Summary: At the airport and about to leave Cordonia forever, someone stops Alice from getting on her flight.
Notes: I used some of the original PB dialogue and bedazzled it a bit.
CW: references to sexual assault and violence
New to the series? Catch up here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8,Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17, Part 18, Part 19, Part 20, Part 21, Part 22, Part 23
Bastien felt like he was about to lose his mind. Why was there so much traffic between the palace and the airport? He sat back heavily in the town car and sighed, frustrated. He was so close to her and yet still so far from the airport.
“Sorry, Bastien,” the driver said over his shoulder. “Can’t help the traffic.”
“I know, it’s not your fault,” Bastien said. He tapped his fingers on his knees, anxious anticipation coursing through his body. Bastien thought back to the last time he took a ride just like this one, back in New York. But back then, he was on his way to spend his second night with her, completely unaware that he was about to fall completely and irrevocably in love with her.
However, just like last time, Bastien was scared he’d never see her again. Only this time, he was fully aware of what it was he’d be losing.
Bastien stared out the window as the car inched forward for a moment before stopping again. Out the windshield, there was nothing but endless red taillights, thousands of stop signs telling him to turn back. Bastien hadn’t let himself consider what exactly it was he was doing. He was giving up everything he’d ever known to try to catch her, unsure if Alice even wanted him there. But he had to try.
Fuck it, he thought as he opened the car door. Bastien could hear the driver asking him where he was going, but he ignored him, shutting the door behind him. It was only six blocks; he could make it.
He started to run.
Alice sat alone in the airport bar, her second glass of whiskey already reduced to droplets.
“Go again?” the bartender asked, pointing to her glass. Alice nodded and he poured her another. She didn’t miss the fact that his pour was a little heavy handed.
“Thanks,” she said. The bartender nodded and moved down the bar to attend to his other customers. Alice took a swallow of her whiskey and noticed that it didn’t burn much on the way down. She didn’t want to look at the TV in the corner of the bar, but she couldn’t stop. News of Liam’s coronation and his choice of Madeleine to be his queen were major news stories, eclipsed only by the salacious story of how the favored suitor turned out to be a lying whore. Would it matter if they knew the truth? Alice assumed it wouldn’t. Not that it mattered; she was waiting for her flight back to New York and then she’d be gone from Cordonia forever. She didn’t want to leave, but she didn’t have a choice.
She turned, surprised to hear a familiar voice.
“What are you doing here?” she asked.
“Oh, man, I’m so relieved we caught you,” Maxwell said, breathing heavily as he leaned on the bar. To his credit, Bertrand didn’t appear to be out of breath as he joined his brother.
“How are you so winded?” Bertrand asked. “Dancing is supposed to be good cardio.”
“How are you not winded?” Maxwell asked in disbelief.
“Guys,” Alice interjected. “As much as I’d love to discuss our workout routines, I’m pretty sure that’s not why you’re here.”
“Right. Sorry,” Maxwell said, swallowing as he tried to compose himself. “We came…god, Bertrand, we are going to talk about fitness routines later…anyway, Alice, we came to get you.”
“For what? Has Madeleine ordered a public flogging? Because I’m pretty sure the media is doing a pretty thorough job of that.”
“Alice,” Bertrand said as he signalled to the bartender for a glass of water for his younger brother. “We’re going to fight this. No one smears the name of House Beaumont.”
“I’m sure you guys will recover,” Alice said. “In fact, it’ll probably be better when I’m gone.”
“No way!” Maxwell exclaimed. “Alice, you’re one of us. And even though Liam chose Madeleine, nothing is set in stone. There’s still a chance for you to be with him, and–”
“Maxwell, stop,” Alice said, tears already prickling at her eyes. “I’m not going to be with Liam.” He started to protest but she held up her hands. “I mean it. I took myself out of contention just before the hunt.”
“What?” Maxwell asked as the shock fell over him and Bertrand. “Why would you do that?”
Please don’t hate me, she prayed silently. “I came here with you to compete for Liam, but I fell in love with someone else and it took me way too long to be honest with Liam. I thought I could be his friend and help him pick someone who could be a good queen while I still helped you guys by representing you well in the press and still get to be with…” Alice trailed off, letting her her eyes fall to the whiskey in her glass. “It doesn’t matter. I hurt Liam and then he ended up with Madeleine, you’re both being are currently being dragged through the mud because of me…I don’t know. I thought I’d been sufficiently punished for being so stupid, but apparently not.”
“Alice, look at me,” Bertrand said, but Alice kept her eyes on her glass. “Lady Alice Ayers, look at me.”
Alice reluctantly looked at him.
