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Happy Easter
#1
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April 21, 1889 — Easter Sunday — Darrow House, Swallowbury

Their particular branch of the Darrow family had never been particularly devout growing up, but there were certain times of year that anyone who even pretended to be a Christian had to drag themselves off to church, and Easter was one of them. Since his extended holiday abroad, Alfred was no longer sure he was even pretending to be a Christian, but it had always been a family tradition to spend Easter Sunday together, and Evander was the only immediate family that Alfred had left. When he'd gotten the invitation he'd agreed immediately, and then he'd enchanted a calendar to remind him three times so that he wouldn't forget and go about his usual Sunday routine instead — namely, sleeping in and doing very little of anything that could be considered productive.

In the wake of Monday evening's events he had forgotten about it, until the calendar reminded him with a loud and obnoxiously chipper alarm. He'd contemplated trying to excuse himself, but what could he possibly say? Nothing less than a dramatic injury would really be a good excuse for missing Easter, and if he pretended to have a dramatic injury, Evander would probably offer to come visit him instead, which wouldn't solve the problem. He'd still have to spend the day with his brother, but he'd also have to clean the flat in anticipation of his visit. Not to mention remembering to keep up his fake injury the entire day, and then staging a gradual recovery over the course of the following days or weeks. Not worth the effort, he decided; going to Evander's was definitely the lesser of two evils.

So he'd gone. He'd tried to be pleasant. He just wasn't doing a very good job of it. He'd spent most of the week wallowing in self-pity and ruminating on his mistakes, which wasn't a habit easily set aside for a day to be resumed when he returned home. He kept finding himself drifting off and thinking about other things when Evander was talking, or fidgeting nervously with the buttons on his shirt cuffs. He'd brushed his hair back into something moderately respectable before coming, but had forgotten about looking presentable and mussed it back to its usual unruly mess before long. He was noncommitally sculpting a bit of mashed potatoes into a plateau with his fork when he realized that Evander was staring at him in that way that people do when they've asked a question and are waiting for an answer. Alfred had missed the question.

"Sorry," he said, pushing some mashed potatoes onto his fork self-consciously, to keep up the appearance of eating and enjoying the food even though he wasn't feeling hungry. "What was that?"
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   Evander Darrow
#2
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Evander had always been glad to have tradition to fall back on. His brother might be back from the dead - might be the closest family he had left, at least in theory - but it often felt, with how little they saw each other, that it almost didn't count.

Evander felt appropriately guilty about this, of course (how his brother felt, he could not fathom; Johnny likely did not despair over the prospect of not seeing him regularly) but they did not have their parents or even their sister to coax them together anymore. So: tradition. Because, without their parents to gather them together on Easter Sunday, the duty had fallen to him. Not that he begrudged this, because he had been wracking his brain for a good excuse to invite Johnny - Alfred - round, but could hardly arrange something like that without an excuse. Come for dinner, he could've said, a vague open invitation, but he would've felt like a fool and his brother never would have come. I'd like to hear how you're getting on, he could have said, only then John would know he worried about him, and (if he did not mock him for it) would only be awkward about that, and no doubt Evander would feel awkward too. Nor did he want to force the matter, didn't want to make it seem that he was obligating Alfred to see him or making a habit of it, to trying to meddle in his life -

So, Easter. Easter was the safest option.

Evander was beginning to feel that he oughtn't have bothered (with any of it, but especially not jotting down a carefully-ordered list of conversation topics to work through), because he may as well have been eating Easter dinner with a brick wall. Except a brick wall had rather more solid a presence than his brother, so a... passing cloud?

"I was asking how your London flat was holding up," Evander repeated dubiously, not because he knew anything about his brother's new accommodation, but because he had begun to wonder whether, after all this time, his brother still hadn’t fully regained the ability to use cutlery in the proper fashion again. He watched the mashed potatoes sliding on and off the end of Alfred's fork, trying not to ruminate on how (or what) he had eaten in the jungle. Perhaps he needed cutlery lessons. His brows beginning to knit together, Evander decided his concerned observations warranted an unexpected change of conversational plan. "Are you - quite well?"

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#3
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"I'm fine," Alfred said immediately, pushing himself up so that he wasn't slouching quite so much. He wasn't, particularly, but the last thing he wanted to do was talk to Evander about it, so he'd better put on a good show of being fine. A better show than he had been putting on up until this point, apparently. He put a small bite of potatoes in his mouth and swallowed without taking the time to taste it.

