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Tuesday, July 29th, 2008 06:44 pm
Title: Piece of Sky
Author: Lovesrain44
Genre/Rating: Slash/R
Pairing: Willie/Barnabas
Word Count: 17,626
Fandom: Dark Shadows
Verse: Splinter Verse (#3)
Summary: Barnabas has sent Willie to pick up a present for Miss Winters. Willie ruins everything, and must be punished. However, in doing so, Barnabas comes up against his servant’s odd proclivities to endure more than he must to get what he needs.
A/N: This story is the same as The Price, but is written from Barn’s POV. The problem with writing from the bad guy’s point of view is that you often get more insight into what makes him tick than is good for you. I found that while writing this story I was “channeling” Barn. I got AWFULLY bossy and picky, but I just wanted things the way I wanted them, and what’s wrong with that?
The rain woke him, startling him from a tangled bay of memories, drawing him up with the cool scent of the sea carried inland as a heavy pall sifted through the house around him. He could almost feel the weight of the darkness as he got up and made his way to the library, easing the wrinkles from his clothes as he went, and taste the dampness in his throat. And hear the silence beyond the faint, faraway humming in his head. 

The library was in shadowed dark, with only remnants of grey daylight eking through the window curtains, but he went to the partially filled shelves without pausing, feeling with his fingertips the leatherbound edges, knowing the titles by each ragged spine and thinned gilt lettering: Milton, Franklin, Beechey, Pyne, Shakespeare, Cook, Machiavelli . . . no, not alphabetized, but that was his own fault, he had the tendency to put them away without looking while grabbing something else. He grabbed Thomas Gray at last, someone had tucked him in at the end of the shelf, and he pulled the book down and held it in both of his hands, letting the pages fall open where they would.
The pages flipped a bit and he pressed in his thumb when he saw Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard go by. And stood there, head bent in the darkness, reading. Mind idly remembering how his father used to stride through the library, his riding boots banging on the floorboards, chiding him for this habit, never listening to his son's faint response. And then the book drew him in, past the memories born so many winter snows and spring rainfalls ago that it was hard to track them exactly, drew him beyond the words themselves until the library faded away. A blissful silence grew, the humming still in his head but unable to push past the spell the book had cast upon him.
Until he heard the faint rumble of a truck's engine, and the kitchen door open and slam, and then the damp rose up and the present grabbed him and the sound in his head came back, an errant fly with nowhere else to alight.
He moved the book to his left hand, tucking his fingers between the pages, his irritation at the disturbance quickly replaced by the awareness that he should be preparing for Miss Winter's visit. That since it was almost sunset, she would be here soon. The hall was dark as he walked down it and then he opened the kitchen door, letting it ride silently on its hinges.
Willie, still wearing his jacket, was bending close to the stove and blowing across the bare coals that Barnabas could not catch even a trace of. Why was he bothering?
"What are you doing?" he asked. "Where is my package?"
Barnabas had not yet seen the gaming box that he'd sent Willie for, but the antique dealer's description of it had made it seem very fine indeed. Traces of his excitement from the previous evening when the letter about it had arrived swirled vaguely in his head. Right in front of the other, constant noise. As Willie straightened, Barnabas could see that his servant was dappled in mud, and that his hair was pushed everywhichway with rain, giving him the look of a rangy, mountain pony who has been too long from his stable in bad weather.
"Did I startle you?" he asked, noting Willie's pallor had gone a shade closer to white, though he knew Willie must have heard him coming.
"I didn't know you were up yet," Willie said. "I-I mean the sun isn't quite down."
There was a passage from a book he had read once, long ago, about how, during winter, the dark stretched long and took over the day. It came to him now, slipping upwards in his thoughts like something buoyant. "With the darkness of winter's end, the night seeps into the day and I am granted an extended furlough from my prison."
The reference was apparently lost on Willie, who never read anything beyond his repair books, and who would certainly never think to broaden his mind with exposure to anything of higher value. Ben, at this point, would have recognized what he said as being important and perhaps have asked him what book it was from. A sharp pang twisted inside him at the thought of Ben, long since gone, and the way he would display his ignorance and be willing to listen to the things his master would teach him. Barnabas sighed inwardly and gripped his book a little tighter.
