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Just An Agreement

Chapter Text

Lying half-naked on the double bed, Philip watched his lover struggle with his pants. He drew his legs up to his chin.


How had he gotten into this?


P.T. smiled, looking over at him.


“What is it, ‘Lip?”


Philip squeezed his eyes shut. Only a fantasy.


“Nothing.”


P.T. walked to the door, gathering his coat as he went. At the door, he turned around, still with that insufferably happy-looking smile.


“I’ll see you next Tuesday. After the party, is that good?” He smiled, walking over to Philip and tapping his nose.


Philip shut his eyes as a wave of longing washed over him. “Yeah. Yes, that’s fine.”


P.T.’s smile pierced through Philip’s being. “I’ll see you then. Bye, ‘Lip.”


“Bye.” The word slipped past Philip’s lips, no more than a whisper. He looked around, noting that light had begun to slip past the curtains. They had fallen asleep for longer than intended. P.T. was going to have a hard time explaining this to his wife.


Charity.


Philip remembered the first time he met her. It had been the first social event he'd attended with P.T. after their “agreement.” He remembered how sweet she had been, how she had looked at P.T. like she was gazing upon the face of Apollo himself. He remembered feeling bad, thinking he could never go through with their agreement if this was the woman they were hurting.


And he remembered forgetting all these feelings when P.T pushed him up against a wall later, lips trailing across Philip’s collarbone.


That had cemented their deal.


It had been nothing serious, nothing of great importance or sentiment to P.T. Philip had known that from the beginning. P.T. had originally come to him for endorsement. He had hoped, Philip knew, to play on his theatrical side, the side of him that longed to be released from the droll prison that he had been trapped in his entire life. And Philip had wanted to say yes desperately.


But the cost had been too much.


For Philip had a secret. A secret that, if found out, would ruin him and his family. The secret had been easy to hide at first--kiss a girl here, flirt a little there, and whenever anyone asks you when you're going to settle down, laugh and change the subject. Philip couldn't count how many girls he'd brought home only to dismiss when they began to get handsy.


But things had gotten much harder when P.T. Barnum made an appearance. Philip had seen the man’s posters and dismissed them as nonsense, but nevertheless, he had gone to see the show.


To laugh at the ridiculousness, he had said to his parents. But when he saw the ringmaster, the alleged P.T. Barnum, it had...changed.


He had been drawn in by the music, the colors, the everything about the performance at the beginning.


But he knew that he was done for as soon as the ringmaster came out, with his beautiful, deep voice and his bright colors and enthusiastic dances. Philip was fine, he was fine, until the ringmaster stopped.


And looked at him.


With one glance into those whiskey-colored eyes, Philip was in love.


He had sneaked out of the show during intermission; he had no desire to be drawn in deeper. He had been just in time to make it to his play’s opening.


He had left at that intermission, too. He was halfway through his second flask on the steps outside when a man stepped up to him.


At the bar, they had discussed it.


Philip had said no.


And P.T. had taken his hand, looked deeply into Philip’s eyes, and asked if he'd like to come back “to his place.”


Philip, having lost all sense he apparently had, said yes.


That night, after everything, P.T. had proposed a deal.


He would continue coming to Philip’s to provide his “services,” and Philip would endorse and help P.T. run his circus.

 

It was a bad idea, and Philip knew it. P.T. had a wife and daughters, and if the affair were ever to be found out, the scandal would ruin them. Philip was already on icy terms with his family since the partnership. If the terms of the partnership were ever to be found out, he would be completely isolated, and so would P.T. Not to mention Charity Barnum, the woman whom Philip was convinced was the sweetest mother and most dutiful wife on earth. Over the weeks, she had grown fond of Philip. To find out of the affair would kill her, Philip had no doubt.

 

Philip knew P.T. had no emotional investment. To be honest, Philip loved working in the circus so much that he would have continued without P.T.’s “services,” if he had asked. But he had not asked, and Philip had not mentioned it. They did not talk of it outside of the bedroom, which was probably for the best. Philip was not good at keeping secrets; his largest one had required so much work to keep under wraps that he had hardly had any others. As a result, the added stress of the affair had taken such a toll on him that he could no longer focus on work as much as he used to. If P.T. were ever to mention it anywhere other than Philip’s bedroom, Philip was sure he would break down crying wherever he was.

 

And Philip loved him. If he hadn't been in love with the man the moment he had looked at him that first night at the performance, endless weeks of watching him laugh and listening to him talk and seeing him light up as a new idea came to mind had certainly done the job. He loved him, plain and simple, and if a secret affair disguised as an agreement was what it took to make P.T. his, then that was what Philip was going to do.


But P.T. was not his.


Philip could only pretend for so long. In the end, he couldn't ignore the fact that P.T. would sleep for a bit, then leave--sometimes he would leave as soon as it was over. He couldn't ignore that P.T. never came closer to Philip than necessary in public.


But the thing that hurt the most was that P.T. had never kissed him.


Philip had noticed this the seventh time they had gone to Philip’s apartment. He had been naive enough, back then, to believe that P.T. was actually beginning to feel for him.


So that night, when P.T. placed Philip on the bed, Philip took P.T.’s face in his hands and whispered, “Kiss me.”


P.T. had laughed and said, “But that, my dear, would be unfaithful to dear Charity!”


A joke.


At the time, Philip had been shocked. Later, he supposed he shouldn't have been so surprised. It was P.T.’s nature to tease, to turn the serious into the ridiculous. But Philip had been hurt, and to disguise it, he mustered a quiet laugh and let himself be taken away.


If he had silently cried himself to sleep afterwards, no one had to know.



Philip swung out of bed, wincing as his spine popped. He'd slept wrong. Glancing over at the window, he reached down for his shirt, slipping it over his head and turning to go to the kitchen, picking up his waistcoat as he went.


The waistcoat was halfway on when Philip realized.


It was P.T.’s.

Chapter Text

Ohhhhh no.


Philip stared down at the waistcoat, mind whirring. It was, without a doubt, P.T.’s; for it was maroon, almost velvet. It was new. Philip remembered that P.T. had come into the building a week ago wearing it and had been complimented multiple times. If Philip showed up wearing it, it would definitely raise suspicion.


But that was of no matter. Philip was, after all, at his own house; he could simply keep the waistcoat for P.T. next time.


Then he remembered.


It was morning. Late morning. They had spent the whole night together, something that had happened only once before. As a result, P.T. had been in such a rush that…


Philip paled.


P.T. was wearing his waistcoat.


He had rushed out to see Charity. He had wanted to get to her as quickly as possible, in order to clear up any suspicions she might have about him being gone the whole night without a warning.


Philip had not been worried; P.T. was a master of words. He'd think of something.


But this?


P.T. was wearing his waistcoat. The same waistcoat Charity had seen Philip in the previous day. That, even with all P.T.’s woven excuses and stories, was damning.


He could only pray that she wouldn't notice.


 

P.T. was halfway through the carriage ride home when he realized.

It didn't hit him at first; he merely thought he didn't remember putting that exact waistcoat on. Then he realized he couldn't remember putting it on because he hadn't put it on.


He had just enough time to go into panic mode before the carriage pulled up in front of the house.


P.T. took his time getting out of the carriage. He wrapped his coat around him and slowly spun around, flinching when he met Charity's steel gaze from the front stairs.


She was in front of him in an instant, cold gaze seeming to pierce through his faćade. She stared for what felt like a lifetime, before finally speaking in a quiet voice laced with ice.


“Phineas Taylor Barnum.”


P.T. flinched.


“Where on EARTH have you been?! I have tried literally everything. You said you'd be home by eleven at the latest. Well, Mr. Barnum, two o'clock in the morning and still no sign of my husband! The girls were worried sick, refused to go to sleep until you came home--I had to bribe them! Bribe them, I never have to do that, you know that!”


P.T. had never seen Charity so angry. He tried to come up with an excuse, to interject, but nothing came.


It was the first time in his life he had ever been speechless.


Charity was on the verge of tears now, not speaking anymore so much as yelling.


“You go out drinking with Philip, and I think everything's fine, and then you go and disappear for an entire night without even notifying me that you might be gone that long?? I have done everything short of driving to that man’s house myself. What could you be doing that could possibly be so interesting that you would forget about me, and the promise you made? Phineas, I thought we weren't doing this anymore…”


P.T. swallowed, staring straight ahead.


“Let's go inside.”


Anger radiated off Charity in waves, but she followed him inside anyway.


Once they were inside, Charity immediately sat down on the nearest chair. She gestured at P.T. with a hand.

“Speak.”


“Well,” P.T. began, “I was...I had gone out for drinks, like I planned, and then…” He was dimly aware that he was sweating, and absentmindedly shrugged off his coat.


Charity’s gaze widened, and she held a hand up to stop P.T., who was on the verge of spontaneously combusting right there.


He stopped, heart beating at a million miles an hour.


“Yes, Charity?” he whispered, feeling as if he was about to faint.


“Phineas, that is Philip’s waistcoat.” She stared at him, face whiter than the walls of the house. “Care to explain?”


P.T. stared, feeling his world crash down around him.


Charity closed her eyes, and P.T. could tell that she was shaking slightly. She sucked in a shaky breath, standing and fixing her gaze on P.T.


With that one look, P.T. knew he had made a terrible mistake.


Charity knew everything.


Her eyes betrayed it. She had always been sharp, sharper than the average person; it had been this mental acuity that had enabled her to remain with Phineas and keep up with him for so many years. And it was this acuity that betrayed her now, as she stared up at her husband, pale eyes brimming with tears.


P.T. closed his eyes. He couldn't bear to look at her. “Charity, it’s not what you think--”


“No. It's exactly what I think, isn't it?” Charity stepped away from him, voice quiet and broken. “Why else would you disappear for a whole night without a thought of me, or Caroline, or Helen; why else would you come back all flustered in the morning wearing Philip’s waistcoat?”


She looked at him expectantly; when he did not answer, she dropped her gaze, bringing a hand up to swipe at her eyes.


“Phineas, you wouldn't have told me. How did you expect...what happens when the girls get older? When they begin to wonder where their father is and why he disappears so much and doesn't spend the night at their house anymore? Phineas. I…”


She lifted her gaze to him once more, seeming to drag a ton of steel with her.
“Phineas, do you love him?”



Philip stuffed the waistcoat into his bag. Charity was smart. Very smart, and he knew that. He cursed himself for thinking she wouldn't notice; she definitely would.


He had to make up an excuse, and fast.

Chapter Text

“Phineas, do you love him?"

Charity stared at P.T. as he looked at her, eyes wide, and began to stammer.

She shook her head, stopping him in his tracks.

“Phineas. It's obvious that you don't have an answer. I am not going to ask for one anymore. I want nothing to do with this; just--just yesterday I thought we kept no secrets...Oh, Phin.” She stepped back, eyes brimming with tears.

“I am going to get dressed. And then I am going to take Caroline and Helen and leave.”

At that, P.T. snapped back to reality.

“But….Charity, where will you go?” he whispered in a voice smaller than the specks of dust on his

(Philip’s)

waistcoat.

Charity had been walking slowly to the stairs. Upon hearing P.T.’s soft question, she turned, fixing him with a gaze made of ice and steel.

“Home.”

With that, she turned and walked up the stairs.

Home.

P.T. had made an irreversible error. This was Charity’s home; she couldn't be leaving, not his best friend--but he heard her faintly calling the girls upstairs, and knew she had told the truth.

He had begun to get a headache.

Charity stood on her parents’ doorstep, cheeks still wet. She had gotten dressed and rounded up the girls without a problem. The carriage ride had passed without a hitch. And P.T. had not even been downstairs when she had finally made it down.

What had been hard was her parents.

They had taken her in with soft, murmured consolations and sweet caresses, all carefully orchestrated to disguise the I told you so hidden underneath. Charity had been determined to stay strong, to be tall and proud, but as soon as her mother took her into her arms, Charity had started bawling. Her head still wasn't clear, even after an hour, and thoughts rattled around her head like pennies in a tin can. She wasn't thinking rationally, and she knew it.

Taking a deep breath, she began to walk down the front steps of her parents’ house, gradually beginning to run. Her incoherent thoughts

(cheated cheated he cheated i loved him and he cheated)

bounced around her brain, refusing to be silenced until she did something.

Picking up speed despite every muscle in her body telling her to slow down and walk like a lady, she ran towards the center of town.

Towards the circus.


Philip fiddled with the buckles on his satchel, nervous sweat making his hands clammy and wet. He had gone to the house; it had been empty. He had been too late. He had tried Charity’s parents’ house, but nobody had answered the door

(strange because there was a face at the window i saw it i SAW it)

leaving him with no other option but the circus.

If P.T. or Charity were at the circus, all hope was lost.

Philip fiddled with the buckles on his satchel.

Charity stood on the steps of the circus building, hair disheveled, clothes a mess. Somewhere along the way there she had started crying again. Why was she here? She had nothing to gain from this. Nothing at all, but she had come anyway, and she had come with a purpose.

Taking a deep breath, she mounted the steps.

Charity was greeted with happy epithets and cheerful choruses when she stepped in. These didn't last for long. The atmosphere of the circus was already tense; P.T. was not there, and he was never late. The appearance of Charity in such a state did nothing to comfort them.

Lettie was the first to speak.

“Charity, honey, what’s wrong?” She walked over, placing a hand on her shoulder. Charity shrugged it off. She turned to the other performers, acting almost on autopilot now.

“Hello, everyone.”

Concerned murmurs.

“As you can see, something has...happened. I feel it is not fair to keep you in the dark about it, seeing as it deeply concerns you all.” She swallowed, blinking and looking up at the ceiling.

“Phineas and I are going to be living separately for a while.”

The crowd of performers drew back. Lettie stared at her, eyes wide. Charity was the most loving person many of them knew. That was obvious. It was also obvious that she looked at the ringmaster as if he were the most precious thing in the world. For this to happen, something truly jarring would have to have taken place.

The crowd was silent. Finally, Lettie ventured the question:

“Oh, honey, why?”

Charity turned to look at her, then to the rest of the performers.

“Phineas has made a terrible mistake. He has...he has been…” She could feel the tears brimming again, and decided to discard all thoughts of gentleness. Taking a deep breath, she stepped away from Lettie and stood as tall as she could.

“In order to obtain the endorsement we needed from the Carlyle family--Philip Carlyle--Phineas has been sleeping with Philip.”

The room quieted. Charity shut her eyes.

“It has been going on continuously, from, I suspect, the moment they met. It was, I should say, ‘just an agreement’ to them.” She spit the words out, hating their bitter taste. The performers said nothing, shocked into silence.

Charity began to turn, intending to walk out, but stopped when she saw Anne Wheeler’s face.

Anne had come in right as Charity had begun to speak, curious and in a good mood. Now, she sat, blank-faced, on the floor, staring at a patch of dirt on the ground.

Charity suddenly regretted everything.