"The flat's fine. Not cursed anymore. Did I mention it was cursed?" he said a bit distantly. He realized after bringing it up that he probably hadn't, since he and Evander didn't talk very frequently or in any degree of depth. He probably could have never brought it up and that would have been better, but it was too late for that now. "Not, uh, seriously cursed. Just rather inconvenient, really. A friend of mine was able to come by and fix it, though."

Friend. Zelda Fisk had been the one to stop by and fix it, but he certainly wasn't going to mention that. The best case scenario if he brought up Zelda's visit would be receiving a lecture from Evander about the impropriety of inviting unaccompanied girls over to his flat; the worst case — well, the conversation could get very unpleasant for him, to say the least.
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   Zelda Fisk
#4
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Fine, he insisted. Well. Evander hoped so. (He wasn't entirely sure what fine looked like on his brother. Not fine, nor well, nor normal. As such, he wasn't sure what Alfred could possibly say to be comforting.)

"Cursed?!" Evander spluttered the next moment, finding it a feat in itself to save his mouthful of wine from spraying across the table. He was spared making a real scene by his brother's swift protestations about the situation, as though a curse of any severity was a standard feature of most London real estate! Never mind that John had never had a good sense of proportion to rely on in the first place, so what he thought inconvenient had probably been life-threatening to any sane party. Why, he and his... roommate, whoever that was!... might have wound up as corpses rotting under the floorboards, and no one the wiser.

Evander cleared his throat, grateful at least that it had apparently all been cleared up, which meant he would not have to submit to putting his brother up here in the meantime. Still, having a friend fix it did not instil a great deal of confidence in the repair, either - to avoid explaining that too plainly, Evander adjusted his napkin on his lap and said, a little sternly: "You realise there are all manner of professionals equipped to deal with curses. You might have at least engaged the Ministry to fix it, rather than imposing on the generosity of a friend." Evander would have rather lived with the curse than trouble a friend to fix it for him! (That was, if Evander had readily possessed such things as, er, friends.)
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#5
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"She is a professional," Alfred retorted defensively. He hadn't missed the implication in Evander's words that this had been some sort of hodge-podge fix, and he was offended on Zelda's behalf. She was good at what she did — at least in his estimation, which admittedly might not have counted for much. He'd spent years, after all, with only one wand that was prone to backfiring whenever he attempted something, so he was hardly a magical genius himself. Although he'd picked up a few bits of wandless magic from the tribe they'd been living with, he mostly just did without, and he had kept up that sort of lifestyle after returning to England as well. It wouldn't have taken much to impress him — but that didn't mean she wasn't impressive, on its own.

He realized only after the words had left his mouth that he'd betrayed one of the details he'd intended to keep to himself: the 'friend' who had come to fix his flat was a she. His cheeks colored slightly, but he couldn't take the word back. Maybe if he just pressed on, Evander wouldn't remark on it. "We haven't had any more problems since then. It's been over a month."
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   Elias Grimstone
#6
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Evander had severely doubted his brother had any friends who were truly professionals at anything - Alfred seemed allergic to the very concept - so he might have been pleasantly surprised to hear it. Except, however well that professional friend of his had repaired the curse’s damage, she was a she.  

This took almost more digesting than the thought of the flat being cursed.

It was still too much to hope Alfred had engaged her services in the professional manner the situation demanded (with fair payment for the work, and a reassuring bout of procedural paperwork to follow), but this made it decidedly worse, his friend being a she. In fact, it made Evander distinctly uncomfortable, to the point where he would almost rather ignore it wholly and continue to eat his carrots in silence. But what would their parents have thought, god rest their souls, at hearing this?

“Successful or not,” he said stiffly, “you ought not to be - soliciting favours of that sort.” (Or any sort, particularly not from one’s female friends.) “She’s a cursebreaker, is she?” He asked, trying to soothe his worries somehow. Admittedly, a female cursebreaker, professional as she might be - if his brother wasn’t twisting her accomplishments into something that sounded better than the truth - was still hardly proper. Evander did not have high hopes for any details to follow.
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   J. Alfred Darrow, Zelda Fisk


#7
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Was Evander trying to imply something when he said favors of that sort? Merlin, if this was going to turn into some sort of sex talk, Alfred would probably curl up and die beneath the dinner table. It was both inconceivable and dishearteningly easy to image: Evander obviously uncomfortable but trying to put on some sort of paternal air; Alfred reduced to staring at his plate and attempting to condense all the awkwardness he was feeling down into a bout of sudden, unexplained magic that would provide a distraction from the topic at hand. Spontaneous combustion, say.