Willie's eyes, somehow alert to the smallest nuance, saw this and he answered, "Your package is there, Barnabas, on-on the table." With one road-begrimed hand, he pointed at the table, and it was then that Barnabas noted the mud tracked in an inch deep on the floor, bringing with it the earthy smell of rot and decay.
"Why are you covered in mud, and why have you tracked it across the floor like that?" Was it too much to ask that a package be simply picked up and delivered without making it look like disaster had struck?
Apparently it was, for instead of answering him, as anyone else would have done, Willie looked down at himself with all the care of a man discovering a new country. As if he had never seen his own clothes in such a condition, which Barnabas knew very well he had, and he felt the stirrings of irritation grow.
"Truck's stuck in the driveway," Willie said finally, not meeting his eyes.
"It's what?"
"I said," said Willie slowly, "the truck is stuck in the driveway." He emphasized some of the words as he said them, as if they held more meaning than the others.
"How did that happen?" Barnabas asked, hoping that this would lead to the real problem at hand.
"The driveway is a river of mud."
"A river of mud?" What on earth did that have to do with the truck?
"It's also on a slant," Willie continued, in that tone he used when explaining facts about modern-day living, "and in the heavy rains the road gets washed out." He motioned with his arm in a way that made what he was saying even less cohesive, and then dropped it, his eyes flicking to Barnabas'. "If you had blacktop laid in, or even a layer of gravel spread over it, it would still be passable. As it is, we're going to need a tow."
At last it made sense, at least part of it did, but how it related to him was still a mystery that Willie seemed to be prolonging for reasons yet unknown.
"Are you saying this is my fault?" he asked. "That it is my fault that the truck you were driving is stuck in the mud?"
Willie shrugged, an almost careless tilt to his head as he did so.
"Well, I told you last fall that this would happen, but you obviously didn't believe me. Don't know what they did in your day to keep those carriages from sinking in the mud, but in this day and age, we lay blacktop."
In my day, he wanted to say, in this type of weather we did not go out in carriages. We went by horseback or walked, if need be, to get where we were going, or we did as all sensible folk did and stayed home. But Willie, of course, did not know any of his, nor would he care to find out, even if the knowledge were interesting or unusual. Yet another way he was different from Ben, who though barely able to read or write, had always been interested in the things Master Barnabas could teach him. Not to mention the fact that if he and Willie had had a conversation of such specifics about the road, he would have remembered it.
"You shared with me no such knowledge," he said, titling his head back.
"Yes, I did," said Willie, contradicting him. Brazen, as if the two of them were equals. Barnabas clamped down on his temper, which had suddenly sent the humming in his head to a higher volume. "It was in October," Willie was saying now, "right after . . . well, it was in October, when the snow had started. An' I could tell by the look of things that no one had done anything to that road in a long time, an' I told you—"
This was perfect nonsense. "You told me no such thing."
"Yes, I did," Willie said again, his tone surly as he attempted to wipe the mud from his pants. "I asked you, blacktop or gravel, Barnabas, and you said you would think about it."
"If you are so sure of this," he replied, thinking that if they'd had such a conversation it was obvious that Willie had thought something should be done, "why did you simply not order the necessary materials and have the work done?"
With a snort, his servant looked at him, straight in the eyes.
"Me?" he asked. "Order all that, for a thousand dollars or more without your okay?" His words simmered with the insolence that always seemed to be lurking just below the surface. "You musta just forgot."
Barnabas moved quickly forward, stilling the inner memories of a life where neither Ben nor any of the servants in the house or on the estate would have dared to indicate that the master of the house was not attending to his duties as he should. It was a time, however, gone long past, and he forced himself to remember that this was man of a different century who, with some cunning developed in the streets, obviously had reasons for casting aspersion on his own master.
"You're lying," he said. "You've gotten the truck mired in the mud by your own ineptitude, and now you seek to lay blame elsewhere for forgetting the necessary task of road repair."
