room for their group.

It's a bit of a tight fit. Especially since there are seven of them in a room that likely is meant to seat no more four around the table. Still, Clarence is grateful to be away from the rest of the crowd. Conversation is far more comfortable here, and they do not have to worry about being overheard should sensitive subjects come up.  

"Do you have much left to pack?" Cora asks Faith as Clarence returns his attention to the conversations at hand

"Not really. I have my two suitcases packed for tomorrow. And what little I haven't already donated, I've already packed away at Edgar's home.

"Speaking of which," he says as he turns to Edgar. "Thank you again. For everything."

"Yes," Clarence adds. Because, aside from that kindness to Faith, Edgar is paying for much of their future comfort on their voyage to and from Ohio. "Thank—"

"It's nothing. Really," Edgar says dismissively. "You two are the ones… traveling. It's the least that I could do."

He looks to Hastings sitting beside him. They're a bit too close than even the tight quarters would warrant. But, aside from the daggers that Florence sends Hastings' way, no one comments.

Especially when Hastings throws an arm onto the back of Edgar's chair and leans just a bit closer.

"I wish Daddy Edgar would take care of all of my bills," Hastings says, woefully. "I'd spend so much more than I already do! Imagine the possibilities. "

He winks.

"Uh…" Edgar says eloquently. His face flushes as he sinks into his chair, clearly flustered by the sudden attention and laughter that follows.

"You'd have to do something pretty damn amazing for that that to happen, comrade," Florence cuts in, pushing Hastings arm off of her brother's chair. Hastings retracts his arm, nonplussed, and leans onto the table instead, smirking.

"I suppose I'll just have to accept your challenge then. Comrade."

"Nothing is accepted!" Some liquor sloshes from her glass as she leans over her brother to stab a finger into Hastings' chest. "Don't go thinking that I'm dense, pretty boy. I'm on to you. And let me tell you: you'll have to crawl over my cold dead body to get what you want."

"Aw. You really think I'm pretty? Thank you so much. That's such a compliment, especially coming from you."

At the unfortunate expense of  Edgar's clothing and ears, their bickering continues. Clarence feels sorry for him. But he can't say that he feels it strongly enough to assist him. And the exchange has certainly lifted the mood of the room by a considerable degree. Something that they all could certainly benefit from considering all of their worry for tomorrow's journey. 

Hastings' presence tonight had come as a surprise. Clarence had expected that the group would take advantage of their last night all together to talk about why Clarence and Faith are travelling to Ohio. They haven't all been in one place since the events at the Hedges' House.

And, while he is enjoying their company and entertainment, there is so much that they need to talk about. They are woefully ignorant of so many things; how can they be sure that they are doing the right thing? There is so much that could go wrong with this plan.

Especially the part where Faith will be left on his own in Ohio while Clarence returns for the rest of their belongings. No matter what, his mind returns to that fact. He wants nothing more than to keep Faith safe, but he won't be able to do that by leaving him on his own for a month.

Maybe he should ask Cassandra to—

Clarence's spiraling thoughts are brought to a screeching halt by a light tap on his arm. Jolting from his thoughts, he turns to find Cora poised to ask him a question.

"Yes?" He asks.

"Can you come with me for a moment? I'd like to get something from the bar and I don't want to go alone."

"Oh. Yes, of course." Perhaps a short walk will help clear his mind as well. "Does anyone else want anything?"

"I could stand for a refill," Florence says, lifting her empty glass

"I think you've had plenty already," Edgar says, swatting her arm back down. "If you get anything else it should be water or tea."

Florence rolls her eyes.  "Fine. I don't need your fancy-ass stuff anyways."

She drops her glass onto the table with a thunk. As Edgar scrambles back to avoid even more alcohol landing on him, Florence stands up. She makes a show of reaching into the pocket of her skirt, pulling out her own flask, and then taking a sip from it right in front of her brother's face.

Faith turns to Clarence and smiles. "I think we're fine," 

"Okay. We'll be right back!" Cora says, taking Clarence by the arm and leading him through the privacy curtain.

On the other side is a much cooler hallway. Across the way is another unoccupied room with its curtain tied back and candles unlit. Clarence expects her to continue to lead him to the bar to retrieve a drink, but, instead, she leads him to the empty room and stands just a step beyond the entrance.

Cora doesn't draw the curtains or make a move to illuminate the room. It's hard to make out her face in the shadowed space, but her shoulders are squared up. And, from the way that she continues to open and close her mouth, Clarence can tell that she has something very important to say to him.

So, he waits patiently for her to gather her thoughts.

Eventually she takes a deep breath and says in one of the smallest voices he's ever heard:

"You'll take care of him… right?"

Her voice is thick with concern and unshed tears.

"As long as he'll let me."

"Thank you. I—" One of her hands goes to her mouth as she does her best to maintain her composure. "I didn't think that I'd be saying goodbye to him like this. I knew that it was possible that he wouldn't stay in London forever, but I— I never even imagined—"

 Clarence pulls her into a hug. 

"This doesn't have to be goodbye for forever. You two could write, maybe if one of you left your part of the Chrysalis with someone else—"

"I don't think it works like that." She squeezes him for a moment before pulling back and dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief. "Besides, he'll be busy with his seminary. And I… I don't know if I'd be strong enough to come back to London once I left."

Clarence nods.

Out of everyone in their group, he understands. There are reasons why he can't stand the idea of leaving his friend vulnerable for even a moment. Reasons why he wants to stay by Faith's side as long as is possible. Reasons he's afraid of naming.

Reasons Cora likely has well.

He doesn't know how she's stayed so strong. How she's If their positions were reversed, his heart would likely be a shattered mess at his feet, preventing him from taking even one step forward.

Cora clears her throat.

"We should…" She takes a deep breath to steady herself. "We  should probably go get that drink before anyone worries."

Cora starts walking, and Clarence follows closely behind.

The main floor of the bar is busy and loud. The festivities are still going strong, and the sudden sound is startling to Clarence. He's, yet again, grateful that Edgar had chosen the private room for tonight.

Everyone is so absorbed in their own conversations that no one pays them any mind as they make their way to the bar. It takes a while for Cora to gain the bartender's attention. But, once she has it, she eagerly adds another drink to Edgar's tab for the night.

As the bartender is filling her order, Clarence's eyes catch on a man standing in front of a well-lit backdrop. In front of him is a camera pointed at the black fabric. Looking bored, the man watches as a couple fusses around a chair set up in front of him. Once they are settled, he takes off the cap for a few moments before replacing it. He then shoos the customers away and waves over the next person in line, making preparations to take their picture as well.

 The bartender hands Cora her drink. She then turns to Clarence and asks above the bar's din: "Admirin' Georgie's work?"

"Yes." His gears are turning. "Can anyone get their photo taken?"

"If you've got enough money, you can do about anything here."

He locks eyes with Cora. It isn't often that he's exactly of the same mind as someone else, but he can see the moment that the idea comes to her as well. They nod to each other and then take off towards their friends.

Hopefully Edgar doesn't mind buying a copy for all of them.