Anne had been taken by Philip Carlyle the moment she had first seen him. She loved him after two days of knowing him. And he had loved her, at least for a little while. Philip had been full of sunshine, of saccharine sweetness, and while there had been no kisses or even hand-holding, she had believed him to only be shy. His love came in different ways, she thought. It had taken her some time to be alright with the idea, since he was everything that was wrong for her, but she had warmed up to it abruptly and all at once on a summer day when he had nicked a single daisy from a flower shop and presented it to her, chuckling with mirth.

But that was all over now, and she knew it. He had not loved her. Perhaps as a friend, but not as she wanted.

Tears began to run down her face, and she let them, not wanting or caring to raise her hand to wipe them away.

A soft hand caressed her cheek.

She looked up to find Charity, smiling and crying also. Suddenly, Anne wanted to hit herself. Whatever she was going through, it must be six times worse for Charity. She had been married to P.T., after all.

The other performers had begun to murmur, and Anne let Charity pull her up. She would stay strong. Philip was wrong for her, anyway.

...


Pour. Lift. Chug.

Bottle #3 down; infinite more to go.

P.T. winced, letting the burning liquid mark a path down his throat. He was not a heavy drinker, and he was not drunk.

He was not.

Signaling for another bottle, he hiccuped and stared into his glass, which had gone unused since halfway through Bottle #2.

He had had everything under wraps.

How had it taken something so little as a switched waistcoat to undo his entire life?

Tears began to burn at the corners of his eyes, and he frantically swiped at them, noting that the room had become fuzzy around the edges.
He did not want to think anymore. Because yes, his life had fallen down around him, and yes, his wife of fifteen years and best friend in the whole world had left him, but one question still plagued his mind.

(do you love him?)

...

Chapter Text

Philip was out of the carriage almost before it had completely stopped. Stumbling and almost falling, he ran into the circus, hoping and praying that he wasn't too late, that he would make it in time, before either one of this week’s Problem Couple made it there and did anything incriminating.

Throwing open the doors, he schooled his expression into indifference. The circus was all gathered near a specific section of seats, murmuring. Someone pointed Philip out, and the performers instantly all turned to look at him, quieting.

Philip fidgeted with the straps on his bag. Opening his mouth, he began to try and craft an excuse, but all his words dried up when he saw Charity.

She stood with her arms around Anne, looking at him with such a mix of hurt and disgust that Philip’s stomach turned and he felt an immediate impulse to run away and hide in a bush somewhere outside.

Instead of doing that, he stepped further into the lions’ den.

“Hello, Charity...I, uh, where’s P.T.?” His voice cracked, and he cursed silently, hoping it hadn't betrayed him. “I have something of his.”

“His waistcoat?” Charity shot at him, face contorted with emotion as she tightened her grip on Anne.

“Y-yeah, actually--I mean no--I mean--um, uh, well, long story, actually, ah, it's pretty funny--”

“Philip, stop.” Charity’s eyes had gone cold, and she now stared at him with a new resolve. “Philip, we all know what’s going on, so--so you can just drop it! I knew something was up; he would disappear for ages, go “drinking” with you and come back three hours later perfectly sober but completely disheveled, he never stopped talking about you and I assumed it was because you were just very good friends and I was happy--I was happy for him--”

Charity began crying for the fourth time that day. The rest of the circus immediately crowded around her save for W.D., who walked up to Philip, giving him a death glare.

“I know that you are rich. I know that you are rich and white. Your ego is supposed to be big. But whoring yourself out to a man with a wife and daughters in a business deal?” W.D. stared at him, seeming to grow bigger with every second. “You have hurt my sister. You have hurt the most caring woman here. You have carelessly jeopardized this circus, and consequently, all of our lives.”

Philip’s breathing began to quicken.

“I can safely say now that you, sir, are no better than the dirt on my shoes.”

With that, W.D. turned and made his way towards the huddle of performers.

Philip reeled back, mind spinning. They knew. Everyone knew. After all the trouble he had gone through, they knew, and they hated him. His stomach began to turn with nausea as the idea repeated itself over and over in his head,

(over over your life is over nothing you can do)

and he gulped, clutching his bag. His knuckles had turned white.

He squeezed his eyes shut, willing the thoughts and the nausea away, and then Phineas was in front of him and he was sneering and cackling and pointing and the rest of the world had gone blurry and somewhere in this mess bile had begun to rise to his throat and he moaned because he felt so bad, and they were pointing they were pointing they were laughing--

Philip fell to his knees, an inhuman shriek tearing from his throat as he clutched his stomach. He heard rustling and lots of moving around, and was vaguely aware of two figures standing over him.

He was gently pulled up. Raising his head just slightly, he could see it was Lettie, no distinguishable emotion in her face. She looked at him, brows furrowing just a little.

“Go home, Philip.”

She let go of his arm, practically shoving it away from her. Philip stumbled, stomach reeling.

He staggered out the doors, the bright sunlight seeming to smack him in the face. It was the final catalyst, and he managed to make one trembling step towards an alleyway on the side of the circus building before violently vomiting in the street.

Hearing gasps, he registered dimly that people were out here, and in a futile attempt to get away from their eyes and stares, he began to slump away, halfheartedly raising a hand for a carriage. None of them stopped, so Philip turned to the safest, darkest environment he knew.

The bar, of course.

Phineas was on Bottle #5; he was slowly descending into that unending void of dark, unfeeling numbness that came with extreme drunkenness.

The bartender, a good friend of his, had been glancing worriedly at P.T. for the past half hour.

P.T. had just begun to feel sorry for himself again (his emotions had been coming and going ever since Bottle #3 had been done away with) when the door to the bar was flung open.

No one ever came to bars at eleven in the morning.

Phineas squinted at the slumped-over figure leaning against the doorpost, vision so blurry and doubled that he couldn't tell who it was at all.

That is, until the figure fell onto a stool, moaning.

Phineas knew those moans.

They were the same moans he had been hearing underneath him for months, the moans it had taken some time to coax out the first time, the moans Phineas had come to love.

He turned to the figure on the stool.

“Ph….fffilip?"

The figure moaned again and shifted his head on the counter.

“ ‘Lip.” P.T. frowned. Why wouldn't Philip listen to him? Philip always listened to him. The figure stayed slumped against the counter, motionless.

“PHILIP.” Phineas reached over and pushed the figure with the last of his strength. The figure fell off his stool like a rag doll, lying there motionless for a few moments before seeming to wake up and slowly standing.

Philip had been pushed off his stool.

The first thought that ran through his head was confused; nobody came to bars at eleven in the morning. The next thought was oh god my head hurts, and he lay there on the floor for some time before realizing

(oh my god)

that it was P.T. who had pushed him off and now sat staring down at him, surrounded by a litter of bottles.

“Ph...Phineas?” he muttered, rubbing his temple and getting up slowly.

Phineas stared at him, mouth open, half-lidded eyes unfocused and foggy.

Noting these things, Philip tried to ignore his pounding headache and reached out cautiously.

“Phineas, you're drunk--”

P.T. hissed and batted Philip’s arm away.

“You...you were a *hic* lyyyying liiiiar, nobody needs to know, noooooobody…” P. T. began singing the last few of his words, curling his fingers around yet another bottle, not really seeming to know much of anything.

Philip stared, headache in full force. He felt a hot ball of anger begin in his roiling stomach as he considered P.T.’s words.

Lying liar.

Nobody needs to know.

When they had made the agreement, that's what P.T. had said to Philip.

“Nobody needs to know,” he had cooed, hand running up Philip’s thigh. Philip, weak that he was, had not been able to say no to that.

Escalated, escalated, oh, how it had escalated.

P.T. took another swig from his bottle and swung around to face Philip.

“Ruined, all ruined, thanks--thank t-to you…”

He raised a shaky hand to point at Philip. 

“Your fault, your fault my life is over.”

Philip saw red.

“Phineas,” he began in as calm a voice as he could muster, “how exactly is any of this my fault?” Despite everything he wanted to convey, he could feel a hot, burning pressure behind his eyelids and knew he was about to cry. Swallowing, he willed himself to stay strong.

It didn't last for long. Phineas stood on shaky legs, pointed to the general area on Philip’s left, and slurred, “I didn't ask for aaaanyyyy of this, you...you person, you existed and that’s enough to, to, to ruin my wife...life...you, you, you, Char’ty thinks, she thinks I love you, and why did she ask that? I don't know but she did and now everything is over and it's all your fault--”

Philip’s eyes squeezed shut. He barreled out the door, a small sob escaping him as he did so.

P.T. swayed on his spot. Something was nagging at the back of his mind, but that'd quiet easily with a few more drinks. Still mumbling slurred epithets to himself, he turned to make his way to the bar and promptly toppled over.

Across the counter, the bartender dropped a glass.

Philip ran through the streets, sobbing quite loudly. His stomach and head protested with every step, but he pressed on.

He didn't know where he was going, only that it was away from the bar and Phineas and the circus and the problem.

Hating the people on the street, the people who had the nerve to look at him, Philip made a sharp detour off the street and into an empty cemetery. He wound through it, not caring that he was stepping on graves or crushing carefully arranged flowers underfoot. He had only one thought, and that was to get away.

Barry Whisketon fidgeted under the table.

He'd never been in a newspaper office before; it was a strange experience. He supposed this was what the actors and famous nobles felt when they were waiting on an interview. Hm. Barry had never been one to desire the spotlight, but now, as he sat in an uncomfortable chair in a hot, stuffy waiting room, he thought he might get used to it.

“Barry Whiston, bartender on 22 and Park?”

“Whisketon.” He smiled, getting up to follow the pretty receptionist into the office.

 

 

Sitting down in the chair opposite the desk, Barry smiled at the large man occupying the other seat. The journalist looked at him condescendingly.

“So, I hear you have a story we might like to know?” he said, puffing on a cigar.

Barry’s smile grew even wider.

“Yes. And I think you'll be very interested.”

He took a piece of paper out of his pocket, unfolding it to reveal a crumpled poster.

“It's about the Barnum circus.”

Chapter Text

Philip sat on a bench in the back of the cemetery, staring at the ground.

His tears had dried up twenty minutes ago, but his head still felt as if it was filled with static and twenty working men with hammers.

P.T. had said that.

P.T. hated him.

Philip was sure of it.

He clutched his stomach, which was still tossing and turning, and drew his knees up onto the bench.

It was cloudy and windy. Philip’s hair blew into his face, and he frowned. He really needed to get it cut. If he got his hair cut this week, before his payment came in, how much would that leave him for his groceries? Never mind that, what about that new pair of shoes he had wanted? If he got his hair cut next week, though--

Philip suddenly remembered that he would likely not be welcome at the circus anymore, and the headache worsened.

Why had he gone on with the agreement?

He knew Phineas didn't love him. He knew it was only a fantasy, and that fleeting moments of pleasure were not worth it.

But he had kept on anyway, for some inane reason, and he had ruined P.T.’s life. Hell, he had ruined his own life.

What was he going to do? He couldn't continue living in his apartment, if he wasn't working at the circus. He definitely couldn't crawl back to his parents (simple pride prevented that). And he couldn't go back to writing plays; he was scorned in the upper-class world now, the black sheep of the Carlyle family.

He would have no money in a few days; years of living as a rich man had made it so that he could not spend frugally. He threw his money everywhere without a thought; recently he had tried to be more money-conscious in light of his decreased salary, but he knew he was not capable of making his current balance last for longer than a week.

Philip curled into himself, head screaming symphonies of dreadful cacophonies.

P.T. woke up three hours later with a splitting headache. He lay on the floor where he had woken up for a good ten minutes, groaning; then he remembered what had happened that morning and shot up with the force of a cannonball (which he immediately regretted).

Oh nooooooo.

What had he done? Alright. After Charity had announced her departure, he had been so shocked that he had left without a word, a sound, or his coat. He didn't remember going to the bar, just suddenly being there and ordering an entire bottle of wine to help him think out the situation.

Then one bottle of wine became two, and two became three, and so on and so on…

Phineas stared at the wall. Hadn't someone come by? He remembered talking to someone, but he couldn't remember who.

He frowned. That was absurd. Nobody came into bars that early in the morning.

Well, where was he going to go?

Phineas stood up slowly, kicking away an empty wine bottle. The motion sent a jolt of pain through his head, and he winced, almost falling. He called softly for the bartender, intending to settle his tab.

No answer.

Phineas frowned. Really? He could have sworn the bartender was here right before he fell asleep. And he knew the man; he wouldn't just leave his bar unattended, especially what it was inhabited by someone as piss-drunk as P.T. had been.

Oh well, no matter. He'd just settle the tab later.

He pushed open the door slowly, senses seeming painfully hyperaware. The sun was too bright, the people were too loud, the smells made him want to throw up--Phineas hunched over, dry-heaving, until his stomach settled a bit and he was able to continue.
Ignoring his hangover, P.T. tried to think. Charity would be at her parents’ with the girls. Would she have gone anywhere else? He didn't think so. There was still time to fix this. He just had to come up with a suitable excuse, and he would stay married to Charity, prevent any scandals, and keep his agreement, and everything would be perfect, exactly like it was before.

Phineas let himself believe this for another three seconds before his face fell once more.
Who was he kidding? It hadn’t been perfect before, and even if it had been, there was absolutely no way he could come up with a suitable excuse. He had gotten careless and sloppy in his meetings with Philip, and it had cost him dearly.

Out of ideas and not wanting to go to the circus, he called a carriage to take him to his house. He needed to sleep this off. He'd think about it tomorrow.

Philip slowly unfurled himself, stepping off the bench gingerly. He hadn't cried like that since he was eleven. Noting that his headache and nausea had not gone away at all, he buried his face in his hands for a few minutes, then stood up, making his way to the cemetery gate. He was careful to wind through the gravestones this time, fixing the flowers he'd crushed as best he could.

Outside the gates, he began the walk to his apartment. He had moved out of his expensive house and into the apartment when he had been cut off by his parents, and as a result had seen fit to have it close to the circus building. Consequently, he did not have to walk that far.

It was cold, Philip realized, and he did not have a coat. He was shivering when he slotted the key into his lock. It took him two minutes to get it into the door, and when he finally got it open, he almost fell in, stumbling over his feet.

Panic attacks don’t last this long, he thought, and a wave of fear ran through him. He did not need this, on top of everything. He couldn't afford a doctor right now, not with his financial situation. Pressing fingers to his throbbing temple, he collapsed on the armchair in his front room, almost hurling the bag containing the offending waistcoat across the room. He would sleep. Yes. Sleep. And when he woke up, everything would be over and his headache would be gone, and his stomach would stop plotting his murder.

Philip squeezed his eyes shut, hot tears trailing down his cheeks for the second time that day.

...

At the circus, things had not calmed down one bit. Anne had tried to be stoic and strong, she really had, but in the end she had not been able to, and W. D. had had to take her back to their room. Charity had stopped speaking about twenty minutes after Philip’s unwelcome appearance, and nothing anyone in the circus did could coax her to make any movement at all. She was almost catatonic, and talk of summoning a doctor had begun. To get a doctor, however, they would need to explain what had happened, and no one in the circus could afford that.