"I am not," said Willie, seemingly affronted by this reasonable accusation. He paused then, his hands moving in that restless way they had, the knuckles of one hand rubbing against the palm of the other as if by this motion he would make the words true. "I told you in October when we'd gotten our first blizzard. Remember? I had to sleep in the kitchen for a few days until I got the shutters up, it was that cold in my room. An' then I told you—"
"And I am telling you I remember no such conversation between us because there was none." Surely if there had been, he would remember it, because Willie would have told him in his modern and forward way, and he would have taken his servant to task about it. "The truck being stuck in the mud is entirely your fault."
Blue sparks flashed in Willie's eyes, shadowed almost instantly by the errant hair across his forehead, and Barnabas watched as the enmity his servant kept mostly hidden allowed itself to be seen. "You knew I was right about taking care of the road," said Willie, his voice low and rough-edged, "but you forgot."
The humming in Barnabas' head now rose to a high pitch, controllable, yes, but so far forward in his mind that it could now not be ignored.
"Are you calling me a liar?" He felt his eyes narrow and clamped his jaw tight to hold back the swamp of darkness that was rising up inside of him.
"Yes," said Willie, his human eyes narrowing as if in response.
Ready to strike, he stalked forward, Willie backing up as he came, stopping only when the wall stopped him. He shrank back against it, hands fists at his sides, face pale as he looked up.
And though his eyes were like two pieces of blue steel, Barnabas watched as a shiver ran through the boy's body. Clenched his own fists in response and remembered his father's injunction against striking servants or women out of anger. They should be kept in their place, certainly, father had said, but any punishment delivered should be done with respect to his own status as a gentleman.
A gentleman did not commit acts of violence against those in lower positions than himself; striking a servant out of anger was an act of violence.
"I will ask you again," he managed, gritting his teeth, "do you call me a liar?" And waited while his only servant actually considered the matter, chewing on his lower lip, his eyes now avoiding his masters' as if he were contemplating a response other than a negative one. A flare of impatience shot up inside him and he was about to demand an answer when he saw Willie take a breath.
"I told you, but maybe you didn't hear me, maybe you for—"
The unmitigated gall. To hell with what father said.
He swung, the back of his hand catching the side of Willie's head with a satisfying sound that cut through the humming in his head like a knife. Then Willie looked directly at him, eyes glinting blue stone, insolent, as if casting aspersion on his master's lack of gentlemanly behavior, and Barnabas felt himself clock his arm back again before he could stop it, passion a white fire behind his eyes, feeling his bare knuckles cut through flesh, smelling the tang of blood before he saw it brighten Willie's lip. He turned away, the humming now laced through with a deeper, more bone-heavy call, his fists like two rocks in front of him. Trying to hold on, knowing that he would answer the call, that he would go and sweep through the night, that he would find a well and draw on it, and then walk away. But that now, other duties pressed, and a reluctant, disobedient servant should only be a minor annoyance, and should be given the attention due it.
He had almost arrived at a point of calmness when Willie pushed past him, rough mud falling from his jacket as he did so. "It's not fair," Barnabas heard him clearly, "I did tell you."
Too much. It was simply too much. He reached out and grabbed Willie's arm, knowing that he had to quell this rebellion before it got out of hand, knowing that he would stem his own anger once the lesson on obedience was underway. He pushed Willie against the table, where Willie balked, dug his heels in, and pushed back.
This never would have happened in his father's day, and to Barnabas' knowledge it never had. His father never had to deal with anything like this, he was sure of it, otherwise, he would have given different advice. The few times he'd had to beat Ben for his misdeeds, Ben had taken his punishment meekly and had been sincerely contrite afterwards. In contrast, Willie stood there, his hands balled in fists, his chin jutting out, hair falling over eyes that were dark with anger. As if reveling in his own willfulness and daring his master to do anything about it.
Barnabas' own hands reached out and grabbed his servant by the lapels of his jacket, hands tight around the cloth, and pulled him close. He took a breath, and then Willie lurched sideways, pulling away, his wiry body jostling the table, and then there was a loud, hard crash as something hit the floor.
