Her left eye was still swollen nearly shut, but her right was sufficient to locate the thin wardrobe in her room and she sighed in relief when she found a bag of her clothes inside. Dried blood was caked on the coat she’d been wearing when she returned home to Xavier’s wrath so that was set aside. Even in her hazy state she knew that was too conspicuous, especially as she had no particular destination in mind.
But she’d worry about that once she was out of the hospital.
With painstaking effort, Lisa changed from her hospital gown into her slacks and jumper; the exertion causing her to lean heavily on the wardrobe door as she forced herself to stay erect. She turned to go once she’s slipped into her shoes, only just remembering her wand. It was quickly fished from the inner pocket of her coat and stowed in her back pocket. Heading into the night injured and fuzzy-headed with no coat and no money would be difficult enough. She wouldn’t have a prayer without her wand.
Creeping as quietly as possible to the door of her room, Lisa peeked out into the hallway, relieved to find it empty. She moved as swiftly and silently as her battered body would allow, winding through the maze of hallways, following the signs to reach the exit. Her heart nearly stopped as she passed the cafeteria, a quick glance inside revealing a familiar face. One of Xavier’s lackeys was paying for a cup of coffee. She didn’t stick around to find out if he was now employed by her father, or simply looking to avenge his former employer. Palming her wand, she ran.
Heedless of both the noise and the pain that wracked through her with each step, Lisa raced for the door, ignoring the startled janitor who almost stepped in her path. With a sob of relief she passed through the false front of the building and onto the muggle street, arms swinging out for balance as a wave of dizziness and nausea washed over her. Her eyes closed as she fought the urge to vomit and when she opened them again, the Knight Bus was skidding to a stop before her.
“On you get then, miss,” the sallow-faced conductor said. “No bags?”
Sick and confused, Lisa shook her head. She hadn’t intended to summon the Knight Bus, only to keep herself from falling into a heap on the ground, but she didn’t know how long it would be before she was missed and no one would expect her to travel this way. Decision made, she climbed aboard, clutching the handrail for support.
“Where to?” the man asked. He had pock marks all over his face. Acne scars, her mind supplied.
It took a moment for the question to penetrate her muzzy thoughts, and another before the words ‘Victoria Park’ came out of her mouth. Why that particular place came to mind, she wasn’t sure. She’d only been there once before on a field trip with the Herbology club. Lisa remembered loving the Old English Garden within the park, but this was the wrong time of year to enjoy that. It didn’t matter now. She’d picked her destination and there was little to do now but try to keep her stomach settled as she found a seat and the bus lurched forward.
In the few minutes it took to reach her stop, Lisa had turned a brilliant bile green, but none had actually spilled and she counted the ride a success. As she stepped into the freezing wind, the thought that her choice of destination might not have been as good. With no idea what else to do, she simply followed the garden path, her arms wrapped around her body for warmth.
Unbelievable though it might seem to most, after nearly four months spent mainly in Portugal, Tristan found he’d been looking forward to a return to the bitterness of an English winter, and as sleep was no friendlier at home than it had been in the southern clime, he found himself with little to occupy his many waking hours. He avoided his family home, though he’d often been known to watch his mother’s gardens die for the season, after she’d left, and the notion brought to him the memory of a similar scene in a public park, not far from one of his usual dead-of-night haunts. The echoing emptiness of the place, usually so bustling in the daytime, suited his frame of mind, and he strolled idly for a time, allowing his thoughts to wander.
The sound of a footfall not his own penetrated his consciousness, and the continued tread; soft, somewhat uneven, was curious enough that he did not dismiss it automatically as a vagrant using the gardens for shelter. Wondering with bemusement whether he’d managed to cross paths with Pansy after so many weeks away or merely stumbled upon another fellow insomniac, or perhaps merely a lost imbiber, he turned his own steps in the direction of the stranger, choosing his route to place him in the walkway ahead of where the unknown seemed to be going.
The sight that greeted him stole his breath for the space of a second, as the slow-moving figure, obviously in pain, wore her hair long, and in an identical shade to his sister’s. He saw as she approached that this woman was taller than Regan, if only slightly, very ill-dressed for the weather, and after a second look, clearly held a wand tightly in one fist. That she lacked the forethought to hide what marked her publicly as a witch spoke to her mental state; she was either very distraught or mad, and in either case he chose not to loom menacingly in her path, quite aware that his height was imposing to most.