“What happened to you is not your fault.”
Alice sighed and looked away again. “Usually.”
Bertrand was quiet for a moment, mulling over what she’d said before he finally spoke again. “Alice, I wish you’d been honest with us sooner, but I’m still very touched that you wanted to help us. Especially because you were not under any obligation to do so.”
“Yeah, Alice,” Maxwell said gently as he touched her arm. “I mean, it would’ve helped us if Liam had picked you, but our finances are not your problem. We love you and we want to help you.”
“Which brings me to why we’re here,” Bertrand said. “Someone out there is plotting against you and we must resolve this scheme against you at once.”
“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I think whoever it is won,” Alice said.
“I refuse to accept that,” Bertrand said, his face darkening with anger. “I will not let this stand. House Beaumont supports you unequivocally, and we will stand by you to the bitter end.”
“Bertrand, I appreciate that, but this is the end,” Alice said. “I’m going back to New York.”
“You don’t have to,” Maxwell said. “I mean, you can if you want to–you don’t have to stay and face this–but we want to help clear your name and bring…you know who to justice.”
“He’s not Voldemort, Maxwell.”
“No, but he hurt you and I don’t like saying his name,” Maxwell said. “Please let us help you.”
All three of them turned to face the new arrival.
Bastien’s feet hurt in his dress shoes, but still he ran. He could see the terminal up ahead, every painful step bringing him closer and closer to her. The feel of the sidewalk beneath his feet and the burn of his lungs pushed his doubts and fears away as he ran through the Cordonian streets.
Alice, I love you, let me come with you, he thought, his steps punctuating each syllable.
Finally, he reached the terminal.
“Since when do you call me by my first name?” Alice asked as Drake jogged over to join them.
“Since I’m trying to keep you from leaving the country,” Drake said.
“Hey, us, too!” Maxwell exclaimed.
Alice swallowed the last of her whiskey before she stood up, relishing the burn in her throat. “Look, guys, I really do appreciate this, but it’s not worth it.”
“Yes, you are,” Drake said.
“Nothing will happen to Tariq!” Alice snapped as she picked up her bag. “It’s already my word against his and with those pictures out there, no one cares about the truth.”
“We care,” Maxwell said at the same time his brother spoke.
“You’re right,” Bertrand said. “Nothing will happen–if you leave now. Tariq will go unpunished and he’ll probably do it to someone else.”
“Hard to prey on women after I break every bone in his body,” Drake muttered. Bertrand ignored him.
“But if you stay…there’s still a chance he could face consequences,” Bertrand continued.
Alice smiled sadly. “You sound like Frankie.”
“God help us all,” Bertrand said, rolling his eyes. “Seriously, Alice, let us help you. If you tell Liam, he would definitely see that Tariq is punished. He is the king now, after all.”
Maxwell, Bertrand, and Alice all turned to stare at Drake.
“Ayers, I’m sorry, I know you didn’t want to tell him yet, but he saw the photos just before the media blast went out. He thought that maybe they were true, that you and…well, that you were together, and I just couldn’t let him think that. I’m sorry, Hana made me swear to let you tell him when you’re ready, but–”
“It’s okay,” Alice said quietly as an announcement sounded over the loudspeakers. “That’s my flight, I need to go.”
“Please stay,” Maxwell said as he stepped in front of her, his voice on the edge of begging. “I know it’s a lot to ask of you, but we want to help you. Whether you like it or not, you’re one of us now and we’re in this no matter what. If you want to go, we’ll still do what we can to help you while you’re in New York, but it’d be easier if you were here.”
Another announcement sounded over the speakers, commencing the boarding of Alice’s flight to New York.
Bastien hurried through the airport, flashing his credentials at the security team who let him run by without a second glance. He slowed by the bank of monitors to find her flight information before taking off towards her gate. There was still time. He wasn’t too late.
He quickly wove through the crowd of passengers until he saw her–but she wasn’t alone. Bastien instinctively slowed before pausing around the corner, out of sight but still close enough to hear.
“How did you guys even get through security without a plane ticket?” Alice asked.
“I’m a duke,” Bertrand said, indignant that she would even ask.
“I’m with him,” Maxwell said, hiking his thumb at his brother.
“I bought the cheapest ticket I could on my phone on the car ride here,” Drake said.
Alice tried to smile but her faltered as she glanced over at her gate. She was touched they had shown up, but the one person she wanted to see most had not. You have to stop thinking like that, Alice silently scolded herself. Why would he be here? It’s over. You have to accept that.
“Hypothetically speaking, if I were to stay…what would we do?” she asked.