He could have argued (without even lying) that he was hardly the sort to go soliciting favors from women. He could have defended himself. Or he could just ignore it, thereby reducing the risk that he'd have to actually talk explicitly about sex with his older brother. That was far preferable. In fact, he would have liked to have ignored everything Evander was saying, but he couldn't think of any valid excuse not to answer the direct question.

"She works at the Ministry," he mumbled in the direction of his potatoes.
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   Zelda Fisk
#8
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She worked at the Ministry. A proper professional then. Evander would have been impressed at this if Alfred had not neglected to say anything else on the matter to clear up its murkiness, which led Evander to only confirm his worst suspicions. About the favours, and house visits, and whatnot. And by a Ministry woman, no less!

He did not particularly wish to say any more on the matter - and was not sure what he would be able to say without descending into crassness at an Easter dinner - but if his brother would only look up, the horrified look on Evander’s face really ought to be enough.

Besides, the horrendous habits his brother had no doubt acquired from living amongst savages had emphatically not been on his list of conversation topics. Whilst Alfred doggedly kept mooning over his potatoes, Evander wracked his brain, valiantly trying to discern whether there was some way to circle back to one of those topics - to find a suitable segue that would save him - maybe the Ministry, then? Perhaps he could steer them towards work, Evander’s favourite topic!

“And do you... have many Ministry friends?” He asked, meaning the question quite innocently; though God knew he didn’t want to hear if any more of them were female and prone to breaking his curses.
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#9
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Alfred glanced up briefly at the question, not sure what to make of it. He imagined there was some other meaning and not just a casual inquiry into what sort of company Alfred kept, but he couldn’t figure out exactly what he could have meant. There was nothing overtly scandalous about having friends in the Ministry, was there? And Alfred would much prefer to talk about other people who worked in the Ministry than to continue talking about Zelda. He wasn’t sure if Evander would be the sort to try and figure out who it was he meant, if he were given enough information, but having his brother and his sometimes-lover meet while he wasn’t around wasn’t an appetizing proposition at all.

“A few, I guess,” he said noncommittally. He wouldn’t really have called many of them friends, at this point in his life. Really the only close friend he had was Pablo, though there were people he had been friends with before the Sycorax expedition who had taken a mild interest in renewing their old connections now that he had been proven to be alive. Mostly Alfred thought they liked the novelty of the situation, not him personally, but it was what it was. The rest of his old classmates, the ones who hadn’t made any sort of contact with him since his return to England, were probably fixated on the novelty of the situation, as well, but saw it in a more scandalous light.

“I used to know a lot of people in the Ministry,” he added a bit vaguely. “Some of them didn’t really... uh, weren’t that enthused about the whole ‘coming back from the dead’ thing.”
#10
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Fortunately, Evander did not imagine his brother was running around with a whole horde of female ‘friends’, from the Ministry or not, at once (- loath as he was to imagine anything on the topic to begin with -) and besides, he was certain he would have caught wind if that was where the gossip lay.

Not that Evander gave gossip any credit, though people had not been particularly bashful about illuminating their version of J. Alfred Darrow’s supposed South American adventures, even in earshot of a relative. (Nor did he ever seek out the gossipmongering himself; if he had, ahem, ever opened an issue of Witch Weekly it was merely to, er, discern how women’s minds worked. It had been too frightening an endeavour to repeat.)

But he was conscious of the chatter that still haunted John, and hardly enthused by the apathy of his brother’s answer, either. Of course people - ordinary people, Ministry men, society women - would be a little disconcerted by ‘the coming back from the dead thing’, as Johnny so eloquently put it. Really, what he had to do, lest that continue to haunt them both, was shake it off before it was too late.

And then perhaps his brother would begin to look for a wife, and not be contented with casual ‘friends’.

“Ah,” Evander answered, setting down his knife and fork contemplatively. “Well, I suppose you cannot blame them. After all, you must seem quite - changed. And it’s not as though you have really been back, properly, have you?” He added, picking up in emphatic tone as he went on. “Half the time since your return you’ve been, well, gone, haven’t you; don’t you think you might do better staying, for once?” Then he might have the time to find some friends. (And a different career.)