No one spared a thought for Philip save Lettie.
She had been shocked, repulsed that their dear Philip could have done such a thing--it was disgusting and cruel, to say the least. And for a moment, she had hated him, viewed him as a laughing, charred aristocrat only using them for his pleasurable exploits.

All that had vanished, however, when she had seen him completely break down in the middle of the ring. Suddenly, Lettie saw not a man tarnished and stained with the twisted morals of aristocracy, but a little boy punished for some long-standing offense he had swept under the rug and thought to be finally, safely hidden.

She should have gone after him. He had not seemed to be in good enough condition to even make it outside (but he had done it, to Lettie’s amazement). He would no doubt only worsen whatever had been wrong, walking home in cold weather like this.

Charity let out a scream, the first sound in hours, and Lettie forgot all about Philip as she rushed over to her, murmuring soft consolations.

Philip could not sleep.

After two torturous hours in the armchair (it was hard to believe he had once thought it felt like cloud-dust; it felt like cold stone to him now), Philip had relocated, slowly and painfully, into the cheap but soft twin bed he owned. He hadn't bothered to change; his headache and nausea had increased tenfold, and it was now a struggle to even move without throwing up.

Moving to the bed, however, had proven to be a fruitless affair, as he slept no better there. The world had gone fuzzy and black around the edges, and Philip found himself lying there on his back, staring at the ceiling (or what he could see of it, anyway).

He was definitely not well.

Closing his eyes (even that took effort now), Philip tried to diagnose himself.

He had been fine that morning; it had all started when...when…

Come to think of it, he had been feeling a bit ill ever since last Monday.

It was Sunday.

He had ignored it; a bit of nausea, sometimes a stuffy head, it was probably a cold, or so he had thought. But it hadn't gotten really bad until that scene at the circus...the weird attack he had had.

A sharp jolt of pain struck through Philip’s head, and he almost cried out, face contorting into a strange cocktail of pain and confusion.

What was wrong with him?

Chapter Text

2:30 A. M.

 

Phineas Taylor Barnum is in his house, sleeping alone in his double bed and dreaming of soft hair and piercing blue eyes.

 

Charity Barnum has not stayed at the circus; she has been brought home by W.D. and Lettie, and now she lies in her old bed in her old room, lightly dozing every once in a while. Inevitably, she will wake up, but it will seem as if she is still asleep, for she has not and will not say anything at all.

 

Philip Carlyle lies on his side, eyes wide open. He has not slept a wink; he is now aching all over, and his stomach and head have impossibly worsened. It doesn't help that he has had to get up every twenty minutes to use the bathroom (despite not having drunk anything for about three hours). He tries to worry, but the stampeding elephants in his head make it impossible, and he groans, sending a feeble prayer to whoever and whatever to please, make it stop.

 

At the local newspaper office, everyone has taken overtime. There is excited chatter in the halls and offices, and editors and writers are furiously typing away, anxious to get the next story out by that day's morning paper run.

 

It’s sure to be a bestseller.

 

 

The next morning came too soon, too fast. P.T. is a morning person, and he was up and out of bed before six-thirty. All of the previous day’s happenings rattled around in his head like annoying wasps, and he spent that morning in a sort of daze, wondering what he should do next.

 

Charity? Philip? He knew he couldn't put off seeing them forever; it was just a choice of which.

 

And then there was the circus. They would be wondering where he was, if he didn't show up. It was Monday, so he was supposed to be there in…

 

He checked his pocket watch. Two hours. Enough time to rush over to Philip’s, to try to see what was going on with him.

 

P.T. had no reason to suspect anything was wrong. Charity was the only catalyst he knew about.

 

He grabbed his hat and coat on his way out the door, wondering what in the hell  he was going to say. Oh well. He'd think of something.

 

Don't fail me now, o goddess of flattery and promises.

 

 

Philip stared at the same wall he had been staring at for the last nine hours, mouth slightly open. His limbs were numb; they felt as if all of them had gone to sleep at once. The headache had worsened to the point where his thoughts were nothing but a thick, nonsensical jumble of word soup.

 

A sound pierced through the fog enveloping his mind, sharp and loud, and very painful.

 

Philip moaned, brow furrowing.

 

The sound came again, louder.

 

Philip lay there.

 

 

P.T. knocked for a third time. Was Philip not home? He was beginning to get nervous.

 

“Philip? Philip!”

 

Not so much knocking as banging now, he began to shout, hoping, hoping for--

 

A moan.

 

Broken, soft, but there.

 

P.T. immediately began to panic, trying fruitlessly to shake the doorknob open before remembering

 

(stupid stupid why didn’t you remember)

 

that he had a key. Fumbling, fumbling, he d rew it out of his coat pocket, cursing at his shaky hands. It wouldn't turn in the door, and he almost yelled, but then realized he had been turning the key the wrong way.

 

Finally getting the door open after what felt like an eternity, he made a beeline straight to the bedroom.

 

He stopped cold once inside.

 

Philip lay prone on the bed, seeming to have aged ten years. He was covered in a thin sheen of sweat, and seemed to be staring at something on the wall. He had dark circles under his eyes, and looked oddly-colored. He was too yellow, too red, too blue, and not enough rosy tan.

 

P.T. rushed over, forgetting anything else he had come there for.

 

Philip seemed to wake partway, eyes trying and failing to focus on P.T.

 

“Phineas? I--”

 

He cut off abruptly, eyes floating off into space, and made an incomprehensible noise.

 

P.T. stared, eyes wide, and was beginning to slowly lower a hand to rest on Philip’s shoulder when Philip suddenly moaned and began convulsing, head jerking back and forth like a twisted sort of jack-in-the-box.

 

P.T. yelled, jumping back on impulse before grabbing Philip’s shoulders and trying to pin him down in a blind panic. Philip only continued to jerk robotically, tongue lolling and eyes unfocused and cloudy.

 

P.T. could not think. He only acted, slapping Philip’s face repeatedly, yelling his name over and over.

 

It seemed as if hours passed that way until Philip finally slowed to a stop; small choking noises coming from his throat. He dropped, limp, from P.T.’s grasp, head hitting the pillow with a dull thud.

 

P.T. stared at him, heart palpitating madly. He needed to get a doctor. But he couldn't leave Philip,

 

(what if he does it again and chokes)

 

so he leaned down, brushed Philip’s hair off his sweaty forehead, and slowly stepped away, watching, watching for the slightest sign of movement before turning and dashing into the front room, where the telegraph was.

 

Hands shaking, he fumbled with it, managing to get a frantic message to the doctor three streets down before rushing back to Philip, scared beyond belief. Upon getting to him, his heart slowed slightly when he saw that Philip had not moved.

 

Philip was not moving.

 

Philip was not moving.

 

P.T. rushed to the bed, hating himself for not checking immediately, and grabbed Philip’s wrist, feeling frantically for his pulse.

 

Nothing.

 

Tears were beginning to gather, and P.T. dropped Philip’s wrist like a hot poker. Why, why, why-- the mantra repeated itself in his head over, and over, and over. But he’s fine, he’s fine, P.T. tried to reassure himself, but completely fell apart when he turned to look at Philip again.

 

Philip did not look alive, as he had heard the recently dead usually did.

 

He looked sickly, yellow, all the flush of life gone. His eyes were sunken, and his mouth lay open, face frozen in a terrible expression of pain and...something else.

 

Tears openly running now, P.T. stared at Philip’s face, trying to identify that other emotion. When it finally came to him, he slowly backed away until his back was hitting the wall, sliding down to the floor and pressing a hand to his mouth.

 

It had been hope.

 

Philip had been hopeful, as he saw P.T. come in. He had thought he was saved, that P.T. would be able to make the hurting stop, as he had done many times before. And P.T. had failed him. He had been too late--just a little too late--

 

P.T. crawled towards the bed, broken sobs finally beginning. He stood up with an impossible amount of effort, taking Philip’s limp head in his hands. Sobbing, he dropped a chaste kiss on Philip’s cooling lips, muttering broken nonsense and pressing the drooping man to his chest.

 

He remained that way for five minutes before a hard knock at the door startled him out of his miserable stupor.

 

He nearly stumbled over himself reaching the door, an impossible surge of hope coursing through him. When he opened it, sure enough, there was the doctor, clutching a canvas bag and wearing an impossibly cheery smile. P.T. hated him for it, and the doctor must have felt it, for his grin faltered a bit.

 

“Well, that was quite an urgent-sounding message, Mr…?”

 

“Barnum.”

 

The name had the desired effect. The doctor’s eyebrows lifted just a bit, and he looked P.T. over.

 

“So, Mr...Barnum, what seems to be the problem?”

 

P.T. felt tears welling up again, and swallowed before responding numbly.

 

“It’s my partner. You’re too late.”

 

The doctor frowned for a millisecond, before brightening up once more.

 

“Well, we’ll see about that--I often see patients whose relatives think they have expired, when, in reality, they are simply sleeping deeper than usual!” He laughed, but P.T. cut him off.

 

“He had a seizure, he’s not moving, and I can’t--I can’t feel his pulse.”

 

The doctor’s laughing immediately ceased, and he pushed past P.T., all business now.

 

“Show me to him.”

 

Once in the room, the doctor set to work. He felt for a pulse first, tsked, and began to feel around Philip’s neck. P.T. watched closely, hoping, hoping, crying silently as he watched this strange man manhandle his Philip.

 

His Philip.

 

The doctor straightened.

 

Turning to look at P.T., he began to gather his things.

 

“There is an ambulance outside. I am going to take him to the hospital; we have something...new I wish to try. It hasn't been tested. At all.” He cleared his throat. “But if it works, we may save him. If it does not, there is no damage done.”

 

P.T. stared at him. A new procedure. He had heard of such things before, of course; new treatments, never tested, that went horribly wrong and killed or horribly defaced the patient.

 

On one hand, it was a chance at salvation.

 

On the other side, Philip might be defaced forever.

 

P.T. swallowed.

 

“Quickly. Let's go.” His voice was raspy, broken.

 

 

The hospital was busy, and P.T. was not allowed inside Philip’s room.

 

He had demanded to know what exactly they were going to do, and the response had been deeply frightening.

 

They were going to shock him.

 

Shock him, using electricity. Electricity. That strange, new force. He was worried, worried.

 

Two nurses walked briskly past him, whispering over a newspaper. P.T. could have sworn he heard his name, but dismissed it as a side effect of his distress.

 

Worried, worried, worried.

 

 

Mary Hallett walked timidly into her daughter’s old room, carrying a folded newspaper in her trembling hands.

 

“Charity? Sweetheart?”

 

No response from Charity.

 

Mary went to the side of Charity’s bed, pressing the newspaper into her hands.

 

No response from Charity. She simply continued staring at the wall across from her.

 

“Chairy?” At the use of her old childhood nickname, Charity breathed in sharply. Her mother’s eyes searched her face, hopeful, but when Charity lapsed into unmoving silence once more, she cast her eyes downward, clearing her throat and continuing silently.

 

“Honey...you need to read this. It will be alright, I promise, we're here.”

 

She pressed Charity’s hand with her own before looking at her sympathetically and walking out.

 

A slow breath left Charity's lips. All at once, she flung the newspaper across the room, falling back into her original position as soon as the deed was done.

 

 

The doctor walked out, sitting next to P.T., who jumped, startled.

 

“All right. I have some good news and some bad news. Which first?”

 

“The bad news,” P.T. whispered. He wasn't sure if he could take it, but he had to know. Still, that fact that there was good news gave him hope.

 

The doctor cleared his throat. “He began breathing about three minutes ago, and we have already managed to obtain a urine sample, which has shed some light on his condition already. We want to wait until the results have come back before we make any quick assumptions, however. We could be dealing with something serious, but common.” He chuckled nervously, noting P.T.’s expression. “I...guess that’s the good news as well.”

 

“Can I see him?”

 

Noting the hopeful look on P.T.’s face, the doctor grimaced.

 

“Oh, well, he’s not exactly in the condition for---”

 

He trailed off, paling at the expression on P.T.’s face. Fearing for his life, he laughed a little too loud and clutched his papers to his chest.

 

“Ah...actually...he might be able to speak by now; you should be good, Mr. Barnum.”

 

P.T.’s face lighted up, and he rushed into the room, leaving his coat behind on the bench.

 

The doctor stared after him, frowning. What kind of relationship did this man have to his alleged “business partner?” It was strange. They were not family; he knew about the circus and Philip Carlyle’s illustrious background.

 

He turned to take the coat inside to Barnum, but was interrupted by Eva, the pretty nurse who had just been hired. She had a penchant for gossip, and she now ran over to him excitedly, clutching a newspaper in her hands.

 

“Adam! Adam, you wouldn’t believe-- the patient you were just treating, and the man who was here with him, they’re in the papers!”

 

She leaned closer to him, whispering now, and handed the newspaper over.

 

“Apparently, they’re lovers.

Chapter Text

Philip felt absolutely terrible.


He came to in a strange, white room, tired and headachey and very, very hungry. Opening his eyes slowly, he beheld P.T.’s worried face hovering above his, and was very confused.

He tried to speak, but he didn't have the energy. He felt like sleeping again, and began to close his eyes, slipping away once more…
Something pushed at his lips.


He tried to turn his head, to rid himself of the offending object, and found that he couldn't. Whatever the thing was, he could not get rid of it.


Mustering all the energy he had, he tuned in to the noises he had been hearing.


“--lip, Philip, open your mouth, you need to eat, Philip--”


Philip let his mouth fall open, and immediately regretted it as a hard piece of something


(cracker? cookie?)


was pushed past his lips. He began to choke, and the steady voice in the background got louder and more agitated. He couldn't really tell what it was saying, but he understood somehow that he must swallow the rocks in his mouth. With a tremendous effort, he chewed the thing in his mouth and swallowed it, immediately wanting to throw up.


But the voice sounded happier now, and that was important. Philip parted his lips once more and grimaced internally when another piece of the dry, disgusting object was pushed into his mouth. Making an effort to swallow it, he slowly contorted his features into something resembling a smile, hoping it would appease the constant voice.



Philip was alive, and P.T. had never been happier. What's more, he was eating. P.T. had come into the room to find a plate of dry almond cookies on a table near Philip’s cot with a note beside it, reading “150 mg every forty-five minutes.” P.T. wasn't sure exactly how much that was, so he had gone off of instinct and was now attempting to feed Philip two cookies broken into small pieces.


All the while, he talked, rambling through his worry and stress. When he was worried, he babbled, stringing words and sentences together in any order whatsoever. Charity had laughed at it once, told him he needn’t worry so much, to just calm down and sleep for a few hours. P.T. had been shocked, and to be honest, a little bit offended; how did Charity not know that talking through things would calm him down?