“We have our work cut out for us, but I’m optimistic we’ll win,” Bertrand said. “It helps that Liam knows the truth and is on your side, but that’s not enough.”
“How is having the support of the king not enough?” Maxwell asked.
“Because it’s still my word against Tariq’s and people will still assume I’m tricking Liam,” Alice said.
“That’s correct,” Bertrand interrupted. “We have to get the media on our side if we’re going to correct this false narrative with the truth. Which, of course, means we have to prepare you for the engagement tour.”
“What do you mean ‘of course?’” Alice asked. “That doesn’t sound like an ‘of course’ kind of thing.”
“As a suitor, you are now expected to attend various events during the engagement tour,” Maxwell explained. “But it’s going to be amazing! We’re going everywhere! We’ll see the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the sea in Capri, the bamboo groves in China, the–”
“I’m sorry, am I the only one who remembers that we were dragged out of the palace by guards tonight?” Alice asked.
“Liam is the king now,” Drake pointed out. “No one is going to disagree with him if he wants you back at court.”
Alice sighed. “I get that, but I don’t think it’s fair for me to put him through this. He just became king, he’s engaged…there’s a lot happening for him right now.”
“Alice, for once, would you stop trying to make excuses for everyone else?” Drake snapped. “You don’t get to decide if people care about you or not.”
“That’s rich coming from you,” Alice retorted. “When was the last time you let anyone in?”
Bastien shook his head when he heard Alice call Drake out for not letting people in. She was nothing if not an astute judge of character. However, Drake’s response twisted his stomach and Bastien closed his eyes when he heard it.
“I’m trying with you! Right now!” Drake practically shouted at her before lowering his voice. “Ayers, please stay. I want you to stay for you, but I also want you to stay because I care about you. We all do,” he added quickly.
Go around the corner. Talk to her, Bastien ordered himself, but he felt rooted to the spot as a cold realization spilled over him. If she stays, she’s still in danger. Constantine might not be the ruling king, but he’s still capable of following through on his threat. He thought back to earlier that night in Constantine’s study.
“You used to be better at maintaining your composure,” the king said. “I suggest you get yourself under control. You’ve obeyed my instructions so far, but I can’t allow for any loose ends.”
If Alice stayed, she would be a loose end. Bastien took a deep breath to steel himself as he stepped around the corner.
Alice wasn’t sure she was seeing things correctly when Bastien approached their group, his eyes locked on hers.
“Alice, I need to talk to you,” Bastien said, but Drake stepped between them. “Drake, move.”
“No,” Drake said. Alice noticed a slight flare of Bastien’s nostrils and she wondered if Bastien had ever heard Drake tell him no before. “Liam wants her to stay, you can’t make her go.”
“Alice, I’m serious,” Bastien said, ignoring Drake. “It’s not safe, you have to go.”
“What do you mean ‘not safe?’” Bertrand asked.
“Get on the plane,” Bastien said, still focused solely on Alice. “Please.”
After a night full of so many emotions, Alice felt a new one flare in her chest: anger. She’d spent so much hoping and praying to hear from him, and now that he was finally standing in front of her, all she could think of was all the times he hadn’t been there.
“I don’t think you’re entitled to give me orders,” she said slowly, anger hardening around her like a shell. She’d spent so many nights wishing he’d been there to make her feel safe but now he was just trying to push her onto a plane and out of Cordonia. She felt like an idiot. After that night when they’d spoken at Ramsford, she’d thought Bastien still felt something for her. Alice had believed so strongly in their connection, in the love she felt for him, but seeing him now, she felt sick at the growing certainty that it had been one-sided. “And if you recall, things weren’t exactly safe for me anyway.”
Bastien felt his heart crack when he saw the way she was looking at him. This wasn’t at all how he’d wanted this to go, but he was desperate to get her on the plane and out of Constantine’s reach.
“She’s safe now,” Drake said, his gaze locked onto Bastien, who had never wanted to punch Drake as badly as he did in that moment. “She has us.”
“Alice, please,” Bastien begged, using every bit of restraint to keep himself from falling apart.
“No.” Alice glared at him defiantly, angry whiskey in her veins. “I’m staying.”
“Yay!” Maxwell exclaimed, wrapping an arm around her. “Okay, first order of business, can we go get some food? I’m hungry.”
Alice smiled in spite of herself. “Yes, let’s go get food.”
Drake took her bag from her and Alice allowed Maxwell to lead her away, careful to keep herself from brushing against Bastien as she passed him. Bastien watched helplessly as she walked away, flanked by Drake and Maxwell. It took a moment for him to realize Bertrand was studying him.
