**NOTE – Heavy trigger warnings apply. Contains content, images, themes and concepts that may distress, trigger or offend. Reader discretion is advised.
Part IV – The Unforgiven (2015)
Part V - Progeny (2016)
Part VI - Seven Devils (2017)
Part VII - Welcome to the Dollhouse (2018)
Part VIII - The Illusion of Class (2019)
Part IX - Wonderground (2020)
Dramatis Personae Jasper Black / Belladonna Black / Baelian Black (N. Ristovski) Bella Jade Black / Betsy (‘Bella De Jac’) Betty Dream-Black (‘Betty Blood’) Bethany Belladonna Black (‘Pippy Scream’) Jett Balthazar Black (‘Raven’) Kerryx Black (K. Whittle) ‘Red’ Emily Gabrielle (‘Jasper Jewel’) ‘Violet’ (E. Lyall) Dunstan Kreutz (R. Crockett) Dorian Bond (I. Hutchinson) Jack Lad / Joel Archibald Black (P. Moder) Raoul (R.Kaye) May Bea Sunshine (N. Scarlet) Grigori Katorga (A. Grant) Claudia Lyra Monére ('Luna Madness') Asinoe Hardcourt-Mirror ('Chastity De Vice') Reinhard Wilhelm Steiner (M. Jones) Scarlett Ophelia Michaels ('Ophelia Black') ‘Amaranth’ Kayla Katorga (J. Coath) Guest performers and supporting cast Peachey Dream (A. Lydon) Dexter Black III (D.Black) Mr Nick (N. Brocklehurst)
The Underground RPG Synopsis II/II - Fifty Shades of Black (Oct 2013 to Dec 2013)
~October (Part One)~
The early morning of the first of October dawned cold and grey for the Black Family, particularly Bella Jade Black, who had spent the better part of the days prior researching everything that she could about her husband’s time at Oakleaf and the relevance of the ‘Belladonna’ creature that seemed to plague his mind. After poring through endless therapy notes, pulling countless strings and begging numerous favours, Bella was finally allowed access to some of Oakleaf’s ‘old files’ – though many of them had been destroyed in a suspicious fire in the months after Jerald Black’s death – and the horrifying truth was finally revealed
The worn documents confirmed that Jerald Black has admitted his son Jasper Baelian Black to the Oakleaf facility and the adjoining Braidleigh Manor in 1996 for ‘treatment and management of acute psychosis.’ The notes were sketchy but seemed to suggest that 14 year old Jasper had insisted he be called Belladonna Black for most of the two years of his incarceration, for all intents and purposes speaking and behaving like a young girl right up until forced electro-shock therapy in late 1998 ‘brought him to his senses.’ Further discussions with Jasper’s psychiatrists confirmed that her husband did indeed suffered from Dissociative Identity Disorder and this ‘Belladonna’ was just another personality fracture his mind had created in order to deal with the trauma of his past, though she seemed to have remained dormant since Jasper’s treatment at Braidleaigh those many years ago.
At least until now.
Breaking the news to Jasper was anything but easy, though he did not seem overly surprised by the revelations. Sullenly he admitted to Bella that he’d been hearing ‘her’ voice in his head for weeks, constantly whispering in his subconscious and telling him to ‘go to sleep.’ Initially he’d thought that it had been hallucinations brought on by his medication and alcohol, “but I tried stopping both and it only made it worse,” he added wearily. Bella asked him if anyone else knew about the ‘voices’ and Jasper told her that he’d only told Dorian. “But Grigori…I think he knows something…I think he knows a lot more than something.” Nodding her agreement, Bella suggested that they schedule a meeting with Grigori after the following Funday to find out what, if anything, Katorga could tell them.
Unfortunately, the meeting would never come. That very night at the Underground, Grigori antagonised Jasper incessantly, seemingly hellbent on getting a rise out of him. “Thanks for the phone call last night…” he whispered to the confused young man, tipping his hat and chuckling at Jasper before offering him a toast. When one of the fantasy notes Jasper read aloud onstage (signed Sleeping Beauty) mentioned the Katorga heir and a clandestine phone call in the dead of night, Grigori could barely contain his pleasure…but it was not until the end of the evening that the real fireworks began. Moving to casually stand by his less-than-gracious host, Grigori watched Jasper flap about the Night Garden arguing with Bella, Jack Lad and the newly returned Bethany, who was rather put out that her father had hired a new PA “without asking me about it…and you shouldn’t have sex with her because you’re her boss and you belong to me.” Shaking his head, Jasper had lamented the fact that every woman in his life seemed out to get him, hurling himself down on the daybed in annoyance.
“Sounds like something your father would say…aren’t you just the true Black heir?” Grigori murmured, smirking when Jasper’s blue eyes narrowed on him.
“The difference is that he wouldn’t have let it stop him…” the young man retorted, shooting Amaranth a glare and telling her that her brother was obviously drunk and “trying to pick a fight with me. Clearly he’s forgotten his place is beneath you…go have sex with him or something would you?”
Laughing bitterly and staring down at Jasper, Grigori declared that he had no idea why so many people loved him, when it was so obvious to Katorga that Jasper would only destroy them all in the end.
“You know it…you can feel it,” he added as Jasper stared up at him in silence, “You’re like a drowning man dragging everyone who tries to save your down into death along with you.” Something in Jasper’s face changed as the Russian spoke, his eyes darkening and turning icy cold as he sat up. Without a word he tilted his head, lips quirking as he studied Grigori intently. “Look at you, you still won’t do what’s needed,” the Russian went on, “You only think about yourself…”
Blinking, Jasper rose from the bed, sauntering over to a small writing desk and plucking up a shiny and rather sharp looking letter opener, his eyes never leaving Katorga.
“Perhaps I just trust them to make their own choices,” he finally responded. Grigori sneered at him.
“You were never the strong one, were you?” he muttered, “You’re nothing but bought time, Jasper Black…and not worth the cost of her life…”
Lunging at Grigori quite suddenly and brandishing the letter opener like a knife, Jasper snarled and went for the jugular, narrowly missing Katorga and instead being set upon by Jack Lad, who dragged him off and away from the Russian. Bella sprang forward to snatch the weapon from her husband’s hand as Amaranth moved to subdue him, whirling on Grigori as the Russian threatened to “put that fucking thing through your eye, Jasper, if you ever touch me again.”
“You need to leave right now, Grigori Katorga,” Bella hissed at him, “And be grateful that I don’t kill you outright.”
Bellowing that Grigori was a traitor to him and his family (to which Grigori angrily retorted “I’m not YOURS, Black!” as he stormed out of the Underground), Jasper was taken to his private quarters with Bethany and Bella in tow, the latter trying to calm her husband as best she could as he railed at her.
“Follow him, Bella…” Jasper hissed, dangerously cold eyes fixing on her, “Find out what he knows…use Jett if you must, get it out of him any way you have to…and that goes for his bitch of a sister Amaranth as well.” Shocked, Bella murmured that she was not going to let Jett hurt either of them. “It’s our FAMILY,” Jasper insisted, “We protect them no matter what the sacrifice. Family is all, Bella. If you have to have Jett kill them both to protect us, you bloody well get it done.”
Stomping her foot, Bethany shook her head at her father, insisting that Amaranth was not to blame.
“It was HIM,” she spat, “THAT man…that Katorga…not our Amaranth. HE’s the one.”
Hurling a glass at the wall, Jasper shouted that he didn’t give a fuck about the details, “just do what I fucking tell you!” Realising that they would not get anywhere, and wary of the sudden violent change in his demeanour, the two women left Jasper alone to stew, Bella seeing about calming the remaining guests and doing some damage control. She was surprised when Violet approached her with a letter from Grigori, which he’d given her as he’d been escorted from the premises. The letter outlined his relationship with Belladonna, whom he claimed to love, and apologised for any upset his behaviour might cause between their families. It was clear to the Queen of the Underground that Grigori’s behaviour had been premeditated, and that he’d provoked Jasper on purpose. Gritting her teeth, she thanked and dismissed Violet before returning to her quarters to draft a reply, summoning Katorga to a meeting with the Family in the week that followed ‘once we have all calmed down enough to not kill each other.’ Amaranth was placed on forced temporary leave until the situation could be resolved, for her own safety as well as theirs.
Obviously less than amenable to placing himself at the mercy of the Black Family, Grigori was loathe to reply to his summons until he received a letter penned by Belladonna’s hand, urging him to play the contrite servant until such a time as their plans could come to fruition. Begrudgingly, Katorga agreed, declaring his undying love for the girl and promising to do as she asked.
“What would YOU do to recapture that feeling of first love?” he mused to the Undergroupies and anyone who would listen, “Would you watch this world burn?”
~October (Part Two)~
It was the following Funday that Grigori was called to account and forced to ‘stand trial’ before the Family, Jett Black having unceremoniously fetched him from the Katorga estate on his way into the Underground. Stalking in carrying an overnight bag, Jett near-collided with Jasper and Bethany as they strode arm-in-arm to the stage during the ceremonial ‘family walk,’ the wayward pair stopping in their tracks as Jett threw them a disgusted look. “Did you collect our package?” Jasper asked him pointedly, ignoring Jett’s cold gaze on their entwined arms. Perking a brow and meeting his brother’s gaze for a long moment, Jett’s deadpan stare gave nothing away as he stalked past them both and into the rear of the Underground. Scowling, Jasper kissed Bethany’s hand and deposited her beside her mother before beginning the show.
Grigori was forced to wait outside until Black was finished, Violet ushering him within during a break in the onstage entertainment. He was guided to a solitary table behind a chained barrier, Jack Lad’s comrade Reinhard Steiner standing guard by Katorga’s seat and serving as unofficial jailor until the Black Family was ready to deal with him. Fans, Groupies and Family were given strict instructions not to interact with the disgraced man for the bulk of the evening, a command that most tried to usurp any moment they saw the opportunity, with the exception of course of Dorian Bond- who sat brooding in a corner and watching Jasper in silence. Though the obvious disregard for his Family’s wishes clearly upset Jasper, he uncharacteristically said nothing about it, merely watching the giggling Undergroupies trying to sneak the ‘prisoner’ drinks and covert notes as if it were all a fun game. Bethany Black seemed to be the only one outwardly put out by their behaviour, her angry scowl as she stood before Grigori’s prison and attempted to stop them giving them brief pause at least. Exasperated with their defiance, she finally stormed over to Jasper, angrily asking him why ‘THEY’ weren’t listening.
Jasper sighed, explaining to Bethany that their subjects were a fickle lot with no real respect for the Family.
“We’re a joke to them, they think it’s all a stupid game and they can do whatever they want…we’re just here to entertain them,” he told his daughter, sipping his bourbon thoughtfully.
“Well, show them they’re wrong!” Bethany demanded, “Daddy…you’re the King of the Underground…make them obey!” Jasper smiled at his daughter sadly, shaking his head.
“I’m not the King of anything, Bethany, I’m falling apart and they know it…they don’t care about us, especially not me. They’ll do what they want. Everyone will always do whatever the fuck they want…even you.”
Blinking, Bethany stared at her father, confusion creasing her forehead. For a long moment she just watched him, as if sizing him up, then turned on her heel and stomped back to Steiner’s side, insisting that he do a better job at guarding Katorga “because my DADDY said so!” Scowling as Steiner chuckled in amusement at her, she reached over to snatch up Grigori’s hat (a Family heirloom given to him by his grandfather, Alexei Katorga), running to deposit it in Jasper’s hands with a hopeful smile. Closing his eyes, Jasper drew Bethany onto his lap, kissing her forehead as the young girl wrapped her arms around him, whispering in his ear that she didn’t care what the others thought, he was someone special to her “and you’ll always be my King.”
As the evening’s Underground entertainment came to a close, Jasper and the rest of the Black’s gathered in the Night Garden, the weary-looking billionaire depositing Grigori’s hat on the head of Dorian as he passed with barely a second glance. Dorian seemed surprised by the sudden attention, staring after Jasper as he moved to take a seat on the dais before the gathering crowd. Bethany and Jett moved to stand by his left, Bella and Violet flanking his right alongside Amaranth (who had been ordered to attend via a summons delivered to her from the Family lawyers) while Betty stood in the shadows guarding the champagne and her sanity. Just as the clock chimed midnight Grigori Katorga joined the ranks, stepping out from the crowd to stand before Jasper in silence. Tilting his head, Jasper eyed him for a long moment before sharply telling him to sit. Gritting his teeth, Grigori sat.
“Do you know why you’re here, Katorga?” Jasper asked slowly, blue eyes blazing as he stared at the man before him. Grigori nodded, but said nothing. Pressing his lips in a grim line, the King of the Underground shook his head, brows furrowing.
“Would you care to explain to my Family what exactly it is you are hoping to achieve with your behaviour? You come into my world, MY home…you pledge allegiance to us…you swear to protect the one’s that I love…and now we find you are sleeping with the enemy, so to speak. Explain yourself…”
“I love her,” Grigori interjected, glowering at Jasper as he cut him off, surprise flickering through the latter’s cobalt hues before the ice crept in once more.
“You love her…” he echoed, gritting his teeth and shaking his head, a glance at Jett and Bethany showing that they were also none too impressed with Katorga’s response. Licking his lips, Jasper went on.
“I assume you’re talking about…Belladonna,” he seemed to struggle with her name, his features registering something akin to nausea for a moment, “Where did you meet her?”
“In a madhouse,” came Grigori’s reply. “Near Oakleaf.”
“And you love her.”
“Yes, I do.”
“More than you love my Family?” Jasper looked strangely hurt. Grigori blinked in surprise, his gaze flickering to Bethany, then Bella, Jett and Betty.
“I only ask because they are the ones who will suffer, if you get what you want…” Jasper went on, “I just want to be sure you understand this. If you manage to help her…” he bowed his head and closed his eyes, his breath catching. For a long moment there was nothing but silence in the Night Garden as they waited for their King to go on.
“If I do as she asks …if I sleep…” he continued finally, “Then who is going to look after them, Katorga…you?”
Frowning, Grigori didn’t reply, merely watching Jasper as he gave a choked laugh, a pale hand rising to brush errant locks. When he met Katorga’s eyes again, Jasper’s were glazed with tears.
“I’m tired,” he said softly, “I’m so tired…you can’t even imagine…”
Grigori’s gaze lowered, his jaw tightening.
“I’m not going to stop you, you do whatever you like,” he continued, “I won’t rant and rail and threaten you anymore…I’m not going to fight you, or her…” Bella made a small sound as he spoke, a hand rising to her lips as her husband glanced at her, “If this is what you want, and I hope you’re sure that it is, then you can bear the burden of your own choices Katorga…you can answer to my wife, and my daughter…you can face the rest of our friends, look them in the eyes and tell them why your love was so much more important than our world, our home…our Family.”
A solitary tear escaped those wide blue eyes as Jasper stared at Grigori, and he smiled sadly, “You don’t think I’m worthy of this life, and you’re probably right…but what makes you so sure she is? You may find in the end that she’s not what you remember her to be Katorga…are you willing to take that risk?”
Holding Jasper’s gaze, Grigori said nothing, though his expression was pained. Laughing bitterly, Jasper looked to his Family, asking them if they had anything to say. Jett and Bethany shook their heads, throwing silent daggers at the Russian, Betty pretended to be thoroughly absorbed in her alcohol and Bella refused to meet Jasper’s eyes. Glancing at Amaranth, Jasper scowled.
“Did your sister know that you were in love with her?” he asked flatly.
“No, she found out when you did,” Grigori replied firmly, “I never told her.”
“But she knew…her…too, is that correct?”
Throwing his sister an apologetic look, Grigori nodded. Amaranth looked away.
Swallowing hard and letting his eyes slide closed, Jasper shook his head, telling Grigori to get out of his sight “and take your sister and the rest of this fucking rabble with you.”
Katorga’s lips parted to offer a reply but then thought better of it, rising to collect his hat from Dorian’s head, gesturing to Amaranth to follow as he left the Night Garden with many of the Groupies in tow. One by one the Family headed to the bar, Bethany calling for her father but getting no response – any protests at being ignored dying on her lips as Jett ushered her and Betty away. Left alone, Bella stood staring at Jasper, who avoided looking at her.
“Say it if you’re gonna say it,” he said to his shoes.