Making sure that his hands were visibly empty, held loosely at his sides, he called, “I beg your pardon, Miss,” though the rest of his salutation was lost to surprise as her blonde head raised sharply and he caught a glimpse of the ruin that had been made of her face. Forcing himself not to scowl, he rethought what he’d intended to say, bracing himself for the likelihood that she’d attempt to hex him, and asking softly instead, “Are you in some danger?”
The eye that was still able to do so opened wide and Lisa took a few steps backward as she slowly shook her head. Surely they hadn’t found her already, but why else would someone be out in the cold park in the middle of the night? Even if the tall man before her wasn’t really here for her, what if he wanted to take her back to the hospital? She couldn’t go back there. Her father would have her locked away forever.
The thoughts swirling in her mind made her heart race with anxiety and the movement of her head became more vehement. “No,” she said, barely audible over the winter wind, “I’m fine.” Lisa’s grip was tight on her wand, though adrenaline and cold had her shaking so badly that executing the movements of any spell would’ve been nigh impossible, assuming she could summon the words from her addled mind before he was upon her. “Who are you? Why are you here?”
"Tristan Bole," he supplied, maintaining his position and posture as neutrally as he was able. "And I came here because, as is common to me, I was unable to sleep, and chose not to remain in my residence, as I find it frustrating to be both unwillingly awake and contained."
She was plainly frightened; small wonder given that she'd just as plainly been beaten to the point of fractures, and recently. Her presence in the park alone, at this time of night, without even a coat suggested that she was indeed in trouble, despite her protestation, or at least fleeing from something or someone.
Sighing to himself that such a thing was of concern to an otherwise well-kept young woman in the midst of London, and a witch, no less, he requested, "Would you take my coat, at least? I shall leave it here and move away, if you prefer, but you must be chilled, and I cannot in good conscience permit you to go wandering off to freeze."
She eyed him warily for several moments, working up the courage to trust his words or flee. She knew in all likelihood if she chose the second option and this man did intend her harm, she would not get far. Tristan Bole was large and strong-looking, while Lisa was small and weak, and injured on top of it. If she knew he only intended to hurt her, she wouldn’t much care. Lisa wasn’t afraid to die if it came to it, but the prospect of being a prisoner again, no matter whether the walls that kept her were that of a house or mental facility, and being at the mercy of someone with no concern for her at all, was too much to bear.
But she was cold.
Taking a tentative step toward the man she’d happened upon and slipping her wand into her pocket, Lisa spoke with quiet resignation. “I do not think you are here to fetch me, but the point is moot as I could not fend you off if you were. If I’m mistaken, and your intention is to take me back to the hospital, you may tell my father that I will save him the trouble of his scheming and resolve the matter in a more simple and permanent manner.”
Brow arching at the threat of self-harm implied by her words, Tristan shrugged mutely out of his heavy coat and held it out to her by its shoulders, so that she might don it easily and not strain whatever injuries she had sustained aside from the damage to her face. He waited as she inched forward, making no motion save the adjustment of a sleeve as she worked her arm into it.
"Though it did occur to me to suggest the services of a healer, I will not insist that you see one if you wish not to, and as you have yet to inform me of your identity, I have no ready way of knowing if I am even acquainted with your father, much less inclined to notify him of your whereabouts," Tristan responded at length, taking a measured pace back once she'd taken the weight of the coat from his hands. It was far too long for her, in all aspects, but would suffice to stave off hypothermia for the present.
"As you seem to believe your best interests unrelated to your father's aims, and I am quite averse to being the cause of further harm to your person, I would prefer to find somewhere sheltered for you to sort yourself. From your apparel I assume that has not yet been a step in your actions this night." He gestured at the path in the direction from which he'd come, certain that he'd seen several Muggle eateries in the vicinity still doing business when he'd arrived.
The coat was far too large for her, her slight frame fairly swimming in the thick wool, but the weight of the fabric along with the residual warmth from its previous tenant helped immensely in bringing feeling back to her extremities. With a bit of effort Lisa was able to extract her hands from the depths of the sleeves and fasten the buttons. “Thank you,” she murmured, not quite meeting Tristan’s eyes as she began to move in the direction he’d suggested.
She didn’t know where they were headed or what would happen when they got there, but the night’s exertions were taking their toll on her. Tristan had said he wouldn’t take her back to the hospital if she didn’t want to go; he’d been kind enough to offer his coat. If it was a ruse, she would deal with that when the need arose. For now, she hadn’t the energy or the strength to fight the natural instinct to go where she was led. It wasn’t as if there was anywhere else she could go, nor did she have any money to get there.
