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Grim Rehearsal

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The little weight of Saul on his lap could not warm him. He had lit the fire, of course, and dressed as usual, but as he sat there and cursed himself for a fool, he did not feel that it helped much.

Oh, if he’d told Ival, before he had first taken him to bed, or earlier, when he had taken him home and that astonishing man had spoken of methods and predictability, and extracting facts out of madness. But who wanted to take a madman to bed? He had been afraid to lose him thus, and now he would lose him twice over, once for his past and once for his deceit.

He had said: They thought I was mad. It would have taken so little to follow that with the natural consequences, and then at least Whyborne would have known. Described in such light terms, almost as a trifling anecdote, perhaps he might even have been able to accept it. But there was no hope of that now, when it was clear that Griffin could not even control himself in sleep.

He drank a little more, but the whiskey warmed only his throat in gulps, not his heart.

For a moment he let himself think of that soothing voice, already so beloved, and how gentle Ival had been in the night. Had he been younger, still that Kansas boy before Benjamin, before Chicago, he might still feel comforted. But the instincts of a kind man woken in the night would not hold long: with daylight, Whyborne would see what he had lacked the clarity of mind to consider in the night, and cast him off.

In Chicago, he would have greeted the loss of a lover with near equanimity. It was absurd to Griffin even now to find himself feeling like this at the prospect of Whyborne leaving. He had no other lovers in Widdershins, that was true, and yet –

It was not just loneliness he feared. He was beginning to fear that it was more that he did not want Ival to cut him off. There was something soothing in his presence, in having him talk of the principles of science, of being met with such courage: our next move. Make use of me. And so he had, the memory a brief burst of warmth. Rice had had the right of it in his letter: supposed to be brilliant. So he had been with the gas, and scarcely less so with his mouth, despite his apparent - inexplicable - inexperience. The people of Widdershins, it seemed, were inclined not only to secrecy and alarming frequent grave-robbing, but also to rampant foolishness.

Perhaps it was contagious. He had been a fool too, thinking Whyborne a member of the Brotherhood, contemplating taking him to bed for the case. Worse, he had been a fool to think himself near cured, that the night terrors had stopped when they had left him in Kansas, that he was safe. One more encounter with a monster and he was back as he had been right after Pa had taken him from the madhouse, only in Fallow there had been no one at his side to disturb.

And so it would be in Widdershins. Whyborne, when he woke – which could not be long now, for outside the darkness was giving way – would leave as soon as he had dressed, and spare Griffin little more thought other than perhaps to curse him occasionally. Not that, with his intelligence, he wouldn’t have his choice of partners now that he no longer bottled himself up so.

Griffin might see him sometimes, hurrying towards the museum, his hair a mess in the wind and his arms full of books. He had watched him thus before approaching the director, but now the sight would be tinged with pain, a reminder of what he could have had, had he only been a little less broken.

He had feared such a prospect after their first night together, but while its contemplation then had brought little joy, prolonged contact had only served to endanger his heart. Besides, then he had had hope that Ival would stay, and had it fulfilled, and there could be no chance of so happy a turn now.

Easier to bear it dressed and in his study than it would have been to wake as he had drifted back off to sleep, curled in Whyborne’s arms. Even so, he did not dare to think that his Pinkerton training was quite up to scratch to shield his pride and cover his heart.

His breeding, which Griffin might have had cause to envy, made confrontation inevitable. Whyborne would not take his absence from bed as an opportunity to slink out of the house, simply arranging to avoid him in future. Yet the thought of him coming in with deserved accusations of concealment, with outrage at Griffin having passed himself off as a stable normal man, was even harder to bear than that of him just quietly walking out of Griffin's life.

For what could he possibly say to that? “I was afraid you wouldn’t want anything to do with me, so I deprived you of the choice?” Inexcusable. He could offer no justification, save his own fear, and how blissfully carelessly happy he had found himself in Whyborne’s presence.

His heart would ache, but he did not delude himself that he would be able to stop himself from going up to the window to watch him walk away. The street was not so long; it would not take long for him to turn the corner and disappear from sight as definitely as Ma and Pa once had, out of sight of the train. Gone.

Still, he would have to say something, if not quite in his defence. Perhaps it would be better to initiate the conversation; Whyborne was a man of noble principles: made to feel less awkward, he might even remember Griffin somewhat fondly.

But what to say? He could offer no excuse, no explanation for his actions that would not fall short. But still there was the case, there was the Brotherhood and their monsters, and had Whyborne not been there they would have caught him and –

He choked down some more whiskey to shove off the thought, the image he could not erase from his memories. They had gone down into the basement and Glenn, his face –

Well. Perhaps Whyborne, who had, after all, volunteered his services, might agree to continue until the Brotherhood were stopped. It would buy Griffin a little time: time to feel his loss slowly and unstoppably, to look at him and think always of how soon they would part. If Whyborne would even agree to work alongside a man whose judgement was so compromised.

“I’m sure you don’t want to stay but,” he tried, but the words caught in his throat. He took a deep breath. “If you could bear,” and broke off again, clearing his throat. But no, Whyborne had not the usual arrogance of his class, and, having taken up with Griffin, might feel obliged to keep by him, even knowing what he did. It would not suffice.

It was hard to think of anything to say with only Saul for company; the thought of facing Whyborne, of seeing his face twist in distaste, hurt.

But he had borne worse things. Steeling himself, he tried out more variants, discarding them all – too stiff, too flippant, too revealing.

It did not work – all too soon he heard the door creek open behind him, felt his heart jump to his throat. He did not turn. Whyborne would have forgotten to brush his hair: it would be as wild as on the day they had met at the museum. If he’d really been in a hurry, he might not even have taken care with all his buttons. In another situation, the sight of him so dishevelled might have brought uncomplicated warmth.

He pushed the words from his throat. “I don’t blame you for not wanting to stay.” He took a breath, clasped the snifter tighter in his hand, and made himself continue, gritting the words out. “I hope you’ll agree to continue our association in a professional capacity until the case is done, but I understand if you don’t wish to.”

Having said all he could manage, he sat back, and waited for a rejection he hoped would be kind.