“So that’s it then…you’re just going to give up and let her win?” Bella finally demanded. Jasper offered the ghost of a smile and shrugged.
“She’s already won, Bella…” he murmured, “She and Jerald both.”
A sigh fell from her lips as she moved to crouch before her husband, hands coming up to cup his face.
“Your father only wins if you let him, Jasper…you don’t have to live in his shadow anymore. You can choose to be stronger….”
Closing his eyes and holding up a hand to silence her, the weary young man shook his head. Pursing her lips and blinking back tears, Bella sniffed and nodded, leaning in to kiss his cheek before she rose and walked away.
“You know where I am,” she called to him, heading for her private quarters.
Reaching for a nearby bottle of bourbon, Jasper slid to the floor and began to drink, resting his head against the daybed and staring bleary-eyed at the starry sky through the Night Garden’s glass ceiling.
“So, that was pretty tense,” came Dorian’s voice, the young man’s footsteps echoing on the stones as he made his way to Jasper’s side, hurling himself unceremoniously to the floor beside his friend. Jasper frowned.
“Why are you here? Word on the street was you were never coming back…” he murmured, taking another swig from the bottle. Dorian snatched it from his hand and took a sip.
“Yeah, well, whatever. You were an ass.”
Jasper smirked, perking a brow.
“Was I just?” “You were in fact, yes.”
Turning to gaze at Dorian, Jasper made a face then snatched the bottle back.
“Did I hurt your feelings?”
Jasper took a deep drink, then offered the bourbon to his friend once more.
“Then I apologise,” he said, “I didn’t mean it.”
“You got voices in your head, I get it,” Dorian shrugged.
“…sure…so why’d you come back?”
Wrinkling his nose, Dorian drank in silence, then began picking at the bottle’s label as he pondered the question. After a moment Jasper nudged him expectantly.
“Oh I don’t know…”
“Actually I think you do,” Jasper countered, trying and failing to take his bourbon back. Holding it at arm’s length, Dorian smirked.
“You know you don’t actually know everything, right?”
“Lies. I do too.”
Drawing his knees up, Jasper wrapped his arms about them, resting his chin delicately on the perch as he gazed at Dorian. Midway to drinking, the young man paused with a suddenly awed expression.
“Your eyes are really luminous in this light, you know that?” Dorian told him. Jasper blinked once, twice, saying nothing but offering a tiny smile. Looking away, Dorian took another swig before placing the bottle between them.
“So, I guess…” “Mmhm?”
Dorian sighed, “I’m falling in love with you…and I don’t want you to go away.”
Jasper blinked again, a glimmer of warmth dancing through those ‘luminous’ blue eyes before something of a scowl painted his features.
“What do you mean ‘falling’? I fell for you ages ago, that’s not fair…” he pouted, snatching up the bourbon and downing a mouthful.
“Okay, you can stop being an insecure girl at any time,” Dorian rolled his eyes and Jasper laughed, choking on bourbon.
“I’ve been trying to avoid it,” he spluttered, “Much to Katorga’s dismay…”
“Jasper…” Grigori’s voice interrupted them, echoing across the Night Garden. Both he and Dorian looked up, studying Katorga in silence as the Russian waved a hand, seemingly lost for words. And then…
“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
When Jasper didn’t reply, Grigori nodded solemnly, tipping his hat and lowering his eyes as he turned to walk away. Curling his lip, Dorian called after him.
“You’re sorry? It’s a bit of a pathetic thing to say really…” Dorian snarled, “I’m sorry. I’m going to destroy your world and your family, but oh, I’m sorry…” Raising a hand, Jasper placed it on Dorian’s arm, shaking his head when his friend looked at him in surprise.
“Where the fuck does he get the nerve to apologise to you…like he cares?” Dorian asked bitterly. Jasper merely shrugged and the two men drank in silence for a good long while, passing the bottle between them. Finally, Jasper tilted his head and smiled.
“So I need a date for Bethany and Nick’s wedding ceremony next week,” he said slowly, tilting the bourbon bottle at Dorian, who took it with a frown.
“I thought you had a wife now?” “I do have a wife now, but she’s maid of honour and I need a date while she’s busy.”
“Oh how romantic.”
“Isn’t it just?” “Uh huh,” Dorian narrowed his eyes, “So what do I get in return for providing this service?” he asked.
Jasper’s lips curved into a smirk and he batted his eyes coyly.
“That depends on what you want, Mr Bond,” he crooned.
Pondering a moment, Dorian threw Jasper a boyish grin.
“I want to sit in the balcony with you and throw ice at the bride.”
Jasper’s eyes lit up like a delighted child and he laughed, watching Dorian down the last of the bourbon.
“I can arrange that,” he sniggered, “But Bella will kill me…”
“No way, Bethany will kill you way before then, but I figure you owe her. And we’re out of bourbon,” waving the bottle at Jasper, Dorian winked.
“So we are, you should go fetch some,” Jasper countered, laying his head back against the daybed and closing his eyes. Dorian rolled the bottle away, muttering something about not being a servant.
“Pity,” Jasper murmured back, “You’d look good on your knees.”
“So would you, I bet,” Bond threw back, shuffling closer to the drunken playboy and reaching for his hand. Jasper twitched, curling his fingers around Dorian’s.
“Oh you have no idea,” he said softly.
The two men fell into silence again as Jasper moved to rest his head on Dorian’s shoulder, sitting quietly and listening to the sounds of the Underground all around them. After a while, Dorian squeezed Jasper’s hand, his features creasing in perplexion.
“Stay,” he whispered to Jasper, who opened his eyes and gazed up from Dorian’s shoulder.
“I’ll try,” he murmured back.
~October (Part Three)~
In the days before Bethany and Nick’s wedding, a letter was delivered to Grigori from Bella Jade, clearly outlining her views on the entire matter with Belladonna and giving Katorga a very serious choice about his future with the family. Amaranth was finally questioned about her involvement in the matter, after many tears and apologies revealing that she had first met Belladonna at Braidleigh Manor, where Jasper had been sent for treatment after the disintegration of Jerald’s Fundays.
“She was my friend,” Kayla Katorga told the Queen of the Underground, “She went in there without anyone in the world to care for her, I tried my best to make her feel wanted…” She also revealed that Belladonna had made her promise to look after Jasper just prior to the electro-shock therapy that jolted him out of his slumber, as “she was terrified he wouldn’t be ready for life outside of the asylum.” Amaranth swore that she had no idea about Grigori’s feelings for Belladonna, they had only met once or twice when he’d accompanied her during volunteer work at the sanatorium. “I didn’t even think he remembered her name…”
Meanwhile, Dunstan Kreutz had returned for the upcoming nuptials (and more specifically to see how Jasper was faring). Deeply concerned to hear that he seemed to be regressing into Belladonna, Dunstan met his long-time friend for ‘a friendly chat over drinks’ within the Underground, questioning Jasper about his mental state and what he planned to do about the situation…none too impressed with the response of ‘nothing’ that he got.
“What do you mean nothing?” Dunstan demanded, “I didn’t liberate you from that hellhole so you could just put yourself back there! For fuck’s sake Black!” Waving away his concerns, Jasper suddenly became very serious, his eyes widening as he gestured Kreutz closer.
“I need you to do something for me,” he murmured, placing a hand on Dunstan’s shoulder. His friend nodded.
“Always, what’s the deal?”
“A package,” Jasper told him, “It’s going to be delivered very soon and I want you to take care of it for me.”
Brows lofted and Dunstan nodded, asking where the contents were going and what the risk factor was.
“Pretty high, it’s human cargo,” came the response, “And I don’t know where it’s going.” Confused, Dunstan frowned.
“What does that even mean?”
Jasper tilted his head and licked his lips, trying to find the words. When no immediate response was forthcoming, Kreutz shook his head.
“Oh fuck me, what have you done now?”
“Well…” blue eyes skittered away as Bethany flounced by, calling for water from the bar ‘because I have a condition.’ Blinking, Dunstan followed Jasper’s gaze, staring at Bethany for a long moment before realisation dawned on his face.
“Jasper Baelian Black!” he blurted, “What the actual fuck? Jesus, are you…”
“Shhh,” punching him in the arm, Jasper shushed him, “Keep you bloody voice down.”
“…are you fucking serious?” Dunstan whispered as Bethany glanced over, “Do you screw up your life on purpose?”
“It was an accident!” Jasper countered, shaking his head.
“Well I should fucking hope so!”
“Look, when they’re born I need you to take them…”
“Them? You mean there’s more than one!?” Dunstan seemed about to burst into laughter or tears, or both.
Pantomiming ‘wtf’ at his friend, Dunstan face-palmed, fingers massaging his temples.
“I should have fucking left you at Braidleigh,” came the muffled reply. Wrinkling his nose, Jasper shrugged.
“Coulda, shoulda, woulda…you didn’t and now here we are…”
“Oh no way are you going to blame this on me…” Dunstan’s words trailed off as Jasper placed his fingers on his friend’s lips, wide eyes suddenly solemn.
“Will you help me?” he asked, “You’re the only one I can trust with this. Tell me I can trust you.”
Eying Jasper for a long moment, Dunstan exhaled loudly.
“You will fucking owe me forever, you got that?”
“Oh I am very much aware of it.”
In hushed tones Jasper explained that he needed Dunstan to remove Bethany’s children from the hospital when they were born, taking them out of the country as quickly as possible and seeing that they were adopted into good homes.
“Bella will give you the details for financing,” he added. Dunstan stared at him for a long moment before asking if Bethany knew what would be happening.
“More or less…” the King of the Underground replied, just as Bethany sauntered over, demanding to know what they were whispering about and ‘how dare you tell secrets without me.’ Smirking at her, Jasper rose to draw her into his arms, whirling her about in an impromptu dance that had her giggling, then smacking his arm when he told her that she was getting fat and heavy.
“That’s because of your…um…Mr Nick’s babies,” she insisted, throwing Dunstan a coy smile, “Mr Nick and I are having babies.”
“Yes I heard,” Dunstan nodded to her, throwing Jasper a sideways glare, “Congratulations.”
“Yes, thank you,” Bethany grinned, “We are very lucky. We plan to have more once they’re born…”
“Okayyyy, time to get to bed, you have a big few days coming up,” Jasper interjected, “Say goodnight to Dunstan.”
“Goodniiiiiiiiight!” Bethany sing-songed as Jasper hooked an arm around her, giving Dunstan a pointed nod before dragging his daughter away. Dunstan watched them go, shaking his head and ordering another drink.
“Make it a double.”
In true Black Family fashion, the ‘Wedding of Convenience’ (as it had been dubbed by May Bea Sunshine), went off with a bang. Dressed in finery befitting of a shotgun bride, Bethany Black was a vision in black lace and tulle (“I can’t wear white because I’m not a virgin” she loudly explained to her guests, giving Jasper a smile). Jasper himself gave his daughter away, staggering up the aisle already horrendously drunk and near flinging Bethany at a rather nauseous-looking Mr Nick, announcing that she was “your problem now” before making his way into the balcony to join Dorian. Across the room, Betty and her sister Peachey Dream made eyes at the groom as Amaranth tried to shush their tipsy tittering, while Bella and Violet stood close by to ensure that Mr Nick kept his end of the bargain, and that Grigori Katorga gave Jasper a wide berth. Jett Black had declined to attend, claiming that he had business in Europe, though royal watchers whispered that he was less than pleased with the impromptu union and would have nothing to do with it. Dunstan, strangely, was also absent.
The ceremony itself was clumsy at best, Dorian and Jasper sniggered endlessly and catcalled from the balcony, throwing ice and hitting everyone but the bride and groom. Bella threw them occasional cold stares, looking inwardly pleased with the sabotage of Bethany’s ‘big moment.’ When Nick was asked if he was prepared to be wedded to the Princess of the Underground ‘for better or worse,’ Bethany chimed in with “he does…my Daddy gave him money because he made me pregnant. Nick…not my Daddy. My Daddy didn’t make me pregnant. That would be weird.” Begrudgingly, Nick nodded, ignoring the shower of ice that rained down from behind him as they were pronounced husband and wife, awkwardly dodging Bethany’s pursed lips and the official wedding kiss.
After that, there was nothing much to do but drink…Jasper and Bella sauntering over to the newlyweds to give them their best.
“How are you feeling, Bethany?” Jasper asked pointedly, giving her an even stare. Bethany gazed at him for a moment before offering a plastic smile.
“I’m very…happy, Daddy,” she said forcefully, glancing at Nick, “Yes…that’s it. Both of us are…happy. We’re happy.”
Blinking, Bella perked a brow at Jasper and gave her sister a tight smile in return.
“Well, that’s good.”
“Isn’t it just?” Jasper smirked, leaning in to kiss Bethany’s cheek, “Because all I want in the world is for you to be…happy, Bethany Black.”
Halfway through the night, Jasper took to the stage. Summoning the guests and Mr Nick, he offered the man his personal congratulations.
“Though if you call me Dad I WILL kill you,” he chuckled, slapping Nick on the back before giving him a chair, “And since my daughter was so generous with a surprise gift at MY wedding celebrations, I thought I would return the favour.”
Forcing Nick onto the seat, Jasper sidestepped as music began to play. As if from nowhere, Betty and Peachey appeared in skimpy costumes, sashaying about the groom and taking turns peeling articles of their clothing off for his benefit. Enraged, Bethany made a beeline for the stage to rescue her new husband, only to be accosted by Jasper, who clamped a hand on her wrist and yanked her into his embrace, wrapping his arms about her and forcing her to watch the comical farce unfold.
“From me to you, baby doll,” he murmured in her ear, tightening his grip when she struggled.
Onstage, Betty and Peachey had acquired the top layer of the wedding cake and were rubbing it all over their mostly nude forms. As one they pressed the cake into Mr Nick’s face, covering him in cream and proceeding to lick it off. It wasn’t long, of course, before sibling rivalry set in and the two women began to compete for a taste of the groom, shoving each other around the stage and slipping about on discarded cream. Bethany shouted insults at them, demanding that her husband “get off the stage right now!” It was a command that Nick happily obliged, hurling himself out of harm’s way and towards the bar as Betty and Peachey began to wrestle. Shrieking and tearing at each other’s clothing, the women rolled about hurling abuse at each other, until Betty’s flailing limbs caught Peachey in the face and split her lip.
Seeing the blood, Betty froze, suddenly beginning to cry. She grabbed for her sister, who fell into her embrace and also started to weep. The women kissed and clung to each other, drunkenly declaring their undying sisterly love and rocking back and forth together. After a few moments Jasper released his daughter and navigated the mess of cream cake to come to their rescue, helping both Betty and Peachey off the stage and guiding them to the Family’s private bathrooms to help them ‘clean up.’ On the way, the three passed by Grigori, who’d picked up a cloth in order to assist his sister with the mess.
“Put that fucking cloth down,” Jasper hissed at him, blue eyes blazing, “If you’re going to be Belladonna’s King of the Underground…you’d better stop acting like a bloody Russian peasant.”
Stunned, Grigori dropped the cloth, watching Black usher the Dream girls away. “Don’t you even think about it” came Bella’s icy voice from behind him. Turning, Katorga met the Queen’s cold stare in silence.
“You stay away from my husband, Grigori Katorga…” Bella warned him, squaring her shoulders, “If I see you go near him at all tonight it will be the last thing you do.”
Later, in the Night Garden, as Jasper lay sprawled on the daybed sandwiched between Betty and Peachey (who took turns attentively feeding him whipped cream from a can) and Bella sat conversing with Violet and Amaranth, Bethany stormed in, shoving past Dorian and the other guests and demanding that her father ‘explain himself.’
“Ohhhh go away, you have a husband now, go annoy him before I do…” Betty drunkenly chided, waving a hand at her daughter. Peachey slapped at Betty, telling her to be nice to her ‘niece’ and the juvenile insult that followed saw them fighting anew, Jasper skilfully sliding out from between them as they began to wrestle again. Giving his daughter a coy smile, Jasper asked her what the problem was.
“You’ve been obsessed with Mr Nick since you were 8 years old, and now you have him…and your babies, what more can I give you?” he asked, almost toppling over in intoxication.
Stomping her foot, Bethany insisted that he didn’t love her, that he didn’t care about their babies and that he was obviously just glad to be rid of her.