“What did you mean when you said it wasn’t safe here for her?” Bertrand asked.
“She’s already been hurt,” Bastien said, his voice flat.
Bertrand nodded. “I feel like that’s our fault for bringing her here.”
“No,” Bastien said quietly. “It’s mine.” But Bertrand wasn’t listening, craning his neck to keep an eye on Alice and the others.
“I should go catch up to them before they bring food into the car,” Bertrand said. “I’ll see you later, Bastien.”
Bastien nodded, unsure of what else to do, and watched as Bertrand walked away. The crowds continued to move around him, a steady river that paid no notice to the broken man in its path.
Back at Ramsford, Alice was putting away the last of her things when there was a knock at her bedroom door. She jumped at the sudden noise, heart thudding in her chest.
“It’s us,” Bertrand’s voice said through the heavy wooden door. Alice took a deep breath to calm herself before she walked over to unlock the door. “We should talk about the next few weeks,” he said as soon as she opened it, pushing past her into the room.
“Please, come on in,” she said, rolling her eyes.
Bertrand froze. “Oh, god, Alice, I didn’t think, I–”
“It’s fine,” Alice interrupted as Maxwell cautiously stepped into the room. “You said we need to talk about the next few weeks?”
Bertrand’s face flushed and he cleared his throat awkwardly. “Yes. Because of the plot against you, the press is currently having a field day smearing your name.”
“Ouch, Bertrand,” Maxwell said, wincing as he stood beside Alice. “Maybe you want to phrase that a little better?”
“I apologize, but we need to face facts,” Bertrand said curtly. Alice reached over and gave Maxwell’s arm a light squeeze to let him know she was okay. “I’ll figure out how to best spin the media circus, but you will have to ensure your future behavior is…not that this is in any way your fault, but you don’t want to give the press any fuel with which to further damage your reputation.”
“Can it really get worse than ‘American whore?’” Alice deadpanned.
“Yes,” Bertrand said. “Which is why you’ll need to learn as much about courtly behavior as you can before the tour kicks off.”
“Is using the correct fork really going to make that much of a difference?” Alice asked.
“It might,” Maxwell said. “I know it sounds stupid, but he’s right.”
“Etiquette is not stupid!” Bertrand protested.
“Fine, it’s not stupid and I’ll learn how to curtsy without bringing eternal shame onto the Beaumont name,” Alice said. “I’m sorry, but can we continue this tomorrow? I’m really exhausted.”
“Totally,” Maxwell said, already moving towards the door. “We’ll see you in the morning.”
Bertrand started to walk towards the door to follow his brother, but stopped when he glanced over at her bed. “That’s strange, you should have a comforter on your bed. And another pillow. Let me talk to housekeeping, I’ll go get them for you myself.”
“No, um, it’s fine,” Alice said, silently kicking herself for not putting them back.
“Alice, I love this place, but it can be a little cold at night,” Bertrand said. “You’re going to want that blanket in a couple of hours.”
“Bertrand…” Alice started to say, then hesitated. She hadn’t even admitted to Frankie that she still sleeping in the bathtub, but she also didn’t want the staff to get in trouble because of her. “I have it, it’s here.”
“Where is it?” Bertrand asked, looking around.
“In the bathtub.”
He stared at her, confused. “Did something spill on it?”
“No, um…I’ve sort of been sleeping in there since…since everything happened.”
“Oh,” Bertrand said quietly as he processed this. “I didn’t…I didn’t know you were still doing that.” He swallowed. “Do you…want to change rooms? I can have the locks moved over to any bedroom you want.”
“No, it’s fine,” Alice said for what felt like the tenth time in two minutes. “It sounds stupid when I say it out loud, but I just…I don’t know.”
“It’s not stupid,” Bertrand said. “I want you to feel safe here and if that helps you…do you want to move to a room with a bigger bathtub?”
Alice laughed in spite of how awkward she felt. “That’s sweet of you, but no.”
“Okay,” Bertrand said, unsure of what else to say. “Well…get some sleep. We have a lot to go over tomorrow.”
After her left Alice’s room and heard her lock it behind him, Bertrand hesitated in the hallway. He thought back to the airport and about how Alice admitted she’d been in love with someone else. He’d wondered for a moment who it was, but the answer had become clear as soon as Bastien had arrived. Bertrand was fairly certain that neither Drake nor Maxwell had noticed anything between Bastien and Alice, but Bertrand had seen the look on Bastien’s face when she’d walked away. She had seemed angry and done with him, but he definitely wasn’t. Bertrand thought back to his conversation with the head of the royal guard the day after Alice was assaulted.