He shook his head, berating himself. He was getting off track. Philip was his primary worry right now, not Charity, not the circus, not anything else.


Philip moaned, slowly turning his head to the side to avoid the piece of cookie P.T. was pressing against his mouth. P.T. shushed him gently, turning his head to face him again. Philip’s cloudy eyes focused on him, and he looked at P.T. with a pleading expression. Exerting what seemed to be a tremendous effort, he opened his mouth to speak.


“No...more, please.”

P.T. immediately put the cookie down.


“Philip? Philip, are you alright, what's wrong, what happened--"


Philip moaned. He was beginning to feel as if he were filled with static again, and tried frantically to signal that something was wrong, opening and closing his mouth without emitting any sound. P.T. paled above him, and began to speak frantically, too fast and too loud for Philip to understand. He dug his hands under Philip, hoisting him upright on the pillows, and the sudden movement hurt Philip so much that he screamed out, tears leaking from his eyes.


P.T. withdrew his hands so fast that Philip might have been a hot poker. Philip moaned again, his stomach burning. The static in his limbs was diminishing, however, so that wasn't bad. He looked at P.T., trying and failing to tell him what was happening. He was hungry, ravenous, but he didn't want to eat for fear of throwing up. His mind felt dull and achy, and he couldn't see very clearly. And most of all, he was tired. He had some underlying sense that if he were to give in the the sleep that threatened to drag him under constantly, he would not be able to break out of it.


The door to the room opened, and Philip shifted his focus from P.T. to the emerging figure.



P.T. was scared, and even more so when the doctor came in, looking very awkward and carrying a bundle of sheets. A folded newspaper took residence in his white coat’s front pocket. As he walked in, he tucked it in deeper, as if trying to hide it from the room’s occupants.


P.T. noticed this, and made a mental note to check the newspaper later. Whatever the latest story was, it apparently was very interesting, and probably concerned something he either knew about or wanted to know about.


The doctor sat on the seat opposite P.T’s, on the other side of the bed. He cleared his throat. “It didn't take quite a lot of time to get the results back,” he said, quickly glancing down at the hand P.T. had intertwined with Philip’s before looking back up, focusing his eyes on a spot to the left of P.T.’s face. “The results were pretty straightforward. Diabetes Mellitus, quite common and marginally serious. Left unchecked, it can lead to all manner of problems, such as headaches, fatigue, nausea in extreme cases, and sometimes seizing of the body. There are no medicines as of now that can completely cure or help the condition, but it can be controlled slightly by regular exercise and a specific diet. I will leave the diet sheets with you, and there is water here.” He gestured to a jug on the bedside table P.T. hadn't noticed. “You will need to drink a lot of fluids; they will help flush the extra sugar out. That is really all...I will, ah, hopefully not see you again.”


He flashed a smile, not meeting either of their eyes, and was gone in a blink, leaving the sheets of paper on the cot.


P.T. picked them up. “Red meat, red meat, carbs, sugar…is that all? Nothing else? Philip, I--what in the absolute hell--” He trailed off, running a clammy hand through his hair. Exhaling slowly, he set the papers down and turned his gaze to Philip.


“You know we have to tell your parents.”


Philip's eyes widened, and his breathing quickened. P.T. placed a hand on Philip’s cheek, rubbing it in circles with his thumb. This calmed Philip down, and he simply made a small noise.


“Philip, this is not something small. However terrible and bigoted they may be, they are still your parents, and they must care about you to some degree.”


Philip gave his head the tiniest of shakes, and P.T. sighed, hand falling to rest on Philip’s shoulders.


“Your mother, at least. You cannot say she does not love you at least a little bit; she must deserve to know.”


Philip dropped his eyes, and P.T. smiled, still looking worried.


“It won't be the end of the world. Philip, one way or another, this condition exists, and you have it. We must learn to deal with it. And they deserve to know their only son is struggling with this. Who knows, maybe they’ll feel sorry for you and give you back your inheritance!” He tried to smile, but the joke fell flat, and the room filled with awkward silence.


After a while, P.T. cleared his throat and stood up, taking three of the almond cookies from the plate and wrapping them in his handkerchief.


“Philip, do you feel like you can stand up? We should probably leave. I sense there is a certain...animosity here towards us.”


Philip stared up at him, exasperated. He moved a hand slowly to his stomach and grimaced. P.T. got the message. He frowned; then his face lit up and he rushed out, leaving Philip alone for an agonizing five minutes before dashing back in, pushing a wheelchair and smiling bright and full.


“Here, Philip, let me help you with that.” He slid the blanket off of him, slowly and gingerly picking him up bridal style and setting him down in the chair. Despite everything, Philip’s chest fluttered when P.T. raised him up, a small bullet of heat smashing through the area just below his stomach. It disappeared, however, as soon as the comforting, supporting weight of P.T.’s arms left him, and he simply felt tired. He watched, mesmerized, as P.T. took a folded blanket from the end of the bed and draped it across Philip’s knees, muttering that the hospital had so many pompous doctors with such large paychecks that borrowing one blanket surely wouldn't matter.


Smiling despite everything, P.T. took the handles of the wheelchair, the doctor’s papers tucked securely in his pocket as well as the cookies, and wheeled Philip out of his room. It took a while to get him checked out and get a carriage, but once the wheelchair was twisted into the carriage with them, the ride was smooth.


Philip, far from being ill as the carriage bumped and dipped, was soothed by the rhythmic motions, head clearing slightly as he nibbled on one of P.T.’s carefully preserved almond cookies. P.T. had insisted he drink half the pitcher of water before they left, and he really needed to use the bathroom. Ugh. The bathroom at his apartment needed to be fixed, he remembered, and paled as he remembered his close-to-empty checking account. Empty, now, with that last hospital visit. Wait--


“Phineas, where are we going?” He grimaced at the broken sound of his unused voice.
P.T. turned to him, a large smile growing on his lips.


“Your apartment is cold and small. We are going to my house. Besides, I have some telegrams I need to make, and I do not wish to leave you alone so soon after this. Is that alright, Philip?”


Philip nodded, closing his eyes.



At the house, P.T. carried a sleeping Philip inside, bridal-style, as the footmen struggled with the complicated folding--wheelchair. He began to walk to the guest bedroom, then rethought it and tiptoed to his own master bedroom, putting Philip down and arranging a blanket over him. Frowning, he stared at Philip’s sleeping form, noting the dirty and disheveled clothes he was wearing.


That would not do at all.


He walked over to the large closet, intending to find a spare, clean sleep-garment for Philip, but stopped short upon seeing Charity’s side of the closet, empty save for one dress. It was the dress he had bought her two months ago for their fifteen-year anniversary. She had loved it.


P.T. suddenly missed his daughters terribly.


He shut the closet door, opting for undergarments and a robe in their dresser. Walking over to Philip, he began to undress him, trying not to let his fingers linger too long on the chest


(slightly scorched)


or the hips


(too frail)


or the thighs,


(bruised black)


instead focusing his attention on the clothing and Philip’s face. It was still very pale and slightly yellow, but a bit of the color had returned to his cheeks, and he was breathing regularly.


Slipping the loose shirt and robe onto him, P.T. made up his mind. He needed to see Charity. He had stopped fooling himself at this point; Philip had clearly become more than a side fling based off an agreement he had made on a whim.


Why had he proposed the agreement?


Philip had been enticing. Beautiful, saccharine sweet--the man was akin to a drug, and P.T. had been addicted from the moment he looked at him. The man was also submissive as hell, despite the persona he displayed in public, and it had simply been too much to resist. A couple of glasses of strong liquor at a bar had topped it off, and P.T. had panicked after it was over, turning it into an agreement in order to justify it--a little bit at least. He had to fulfill his part of the agreement, or Philip would stop working at the circus! Right?


Right?


Over the weeks, it had become apparent that this was not going to fade. P.T. still craved the man as much as he had that first night, and it was slightly alarming.


But no matter what he felt for Philip, Charity was still his wife, his best friend. He couldn’t bear to lose her--


--or the girls.


P.T. stared down at Philip again, noticing how serenely beautiful he looked when he was sleeping. Watching Philip when he slept had been one of P.T.’s favorite parts of their meetings. He would stay for hours longer than he needed to just to watch Philip sleep, always slipping out before he woke.


A pang shot through P.T., and he unknowingly raised a hand and passed it through Philip’s hair. Sighing, he watched Philip’s eyes flutter open, smiling at him and offering a glass of water from the bedside table. Upon seeing the water, Philip’s eyes widened, and he struggled to get up, wincing. P.T. rushed to help him, sweeping him up once again bridal-style. Philip let out a small screech and sent P.T. a death glare, legs swinging as P.T. carried him to the bathroom.


Five minutes later Philip was lying in bed again, frowning at the ceiling.


“Phineas--"


“No.”


Sighing, Philip pushed himself upright. P.T. was there instantly, fixing the pillows behind him and offering Philip water. Exasperated, Philip slapped his hands away, and P.T. drew back, looking hurt.


Philip glared at P.T., angry all of a sudden, and hungry.


“I don’t need your help every second of every hour, Phineas. I am still--still capable of--”
Realizing that at his point he could not be independent anymore, he burst into tears. P.T. was at his side once more, drawing Philip to his chest and letting him cry, slowly stroking the back of his head.


So, so much had gone wrong.



Chaos in the circus.


Nobody had practiced, instead going silently to their rooms. Shows had been canceled that night. W.D. and Constantine had stayed downstairs in the main hall, reading and waiting without a word to confront P.T. or Philip, should either of them show up.
Neither of them did, and W.D. smirked into his book.


Philip had hurt his Anne, and he would pay the price.



A harsh knock startled P.T. from his doze, and he gently lifted Philip’s head off his lap, scooting off the bed and tiptoeing to the door.
It creaked on his way out, and he cringed, hearing Philip’s sleepy mumbles from the bed as he sat up.


P.T. turned around slowly.


“Just the door, ‘Lip. I’ll be right back, promise.”
Philip nodded, slumping back against the pillows.



P.T. schooled his face into a smile, opening the door--


The smile dropped from his face faster than a racehorse on the final stretch.


Mr. and Mrs. Carlyle stood on the stoop, he clutching a newspaper, she with a small clutch. Their faces would have made Napoleon surrender.


P.T. stared back and forth between them. Why were they here? Moreover, why did they look as if he had just stolen their fortune and demolished their house? He had known he would have to make contact with them eventually; but now? He couldn't deal with this now. He couldn't--


Theodore Carlyle snapped his fingers, bringing P.T. back to reality.


“Mr. Barnum! We have reason to suspect that our son is in your house. We demand to see him.”


P.T. stammered, unable to choose words to respond with.


Philip’s parents sneered and pushed past him. P.T. rushed after them, alarm bells going off in his head.


“No--well, he really is in no condition to speak to you right now, might come back later--”


Philip’s mother spun around, staring P.T. directly in the eyes.


“What?! What have you done to my Philip? Where is he? You had better tell me now, or--”
She was shaking, and P.T. was defeated. Slowly, he led them up the stairs to the room where Philip was just beginning to doze again.
When they got into the room, Mrs. Carlyle gasped and immediately ran to Philip, hysterically babbling about how bad he looked.


Mr. Carlyle turned to P.T.


“A discussion in private, if you please.”



They sat in the parlor.


Mr. Carlyle dropped a newspaper in P.T.’s lap.


“I am sure you have seen this?”


“Well...no, actually, this morning’s been extremely hectic, so I haven't gotten a chance…”


He trailed off, staring incomprehensibly at the headline.


P.T. Barnum Circus Tainted By Sinful Affair Between Partners.


He scanned the article underneath, which made sure to leave nothing out about Philip’s illustrious family and P.T.’s past scandals and circus of freaks.


How in the hell.


P.T. felt numb. He could not speak. This shouldn't have happened. Why had this happened? Who had


(charity that BITCH)


tipped off the newspapers? It was impossible. Completely impossible.


Philip’s father sneered, a disgusted look on his face.


“So I take it you do not deny these allegations?"


P.T. could not say a word. The newspaper fell from his hands.


The last sliver of hope was gone.

Chapter Text

Life was over.

 

Phineas Taylor Barnum was absolutely certain that life as he knew it was utterly and completely finished.

 

No hope.

 

It wasn't just a family issue now. Everyone knew. People he didn't even know knew. The customers knew.

 

The circus knew.

 

Phineas looked up from his empty hands to see Philip’s father, standing over him with a sneer on his face and a cane in his hands.

 

P.T.  just had time to register that it was his own before the cane came crashing down on his head, rendering him unconscious.

 

 

Philip sat in bed, grimacing as his mother went into near hysterics beside him.

 

“Mother, I am fine.”

 

“WHAT?! Philip Bailey Carlyle--I wake up this morning and am greeted with this--this absolute disgrace in the papers, the papers , as if running off to join the circus wasn’t bad enough! And then I come here, and I find my only son not only disgraced but--but--”

 

She broke off into frantic tears, and Philip’s eyes widened as he began to speak, trying and failing to stifle his mother’s flailing hands.

 

“Mother? Mother! What papers? What’s in the papers?!”

 

She stopped and stared at him, eyes wide.

 

“Then you don’t know.” An indescribable expression of disgust came over her face, and Philip’s heart began to beat fast as the incredulous realization hit him.

 

“Mother--is there…” He didn’t finish; the look on her face told him everything. Philip slowly released her hands, falling back on the pillows. A pang of hunger hit him, and he curled into himself, disbelief washing over him in waves.

 

“Philip? Philip, what’s wrong?” She looked at him, distresse d eyes analyzing his shaking form. Philip grimaced and waved a hand at her.

 

“Diabetes Mellitus. It’s fine. I...found out this morning.”

 

“Oh.” She was still. “I thought...I thought it would skip you, as it did me…” She was whispering, only just loud enough for Philip to hear.

 

He paled. “S...kip? What do you mean?”

 

“Your grandfather, he was diagnosed as well...as was his father, and his father’s mother, and so on, and so on. They all died before their fiftieth year. I was fortunate enough not to contract the unfortunate thing, and naturally, I thought it was finished.” She swallowed, looking up at Philip with wet eyes. “Apparently not.”

 

Philip stared at her, incredulous. Dead before their fiftieth birthday. He suddenly saw red, a bright blazing streak invading his vision, and felt a strong urge to just take his mother’s head in his hands and crush it, silencing her deafening voice forever.

 

But he breathed slowly, focused on the other sensations overwhelming him--his hunger and the growing need to piss--and threw those sentiments out of his head.

 

Dead, before their fiftieth birthday.

 

Philip was thirty-one.

 

His mother had not told him, had not warned him that there might be even the smallest chance he would contract this as his relatives had. Was she really that malicious? Or was she stupid enough to really assume he wouldn’t catch it, since she had been lucky enough to avoid it?

 

The red began to invade his vision again, and he was attempting to clear it from his mind before a loud whack from outside startled him out of it.