He turned his head. The bright and shining surfaces of Miss Winter's gift fell, tumbling in brown paper to the floor, the lid landing with a high-pitched smack, the delicate, hand-made pieces spilling to the filth. His hands let Willie go, and he stood there, feeling the freezing cold of disbelief race through him. This beautiful, hand made thing, retaining its perfection from the day it was made over a hundred years ago, until now, with the crass carelessness of a servant who didn't care about his master's aspirations and never would, it lay in ruins.
Willie fell to the floor on his knees, banging down hard enough to rock the metal castings on the stove, and began scrabbling with his dirt-lined fingernails, gathering the pieces together. He was going to spoil it with his haste, Barnabas knew that he would, and leave stains on the velvet lining with the oil from his hands. Reaching down, he grabbed Willie by both arms and flung him to one side. Knelt down himself and, with clean hands and much more care, began carefully gathering up the silver-white markers.
"I-I could fix it, Barnabas," he heard, Willie's voice shaking, "I could glue it if it's broken, I could—"
Whoever heard of such a thing? "Be quiet, you idiot, you don't glue an heirloom!"
From down the main hallway he could hear footsteps along the porch and then a three-patterned knock on the front door.
"That will be Miss Winters, she's early," he said, wondering how the simple desire to give someone a gift could be so completely destroyed in so little a time. He could not even stop his hands from shaking as he gathered up the parts of the gaming box. Why it was so important he did not really understand, only that for Miss Winters he wanted only the finest of perfection.
"Go and clean yourself up and answer the door, Willie," he said, holding his voice steady. "Make sure the candles are lit, and build a fire, and tell her I'll be there shortly." It was always necessary, it seemed, to give Willie complete instructions, something Ben would seldom have needed. He sorely missed the days when go and see to it, Ben, would have sufficed.
He could hear Willie taking off his jacket behind him, concentrating on setting the gaming box to rights, when he saw Willie's mud-darkened hand as his servant shoved it at him.
"Barnabas, here," Willie said. Taking the piece as quickly as he could, he heard another, louder, three-patterned knock.
"Hurry," he snarled.
The shriek of the pump set his teeth on edge, as did the laborious, slow sounds of water being sluiced up over and over again. He was about to say something when Willie finally exited the kitchen, and he heard his steps down the hall, and the front door being opened and closed.
Now, alone with his thoughts, he could draw a calming breath and slow his hands down. Ignore the slight sound that had begun again to grow behind his eyes, and concentrate on the task at hand. The pieces all went into their sections of the box, slipping through his fingers like glass. Next, he gathered the cards, packing them tightly together by tapping the stacked edges against the heel of his palm. The slender ribbons were harder to tie, but he managed it, though the bows refused to be anything but crooked.
Perhaps Miss Winters would find it charming to see them that way, perhaps she could ignore the slight smear that the dust from the floor had left on the pattern on the back of the cards. Perhaps he would find himself a new servant before morning.
Finally he was able to put the lid back on the box, and gathering up the large shards of brown paper, stood up and placed everything on the table. There was no time to do anything but make the rudest of repairs. He folded the paper around the box and pressed it tightly down, and it was only with a stroke of luck that the tape was sticky enough to reseal itself. Running his fingers over the seal, he marveled at the sharp edges that melted invisibly into the paper. Only a small shimmer remained to remind him that there was anything there at all, leaving the impression that the paper remained sealed because it wanted to do so. Barnabas blinked slowly, erasing this small fancy as he examined the present. One corner of it was irrevocably torn, jagged edges revealing the glow of painted wood, but as he reached out to touch it, it tore just a little further.
Leave it be. She won't notice.
And she wouldn't notice, or even if she did, she was too much of a lady to make any comment. His fury at Willie simmered anew as he gathered the present up and made his way out of the kitchen and down the hall. The scent of candle wax burning and smoke from a hastily lit fire greeted him, along with the ragged confusion of Willie's voice, as he heard his servant ask, "My lip is bleeding?" and Miss Winter's acid-laced reply, "Yes, how can you not notice?"
