A modern manorian au request
“Don’t give yourself a headache.”
Manon looked up from the microscope and rubbed her eyes, giving them a moment to adjust. The preparation work on this fossil was so delicate she needed the scope to see properly. Fossil prep was tedious and could definitely cause headaches, but she enjoyed it. Seeing something spring to life out of the rock matrix was rewarding, even if it took a long time. And the work was quiet, meditative. The only bad part was that she wasn’t getting paid. It was her day off yet she was at the museum, volunteering in this lab for the boost to her university applications.
“I’m almost done for the day,” she told Ghislaine.
Asterin had met Ghislaine a couple of years ago. Manon was still unsure how, but when her cousin found out Ghislaine was a paleontologist at the museum, she’d brought her to the next Blackbeak family dinner. It took almost a year for her to get Manon a job there, what with reduced funding and not many openings. Once she got in, Manon made sure to spread the word that she wanted to learn anything and everything. Most of her spare time was spent helping out in labs and with exhibits.
“Don’t you have to work tomorrow? Like, work work?” Ghislaine asked, standing up to stretch. She rubbed her eyes too and groaned. “I don’t know what’s worse. The scope or the computer.”
“At least I don’t need reading glasses yet, old lady,” Manon teased, trying to get a few more particles free from the ammonite.
“Oh hey,” Ghislaine said innocently. “Look at this.”
Manon turned to find Ghislaine giving her the finger and she snorted. “I’m only a few years behind you. Soon you can throw it back in my face.”
“I will. But for now, I’m leaving. Which means you are too. It’s Friday and I need a drink. What’s Asterin doing tonight? Want to have her meet us?”
Manon finished the section she was working on and cleaned up her area. “I think she’s free.” As Ghislaine texted Asterin, Manon gathered her things. She caught her reflection in a glass case and frowned. Quickly, so Ghislaine wouldn’t see, she redid her braid and told herself it was because it was falling in her face.
A few minutes later, as they walked through the main dinosaur hall, she repeated that excuse in her head. But it didn’t matter. She knew it was a lie. She knew it the moment she saw Dorian sitting in front of an exhibit at the other end of the room. The moment her heart jumped against her chest.
It had been a few weeks since that nightmare of a tour. Only, it hadn’t really been a nightmare. Another lie she told herself. She couldn’t get him out of her head. Hadn’t been able to, really, since the night they’d first met. But seeing him here, in the light of day, brought him front and center in her mind.
Since then, Dorian had been back to the museum eight times. Sometimes with his brother, sometimes on his own. Not that she was counting. The first time he’d just waved hello from afar, not coming to talk to her. And that’s how it went, her disappoint growing with each sighting. Whether she was giving a tour or not, if she saw him, he waved and went about his business. What his business here was, she didn’t know.
“Are you okay?”
Manon realized she’d stopped to stare at him.
“I’ve seen him around a lot lately,” Ghislaine said, casting an appreciative eye towards Dorian. “Do you know him?”
“Yes,” she admitted, though she refused to go into detail when Ghislaine pressed her. His back was to them, so she could have easily kept walking. Instead, she said, “You go ahead. Tell Asterin I’ll call her tomorrow.”
Ghislaine very politely said nothing, but her devilish grin made Manon laugh. “Okay. Have a good night.”
She waited til her friend was out of sight and started towards Dorian. He was sitting on a bench, bent over something in his lap. As she approached, he sat up and stared at the skeleton on display in front of him.
“Deinonychus,” she said, by way of greeting. “The velociraptor in Jurassic Park was based off this guy.”
Dorian twisted slowly around, his face comically bemused. “Was nothing in that movie accurate? No feathers. Fake velociraptor. The T. rex chasing down a car. Everything I knew is a lie.”
With a heavy sigh, that didn’t cover up her laugh, Manon sat down next to him. She was surprised to find a sketchbook in his lap and a bag overflowing with art supplies on the floor next to him. He winked and said hello then went back to his drawing.
The page held different renditions of the skeleton, rough outlines of various poses and movements that he’d imagined from the skeleton. But he was working on a full color reproduction of the dinosaur as it would have looked in real life. Pulling a bright green colored pencil from the bunch he clasped in one hand, he started to add foliage around the deinonychus.
Manon watched, silent and amazed by his talent. She had seen scientists make sketches of fossils and anatomy, but she didn’t know anyone who could bring a creature to life so easily. It looked effortless. Of course she knew that it wasn’t. Even for someone born with natural artistic talent, it took plenty of time and hard work to get good and stay good.