In moments Jasper’s hands had clamped about Bethany’s arms, shoving her back a few steps as he towered over her, ignoring Bella’s call of warning from the balcony.
“Don’t you dare…don’t you fucking DARE tell me that I don’t love you, Bethany Black…” he snarled, eyes blazing, “Do you have any idea what I’ve sacrificed for you…what my WIFE has sacrificed?”
Shocked, Bethany started to form a reply, but Jasper would have none of it. Shaking her, he forced her back another step with the sudden grace and precision of a lion manoeuvring its prey, all signs of intoxication gone.
“I could have killed you, little girl…I could have dragged you by the hair to the doctors and made them rid you of the fucking abominations inside you…I could have cut them out of you myself…” he hissed, “you’re alive right now because I fucking allowed it…don’t you EVER presume to tell me…
“Bethany, I think it’s time you and Mr Nick retired,” Bella interrupted, sashaying gracefully past Jasper and facing her sister with a frozen smile, “All this excitement isn’t good for your condition…”
Pouting and shaking her head at Bella, her eyes filling with tears, Bethany backed away from them both, her lip quivering.
“I just want you to love me, Daddy,” she whined at Jasper before turning and running from the Night Garden, leaving Nick behind at the bar as she disappeared out the front door.
Jasper had near-collapsed the moment that Bethany had retreated, Dorian sweeping in to catch him and help Bella move him to a nearby chair. Features creasing in concern, Bella asked Dorian to watch her husband as she checked after Bethany and had Violet fetch him some water, her cool hand brushing back Jasper’s hair as he blinked blearily at her in confusion.
“You know you drink too much,” Dorian told him, holding Jasper up as he almost toppled forward, “For someone so classy you’re a mess sometimes.”
“Illusion…” Jasper murmured, shaking his head, “…is everything.”
“Uh huh. So how about we get out of here and go on a trip somewhere?” Dorian suggested, “You and me.”
Blinking, Jasper eyed his friend and asked where he wanted to go, chuckling drunkenly when Bond suggested Vegas.
“Always…Vegas,” he murmured, bringing a hand to his face, “Why is it always Vegas?”
Dorian reminded Jasper that he had once promised to show him the roller-coasters there and Jasper nodded, waving a hand at him.
“Sure, Mr Bond…I’ll take you…to Vegas.”
“Great, let’s go…” Dorian declared, dragging Jasper to his feet as Bella returned with some water.
“Go where?” she asked, taking her husband’s chin in her hand and trying to make him drink.
“We’re going to…Vegas,” he told her, hiccupping and taking a dutiful sip. Gazing at him for a moment, Bella offered a tight smile.
“Is that so?” she asked, “And when is this happening?”
“Now, actually,” Dorian responded, “We were just about to call a cab.”
Bella’s smile widened further, her eyes becoming icy cold as she turned to Dorian.
“My husband is not going anywhere tonight but home to sleep this off”
“You know, I don’t like your attitude,” Dorian replied, shaking his head. Jasper sniggered and almost fell over, Bella’s smile faded completely as she steadied him.
“I’m not interested in what you do and don’t like Mr Bond,” she told him sharply, “If my husband wants to go to Vegas or to Hell and back with you then that’s his choice, but right now he is in no state to travel, so you’ll have to wait.”
“Morning!” Jasper declared, punching Dorian in the arm, “We’ll go in the morning! Bella…go buy tickets!”
“Darling…” his wife began, “Don’t you think you should…”
“Go to Vegas,” Jasper countered, his voice rising slightly, “And away from Bethany.”
Sighing, Bella closed her eyes, finally nodding and telling Jasper that if he insisted on going with Dorian then she would be sending Violet to accompany them and to make sure that ‘nothing untoward’ happened. Protests from both men were silenced by a raised hand, the Queen of the Underground having clearly spoken. Releasing Jasper, who crumpled once again into his seat, Bella pulled Dorian aside, her expression cold and stern.
“Go home, Mr Bond,” she ordered him, “One of our cars will be by in the morning to take you to the airport…and Dorian…” Bella added as the young man turned to leave, “Be sure to protect yourself…bad things tend to happen in Vegas with Jasper, and Violet is not there for YOUR defence, should something go wrong.” Frowning but taking the hint, Dorian nodded, throwing a glance at Jasper as he left. Turning to her husband, who seemed to have passed out in his chair, Bella watched him sadly for a moment before calling for Violet and going to make arrangements.
It was Amaranth who finally approached the unconscious playboy, tentatively brushing his hair back and pressing a cool hand against his face.
“I’m not talking to you, go away,” Jasper murmured, his eyes still closed. Shaking her head, Amaranth told him that Bella had asked her to keep an eye on him until she returned, and that was what she planned to do.
“Like you promised Belladonna?” Jasper countered, his eyes snapping open to glare at her. Bowing her head, Amaranth could only nod.
“How could you do this to me?” the young man insisted, hurt filling his features, “All this time, you lied to me…” “She was my friend, Jasper…and she loved you more than life. She begged me to look after you and that’s what I’ve done…”
“You call this looking after me? Lying to me and letting her…letting her kill me?”
Amaranth’s wide eyes filled with tears as she shook her head, insisting that he was wrong, that “B would never, ever hurt you…”
“B? What, you’re on nickname basis now? What the fuck is she doing then, if not trying to ruin my fucking life..?”
Biting her lip, Amaranth met Jasper’s gaze.
“Saving you,” she whispered.
Jasper stared at her, his forehead creased in perplexion as a heaving sigh fell from his lips. After a moment he swallowed hard and spoke again.
“Then I need you to do something for me,” he murmured, “If you want to prove your loyalty to me…and this isn’t a request.”
Sniffling, Amaranth stared at Jasper, waiting for him to go on.
“Bethany’s children,” he said flatly, “They’re to be removed from her when they’re born. It’s already been arranged with Dunstan and Bella. You’re going to accompany him to the airport and take one of them off his hands. You’re going to make it disappear.”
With wide eyes Amaranth shook her head, lips parting to offer a protest that never came. Jasper reached out to place his hands on her shoulders, fingers curling tightly around them.
“There is no choice here Amaranth, if you want to redeem yourself then you do this,” he told her, rolling his eyes when her tears spilled over, “You promised to look after me. Well, this is what I need.”
“But…I don’t…” Amaranth stammered, “Bethany’s to know nothing of them?”
“Nothing, none of us will know a damn thing. Dunstan has people waiting in a destination Bella and I aren’t privy to, I suggest you secure yourself the same…it’s IMPORTANT Amaranth,” he added, tightening his grip, “Do you understand?”
The distraught woman shook her head.
“You’re asking me to take away your children, of course I don’t understand,” she whispered, “Why? You never saw Bethany until she was grown, you never see Julian now, you all but got rid of Red to avoid him…and now this…why…why don’t you want your babies, Jasper? Don’t you love them?”
Jasper shook his head, telling her that she spoke of things that she didn’t understand. Taking his face in her hands, Amaranth insisted that he explain it to her.
“Make me understand,” she demanded, “You make me understand Jasper Black or I will not do a damn thing to help you.”
Staring at her, Jasper’s face fell, his breath catching.
“I can’t,” he whispered.
“Can’t what?” Amaranth pressed, “Can’t be a father? Is that what you think?” “It’s what I KNOW,” those sharp blue eyes fixed on her, misting over, “I’ll hurt them.” “No, I don’t believe that,” Amaranth tightened her grip on him, “You’re a good man, I know you are…you would never…” “Impregnate my own daughter, like my father did?” Jasper laughed bitterly, “Look at what I’ve done, Amaranth…look at what kind of father I am…if I can do that to Bethany…”
“That’s not the same,” she insisted, “I know what she did to you, that wasn’t your fault…and you would never hurt your babies.” “Wouldn’t I? How do you know what I’m capable of? I’m a Black, do you even know what that means? Do you know what it meant to my father?”
“Family is ALL, Amaranth…what the fuck do you think that is?” “I don’t believe you, Jasper, you’re not your father.” “But I COULD be,” pulling back, Jasper stared at the woman before him, fingers digging into her shoulders, “Don’t you understand that I could be? And how would I know, until it was done…and what then?”
Gritting her teeth, Amaranth glared at Jasper and declared that she would never let him.
“You listen to me, it would never happen. There would be a bullet in your head before your came close,” she told him. Biting his lip, Jasper’s hands suddenly rose to twist in Amaranth’s hair sharply.
“Promise me,” he stammered, “You fucking promise me…”
Pressing her head against his, Amaranth fixed her gaze on Jasper’s.
“I promise you,” she said, “I will pull the damn trigger myself.”
When Jasper burst into tears, Amaranth wrapped her arms around him, holding him as he cried and rocking him back and forth like a child, crooning words of comfort until he passed out.
Twelve hours later, Jasper was on a plane to Vegas with Dorian Bond. Not long afterwards, Bethany Black was discovered by a gardener laying unconscious in the bushes outside the Black Family manor, paramedics stating that she seemed to have fallen while climbing through Jasper’s second storey bedroom window.
Half an hour after being admitted to hospital – before any of her family arrived – Bethany’s twins were declared stillborn.
~October ASYLUM 2013~
News of the death of their children left both father and daughter utterly distraught, Jasper rushing back from Vegas and to Bethany’s bedside the moment that he received Bella’s call. Insisting on staying by her, Jasper passed the time sharing bourbon, tears and valium with Bethany, clutching her hand while she slept and periodically passing out face-planted in her lap. The Princess of the Underground was mostly uninjured by her fall, at least physically…though she had succumbed to a deep melancholy that seemed to age her overnight, her wide haunted eyes staring blankly at all and any who tried to communicate with her. She spoke only to Jasper, in hushed and weary tones, about things that no one else could hear and neither he nor Bethany would share.
Four days after Bethany’s wedding night, the tiny bodies of Virginia Elizabeth and Silas Dominic Black were put in the ground. Neither Jasper nor Bethany attended the funeral, the latter not well enough and the former refusing to leave her in the hospital alone. Dorian Bond was placed on suicide watch outside their room, dutifully guarding both father and daughter as the Family conducted the funeral ceremony and burial service.
As All Hallow’s Eve drew closer the members of the Black Family called their nearest and dearest to them, inviting all to a controversial Halloween gathering in an attempt to alleviate the cloud of sorrow that had fallen over the entire household. May Bea Sunshine accused the Black’s of being insensitive and uncaring of their loss, drumming up sympathy for the ‘poor dead children…who were most likely better off that way.’ A visit to her offices by Jett Black and the Family lawyers saw her retracting her comments.
When Bethany was released from hospital Jasper appointed himself her personal shadow, following her everywhere and acquiescing to every whim and demand. At any other time, the heiress of the Black Family might have considered his tireless devotion a personal win, but now she barely noticed that he was there. Finally, feeling utterly shattered and helpless, unable to bear Bethany’s distant indifference and Bella’s smothering concern for his mental state, Jasper left the Underground and headed to Oakleaf, leaving word that he would be back for the Halloween gathering that night. Upon arrival at the retreat, he demanded all and any files pertaining to his incarceration at Braidleigh Manor and, armed with two bottles of bourbon and a bottle of Xanax, he locked himself in a private room and began to read.
The receptionist at Oakleaf had been adamant that she would only speak to Bella Jade Black, drawing the Queen of the Underground away from the Halloween gathering and into her private quarters. Her husband had been discovered asleep amongst the files he’d been reading at Oakleaf only hours earlier, she said, and had staggered out of the facility and driven away before they could get a doctor to check his condition properly.
“He looked worse for wear, though he was mostly lucid,” the woman told Bella, “I was going to call to be sure he’d made it home safely…but as I was cleaning up the room I found them. He’d consumed two whole bottles of bourbon…and, pardon me Mrs Black, but we discovered an empty bottle of Xanax and a handful of Triazolam pills strewn across the floor…I’m a bit worried that he may have taken…”
Bella heard no more of the receptionist’s words, she’d already dropped the phone and was shouting for Violet.
“Find my husband, now!”
Back within the Underground, Jasper was sitting and chatting with Ms Mirror, watching Dorian try to drunkenly coax the maudlin Bethany into an argument about some inane topic or another. Amaranth sat close by holding Harvey, frowning as she watched the young billionaire’s lashes fluttering, his head lolling as he tried to focus on Asinoe’s words.
“Are you already drunk, dear one?” she called to him, smirking as Jasper threw her a wink and waved her concerns away with his hand. For a moment, at least, for all at once Asinoe was shrieking and calling to her, bellowing for Amaranth to ‘get his pills, now!’ as Jasper began to convulse and shudder uncontrollably.
Crumpling in his chair, Jasper stared at Asinoe, eyes wide as he reached out for her. For the briefest moment his eyes sparked with something intensely focused, lips curling as if he would offer some kind of sneering reprimand…and then another wave of convulsions sent him reeling forwards, almost falling headfirst into Asinoe’s lap. Bethany and Dorian both turned to stare as Amaranth struggled past them, clutching a bottle of Jasper’s prescription medication and a glass of water.
“Here, dearest, take a pill…” Amaranth’s words trailed off as Jasper lurched at her, a pale hand snatching out to take the bottle from her, tipping it into his mouth and swallowing before his shocked companions could do anything to stop him. Errant pills scattered like marbles across the floor, clattering loudly and crunching underfoot as he tried to take a step, then another, the third seeing him topple to one side and straight into Dorian’s waiting arms. The young man caught him clumsily, calling for Asinoe and Amaranth to assist.
“Daddy!” Bethany called, shaking off Jack Lad as he tried to prevent her from getting in the way, “What’s going on?”
Dragging the semi-conscious Jasper into the Night Garden, they deposited him onto the daybed just as Bella burst in, pushing them all away as she rushed to her husband’s side.
“Jasper Black, what have you done?” she demanded, her cool hand moving to brush his hair back from his clammy forehead, “Jasper!”
Struggling to maintain consciousness, Jasper moaned, a hand moving to his coat pocket. Biting her lip, Bella dug into it, drawing out an empty Triazolam bottle.
“Did you take ALL of this?” she asked him, cursing when he nodded and whispered an apology, “God damnit. Okay, darling, I’m going to get the car…we’re taking you to the hospital right now…” Turning, Bella was surprised to feel Dorian’s hand on her arm.
“He needs an ambulance,” the young man insisted. Bella shook her head.
“He’s taken too much, he’ll be dead before they get here…stay with him…” pulling out of Dorian’s grasp, she was off and running again.
Moaning, Jasper called out for his wife, bleary eyes staring at nothing. Jack Lad approached, handing Amaranth a wet cloth and gesturing to Jasper. Snatching it from her hand, Dorian pressed it against his friend’s forehead, his face crumpling as Jasper began to shiver and moan, his hand reaching out and he called for Bella again. Amaranth entwined her fingers with his, whispering that his wife would be right back as she tucked Harvey under his arm.
“Hey…” Dorian whispered in his ear, “I asked you to stay…” Dutifully, Bond mopped the man’s brow, lovingly brushing his hair back and pressing his forehead against Jasper’s, “You’re the most beautiful amazing human being I’ve ever known, Black, unforgettable…” he said softly, kissing Jasper’s face and laying his head on the pillow beside him. Jasper merely moaned in response, vacant eyes staring at Dorian.
All around the Night Garden the Groupies and fans sat, holding silent vigil as they awaited Bella’s return. Bethany stormed in and demanded to know what was going on, shoving past Asinoe and Amaranth to climb onto the bed and grab hold of her father’s lapels.
“Daddy, you’re always drunk…get up this instant!”
“He’s dying Bethany,” Amaranth choked, bringing a hand to her lips.
“What? That’s stupid. I forbid you to die!” Bethany shouted at her father, climbing onto his lap and shaking him. Jasper moaned, his eyes fluttering as he stared up at her and tried to mouth an apology. Bethany shook her head, her face falling.
“Don’t you leave me here without you…” she whispered as Amaranth pulled her away, trying to reason with her. Bethany began to shout at her, arguments and protests dying on her lips as Jasper cried out again, his eyes sliding closed as his body arched.
“If you have anything to say to your father, say it now…” Dorian told her sharply, and Bethany stared at him before letting her eyes fall back onto Jasper.
“Daddy, I love you…” she called, but Jasper was already unconscious. Ushering most of the spectators away, Amaranth escorted Bethany from the Night Garden – only Dorian, Asinoe and a handful of others remaining by the time Bella returned. With their help, she deposited him in the front seat of her Aston Martin, shouting at him to stay awake as she threw herself behind the wheel and screeched off, careening towards the highway.