 

Alarm bells went off inside his mind, and he tried to get up, slowly pushing himself off the bed and praying that he wouldn’t throw up or wet his pants. His mother caught his arm, stopping him.


“Philip--”

 

With all the force he could muster, Philip jerked his arm away, not regretting it even when the movement began to resonate painfully through his body. His mother stared sadly after him as he hobbled to the door, stopping several times to catch his breath.

 

The door was thrown open before he could reach it, and Philip’s father marched in, carrying a crumpled newspaper and a bloody cane. Grasping his wife by the arm, he pulled her up and walked over to Philip, sneering.

 

“You are a disgrace.”

 

Seeing his hand come up, Philip’s eyes widened, and he feebly raised a hand up to try and protect himself. It was in vain, and his father’s hand curled around Philip’s neck, choking, choking, until Philip couldn’t take it anymore and gave in, eyes rolling back in his head as he crumpled to the floor.

 

His father left him there, throwing the newspaper on top of him and turning with his wife to sweep out the door.

 

He spared no glance at Philip, leaning the cane on the doorframe of the bedroom as he left.

 

 

Mary Hallett walked into her daughter’s room once more, noting that her position hadn’t changed at all.

 

“Chairy? Honey? We’ve decided on something, but we need you to talk to us.”


Charity gave no response.

 

“Sweetheart, please speak to us. We really will have to do this if you won’t talk.”

 

Again, no response.

 

Mrs. Hallett sighed.

 

“Charity, darling, we are sending Caroline and Helen to your old finishing school. They are quite adamant about staying here, but it is for the best. We cannot take care of them with you like this, and girls of their age should be in finishing school anyway.”

 

Charity’s breath caught, but she made no more movement.

 

Her mother let out a long breath through her nose. “They leave in the morning; the new term starts in a week and we want to give them time to get used to the environment. Charity, we must do this if you won’t speak to us.”

 

Seeing no visible movement from her daughter, Mary Hallett patted her hand twice and left.

 

 

Philip moaned, coming to on the cold wooden floor of the bedroom. Everything hurt, and his cheeks burned with embarrassment when he saw that he’d wet himself.

 

Remembering the loud thump and the bloody cane, he made an effort to push himself up, wincing at the pain that was shooting through his lower abdomen.

 

Crawling to the door, he grasped at the doorknob and pulled himself up, grabbing the bloody cane to steady himself. Limping out into the hallway, he stared at the stairs leading to the parlor where P.T. undoubtedly was, face paling.

 

Oh, god.

 

 

P.T.’s eyes opened, and he sluggishly moved a hand to his head, sitting up and scowling at the pain. When he took his hand away, he dimly noted that there was blood there, and cocked his head to the side, thoughts not functioning correctly.

 

Frowning, he remembered what had happened, and looked up alarmingly, seeing the stairs and remembering Philip.

 

Head injury forgotten, he reached the top just as Philip tripped and went sprawling, shrieking out P.T.’s name.

 

Phineas carried Philip back to the bed, hurrying to get him new pants and undergarments. Philip’s head lolled, and he made a small choking noise before throwing up on the side of the bed.

 

P.T. heard it from the closet, and slumped, sighing.

 

 

Anne made her way down the steps slowly, heading towards her brother and Constantine. Frowning, she crossed her arms.

 

“Why...why is nobody downstairs? It's too quiet. People should be practicing.”

 

W.D. put down his book, raising his eyebrows. “Shows have been canceled tonight. Perhaps indefinitely.”

 

At this, Anne’s eyes widened. “Canceled? We can't just cancel shows; we're already on thin ice with the papers and the audiences, we have to go on, this isn't--”

 

“Anne!”

 

She stopped mid-sentence, arms dropping at her sides.

 

“Annie, listen. I understand that you are trying to be strong. You are doing wonderfully. But you must understand, Annie, that we cannot have a show without a ringmaster. It is impossible.”

 

Flustered, Anne began to stutter out excuses and half-baked solutions, only to be shushed a moment later. Face frantic and wild, she suddenly turned swiftly on her heel and marched off, small hiccups trailing behind her.

 

W.D. went back to his book, snarling.

 

Yes, Philip would pay.

 

 

Chapter Text

P.T. frowned, pacing, pacing, clutching a letter in his hands. It had been six hours; Philip had come out of his daze three and a half hours ago and immediately begun to complain, voice droning on and on into a constant whine that pierced through Phineas’ head like a wasp’s high-pitched drone.

Grinding his teeth, P.T. spun around, raising his hand in a crimson fury. Philip immediately quieted, and P.T., seeing the look of terror on his face, lowered his hand, sighing.

“Philip--”

Philip jumped, bloodshot eyes darting all over P.T.’s body.

“Philip, Philip. Look. I know things aren't quite going very well right now, but we have to look on the bright side. Your parents--”

Philip made a small noise and furrowed his brow.

“Your parents have contacted the papers. They may think of you--us--as filth, but we are still filth directly associated with them, and they can't afford to have your name slandered any further. I just got a letter, hand-delivered by a footman of theirs. The papers have stopped printing copies; so that’s done and over with—the public will still talk, of course, we can’t stop that, but maybe...ugh.”

He stopped, turning to look at Philip. He looked tired and worn, but a little bit of his old enthusiasm still shone through.

“What we need, Philip, is something to get us back on our feet. To familiarize ourselves with the public again, to restore our reputation...no doubt shows have been canceled today, with us gone. That’s bad for publicity. Or maybe it isn’t. Give the public a break, y’know? The public eye is fickle; if we give them a month or two, they’ll forget all about it. Well, they won’t really forget, but it will cease to hurt our business—but if we find something new, something high-class, to catch the aristocratic eye, then we could be in the clear even sooner. But what to do, where to go…? Nobody here will endorse us; they’ll look at you and turn away—“

He gasped, snapping his fingers.

“Nobody here will endorse us...so we’ll just go somewhere else! You have ties to Europe, Philip, don’t you? We can use those, find a show there—“

“Phineas.”

P.T. halted mid-sentence, and his smile hurt. It was the same smile Philip had seen so often back when things weren’t lying in pieces around them, the smile that so often accompanied anecdotes and ideas; new, colorful plans.

“Phineas, if you think I still have ties with Europe after all this, you must have the mental capacity of a doorknob.”

P.T. frowned, head cocked to one side. “But why shouldn’t you? The...incriminating newspapers only came out today, and they’ve stopped being printed at your parents’ behest. Europe was still willing to work with you two months ago, so why shouldn’t they be now?”

He stepped closer to Philip, eyes softening.

“It may seem cold-hearted, but we really must think about this. You are not in good enough condition to travel very much. Could you write a letter, maybe?”

Philip cast his eyes downward, sighing.

“I’ll try. But I can’t promise anything. If it doesn’t work—“

“Then we must wait.”

W.D. heard the door open and grinned, setting down his book. This was what he had been waiting for.

Getting up, his smile dropped when he saw P.T. at the door instead of Philip.

“Ah, Mr. Barnum. Why are you here?”

“It’s my circus, isn’t it?” P.T. was smiling, standing tall like usual, but his eyes darted, his grin faltered, and he exuded an air of nervousness and anxiety.

W.D. stared at him, mouth twitching downwards.

“Mr. Barnum, with all due respect, which is not very much, would you kindly leave us? Oh, and your man-whore. Where is he? We all have some things we would like to discuss with him.”

P.T. swallowed, calm facade completely gone now. “He is suffering some medical problems, quite serious actually, so he is outside waiting in the carriage, but he's not a man-whore, not my man-whore, where'd you get that idea, that's funny, real funny, haha--”

“You're rambling, Mr. Barnum.”

P.T. stopped, smile frozen, nervous sweat dripping down his face.

Across the room, Constantine set down his book, walking over silently to stand behind W.D. Phineas shifted nervously, eyes darting between them.

“Ah, hello, Constantine…where is, aha, everyone else?”

“Shows are canceled; we’d rather not risk the crowds.” W.D. gestured to a neatly folded newspaper resting on the table.

Damn.

P.T. wrung his hands. This was not going well. “Um. Ha. Well, can we...may I request a conference? With the rest of the circus, I mean. A-and of course that includes you; I wouldn't wanna exclude you, y’know, if you feel--I mean, don't think that--heh--”

W.D. gave a single nod, looking at P.T. with distaste. P.T. gave a small smile, watching as the two men began to walk upstairs. Nodding with finality, he exhaled slowly and began to make his way to the main auditorium. This would have to be fast; Philip would begin to worry from the carriage outside.

The circus was gathered in the audience seats. P.T. stood in the ring, nervous and jittery. The performers stared condescendingly at him.

He cleared his throat.

“So as you all know, the papers have printed some...rather unsettling rumors about Philip and me--”

“They're true,” a voice from the back called out. P.T. looked around frantically before his eyes settled on Anne, who stood up, eyes shining with either mirth or tears. “Charity was here, and so was Philip. We know what's happened, so don't, don't even try to deny it.” She sat down, bringing a quick hand to her face to wipe her eyes.

“Ah, were they?” P.T. was almost frantic now, searching and searching for words and not finding any. “Ah, you see…” He took a deep breath, dropping his fake smile. Lying was getting him nowhere.

“I am going to be completely and totally honest with you, and I am going to hope that you forgive me. When I first met Philip, I was...mesmerized. I am hesitant to say this, but I fell in love after just two minutes, two minutes of knowing him. It is unconventional, freaky, but now I can finally say that I fit in with all of you, eh?”

Some of the circus shifted, which P.T. took as a good sign.

“I truly do not want to hurt Charity. She is my best friend, my finest companion. I miss her terribly; seeing her hurt hurts me like nobody else knows. I made a terrible decision fueled by alcohol and starry eyes, and in my panic, I did the human thing to do--kept doing it in the false illusion that I would not get caught. I thought that to discontinue my activities would mean the loss of Philip completely, and you all know how much we have grown to need him. I...hope you all will forgive me. We cannot let this destroy our circus.”

Constantine stood. “The circus is already destroyed! Have you not seen the papers?” The circus mumbled, disgruntled.

P.T. scrambled to save his broken efforts. “No, but I've got something! Something that will save the circus, rectify my mistakes. Phil--he still has connections in Europe. We talked it through earlier; he is in good favor with quite a large deal of foreign singers and actors, and has sent a letter requesting an act. Hopefully, we will get someone already in America, for a vacation, perhaps. The monetary cost will be high, but it will pay off in terms of our reputation. It will fix things. It will. We just have to wait for a response.”

Noting the looks on the performers’ faces, he cleared his throat.

“No doubt most of you are wondering where Philip is. There has arisen...a medical problem, quite serious, which may prevent him from traveling to see you all for some time. He will be fine; there is no need to worry, and we will be back on our feet in no time. Alright?”

The performers began to move, a stone cold air surrounding their tense murmurs, and P.T. grimaced. That had not gone as well as he’d hoped.

Remembering Phil, he turned to go back to the carriage.

Two days passed. The circus did not open, instead giving the public time to mellow out over the scandal. P.T. divided his time between Charity, Philip, and the circus. Charity had begun to say a few things; she had not yet graduated to full sentences, but she was moving and eating, and that was progress. Mr. and Mrs. Hallett refused to bring the girls back from finishing school, and though P.T. missed them terribly, he contented himself with writing small letters to them in the evening. Philip’s condition had not gotten worse; however, it had not improved much. He was still mostly bedridden; small trips tired him out easily, and P.T. would not risk him walking anywhere alone and falling or fainting without anyone to help him. Philip was quite condescending; his moods were extreme and fickle. He would switch from overly flirty and flighty to passive-aggressively melancholy in as little as ten seconds, and though it was exasperating, P.T. tried to exercise the same patience he had with pregnant Charity and the girls’ toddler years. The circus, however, was another matter. Only Lettie seemed understanding; the rest of the performers spoke to P.T. as little as possible (save Anne, who did not speak to him at all). In lieu of performance, they practiced excessively, sparing no time for frivolity. P.T. tried to be helpful, but ultimately found himself useless without people willing to listen to him.

Eventually, he always went back to Philip.

...

Chapter Text

On the third day, P.T. returned home from a visit to Charity to find a letter waiting for him on the end table inside the front hall. Wondering why it hadn't been brought to him by a butler, he opened it, a smile breaking and growing bigger and bigger on his face as he read.

“PHILIP! Philip, you will not believe--it worked, ‘Lip, it worked, it actually worked! Hahaaaa!”

Philip startled awake, reaching shakily for a glass of water and staring at P.T. incredulously.

P.T. turned to Philip, smiling wide. “We got a response.”

Philip’s eyes widened, and he smiled, matching P.T. “That's great, Phineas. Who is it?”

P.T. scanned the letter again. “A Swedish opera singer named Jenny Lind, in America for a holiday. She's willing to try a show with us and is--’open to further possibilities if all goes well.’ See, Philip, they call her the Swedish Nightingale, she’s--”

“I know about Jenny Lind, Phin.”

P.T. brightened even further, if that was possible. “If you know about her, she must be a big deal--oh, it is absolutely imperative this performance goes well. This could bring us back two times harder; this is a miracle--!”

P.T. had begun to pace in front of the bed, animatedly talking through strategies, theaters, profit and possible times.

Philip snorted and went back to sleep.

P.T. paced in front of the parlor stairs. He was scheduled to meet the fabled Nightingale in ten minutes; he had checked the whole house for dirt or grime about six times, spent thirty minutes lecturing a sleeping Philip about how he was going to go about this, written four letters to Caroline and Helen (all four of which had gone in the trash), and changed clothes seven times.

To sum things up, he was nervous.

A knock at the door.

P.T. rushed, opening it to greet

(oh. wow.)

an exquisitely dressed redhead holding a small, elegant bag.

“I take it you are Johanna Lind?”

She winced. “Oh, please don't call me that, Mr. Barnum. Jenny, if you will.” She smiled, and oh. How beautiful that smile was.

“Just Jenny, then. Come inside.”

Seated in the parlor, P.T. handed her a glass of champagne, noting her small, beautiful, shouldn't-be-real hands. She took a small, delicate sip, eyeing him over her glass in a way P.T. did not think was entirely innocent.

He cleared his throat, feeling insufferably hot.

“You are early, Miss Li-Jenny.”

She smiled again, and P.T. hoped it would be the last time. Her smile, he felt sure, was so bright it would burn right through him if she showed it once more.

“I am a strict believer in early arrivals. None of that fifteen-minutes-late nonsense. When a time is set, one must be considerate of it, and what better way to show this than to arrive a little bit early? I hope I did not cross a boundary, however.”

“No, no, of course, Miss-Jenny. You are perfectly welcome here anytime.” The name felt wrong on his lips, and oh god, had that sounded lewd? He had just met the woman; why in hell had he thought it would be a good idea to verbally allow her complete access to the house? No, he was being silly. It wasn’t complete access, just a slip of the mouth, slip of--

Her voice cut through his panic like a gold-plated knife.

