Phileas held the gun in one hand and slowly turned the chambers with the index finger of the other. Faint clicks could be heard above the soft whisper of his breath as each chamber came into alignment with the barrel and then disengaged.
It was ridiculous, really, how the fear sparked by his first encounter with Cavois had ended in a game of Russian Roulette. There was no skill in it, no sense of adventure. Phileas had felt almost insulted. Almost. He was a little too relieved to really take offense. Cavois had frightened him, but the game never had. He'd played it too often.
Three times he'd pulled the trigger. He'd been tense, watching Cavois' reaction, but he'd never really been worried that the next chamber would hold a bullet. He supposed the thrill had worn off the game. Fate wasn't ready to let him go yet. He'd pulled the trigger six times once, just to see if he could cheat her. The gun jammed.
Phileas had given up on Russian Roulette after that. Chance wasn't going to kill him. Maybe someone else would oblige.
They certainly tried. Yet every time when he thought they might actually succeed, something intervened. Rebecca. Passepartout. A child's toy. The child himself.
And Jules Verne. A young man with a nobility of soul Phileas had ceased to have faith in. It fairly shone from him, and it was contagious. When he'd asked, no, when he assumed Phileas would help him investigate the murder of the priest only Phileas' irritation at Verne's disgraceful behavior the night before had restrained him from agreeing.
Jules' bitter disappointment at his refusal had served as a reminder of his attitude at the ball. It was only days after he'd gone stalking off the ship that Phileas realized that the kind of certainty Jules had in his vision of the future was bound to be accompanied by a little self-righteousness.
He'd immediately gone in pursuit of Verne, fearing Jules' anger and his own brisk dismissal might propel the young man into a dangerous situation. He'd never been so annoyed to be right.
The sight of Verne standing on that ship, in that uniform, next to that woman...it was infuriating. It made Phileas want to snatch him back as he'd done the night they'd first met.
Verne's uncertainty with regards to his duties, his position and his command had made Phileas smug, at first. Then the thought struck him - Jules was more confident of his value as Lieutenant of that ship than he was of his place on the Aurora. The thought twisted painfully in Phileas' gut. Jules felt like nothing.
He was everything.
In that moment Phileas hated himself so much he could taste it. But he never said a word to Verne.
#I suppose we all have our little mysteries to live with,# Count Gregory had said. It seemed appropriate that he should recognize that in Phileas.
With Jules back on the Aurora, Phileas' wildly swinging emotions had calmed, though guilt still ate away at him. It had, after all, been his own words that sent Jules into the arms of the League of Darkness. In a dark little corner of his soul, Phileas loved that his words could have such a strong impact on Verne.
All four of them were too focused on chasing down the Prometheus to discuss what had brought them to where they were, but Phileas had the niggling feeling he was running rather than pursuing.
He ran right into the arms of the first woman he found. Saratoga Brown was everything he ought to have wanted. It was easy enough to forget the slaves were not paid servants, easy enough to forget that Saratoga owned a plantation, and that it was slaves who worked the fields.
Once safely seated at Saratoga's table, Phileas' determination was at such odds with his desires that he found himself alternately snapping at Verne's comments, then agreeing with them. The violent interruption of the Union soldiers was almost a relief. In an odd way it let Phileas settle himself. He'd set himself to wooing the entirely appropriate attentions of Mrs. Brown, despite their brief acquaintance. It helped that she was quite willing.
Later, tears of anger and injustice running down his face, Phileas had clutched her cooling body and wished fiercely that he'd actually loved her. He cursed fate for sparing him from yet another bullet and for taking Saratoga, and he hated himself for feeling guilt instead of pain.
He went blind after that. It was the only explanation for his complete failure to see how his three companions watched him constantly and how Passepartout interrupted him at every opportunity. Rebecca had even pawned his guns. Phileas doubted she knew how close to the edge he normally walked. If she did, she'd never have bought him a new set.
Crouching under a train in the midst of a hail of bullets, Phileas finally saw something other than avenues of escape from life. A child was going to die, and it was going to be his fault. Again.
He sprang from under the train and hoped for the first time that the bullets flying across the battlefield would miss him. His gut clenched in fear for his own life, for Jules, who followed him without hesitation, for Al in the sabotaged Phoenix.