Jasper stopped breathing two minutes from the hospital. Paramedics were already awaiting them in the parking lot, dragging him out of the passenger seat and onto the cold asphalt, fending off a distraught Bella as they tried to resuscitate him.
Despite their best efforts, Jasper Baelian Black was pronounced dead five minutes later. He still had Harvey clutched in his hand.
~November (Part One)~
Just as quickly as word of Jasper’s death spread like wildfire through the community, whispers began on the rumour mill about a hoax, a cover-up – all manner of conspiracy theories about the events leading up to and after that fateful All Hallow’s Eve night. The Black Family Inc remained tight-lipped about it all for the first three days, something of a cone of silence falling over them as they saw to and dealt with matters in their own inimitable fashion. But by the fourth day the news was out and none could stop its viral spread.
Jasper Black was alive.
Details of course were sketchy, though sources claimed that it had been through Bella’s tireless devotion and coercion and blackmail of hospital staff that the ‘miracle’ had come about. “She just refused to accept his death, she had paramedics working on him for a good half hour after his arrival at the hospital…eventually his body must have figured out that she wasn’t going to let him go in peace, Jasper had no choice but to fight on” wrote May Bea Sunshine in a late edition online blog that turned out to be the last thing she would ever write. Twenty four hours after the announcement of Jasper’s ‘return from the grave,’ the media world was rocked by a tragedy of its own.
Discovered by a colleague in the wee hours of morning, May appeared to have been brutally murdered – her apartment torn apart and her body horrifically mangled – the apparent victim of a violent sexual assault.
Commiserations came from all over the country – from political figures to entertainment royalty – the most surprising (and biting) of these belonging to the Black Family, who offered their condolences on the loss of “an astute and obviously obsessively hard-working treasure of Australian journalism.” The underlying cynicism of the statement was not lost on royal watchers or May Bea’s colleagues, who naturally began to suspect that perhaps the family knew more about May’s demise and who was responsible than they were letting on. Cursory investigations into the possibility of Black Family involvement in the tragedy of course lead nowhere, Jasper’s hospitalization providing the perfect alibi for each and every relative, friend and colleague (though some argued that his attempted suicide also provided something of a concrete motive). Regardless, as was usually the case with law enforcement and those ‘in the money’, the problem disappeared long before it was considered a possible reality.
Shockingly and despite the situation, the family elected to continue hosting Underground events and festivities while its King convalesced in hospital, Bella Jade claiming that it was what Jasper would have wanted and it was a good opportunity for the rest of the Family to “stretch their creative muscles and force themselves to take a more active part in the world that my husband created.”
Though many fans and frenemies were dubious about the ability of the Underground crew to steer their ship to port without their (however inebriated and volatile) Captain, Groupies and naysayers nonetheless flocked to the adult playground to see just how Bella and her companions would cope on their own.
The first Underground gathering without Jasper Black was set to be a rather depressing affair – even those who claimed to despise the controversial playboy could not help but acknowledge the intoxicatingly vivacious and addictive nature of his personality, particularly when at play on the stage. The famed ‘Family Walk’ procession at the beginning of the festivities was almost dreaded now…for who wanted to see an almost-widow forced to keep up appearances by dragging her wayward flock through the motions in honour of a suicidal spouse?
Yet walk they did, with Bella Jade Black at the helm…resplendent in black lace and diamonds. Shoulders squared, that ‘ice maiden’ gleam in her eyes, the Queen of the Underground raised her chin and strode through the room in an impressive display of leadership. At least, that’s what it would have been, to those not quick enough to catch the tremble of her lips and the flicker of sorrow in her eyes. But even the most idiotic and self-absorbed of onlookers could not miss the spectacle that came in her wake…a sight that shook every Underground attendant to the core.
Grigori Alec Katorga followed close behind the Queen, his expression solemn but his eyes glimmering with an untold emotion…and on his arm, lace gloved fingers curled around it delicately, was the most frightening creature to tread the Underground’s boards. She had Jasper’s face, his lips, his cheekbones and the delicate curve of his jaw…but her eyes were dead, reptilian…devoid of colour and life and framed in long lashes that brushed her brow bones when she blinked – which was hardly ever. Dark hair, drawn from her face by ostentatious ebony ribbons, spilled over her shoulders and down her back and she was clad neck to ankle in black velvet, painfully high spiked heels seeing her tower a good two inches above her companion. Her mouth pursed in an almost childlike pout as she followed Bella step for step, keeping in perfect time with her footfalls, those grey eyes fixed on the back of her head in obvious contempt.
When the Queen of the Underground took the stage, Grigori drew his partner to one side, bowing and kissing her gloved hand before gesturing to the chair he had pulled out especially for her. The woman took it graciously, offering Katorga a catlike smile as she perched delicately on her seat, lace-clad fingers curling about the champagne glass that sat waiting for her upon the table. And then she watched, and waited.
She was introduced to the room for all intents and purposes as the Family’s ‘cousin’ Belladonna Black, a visiting relative that had come to town to support them in their time of need…but none within that room had any illusions about who and what she was. For most of the evening, every soul in the Underground was united with one purpose…to avoid her and her penetrating stare at all costs.
There were of course the occasional casualties. Asinoe Mirror made the mistake of speaking to the stoic creature during an interval, opting for the head-on approach.
“Belladonna, it’s a pleasure to meet you…I like your shoes, are they Louis Vuitton?” Ms Mirror queried, falling into silence as the woman stared up at her with a bored expression for a long moment before excusing herself and walking away. Grigori tried his best not to laugh, shaking his head at Asinoe, who shot him a glare and planted herself on the seat beside him, taking up Belladonna’s champagne and downing it in one gulp.
“Shut up,” she muttered at Katorga.
Jack Lad encountered Belladonna in the Night Garden, his sleazy sneer greeting her as she sashayed past him.
“Belladonna Black,” he crooned, “Long time no see.”
Tilting her head, the woman eyed Jack, lips curving into a lascivious smile as she closed the gap between them; a movement that seemed to make him suddenly uncomfortable, for he subtly retreated a step as she advanced.
“Jack Lad…” she replied, her tongue caressing each letter of his name, “Still chasing the boy, are we?”
A scowl painted Jack’s features for the briefest moment before he shrugged.
“Maybe I’m here to see you…” he said, which made her giggle.
“Oh I very much doubt that, Jack…we both know where your real taste lies…” Off she glided, heading towards the stage with a small object clutched in her hand, those dead eyes fixed upon the mostly-nude figure that danced elegantly upon it.
Bella Jade swung her lace fans like blades as she moved to the music, ignoring Belladonna as she came to stand at arm’s length from the stage, staring up at the Queen with an amused smirk. Ever-so-slowly, she leant forward and placed the item she carried at Bella’s feet, fingers moving to pluck up a discarded glove in the same movement. Turning on her heel, Belladonna stalked to the Groupies table, raising the glove high before their eyes before hurling it at their feet in disgust and returning to Grigori’s side by the bar. Bella, meanwhile, had lowered her gaze to the offering…the tiniest flicker of pain washing over her face when she recognised it as one of Jasper’s toy cars. Gritting her teeth, the Queen of the Underground kicked the car from the stage, sending it skittering across the floor and beneath Jack Lad’s table before finishing her performance and stalking off the stage to her private quarters.
Stepping onto the stage in Bella’s wake, Belladonna eyed the gathering with suddenly intense scrutiny, those colourless eyes drinking them in and, clearly finding them wanting, spitting them out again moments later.
“A kingdom,” she began, “Is much like a pocket-watch. It is the sum of all its parts…every cog, every wheel, every spring and screw serves to keep the whole running.” Tilting her head, Belladonna’s lips curved into a smile, her grey eyes darkening slightly.
“We do not see these little parts, whirring away as they do…all we care about is the surface, how pretty it is, how useful it is to us in keeping the time. Even the battery is barely acknowledged, save for when it finally fails us, and then our interest only goes so far as to replacing it for something new.” Blinking, the curve of her lips twisted into a contemptuous sneer, finely drawn brows narrowing.
“This was all of you,” she accused with a wave of her hand, “Arrogantly assuming that your clock would forever prettily tell you the time, paying no mind to the myriad of cogs behind it keeping it going…the inner workings, even the outer influences…these things are beyond your comprehension.” Licking her lips, Belladonna’s smile returned. “But no more,” she went on, “I am afraid, my little Undermice, that your time draining the batteries of this clock are done. Jasper Black is gone…” she added, gloved hands rising as she shrugged, “Oh well…so sad…on to the next thing then, yes? But understand this, if nothing else…” grey eyes turned icy cold as she leant forward, her gaze moving over each and every audience member, then the members of the Black Family that had begun to gather to watch her.
“You killed him. Each and every one of you,” her eyes flittered over Bella before coming to rest on Bethany, “He’s dead because of you.”
Unsurprisingly, the onstage entertainment was barely over when the room began to empty…fans and friends suddenly remembering the real lives they had to attend to and errands they had to run, leaving Bella and the rest of the Black’s to deal with Belladonna on their own. Grigori, barely containing a grin, asked the woman if she though she had gone too far. Blinking as if she did not for a moment understand the question, Belladonna finally shook her head.
“Not far enough,” she said softly.
What ‘far enough’ was soon revealed itself, for that very night the Undergroupies and associates of the Black Family received a public address signed ‘Belladonna Black’ which sent waves of surprise and anger through their ranks. Despite the protests of a select few, including a bewildered Asinoe Mirror, many of the family’s dedicated and ‘loyal’ subjects vowed never to return to the Underground, online blogs and gossip columns rife with the backlash that the communication had caused.
“I go there to be entertained and have fun, not be treated like dirt…” one mortally injured fan complained, another citing that she had no intention of returning to a place that “treats us like shit.”
When queried about Belladonna’s challenge to rally behind their Queen, the answers were all the same. Many Groupies believed that the Black Family’s problems were not theirs, that it was too hard and unfair to expect them to “suddenly get involved” in the dramas of those who had never demanded anything of them before. “If I knew that I was going be expected to prove my loyalty, I never would have bothered.”
But it was not just those on the outside looking in that suffered Belladonna’s scathing reprimands. Bella had intercepted her a mere hours after the address to the Groupies was sent, telling the unperturbed woman “I will tolerate you because you share my husband’s body and I know he needs to heal, but do not fuck with me Belladonna…I still hold power of attorney over that body and I would hate to have to have you put back into Braidleigh for good.” The following night Bella found a handwritten letter on her pillow, along with a quickly scrawled note from Grigori telling her that he had taken Belladonna to Spain for the weekend to spare Bella ‘the heartache of her presence.’ The letter made a mockery of Bella’s threats, clearly informing the Queen of the Underground that she was there to stay until Jasper was safe, challenging Bella to live up to her title as ruler of the adult playground and rally her subjects to prove to her, to Jasper and the rest of the Family that they indeed believed they had a world worth fighting for.
The following Funday, the Underground was almost empty.
~November (Part Two)~
They say that, in order for living things to grow, the old must be discarded to make space for the new…dry skins must be shed, dead branches cut away…
So it was for the Underground, in the weeks following Belladonna’s rise. Beneath the dark cloud of her disdain, the glare of those loveless eyes, the poison of the venom that spewed daily from her lips…the adult playground was purged and forged anew. Scores of fans, groupies and hangers-on disappeared into the ether, unable or unwilling to bear the weight of her judgment, her condemnation…and the gauntlet of loyalty she insisted that they walk. Despite Bella Jade’s best efforts to rally supporters, her frequent pleas that Jasper needed them – that they all needed them – the Underground ‘family’ grew smaller and smaller. The Black’s inability to provide the gratuitous entertainment and escape that they were famed for rendered them useless to the fickle masses, who all too quickly moved on to the next ‘in thing’ as Belladonna had predicated they would. Finally, even Bella had to concede that she had been right. Faced with this abandonment, the Queen swiftly withdrew from the public eye, the Underground closing its doors to all but a select few that remained by her side.
Controversy always makes for strange bedfellows, and the motley crew of the ‘faithful’ that were left were an eclectic lot to say the least. Violet was Bella’s constant shadow, her dedication causing her to be elevated from the role of ‘Queen’s submissive’ to that of a trusted companion and confidante. Reinhard Steiner and Jack Lad were never far from the bar, Scarlett Michaels and Asinoe Mirror hovered about the Black women and offered their support and services as required…and seemingly out of nowhere, a small pixie-like creature with flaxen hair that called herself ‘Lyra’ began to haunt the shadows, watching those gathered with curious and childlike eyes.
Having returned from Spain earlier than expected (with no explanation offered despite Bella’s constant questioning), Grigori Katorga was ever-present at Belladonna’s side…bringing with him an old ‘friend’ that had apparently been acquainted with his black goddess as a child – a tall and pale woman that went by the name of Eden Nyström. Dunstan Kreutz had sent his apologies, citing business in Thailand that he could not get away from. Bella was less than impressed, though many got the feeling that she in fact understood more about his ‘business’ than she let on.
The only other notable absences were Dorian Bond and Kayla ‘Amaranth’ Katorga, both of whom had disappeared the night of Jasper’s overdose, the latter leaving a short note behind that merely said ‘I am well. I shall return.” Belladonna expressed her disappointment that Kayla was not there to welcome her home…but for the most part seemed indifferent to the comings and goings of the Underground, contenting herself with having ‘cleansed the halls of filth, more or less,’ as she put it.
It was to the immediate Black Family that the frightening creature now turned her attention, torturing them endlessly by flouting Jasper’s body before them as she went about her secret business.
“Do you remember this song?” she crooned at Bella one evening as a particularly choice track began to play over the speakers. Taking the Queen’s face in her hands, Belladonna squeezed her cheeks tightly, giggling like a madwoman. “He sang this to you on your wedding night in Vegas, didn’t he?” Bella’s icy eyes flared in anger for a brief moment and she glared up at the woman.
“Get your hands off me, Belladonna…” she hissed, rising as the woman waved a dismissive hand at her and skipped away. The Queen’s cold glare fixed on Grigori and she stalked over to him, scowling.
“Will you please control that THING,” she spat at him, “Or I will have it committed.” Blinking, Grigori could only nod, watching Belladonna waltz about the room laughing. With a sigh he moved to her side, drawing her into his arms as she offered a cat-like smile.
“Are we in trouble again?” she asked, her grey eyes widening girlishly, lashes fluttering. Grigori grinned and kissed her cheek, suggesting that she perhaps “try not to be so antagonistic with Bella” at least.
Pouting, Belladonna shook her head and told him that she only did what she was required to do. “You know, like with May Bea and the twins…” her words trailed off as Grigori narrowed his eyes, confusion filling his features.
“What about the twins?” he asked her, frowning when Belladonna placed a finger to his lips and told him not to worry himself with trivial matters. Staring at her for a long moment, Katorga let the matter slide, tightening his arms about her and rocking back and forth. Together they tangoed about the room, laughing as those gathered dove out of their path, clearly unimpressed with the display.
They were just passing the front door when it opened and Jett Black stalked in, leather gloved hands carrying an overnight bag which he dropped at his feet as he caught sight of Belladonna, his dark eyes remaining completely emotionless. Belladonna halted midstep, her gaze fixing on Jett as her brows lofted and then, all at once, she shrieked in delight, pulling away from Grigori and throwing herself into the younger Black heir’s arms. He caught her easily, whirling her about and placing a fond kiss on her lips, a frighteningly genuine smile gracing his finely chiselled features.
“Well hello there beautiful,” Jett smiled at her, “Where have you been?” Giggling, Belladonna kissed him again, linking her arm through his and guiding him to a nearby table.
“I’ve been around,” she murmured to him, ushering him into a chair, “How’s my baby brother?”
“Disenchanted with the world as always,” Jett scowled, nodding as a barman brought him a gin and tonic. Long fingers curled about the glass and he brought it to his lips, watching Belladonna over the rim, “And how’s my big sister? Causing trouble I hear.”
Rolling her eyes, Belladonna shook her head, her gaze flitting across the room to Grigori, then Bella, before coming to rest on Bethany, who had appeared from the shadows like a wraith as Jett arrived.
“Business as usual, your brother seems to have amassed quite a harem.”
