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tell me your secrets and ask me your questions
#1
Private 
April 3rd, 1891 — Augurey Beak Cafe

Even after she’d written him the initial letter, Juliana wasn't convinced she’d go through with it. She wasn't even really convinced of it now, even as she checked the sign above the entryway and pulled the doors open. There were plenty of ways this conversation could go that didn't involve revealing herself, she had reassured herself. And so what if she hadn't thought of any, yet? She'd always been good at lying in the moment, and she could do it again to Mr. Abernathy, if she lost her nerve or changed her mind. There were plenty of reasons to back out: he could ruin her. If it became public knowledge that Forfang was an uneducated woman, her research would be worthless. If it became publicly known that Juliana Binns had been secretly writing to werewolves for years, her life in polite society was over. She might have known his greatest secret, but he could have still destroyed her easily, and could probably have found a way to do it without even risking himself.

That wasn't really her chief concern, although perhaps it should have been. He could have ruined her, but more likely (and, at least in her mind, even worse), he could reject her. Over the past year she’d come to think of him as a friend, even without knowing his name, and she valued his opinions. What if he wanted nothing to do with her, knowing that she wasn't a real researcher? What if he felt betrayed, taken in by the facade that she'd presented of herself? He might not have chosen to share any of those details about his life had he known that she was... just Juliana Binns, not some enigmatic academic.

So was she going to tell him? Maybe. Maybe. She hadn't committed. All that she had committed to for certain was meeting with him. It didn't take long to spot him, with the dark curls she remembered. She'd purposefully waited until the week of the full moon had passed so he might feel more himself. She hoped he was well. Hoped he was ready for this, though whether he was or not she would hardly be able to tell.

"Hi! Thanks for agreeing to be here so late," she said cheerfully. It wasn't really late, but it was nearly dinner time, and for a Saturday it seemed late. It probably didn't help, either, that she’d been anticipating this meeting all day, which had made the hands on the clock in Lytton's main room seem as though they'd never moved more slowly. "I don't usually have to stay so late on Saturdays, but with the Lyttons on their cruise there's a lot to be done. Not in the designing area, though," she added hastily, though this was entirely irrelevant to the conversation at hand and he did not seem like the sort who was particularly likely to care about the internal workings of the House of Lytton. "I don't have anything to do with designing. Obviously," she added, with a slightly self-deprecating smile and a vague wave towards her dress.

She was talking too much. Her nerves were getting the best of her. If Camilla had been in the country she might've told her this was a bad idea, but she wasn't in the country and it was too late to back out now.


#2
Miss Juliana Binns was coming to meet him to talk about Marlowe Forfang, and so Kieran had spent most of the day a little too intrigued to focus. He worked on some of the ledes for his stories but didn't get very far, tried sketching Meredith Edgecombe from memory and did not get very far, and finally settled into reading. Except that didn't work either, because he was too excited to really settle into one book, and instead alternated between all three of the books he had in his bag.

(The first, a book on woman's lunatic asylums was no doubt very important, but also pretty bleak. He read a section of it and then dog-eared the page and made a mental note to wait until he was able to talk to Jude about it. The second was The Gentle Art of Making Enemies, and therefor more about art drama than anything else, and Kieran was obviously fascinated, but could not focus. The third was The Awakening by some American woman, and after the woman's asylum book it was also sort of a lot, but it was easy for Kieran to lose track of time in Chopin's descriptions.)

Instead of actually drinking all day, he'd been nursing various pints of beer, not wanting to be intoxicated before Miss Binns got here. They would likely have to talk through some layers of conversation, depending on the information she had to share about Forfang, and also from the last time they'd talked Kieran did not think Miss Binns was the sort to be comfortable talking to men when they were drunk.

He'd put the books in a pile on the booth next to him when Miss Binns got here, and he had his notebook and quill out, although the notebook was closed and he had not written anything down yet. He was listening to her and half-smiling — he did not understand anything about the House of Lytton and didn't want to but the way she was talkative was sort of charming — and waited for her to wrap up before talking.

"Don't worry about it, I'm usually here," Kieran said, without thinking about the implications of that sentence re: spending a lot of time in a bar. "I hope that things aren't too busy with the House of Lytton. I tend to keep sort of odd hours, but that's just — being a reporter."