Something changed in that machine. Standing with the barrel of a gun pressed to his forehead, Phileas saw Jules out of the corner of his eye. Verne watched the tableau with wide, frightened eyes. He was afraid for Phileas' life. He'd leapt into the midst of a crossfire to safeguard Phileas' life, not Al's.
#Very well, Verne,# he'd thought, #if you want me to live, I will.
#He'd forgotten, it seemed, that loving someone meant living for them more than dying for them.
There was a brief rap on the study door before it swung open. "Fogg?" Verne called, as he leaned into the room a little. "We should leave now if we don't want to miss the play."
"Of course," Phileas said briskly, and laid the gun on the desk as casually as possible before standing. "Why is it you're so insistent I see this play, again?" he asked, and smiled when Verne launched into an impassioned explanation. Jules was passionate about everything. Sometimes it made him seem terribly young.
The gun was still lying on the desk when they returned later that evening. Phileas grimaced and picked it up to put it away, but Jules plucked it from his hand before he even had the desk drawer open. Verne flipped the chamber open and glanced into it. His brow wrinkled and he tipped the single bullet out and held it up. "Do this often?" he asked accusingly.
"No," Phileas snapped, and held out his hand. Verne placed the gun in it but kept the bullet. "I do have more of those," Phileas said dryly.
"Then you won't be needing this one," Verne replied and slipped it into a pocket.
"No I suppose not." Jules raised an eyebrow and waited. Phileas paused and considered the gesture. "I needed it once," he said slowly, knowing Verne would misinterpret the comment and think of Saratoga Brown, "but I give you my word, I need it no more."
Verne studied him for a moment before nodding firmly and ducking out of the room with a brief good night. Phileas began unbuttoning the often- irritating layers of clothing on his way to his bedroom. It was, he mused, much more difficult to live for someone than to die for them. Particularly when there was no possibility of that person returning your affections.
If either he or Verne were a woman it would be a great deal easier. It would also, Phileas admitted to himself, be entirely insincere. Women had never held any particular allure for him, though they occasionally became...convenient. A dangerous attitude, but one that could be pursued with a little care and the right connections.
Verne, on the other hand, was not an aristocrat. Something, Phileas mused, he probably should have remembered when he acquired an invitation to the Emperor's Ball for the young man. He wouldn't have had the freedom Phileas had, even if he had the inclinations.
And there was no evidence for that. Quite the contrary. The countess had turned his head easily enough. Turned it far enough that he'd forgotten his pursuit of the priest's murderer, overlooked her true goals, missed the fact he'd just become a Lieutenant in the League of Darkness. She'd turned him away from Phileas, and it had been easy.
"Really," Phileas muttered to himself, slipping into his nightclothes and crawling into bed, "you are far too prone to self pity."
But lying there, in the dark, it was hard to turn his thoughts away from the track they'd fixed themselves to. It didn't help that Jules slept just down the hall. He was staying in Phileas' guest bedroom while he was in London. Phileas had insisted, partly plagued by the conviction that Jules remained uncertain of his place among their little crew, and partly out of a selfish desire to keep him close.
Verne was a bright spirit with a brilliant mind. It was almost intoxicating, to the point that Phileas had found himself expounding upon the young writer at length to virtually anyone who would listen. At one point Rebecca, more than a little exasperated, had looked up from the briefing she was attempting to read and commented, "Well, you're more than a little smitten." That had shut him up fast.
The point was, Phileas lectured himself, that there was little chance a man like Verne would be attracted to a man like himself. Cynical, world- weary, self-absorbed, overindulgent...he'd been called them all, and they were probably all true to one degree or another. What interest could Verne have in him?
Candlelight flickered under the door. Frowning, Phileas slid out of bed and opened the door. Jules stood there, holding a single candle, half-turned as if to leave. "Verne?"
"I didn't mean to bother you," Jules said, looking a little embarrassed. "I'll go."
"No, no," Phileas said, smiling a little. "It must have been important to bring you to my door in the middle of the night." He stood back from the doorway and gestured for Verne to enter. Jules stepped into his bedroom almost skittishly. Phileas took a moment to light a couple of lamps from Verne's candle. "Well then, what's on your mind?"
Verne hesitated, then held out his hand. The bullet lay on his palm. Phileas cursed silently. "I just...couldn't stop thinking."
"Thinking is your greatest asset, Verne, but in this case unnecessary. I assure you, I am quite well."
