He wakes up expecting the sharp white light of dawn streaking the salty air around him and his grime. He wakes up in the still, stale dark of a musty cellar.
The air tastes familiar before he opens his eyes. This place he knows. He is suddenly, instinctively petrified. Then he relaxes. Finally. They say luck catches up with you when Fate gets tired of waiting.
He lies very still and alert, or so he thinks, in the half awake twilight zone, barely conscious and already wound tight as a spring. His mind is a haze of fog and gas lights. Generally, he is better practiced in waking up with a jerk to the crude realities of smoke and noise. Not today. His eyes still shut; his tongue and nose are busy tasting the flavours of the place. Blood. Sweat. Grime. Rich old cloth. Metal. Rust. Tears? Can’t be his. He already knows this is no street corner or port cubby. His mind is a blur. His head is killing him with the pounding. He could claw his skull out with pleasure. He has a half thought about how may be one of his jaw bones reset itself wrong. That he still has a hint of a snout. Perhaps that sealed his deal.
His focus shifts. He decides to move. One conscious, bitter, and, as his guts tell him every time, brutal decision. There is no point in postponing the inevitable, he chants back to his swollen nerves. His mind now turns to his body. There isn’t enough soreness, he realises with a belated half-shock. He is chill, not cramped. A cold draft leaves him shuddering like a new born. He can feel the granules of sand, the caked splotches of once wet mud. Blood and soot, mixed? Some ale. His shirt front is as always, a mess. Some things don’t change. Then he notices the cuffs, on the arms, the wrists, the legs, the neck. He wonders why the coldness of the metal escaped him while he was taking stock. But somebody has gone through some trouble to make sure they are padded, so they don’t hurt or chill him further. They are wrapped thickly. Smooth. He grins. Silk. Women’s scarves? There is no lace, as far as he can tell. His grin widens into a guffaw (it hurts his head some, but boy, can he help it). Sir Malcolm’s intimates? How rushed were they? Sembene’s stockings. Victor’s kerchief and scarf. His nose twitches again, he wonders why he didn’t realise before. He can finally trace the two familiar-but-evasive flavours. He settles in a grin. Londoners.
He hears movement. His nose identifies his company before he hears the swish of the skirt. The voice cracks through the silence like whipped ice.
“Mr. Chandler, Sembene told us you were awake.”
“Miss Ives.” He rasps, but conversationally.
The smile he gets is toothy, like Vanessa shares the joke, but there is also a flicker of...warmth? Worry? He doesn’t try to tilt his head much. While the neck brace is swathed in Victor’s neck cloth, its restraints are real enough. And he doesn’t want to struggle. He is languorous, and lazy, and still has the champion of a headache. He doesn’t trust any of them. No better people to kill him, no better people to save.
“I am sorry for those. We couldn’t be too careful.”
She isn’t really sorry, not one bit. But the look she gives him is warm and confiding, and he will take it from her.
“Don’t bother. I don’t miss the cramps.”
He has been stretched out on his back for, how long now? And while there is stiffness, it beats the cramps that take half a bottle neat to be worked through. In the very least, ignored.
“Sembene has been seeing to that. Some oil that keeps the blood flowing.”
“I will thank him for that.” His rasp nearly turns into a cough, and damn that’ll be hard with a brace. Or. Very easy. He doesn’t have to find out. He still doesn’t ask for a drink.
She perches beside him and puts the tray on a stool. He is trying to sniff the cup hard, but the water it holds isn’t tampered with. It assaults his throat in trickling whispers. Too little, too soon, too cold. He nearly retches, but can hold it down.
His choke is loosened by the swift unlatching of the brace. He hasn’t missed the touch of chill on his neck, nossir. He half-wishes she put it back on.
“Not really. But I would appreciate a wash.”
“Dr. Frankenstein’s on his way. Give us a minute. Your head should be too sore to stand.”
It is, but not as badly as she thinks. He holds still. There is noise above.
“—mad! All the opiates out there are in his body. First you smash half his head in, then you ask me to drug him like he is an army! If he goes into paralytic shock, there is absolutely no way of reviving him. I could try electric shocks or water therapy, but you can’t just expect me to drop everything to manufacture a generator. I don’t know enough about this to keep poisoning him! And I was in the middle of something else. Give me better notice the next time, if there is one!”
There shouldn’t be a rush of affection for the raving boy who, by confession, has been drugging him the better part of... how long has it been, really?
“Eighteen hours, give or take. Sir Malcolm and Sembene found you a little after nine last night.”
“How have the patrons of the pub fared?”
“Does it matter?” But her eyes have already gone opaque.
He is quiet, but she, in turn can see his eyes scream. Shared knowledges are hard earned.
She is quiet now. He locks away the thought and throws the key away, as always.
Before Victor’s scolding is quite upon them, he wedges one last question in a half-grimace, “What are Sir Malcolm’s plans for me?”