“My name is Lisa,” she offered as Tristan fell into step beside her. “Lisa Travers, though that is my married name and so is little help in determining if you know my father.”
"Whether I do is moot, as either he or your husband are the most likely causes of your present mental and physical state, and I am not in the habit of assisting in the perpetuation of abuse upon women," Tristan explained succinctly. Truthfully, watching her struggle to walk under her own power and the brief views he caught of her swollen face in the dim light were enough to stir a killing rage within him, but he refused to frighten her now that a tentative peace was won, and there were no more appropriate targets available for the surge of bloodlust.
Recalling his experience with his sister, who had often been skittish around others, if never himself, he thought to provide data on his immediate plans. "There are several coffee-shops and similar venues on the main avenue which were lit and occupied when I came to the park perhaps an hour ago; I am given to understand that they remain open at all hours. You should have a hot drink, and decide what you wish to do other than wander a dead garden in inappropriate attire for the weather."
Nodding her acquiescence, Lisa continued along the path and tried not to think about the very few options she had other than wandering in the cold. She turned her thoughts instead to the man beside her, glancing up at him periodically as they walked. What sort of man took this much interest in a strange woman? It was one thing to see if she wanted medical attention or even to offer his coat, but he had no obligation to her. Why should he take on her troubles?
“Would you select somewhere without many occupants please?” she asked, calmed enough for the moment to consider how she must look. “I would prefer not to draw more attention than absolutely necessary, though a cup of something warm would be nice. I must confess I have no money to pay for such a thing, though.”
“Nor would I consider accepting an offer for you to do so; you are my guest.” He scanned the available options as they emerged onto the street, steering them slightly to the left. The cafe was tiny and held only an elderly couple and a lone woman, likely a member of the working class by her dress and the weary expression she wore.
“Will this suffice?” Tristan enquired, holding open the door for Lisa to view the interior of the building.
“Yes, this will be fine, I think.” Just the same, Lisa ducked her head as they entered, relying on the curtain of her hair to shield her face as much as possible. Tristan led her to a booth in the corner and waited for her to ease into the seat before sliding in across from her. A moment later a bored-looking waitress approached for their orders and after a moment Lisa requested a cup of decaf. Between the potions in her system and the adrenaline she’d experienced over the course of the night, caffeine seemed like a poor decision.
Once Tristan had ordered and the waitress moved away to get their drinks, the blonde studied her companion. He was handsome, not much older than herself, and the quality of the coat she still wore and the way he spoke told her that Tristan came from an affluent family. Were he a different sort of person than he appeared, he might’ve been one of the men with whom Lisa’s father tried to arrange a marriage. The thought brought a wry twist to her lips.
“Why are you helping me, Tristan?” she asked, doing her best to look him in the eye. “Don’t misunderstand, I am grateful, but you have no ties to me and I have nothing to offer. I don’t understand.”
Looking somewhat askance, though he supposed her reasoning was not unsound, Tristan waited for Lisa to raise her regard to his. “You have need of help, I require nothing of you, and I have ties to very few people, the most important of whom you happen to remind me of, greatly. I have been informed, additionally, that I am distressingly noble for a member of my house, though I hold no great store by the accolade, as it was bestowed by a housemate in a fit of ire.”
He silenced himself as the server returned with their beverages, accepting his coffee with a nod. When she’d moved out of normal hearing range once more, he continued, “I cannot blithely ignore my awareness of your distress, and as I have ample ability to provide you aid, I intend to do so. If nothing else, you must be assured to not freeze and have somewhere to go that you consider safe. I have sufficient difficulty in sleeping without acquiring guilt on your behalf.”
It was a strange turn of events that she was on the run in the middle of the night with a disfigured face and other injuries, one in particular which she was not ready to think about, and somehow she was having coffee with a man she didn’t know at all, and feeling safer than she had in years. She was not so naive to think the feeling was wholly justified; the problems she’d fled from were still looming, and she had no illusions that Tristan could or desired to save her from all the challenges in her life, but just for the moment it was enough to enjoy the limited protection he offered.
“There is nowhere safe I can go just now,” she admitted. “Even if I wanted to go back to my house, it’s under the control of the MLE until they finish their investigation. My assets are frozen for the same reason. I cannot face my parents without...” Lisa paused, unsure how to explain and not entirely sure why she was sharing so much. Her voice softened and her gaze fell to the coffee cup in her hands. “I’ve spent my whole life doing what I’m told. If I see my father, I’ll do what he wants until I can figure out a way to escape entirely.”