#3
"It must be an interesting career," Juliana answered immediately and brightly, as she took a seat. She was carrying a notebook of her own, with a heavy leather cover, and set it down on the table between them. "Having so much autonomy to go about your work when and where you please. That sort of freedom sounds appealing, but I suppose that might have more to do with my own situation," she said with a shrug. Being an unmarried woman, she had always had certain restrictions on her movements, and though her parents had gotten more lax as her marriage prospects had faded, their renewed vigilance since the ordeal with Lachlan MacFusty had left her with a very present appreciation for what she lacked in freedom.

Perhaps he didn't really have as much freedom as she expected, since she presumed he was given the topics for his stories rather than choosing them from his own interests, but — he did write about werewolves, among other things, so maybe not.

She glanced down at her notebook and ran her fingers over the cover, considering whether or not it was the right time to open it. Would he want to get right to the chase, or would he want to chat first? They'd had quite the conversation in the bookstore, about all sorts of things, but this was a little different — she'd summoned him here, and he might have a little less patience for small talk than he did when meeting people by chance.

"So, Forfang," she said, looking across the table at him brightly but deciding not to open the notebook, just yet. "Do you have any theories?"


#4
Kieran shrugged his shoulders; reporting was the best job he'd had by a not-insignificant margin, but he had also had a lot of terrible jobs in his adulthood. And maybe he was carrying around a sore little torch, after his conversation with Fallon the other month — his sister quite evidently thought that his job didn't matter, and just because Kieran was sure that it did didn't mean that other people thought that way. He wasn't trying to change the world, or anything. He was just trying to tell people the truth.

That was a lot to unload on a near-stranger, though; so, the shrug. And then Miss Binns asked about Forfang, and Kieran was startled out of his reverie, even though he ought to have expected the question. He smiled at her, pleased.

"My best guess is that he's an academic writing under another name to protect his other research from getting attacked based on the werewolf-positive business," Kieran said, "Or some other professional, doesn't have to be an academic. Which would make sense to me as no one has admitted to running into him."

#5
Juliana's lip twitched up at the use of the pronoun. She always felt a little smug when someone assumed Forfang was a man, though in this instance her amusement was followed immediately by a pang of anxiety. He might have said that only because he assumed a researcher would have been male, or he might have said that because the idea that a woman might be behind the writing was odious to him.

"If Forfang had a large body of research I think more people would have made the connection," she pointed out. "Since the audience for academic literature isn't the widest circle. But that's — well, assuming there isn't a particular voice that's put on for the lycanthropy writings," she allowed, with a small smile. "Which I think you hinted at in one of your earlier letters."

She glanced down at the notebook again. Her fingers looked particularly pale against the dark leather background.

"I know I asked you here to hear my conclusions," she admitted. "But I wanted to hear what you thought, first. To see if it's along the same lines, I suppose. I'm not exactly a detective," she added with a self-deprecating smile. "But I'm glad you've decided to humor me."


#6
Kieran grinned at Miss Binns and her notebook. "I'm not a detective either," he said, "Really just someone who talks to a lot of people, and usually they don't like to talk back to me." Miss Binns was therefor a pleasant surprise, although he had never been trying to interview her for a story; either way, she was willing to hear him think out loud, and had even reached out about the Forfang thing, which was delightful.

"But I've been thinking about that," he said, "And I think maybe if he does have another academic personality floating around it's not one who — pokes fun at other academics in the Prophet." There had been personality jumping off the page in the Picardy letter, and if it was distinct then surely someone else would have caught on.

"That's enough humoring me, though," Kieran said with another grin; he took a sip of his pint.

#7
Juliana's cheeks flushed just the slightest amount when he mentioned the letter in the Prophet. Since Picardy's response she had come to regret it, but it had felt quite satisfying to write, at the time. She had the urge to ask what he thought of it in more detail, but bit it back. She'd already asked him, after all, and they'd talked about it at length in their letters. And, anyway, that wasn't really the point of the conversation.

"I don't think there are many academics that do that, in fairness," she pointed out lightly, more to buy herself time than anything else. He was shifting the conversation towards this bit of information she had teased him with, but she wasn't ready. Her heart was racing as she imagined all of the possible ways that he could react. He had a pint of beer, and she hadn't ordered one — she had never liked it, actually, but she wondered briefly if that might be a suitable time-buying strategy as well if she perked up suddenly and said she'd forgotten to get herself a drink and dashed away to the bar. But the conversation would still be waiting here for her when she returned, and she'd have to deal with the added burden of a beer she didn't want.