“That is to be decided. He is at the precinct now, testifying about the way the Indian man accompanying the American turned on the crowd. They had enough knives on their persons to plant sufficient evidence. The police will close that case in a few days, I presume. Foreign lunatics. That never fails to work like a charm.” She always presses her lips together after relaying information she isn’t much fond of.
He has not liked them, but there were others. And his sorrow and guilt keep sliding on a scale, and he knows he will tip himself with it all someday. But today he chooses to ask instead,
“And how does he get to escape the Red?”
“Oh, he suffered a blow and a very believable gash. They are good about planting those too.” There is a half-smile playing on her face. “Now. Ethan,” she bends, her finger touching his brow, but only very lightly, “I will leave you to Victor.”
There is movement in his periphery as she straightens. “Will some gruel be good for him now, Doctor?” Vanessa can lace coolness with care, when she chooses. The care is not just for him.
He assumes Victor has nodded a reply, because she has left. The boy moves in his line of vision. How long will all of them abuse that mind, he wonders desultorily, and then with a start. Victor’s eyes are bloodshot and moving too fast. He can feel the tremble in the fingers, the stale sweat of the shirt.
“Kid, you look terrible.”
“You’re one to talk!” Great. Now Victor’s pouting at him in what only he thinks is his professional indifference.
“When did you last sleep?”
Victor’s eyes are darting all over the place, his equipment, the walls, the chains.
“I will have all of you known that I was in the middle of something extremely important before...” But he still doesn’t meet his eyes.
The boy stops moving and turns to face him.
“Are they trying to kill me?”
His voice is quiet, untroubled even, but it will be a relief to know.
The boy’s eyes turn ferret to snake, to, he can’t believe it, angry.
“Oh, piss off!”
The boy has always been too well bred to really swear before, save on the memorable occasion of which they do not speak. He wonders how far the buttons are pushed, this time. He wishes he could help. He holds his stare, and that seems to turn the eyes into black slits. Victor Frankenstein has never been a truly happy man (boy, in his head) but enraged, he is an armful of angry glares that are...hurt. He would clap the boy on the shoulder if it didn’t read patronising. The British are a strange people.
“It’s alright,” his voice is soothing, or so he hopes, “Drugging me to death is a gentler execution than I deserve. You’ll be doing the right thing. I’m sorry. I should’ve...”
Victor’s eyes are too bright and burning holes right through him. The boy is red, and wet with sweat or snot or something close that could even be tears, and shaking.
“How,” Victor’s lips are trembling, “How... could you... how dare you... think—“
He has no answer for that, but he decides to try.
“Kid, I have no... There’s no thinking when that takes over.”
“Oh, we know that!” Victor spits out, “How can you think we—“
There is movement above: heavy footsteps descending slowly towards them. Victor jerks his head up, and goes ramrod straight, tinkering with his equipment.
“How is he doing?” Sir Malcolm hasn’t taken off his furs yet. But then again, it is chilly as hell down here. He smells of blood and rust and liniment, and discreetly of lavender and mothballs. The valet has done a shoddy job of... or his nose is too sharp. He can’t tell anymore.
“He seems sentient. Do we trust him enough to remove the cuffs?” The little boy with petrified eyes has disappeared. Victor’s hands on his pulse are steady, as is his voice. He can feel the prick of the needle when it comes.
“No! We don’t know if the beast is capable of deception.” He can see Sir Malcolm tugging at his stick.
The beast. Well, he has most certainly heard worse.
“How did the interview with the cops go?” he isn’t generally a flippant man, but tonight he will risk a tease.
The man turns to stare him in the eyes. “Most satisfactorily.”
He chides himself for forgetting Sir Malcolm has a growl. Of all of them if there be a wolf...
“And the witnesses? There must be some at least. You couldn’t’ve taken me away that quietly. What about your reputation? Men of your ilk don’t belong in such pubs, Sir Malcolm.” His voice starts slurring even as he speaks. He is in equal parts amused and disgusted with himself by now.
“We can be as discreet as we choose to, boy.” That’s a first, he notes, half numb, half enthralled. He has never been called that here. “As for my reputation, my solicitors are taking care of it as we speak.”
The towering man sways like a ship in storm while he speaks, and turns to Victor, suddenly impatient.
“Do you have everything you need?”
“Yes Sir, except this brass pipe that needs a sharper...” Victor’s words are a blur. He thinks he should sleep again.
“No, you don’t! The only case history I could look into was that of Peter Stumpp’s, if you can call that a case history.” Victor’s voice is sharp. As is the sting of the slap on his stubble. He wants to tell the boy he still smells of Bruna’s Lant Street violet. Thank him for it. “Now, do we have everything we can about the Tilbury case, Sir Malcolm?”
“All that I could reach for.”
“Well then, I don’t know whether we should risk the saline solution yet. The gruel should help my work. However, this...” Victor smells of flesh beginning to go bad. (No surprises there, he supposes. The boy’s ambition is to defile a morgue at a single go, probably.) Bruna must be smelling like... he looks away. That was one key he wouldn’t want to throw away. His one good key. He has few enough.