Perking a brow, Jett sipped his drink slowly, dark eyes glimmering as he pondered her words.
“He does what he has to, to get by,” he said finally, “I try not to judge him. He’s been through a lot.”
Making a face, Belladonna tilted her head, watching Bethany as she flitted just out of earshot.
“Does that include Bethany? You’re aware, I imagine that the child is his and not yours?”
A cold smile danced over Jett’s porcelain features, his gloved hand reaching out to take up his sister’s.
“Belladonna, we don’t speak of such things out loud…”
“…but you KNOW, right?” “Of course I know,” Jett replied, “But he makes my wife happy and that’s more important to me than who belongs to whom.”
“Your wife…did you really marry a Dream?” grey eyes widened as Belladonna stared at her brother, laughing when he nodded. “Well it could have been worse…” she mused.
“Betty’s lovely,” Jett chided her gently.
“Oh I’ve met her dearest…still the same valium-filled vessel she always was, does she really need all that medication?”
Shrugging, Jett gave his sister an even stare.
“We all cope in different ways, Belladonna Black,” he murmured. Staring at him for a long moment, she nodded.
“Well, at least we kept some of you safe in the meantime…I missed you,” she replied. Blinking, Jett nodded and rose from his seat, leaning over to kiss her on the cheek.
“It’s good to see you. Tell my brother I said hello,” he whispered in her ear before excusing himself.
Sauntering over the moment he was gone, Grigori took Jett’s newly vacated seat, following Belladonna’s gaze as she stared after her brother. Drawing her hand to his lips, the Russian kissed her fingers and asked if everything was all right. Belladonna frowned.
“I’m not sure…” she murmured, then turned to offer Katorga a dazzling smile which he couldn’t help but return. Shaking his head, he mused that he didn’t understand how they could all love Jasper so much…when she was clearly more beautiful and so much stronger.
“Oh, not really…” Belladonna waved a hand at him, eyes returning to Bethany as she continued to flutter nearby, as if waiting for something.
“Yes really,” Katorga pressed, “You went through so much more than he did…you suffered the brunt of it, yet he had the audacity to constantly fall apart and cry victim…”
“I suppose…” she replied, distracted, “But it was only three years, really…what?” Belladonna’s eyes snapped back to Grigori as his hand tightened about her own, confusion writ plain upon his face.
“What’s wrong?” Frowning, Katorga shook his head.
“What do you mean only three years? I thought it was you…at Jerald’s Fundays…” he said slowly, “I thought Cookie was gone by 8 years old..?”
Belladonna’s eyes grew darker suddenly, her gloved hand drawing from Grigori’s grasp, arms crossing over her chest.
“He was,” she said bluntly.
The Russian studied her in silence for a long moment, eyes narrowing…before realisation dawned upon his face.
“My God……”he breathed, “There’s someone else, isn’t there? You’re not the only one…”
Rising from her seat, Belladonna glared at him, her expression icy cold, lace-gloved hands curling into fists at her sides.
“I am all you need to concern yourself with, Grigori Katorga,” she said sharply, “There is nothing else.”
Grigori rose as she did, shaking his head and reaching out for her.
“I don’t believe you. Who are you protecting, B?”
Drawing back sharply, Belladonna glowered, her chin rising as she curled her lip in haughty disdain.
“The one I have always protected,” she replied, “This conversation is over. You may leave now. Goodnight.”
Turning on her heel, the dark goddess strode away, her spiked heels clicking on the floorboards as she stalked past Jett and Bella, who had been watching the scene in silence from across the way. After a moment, Bethany followed her, barely glancing up as she passed. Perking a brow, Bella couldn’t help but half-smirk.
“Looks like there’s trouble in paradise,” she mused, eying Grigori as he gathered his things and stormed out of the Underground, slamming the door behind him, “What do you think that was about?” “I could hardly care, the peasant bores me,” Jett replied, sipping on his second gin and tonic with an expression of disinterest. Bella studied him for a moment, lips parting, then closing again as Jett looked up quizzically.
“Something on your mind, Bella?”
“You told Jasper that he’d gone away to Oxford…when he was fourteen,” she began. Blinking, Jett nodded, taking another sip before responding.
“It wasn’t my place to tell him otherwise.”
“But you knew…you knew what had happened…”
“I watched it happen,” Jett shrugged, “I watched what they did to him…what they did to her…and when he came back and had no memory of any of it, I wasn’t going to be the one to take that from him.”
Licking her lips, Bella took a thoughtful sip of her champagne, her forehead creasing in perplexion.
“You watched? I was under the impression that you were spared most of the Fundays…Jasper thought…”
“Jasper thought that when my Father promised he would never hurt me, as long as my big brother did what he was told, he would keep that promise…” Jett replied, downing the last of his gin. Dark eyes shifted to meet Bella’s, something dangerous dancing in their depths.
“Jett…” Bella breathed, “My God…”
The younger Black heir shrugged, his lips curving into a cold smile.
“My brother tried his best to spare me, like the martyr he always was…and for a while he did. And then he couldn’t anymore.”
Bella’s eyes glazed over with tears, a hand rising to her lips. Reaching out to take his sister-in-law’s glass, Jett placed it on the table beside them before drawing the hand from her mouth and curling leather-clad digits about it.
“Don’t worry…” he said solemnly, “I made sure that he paid for it. For me and Jasper both, in the end…”
Giving Bella’s hand a squeeze, Jett let it go, discarding his empty glass and turning away. Bella couldn’t speak for a moment…and then…
“It was you,” she murmured, “You killed Jerald…”
Glancing at her with glimmering dark eyes, Jett gave her an even stare.
“Jerald killed himself,” he replied flatly, “The moment he touched my brother.”
~November (Part Three)~
“Why are you following me, Bethany Black?” Belladonna’s cold and soulless eyes fixed on the dark haired nymph behind her as she wandered into the Night Garden. The young girl’s face was perplexed, her brows furrowed, lips jutting out in a soft pout, arms crossed over her chest as she regarded the velvet-clad creature with her father’s face.
“Where’s my Daddy?” she asked finally.
“You know where he is,” Belladonna replied.
“Well, when is he coming back?”
“Perhaps never,” grey eyes fixed on Bethany as the girl scowled, “Perhaps he doesn’t ever want to come back.” Shaking her head, Bethany glared at Belladonna.
“That’s not true,” she insisted, “He loves me and he would never leave me.”
“But he has, Bethany Black…he HAS left you.”
“But why?” Bethany’s eyes were wide now, innocent and uncomprehending.
Tilting her head, Belladonna studied the girl, gesturing her closer. Together they sat on the daybed, the artificial light giving Belladonna’s eyes an otherworldly glow.
“Do you really not know?” she asked the young girl, who shook her head in genuine confusion. Perking a brow, Belladonna eyed her before emitting a sharp laugh.
“It’s you, you idiot child. He killed himself because of you.”
Bethany stared at Belladonna for a long moment before shaking her head.
“That’s a lie,” she whispered.
“Oh I assure you it isn’t,” came the reply, “Complete and utter truth actually. Oh…what? What did you think was going to happen, with you going and getting yourself pregnant like that? Did you think he would thank you for keeping those damned things?” Belladonna smirked, studying Bethany intently.
“You have no idea how you’ve destroyed him, do you Bethany? No idea at all…yet you have the audacity to call it love…”
“It IS love,” Bethany insisted, her expression quickly becoming defiant.
“Oh I’ve seen what you call love, dear…I know all too well what you’ve done” Belladonna’s face became hard all at once, her eyes narrowing, “You who are so much like his father…whispering sweet nothings into his ear while stealing his soul, you love him just like the others…worse, in fact, for at least they knew well enough when no meant no…”
Pink lips parted to offer further protest but no sound fell from Bethany’s lips as Belladonna glared at her. She blinked once, twice, her eyes glazing over with tears when the woman went on.
“You’re a liar and a rapist, Bethany Black…do you understand that? Like Jerald was…you see the great gaping hole in Jasper’s soul and you think that you can fill it by being a replacement for his father, by telling him that no one will ever love him like you do – not his wife or your mother, or anyone else he desperately clings to in order to escape you and himself…you tell him lies while you take everything from him. Is that what love is to you?”
The princess of the Underground shook her head, biting her lip as it began to tremble. Giving no quarter, Belladonna went on.
“So you drug him delirious and you take what you want…you torture and taunt him with his inability to protect himself and you do your best to rid him of his Queen, until he is drugging himself and saving you the trouble. Does it feel good, Bethany, knowing that after all these years you succeeded in turning him back into Jerald Black’s child whore? Do you feel accomplished…driving him into such despair that he saw no other way out but to take his own life, just to escape you…to save himself from going back there?”
Rising from the bed, Belladonna laughed, waving a hand at the empty Night Garden.
“All his so-called loyal fans and followers…where are they? Not here, supporting you or Bella now that your King is dead. The thrill is gone, you see…without Jasper the freak show has ended and there is nothing left for them to gawk at. No circus for the monkeys,” shaking her head, the velvet-clad woman looked back at Bethany, “They came week after week to watch you make him dance, my dear, like a puppet on a string…they ate up the melodrama like locusts and you…you fed them. You sacrificed your father to feed them…and yourself.”
“That’s not true…” Bethany whispered.
“You never once stopped to consider that he might not want or love you, oh no…spoiled little Bethany Black always gets what she wants, no matter who suffers or dies in the process…”
“At least we managed to get your damned spawn away from you, before you or he could destroy them too…” Belladonna laughed, “You look surprised dear…exactly who did you think pushed you out of that window?”
Stunned, the young girl stared at her, horror twisting her porcelain features.
“No…I fell…” she said finally.
“Yes you did, we just helped you get started…”
Grey eyes hardened suddenly, growing chillingly cold all at once. Lips curved into an almost smug smirk that was gone moments later as Belladonna turned on her heel and stalked away.
“My Daddy DOES love me…” Bethany called after her, her voice wavering and uncertain. It gave the woman pause and she glanced back at the young girl, pity finally dancing through her features.
“Yes I suppose he does,” she replied, “But he left you just the same, didn’t he…just like my Daddy did.”
Biting her lip, the young heiress of the Underground stared at Belladonna, liquid brown eyes wide and almost frightened, trembling lips parting as she sniffled softly.
“Tell him…” she said after a moment, swallowing hard, “Tell him that I’m sorry.”
Blinking, Belladonna stared at her in silence, then shook her head and walked away, leaving Bethany behind. For the longest time the young girl stood frozen in place, her face twisted in pain and confusion. It wasn’t until a small sound from the shadows roused her from her thoughts that she moved, eyes falling upon Bella as the Queen of the Underground stepped from the sidelines.
Neither woman spoke, Bella’s expression clearly communicating that she had not only been privy to their conversation, but was inclined to agree with Belladonna. Frowning, Bethany jutted her chin out, defiance sparkling in her dark eyes as she stared at her sister then, all at once, her face fell. Sadness crept in and alongside it…guilt. A pale hand rose to her lips to stifle a sob, and then she was running, fleeing the Night Garden and Bella’s scrutinizing gaze. Without a word, the Black Queen watched her go, eyes sliding closed as passed. It wasn’t until she was alone that she slumped against the wall, her own head bowing.
“Was that necessary?” she asked wearily, looking up at Belladonna as she returned, those cold grey eyes completely devoid of feeling as per usual.
“Oh yes,” the woman replied, “More than you know.”
~December (Part One)~
The first week of December passed in much the same way as the weeks preceding it. Belladonna Black continued her relentless torture and testing of the Family constitution…and Jasper’s nearest and dearest continued to endure it as well as they could. Rumours began to circulate through the community that the King of the Underground had been released from hospital and was convalescing within his private quarters…but no one had seen him for a good month or so at least.
Within the walls of the Adult Playground, the much-diminished group of the faithful continued to gather by the Black Family’s side, even Dorian Bond finally reappearing. Having been out of the public eye for as long as Jasper, the young man looked rather worse for wear, his crumpled and dishevelled clothing reeking of bourbon and gin, his hair unkempt, his features unshaven…and the disturbing scent of Jasper’s cologne wafting in his wake. Swigging from a flask, the bleary eyed Dorian could barely bring himself to look at Belladonna until, enraged by his appearance, the scowling woman dragged him onto the stage, throwing herself onto his lap and roughhousing with him as he struggled to get away from her.
“Disgusting peasant,” she sneered, “What would your blue eyed little lover say, if he saw you? Don’t you EVER come into MY world looking like this again!”
Having to almost climb over a young Groupie by the name of Lorraine (who refused to budge for her) as she stalked away, Belladonna near collided with Jack Lad, who had followed her into the Night Garden with a smug sneer.
“Having trouble controlling the local wildlife?” he drawled, a brow rising as she turned to him.
“On the contrary,” she replied sweetly, “It’s about time they began to grow a pair…”
“Yeah, well, between them all maybe they can manage one testicle,” Jack’s lip curled in disdain, odd-coloured eyes scanning Belladonna’s form in the dim light.
“Still looking for him, Jack?” the grey-eyed woman chided, shaking her head, “Get in line.”
As he had the last time they spoke, Jack told Belladonna that he had no idea what she was talking about. With her smile widening like a Cheshire Cat’s, she moved closer to him, her head tilting up to gaze at Jack as the gap closed between them.
“Imagine my surprise to find you here, Jack the Lad…I haven’t seen you since…why it must have been Daddy’s Fundays…sooo long ago.”
“You’ve mistaken me for someone else,” Jack’s jaw tightened and he glared at her.
“Oh I don’t think so, we have a wonderful memory…” her words were cut off as a hand clamped about her throat, her body suddenly shoved backwards and pinned against the wall. Jack sneered at her, fingers tightening as Belladonna gave a high-pitched giggle.
“You shut your whore mouth before I fuck it,” Jack hissed, his free hand rising all at once to press a switchblade to her face. Blinking and completely unperturbed, the woman offered a coy smile.
“But Jack…it wasn’t me you paid for…” she choked out, “Not my blood you want on your hands…”
Snarling, Jack slammed Belladonna into the wall again, her head hitting the bricks with a sharp crack. And then, suddenly, he let her go, hands rising as he backed away. She watched him, her head tilting as a cold sneer painted her lips.
“We never forget Jack…and we owe you one…”
Taken aback, the man shook his head, waving her away as if she were a ghost before turning on his heel and stalking from the room. Moments later, Grigori sauntered in, surprise registering on his features as he saw Belladonna against the wall, a brief glance thrown in the direction in which Jack had disappeared.
“Everything okay?” he asked his beloved, blue eyes widening as Belladonna giggled.
“Peachey keen, jelly bean…” she crooned, “I’m just making friends.”
“Jack isn’t the type of friend you need, Belladonna,” Grigori cautioned, reaching out to take her in his arms.
“Oh we are very much aware of that,” came the reply, “We learned that one quite young…”
Staring at her with a half-frozen smile, Grigori’s face suddenly darkened.
“Did he do something to you?” he demanded, the Katorga temper flaring in an instant. Giggling again, Belladonna shook her head.
“Oh no love, not me…though Daddy made me try my hardest to bring him back into the folds afterwards…” smirking, the woman reached out to cup Grigori’s face in her hands, kissing him softly, “No, Jack Lad’s tastes were always for something…a little more male…”
“Jasper?” the Russian shook his head in disbelief, “You mean, Cookie and he are…?”
“Lovers? Who knows…probably…our darling boy can seduce just about anyone…but Jack and Jasper go wayyyyyyy back…”
Belladonna paused as she noticed Grigori’s anger, brows lofting.
“Oh my dearest, I’m sorry…I forget how sensitive you are…” she murmured, wrapping her arms about him and pressing her cheek to his, “Forget about it. It doesn’t matter now…”
“Is he a threat?” Katorga’s voice was strained.
“That one? Oh no Grigori, I assure you…Jack Lad will be his own undoing…”
It wasn’t until the following Funday that a much more respectable and well-polished looking Dorian accosted Belladonna at her table, slamming a small object down in front of her before sliding into the seat opposite. Grey eyes flickered to regard the gift – a small silver toy car – gloved fingers moving to trace its outline gingerly.
“What do I need to do?” Dorian demanded, staring at her.
“Jasper. To bring him back. What does he want?”
Belladonna smirked, perking a brow and plucking up the car.
“Who said he wants anything? And why do you care anyway? What’s it to you?”