The blow he had delivered earlier must have gone deeper than he'd realized, and his first thought was that he would dismiss Willie for the evening right away. Then he realized that he needed to make it plain that there was nothing for Miss Winters to be concerned about. He turned into the room to see Willie on his knees in front of the fire, the back of one of his hands wiping most of the blood away, leaving a smear he appeared not to notice as he faced toward the flames, his face etched in sharp profile.
"He is so preoccupied with his duties that he sometimes fails to notice when he's done himself a damage," he said, announcing his presence.
"I see," said Miss Winters as she looked at him, her tone polite as always. But beneath the mink cape of her hair, Barnabas thought he detected a furrow of doubt along her forehead.
He walked fully into the room and placed the gift on the table, stopping only when he was behind Willie, shielding him from Miss Winter's curious gaze. He could see directly down as Willie's hands clenched and unclenched against his bent thighs, and caught the tremor that moved through his shoulders.
"Was it a door this time, Willie?" he asked, directing a smile at Miss Winters, her cheeks still pinked with the chill from her walk from the Great House. "Or did you manage it some new way, like that time you fell off from a ladder?"
"A-a door, I think," said Willie after a pause and an audible swallow.
"There, you see? No great mystery now, just Willie's clumsiness. Get up Willie," he added, when he realized that Willie had not yet moved from his spot. Didn't he know that he wasn't wanted? Ben would have known, would have made himself quite scarce the moment a lady entered the room.
"You should put something on that, Willie, to keep it from getting infected," said Miss Winters now, bending a little towards Willie. Barnabas saw her hand was ready to move out, as if in preparation to tilt Willie's head toward the light so she could better examine the cut.
"We're out," said Willie, sharp words cutting off even the thought of a kind gesture.
Worse and worse. It was as if the evening were collapsing into fragments with every passing moment, and as he watched Willie pull himself to his feet, he knew exactly whose fault that was.
"You must forgive the outer condition of my gift to you, Miss Winters," he began, springing to the hope that he could yet salvage some of his earlier anticipation, "but it's had quite a difficult journey in getting here, and I'm afraid Willie dropped it in the kitchen just now."
That wasn't exactly what had happened, of course, but it would go a long way to explaining his currently agitation, which he was sure was showing with every breath that he took. He sent a glare in Willie's direction, warning him what contradicting that particular statement would lead to. Willie, glaring back, appeared to take affront at this, though, to his credit, he managed not to say anything.
"It got dropped?" asked Miss Winters, distracting him from the unpleasant impudence of his servant. "Did it break?"
Gratefully, he focused his attention on her, allowing himself for the first time that evening to concentrate only on the lovely brown fall of her hair, the pearlescent glow of her skin, and the shining amber of her eyes. If she had any flaw, it was the bareness of her arms and legs, distracting him from the grace of her movements. Modern day clothes did her no justice, and he stemmed the longing to have her go upstairs and dig through the trunks and find something more suitable to wear. Maybe he should send Willie up, maybe he should—He stopped himself, realizing that such thoughts would only distract him from the moment at hand.
"No," he told her, shaking his head, feeling the smile grow from deep inside him. "It's very old, but very well made. I'm sure it will give you years of pleasure."
"Can I open it now?"
"I would be delighted."
It was even more satisfying actually watching her open the gift than it had been anticipating this moment. The sound in his brain dimmed to that of a faraway murmur as he took in the loveliness of her white hands, which would look even lovelier draped in lace, folding back the brown paper, and the final, glowing pleasure as she reached out to take off the lid.
"Oh, how beautiful!"
"It's very old," he told her now, feeling the odd warmth rush through him at the thought that he had pleased her. "It's a Victorian gaming box, made over 100 years ago."
"But it can't be," she protested, her voice a little sharp with disbelief as she drew her fingers through the mother-of-pearl pieces. "It's in perfect condition."
Then, in a voice that was quite distinct, Willie said, "It should be, for three-thousand dollars."
