Chapter 1: Helen & John: Love
She wonders, later, what had been in his mind, the last time they kissed. The last time before she challenged him, before she knew. With secrets between them, and blood on his hands. Had he thought of that? Had he thought of her, bleeding? She wonders. She does.
But in her heart, in the shadows where she daren't let anyone see ... She remembers the gentleness of it, the soft fire, banked and glowing and all for her, the adoration in his eyes, the small smile on his lips. She replays the touch of his lips against hers, asking permission first, always, every time, always afraid in some part that this time he would be refused. And then fierce, intoxicated, delighted, adoring. A passion, but not a darkness. No Ripper. Only John, kissing her while he still had time, loving her while he still had leave. Helen remembers.
No, she thinks. There was no blood in his mind, that last time. There was no darkness when he kissed her. Only love. Only that.
And that, perhaps, is the most terrible thing.
Chapter 2: John & James: Loss
There are no secrets from James' eyes. No hiding. No gentle lies, no softening illusions. John knows. John has always known that. Even before the Blood. James has always lived in a world made hard and bare by rationality, always a contrast to the softer shadows, the brighter lights, that make up John's. There is no lying to James, except ...
Except when he lets you. Except when he wants you to. Except when he looks and dares not see, sees and dares not remember. Holds, and dares not ask to leave. Surrenders, and dares not ask to keep. Except when John comes to him, every time the last, every time the only. Except when John presses close, a whisper only there for a moment, a shadow that only exists as long as James holds him. Except when John kisses him.
The last time, before John proposed to Helen. The last time, when John came in the darkness after the Ripper's shattering, a kiss traded for a bullet. The last time, in the halls of vampires as their world fell once more about their ears. The last time, every time. And every time, it is bitterness John tastes, regret, sorrow, joy. Every time, he tastes knowledge.
There are no secrets, from James.
Chapter 3: Helen & Nikola: Fencing
He does it to tease, she's sure. He does it to test, to tease, to taunt, to entice. To distract, to blind. To lure, to enchant. To taste, to enjoy. To laugh, to endure. Nikola kisses for a thousand reasons, a thousand momentary impulses, testing her, delighting in her. Unafraid. Always, unafraid. He tastes her because she lets him, dares her when she does not, laughs regardless of her answer. Every kiss a test, not of him, but of her. Every kiss a game from a place of utter surety, utter confidence. Not that she will say yes, but that the chance is worth the risk. Not that she will kiss him back, but that he will enjoy the experience regardless.
Kissing with Nikola is like fencing, she thinks. Edged, bladed, competitive. Sporting. Daring. Dancing. Touche. A touch, from him to her, and returned. A challenge, kiss me if you dare. A return, try it if you think you can. Laughing all the while. He refuses her nothing. Expects nothing in return. Every kiss the dare. Every kiss the touch, the blow. Every kiss the chance.
Nikola kisses her because she lets him. She kisses him back because ... because she can. Because she dares. And the laughing in his eyes, that dare her one step further ... that is hers to answer, if she chooses, and never, is she so desires. Every kiss. This kiss. A taunt, a dare. And always, always, hers to answer, as she wills.
Chapter 4: Helen & James: Constancy
He's always there. She was the one gifted with longevity, the one destined to last forever, or so it seemed. And yet, it's him that's most constant. Him that endures, that little more bowed each passing year, that little more frail, but for all that unchanged. For all that, unchangeable. James is a constant, a fact, a keystone for her world. James is the pivot on which she moves the world, and has been for so very, very long.
She sees it, in his smile. Sees it, in the way he looks at her. How he knows. How he sees. How he has made himself, in some little way, a part of something that will endure. How he has made himself a part of her. How he has seen and touched her yearnings, her furies, her passions, her pains. How he has touched the darkest places inside her, how he knows them, how he echoes them. How he remembers each loss, has stood beside her through them, how he has held her, how he has let himself, so slowly, so stiffly, be held. How he touches her as if she is the only sure thing in his world, and smiles at her for seeing it.
His lips are soft against her forehead. Soft as they brush her hair, her cheeks, the corner of her jaw. He smiles, just softly. Sadly, just a little. No more than that, to this. No more than the knowing, than the offering, I am here. And Helen smiles, and lifts her chin to catch his mouth with her own, and whisper softly back. So am I.