Her eyes sank down to her notebook again and she tapped one finger on the cover lightly. "I don't think Forfang publishes on other subjects — well, not academically, anyway," she amended hastily, with another slight flush to her cheeks that she attempted to hide by looking down at the table so the angle of her face might obscure it somewhat. "Because of the depth of the research. There was a critic that said that, right after the first piece was published. About how it must have taken years of research to collect so wide a group of subjects." She moved her hand to the edge of the notebook. "And I don't think that Forfang would be able to split attention between two topics and still have the same publishing quality."

She'd run out of things to stall with. It had happened more quickly than she'd anticipated, but now she was feeling as though if she was going to do this, the moment had arrived. Of course, she didn't have to do this — there were still a dozen ways to back out. But if she was...

Juliana opened the cover of her notebook, then began thumbing through the pages to the latest entry. The notes themselves were immaterial. The important bit was pinned to the inside cover of the notebook: a pencil sketch of willow blossoms. She'd allowed it to be visible for only a moment before her nerves had left her and she'd turned past it, and now she glanced across the table tentatively, trying to gauge whether or not he had seen.


#8
"That's a good point," Kieran agreed, "Especially with subjects who are so difficult to —"

His statement trailed off as he caught the illustration pinned to the inside cover of her notebook. He only saw it for a few seconds, but it was long enough for Kieran to recognize the work — of course it was, because it was his work, a sketch he had done of the willow trees in early bloom a little over a week ago, and that he had sent to M.

Kieran's thoughts raced through his letters with M over the past several months, as well as the flippant letter he had sent Miss Binns following her appearance in Witch Weekly. The woman in front of him cared about werewolves, at least academically — she had a lot of thoughts on werewolves. So, evidently, did M. There had been something weird with the stationary but Kieran had dismissed it. M had a professed weakness for sweets and Witch Weekly had documented Miss Binns', but that was hardly damning in and of itself. He wished he could have their letters in front of him to look — it was hard to run through them when he was so caught off guard.

He pressed one hand to his satchel, where he had his charcoal and pencils, notes from a few stories, and some of the recent letters from M, all tucked away. He'd lost some of the color in his face.

He tugged at his sleeves to pull them down, although they were already covering the scarring on his arms. "— my apologies, Miss Binns," Kieran said, looking from her to his bag to her hands on the notebook, "Where were we?"

Maybe he'd imagined it; maybe he hadn't.

#9
He left off mid-sentence, and his expression seemed to stick just where it was for a moment, too. He had seen, then, and he knew what it meant. How he was taking the revelation was much harder to discern, because he didn't do anything, at least for the moment. He might have looked a little paler, but maybe that was only her imagination?

She hesitated, trying to imagine what would happen next. He could simply leave, stand up and walk away from her without deigning to give her another word. He might be angry; he might be defensive. He'd tugged at his sleeve. She remembered his scars there. Juliana bit her lip, suddenly sure that he was angry even if he wasn't showing it externally. What must he be thinking? He'd told her things about his life that he'd probably never told anyone before. He'd shared his secrets with her, and now he'd discovered that she wasn't even a real researcher. He was thinking, probably, that it had all been for nothing. He was thinking that he'd wasted his time and risked his reputation and his life and it was all for nothing, because she was a fraud. She wasn't an academic, she was just some eccentric woman who worked the appointment desk at the House of Lytton.

It surprised her when he spoke. She hadn't expected him to call her Miss Binns, for all that was her name. She hadn't expected him to sound so polite about it. She bit her lip, wondering if it was too late to just leave.

"You were saying something about the particular difficulties of this field of research," she answered, voice wavering just slightly for all that she tried to hold it steady. Her heart was fluttering with nerves. Her hand was frozen on her notebook, on a nondescript page of notes — research notes, but written in her own form of shorthand that would have been difficult for a casual observer to parse together without knowing the system. "If I might put words in your mouth, I think the point you were trying to make was about trust," she said, voice thin — she felt as though she were tiptoeing out onto an icy lake, straining her ears to listen for cracks in the frozen air that might signal she had taken a step too far. "That given the subject matter, developing trust with the research subjects must be a very laborious process. And that even when established, that trust is fairly fragile."