In the crystal silence, he turned to look at his servant, and the wild, hot rage that had earlier bedeviled him in the kitchen shifted to ice cold fury. But now, instead of arrogance, Willie had the same expression on his face that Ben had had the one time he'd taken live coals and dumped them in the ash barrel meant for soap making. The still burning embers, of course, had eaten through the barrel, and sent the much needed ash spilling into the mud and ruined them. Now, at least, Willie looked a little sorry, his eyes tilted down at the corners, lower lip trembling. In fact, his face was exactly the color of the ash that Ben had spilled, though his present contriteness was too late to save him.
"Is that true, Barnabas?" asked Miss Winters. Of course she would ask that, she was a lady, and ladies didn't— "Of course not," he said, harsher than he meant to.
She was looking at him now, her eyes serious and dark, searching his face as if to find an answer there. He sensed Willie shifting on his feet as if he were readying himself to leave the room, something he should have thought of long since, when Miss Winters took a breath, focusing his attention on her.
"It is true, isn't it." This said clearly, a statement of fact. "I'm sorry, Barnabas, but I can't accept that kind of gift. It wouldn't be right."
"But Miss Winters, surely—"
"No, Barnabas, please don't ask me to take it, I cannot. It was one thing to accept that very old book, and then the antique lap desk, both were so lovely. But this—no, I cannot accept it. You know I can't."
He found his hands reaching out to her, almost as if they wanted to force her to take it, and he stopped them. Drew them back to his sides, feeling the sharp slice through his heart, wondering why it had to be this way, so difficult, when while he'd been courting his dear Josette, it had been—
Willie was looking at him, hands at his sides, his expression unreadable, his eyes glittering. Was he pleased that it was going so badly, was he enjoying the demise of his master's plans? He was definitely watching. And sneering. Well, he would not be watched. And that sneer would be removed. Later.
"Willie," he snapped, "go to your room."
Ducking his head, his servant moved as if to go, hair falling forward, masking the hard light in his eyes. But Miss Winters, with her tender heart, laid a hand on his arm to stop him. He allowed himself to be stopped, as he ought, she being a lady and he no more than the hired help, but he did not lift his head.
"Please Barnabas, don't be angry with him, he was only being honest."
What she called honesty was no more than thoughtless blundering, but she wouldn't see it that way.
"But his honesty means that you won't accept my gift." No, that was too bald a statement but there was no way he could take it back, no way to soften what he meant.
Her eyes were hard as her hand dropped from Willie's arm, and he seemed to jerk away from her as she did this, his head hanging forward as if he were about to slink out of the room.
"And would you have lied to make me accept it?" She, being a modern woman, would take his comment at face value, and respond in kind.
The mask with which he approached her each time he sought to seek her favor was a lie entire, as was the facade of a normal gentleman he hid behind. The lies began from his time in Martinique, when he strove to cover his tracks and dally with Angelique at the same time he pledged to Josette that he was faithful to her. From there they stretched out as if from horizon to horizon, following a pace behind, always, like a shadow at daybreak, so many lies that it was hard to fathom why someone, somewhere, did not discover the truth. Yes, he would have lied to make her accept it. But what was one lie among so many?
"Hey, Vicki, wait," began Willie, holding his hands out to the present in what was immediately obvious as an attempt to smooth things over. "You know, a gift, well, a gift is now how much a thing costs, it's more than that, and Barnabas, he—"
"Be quiet, Willie."
"Barnabas," said Vicki, "I asked you not to be angry with him. He was only trying to help."
"I believe you've done enough for one evening," he said, wishing, and not for the first time, that the need for pretence could be lifted at will.
"Now go."
Willie ran a shaking hand along the side of his head, fingers laced in his hair, keeping it there as if to shield himself while stepping back and away from the gaming box on the table. Watching with narrowed eyes, Barnabas felt the warmth of Willie's body as the boy passed by him, moving behind him as if he thought he would not be noticed there. Listened as he heard the steps on the stair, and turned to face the ice-hard glare of Miss Winters.
"I'm only asking him to go so that you and I might discuss this in private."
"It won't matter what you say, Barnabas," she said, her lips pressing together, "I won't accept it."