“That’s my business,” Dorian countered, leaning forward and peering intently into Belladonna’s eyes.
The woman stared back at him with a deadpan expression…for a moment no one spoke, then…
“You’re not worthy of him, Dorian Bond, why are you even here?”
Scowling, Dorian shook his head.
“You’re trying to bully me into professing my love for him, aren’t you?” “What makes you think I care?” Belladonna countered, “Maybe I want you to leave and never come back. You’re not even middle class.”
“But that’s not why you’re here, you’re here to make it safe for him again…or so they say…” Dorian smirked at her.
“Is that right?” “Yes, now are you going to help me to help him or not?”
Laughing, Belladonna shook her head, tossing the car over her shoulder and glaring at the young man before her as she made to rise.
“That’s not the way this works, little boy…you don’t get a free ride…”
Dorian’s hand clamped around Belladonna’s wrist, grey eyes widening in surprise as she met his intense gaze.
“Stay,” he murmured. Belladonna shuddered slightly, lips parting as if to respond. And then she was yanking her arm from his grasp, rising from the table and retreating across the room to Grigori’s side as Dorian moved to retrieve the toy.
“What did the peasant want?” her lover asked her, “…Belladonna?”
Blinking, the woman stared at Grigori and said nothing, merely shaking her head as the music began to rise and Bella Jade Black made her way onto the stage. Black fans sliced through the air with deadly precision as she danced, the perfect curve of her porcelain skin glowing in the stage-light. Tilting her head, Belladonna watched the woman undulating before them, lips forming a soft pout as she studied the Queen of the Underground in silence. When Bella let her lace glove drop to the floor, Belladonna reached out to pick it up, curling the delicate garment about her fingers slowly, grey eyes blinking in sudden awe. Licking her lips, she brought the flimsy fabric to her face, breathing in the musky perfume, her lashes fluttering.
All at once the glove was snatched away roughly, Grigori’s surprised stare fixing on Belladonna as he tossed the garment at the Groupies feet. Brows furrowed as he studied the woman he loved, a sudden suspicion rising within his eyes. Staring back, Belladonna’s own face twisted in bewilderment.
“Bethany Black would like to dedicate this next song to her Daddy…because she loves him…” the young woman’s voice over the sound system broke the tension. Moments later, the Princess of the Underground skipped out, gracing the audience with her as usual highly inappropriate fare, spinning and whirling scantily clad until she was panting from exertion. The audience applauded and wolf whistled loudly, cheering in appreciation as Bethany jumped off the stage and planted a delicate kiss on Belladonna’s cheek. The woman did not move, staring after the girl-child in silence, her forehead creased in perplexion. Shaking his head, Grigori announced that he needed a drink and some air, leaving Belladonna to her musings as he hurried to acquire the comfort only scotch could provide.
Later, by the bar, Betty Black slapped a firm hand on Belladonna’s shoulders, fingers curling about her as she called for shots “for me and the one I love.” Throwing the woman a wink, Betty reached behind her and placed a blueberry muffin on the bar, gesturing for Belladonna to take it.
“Be a doll,” she shrilled, “Give that to my brother-in-law and tell him that my cobwebs aren’t going to clean themselves, thanks love…”
“Mu-ummmm…you’re so disgusting…” Bethany interjected, sidling over and snatching up the muffin.
“Ohhhh fuck off…” Betty retorted, downing her shot before plucking up a glass of champagne, “I gotta get my kicks somehow…”
“Maybe Daddy doesn’t WANT to give you kicks…” the young girl countered, throwing Belladonna a solemn smile as she shook her head, “He doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to…”
Rolling her eyes, the Dream Queen snatched back the muffin and waved Bethany away, stumbling a few steps before glancing back at Belladonna.
“Well I still got it, if you want it, Muffin,” she drawled, pantomiming a rather obviously lascivious wink at Belladonna before staggering away. Narrowing her eyes, Belladonna reached out to take up her own shot, downing it in one gulp and making a face as the liquid burned its way down her throat.
“What in the Heavens was that?” she coughed at the bartender, who shrugged.
“Vodka,” he answered. Belladonna blinked, swallowing hard before shaking her head.
Bethany cleared her throat, her toe tapping upon the floorboards as she moved from foot to foot. Frowning, Belladonna looked at her, shaking her head.
“Bethany Black, why are you standing there dancing like a nervous monkey?”
Biting her lip, Bethany took a deep breath, meeting Belladonna’s gaze.
“I…I want to say something…” she said softly, “To my Daddy.”
Perking a brow, Belladonna started to shake her head, pausing when Bethany’s eyes widened.
Sighing, the woman closed her eyes, gesturing for the young girl to sit on the stage before moving to perch beside her. Gloved hands clasped in her lap as she looked at Bethany expectantly, brows lofting.
“Well…” Bethany echoed, lips trembling for a moment before she shook her head, “I want to say…” sighing, the Princess of the Underground reached out to take up one of Belladonna’s hands, wide dark eyes meeting grey hues solemnly.
“What I did was wrong, I hurt you and took things from you that you didn’t want to give me and I’m sorry.”
Belladonna didn’t reply, merely watching Bethany in silence as she chewed on her lip and tried to continue.
“Um…I did it because I love you, I really do…more than I love anyone in the world. All of my love is for you, even…” tears rose in the girl’s eyes and she bowed her head, “Even if I had to lose my babies again, I would do it if it made you happy…if it made you safe…” Delicate fingers tightened about Belladonna’s gloved hand, large doe-eyes fixing on her. “And if you come back, you never have to have sex with me again…ever.”
“I didn’t mean to hurt you…I was scared you didn’t love me, but it doesn’t matter now. I don’t care if you don’t love me back, I will still love you. Even if you never talk to me again…even if you hate me…I love you always.”
Belladonna’s sharp intake of breath halted Bethany’s impassioned confession, the young girl pausing as the woman began to tremble before her. Fingers clenched and unclenched about the girl’s hand, lips parting to offer a response that never came. All at once, Bethany’s dark eyes widened, surprise filling her pixie-like face.
“Daddy?” a hand rose to Belladonna’s cheek, fingers brushing back dark hair as Bethany stared into stunned grey eyes, “…is that…are you there?”
With shaking hands Belladonna pulled one of her gloves off, trembling fingers rising to press against Bethany’s lips, prompting the young girl’s tears to spill over as she squealed in delight.
“I can see you! Daddy…I SEE you!”
Throwing herself onto Belladonna’s lap, Bethany wrapped her arms about the woman’s neck, peering into her face, laughing and crying at the same time,
“Daddy, I can see you…” words were cut off suddenly as Belladonna kissed her, fingers tangling roughly in Bethany’s dark hair, twisting until the girl shrieked, then laughed. When their lips parted, Belladonna’s eyes glimmered with devilish amusement, lips twisting into a smirk. Bethany giggled, cupping the woman’s face in her hands.
“I told you,” she whispered, “My Daddy isn’t like yours…he’d NEVER leave me for long…I told you…”
Belladonna’s smile faded, the shimmer in her gaze dissipating as she rose suddenly, upending Bethany onto the floor. Staring down at her, a hand rising to her mouth as a sob escaped, the woman shook her head. And then she was running, heading towards the Night Garden so fast that she stumbled and near collided with Scarlett, who was assisting with the evening cleanup. Steadying the woman, Scarlett asked if she was alright, a strange smile alighting upon her lips when she saw Belladonna’s face.
“I always liked you in blue…” she murmured, nodding her head in respect as the woman pushed past her and continued on her way through the Underground. Bursting into the bathrooms, she threw herself against the sink, yanking the faucet on and splashing cold water over her face. It was only then that Belladonna caught sight of herself in the mirror, fingers gripping the porcelain basin tightly as she gasped.
One of her eyes was a striking, luminous blue.
When Grigori found her almost an hour later, she was curled up beside the daybed in the Night Garden, knees drawn up, a thoughtful and almost sad expression on her face as she ate Betty’s blueberry muffin. Falling to his knees by her side, Katorga demanded to know where she had been and what was wrong. Blinking up at him with mismatched eyes, Belladonna set the muffin aside.
“Do you love me, Grigori?” she asked softly. Gritting his teeth at the sight of her, the Russian could only nod, despair filling his features. A ghost of a smile danced over her lips, her bare hand moving to touch his face.
“Do you love HIM?” she asked after a moment. Grigori frowned, then shook his head.
“I don’t know,” he murmured, “I honestly don’t know, B.”
“Well you’re going to have to learn how,” she responded, fingers curling about the collar of his shirt, “He’s going to need you very soon…more than you know.”
“B…” Grigori’s voice became strained, “Don’t…”
“Do you remember when we met, Grigori? I was crying in the gardens at Braidleigh and you brought me a flower. Do you remember…you stole it from the Matron’s rose bushes…” Swallowing hard, Grigori nodded.
“You were the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen…” he said softly, “You still are…”
An almost dazzling smile alighted Belladonna’s lips for a brief moment and she tilted her head, the emotion fading all too quickly as sobriety set in once more.
“The first time I saw him…when I was born, he was the most beautiful thing I’D ever seen. Big blue eyes, wide…terrified…he was covered in blood. A thirteen year old boy with the face of a man…and a child…I loved him intensely immediately…I love him still, do you understand?
Closing his eyes, Grigori could only nod, his face crumpling for the briefest of moments before a deep breath saw his forehead smoothing, brows rising.
“I swore I would die to protect him, whatever he needed…it was my one duty, nothing else mattered. Nothing else can matter.”
Again the Russian nodded, a hand moving to grip Belladonna’s hand.
“I know. I understand,” Grigori said slowly, “I’ll do what I can. But you understand that I’m doing it for you…” Belladonna nodded, leaning in to kiss the man’s cheek, pressing her forehead to his. From her pocket she drew a small gold band, offering it up to Katorga.
“Will you marry me, Grigori Katorga?” she asked softly, lips curving into a smile at the Russian’s sharp intake of breath. He shook his head, trying not to laugh, then glanced at the ring.
For a moment he merely stared at it, then plucked it from her hand and slid it onto his finger.
“Why the hell not?” he said, “It may help him not kill me…”
“I doubt it,” Belladonna laughed, wrinkling her nose, “You’re going to have to offer something more than that…and it just so happens I know exactly what that something is…”
That night, before the Underground shenanigans had come to a close and after leaving word for Bella, Grigori and Belladonna were on a plane back to Spain for the weekend. They were married the next day, in a modest village ceremony that saw half the townsfolk intoxicated by morning.
Three days later, Bella Jade Black walked into her bedroom to find her husband sprawled over a velvet armchair, his dark hair brushed back, bright blue eyes drinking her in with a weary but mischievous glimmer. He was dressed immaculately as always, clad in velvet, shoes shined to perfection, shirt freshly pressed…the scent of French cologne hanging in the air.
“So,” Jasper said softly, tilting his head, “…you come here often?”
Without a word, Bella turned and walked out again.
~December (Part Two)~
It took Bella Jade all of ten seconds outside her bedroom door to compose herself enough to return, icy blue eyes fixing on Jasper as she re-entered the room, measured steps closing the distance between them carefully…as if she were afraid that at any moment he might disappear again.
Disappear he didn’t, instead opting to rise from the velvet armchair upon which he was unceremoniously sprawled, striking blue eyes meeting his wife’s gaze as he regarded her silently, almost curiously. There was something different in the depths of his gaze now, an alertness that had not been there before, a wary intensity that spoke of the constant whirring of a calculating mind. Clearly the month or so of rest and detoxification had done him good…he seemed as a man awoken from a long and trying slumber.
Bella, of course, was nowhere near as rested. Although always a vision of gothic perfection, there existed now the tiniest hint of darkness within her eyes, a weariness that belied her usually poised manner. She came to a halt a mere inches from Jasper, who tilted his head as her jaw tightened, her fist clenched and unclenched, a fine tremor dancing through her stunning form.
And then she slapped him. Hard.
He took it graciously enough, merely watching as she shook her head, a thousand words forming on rich lips that she couldn’t hope to express.
So instead she hit him again.
And then she was crumpling to her knees, an ocean of tears she’d had no time to shed spilling over creamy flesh in warm salty streaks, her entire body beginning to shudder violently. Blinking, Jasper lowered his gaze, the woman at his feet collapsing into the agonised crying of one who had borne the weight of the world alone for far too long. After a long moment something in his face softened, a hand moving to rest on her head, fingers gingerly and gently brushing back her hair before dropping to curl against her cheek.
Bella’s arms lifted, hands clutching the lapels of his velvet coat, drawing him down to his knees before her. He went willingly, allowing her arms to slide about his waist, her face burying in his chest as she sniffled like a child. Jasper wrapped her in his embrace, his pale cheek pressing against her forehead as he began to rock her back and forth, solemn eyes gazing into nothingness as he whispered words of comfort and love into her ear.
Eventually they ended up on the black armchair, Bella curled into his lap like a child, her head on his shoulder as he absently brushed fingers over and again through her dark locks.
“Darling…” she murmured, her voice barely a whisper. A head tilt was her only response, the slightest glimmer of perplexion dancing through pale features as he waited for her to go on. Placing a hand over his heart and taking a deep breath, Bella sighed.
“Don’t ever leave again…”
Frowning, her husband nodded, blinking as he processed her words, those unearthly blue eyes scanning the bedroom as if seeing it for the first time.
“I don’t plan to,” he murmured in reply, “Not ever.”
The King of the Underground was welcomed back with open arms – arms that for the most part stayed firmly rooted to the sides of the faithful and nowhere even close to his person. If he had been unapproachable for physical affection before, now the idea of offering a ‘friendly hug’ seemed akin to a death wish. Sauntering through the adult playground like a man reborn, those hungry cobalt eyes drinking in the faces and sights as if he were analysing and categorising everything he saw for some later use, Jasper seemed for all the world like a man on a mission who wanted no comfort or help from anybody.
That is, at least, until he started drinking. Then, happily, an almost childlike smile alighted upon his face, cold eyes filling with warmth as a delighted laugh at this, that or the other fell from his lips…and he was everybody’s charming and incorrigible rogue again, hair dangling in his eyes, arms thrown out welcomingly as he flounced about the room. Laughing at his shenanigans, Bella was overheard to remark that he couldn’t seem to decide whether he wanted to be the parent or the child, but despite his rather pronounced bipolar behaviour, it was obvious that the Queen of the Underground was just glad to have her husband back by her side.
Bethany generally gave her father a wide berth, gazing at him from across the room, a hesitant smile on her lips as she watched him play. Once or twice she caught his eye, his mouth quirking in a strange smirk that she would return before distracting herself with something else again. It wasn’t until the week before the Family Christmas party that she approached him long enough for them to speak more than three words to each other.
“You’re avoiding me, Bethany Black…” he accused her, that amused smirk playing on his lips.
“I’m not, Daddy…I’m just…” the young girl frowned and waved her hand as if trying to find the words, “Giving you space.”
“Isn’t Christmas supposed to be about bringing family together?” he muttered, “Or something.”
Bethany shrugged, chewing on her lip and staring at her shoes, toeing the floorboards absently. After a long moment watching her, Jasper laughed.
“You can relax, little girl, I already know…”
“Know what, Daddy?” wide dark eyes rose to meet her father’s, surprise registering on her pixie-like face.
Licking his lips, Jasper sauntered closer to his daughter, leaning forward to gaze into her eyes.
“That you fucked Dorian while I was gone.”
Kissing the tip of her nose smugly, Jasper turned back to the bar and called for a shot of vodka. Speechless, Bethany stared at him, colour rising in her face as she shook her head.
“How…?” she whispered.
“You will find, oh daughter of mine…that I know most things,” came the flat reply, punctuated by a sly wink, “Now stop gaping at me and go play.”
Staring at him for a long moment, Bethany barely breathed, then, blinking and nodding, she offered a sheepish smile.
Word of Jasper’s return to the Underground and the subsequent celebratory Christmas party spread much like the news of his death, prompting the return of many of the usual locusts and drama-seekers for the event, along with the choice handful of loyal subjects that had never left Bella’s side. The former, Jasper treated with the cold disdain of a King holding court amongst traitors and thieves, his crocodile smile and chilling eyes unsettling them and communicating clearly that, although he had been ‘dead,’ he was very much aware of what they had been about in his absence.