She met his eyes. She was too busy trying to read his expression to bother attempting to hide the anxiety in her own. I hope it's obvious that I trust you, he'd written to her once before, but this was different than exchanging letters or even samples of hair. She'd ambushed him with this, and she knew it — had she ruined her chance to handle this properly? She had no idea what she was doing. No template for this. "But that's — I hope I didn't overstep. Perhaps you were trying to make a different point."
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   Kieran Abernathy


#10
She looked nervous, and she was looking at him and talking about trust, and that was when Kieran knew that he was right. He had never expected to meet M, for all that he'd been curious — they were friends, or they were pen-pals, or they had at some point become more chatty than simply a researcher-subject relationship.

What would Jude say, if he was here? Kieran wanted to know, suddenly — they had talked about M but not extensively, and Jude had, if anything, been cautious about the whole thing. Kieran had always felt a little protective over his relationship with M: he felt that he had a right to know more about himself and his affliction, and M represented a bridge to the broader world of werewolves that he was curious about. And the money had helped, although he had eventually lost much of his interest in the money — he wasn't so concerned with what M was doing, with his hair or Its fur or with his answers.

And if M was a woman who had to be around his age, who got in trouble with randoms and worked at the House of Lytton and hung out in bookstores, then that was — he hadn't expected it. He had never really envisioned M in the real world at all, it felt too dangerous, and now he — she, evidently, M was a woman — was here in front of him, and was possibly also Marlowe Forfang.

Kieran swallowed. His mouth felt dry. "No, uh — you didn't overstep," he said, "I would say that Forfang's relationship with his subjects is one that has to be bridged on trust. Starting with the smaller details, maybe, before it gets into the bigger things." He tapped his fingertips against the table. He took a sip of his drink and kept his eyes on her.

"Perhaps eventually these bonds grow beyond the typical relationship between researcher and subject," Kieran added, and he was quoting her now, or paraphrasing, or — there was so much he wanted to ask her, all of a sudden, but his heart felt like it was fluttering like a bird trapped in his ribcage.

#11
He said she hadn't overstepped, but even with this reassurance she was still nervous as she listened to him respond. At his last sentence — bonds overgrowing the boundaries of researcher and subject — her heart skipped a beat. It was far from the condemnation or rejection she had expected. She would hesitate to call it acceptance, at least while they were speaking in code in this way, but it was... maybe close. An acknowledgement that there was a relationship the two of them had, outside of this table in this bar.

"Perhaps they do," she said, and she sort of wanted to smile but she was still too nervous to properly manage it. This had addressed, at least to an extent (perhaps to the greatest extent possible in a public setting) one of the two concerns that she'd had about revealing her identity to him. The first was that he would be angry with her in a personal capacity — that it would feel like a betrayal and he would never want to speak to her again. That seemed as though it wasn't going to be the case. The second was that this knowledge would lead him to discount her work, and that he might never want to participate in her research again because he might not think she was capable of effecting the sort of change she talked about, and that concern was still unresolved.

"— but hopefully not to a degree that would compromise the quality of the research," she added hesitantly, towards that second unspoken point.

She wanted to tell him I didn't mean to, because discovering his identity on accident seemed like less of a thing than having sought it out on purpose. It was only sort of true, though — she had pulled out all her research materials and compared handwriting, and then she'd written him purposefully to test the theory once she'd formed it. She could have ignored the familiarity of his handwriting entirely, but she'd been too curious to just let it go. And it wasn't as though she'd gone out of her way to find him out (not recently, anyway). She hadn't staked out his return address (this address, this bar), she hadn't tried to watch him the day before a full moon, she hadn't intentionally overstepped his boundaries. She wanted to tell him that, but she couldn't think of a way to bring it up — and since she was here anyway, maybe it didn't matter as much as she thought.


#12
It was easier to talk to her through letters, Kieran thought; with her in front of him he was much more aware of the gaps between them. Miss Binns was M, was his weird letter friend, and she was also — a middle class woman who had articles written about her in Witch Weekly and whose brother owned Whizzhard Books. Kieran had a sister he fought with, scars down his body, and a history of selling his own blood. They were very different, was the thing — and while he had not been struck by this when they were just talking about Marlowe Forfang, this felt very much more real to him when he was talking to Marlowe Forfang.

Fuck, was M Marlowe Forfang? Kieran hadn't not considered it, but — there was so much to think about, here, and they were too in public to really talk about it, and one of the things he wanted to ask her was how did you know? He took a sip of his beer to bolster his nerves and shifted in his seat, as if by shifting he could settle into the new facts of this conversation.