“Your only previously proposed solution for ‘escape’ was entirely unsatisfactory, to my way of thinking,” Tristan opined pointedly, far too stubborn himself to contemplate suicide, “and if you will permit my interference, I would gladly provide lodging, or funds to secure such for yourself, if you prefer.”
It galled him for some reason that she was too wary to consider the options made available by his assistance, and he quashed the tiny flicker of irritation at his limited efficacy. Patience was necessary. He would be patient.
Her face colored at his words. She knew it was incomprehensible to others that ending her life was an option she’d long been considering. There were worse things than death, though, and if the choice was a quick death that she controlled or a slow, miserable one under someone else’s control, she would choose the former.
“I am not entirely without concern for my existence,” Lisa assured him, though she hated what she needed to say next. He deserved to know who he was assisting, though. “Before you offer your home or your money to me, you should know that the reason my house is unavailable to me is that I killed my husband. It wasn’t something I intended to do, but the bit of self preservation I do possess asserted itself when he cut off my ability to breathe. My father wants to control Xavier’s fortune. He knew that once I was cleared of any wrongdoing and released from the hospital he would have no hold over me, so he intends to have me declared incompetent. Put away. And yes, I would choose no life over one under his boot.”
Her confession was both surprising and not; he’d assumed the cause of her injuries to be one of her keepers, though he'd imagined more routine abuse given her timid nature and the image conjured by the name 'Travers'. He'd met her late husband, an age ago when his own parents were still in residence at Ivy's Run, and the man had been a cultured brute even then.
Sighing to himself, Tristan extended a hand, slowly and palm up, across the table to lay a fingertip very lightly beneath Lisa's chin, directing her eyes to his own. "You did right," he insisted, careful of his words given their surroundings, "both in self-defense and choosing to flee. Neither rescinds my offer."
The gentle touch of his finger, just the barest hint of contact, held her immobile until he finished speaking and pulled it back as carefully as he’d begun. Other than during the brief meeting with Jared that had led to Xavier’s rage, no one but her husband had touched her in years. It was so foreign that heat flooded her face again, even as the kindness Tristan offered brought tears to her eyes.
“Thank you,” she whispered, wiping gingerly at the tears leaking down her swollen face. The weight of the preceding few days hit her, and Lisa laid her head in her hands, trying in vain to rein in the wave of emotion that crashed over her. Her body hurt and she was exhausted, but for the first time she felt hope that there might be another kind of escape from the life she’d been living.
"Breathe," Tristan advised quietly, wary of touching her again if it was so overwhelming as to provoke tears. "And thanks are not necessary. Nor am I really at ease being thanked for acting as a decent human being ought, but that is of no consequence at present."
Shaking himself mentally free of his dark thoughts, he addressed his next concern, "With thought only to your own comfort, would you prefer escort to the unoccupied wing of my residence or an inn outside London? I gather that remaining in the immediate area is inadvisable."
When Lisa was sufficiently composed to face him again, she took a last deep breath and lifted her head. Considering his question, there was no doubt which option she preferred. It was probably a heightened reaction due to the roller coaster her emotions had been on, but it was Tristan who’d brought the feeling of safety she was experiencing, and it was Tristan who’d shown her kindness and concern. The thought of hiding in an inn alone tore that comfort away in an instant.
“If it’s not a terrible inconvenience, I’d prefer to stay with you. I hate to intrude on your life and tax your generosity, but if it is only my comfort I’m to consider, I’d much rather remain in your company.”
"Such as it is," Tristan replied by way of agreement. He'd imagined as much when he'd extended the option, and as Bas was the only one to even enter that half of Whin Terrace, it would amount to a greater space for her to claim and the notion of a protector, however illusory. His wards would, of course, incinerate anyone unwelcome, and he had thoughts in motion about law proceedings, should Lisa need access to a barrister not already in her father's pocket.
The way she watched him, though, sure of the aegis he insinuated, reminded him of Regan, and he banished the image of another tear-streaked face before it caused his mask to slip. His role here was simple enough; shelter he could provide.
“Whenever you are ready,” he granted, producing muggle currency to compensate their waitress.
Lisa drank the last swallow of her coffee and placed the cup carefully back on the table. Up until now it hadn’t occurred to her how they would get to Tristan’s home. As he’d made no mention of a vehicle and public floos were difficult to come by at this hour, Apparation seemed the most likely mode of transport. Steeling herself for the closeness that would be required, she rose from the booth. With a short nod, she extended her hand. “I’m ready.”
Summary: Lisa runs for her life. Tristan helps her save it.