As for the latter, they seemed all at once to be elevated to esteemed positions of honour, the Family quite shocked to discover them all gathered in the Night Garden in preparation for the Family procession.
Underdwellers, Jasper called them, grinning as he surveyed the motley crew of misfits forming rank behind his nearest and dearest, barking orders at them as they tried to organise themselves.
“Katorga, since you’re still alive you might as well make yourself useful, you can stand behind Betty and Bethany…though you seem to be lacking a wife…” smirking smugly, he tilted his head at Ms Mirror, “My PA will just have to babysit you for now. Asinoe, make sure that the Russian behaves himself…Scarlett…” glancing at the busty redhead, Jasper gestured to the tall uniformed man loitering in the shadows, “Steiner needs an escort…Steiner, stop skulking in the dark…where the fuck is Jack Lad?”
Shrugging, Steiner moved to stand beside Scarlett, informing him that Mr Lad sent his apologies but had ‘urgent matters to attend to.’ For the briefest moment, Jasper’s eyes grew dark, his jaw tightening as he nodded to himself. And then he was waving a hand dismissively.
“Fuck him then,” he said flatly, “Shall we, my Queen?”
Offering an arm to his wife, Jasper bowed his head chivalrously. Bella almost blushed, nodding her head in return.
“As you wish, my King…” she crooned, smiling graciously before drawing her husband closer and covertly gesturing to the others.
“Why are they back here, Jasper?” she asked softly, “What’re you up to?”
Perking a brow, lips curving into a satisfied and genuine smile, Jasper let his gaze wander over the Underdwellers before looking to Bella.
“They’re my army,” he told her, falling into step as the processional music began, dragging his wife along with him before she could ask anything more.
The applause rose before Jasper’s feet hit the stage to sing, the myriad of fans gathered showing their appreciation (and relief) at his return. Glancing at the black Christmas tree, a pale hand moving to toy with a shimmering silver ornament, Jasper grew silent and still at the song’s close, thoughtfully studying the festive decorations, the faces of his family and those gathered to worship at the altar of Black.
“Damnit,” he sighed, “I thought you’d have all fucked off by now…bastards, how dare you be so loyal…”
The crowd chuckled, some of them looking away nervously as those penetrating blue eyes seemed to look straight into their souls.
“But then again, that’s what Family is, isn’t it?” he went on, “Those who stick by you during the tough times…” his gaze stopped on Grigori’s acquaintance, the tall dark-haired woman named Eden, a brief glimmer of recognition dancing through his eyes before his attention was drawn by the sound of the front door opening.
Through it came a tall and rather lanky man in a tan leather jacket and bright red shirt, the heels of his pointed cowboy boots – peeking out from beneath tight pinstripe pants – clicking on the floorboards as he stepped inside. He was older than most gathered within, late forties at the least, his wide blue eyes shining in the light as he fixed his gaze on Jasper
“Oh you have GOT to be fucking KIDDING me…” the King of the Underground breathed, staring at the man.
A delighted grin slowly formed upon the strange gentleman’s lips, a hand rising to point at Jasper, his eyes turning to the audience as he nodded some kind of silent approval for what he saw.
“…He’s a good lookin’ boy, ain’t he?” the man drawled in cockney so thick he could barely be understood. He swaggered forward a step or two, letting the door click shut behind him, “Yeah…damn fine lookin’ lad…”
Jasper’s eyes had widened, lips parting almost in awe as he stared at the newcomer, forehead creasing in bewilderment.
“Joel…” he murmured finally, “What the actual fuck…?”
‘Joel’ was making his way around the room, surveying the scene with barely concealed delight that increased tenfold each time his gaze returned to the young man on the stage. Across the room, Bella threw Jasper an inquisitive stare, her brow lofting as she watched the stranger eying her husband. When Joel’s gaze met Jasper’s again, his smile faded somewhat and he shook his head.
“Well it’s Christmas an’ all…” he insisted defensively, “I thought now’s a good a time as any to see how me neph was. You know, pay a visit of sorts…”
“Joel, it’s been 27 years…where in the fuck were you?”
“Around mate, around…I ‘ad work an’ things ta, you know, ‘ave taken care of…” Joel shook his head, waving a hand at Jasper, “Don’t start in on me…”
“I thought you were dead…” Jasper replied flatly, “They told me you died, Joel…”
“Yeah…well…them fuckers were always liars…”
Something cold and dark flashed in Joel’s face, making Jasper blink and narrow his gaze. He contemplated the man for a moment before a smile that didn’t reach his eyes twisted his lips.
“This is my Uncle Joel,” he told those gathered, “My father Jerald’s younger brother. Bella…” blue hues flickered to his wife and she glided forward swiftly, “Help Joel to the bar and get him a drink…from me.”
Squaring his shoulders, Jasper looked to Joel again.
“My wife will take care of you,” he told the man, who regarded Bella with an awed expression somewhere between delight and surprise.
“…bloody ‘ell, you did alright for yourself, did’n ya mate..? Knew ya would…”
Bella smiled and lowered her eyes demurely before offering Joel an arm, concern flittering through her face as she glanced over her shoulder at Jasper. He shook his head and shrugged at her, then turned to the audience again…all trace of consternation dissipating as his boyish grin returned.
“Speaking of growing up…when I was a kid …I wanted to be a soldier…I wanted to fight in a great army for some fucking cause or another…what about you?” his gaze fell upon the flaxen haired fae-like face of Lyra, who stared up at him with a fond smile, “What did you want to be when you grew up?”
Frowning slightly, teeth moving to graze her lower lip as she pondered a moment, the young woman whispered to herself before offering Jasper a triumphant nod.
“An imaginary friend,” she responded, her cheeks reddening as the King of the Underground looked at her in surprise.
“I see,” he crooned, smiling “Would you like to be MY imaginary friend, Lyra?”
The young woman seemed surprised at his words…or perhaps it was the fact that he knew her name. Nonetheless, she nodded vehemently, her face lighting up in pleasure.
“Yes please,” she said politely. Jasper smirked at her and nodded before turning his attention back to the rest of the room.
“Well then” he said with a laugh, “Since its Christmas and I’m no longer the senior Black at Funday, I suggest we all take it back to childhood and get as munted as we possibly can…here’s my sister in law to help get things started.”
A cheer rose from the crowd and Jasper snatched up a glass, toasting the evening’s festivities before sauntering off the stage, leaving Betty Black dancing in his wake. Flinging her arms about like a crazed harpy, she managed to take down a good chunk of the ceiling decorations with her enthusiastic flailing, giggling audience members dodging flying baubles and stars as they whooped and cheered her on.
Throwing a glance at Uncle Joel, who was talking to Bella but watching him intently everywhere he went, Jasper turned on his heel and made a beeline for the opposite end of the room, eyes falling on Lyra’s golden mop shaking this way and that as she spoke animatedly to a young couple. Without a second thought, he stalked over to them, their wide eyes alerting the young woman to his approach just as he came upon her.
“Hello,” he said to Lyra when she whirled to face him.
“Hi,” she chirped brightly in response, watching him take a sip of his drink, “I like your eyes.”
“I know,” he replied, “Everyone does…” Another sip, then another and his glass was empty. Jasper leant on a nearby table, ignoring the couple completely as he jerked his chin at the bar.
“Go get me another one,” he told Lyra, pushing his glass into her hands. She looked at him blankly for a moment, brows rising.
“You’re my imaginary friend, aren’t you?” he pressed, smirking when she clapped enthusiastically, “Well…I ‘imagine’ you being very helpful and going to fetch me another drink.”
Smiling as she caught on, Lyra nodded in agreement.
“Please?” she prompted. Jasper frowned, shaking his head in confusion. Lyra’s smile widened and she shook her head almost as if to chide him.
“You should say ‘please’ when you ask someone to do something for you…” she reminded him gently. For a moment the heir to the Black Family fortune just stared at her, utterly bewildered. Then he sniggered, leaning in to breathe in her scent, eyes glimmering with mischief as his lips brushed her cheek.
“Not likely,” he whispered to her, before turning to stalk away. He scanned the room in search of Bella and Joel, who seemed to have disappeared, currently nowhere to be seen.
“Outside,” Grigori Katorga called from beside the bar, gesturing to Jasper, “Bella said she needed some air and Uncle Joel ‘escorted’ her onto the balcony. Which is unfortunate, because I think she was trying to get away from him.”
Narrowing his eyes at the Russian, Jasper sauntered over to his side, arms moving to rest on the bartop as he stared at their reflection in the mirror across the way.
“Just because you’re not dead yet, doesn’t mean I’m not going to kill you, Katorga,” he told the man bluntly. Grigori nodded as if he’d expected as much.
“That’s fine, but have a shot with me first, at least…” he summoned the bartender over, ordering a scotch and…
“Vodka,” Jasper said flatly. Perking a brow, Grigori waited for the drinks before offering his companion a toast.
“To Family?” the Russian queried. Black shook his head, clinking his glass with Katorga’s, blue eyes fixed intently on him.
“To your wife,” he countered, downing the drink and tossing the glass over the bartop to shatter on floor behind it. Grigori flinched slightly, gulping down his scotch and gazing into the empty glass, lips parting as if he wanted to say something.
“If you apologise to me, I will gouge out your eyes with that glass,” Jasper interrupted. Scowling, Grigori eyed him in silence for a few seconds while he reconsidered his approach.
“…do I remember?” Black finished for him, lips twisting into a wry smile, “You want to know if I was awake at any point during your adventures with Belladonna?”
Nodding, Katorga turned to place his elbows on the bar beside his companion, meeting his gaze in the mirror opposite. Tilting his head, Jasper bat his eyelashes at the Russian.
“Don’t worry…95% of the time it was all her, Katorga…” he crooned, chuckling at Grigori’s suddenly horrified expression. Turning his head, Jasper pouted at the man beside him, liquid blue eyes all at once widening coyly, “But oh…that 5%…that was all mine baby…and she was right, you WILL love me eventually.”
Pushing away from the bar, Grigori looked torn between punching Jasper or kissing him, his cheeks flushing as he looked away. Jasper laughed, then all at once his face hardened, all mirth fading away.
“I’m going to get you for this, Katorga…I hope you understand. Sooner or later.”
Eying the man, Grigori nodded, muttering that he would be disappointed if there weren’t SOME consequences for what had happened.
“But I was hoping to one day make it up to you.”
Jasper snorted and shook his head, murmuring that he doubted it was possible. Blinking, the Russian moved to slap Jasper on the back fondly, patting his shoulder as he grit his teeth.
“Bethany’s children are alive…Belladonna had me switch and smuggle them out of the hospital when they were born. Merry Christmas, Black.”
Turning and stalking for the front doors, Grigori left the stunned Jasper at the bar, staring into nothingness as the Russian’s words washed over him.
Finally, the King of the Underground blinked, wide cobalt hues shifting to fix on Grigori’s back as he bid a hasty retreat.
~December (Part Three)~
Asinoe and Scarlett were deep in hushed conversation when Jasper threw himself onto the stage beside them, flopping over some cushions and staring at the ceiling with a thoroughly perplexed expression. Glancing at each other, the two women studied the brooding young man for a moment before Asinoe sidled over, a gentle hand moving to rest on his arm as she asked him if everything was alright.
“Some people have the worst fucking timing…” Jasper muttered, shaking his head, “I mean seriously…how the fuck was that necessary right now..?”
Frowning, Asinoe looked to Scarlett, who shrugged and fixed emerald hues on the prone man beside them.
“Did Grigori say something to upset you again?” the PA pressed, gaze skittering to the front door, where the Russian had recently bid a hasty retreat. The woman gasped as Jasper sat up suddenly, his keen eyes fixing on her as he crossed his arms across his chest.
“Tell me about your sister, Ms Hardcourt,” he said bluntly, changing the subject spectacularly. Asinoe blinked in surprise, lips parting in shock. Scarlett made a small sound in her throat, prompting both the young woman and Jasper to glance at her. She shook her head and indicated that she would be nearby if required, then headed towards the bar.
“We check the background of all Black Family employees,” Jasper continued, “Asinoe Hardcourt Mirror…granddaughter of the great William Hardcourt of Hardcourt Industries…raised by grandfather dearest, legally changed her name back to Mirror in honour of her deceased father, whom she lost to cancer when she was ten. Suffered intensely after her twin sister’s disappearance when they were 8 years old…many therapy sessions, blames herself, blah blah blah…”
“That’s personal information, Mr Black…” Asinoe began, eyes narrowing slightly, her body stiffening as her expression became harder.
“Word on the street is that you believe she was sold to a child trafficking ring which I assume is – given the recent revelations about my father’s ‘proclivities’ – why you’re here…”
“I never thought…”
“Why didn’t you tell me?” wide blue eyes filled with something akin to hurt as Jasper pouted, “I could have helped you if you’d told me.”
“What was I going to say?” Asinoe countered, shaking her head, “It took me my whole life to find even a scrap of information about her and it led me here. Was I supposed to walk up to the door all ‘oh hi, I was just in the neighbourhood and I saw your light on and can I be your PA while I investigate whether or not your Family was involved in the kidnapping and selling of my sister’?”
Making a face, Jasper turned away and glanced at Scarlett, who stood nearby watching them carefully. After a moment, Asinoe sighed.
“I wanted to tell you…and then I didn’t know how. I didn’t want you to think…” the young woman bit her lip, studying Jasper as she spoke, “I didn’t want you thinking that I took the job just so I could spy on you.”
Cobalt hues snapped to meet her gaze, something dark and calculating shimmering just beneath the surface as he regarded her suspiciously.
“Why did you take the job…Asinoe?” he asked slowly. Asinoe blinked, holding his gaze for a few seconds before she blushed and bowed her head.
“I like it here,” she murmured, “I like your Family.”
Studying her intently, Jasper narrowed his eyes, letting them drop ever-so briefly over her body before they flickered up again, the ghost of a smirk playing on his lips – a smirk which disappeared the second she looked up at him.
“And do you like me..?” he asked her, tilting his head and widening those baby blues. Asinoe perked a brow and laughed as if she knew exactly what he was doing.
“You’re okay I guess,” she replied with a smile, which made him laugh and shake his head.
Asinoe explained to Jasper that it had been her best friend Scarlett who had discovered the information she’d sought and that her twin sister, Alina, had initially been presumed dead.
“I don’t remember how old I was when the thought that maybe she was alive first started playing on my mind,” she confided in him, “I started to have dreams about her, I could see her…with those people…I had horrible nightmares about them doing things to her…” words trailed off and Asinoe closed her eyes, biting her lip, “I had so much guilt about her disappearance…but the thought that maybe she was still alive, still suffering…”
“Alina…” Jasper pronounced the name slowly, drawing it out, something akin to a fine tremor running through his form as he brought his attention back to Asinoe, “What was she like?”
Smiling, Asinoe explained that her sister had always been the beautiful one, the favourite…the one everybody adored.
“She had people wrapped around her little finger, she was so much prettier than me and so much stronger…” words trailed off as she noticed Jasper staring at her with a strange expression. Frowning, she reached out to touch his arm, which made him jump. He blinked and shook his head, apologizing.
“You just reminded me of something,” he murmured, offering a wry smile, “Did I ever tell you I had a twin sister?” Surprised, Asinoe shook her head no.
“Oh yeah, stillborn she was…they called her Bethany. Father always used to tell me that it was my fault she’d died…that I’d killed her in the womb…” he shrugged, throwing the horrified Asinoe a look that said ‘what can you do?’ before rising to his feet. He told Asinoe that all the Black Family resources would be made available to assist her in the search for Alina, and “if you need anything else, just bloody well ask me…no more of this sneaking around.”
Leaving his bewildered PA behind, Jasper headed towards the Night Garden, meeting Lyra halfway there. The flaxen-haired nymph proudly offered up the glass of bourbon that she had fetched for him, scowling when he snatched it up from her and took a sip without a word.
“You never use your manners…” she muttered beneath her breath, smiling at Jasper as he stopped drinking and eyed her coolly.
“Where’s your drink?” he asked her, smirking when she took his arm and dragged him to a nearby table, plucking a glass of French champagne up from it. Nodding, he tapped his glass against hers with a clink.
“To new friends,” he murmured, sipping again and placing his glass delicately onto the table before wrapping an arm about her suddenly and sweeping her into an empty seat. Taking the chair opposite, he crossed his hands and placed them on the table in front of him.