"You weren't always. I'm just curious about why...and what changed."
Phileas considered lying or refusing to answer, but the sight of Verne standing there, eyes glued to the bullet he held, brought him up short. He settled for a brief answer. "I didn't have a reason not to. And then I did."
"In other words, you didn't have a reason to live. And then you did."
"I suppose so, yes," Phileas said lightly.
Jules turned his eyes from the bullet to Phileas. "What was the reason?"
"Why do you ask?"
Verne hesitated, then shrugged. "Curious, I suppose. And concerned. You're a hard man to know, Fogg."
Phileas smiled, a bit regretfully, and shook his head. "Not a particularly compelling reason to divulge any secrets, my friend."
"I hadn't realized it was a secret."
"Sometimes you read too much into words, Verne."
"Sometimes you reveal too much with them," Jules challenged.
Phileas sighed. "It's late, Jules," he said softly. "Go to bed."
Verne's mouth tightened in irritation. He offered the bullet back to Phileas. "It was a foolish gesture."
Phileas reached out and closed Verne's hand over the bullet. "No," he contradicted, "an appropriate one." For a moment they stood frozen in that tableau. Verne's hand outstretched, clenched around the bullet, Phileas' hand covering it, the whole scene lit by candlelight. Almost romantic, Phileas mused sadly as he studied their joined hands.
He drew his hand back and glanced up, intending to smile and say goodnight, but Jules caught his gaze, and the words never quite emerged. There was awareness in Verne's eyes now. Phileas could almost see his mind working. Dear God.
"Your life in my hands," Verne said softly, rolling the bullet between his fingers.
"A somewhat melodramatic way to put it," Phileas managed.
"But an accurate one." Phileas was silent. "You shouldn't live for a person, Phileas. They're far too likely to disappoint you, and there are a thousand better reasons."
"That depends on the person, now doesn't it?" He tried to smile, to make the comment light, but it dropped into the room like a stone. He sighed. "Go to bed, Jules. Sleep. Everything will be ordinary in the morning, I promise."
Jules tiled his head consideringly. "Is that what you want?" he asked.
"What I want," Phileas forced a firm note into his voice, "is immaterial."
"Why do you value yourself so little, Fogg?" Jules exclaimed, setting the bullet down forcefully.
"Well I haven't got a whole lot to offer anyone, now have I?" Phileas snapped.
"That depends on what they want from you." Phileas could only chuckle bitterly at the truth in that. Undoubtedly he could attract a lady of society. A political match, with his appearance a minor frill. If that was what he wanted... "You never listen," Jules muttered. "I always have to show you."
Before Phileas quite knew what had happened Jules' lips were crushed against his, one hand fisted in the fabric of his night shirt. Fogg pulled back with an almost pained gasp. One glance at Jules was his undoing. Jules' eyes shone with the passion he brought to everything, his lips were slightly reddened from the force of his kiss.
Phileas gave a soft cry and captured Verne's lips with his own. The kiss broke something in him, some barrier behind which he'd locked everything passionate, everything needy. Now it spilled forth all at once, overwhelming him. He wrapped an arm around Jules' waist and pulled him close, not sure when he started trembling, only knowing that suddenly close wasn't close enough. He needed to feel skin under his hands.
Phileas tugged the nightshirt off over Jules head and was brought up short by his disheveled and somewhat dazed countenance. "Jules?" he asked softly, suddenly painfully aware that all the other man had done was kiss him. Phileas looked down at the nightshirt he still held and flushed a little. "I'm sorry, Verne. I shouldn't...I didn't mean...you never..." Cutting himself off, Phileas offered the nightshirt back to Jules while doing his best not to look at him.
Verne took the nightshirt but didn't put it back on. "Phileas," he sighed. "You don't have to apologize. You're just...moving a little fast."
Phileas tore his eyes from the lamp, which really wasn't as fascinating as he'd been trying to make it appear, back to Jules and was startled to see the younger man twisting his hands in the nightshirt. Smiling softly, Phileas stepped closer and stilled the nervous gesture with his own hands. "I'm sorry," he murmured again, "I wasn't thinking." He hesitated, then pushed onward. "We don't have to..."
"No," Jules interrupted, "I...I want to. I just don't want either of us to do this for the wrong reasons."
"Jules," Phileas said seriously, and cupped his cheek in one hand, "there are very few right reasons for us to do this. "
"I only need one."