“Mr. Barnum, I have thought it over, and after reviewing the recent papers containing some...rather distasteful rumors, I believe it would be most beneficial for the both of us to begin our performance somewhere else. Close, but not here. Branching out from there, I believe…”

P.T. Barnum burst into the master bedroom, hair and eyes wild. Philip looked up from the book he hadn't been reading, confused but hopeful.

“Phin, what happened?”

“We’re going on tour!” P.T. danced across the room, throwing the closet doors open and rifling through his suits.

“Phineas, I can't travel--what do you mean we're going on tour?”

P.T. stopped. “Oh. Sorry. By we, I meant me and Jenny. Across the country, Philip, it will be grand, our biggest achievement yet!”

Philip gaped, brows furrowing.

“Wait--you're--but you can't--”

“Can't what?” P.T. threw a scarf behind him, now waist-deep into the closet.

“You can't just leave me! I--Phineas, you're all I have, you can't just go off on some tour and, and--”

“Nonsense! We have butlers, and Lettie will check in on you every once in a while. You'll be fine, Philip, it's just for a few months.”

A FEW MONTHS?! ” Philip felt pressure building behind his eyes. “Phineas, you can’t leave me here alone, not for that long, please--”

P.T. dragged a suitcase out of the back of the closet. “Philip, if I don't do this, there is a chance the circus will die. Now, would you rather have six months without me or the rest of your life without the circus?” Hearing no answer from Philip, he smiled and opened the suitcase. “See? You'll be perfectly okay. I'll leave plenty of books for you, so you won't be bored, and you'll have a typewriter and access to paper and pens. It won't be that bad.” Snapping his fingers for a butler, he began to fold and pack his suits, humming softly as he did so.

Philip stared at him, unable to speak. “So...you're going to leave, then. Just like that.”

P.T. halted and walked over to Philip, placing a hand on his cheek. “Don't be like that, Philip. We need this tour; you're just being unreasonable now. Try to think sensibly.”

Running a thumb over Philip’s hairline, he smiled and whirled around again, back to his suitcase.

Philip watched him pack, tears dropping silently down his cheeks.

“Charity, it's going to save the circus. I need to be gone, but the time’ll pass just like that, eh?” Phineas snapped his fingers, offering his wife a small, wry smile.

She looked slowly up at him, worry creasing her brow. “Leave? Leave…me.”

Phineas’ smile was replaced with a small frown, and he placed a hand over hers. “Chairy, don't worry. Everything will be fine. I leave quite soon, though, so I must take my leave now or I'll never get there in time.”

He stood up, dropping a quick kiss to her cheek.

“I'll see you in six months, Char.”

The carriage ride was stuffy, too hot. P.T. was immensely aware of Jenny’s presence; even though she sat on the opposite side, he felt as if she were unbearably close to him. It was suffocating, and he noticed how fast his heart was beating.

Stop it now, Phineas. You are acting like a lovestruck teenager.

Surprised at his own choice of words, he fidgeted with his gloves. Of course he wasn't acting like that; there was no reason for him to be feeling this way. He must be intimidated. Intimidated, yes, that's what he would go with. She was high-class, European. Of course he was nervous.

But you didn't have this reaction with the Queen, and she’s the most high-class European you can get.

Frowning, Phineas tried to crush the nagging voice in his head. He had four more hours in the carriage before their first hotel stop, and he didn't need to be constantly nagged by this...this feeling. He had enough problems.

Jenny said something, and it startled P.T. from his daze. He reddened as he realized that he had been staring at her.

“Ah. Um. What?”

She giggled, and Phineas decided that he would very much like to die right there.

“I said, Mr. Barnum, that we might stop in an hour or so. There's so much lovely scenery outside the city; I had a chance to see some of it before you summoned me. We should have enough time to take some of it in, relax a bit before the hectic traveling we’ll have to do for the tour. Does that sound good?”

P.T. stared, eyes following the curves of her red curls before remembering what she'd said. “Oh! Yes, ah, of course. Very relaxing. Of course.” His cravat felt suffocating, scratchy. He pulled at it, feeling as if sweat was pouring off of him in droves.

Across the carriage, Jenny saw and giggled once more, turning her gaze out of the window.

...

Philip hated beards.

Not on others, of course, then he didn’t mind them; sometimes they looked good.

But he couldn’t stand having one.

Even stubble irritated him. It was coarse, itchy, patchy, and it made washing his face extremely hard (Philip was a bit of a neat freak, not to mention a mild germaphobe). But he did not like razors either. He wouldn’t let the butlers shave him, even after one, two, three days passed.

Finally, it got unbearable. Philip pulled the old-fashioned cord next to his bed, and less than three minutes later, Stephen (the most reliable butler) came to his side.

“Fetch me a razor and a mirror, please.”

Stephen nodded, bowing and retreating to fetch it. Philip slumped back on his pillows, sighing. He hated this. He was weak, pitiful, and he had been all but disowned by everybody he knew save Phineas.

God, he missed Phineas.

It had only been three days, but already the newspapers were printing stories, pictures, and in each one P.T. seemed to be standing a little bit closer to Jenny, smiling a little bit wider.

Philip had requested for the butlers not to bring him the morning paper anymore.

Stephen returned, bearing the things Philip had asked for. He handed the mirror to Philip and positioned the razor, tilting Philip’s chin up.

“Oh-no, wait. I’ll do it myself. I appreciate the effort.” Philip did not appreciate the effort, especially when Stephen frowned and asked if he was really sure he was capable of it.

Of course I’m capable of this, you twit, Philip thought. I’m thirty-one, not fourteen. But Stephen watched closely, all the same, hovering behind Philip’s shoulder until he couldn’t take it anymore and hissed at him to get out or face the consequences.

Stephen left, and Philip raised the razor to his face, hands trembling. Frowning, he willed them to stop shaking, but they did not comply. He gritted his teeth and went on anyway, trying to keep his hands straight. The mirror seemed to taunt him, flexing, then contorting into strange manipulations of his reflection, changing, warping—

Philip yelled and dropped the bloody razor onto his lap.

Chapter Text

Philip lay on his back, staring at the canopy. His chin hurt, but so did the rest of him, and he blinked once, twice, faster and faster to try and clear away the tears threatening to form. He was a mess. His life was a mess.

Why, in the name of God, did he have to be born?

P.T. clinked his fourth champagne glass against Jenny’s, all thoughts of Philip completely forgotten. He was not very alcohol-tolerant; he was a lightweight--but his drunk-self varied based on the situation.

Today, he viewed the world through rose-colored glasses, seeming only slightly tipsy.

Jenny took a small sip from her glass, eyes devouring P.T. as she did so. Far from feeling uncomfortable this time, he returned the favor, wondering how on earth hair could become that brightly-colored. Their faces hovered, inches apart, and Jenny tilted hers down just a bit, blinking up at him.

“I’ve given you the world, haven't I?” she breathed, voice sultry and echoey.

P.T. stared at her, feeling something overflow. “Yes.”

Two seconds later their lips had joined, and to P.T., Charity and Philip seemed far away, unimportant. This felt right. Her lips felt right. Jenny had saved him; an angel in white had graced him with her praise, hair as red as the fires of judgement.

He was utterly and completely lost, and he leaned down, shifting until she lay prone on the couch and he was on top of her, kissing, kissing.

Philip jolted up in bed, feeling that something was utterly, undeniably wrong.

Nightmare, nightmare, just another nightmare, he reminded himself, pressing the backs of his palms against his eyes. He'd been having them more and more frequently since everything had collapsed. They showed no signs of getting better.

But this was strange.

He'd never seen Jenny Lind in person before, and yet she lived in his dreams like he'd known her face since childhood. Every detail of that beautiful visàge lingered in Philip’s mind, and he suddenly felt very dirty.

Stephen, that insufferable brat of a butler, walked in, and Philip could not disguise his grimace.

“Mr. Carlyle, sir, there is a visitor here for you.”

Philip rubbed his temple, sighing. “Show him in.”

Looking up, he met W.D.’s gaze, attempting to smile. Yay, someone seemed to care.

The smile disappeared, however, when Philip saw W.D.’s face. It was cold, angry.

W.D. stopped a few feet from the bed, crossing his arms. “Philip, Barnum has gone on tour, and we are without a ringmaster.”

Philip shrunk into himself, dropping his gaze.

“You have been hiding from us.”

Philip's eyes shot up, and he opened his mouth, brows furrowing.

“Don't talk, Carlyle. First you blackmail our ringmaster for sex, then when your mistakes come to light you can't even come and own up to what you've done? That's despicable. And, Philip…” W.D. sat on the bed, eyes searching Philip’s features, taking in his sunken eyes, pale and sweaty complexion, and patchy shave job (which was accompanied by a few sizeable cuts on his jaw). Seeming to realize Philip’s condition, he unfolded his arms, looking at him with what seemed an awful lot like pity. “Philip, what exactly happened?”

Thirty minutes.

Thirty minutes of forgetting, of kisses and coupling and weak imitations of love.

In the moment, wonderful.

After the moment, not quite so wonderful.

Phineas was completely sober. He thought so, at least, as he watched Jenny fall asleep beside him. She was beautiful, yes, and captivating. Captivating. Funny word, wasn't it? It reminded him of calibration, which was a word he had never been able to pronounce when he was nine. He had hated being nine; his father had been overpowering, ruthless but caring--

Okay, maybe he was still a little bit drunk.

Slipping out of the bed, he picked up his clothes quietly. She mustn't wake. Perhaps he could convince her it had all been a dream, a drunken hallucination--no, it wouldn't work. She hadn't been nearly as tipsy as him, and besides, she was almost as smart as Charity had been. She would do something terrible if he tried to ignore it, he felt sure. So, it was really his duty to tie into her fantasy, wasn't it?

Placing his folded clothes on the nightstand, he crawled into bed beside Jenny, placing an arm around her and smiling at her soft noises of approval.

This was fine, for now.

W.D. rubbed a hand awkwardly down Philip’s back. He had told W.D. everything, but had broken down when he got to the tour, saying nothing but a broken medley of i loved and thought he loved and i’m so sorry . His broken sobs echoed through the room, and W.D. grimaced. He smiled, nevertheless, and waited for Philip to calm down. It took some time, but Philip eventually lapsed into silence, hiccuping.

“I’m sorry, sorry. Sorry. I--”

W.D. smiled, patting him on the back. “I understand, Philip. I really do.”

Philip sniffed, watery eyes searching W.D.’s face. “You’re...serious?”

W.D. reached into a bag at his side. “It must be awfully boring, sitting there day after day. And Barnum won’t be back for months. Quiet, I bet, too.”

Philip stared at him, a wary look beginning to shadow his face. “Yes, it’s quiet, but it’s--”

“You are a showman, Mr. Carlyle. You are not used to the quiet. Hence, this. To ease the loneliness.” Smiling a little bit too widely, he pressed a small wooden box into Philip’s hands before getting up and walking out.

Philip stared after him, unable to speak. What. That was strange. Looking down at the box, he grimaced. It was plain, ugly brown wood.

Well, W.D. had said it would chase away the loneliness.

Undoing the clasp, he lifted the lid, and his train of thought halted.

A small bronze figure of a man in a top hat rose and began to spin, as a melody began to play. So it was a music box.

And oh, the melody was beautiful.

Philip felt all his sadness and fear dissipate, drawn in by the notes. It was clear to him, so clear now.

God, he hoped the music would never stop.

Kisses in dark hallways, bedrooms shared.

Jenny Lind had become a pastime.

Phineas could not stay drunk forever, though, and while her beauty drew him in and kept him in, he could not stop himself from being just a little scared. What if the papers found out? Philip’s parents had been able to stop the first scandal, but if a second one got out, it would be impossible to halt. It would mark the end of him and his circus.

Oh god, what if Philip found out?

He won’t, P.T. reminded himself.

You said that about Charity and Philip too, and look how that turned out.

He really needed to do something to get rid of the voice. It was unstoppable, insatiable, and it was scaring him.

They had a show in two hours, however, and Phineas did his best to push the voices to the back of his mind (that's as far as they would go) and grabbed his coat, calling for Jenny as he went.

Five more months. Then he could go back and forget about Philip, about everything.

******

Philip felt serene, calm. He understood everything now that the music was playing. The beautiful, wonderful, amazing music. His pain was gone, and in place of all his old emotions a fire began, starting small and bright in the pit of his stomach and spreading outward from there. He'd felt that before, and he ached for a man. Somebody, anybody, to help him, fill him.

He considered calling that rotten slug of a butler, then remembered his self-esteem and nixed the idea quickly. His own self would have to do for now.

Breathing huskily, he slipped a hand under the blankets covering him, letting the music from the small box wash over him as he palmed himself. That lasted for a few minutes before he threw the covers to the side, shoving his pants down his legs and running his fingers down his length. The cold, faint sensation of his hand left him shuddering, and he drew his hand down his dick slowly, moaning quietly as the sensations resonated through him. Imagining the only other dick he knew--Phineas’--he stuck a finger in his mouth, sucking it thoroughly before reaching behind himself and inserting his finger gently, letting out a small, broken groan at the sting and sensation of it.  He slowly began to move it, inserting deeper and deeper before hitting his sweet spot and crying out, hand sliding faster and faster along his cock. Pre-cum began to leak from the tip, and he swiped it around the head, gasping at the mixed burning sweeping through him from his cock and his prostate. His gasps became louder, bigger, and his eyes rolled back in his head as he fingered himself harder and jerked his hand along his throbbing length. Heat was building, building, and he cried out loudly as something snapped inside him and he came, back arching and muscles jerking. Thick ropes of white liquid spouted from his softening cock, and he let out a small, satisfied whine. Breathing heavily, he slipped his hand down his cock a few more times before leaning back into the pillows. The music was still playing, and its sultry, beautiful melody filled him as a man would. He felt complete.

Complete, complete, and painless.

******

Panic shot through Phineas’ head like a bullet. This had been a mistake. That night, at the show, Jenny had held out her hand for him, as usual, but had moved strangely when he came to join her. Moved to kiss him, as if forgetting how secret their trysts were. When he had turned away and walked off stage, she had been offended; come to the hotel and shut the bedroom door behind her.

This was a bad omen. He needed to get away immediately, before Jenny did something incriminating.

Home. Yes, home. It would be the best idea. No more Jenny. No more addicting trysts. This was what had gotten him in trouble in the first place...but he couldn't just leave Jenny. She'd be angrier than she was now; perhaps she'd even quit the tour. He wouldn't put it past her, he had learned that she was terribly moody. She’d be bright and happy one moment and melancholy, dreary the next. She reminded P.T. of Philip’s behavior in the past week and a half he had been with him.

How was he going to get out of this without risking everything?

...

 

Chapter Text

No letters.

Not from Philip, not from Charity, not from anyone at the circus.

Realizing this, Phineas stopped in his tracks on his way to the room. It had been almost a month. Why hadn't he gotten any letters at all?

Something was wrong.