He wished, again, that Jude was here; they would have liked each other, he thought, in that they were both incurable optimists.

"Right," Kieran agreed, "And I hope that I haven't disappointed you with my lack of —" good upbringing, sobriety, the look of a person who knew what they were talking about "— well thought-out theories on Forfang."

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   Juliana Binns
#13
Juliana's brow furrowed for a moment at this, unsure exactly what he was trying to convey. Clearly not the surface level, not what the words actually meant. What could she possibly have been disappointed about, though? His insights from his letters? She'd always found his points of view fascinating — at first just in the same way she always found anything someone afflicted with lycanthropy said on the subject fascinating, but over the course of their correspondence she'd sought his opinions on things beyond just his own lived experience as well. She'd been expecting him to be disappointed in her, once he pieced it together, but had things swung so far in the opposite direction that he was feeling self-conscious, now?

"Oh, no!" she assured him quickly, still not sure that she'd understood his meaning but forging ahead all the same. "I've always found your theories quite — insightful," she said, after taking a slight pause to choose the right word. Not delightful, which was what had first come to mind — not delightful when what they were talking about a condition that he had never asked for and now had to live with three days a month for the rest of his life. It would have been insensitive to have called it delightful.

"I thought you might be disappointed," she admitted. Disappointed, disbelieving — she had brought one of the letters he'd sent her through Forfang's publishers just in case he demanded evidence. "I wasn't sure about — meeting. But given the — well, given our letters — I thought I owed it to you," she continued, sheepish.


#14
The corners of Kieran's mouth twitched up into a smile at insightful, because he had never really intended to be insightful, it was just that being a werewolf was his life now, and he could only talk about it with very particular people. And M was — she, Miss Binns, was thoughtful, and cared about werewolves, and wanted to make changes to wizarding perspectives that Kieran thought were unlikely to ever be made.

And how could he be disappointed when he had never anticipated talking to Miss Binns in person at all?

"Well, I'm glad you did," Kieran admitted, feeling more at-ease, now, even though things were surreal. And, because he could not resist, he had to add: "When did you know? About Forfang." What he meant, of course, was about me — but that was perhaps too much to verbalize.

#15
Oh! Glad — that was even better than she'd hoped for, even in her most optimistic visions of how this meeting might have gone. She grinned widely, then turned her attention to her notebook and flipped back a few pages. "Earlier this month. After you wrote me. The handwriting." She'd lowered her voice slightly at this last, in case anyone was overhearing, because the handwriting wouldn't make much sense under the pretext of discussing some researcher neither of them were connected to. And if she sounded a little pleased with herself, well, she was. It wasn't as though it had been too obvious, but she'd put it together, and he wasn't angry about it, apparently.

With a flash of something like guilt (but not quite — she was still too pleased with this interaction to feel guilty), she admitted, "I started changing mine. I don't know if you noticed. That was a bit duplicitous, but — once I thought it looked familiar I didn't want you figuring me out before I'd figured you out. But you've got a very distinct way of writing, you know. The phrases you use and the way you use punctuation, particularly. If you know what to look for, anyway, it's very easy to see the connections," she said with a smile. "And then I did test the theory, of course, because I wasn't sure right away. But —" She had found the page she was looking for, where she had written her full name out across the bottom of the page. Biting her lower lip while she concentrated, she carefully tore the bottom of that sheet off and slid it across the table towards him:

Juliana Marlowe Binns

"— there, you see," she said, tapping her finger over the M. "You'll recognize that."


#16
Handwriting, and punctuation, and the phrases he used — and Kieran had never suspected at all, at least not when he was talking to Miss Binns. Sure, she had a little more information than he did, but he still felt a little silly about it, like it was something he should have noticed, given his job as an investigative reporter. It wasn't her fault, though — he hadn't known what to look for, and he could understand why she was concerned enough to change her handwriting.

"Oh," Kieran said, because the M in her journal was similar enough to the M on his letters that he could spot it right away. "Truth be told, I had a — feeling, that M might be Forfang. But I wasn't sure, and since M talked about him like he was someone else..." He had dismissed it, at least partially. Kieran smiled wryly at her.

This put him in a weird spot, and one he was trying not to think about — Pengloss still wanted to know who Forfang was. Kieran had no intention of publishing her identity, obviously, especially given how he'd learned it — but. This probably meant he was going to have to publish something false about Forfang, sooner or later.

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   Juliana Binns


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