Noticing his hand had stopped, she looked up to find him smiling at her. Oh no, she thought. I’m screwed. She almost laughed out loud. Too late, that already happened.
“So what is your favorite exhibit?” she asked, hoping the catch in her voice wasn’t that obvious.
He looked at her for a second before saying, “Currently I have four, and I can’t decide between them. Maybe, dinner in exchange for your professional opinion on which one I should choose?”
Manon glanced back to his sketchbook. It was large and worn, and it looked like he was more than half way through it. “Deal,” she said. “Only if you show me the rest of your work.”
A grin lit up his face and she couldn’t help but return it. “Oh, that was already included in the dinner,” he said, bending to stuff everything into his bag. She wondered how anything survived the process.
“So you woo women with your dinosaur drawings?” she teased.
“Only one woman,” he said, giving her a heated look that she felt deep down through her chest. Then he leaned in, conspiratorially, and said, “I think I might have a chance with her.”
Manon closed her eyes and shook her head.
“Let’s go, witchling,” he said, pulling her up. “I know a good burger place a few streets down.”
The restaurant wasn’t far, and even though that placed it in the central part of the city, it had an air of seclusion Dorian liked. It didn’t hurt that Gavriel’s brother Lorcan owned it, ensuring some amount of privacy.
It hadn’t happened to him often, but just one encounter with the city’s paparazzi had been too many. Dorian learned quickly how to avoid them - he rarely ever discussed anything important with his mother. She and her friends were of the opinion that only the lower classes bothered with trashy gossip sites. Of course, he was almost positive her friends were the ones selling their secrets. His mother knew it. There was no way she couldn’t. But as long as she had money to buy things and travel wherever she wanted in luxury, she didn’t care. Her bank account was her main interest these days.
The streets were crowded and it was starting to rain, so he and Manon walked quickly to the restaurant. Lorcan wasn’t behind the bar, but Dorian knew the waiter so they got a booth in the back corner. After he took their drink orders, they sat in awkward silence.
“So when did you-”
“How did you-”
They both spoke at once, and then stopped. Dorian motioned for her to go ahead.
“How did you learn to draw so well? Are you a professional artist?”
He pulled the sketchbook he’d been using out of his bag and handed it to her. “As promised,” he said, smiling as she eagerly began flipping through the pages. “I took art classes in high school, and I’ve had a couple in college. But I’m in my final year of architecture. So, not a professional.”
Not looking up, she shrugged and said, “That’s artistic. I’d say it qualifies.”
He couldn’t help feeling a burst of pride at her expression each time she turned a page. Most of the sketches were a mess. Quick impressions of displays and objects from the museum - an assortment of skulls, artifacts, taxidermy, and sketches of the building’s architecture. Only the last few pages held more complete drawings done in color instead of pencil. But she took her time, examining every detail.
“I recognize almost everything in here,” she said, her eyes finally leaving the book to meet his. “This is amazing. You’re really talented.”
“Thanks,” Dorian said, feeling a slight warmth creep over his cheeks. He was used to receiving compliments. As a Havilliard, he’d learned at a young age that most of them were fake, usually given with the hope of some kind of favor in return. Manon looked and sounded so genuine, and it felt so refreshing, that he wondered when he’d last been given real praise.
When they ordered food, the waiter made the mistake of questioning Manon’s choice of medium rare for her burger, thinking she might be grossed out by any blood. The look she gave the poor guy was beyond lethal. He hoped to never be on the receiving end of that stare. or, maybe a part of him did, he thought, realizing his pulse was racing. The waiter left and she turned to see him holding back laughter.
“What? I like red meat,” she said, still annoyed. “The bloodier, the better.”
Dorian held his hands up. “I didn’t say anything. Besides, I-”
Just then, his phone started to ring. It was the ringtone he had for Hollin, otherwise, he would have ignored it. And since Hollin only texted and rarely called...
“Sorry, I should get this,” he said. “It’s my brother.”
“Sure,” she said, sensing his tension and moving to stand. “Do you want me to give you some privacy?”
As he answered, he shook his head and she sat back down. “Hollin? What do you-”
Before he could finish, Hollin started rattling on so fast, Dorian could barely understand him. “Wait, slow down. I’m not hearing you.” He heard his brother inhale and exhale a few times. Manon was watching him with concern. “Okay, now tell me what’s happening? Are you alright?”