#11
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Alfred supposed he had to admit that this turn of conversation was more welcome than further inquiries into Zelda, but it was a tired one all the same. He wasn't quite sure where Evander got off, since their own father had never been quite so disapproving of his career choice — but then, Barclay Darrow had been eaten by a dragon, so perhaps Evander didn't consider him the soundest judge of risk and reward. Really, though, it had been the only career path that had ever really appealed to Alfred, and the only one he'd ever been any good at — and, despite the rather disastrous turns that his career had taken, Alfred thought that he was good at it.

"I was 'gone' half the time before I left for the expedition, too," he pointed out. "It wasn't a problem until people thought I was a cannibal."

He was being a little aggressive, of course, but privately he knew Evander had at least half of a point. Prior to the Sycorax expedition, Alfred had been one of two dozen officers in the 'consulting Navy,' which was a built-in social network of people who had had similar global experiences and weren't particularly fussed about not being able to speak to someone for months at a time. Since the Navy had been dissolved following the disappearance of the Sycorax and her crew, he no longer had that. It was a different work dynamic, too, being an independent marine contractor instead of merely a cog in a much larger organization. Things were different all around, now, and not just because of the rumors that had surrounded his return — loathe as he would be to admit that to anyone, least of all Evander.

"What would I do, if I stayed?" he challenged. "I'm a sailor."
#12
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Merlin’s beard, he’d said the c-word aloud. Evander could not help giving an involuntary shudder, one-quarter due to the thought of actually being a cannibal and three-quarters for the embarrassment of the theory alone. (And it was Easter to boot: that really put the body and blood of Christ into a terrible light.)

“I don’t mean to criticise,” Evander said hastily, absolutely meaning to criticise; “I just -” he ahemed and wished he had his conversation plan to hand again, “am sure there must be a more stable option for you, something that might see you... a little better integrated? You might find it a - nice change, even. Being closer to home.” (Not that there was anyone truly at home for him now: everyone in the family whom his brother had left behind for the navy before was buried now, save Evander. And it was hardly for his own sake that Evander said these things.)

Not that he knew what, precisely, Alfred could do. He would have suggested something that wasn’t sailing at all, if he weren’t worried his brother would bite his head off for it. (Perhaps even literally.)
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   Ophelia Devine


#13
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Alfred could tell that he was making Evander uncomfortable, and he took a small degree of satisfaction in the fact, though he knew he shouldn't have. Alfred had spent a good deal of time since his return to England making very conscious, deliberate choices to prevent people from feeling uncomfortable, tailoring his behavior to their appetites, and it was liberating to have an opportunity to just not care, for once, that his conversation, his demeanor, his livelihood, his experiences, his whole life was not exactly appropriate for the dinner table. Responses occurred to him immediately to push the envelope a little farther. He could have said, for instance, without it even being much of a stretch at all, that he didn't particularly care to be better integrated, because the majority of the country was made up of small-minded boars with no imagination and no sense of what the real world — not just within the confines of the British Isles but the whole world — was really like. He could have launched into a series of stories to showcase just how differently things were done in other areas of the world (not just the tribe he'd lived with as a castaway, but India and the Far East and Africa too), to illustrate just how little it mattered that he integrate and become just another boring Englishman — but that might have shocked Evander to death, which would have put a rather morbid end to their holiday dinner.

However satisfying that might have been, however, he knew that Evander didn't deserve that. Whatever he said or thought, Alfred was confident that he meant well, and saying something controversial just for the sake of it would not be the most brotherly way to repay the sentiment. So instead, he chose a different tactic, which he thought Evander might appreciate given his own values and priorities: the career approach.

"This is what I'm good at," he said calmly. "I don't have the skills to do anything else."

(Of course, one could argue that given his experience on the Sycorax expedition it would be hard to make the case that he was good at being an explorer — but he had survived, when dozens of others had died, so — relatively speaking, he was doing quite well).
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   Elias Grimstone
#14
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While attacking his brother’s choice of profession had not quite been on the conversation cards, any more than cursed flats or his brother’s mysterious female friend had been, Evander was comfortable enough in how this usually went to tackle it without any real hesitation. (He had lost count of how many times they had had some variant or another of this conversation over the years; it was no secret between them, what he thought of Alfred’s job.)

And peppering in the idea of a different career possibility had always been part of the plan for today, as subtly as Evander could manage it. It had not been going to be a whole ordeal, merely a comment or sideline to another topic, a passing remark on something he’d hoped might have floated in his brother’s ear and percolated there unobtrusively enough that Alfred was almost oblivious to it. Just a subtle reminder to his bull-headed brother that Evander had not yet given up on the possibility. (And until Alfred retired from the sea to do something objectively less stupid, likely never would.)

