Thank you all for the awesome fanfic prompts! This is really getting the creative juices flowing. :)
I wrote this little ficlet last night to leonicka's prompt of "Nathaniel organizing a surprise birthday party for Eliza". Birthday parties and surprise parties don't seem to have really been a thing in Regency England, but I went with it because I could immediately see poor Nathaniel starting to sweat. :)
There wasn't much room under the sloped roof for pacing, but Nathaniel did his best. The pacing helped him think. "Moving about will animate your brains," his father had told him once, while relating the story of a poor greensick girl who'd taken to her bed in despondence and soon lost all capability of speech. "Too much huddling in a darkened room and your thoughts will wither like so much uprooted..." He paused, casting about for an appropriate vegetable.
"Cabbage?" his mother had suggested.
"Cabbage, yes, precisely, thank you, Mrs. Axton." And they'd gazed at each other in that tender way that made Peter sigh, Mark gag, and Nathaniel want to flee the room.
He shook his head, dispelling the image. This was no time to be mooning over childhood memories. He had a celebration to plan.
He reached the bed, paused to give Wuffles a scratch behind the ear, and turned to pace back the way he'd come, carefully avoiding a particularly splintery patch of floor; this was his last intact pair of stockings.
"We'll hire the Stationers' Hall," he muttered. "No, too dear. The gardens, then. A picnic of sorts, perhaps."
He reached the window. A steady breeze flowed through the gaps around the single pane of thick glass. Outside the sky was clouding over, threatening rain. London's allotted week of summer had come and gone, and now the city was poised at the top of the long chilly slide into autumn.
"Or perhaps not a picnic." He sighed. "Why did I agree to do this? Eliza plans. I... decorate."
He turned away from the window and yelped as his stocking snagged on a nail jutting out from the floorboards. Wuffles whined inquisitively. "All's well, boy," Nathaniel said absently, carefully unsnagging himself. "It merely caught me unawares." The fabric appeared undamaged, and he spared a moment for a silent prayer of thanks.
Three strides brought him back to the bed. He sat down heavily, the wooden bedstead creaking slightly under his weight. Wuffles inched over in the peculiar way he had, as though coming properly to his feet would require an unbearable degree of effort, and wedged his head against Nathaniel's thigh. Nathaniel patted him absently, still mulling over his options. Invite friends to the shop for an evening of drinking and reading terrible books aloud? No, he shuddered to think of someone spilling brandy on a rare edition. A dinner party in the flat abovestairs? But they hadn't yet finished clearing out Mr. Carroll's belongings. His own lodgings could barely contain a small man and a smaller dog, and Mrs. Arlesbury set a decent table but he couldn't see asking her to host a crowd of poets and other reprobates.
Perhaps an outing of some kind? A show? But he'd never heard Eliza speak of seeing one or wishing to.
"Bother this," he finally said, and went to get his hat.
* * *
"You're in early," Eliza said by way of greeting when he ducked through the shop door just ahead of the rain.
"Slept poorly." He went into the back to hang up his coat and hat. When he emerged, he glanced at her and then away again. Perhaps a shelf on the far wall needed to be tidied. Yes, he'd better go see to that.
"Clearly the fault of a guilty conscience, if you won't look me in the eye." He winced but still couldn't bring himself to turn around. "Well, what's the matter, then?"
"I. Er." He put the last book on the shelf and took a deep breath. "Well. You asked me to plan a surprise for your birthday and I'm sorry but I just cannot do it, I did try, and I'm wretched at planning and I wouldn't be able to hide a surprise from you and I am truly very sorry but I just don't see how I can do it and I'm sorry."
"Oh, is that all?" She laughed and he unbent a little, glad to hear neither hurt nor disappointment in the sound. "My dear, I thought you'd spilled tea on the account books or offended a customer."
He glanced over his shoulder and offered her a sheepish grin. "Nothing so permanent," he said.
"Then no harm done." She beckoned him over, got a bit of scrap paper, and dipped the pen in the inkwell. "I'll simply have to teach you how to plan a social event. Perhaps next year you'll be ready to have a go. Now, the first question is scale: small and intimate or something grand?"
Feel free to prompt me some more! I probably won't directly reply to all of them, but they're all helping me see my world and characters from different angles, which is tremendously useful. Thank you v. v. much.