“Uncle Perrington,” Hollin said, making an effort to get the words out. “I got home late and ... he ... he must have been drinking and-”
“Where are you now?” Dorian asked, and he saw Manon grab her things, put his book in a bag and throw on her coat.
“I'm at Terran’s. I didn’t know where else to go. His house is the closest.” Hollin's words were starting to run together again.
“Okay. Deep breaths. Are his parents home?”
“Yeah. But... I don’t want to stay here.”
“Don’t worry,” Dorian said, giving Manon a look before they both stood and headed for the exit. “I’m on my way.”
Thankfully, he was parked close by, but he still ran, Manon right beside him. He didn’t think of telling her not to. All he could think of was Hollin. And how he should have taken his brother out of that house the moment his dad died. He should have fought to get his trust fund, should have done more to keep him safe.
When they got to his car, he expected to give her a quick apology and be on his way, but she went for the passenger side door.
“You don’t need to come,” he said, hesitating before getting in. This was already bad enough. He didn’t think he could handle her seeing the ugly truth behind his rich and famous family. But she only stared at him across the roof of the car, her fierce eyes giving him an answer. If he really wanted her to stay behind, she would. But she was willing to go. No matter what.
“Okay,” he said, and they both jumped in.
Manon waited in the car while Dorian went inside the house - mansion - to get his brother. Her foot was tapping involuntarily, and she couldn’t stop her hands from fidgeting.
Dorian had said little on the ride here, but she could guess enough. The death of Dorian Sr., and how the man’s brother had taken over the company, was all over the news a few months back. And a person didn’t need to stay on top of things to know Perrington Havilliard was a prick. With the family money, he’d avoided a handful of white-collar criminal convictions, some DUIs. There were rumors he’d done worse, but nothing ever stuck.
Imagining what he might do to a kid wasn’t hard. That was something she knew first hand.
Luckily, it didn’t take long for them to come outside. Dorian stopped at the door to thank a woman who must be the friend’s mom. Hollin practically ran to the car and got in the back, not thinking anything of her sitting in the front seat. She stole a glance back at him, relieved to see that despite looking shaken, he seemed unharmed. At least, physically.
“Sorry I messed up your date,” he said.
Twisting around in her seat, she frowned, “Who said this was a date?” He smiled, as she’d hoped, and she could see a little of his older brother in the expression.
“Dorian did. He talks about you all the time.”
Feeling her cheeks flush hot, she turned away from him. “Oh he does? That sounds creepy.”
Hollin sat forward, worried he was messing things up for his brother. “No, not like that. Mostly he talks about the museum. He’d never been to the natural history part until my class trip. Just the art side. I think he really liked it. Not just because of you either.”
Manon laughed and Hollin relaxed, just as Dorian got in the car. Seeing their faces, he opened his mouth to ask something but Manon gave him a little shake of her head. He examined Hollin, then her.
Her face was heating again under his gaze, so she said, “Are you hungry Hollin? We didn’t eat yet.”
“Sure,” he said. His excitement fell as he remembered. “I don’t have my bag, or homework, or anything. You’re not taking me back there are you?”
“No,” Dorian said, pulling out of the driveway. “I’ll get your things tomorrow. You can stay with me tonight.” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he swore and said, “Gavriel’s parents are here this weekend. My apartment is packed. We can just get a hotel room. Then figure things out next week. Okay?”
Hollin agreed, seeming to believe the cheeriness Dorian was projecting. But she saw through it. It reminded her of Asterin. A few years older than her, Asterin had acted this way countless times after their grandmother had gone on one of her rampages. Dorian caught her staring at him and his brows dipped in concern.
“I’ve got room. You both can stay with me,” she blurted out, surprising everyone, herself included, with the offer. Hollin immediately agreed while Dorian quietly tried to turn her down. “It’s nothing fancy, but it might be better than a hotel. We can order pizza.”
That was a lie. They could afford a penthouse suite for god’s sake. And Dorian had seen her place. He knew her reasoning was bullshit. But after asking several times if she was sure, he relented.
He thanked her with what was probably the sweetest, most genuine smile she’d ever seen. Heart racing, she made herself stare straight ahead.
“Can we get pineapple?” Hollin asked. Dorian groaned loudly, and the brothers began what seemed to be a longstanding argument.
The bickering ended when she interrupted, “Yes, you can get pineapple." Dorian shot her a wounded look as Hollin celebrated in the back seat. “My house, my rules,” she said, totally forgetting what they’d done there. And what rules she’d made him follow that night. His smirk brought it all back though.