Phineas needed to get back to Philip even more now. Good, he thought. A viable excuse to get away from Jenny’s siren song. She'd let him go back in the case of an emergency. She wasn't that cold-hearted.

On the other hand, though, he'd need proof something wasn't right. Proof…

Dropping the top hat he had been fidgeting with, he rushed to the small, makeshift study in the hotel room.

He'd never forged entire letters before, but he would learn.

He had to.

Philip watched the bronze man spin, eyes glazed over. The music had stopped, once, and the rush of pain and anger had been so sudden that he had screamed and fallen out of bed. A maid and that terrible butler had rushed in, and he had lost it when they tried to touch him.

He didn't quite remember anything from then onwards, but there was something sticky and wet on his cheek and it was irritating him, interfering with the music.

Growling irritatedly, he swiped erratically at his cheek, wiping the red liquid on his sheets and resuming his blank staring.

In the kitchen, Stephen pressed a damp cloth to the maid Amy’s cheek. He had not been told anything; neither had the rest of the staff. But this was confusing.

Philip Carlyle had been a regular guest at the Barnum residence; always bright and smiling, he had been a favorite among the staff. In two days, however, everything had turned on its head--Stephen had been informed that Philip was to be staying at the house for an indefinite period of time, and in the master bedroom no less, while Charity Barnum resided with her parents.

Needless to say, the staff were very confused.

And Philip had been very ill, different and moody. It was tolerable for a little bit, but this was really the last straw. A visitor--an African man--had come, bringing Philip a music box. Since then, Philip had become obsessed. The box’s melody had stopped once, and the resulting scream had been so harsh and inhuman that Stephen had dropped everything he was doing to run to him, as had Amy.

The man was clearly delusional; he babbled incoherently and flailed about on the floor until Stephen and Amy (who had come running from her china polishing) tried to get him on the bed.

He had screeched and howled, clawing and biting, and managed to dig his nails into Amy’s cheek, leaving long lacerations that would certainly leave her with some nasty scars.

At that, Stephen had grabbed a candlestick from the bedside table and lobbed him over the head with it. He had gone limp immediately, giving Stephen time to load him onto the bed, rewind the music box (it seemed to be the only thing keeping Philip sane), and collect the hysterical, bleeding Amy from the floor.

He locked the bedroom door on his way out.

Phineas knocked on the hotel’s bedroom door, calling for Jenny. Hearing no answer, he frowned and knocked once more.

No answer.

“Okay, Jenny, I’m tired of this now. I know you’re in there, so would you please at least answer me!” He tried the doorknob, gritting his teeth as he found that it was locked. “Jenny, I’m not about to let you ignore me! This is urgent!”

Again, no answer.

Phineas was suddenly reminded of another day much the same, a day where he had once again stood in front of a locked door, the occupant not answering.

This time, however, he did not have a key.

It was irrational. His fear was irrational. What were the odds of the situation repeating itself? Even so, he found himself regretting everything. He missed Philip. He missed Charity. He missed the circus. And he missed his daughters.

Never mind privacy; he had to get home.

He threw his shoulder into the door; it was quite weak and burst open on the first try. Rubbing his shoulder, Phineas called out for Jenny again, only to notice a lock of red hair sticking out of a cocoon of blankets on the double bed.

It was cute.

Phineas walked over and attempted to pull the covers off her. She moaned and yanked them from his grasp.

“We don't have a show until later, Phineas. Let me sleep.”

Phineas gritted his teeth. “Jenny, I'm not playing. You didn't answer when I knocked. You aren't asleep--”

“I was.”

“--and what's with this new attitude? You are acting like Caroline when she is denied toffee on Saturdays. What is wrong with you?”

“Nothing is wrong with me. I simply feel fatigued; more so than usual. Let me sleep.”

She wasn't cooperating. Might as well get to the point.

“Jenny, I've been calling you because I need to leave the tour. I'm terribly sorry, but there's been an issue at home, my partner’s health--”

“You’re leaving me.” Jenny’s voice cracked, and if Phineas had a dime for each time those exact words were said to him, he could pay off Philip’s parents to never come near him again.

“Again, I’m sorry, sorry, but I really do have to go, here's the letter--”

He stopped in disbelief, arm outstretched with letter in hand. Jenny Lind had begun to cry.

Even her crying was dignified. She somehow managed to bawl without restraint and look beautifully pure at the same time. Phineas reached out, confused. “Hey, now, why--why are you crying?”

Jenny yanked the covers off her head, and Phineas recoiled in surprise. She looked absolutely horrible. There were bags under her eyes, her hair was a mess, and her eyes were already red and puffy.

“Phineas, I hate to admit defeat, but as you can see, I would very much like to not be left alone in unfamiliar country with nary a friend or accomplice here to help me. If you really must go, postpone the rest of the tour. Bring me with you. And when whatever business you have is resolved, we can pick up where we left off. The people love me enough to wait. Please.”

Phineas stared at her. She looked pathetic, but somehow still radiant. And there was a solution. Forgetting that he had initially planned this out to get away from Jenny entirely, he bit his lip, thinking. He just needed to get back to Philip. If he got back to Philip, he could fix it. And it might be beneficial to have Jenny back; after all, she had agreed to continue the tour once they got back. And if she came back with him, they could talk it out, fix it up. It would work.

Blinded by promises of profit and blood-red lies, he nodded and sat down with Jenny on the bed.

Philip’s eyes bored into the doorknob, sensing the lock. That butler really had gone too far this time. Locking him in his own room. That really was inexcusable.

Perhaps he ought to fire him.

He wouldn't fire him in the traditional sense; no, he'd go a bit further and undoubtedly do the human race a large favor. He'd be applauded. Awarded, even.

Crimson thoughts pooled and clouded in his mind, fueled and propelled by the tinkling, repeating tune.

W.D. walked through the circus doors, whistling with a smile on his face. He got as far as the auditorium doors before he was roughly accosted by Anne, who looked very disheveled and mildly confused.

“W.D., where’ve you been? We need to practice. Practice. You weren't here. Practice. Prac--”

W.D. caught a flailing arm, drawing Anne close to him and holding her tight in his embrace.

“He hurt you, didn't he?”

Anne went limp. There was silence for a minute or so before W.D. felt her tremble slightly. Looking down at her and adjusting his hold, he saw that she was crying--in that silent way she did when she was either trying not to cry or trying to be quiet. Leaning down, he gently picked her up and shushed her as she wrapped her arms around his neck and buried her face in his shoulder, small stifled sobs becoming louder now.

“He can't hurt you now, Anne. He won't ever hurt you, or anyone else. He's just an aristo. He doesn't care for those around him as you and I do.”

Looking behind him at the doors, he took Anne up the stairs, a small smirk pulling at the corners of his mouth.

“New York is better off without him.”

The next day, it rained on Phineas and Jenny’s train. Phineas looked, frowning, out the window, hardly noticing when Jenny slowly placed her hand on his from the adjoining seat.

They'd be back in New York by six that night.

 

Philip hadn't eaten in more than twelve hours. Normally, he'd have been whining quite loudly for about ten of those--but today, he simply sat, not noticing or caring about the constant gnawing emptiness in his stomach. His vision had been black around the edges for a while, but that wasn't important; after all, he only needed the center of his eyesight.

The bronze man whirled; the music box sang, and Philip’s thoughts were no more.

 

Stephen had corralled all the household servants into the dining room at four, notifying them of the incident and letting them know not to go inside Philip’s room or unlock his door under any circumstances. This was technically against Barnum’s orders, but if this were to happen to one of the staff, Stephen said, they would be dismissed immediately. Philip had deliberately caused long-lasting harm to a staff member’s face, and for that, he needed to be isolated until Mr. Barnum came home.

Dismissing everyone to their homes or out on a day off, Stephen hummed softly and began to gather polishing supplies in order to work on the back hall floor. He would forget about Philip; maybe Barnum would too.

Phineas helped Jenny off the train. She had gone from being completely fine to throwing up all over his coat in about five seconds, and he was a little afraid for her now. Philip’s illness, he felt, could have been prevented if Phineas had only been a little more attentive, a little more concerned…

He wasn't going to let anyone else succumb to illness near him, even someone like Jenny.

Especially someone like Jenny.

 

In the house, Philip’s head jerked up, and he stared at the door. Thoughts began to return; thoughts of Phineas. Philip’s mouth twitched down. Phineas had gone, left him alone, left him alone, left him alone, left him alone, left

 

Phineas walked with Jenny from the carriage, she leaning onto his arm for support. Staring at the house,

(it never looked that big before)

he took a deep breath, turning to Jenny. “Philip, as I have stated, takes current residence in my bedroom.” Noticing her look, he fixed her with his most stone-cold gaze, and her eyes flickered away quickly as her resolve dropped. “We need to speak with him; resolve the emergency. And, Jenny, I think there's something you should know…”

 

Philip swung mechanically out of bed, entire body humming in anticipation of something he was only dimly aware was coming. He needed to be downstairs.

Clutching the music box in a bruised hand (his nails were a mess; they looked like a crime scene--several were badly broken and blood ran down them in small trickles, coating the tips of his fingers), he stopped in front of the door to the room, reaching out with fuzzy fingers for the doorknob.

(it’s locked, Philip, you shouldn’t be down there, you’ll only endanger yourself.)

Head twitching violently to the side, he wound up the music box with shaking fingers. They seemed to be going numb, but he didn't care about that. He needed to be downstairs urgently.

Instinct washed over him, and he slid his fingers over the lock, hearing a steady click from inside. Smiling, he slipped out of the bedroom, stroking the music box and padding softly down the hall.

 

Phineas pushed the front door open, admitting a pale Jenny Lind into the house and pointing her to the parlor. She entered, and Phineas took a deep breath, closing his eyes to get his thoughts together--

A scream from the parlor.

His eyes snapped open and he dashed into the parlor, stopping in his tracks when he saw Philip sitting on the elaborate sofa, rocking back and forth.

Oh, Jesus.

Philip’s mouth was moving quickly, and he looked worse than he had when Phineas left. All the blood had drained from his face, and he looked even thinner, all the lean muscle gone and replaced by empty air. Dark circles took up residence beneath his eyes, he had several cuts on his chin, and his hands were a bruised, bloody mess.

But the most alarming thing was not physical at all.

Philip clutched something in his arms, murmuring to it. Upon closer inspection, Phineas could see that it was a music box. Quite apparent, however, was it that the music box was not playing any music at all.

It played an endless stream of static.

“Philip, what are you doing? You--you're all banged up, what have you done--

“You left me.”

Phineas stared at Philip, mind whirring. “No, Philip, I was coming right back. I was only taking Jenny on a little tour, you know, to help the circus ticket sales--”

“You left me, for her.”

Phineas swallowed. “Philip, why don't I take you back to the bedroom? We can all talk more comfortably there, I think. And that way you have an opportunity to get rid of that…’music’ you're playing on that thing. It sounds like a dying cat’s claws on a blackboard.

Philip’s eyes widened. No. Stay down here, Philip. “No. Parlor or not at all.”

Jenny put a hand on P.T.’s arm and nodded at him, and Philip suddenly understood the truth. Phineas had been mocking him, had always been mocking him, from the moment he proposed the agreement. He had played with Philip, toyed with him.

Any man who steals another man’s heart does not deserve to keep their own.

That was one of Philip’s last coherent thoughts.

...

They sat in the parlor, Philip rocking and jerking his head, and Jenny and Phineas sitting and staring awkwardly at Philip, who did not seem to them to be quite all right at all.

Jenny was the first to speak. Turning to Phineas, she gave a small smile. “Remember when I made you stop for two hours in New Jersey?”

“Yes.” It had delayed their arrival by three hours, making Phineas irritated and confused.

“I saw a doctor quickly during the stop. That is why I insisted we stop exactly there.” She took a deep breath, taking Phineas’ hand and placing it on her flat stomach. “According to him, I am a few weeks with child.”

Phineas searched her face, confused smile stuck on his visage. “Jenny, that isn't funny.”

“It isn't meant to be.” She whisper-spoke the line in the breathy voice she used to seduce him, and Phineas felt his world begin to swim before his eyes. This couldn’t be happening. This couldn’t have happened. No, it wasn’t true, she was clearly kidding with him. Clearly.

Reassured by this newfound knowledge, he blinked a few times, clearing his vision. Smiling, he looked at her, forgetting Phil. “Jenny, let’s be serious now. Okay?”

Her face fell, and she let go of his hand. “I am being serious.”

“You can’t be. There’s no way.”

Her eyes were beginning to crystallize, tears gathering. “There is a way,” she said quietly. “I have money, Phineas. Enough money to support us well for the rest of our lives. Stop this circus madness and come, marry me. You can divorce Charity, come to Europe—once we marry you’ll be well-received.” She raised a hand and placed it on Phineas’ cheek, flinching when he drew back. “Marry me, Phineas.”

Phineas recoiled in disbelief, eyes flickering across Jenny’s face, frantically searching for any hint of a lie or a joke. Finding nothing, he closed his eyes for a moment, clenching his teeth. “Miss Lind—“

Jenny’s breath caught, and she placed her hands shakily in her lap.

“What on earth makes you think I will marry you?” Phineas had begun to shake.

Jenny’s gaze turned stone cold, and she breathed in sharply. “Phineas, I will not bring another child into the world to be forced into the same living hell that I was. I will not let my child be disgraced like me. I was lucky, Phineas.” She placed a hand on her stomach, a tear finally running from her left eye. “This baby might not be.”

Phineas felt a burning pressure behind his eyes as he realized that there was no coming back from this. He couldn’t fix things this time. This was supposed to fix things, and he had been an idiot and screwed things up. He’d let Jenny parade him around, led by his sex-starved mind, and it had resulted in this. This was not in the plan.

He couldn’t take this. Not this, not this. Refusing to look at Jenny, he stood up abruptly, noticing Philip and suffering another blow to his shocked mind at the sight of him. Doing what he usually did in times of emergency, he shut off his mind and turned mechanically to Jenny.

“Jenny, we will be sleeping here for the night. I will set you up in the guest bedroom. Philip, I don’t know why you’re down here, but I’ll take you upstairs to the bedroom, alright? I’ll...sleep somewhere else. I need to think.”

Finished, he turned and picked Philip up. Philip made no sound, but refused to let go of the music box, which was really starting to hurt P.T.’s head.

Jenny sat on the sofa, breathing shakily as tears dropped down her face.

Philip lay in bed, eyes staring but not seeing. The music box played its beautiful tune, drawing a clear windowpane

(no, more like a windowshade)

across his thoughts, seeming to clarify everything.

Out of everything that had been said in the parlor earlier, he only had heard one thing.

“with child, marry me”

Phineas had lied to him. He had hurt, and he would keep hurting forever, unless he was stopped.