“So…” he said, eyes glittering with mischievous mirth, “What does an imaginary friend do?”
Lyra looked thoughtful for a moment, pouting and letting her gaze wander the table. Spying an abandoned piece of notepaper, the young girl plucked it up and began to fold it, her tongue snaking out to wet her lips as she worked. Jasper watched her in curious silence until finally she grinned up at him and placed a tiny paper crane before his folded hands.
“That,” she said proudly, taking a sip of her champagne. Staring at it, then at her, Jasper laughed. Lips parted as if he were about to say something more, but all at once Joel and Bella were coming towards them, the former gesturing with a hand to his nephew.
“Jasp…can we ‘ave a word?”
Frowning, Jasper looked to Bella, who gave him a look somewhere between ‘get me away from this man’ and ‘you don’t have to talk to him if you don’t want to.’ Pondering for a moment and looking at Joel, the King of the Underground finally nodded, throwing Lyra a charming smile.
“Bella, have you met Lyra? She’s my imaginary friend…” rising from the table as Lyra looked up at Bella and waved, Jasper plucked up the paper crane and offered it to his wife, “Lyra, this is my Queen, Bella…I imagine you’d love to fetch her a drink and anything else she desires…” pausing to glance down at Lyra, who had lofted her brows at him expectantly, Jasper rolled his eyes.
“Please,” he added, ignoring Bella’s surprised stare at hearing the word coming from her husband’s mouth. Lyra applauded his progress by clapping delicately before turning to smile at the Queen of the Underground. Gesturing for Joel to follow, Jasper stalked into the Night Garden and took a seat on the balcony steps with his back to the wall. Drawing up a chair, Joel sat close by.
The two men eyed each other for some time in silence before Joel grinned and looked about the Night Garden.
“Fancy place you got ‘ere,” he began, “Interesting lot ‘o people though…I seen a man in a dress and d’ya know some of them boys are wearin’ eyeliner? Not that there’s anything wrong wiv’ it, I’m not sayin’ anythin’ derogat’ry or nuthin…it looks good on you…”
A tiny smirk danced over Jasper’s lips as he waited for his uncle to grow silent again, his expression deadpan. Joel faltered, eying his nephew for a moment before shaking his head.
“Now I know it ain’t what you was expectin,’ me comin’ here, but I ‘eard that you weren’t doin’ so well an’ that you might ‘ave…uh…”
“Tried to kill myself,” Jasper said bluntly. Joel flinched and looked away, nodding.
“So I figured since I was in the neighbourhood that I’d come an’ say hi and, you know, maybe ‘elp you…if you needed…wiv things…”
Blinking, Jasper stared at Joel for the longest time. He opened his mouth to reply, then paused, eyes closing as his lips pressed together in a grim line. Finally, he looked to his uncle and frowned.
“Twenty seven years…and you come to ‘help me’ NOW?”
Scowling, Joel shook his head, waving a hand as if to dispel the growing tension.
“Now…don’ go gettin’ like that…there weren’t nothin’ I could do back then, I’da done it otherwise…” rising from his seat, Joel danced from foot to foot, as if unsure whether to stay or go. His head wobbled from side to side like a bobble toy and he seemed quite at war with himself. Jasper didn’t move or speak, he just watched in silence as Joel flapped about.“Fuck!” the man suddenly exclaimed, throwing up his hands, “I’m gonna get a drink, you want one?”
Near-pouting when Jasper shook his head no, Joel turned on a cuban heel and stalked from the Night Garden, almost bowling Grigori over as he crossed the threshold. Cursing dramatically, Joel sidestepped and continued on his way, a bewildered Grigori staring after him before moving to approach Jasper, carrying two shot glasses.
“I assume the reunion didn’t go too well…” he said, offering one of the glasses to the brooding man on the steps, “Shot?”
“You trying to poison me before I can murder you?” Jasper asked, eying the glass before snatching it out of the Russian’s hand and gulping it down.
“I wish,” Katorga muttered, “I promised her I would look after you.” “You’re doing a stellar job so far. I thought you’d run in fear of your life…”
“Look…it was bad timing, I know, but its not like there was a ‘right time’ to tell you…” Grigori replied, downing his own shot and taking Jasper’s empty glass, placing it and his own well out of the billionaire’s reach, “I thought you’d be happy that they were alive…” words trailed off as he caught Jasper’s smirk, “What? What’s that look for?”
Perking a brow, Jasper shrugged.
“Calm the fuck down, Katorga…I’m as much to blame for this as you are. You weren’t the one who pushed the kid out of the window, were you?”
Grigori pondered for a moment before nodding, his face suddenly twisting into a pained grimace.
“Just remember that when I tell you about the complications…”
Licking his lips, the Russian grit his teeth.
“Well…we kind of lost them…but I got my best men on it, I think I know where it went wrong…”
Gaping at Grigori open-mouthed, Jasper could only stare for a moment. Then…
“You LOST them???”
“Only temporarily! My men are closing in as we speak on…”
“Katorga! The fuck…?”
“Hey, I’ve never smuggled babies out of the country before…” Grigori said defensively, “It’s not like just swallowing a balloon…”
“Well none of this would have happened if you hadn’t knocked Bethany up in the first place…” the Russian hissed, backing up a step or two when Jasper leapt to his feet, “Watch it, Black…”
Ignoring him completely, Jasper began to pace up and down, a hand rising to his face as fingers kneaded at his temples. Muttering profanities, he stalked back and forth for a good minute before halting suddenly and turning to Grigori.
“Fine,” he said flatly, “But YOU are going to tell Bethany…no…” he raised his palm as Grigori opened his mouth to protest, “This isn’t a negotiation. You lost my bloody children, you tell their mother that they are alive and you are doing everything in your fucking power to find them. You OWE me, Katorga.”
Glaring at Jasper sullenly, Grigori mulled it over for a few moments before heaving a sigh and nodding.
“Fine,” he said, “We’ll arrange a meeting and I’ll…”
“Tell her now,” Jasper interrupted, shoving past the man and glancing out of the Night Garden, “She’s right over there, sitting on the stage.”
Moving to stand beside Jasper, Grigori stared across the way at the Princess of the Underground, another heavy sigh escaping him.
“Fine,” he said again, “But if she kills me, Black…”
“It will save me doing it and it will be more than you deserve,” Jasper retorted, “You deserve to be tortured and to die slowly…”
Shaking his head, Grigori adjusted his hat before heading out of the Night Garden and over to where Bethany sat. Sliding to sit beside her, he offered a wary smile that the young girl didn’t return.
Watching as he made his way into the room Jasper headed for the bar, coming to a stop beside Bella, who reached out to link her arm through his.
“Everything alright darling?” she asked him, nuzzling into her husband’s neck as he eyed Grigori and Bethany. Jasper gave her a sideways glance.
“Not for long,” he murmured, fixing his attention on his daughter. Bethany was listening to the man with a look of confusion, brows furrowed, lips pursed into a pout. Then, all at once, the colour drained from her face, the word ‘what?’ forming on her lips before she lunged at Katorga quite suddenly, small hands clamping about the man’s neck as she threw her weight completely against him. Grigori fell back, Bethany’s tiny frame pinning him to the stage as she climbed onto his body.
“WHAT!?” she screamed at him.
Sighing in annoyance, Jasper pulled free from Bella and strode the three or four steps to the stage, arms coming up to wrap around Bethany and wrench her away from Grigori, who was doing his best to fend the crazed girl off without hurting her. Sitting down hard, Jasper locked his limbs around her, legs coming up to wrap about her own when she tried to lunge at Katorga again.
“Bethany…” Jasper began, grunting when his daughter shrieked and continued to struggle, “Fucking hell, Bethany Black…is this any way to treat the only man who knows how to find your children..? Stop it this instant!”
Becoming suddenly limp in his arms, Bethany moaned, her forehead pressing to the stage as she began to shudder. Rubbing his neck, Grigori sat up and shuffled a few inches back, watching as Jasper drew the young girl back up and into his arms, hands moving to brush her hair away from her face as she trembled in his grasp.
“He stole my babies…” she whined at her father. Jasper nodded, a bitter smile gracing his lips.
“And they’re not dead,” he replied.
Blinking those wide doe-eyes, Bethany stared at him in bewilderment.
“Not dead,” she echoed, before all at once her face lit up (fittingly) like a child at Christmas, “Daddy…they’re not dead!”
Releasing the breath he held, Jasper nodded again, brows rising as he cocked his head in Grigori’s direction.
“He’s a fucking idiot, we already know this…but he’s going to help us find our babies…aren’t you Katorga?” blue eyes blazed with unspoken menace as they turned towards Grigori. Offering a tight smile that didn’t reach his eyes, the Russian nodded, his expression softening as he looked to Bethany.
“I’ll do everything I can…” he promised.
“See?” smoothing back her hair, Jasper gave Bethany a stern look, “Now apologise for trying to strangle him.”
Pouting, Bethany opened her mouth to protest, but though better of it when she saw the warning in Jasper’s eyes, instead turning her attention to Grigori.
“I’m sorry,” she said softly, “I was upset. Thank you for helping us.”
“There…all better, now Bella is going to take you to get cleaned up…” Jasper crooned at her, waving a hand to Bella as she approached, her expression icy cold, “And then you’re going to come back and we’re all going to open our presents…”
Frowning, Bethany nodded as she rose from her father’s lap, those dark eyes of hers fixing on him as Bella took her arm.
“They’re alive…” she whispered to Jasper, tears welling in her eyes. Smiling, Jasper patted her hand before pulling out of her grasp and waving her away, his expression becoming serious the moment she turned her back. Bella caught his eye and he shook his head, mouthing the word ‘later’ to her. She nodded and turned her attention to Bethany, guiding her towards the bathrooms.
“Go home, Katorga,” Jasper told the Russian as he stood from the stage, “Christmas is over for you…and you have work to do.”
Nodding, Grigori smoothed down his clothing, retrieving his hat from Lyra’s head (it had been knocked off his own in the tussel) and offering a curt bow to those gathered before heading for the exit. Jasper didn’t look at him as he left, instead striding over to the bar to take up a pen and paper, scrawling something onto it before turning and heading over to where Asinoe Mirror sat with Scarlett.
“What was that about?” the woman asked him, eyes widening as Jasper offered her the paper. Taking it from him and reading it, Asinoe looked at him quizzically.
“He owns your sister,” Jasper told her bluntly, “Marcus Bellamantis. If you’re going to find her anywhere, it will be with him.”
Asinoe froze, looking from Jasper to the paper and then back again, her eyes glazing over with tears. She swallowed hard, blinking them away as Scarlett reached out to take hold of her hand. Jasper glanced at the redhead, then at the women’s conjoined hands before nodding at Asinoe and turning away.
“Thank you,” the young woman called after him, halting his steps. Tilting his head and frowning, Jasper hesitated for a moment before glancing at her over his shoulder.
“It was your mother,” he replied, “Your mother had Alina taken. Don’t thank me…” his eyes grew cold and blank, “You’re not going to appreciate anything you learn from here on in…”
Leaving the remaining guests behind, Jasper headed back towards the Night Garden, stopping when Bella stepped from the shadows and into his path.
“Am I calling Jett?” she asked her husband, “Or are we taking care of this one ourselves?”
Leaning against the railing and crossing his arms, Jasper shook his head.
“Katorga is still useful to us,” he told Bella, “We can’t really blame him for doing the same thing we planned to do first…”
Perking a brow, Bella nodded, clearly unhappy with the situation despite her understanding. Reaching out a hand to Jasper, she moved to embrace him, pressing her cheek against his shoulder.
“What colourful lives we lead, Jasper Black,” she sighed, breathing in his scent and closing her eyes.
Jasper gave a half smirk, pressing his lips briefly to the top of Bella’s head and wrapping an arm about her.
“Just wait…” he muttered, eyes widening when Bella stiffened against him.
“What now?” she asked, lifting her head to gaze at him. Jasper gave her an even stare, shrugging and shaking his head.
“I just mean that there’s never a dull moment…” he said and offered her a charming smile. Narrowing her eyes suspiciously, Bella studied him in silence before nodding.
“Indeed,” she replied, glancing up as Bethany appeared from behind them, with Betty and Jett in tow.
“Are the peasants gone?” Jett asked pointedly, “Has the area been sterilised?”
Suppressing a laugh, Bella shook her head.
“Afraid not, Uncle Jett…the minions are still among us,” she told the annoyed looking man. Rolling his eyes, Jett threw his brother a glare.
“I don’t know why you insist on fraternizing with these people Jasper…they’re so…middle class…”
“You’re such a fucking snob,” Jasper told him, making a face.
“I’m a Black…and I know my place,” came the response, lithe arms moving to wrap around Betty and Bethany, “But if we must socialise, then we must…there’s a gin and tonic with my name on it and a beautiful boy behind the bar waiting to serve it to me…”
Betty gave a high pitched giggle and slapped her husband playfully on the arm, throwing her brother-in-law a wink as they passed. Bethany smiled and nodded at Jasper, mouthing ‘I love you’ as Jett drew her away. Snorting, Bella laughed and looked at her husband.
“Ah, to be so loved…” she crooned, moving to wrap her arms about Jasper’s neck. Grinning at his wife, Jasper bat his eyes at her coyly.
“But you are, Bella mia…you are…”
The Queen of the Undergorund shrieked and giggled as Jasper playfully nuzzled then bit her neck, kissing him deeply and curling her fingers through his dark hair. When she pulled away, she had a folded piece of paper in her hand, which she offered to her husband with a slight frown.
“Your Uncle Joel asked me to give this to you…I don’t know what it means, but he said that you would understand…”
Taking the paper from her, Jasper nodded, perplexion filling his face.
“He also said to say Merry Christmas and sorry he couldn’t stay…but joy of joys, he promised he’d be back soon. Interesting individual, that one…”
Jasper could only nod again, his hand tightening about the paper as he eyed his wife. After a moment Bella smiled at him, leaning in to kiss his cheek and telling him that she was going to join the others around the Christmas tree.
“I know you don’t subscribe to this holiday and I don’t blame you. But don’t be too long darling…Bethany will burst if she doesn’t open her gifts soon…and Jett might just kill someone for breathing on him…” her eyes dropped to the note in Jasper’s hand, then flickered up to meet his gaze once more. Jasper looked back at her solemnly, saying nothing as she studied him.
“Merry Christmas, Jasper Black…” Bella whispered finally, blowing him a kiss and turning to leave the Night Garden.
“Merry Christmas Bella,” the King of the Underground replied, waiting until she was gone before moving to sit on the daybed, cobalt hues studying the sheaf of paper clutched gingerly between his fingers. Unfolding it, he bit his lip.
It appeared to be from a diary of some kind, the hideously scrawled handwriting upon it ignoring the crisp lines completely and veering off in all directions down the page. There were a bunch of names written in black felt, along with some dates and shorthand notes. Most of the names were illegible due to a series of sharp red lines slashed across them, but one or two were still clear enough to read.
“Minerva Epoque…Benedict Sunshine…”
Jasper turned the paper over, eyes narrowing as they drank in the names scrawled in red on the back. Unconsciously his free hand began to clench and unclench, his jaw tightening. Licking his lips, he forced
himself to take a deep breath, then another, before reading the names aloud.
“Black…Bellamantis…Katorga…” he whispered, “Dream…Kensington…Kreutz…”
His lips twisted into a sneer, blue eyes turning icy cold.
Crumpling the paper in his hand, Jasper shoved it into his pocket, rising swiftly from the bed. Taking another few deep breaths, the King of the Underground turned on his heel towards the small writing desk nearby, fingers closing about the shiny silver letter opener sitting atop a copy of Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’.
Scowling, he tucked the item into the inner pocket of his velvet coat, moving to peer at himself in a mirror on the nearby wall. A pale hand rose to smooth his hair back from his eyes and he regarded his brooding reflection, his expression slowly shifting as he practised a thoroughly charming and boyish smile.
“Let the games begin…” he murmured to himself.
Smirking smugly, he gave his reflection a wink before leaving the Night Garden to join his family and friends around the Christmas tree.
Summary/synopsis of LARP experience The Underground. All characters and story lines remain the property of N.Ristovski and the Underground. All character writings within the Underground are fictitious. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental
Copyright © 2015. Natalie Ristovski.