Chapter 5: Nikola & Nigel: Fading
There's energy, in Nikola. More than anything else. Not just electricity. Not just power. More than that. The man is irrepressible, unconquerable, a bloody battery. To touch him is to touch some humming, leaping thing, to touch the world. There are times it exhausts Nigel just to look at him, let alone touch him. Times he can't bear it, can't bear the dark, laughing, daring thing in Nikola's eyes.
And then ... then there are times when he can't bear anything else. Times, when he is tired, when he is worn, when the world has hunted him past endurance. Times when the colour has faded, has leeched away, and all the world is as vanishing as he. Times when Nigel is tired, so tired. When he washes up against the other man, this sparking, unbowed thing, and cannot help but touch. But hold, but taste, but kiss. In the dark, in the fading, weary with the world. Nigel touches the energy inside Nikola, and Nikola laughs at him, and holds him close.
One day, Nigel thinks, someone will manage to crush even this. One day, he fears, even this will fade. Even Nikola, proud and unbowed, will be forced to kneel. One day, one day. And the only thing Nigel can do, as Nikola kisses him, as the man hums and laughs and leaps into the darkness ... the only thing Nigel can do, is hope he does not have to see it.
Chapter 6: Nikola & John: Fury
John comes to him seeking some perfect hate, Nikola thinks. John comes to him seeking fear, seeking pain, seeking fury and release. Seeking some thing he need not fear, some thing he cannot break. Some thing that still defies him. That can laugh in his face, that can trade taunt for taunt and blow for blow. Some thing that can bleed to satisfy the thing inside him, and still not fall. John comes to him in desperation, in need, in hate, in pain. John comes to him to wound, and in wounding find himself.
Nikola lets him. Laughs. Why not? He can be what John wants, after all. He can bleed, and not fall. He can stand, and not fear. He can give and give and give, everything John needs, and not falter. Not fall. Not bow. He can give, everything John asks, and know there is nothing John can give him in return. He can accept, every blow that falls, and know that he need strike none of his own.
John falls on him. Strikes at him. Appears, a thunderstorm at Nikola's back, a flurry of rage and pain and fury and need, and Nikola grounds him as he grounds the lightning, embraces him as he embraces the storm, laughs into John's face, into his kiss, for the pure thrill of it. John snarls into his mouth, a savage tearing at Nikola's lips, hate and pain and savage asking, and Nikola laughs. Because John needs, and only he can give. Because John fears, and only he can answer. Because John hates, and Nikola does not care.
He kisses John, grounds the lightning and the storm of blood, and laughs. For the fury, and the power, and the knowledge that he's won. That he has won.
Chapter 7: James & Nigel: Secrecy
James had expected ... something. Some condemnation, some disgust, some challenge. Something. He had expected to be refused. He had expected to be despised. Nigel does not. Does not despise him, does not refuse him, does not, James thinks, even really judge him. There is some pity there, yes, when the man looks at him, some softening in his eyes and gentling of his usual brusque and frankly belligerent manner. But it is not meant mockingly, not meant to patronise. It rankles, bruises, but James knows Nigel does not truly think him weak. Knows Nigel does not truly think him small. And pity or no, there is ... something, to this. Something James knows he wants.
Nigel kisses him. In broad daylight, in public, an invisible presence at his side, a mischief James suspects a mutual friend has helped engender. Nigel walks beside him, slips his hand inside James'. Nigel touches James' waistcoat as he talks to Scotland Yard, slips his hand beneath James' buttons and dares him silently to react, dares him silently to give them away. Nigel laughs at him, very softly, with some soft pity in his eyes, and walks beside James so that all the world might see, were it not for one small fact.
Nigel knows. Nigel sees. And Nigel might have judged, but does not, and James does not care. Because with Nigel, and Nigel alone, James may walk about the world with a lover at his side, and not fear. With Nigel alone, James may press his lips to another man's in some public place, and not tremble. With Nigel, there is one fact between them and the rest of the world, and for once, for once, it is not what it usually is. It is not what it has always been.
It is not love, what James knows with Nigel, though there is something of it in the man's smile. It is not love, but something far rarer.