So Alfred’s answer, head on, was a little more direct than he had intended this to be, but oh well. It did almost stump Evander for a moment or two, as well: Alfred admitting he didn’t have the skills for anything other than what he did. Evander could not help but agree with that; much as he would have liked Alfred to make some respectable Ministry connections, he couldn’t imagine J. Alfred Darrow taking up a post there, marching through the Ministry’s halls. It simply did not compute. He would look about as out of place there as a talking chimpanzee.

Still, his experiences had to have had some good effects on him, and he wasn’t a complete loss for a man in his mid-thirties! For a moment, Evander actually opened his mouth on the verge of stubbornly suggesting the department of International Magical Co-operation, for he was someone who had travelled, seen something of the world, interacted with cultures at odds with theirs. But a professional translator or a diplomat? No, it wouldn’t do. His brother would be laughed at, whispered about.

“Surely you might find something with the skills you have that doesn’t require setting off halfway around the world,” Evander countered instead, wishing that he could challenge Alfred with this rather than Alfred challenging him to come up with a solution. “Besides, it’s never too late to try something new.” (Hm. As sure as the sentiment sounded, Evander did not think it would stand up to testing; he had never had the slightest desire to bend a routine or try something different.) “And it’s not as though you don’t have plenty of knowledge about certain things already,” Evander said with an awkward handwave, finding himself entirely unused to offering his brother compliments, if that was what had just issued from his mouth. “Or good experience. You’ve - led people,” he tried for an example, though privately considered a crew of sailors rather a different breed from people who lived as people should. On land. “Organised... things.” Dubious things. But there was something to admire in it.
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   Ophelia Devine


#15
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Evander was clearly struggling to come up with something he could suggest to his brother as a career, and Alfred wasn't sure whether he ought to be insulted or amused. When he'd first returned to England he hadn't been entirely confident in his skills himself, but since then he'd Captained the Voyager on the exploration of Avalon — a trip where only one of his sailors had died — and several shorter ones where no one had died at all. Which meant, he thought, that he was doing fairly well. He was not surprised, however, to find that Evander didn't recognize the particular skill set that he had, and was having trouble articulating anything of value in it.

"Maybe I'll write another book," he joked dryly. "It seemed to be so well-received the last time."
#16
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Fortunately this time when Evander narrowly avoided spluttering or choking at what his brother next said, he hadn’t had a mouthful of food or of wine. (He had actually quite forgotten the remains of the meal on his plate, now that they’d moved on to trying to sort out Alfred’s life. Priorities.)

Thankfully, though usually rather obtuse to the occasion of people joking, he knew Johnny well enough for it to sink in, more often than not, when he was only pulling his leg. “Merlin,” Evander intoned once the split-second shock of the statement wore off, actually letting out something like a snort and shaking his head, amused in spite of himself.

(He thought little enough of writing as a profession even before accounting for the nightmare of an edit J. Alfred Darrow’s expedition story had undergone; had never warmed to fiction and thought autobiography far worse, an offence akin to airing one’s dirty laundry to the street. An expedition might have had some speck of didactic or moral teaching in it, or travel writing at the very least - so Evander had hoped when he’d begrudgingly picked up his brother’s book - but the sensational pages that had followed, cheaper trash than a penny dreadful, rife with... well, the worst anyone could imagine of what might have happened in South America with the savages, had been as far from the mark as could be measured.

If it had been anyone else’s published book, he would have propped it right in the fireplace and watched the pages shrivel up while the room warmed. But since it was his brother’s, he had felt that would be a sort of blasphemous desecration, and so had instead dutifully buried it behind a row of books on the bottom shelf of one of his bookcases, in hope that no one but he would know it was there, and that an adventurous moth or mouse might, over time, spoil it beyond recognition and spare him the embarrassment. 

Though he had almost forgotten it, by now, himself. And it had been long enough that most of the fuss had died down about it, but some things (the c-word, again) would perhaps never leave the public imagination entirely, for Merlin’s sake. The only consolation, Evander supposed, was that at least Alfred had not been proud of that final product.)

“Promise me you’ll do anything else, Johnny,” Evander said, continuing to shake his head as an honest laugh slipped out with his brother’s boyhood name unconsciously in tow, “- I mean anything else before you write another book.”




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