Hollin had fallen asleep on Manon’s couch shortly after dinner. Dorian hadn’t asked him for many details aside from whether he was hurt. He’d managed to get out before Perrington could physically stop him, but the kid was scared. As he watched his brother sleep, Dorian’s anger, at himself as much as at their uncle, was starting to flood back.
Manon sat down at the table with a beer and handed him one.
Tonight, she’d been incredible. Not just by going with him, but letting them stay here, distracting Hollin and making him feel... normal. Like a kid. Not some fragile thing to be pitied or talked down to. It made him wonder if she’d had to deal with something like this before. The thought didn’t sit well and he pushed it from his mind.
“So, tomorrow...” she prompted.
He sighed, running his hand through his hair. “Tomorrow, I will talk to Hollin and call a lawyer.”
“For custody? Don’t you already have one? A lawyer I mean.”
“A family lawyer,” he said. “I’ve known him most of my life, but I wouldn’t say that I trust him. And yes, for custody. I should have done it way before now.” He tore at the label on the beer bottle. “I thought it could wait. That we could wait until I graduated. But that was stupid. And selfish.”
Manon rested her chin in her hand. “You don’t have your own money.”
Dorian laughed, grim and humorless. “Nope. I have some. No more than most people though.” She arched an eyebrow. “Okay,” he said. “More than some. But not enough that I could live on my own.”
“In my defense,” she said, glancing around the apartment she lived in alone, “this building is shitty and thankfully, this neighborhood has been overlooked by the gentrification brigade.” She tipped her beer at him. “But I understand what you’re saying.”
He smiled, enjoying the easy way they could talk to each other. “My friend Chaol’s dad is a lawyer. He’s a bit of an asshole, but I think he’ll help. And I’ve got some money, but my trust fund won’t be available for another couple of years. I’m hoping to find a loophole.”
She looked across the room to where Hollin slept. “Well, for what it’s worth, I hope you do.”
Before he could think, Dorian reached across to take Manon’s hand. She didn’t pull away, but her eyes flared. He held on, long enough to say, “Thank you.” He opened his mouth to go on, but he didn’t know what more he could say. “Thank you,” he repeated.
Manon’s face softened and he let go of her hand. She bit her lip and asked, “So you never told me what your favorite exhibits are.”
“Ah,” he said, “I thought I’d gotten out of the inquisition, but I guess not.” She offered him the remaining pineapple pizza in exchange for not answering, but he passed it up.
“Well, I wasn’t lying about the pterosaurs. You could probably tell from the sketchbook. I’m not sure which of them specifically. They all scare the shit out of me. But when I’m there I can’t stop staring at them.”
“Yeah, their size is a little disconcerting,” she agreed.
“And them walking on all fours?” He cringed, took a drink and said, “I like them, but in the way someone who’s not into heights might like roller coasters. The whale exhibit was good. And I also liked the Age of Mammals hall. The irish elk actually might be my favorite. I know everyone goes for the dinosaurs, but the mammals are just as interesting.“
Manon’s lips twitched and she nodded approvingly. “And the fourth?” she asked. Dorian’s eyes widened with surprise. “You said there were four,” she added.
“I did.” He didn’t hide his pleasure that she’d remembered. “The entomology wing. The...” he paused, thinking, then said, “the lepidoptera.”
Manon laughed quietly. “After those others I would not have guessed the butterfly exhibit.”
“Would you like to know my favorite rock?”
“I’ve created a monster,” she teased, standing and putting her beer bottle in the sink.
He joined her and there was an awkward silence as they realized it was late. And Hollin was on the couch. And she had one bed.
“I’ll sleep out here,” he said, ignoring the ungentlemanly voice in his head telling him to wait and see if she offered to share. “You have to work tomorrow,” he added. “And I think it’d be better for me to stay near him.”
She gave him a little smile, and it made her whole face light up. The sight of her - so beautiful and tender - revived that voice and he was about to reconsider when she pointed into the living room. “There are extra blankets in the chest. And pillows are on the couch.”
Before he could say goodnight, she placed her hand on his chest and stood on her tiptoes. The kiss was feather light on his lips. The opposite of the kisses they’d shared that previous night. Kisses that were passionate and hungry and breathless, as if time was rushing by them. Kisses that had been perfect for the moment.
This kiss, soft and plush and chaste, was perfect too. And far more intimate than all the others.
“Goodnight,” she said, then disappeared down the hallway.
To be continued...
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