She reminded him more, at this moment, of Maggie Evans than of his dear Josette, cornered and snarling, teeth bared, not willing to give an inch. And he sensed that, like Maggie, the more cornered she felt, the less she would give in. It was time to change his tactics.
"I understand completely," he said, smoothing his voice out. "I could hardly expect you to take it, under the circumstances, though I do hope you'll reconsider. When I discovered it on my travels, it was so lovely and graceful that it reminded me of you and I knew that no other should own it but you." With a small smile, he tucked his hands together and lowered his head, almost as if he were attempting to look up at her.
It almost worked. For a moment, her eyes went to glaze and slightly unfocused, mouth opening as if she were thinking faraway thoughts. Then a pop of hot coal from the fireplace snapped in the air, and she blinked. Looked at him cool and clear and shook her head.
"I'm really very sorry," she said, "but I can't. I just hope you can understand that."
Half closing his eyes, he lowered his head and nodded. He would have to give in now and come up with another way later for her to take the gift. She had to have it, it had to be hers or he would break it to pieces with his own hands and toss it on the flames. With a start, he realized she was looking at him, her hard eyes appraising, head tilted as if she were studying him.
"May I—" he paused to cough. "May I offer you a small glass of sherry?" He gestured with his hand at the crystal decanters on the table by the fire. She shook her head again. "I'm sorry, I really should be going." She spoke as she often did, so frank that it was often disconcerting. At least she was honest, and it let him know exactly where he stood with her. And if now wasn't the right time to insist that she take the gift, well, there was always later.
When he helped her on with her coat, she refused him walking her home, though she looked somewhat uncomfortable at this, as if unsure of herself, even if only for a moment, as to where the boundaries of propriety lay. He nodded and patted her hand and made soothing noises to let her know it would be alright. Suggested that he might be over to the Great House later to call on his cousin, and that he hoped he would encounter her there. Watched her go through the slight, silver patter of rain until she disappeared through the trees.
Stepping out on the porch, it took him only a moment to snap off the slender end of a tree branch, shaking the rain from it as he peeled it. Normally, the circumstances would warrant Willie fetching his own switch from the yard, but that would take too long and he wanted to follow up on his visit to Miss Winters as soon as possible. A gust of wind brought a freshet of rain sideways to scatter itself along the porch, bringing with it the scent of undergrowth and pine, along with the slight, tangy odor of decay. He caught the brunt of this with his shoulders, turning his head away, concentrating on the branch in his hands.
Keeping a servant in line, father had always said, did not mean tearing one to pieces, though he'd been sorely tempted more than once since the time he'd taken Willie on. He would be sorely tempted again tonight, he was sure, but the branch should be smooth, so as not to tear skin, and flexible, so as to have enough bite to teach the right lesson.
The bark all removed, he held the switch in one hand and ran it slowly through the cup of his palm. Now it was like silk, except for one small knob on the far side, and this he flicked off with the nail of his thumb. Nodding silently at his own handiwork, he walked back inside, closing the door behind him. Felt the Old House settle around him in the dampness as he climbed the stairs, carrying the switch in his fist, the humming in his head increasing a little with each step he climbed. By the time he got to the landing, it had reached an unignorable pitch.
He opened the door to Willie's room, cast with a warm glow from the fire and the candles and the ever-present courting candle on the nightstand. Willie had already dressed for sleep, his bare feet hooked on the metal railings of his bed, head resting on his hands. He didn't rise when Barnabas came in, or give any sign of acknowledgement whatsoever.
Only after Barnabas closed the door behind him, sending the candleflames flickering in the small whirlwind, did Willie look up. Just for a second, through a shock of hair, and then away, as if his master's presence mattered to him not at all. Barnabas felt the feelings of irritation begin to break through his resolve to remain calm, even as the sound his head began to vibrate through his skull.
He walked closer, almost close enough to brush against the boy's knee. Not only had Willie almost destroyed the present he'd meant to give Miss Winters, he'd also severely curtailed any hope of her ever accepting it. He'd done it rudely, he'd not apologized, and now he was acting like nothing had happened.

Peice of Sky - Part 2