Chapter 8: Nikola & James: Power
James trembles under his hands, fine, fine tremors as Nikola slowly unbuckles his limbs, as Nikola slowly pulls away the man's clothes, opens his waistcoat, opens his shirt. James shakes, so minute another man might never notice, as Nikola slowly and carefully opens him to the world. There is fear in his eyes, as he looks down, as he reaches out to touch Nikola's face, so gently. Presses, so softly, against the edge of Nikola's mouth, and the teeth that hide there. There is fear in him, but it is not for the reasons many think, Nikola knows. James ... is something else.
Nikola knows what he is. He knows what James is, too. Knows what frailty is matched with what strength, knows what vulnerability is matched with what terror. Knows what he can do, knows, so intimately, the ticking master of James' fate, and how much a danger to it he is. He knows that. But he knows something more, too.
He knows that James allows this, when he does not have to. Knows that every layer of cloth between them that he peels away is a layer James has allowed to go. Knows that every strap his powerful hands unbuckle is one James lets him open. Nikola knows, he knows, that everything he takes here is something James has given him. And he knows, oh, he knows, how terrible that is. How much power that gives, not to him, but to James. Nikola knows, as James kisses him, as James curls his tongue around the back of Nikola's teeth and dares the power lurking there, that James has taken weakness and, in offering, made it power.
Nikola knows it. And Nikola laughs into the kiss, grips James' arms just tight enough to bruise, lengthens his teeth just enough to prick, and lets James take as he will.
Chapter 9: John & Nigel: Fear
Nigel had found him long before the others did. John has to laugh at that, sometimes. James, Helen, they should have been the ones. They wanted to be the ones. They'd been the ones looking, in desperation, in anger, in pain, in confusion. In stiff, moral determination. They had hunted him, not to kill him, as they thought. They had hunted him for answers. They had hunted him to hear him say why. And they had not found him, because John could not bear to answer.
Nigel had. Nigel, the unseen, the invisible, the forgettable. Nigel, the criminal. Really, they should have remembered that. Nigel, who had found Worth, the first time. Him and Nikola. Nigel, who knew how this world, John's new world, worked. Nigel had found him. Nigel hadn't meant to.
John remembers the meeting, now. Remembers it when he needs to laugh, when he needs to cry, when he needs to feel again the vicarious rush of triumph. Nigel, never meaning to find him. Nigel, walking where the world would not see, and stumbling on the very Ripper himself. John likes to remember the shock of it, the surprise, the fear. John likes to remember the rush, and the tremble in Nigel's cheek beneath his hand, and the bright, defiant eyes that glared up at him in challenge.
Not the kiss. He doesn't like to remember that. Meant as a taunt, as a threat. Meant to feed the fear in those vanishing eyes. Meant. But not received. Because Nigel saw too much. As much as James. Nigel saw what they did not mean him to see. And Nigel had kissed John back. Hard and defiant and bitter, and gentle. Gentle. Though terrified, gentle.
John doesn't dare remember that. He doesn't dare.
Chapter 10: Nigel & Helen: Friendship
He's not in love with her. He may be just about the only one, saving James, who loved John more than her, but even James in his way adored her. This woman, this titanic force that had thrown them together, drawn them forward, flung them into this new and fearsome and fantastic world. Helen Magnus, their Source, as much as the Blood. The point at which they began. Nigel's not in love with her. He may be the only one.
He figures that's probably why, sometimes. Why she writes to him, why she confides in him. Why she smiles instead of frowns when she knows he's seen so much more than he should. Why she sees her secrets in his eyes, and only smiles. Nigel thinks that's why. Because he doesn't desire her. Because he won't possess her. Because her secrets mean so much less to him than they would to anyone else. He loves her, yes. She's a friend, a beginning, a source of awe. He cares. But he's not in love with her. He's not afraid.
She smiles, as he takes her hand. She smiles, as he presses a soft kiss to her knuckles, smiles when he presses a soft kiss to her jaw. Smiles, and leans close, and presses one of her own to his lips. A daring, terrible thing. An inappropriate thing. But she is Helen Magnus, and he is not in love with her, and though sweet, though terrible, this kiss between them is entirely chaste. Close-mouthed as the secrets they hold between them, and laughing softly at what no-one else knows. She kisses him, and he kisses back, and it's a thing between friends, and confidants. A thing of they Five, and a thing only theirs.
Nigel kisses her, kisses Helen, and smiles.