Phileas had to chuckle. He brushed a light kiss across Jules' lips. "I'm in love with you, Jules Verne. Is that reason enough?"
"Always," Jules replied, eyes shining, and reached out with determined hands to strip Phileas of his nightshirt. Phileas simply stood and let him, giving Verne a moment to calm his nerves, to look, to get used to the idea, the sight of him. After a long moment, long enough that Phileas was beginning to grow self-conscious, Jules stepped forward and laid a hand on his chest. "I find it just a little hard to believe you want me. I don't exactly fit into your world."
"I'm not particularly fond of my world," Phileas said dryly. He lifted Jules' hand from his breast and drew him towards the bed. "You...you are unlike anyone I have ever known."
Jules said nothing, just followed Phileas onto the bed. They lay for a long moment, just exploring each other with their hands. Jules was hesitant at first, mirroring Phileas' touches. Phileas found himself being more vocal than he was usually comfortable with, using murmurs of pleasure and soft cries to encourage his lover. And it worked. Oh, how it worked. Soon Verne was exploring with eagerness, sliding closer to run his hands over Phileas' back, even venturing to cup his ass for one brief, glorious moment.
Phileas could feel the threads of his control fraying. Desperate not to frighten Jules with the strength of his need, he distracted himself by dropping kisses over his throat and collarbone. Quickly entranced by the taste of his lover, Phileas curled his hands over Jules' hips and rolled him onto his back. Jules looked up at him, wide eyed.
"Just...give me a moment to explore," Phileas asked, his voice low and rough. Jules nodded, smiling. Phileas lost himself in the expanse of skin offered up to him. He trailed his lips across flushed, damp skin, pressed kisses to Jules' sternum, his ribs, his belly. Jules' hands on his shoulders encouraged him, pressed him closer at times, or moved him to a more sensitive spot.
Phileas let himself be guided. The soft little gasps Verne made, the strangled moans at once fed the fire within him and assuaged the aching need that had overwhelmed Phileas earlier. He caught one of Jules' nipples between his teeth and teased the bud, flicked it with his tongue. Jules' cried out and arched into the touch, then eased back down onto the bed, breathing heavily. He said nothing, but one of his hands left Phileas' shoulder and threaded through his hair, holding him close.
Phileas lost himself in the moment, his thought solely on Jules. Vaguely he was aware that he'd curled around the other man, his groin pressed against Jules' hip, but all that really mattered was the hand in his hair. He let Jules' move him to the other nipple when the first became too sensitive, not really thinking, just enjoying.
"Phileas," Jules gasped, and tugged on his hair. Phileas looked up. Jules was flushed and sweaty, his tone almost urgent. "I want...I need..." Phileas silenced him with a long, deep kiss. Then, hooking one arm about Jules' hips, he rolled onto his back and pulled Jules atop him in one movement. Phileas clung to him for a moment, gasping out little "oh"s of pleasure until he was rather embarrassed at himself, but he couldn't seem to stop...
Above him, Jules thrust experimentally. "Yes!" Phileas cried, and drew his lover down for a kiss. "Like that," he murmured against Jules' lips. "Just like that." Jules moved again and Phileas surged up against him. Phileas let Jules set the pace, but used his hands and lips and voice to encourage him.
Not that Verne seemed to need a great deal of encouragement. He moved strongly against Phileas, earlier reticence apparently forgotten. Phileas let himself go at last, pulling Jules closer mindlessly and losing himself in the surging rhythm of their bodies. When Jules came Phileas let the shudders of the body above him carry him over the edge as well.
They lay in each other's arms, not speaking, for a long moment. "We should blow out the lamps," Jules murmured at length. Phileas chucked, but unwrapped his arms from his lover. Jules rose and padded naked across the room. Phileas watched with appreciation as he blew out the first lamp.
By the second he paused. Phileas understood why a moment later when Jules picked up the discarded bullet. "There's more to live for in this world than me," Jules murmured, and set the bullet back down. "I'll show you that."
"I welcome you to try," Phileas said, and moved from atop the sheets of the bed to lie between them. He held up the covers for Jules. "Come to bed."
Jules smiled and blew out the lamp. A moment later the bed dipped under his weight. "I promise," he whispered, sliding close to Phileas.
"I believe you," Phileas whispered back, and wrapped an arm around his lover.
For a moment, he did.