He can see Sir Malcolm’s face in the half-dark. The eyes glitter like coals. Funny, the man could also be a lion.
He can feel Vanessa approach. The bowl in her hand doesn’t smell appetising, but appetising enough.
“I think it is safe to trust him. He is, after all, our best source.” Vanessa is sure of this, the air around her is electric.
He feels rather than sees the others turn to her.
“He was with us on the 17th last month. 16th was a full moon. Nothing was remiss. He left well before dusk though.”
“Very well. Ethan?” The big wolf turns at him— could he have liked this Alpha in a different life? – “I want you to cooperate with Victor completely. Do you understand?”
Something is not as he thinks. It’s an itch at the back of his head, he can’t quite put his finger on it, yet. But he nods.
“You will be alright.” The face looms nearer, the beard nearly tickling his chin, the voice gruff. But all he can see are the eyes. There is a brief pat on his arm. And then Sir Malcolm is gone.
Victor struts up to Vanessa, frowning, “Doesn’t he have too much opium in him already?”
Vanessa can smile like a cat. “We will just have to do our best.”
They turn on him. On a different day, in a different reality he would have remarked upon the utterly mischievous, errant sibling-pair they look, their faces full of decision a cold-blooded murderer would be proud of. Today, he watches them draw their stools close to him, their faces nearly at the level of his eyes. Victor’s notebook is out and ready.
“Ethan, does the transformation happen on the day after full moon too?”
“Yes.” He is beginning to frown, something is... not right. “Why don’t you kill me now and be done? “
Victor scoffs this time. “Never mind killing you. We shall do it if we have to. Now, how long...?”
It goes on for very long. He can’t tell how. Perhaps there is another lycanthrope in the city. Perhaps they just want to be ready when... He is beginning to feel drowsy again.
“Do you think he can take the amount you plan to give him? Won’t mixing make it worse?”
“Given his drinking habits, I should say his metabolism is made of sterner stuff. It’s worth a try. Besides, the whole point is to not give him too little. We can only work by trial and error. It will take a couple transformations to get this right.”
Victor and Vanessa are standing quite close, their heads inclined towards each other, Victor mauling his notebook. But he can’t see them clearly enough. The thing Victor put in him hadn’t been hemlock, he realises, but close enough.
“What...transformations?” he croaks. He is beginning to get angry and more than a little anxious, but he hopes these people know better.
Of course they don’t.
Victor turns towards him,” You will have the gruel. Then Sembene will wash you. We want to avoid infections. The cuffs stay on, I am afraid. We only have a couple hours to arrange everything. Then, an hour before dusk, I give you a fusion of drugs, you drink it. And Ethan? Don’t fight it please. It is vitally important that you drink it. And then, well...we see what happens.”
“Idiots!” He tries to rise, he has strength enough to make a decent effort.
Vanessa crouches by him, “Ethan, this just might work. If you are drugged enough...we have everything: morphine, opium, laudanum, some herbs Sir Malcolm brought back which he says--”
“Even belladonna. It is worth a shot. The constitution of a bull couldn’t... I went to the zoological gardens to test out the theory.” Now Victor’s crouching too.
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
“Are you mad?!” Wrong question. They are, as is he. “Haven’t you seen... anything?” On days as these the wolf is always very close to the surface. He can hear it snarl and tap its forepaw. Impatient. Enraged. Beginning to be oblivious.
Victor turns to Vanessa, his face smug, the bitch. “Aren’t you glad we drugged him before telling?”
Vanessa has a hasty nod for him before she crouches closer. He is clawing, or trying to, to get rid of the cuffs. May be he can leave this house if he tries, perhaps he could even...
Her face is very pale, her eyes very black. His mind is slipping faster than he thinks possible.
“Sembene will have a gun aimed at you, from outside the room, through a hole in the wall we won’t tell you where. Just in case.”
He stares back at her, his nose flaring, his eyes flat and baleful. She returns his look with the coolness he has come to expect from her words, and slowly lowers her head. Her lips are on his forehead. He can feel her tongue. Her hands are busy around his neck. Then her weight shifts. He feels the charm slide on his skin, right above his breastbone. The wetness left by her mouth on his temple is chill to the wind.
“There... is... no... cure.” he can just about manage a whisper. His teeth are grinding hard enough that it hurts. His words are a slur. His hands have moved towards Victor unawares and now Victor has them in a clutch, shackles and all. In a few hours, it will take him a moment to tear Victor to pieces, starting where his fingers are touching his shirt.
Vanessa’s smile is close enough, sharp enough, glinting enough that he can see it.
“Who says we are looking for a cure?” she whispers. The words shiver at him. He can last just about the next minute. He knows he has to act fast.
“Vanessa.” He can feel her breath on his cheek as she bends lower. “Silver... bullets preferably.”
Her eyes say she understands. “Stay with us, Ethan.” It’s a wish and nightmare woven in one.
And then, darkness.