James was well-accustomed to odd noises in the evening, living where he did, but there was something about this particular sound that made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. He removed his pistol from the drawer and left his laboratory to investigate. As far as he knew the guests were all in their rooms. Helen was getting their newest resident situated downstairs. And Helen was sleeping off an incredibly harrowing... century, to be honest. He smiled and mock-shuddered at the thought of two Helen Magnuses running around the planet. Keeping secrets was a huge part of his life, but that one would strain even his abilities to stay mum.
A lantern was burning in the study, the majority of the light blocked by the man standing in front of it. He was ringed by pale golden light, like a storm cloud that drifts in front of a summer sun. James steadied the gun at the back of the man's head, and the man lifted his hands in surrender (or supplication?) without turning you around.
"I assure you, weapons won't be necessary."
"Then I shall merely be embarrassed. My character can survive the humiliation of holding a gun throughout a peaceful conversation."
John chuckled and moved away from the lantern. The sudden light assaulted James' eyes and caused him to momentarily lose sight of John's shade. The gun was wrenched from his hand, and a fist gripped his collar to guide him toward the wall. John's face was a study in anguish and fury. His lips were twisted in anger, his cheeks rough with stubble. But his eyes... his eyes were red-rimmed and sorrowful. They were the last part of the man he remembered.
James growled, but he knew fighting was futile; John had always been the better brawler.
The fight seemed to drain out of John and his eyes drifted from James to the doorway. "Tell me. Is Helen here?"
"Stay away from her."
"Calm your jealousy, you fool. I wish privacy for what I must say and if I can't achieve it here--" The air was sucked from around them and then returned with a gust of wind. "--then I shall go to where it is assured."
James looked at their new surroundings and recognized it immediately. It was the flat Helen occupied during their time at Oxford. Windows boarded now, with thick cobwebs in the corners of the room. The floor was dusty but bore the evidence of recent passage. James now knew where John retreated during those long absent stretches.
"Why have you brought me here?"
"This is where the world ended for the five of us. We were just too foolish to recognize the truth at the time." He released James and stepped away from him, meandering into the parlor like a ghost forced to haunt the halls. "That damnable blood. We thought we would change the world. Tell me, James, do you recall the story of Daedalus and Icarus?"
"Not all of us have flown too close to the sun, John."
"If only that were true." His voice was slightly better than a whisper, almost a groan. When he spoke again, his words were stronger and less forced. "I have come to help you with your current predicament, old boy. The murders plaguing London. I fear I... know the culprit."
James arched an eyebrow. His curiosity overcame his betrayal and anger at the man standing before him. The fact Helen had identified and stopped the killer meant this would be a simple deductive exercise. It had been far too long since he played that game with his old friend. "Is that so? Enlighten me."
"Ten years ago you failed to solve the Ripper problem due to your refusal to accept the obvious. You failed to consider me a suspect and innocents suffered. Now the situation has repeated itself, and your position is reversed. You are so determined to put me in the stocks this time that you have again failed to see the truth right in front of your face."
John turned to face him. "Helen Magnus."
James laughed. "You have definitely taken leave of your senses."
"Listen to me! Do you believe I would make an accusation baselessly? You have no idea how it pains me to tell you this, but I must. Helen has become shattered."
"I believe I would notice--"
"Her hair?" James froze. "Black as ink. Her face, that of a madwoman. I tell you, James, I did not recognize her when she was an inch away from my face."
James had grown suddenly so very cold. "And when... precisely... did you see her?"
"Earlier in the evening. We exchanged words in an alleyway. I offered her my services and she..." His voice trailed off and he touched his throat. "Attacked me. I have seen Helen fight, James, and she is a formidable opponent. But this was unlike anything I had ever seen. I had no defense against her. Nikola would even have found it a challenge. She lauded my accusation she was mad. She taunted me with a cold-blooded death."
James' mind was working frantically for a solution that wouldn't compromise his secret. "I'm sure there is some reasonable explanation."
"I saw you with her, outside Worth's lab. She was... herself again. Sweet. Innocent. She wore a cloak but I saw the familiar ribbons of blonde hair." He touched the sides of his own face in memory and then locked his eyes on James. "I know what it is like to look in the mirror and see a stranger. To look at my hands and quake to know what they have done. I fear that Helen, faced with the same reflection, did the only thing in her power to protect her sanity. She has become a different person, James. Darkness and light in the same body, neither aware of the other's actions. You have seen such a disorder before."
"Yes," James whispered softly. They saw the signs in Adam Worth, but thus far he had been able to control it. James brushed his thumb over his bottom lip, pacing through the room where long ago they injected the Source blood and started this brave new life. His footsteps echoed hollow in the empty home.
"Helen has gone mad. I accept the blame. What I put her through... a mind as innocent as hers couldn't bear it. She was strong, though, and protected herself to the best of her abilities. Unfortunately, I fear this means the killings will only be stopped if Helen is... stopped."
James tensed. "And you're offering your services in that regard?"
"No. My way would be... bloody." He lowered his head in an almost mournful pose. "The darkness within Helen cannot be killed without also killing the light. Saving the woman we both love requires a softer touch. I know we are long past the point where I can ask a favor of you, but she requires your expertise, James." He closed the distance between her. "Help her. Save her."
James considered the dark-haired Helen from the future, the woman who had slipped so easily into his life. There was such pain and, yes, darkness in her that James knew John spoke the truth. He'd witnessed the odd woman firsthand. Now that he was paying attention, he could see the evidence of Helen's assault on John's face: bruises, a cut. A line of dried blood in his philtrum that hadn't been washed away in the rain. He recalled Helen's confrontation with Adam Worth and knew physical violence of this magnitude was not outside of her ability.
"I shall do everything in my power to bring her peace, John. You have my word."
"Thank you, James."
He stepped forward without warning and wrapped his right arm around James' left. James twisted in an attempt to get away, but he found himself hurtled from Helen's flat to the study of the Sanctuary. He stumbled, and John pushed him. James braced himself to hit the floor and was surprised to find himself dumped into the plush armchair in front of the fire.
"James? Are you there?"
Both men turned toward the sound of Helen's voice. John whispered, "If not for my sake... then for hers." He vanished without another word one heartbeat before Helen stepped into the study doorway.
"There you are!" And there she was, blonde and resplendent in a casual housedress. "Hiding in plain sight. You could have said something when I poked my head in a moment ago."
"Sorry, my dear. Lost in thoughts." He pushed himself out of the chair and straightened his clothes. "Is our new guest acclimated?"
"For now. The first night is always difficult. I actually sought you out to see if you wanted a spot of tea before bed."
"You mean you wished to discover if I could be convinced to make tea for you."
Helen laughed. "By Jove, you are a detective."
James linked his arm around Helen's and guided her out of the study. "Let's see what we can find in the kitchen, mm?" He patted Helen's arm and looked over his shoulder to make sure John was truly gone. When Helen caught him looking he smiled reassuringly and put their old friend out of his mind.
John may not have solved the case, but he had certainly found a vein of truth. Whatever happened to Helen Magnus between 1898 and (dear God!) 2011, she'd seen her share of tragedies. Two lifetimes worth. He could only imagine what she had seen and what she had lived through and was now forced to live through again without taking action. The woman at his side was going to face the world, and the world was going to turn her into that cold, calculating fighter that had been delivered to his doorstep.
If he had decades, or if he only had years, he swore to himself that he would always remain by her side to help her through whatever trials she may face.