“I hope you know that I’m holding you personally responsible,” Bertrand snapped.
“I’m not the one that assaulted her,” Bastien said.
“No, but you are in charge of security,” Bertrand said. “Why wasn’t security better? Why didn’t her door have a lock? What in the hell are you going to do about this?”
“Tariq has already been dealt with,” he said calmly.
“Really?” Bertrand asked sarcastically. “Has he been charged with assault already?”
“The situation is being handled,” Bastien said.
“You said he’d already been dealt with and now the situation is currently being handled–which is it?” Bertrand demanded.
“I have it under control,” Bastien said evenly.
What had he meant when he said it was handled? Bertrand was fairly certain Tariq wasn’t dead, although he wouldn’t have blamed Bastien if he had killed Tariq. Bertrand had wanted to do the same when he found out what had happened. So what did that mean? Did Bastien know where Tariq was? Even if things had ended badly between Bastien and Alice, Bertrand found it hard to believe that Bastien wouldn’t know something or, at the very least, be willing to help. However, enough time had passed to where Bertrand assumed if Bastien had known something, that information would’ve been utilized already.
Bertrand walked downstairs to the bedroom he was looking for and knocked sharply on the door. A few moments later, a shirtless Drake opened the door.
“I was just getting into bed,” Drake said. “What’s up?”
“Did you know Alice is still sleeping in the bathtub?” Bertrand asked. “Has been since it happened.”
“No,” Drake said, surprised. “I didn’t know that.”
“I don’t know if this will just make things worse, but I thought maybe you could go talk to her. She keeps saying she’s fine, but I don’t think she is and I don’t know what else to do for her,” Bertrand admitted. “I’d ask Maxwell to do it, but my brother doesn’t always have the most tact. You, on the other hand, know when to keep your mouth shut.”
“Yeah, I’m on it,” Drake said as he grabbed a t-shirt and pulled it on. “But she might not want to talk to me.”
“Worth a try,” Bertrand said. “Hana is going to be busy preparing for the tour and I don’t know if Frankie can fly back out here.”
“So I’m actually the third choice?” Drake asked as he stepped into the hallway and shut the door behind him.
“Fourth. I already tried to talk to her.”
Alice was just about to climb into the pool of blankets and pillows in the clawfoot bathtub when she heard a knock at her door.
“Bertrand, I said I’m fine!” Alice called.
“Bullshit!” a voice called back that was decidedly not Bertrand’s. Alice frowned.
“Can I talk to you for a minute?”
Alice glanced back at the tub and, not wanting to have a repeat of the bedding conversation she’d had with Bertrand, she yanked the blanket and pillows out of the tub and started dragging them out of the bathroom and towards the bed.
“Just a minute!” she called, piling everything onto the bed before she walked over to the door, unlocking the extra deadbolts before pulling open the door. “What’s up?”
Drake studied her for a moment before he spoke. “Look, there’s no good way to say this, so I’m just going to say it. Bertrand said you’re…not sleeping in your bed.”
“God dammit, Bertrand,” Alice muttered. “Yeah, so?”
“So, on my way to your room, I had an idea,” Drake said. “You can stay in there if that’s where you’re most comfortable, and then I could stay outside the door.”
“You seriously want me to recreate that night?”
“I want to recreate the part where you felt safe. Well, safer,” he corrected himself.
Alice stared at him for a minute, considering his offer. “I can’t ask you to do that.”
“You’re not asking, I’m offering.”
She sighed. “I suppose I can’t stop you.”
“You absolutely can,” Drake said. “If you don’t want to, I will leave right now and go back to my room.”
Alice glanced down at her hand that still held the doorknob of her door. She didn’t want to bring anyone else into this, but nothing she’d been doing had been making her feel any better. She let go of the doorknob and gently pushed open the door to let him in. He entered the room and she closed the door behind him, locking the additional deadbolts Bertrand had installed for her. Without a word, she collected her comforter and pillows from the bed before going into the bathroom and closing the door behind her. As she reassembled her bathtub next, she heard Drake sit down and lean against the door. Alice felt tears prick her eyes but she quickly blinked them away as she got into the tub. She took out her phone and looked at the photo she couldn’t delete, the one of her and Bastien. This time, she couldn’t blink the tears away as she thought back to the airport and they way he’d tried to push her away and onto a plane.
“Can you…I don’t know, talk or something so I know you’re there?”
“What, like a bedtime story?”
“Okay.” He paused for a moment. “Once, when Liam and I were about ten, we snuck out of the palace to go camping…”
Alice closed her eyes and pulled the blanket tightly around her as she listened to Drake, his voice eventually lulling her to sleep.
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