Stopped, stopped, how to—

Breathing sharply, he swung out of bed and walked to the door, footsteps echoing to the beat of the music. All this time, a repetitive monologue played in his head—

(left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me alone, left me)

giving him an agitated sense of urgency. Padding down the hall, he stopped outside Jenny’s room. Staring blankly ahead of him, he pushed open the door, stepping inside. Jenny was not in bed. She sat at the room’s vanity, hair hanging down over her face in waves as she stared down at the floor, back slumped. Upon hearing entry, she turned slowly, seeing Philip.

“Mr. Carlyle? What are you doing here?” She instinctively drew her dressing gown closer around her, warily glancing over at Philip. Philip didn’t notice her, instead shuffling slowly over to the room’s fireplace and picking up a poker. He set the music box gently down on the fireplace mantel and turned around, beginning to walk.

“Mr. Carlyle? What are you going to do with that? Mr. Carlyle? C-can you hear—“

Three rooms down the hall, Phineas heard a woman scream.








Chapter Text

*****

Phineas shoved open the doors to Jenny’s room, shouting, armed with a candlestick, and ready to take on who he assumed was some random burglar.

What he saw instead of a burglar rendered him unable to move. The candlestick fell from his hand and clattered onto the floor. He stood, staring, wanting to look away but seemingly incapable of it.What he saw before him burned and seared into his mind, and he was sure in that moment that he would never forget it.

Philip stood over Jenny Lind’s lifeless body, screaming incoherent nonsense and driving a fireplace poker into it with incredible force. There was blood everywhere; it coated Philip’s clothes and face, and even as Phineas stood seven feet away at the door, he felt something warm and wet splatter across his own face.

That snapped him out of it, and he sprinted over, tackling a thrashing Philip to the ground.

“Philip! Philip! Listen to me! Stop right now, Philip, can you hear me? God, Philip, what’s wrong with you—“

Philip shrieked even louder, if that was possible, and in a feat of superhuman strength, he shoved Phineas off of him, crawling back to Jenny’s body and beating at it senselessly with the poker. Phineas scrambled after him, fear and adrenaline killing coherent thought, and grabbed hold of Philip’s leg. Philip twisted around, and they made eye contact for a split second.

In that moment, Phineas was more frightened than he'd been in his whole life.

He understood, all at once, that Philip was not here. Or maybe he was, just so distorted and twisted that he wasn't even recognizable. Either way, there was no reasoning with him. He was crazy, utterly insane, and Phineas could do nothing to stop i--

The poker came down on his head with a loud crash, and Phineas made a choked noise. Red invaded his vision, and a pounding pain began to grow on the side of his head.

Don’t pass out. He will kill you.

Phineas kept his eyes open despite every bone in his body telling him to close them and let go. With the last gasp of his strength, he lunged forward and wrapped his arms around the Philip-thing’s waist, standing up and dragging it up with him. It screamed and thrashed, and Phineas nearly lost grip one, two, three times before finally giving up and tossing it onto the bed. It started to get up, grasping at the poker, but Phineas, impulsive and scared, slapped it harshly across the face.

“Philip, if you're in there at all, what the hell?! What the hell?!” Phineas slapped a hand around the Philip-thing’s neck, pinning it to the bed as it thrashed and screamed. “Why in absolute hell--”

He cut off.

Oh.

The Philip-thing began to sputter, and Phineas snapped back to attention, tightening his grip around its neck. It gasped, wheezing out words in between strained breaths.

“You, you...you left...me...you don’t love me, don't love anyone, anyone at all…!” Its words seemed to fuel its strength, and it pushed back, shoving Phineas’ hand off it and propelling itself off the bed. “You’re, you’re a lying bastard, you hear me? BASTARD! You don't. Love. Anybody. You say that you do, but you just USE them, use them like you used me, you lying bastard, lying, lying, I had to, you don't understand, she lied lied lied and you believed it like--like the bastard you are, it made me see, here, now I understand, but you don't, of course you don't!” It staggered forward, backing Phineas up against the wall. Phineas slowly backed up, not knowing what else to do. Hot tears ran down his face; he was really, truly afraid now.

“Philip, whatever you believe, whatever it made you see--it isn't true, it's the liar, not me--”

SHUT UP!”

Phineas shut up.

The Philip-thing advanced towards him, dragging the poker off the bed as he did so. “And I thought you loved me, loved me, but no no you didn't, I understand now, how could you do that how could you-- you wouldn't even kiss me!” Philip’s face contorted into an incredible expression of pain and anger. “Am I really that repulsive?” Hearing no answer, he moved closer to Phineas (who was backed against the wall completely now), brandishing the poker.

“ANSWER ME!”

Phineas’ eyes searched its face frantically, not sure what exactly they were looking for--but some instinct, deep in the core of his being, told him he found it.

Acting on perhaps his stupidest impulse ever, he lunged forward and took Philip’s face in his hands, smashing their lips together in a terrible collision of bloody fear and adrenaline. It thrashed and squalled at first, but then quieted.

The poker clattered to the floor.

After a few seconds, Phineas felt it lean into the kiss, wrapping its arms loosely around his neck and kissing back slowly.

On the fireplace mantel, the music box tinkled to a stop.

“Phineas? What's going on? Why are you back so early?”

Philip blinked slowly, as if waking up from a long dream. Looking around, his face slowly morphed into one of horror, and he stumbled back, attempting to wipe his hands on his shirt and recoiling when he saw it was also covered in blood.

Phineas? Why is there--oh my god.”

Catching sight of Jenny’s mutilated body, he slapped a hand on his mouth, staggering back. Tears began to gather in his eyes, and he looked at Phineas desperately.

“What happened?”

Phineas’ face was unreadable, and he gazed at Philip quietly.

“Philip, you are telling me you do not remember doing this.”

“I...did…?”

Phineas took a tentative step towards him. “Yes.”

Philip looked at one of his bloody hands, then at Jenny’s corpse, then back at his hand. Phineas pointed to something, and Philip followed his gaze, all the blood draining out of his face when he saw the poker, decorated with blood and small bits of gore. He had just enough time to look up at Phineas and make a small, disbelieving noise before collapsing next to the bed.

Philip sat on a stool in the kitchen, clutching a cup of warm milk in his trembling hands. Phineas had not said another word; he had just fetched him a cloth to get the blood off of his face, set him up in the kitchen, and left.

Philip had tried to use the cloth to the best of his ability, but was still covered in blood save his face and most of his hands. Hot tears ran down his face; he had not stopped crying since coming to thirty minutes earlier. He had killed a girl. A grown woman, and he had killed her. What scared him the most, however, was that he had absolutely no memory of the event. Or any event, really, since the day W.D. came to visit. He remembered getting a sort of music box, but that was all. Stifling another sob, he pressed the palm of his right hand to his eye.

Killed.

He had just begun to shake again when Phineas came into the room. He said nothing, but placed a pile of folded clothes on the kitchen counter and began to undress Philip, eyes and hands all tact and seriousness. Philip drew in a sharp breath at the cold air hitting his skin, but let Phineas undress him, closing his eyes as another bout of sobbing threatened to start.

He was startled when Phineas began to clothe him again, but quickly remembered the situation

(what the hell were you expecting, Philip?)

and began to hum softly under his breath as a small distraction. He stopped when Phineas finished dressing him in clean clothes, and was surprised when Phineas said softly,

“Don't stop. It's distracting.”

They sat there in the faint morning light, silent save for the faint sound of Philip’s broken humming.



Chapter Text

Phineas had left sometime in the past three hours, but Philip had only just noticed.

He stood up slowly off the stool, wincing when pain in his lower back and entire right side flared. He was sore.

Suddenly reminded of the activities that had made him sore, he dropped his cup of milk, not even flinching when it shattered on the floor, spraying him with warm liquid. He forgot where he had been going, what he had stood up to do. The only thing on his mind was Jenny.

Jenny, Jenny, poor dead Jenny.

He sank to the floor, sitting in the puddle of warm milk and mug shards and rocking back and forth. The shards of his mug pierced through his clothes and the skin on his feet, cutting him, but he hardly noticed.

Philip. You’re delusional. You killed, killed, killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed killed

murderer.

Phineas stood in the bedroom, hand tangled in his hair. He was good at controlling his emotions, and right now he had tucked away all his anger, panic, and shock into a small box at the back of his mind. It was fighting to get out and growing stronger with every second he kept it locked away, but he ignored it. He’d deal with it later. Right now, he needed to have a clear mind, and he struggled to keep the waters in his mind calm as he surveyed the bloody scene.

Well, the rugs were ruined.

The thought of calling the police had never even crossed his mind, and he instead walked over to the body to inspect it. Philip hadn’t done any damage to her face

(damn it)

which could be a curse or a blessing; on one hand, if she was found murdered anywhere near here the police would be hot on his trail. On the other hand, if she went missing but turned up dead in a few weeks, he could claim she’d gone out for a walk and never returned.

But would that hold?

They’d investigate, for sure. Jenny Lind’s disappearance would be all over the papers in two days, and he couldn’t pay them off this time. And his rushed lie wouldn’t hold for long. How was he to fix the room? Taking the rugs, bedsheets, and curtains to a cleaning-lady would raise an extreme amount of suspicion, and he couldn’t burn them; a fire would no doubt be noticeable, and if he couldn’t give an explanation--

He was beginning to realize that he was well and truly done for.

Stephen watched Philip rock back and forth on the floor from a space in the pantry. He'd heard Jenny Lind scream when he was putting the floor wax away; he'd been thinking about the strange situation all night. He cleaned when he was stressed, and as a result, all of the flooring in the back hall was entirely squeaky clean. Not knowing the circumstances and being the coward he would readily admit he was, he'd dropped everything and run into the kitchen, shutting himself in the pantry.

From a crack in the pantry door, he'd seen Mr. Barnum coax a hysterical, sobbing Philip Carlyle onto a stool in the kitchen, and had almost given himself away when he saw that they were both covered in blood.

Maybe they fought off an intruder and were injured in the confrontation, he thought, but was forced to abandon that possibility when he heard Philip’s high-pitched sobs of what have I done and help me, please.

Oh, why had he agreed to work here?

Barnum’s elusive history and scandalous circus had not escaped his notice, but he'd been curious. Curious to see how it worked, to know how the alleged P.T. Barnum lived. Now he wished he hadn't been so curious--curiosity killed the cat, after all; or in this case, the houseguest.

The pantry was a quite large storage room; it housed not only food and rations but also a corkboard on the left wall next to one of the house’s two phones. Now, Stephen retreated further into the dark pantry, slowly dialing a number on the phone while keeping one eye on Philip through the crack in the door.

“Hello? Yes, I can't speak for long--there’s been an emergency.” He listened to the other line, giving the address of the house and his name. “Yes? A murder.”

Phineas paced around the room, running a hand through his hair. It hurt and came away bloodier each time, but he didn’t care. He was in a fix.

The bad, scared, panicked thoughts began to rise up again, and he whined softly, stopping in the middle of the room and putting his face in his hands.

“What am I going to do?” he mumbled, but there was nobody else in the room. Jenny’s corpse did not answer him.

Her corpse.

Phineas walked over to it. Every nerve in his brain shrieked at him not to, but he bent down anyway, brushing her hair off her beautiful face. It would have been beautiful in death, too, he thought, had it not been for the fact that her eyes were open.

Open, and staring at him.

He stumbled back and away from the body, retching to the side and moaning loudly. It was his fault. His fault that she was pregnant, and she was staying here, and she was dead. He’d made a lot of mistakes in his life. Each one he had rectified with sweet words and promises he did his best to make good on, but not this one. This one was irredeemable.

Someone would alert the authorities, he knew--if he didn’t clean up the mess before the servants all got back from wherever they were, he was done for. But he didn’t even know how to begin, and the walls were stained, anyway,

(jesus, how much blood do people even have?)

leaving him no hope. He was utterly, completely lost.

He turned his head slowly, seeing the poker still lying near the bed, and that’s when the box holding all his delayed emotions burst and he collapsed in sobs on the floor next to Jenny.

His brain was everywhere at once, screaming, shouting, making his chest tight and heavy and his eyes burn like they never had before--and the part of him that had remained coherent was no help at all. Instead of calming him down, it ran through a list of all he had lost, agitating him further and propelling his tears.

(charity is gone now, no hope for philip, you can’t go back to the circus, they won’t let you see your daughters)

Crying harder and harder each second, he began to crawl over Jenny, knee sliding into a poker wound with a thick squelch.

(and jenny, you’ll never see her beautiful face again, never see that child you made)

His foot caught on her side, and he shrieked, slipping down into a large puddle of blood. His shirt was even more stained now, but he didn’t bother to get up fully, dragging himself to the poker with immense difficulty. He took it in two trembling hands, sobbing and slurring out nonsense.

(why are you still here at this point? you’re annoying us, now)

He jerked it forwards toward his chest, stopping at the last minute, then did it again, then again, never quite able to, gasping for air, trails of tears marked into his cheeks.

(there’s nothing left to live for, so why not?)

It was too much; he couldn’t bear it. The wound on his head pounded, and all the strength in his arms drained away. The poker fell, and Phineas sank onto the side of the dresser, trying his hardest to push himself up. He needed to get out of this room.

Stephen tiptoed out of the pantry when he heard the knock. Philip had begun to moan quietly from his position on the floor, tucking his head onto his knees. He didn’t notice Stephen leave the room.

The frightened butler broke into a sprint as soon as he reached the kitchen doors, letting a large-ish band of policemen into the house. A tall man with a rather intimidating mustache asked where the emergency was, and Stephen pointed one hand upstairs and the other to the kitchen.

Retreating as another, average-sized and slightly stout man began to ask him questions, he sighed, relieved.

It’d all be taken care of.

Phineas heard a commotion downstairs, and through his pounding head and sore limbs, he recognized that it was bad. Rushing down the hall to his room, he threw on a new shirt and a dressing gown from the dresser across from the bed before going down to greet the people downstairs.

He was surprised to find that he knew most of them.

“Mr...Ellywin?” Phineas approached the tall, mustached man, who left off asking their bewildered butler questions to turn to him. He opened his mouth to speak, then started. The calm look dropped off his face like a hot poker.

“Mr. Barnum? What’s happened to you?”

“Excuse me?” Phineas frowned, confused, then remembered his head wound. “I, ah...bumped it, on a...table…”

“Bumped it? No, Mr. Barnum, though your head wound does look rather worrying, I am afraid I mean your hair.”

“My what?

Mr. Ellywin frowned, turning to pick up a silver tray from the front room’s side table. Phineas looked into it, all the color draining from his face.

There was now a large, pure white streak running through his hair.

Chapter Text

Phineas stared at his reflection, unable to believe. This wasn't possible.

But it was, he remembered. His father’s hair had gone completely gray on his deathbed, in the matter of a couple of weeks.

He was interrupted in his musings by a loud yell from upstairs. One of the policemen had found Jenny’s room.

Oh no.

Six policemen thumped up the stairs, and P.T. squeezed his eyes shut. They’d found it.

Turning, he noticed two men in uniform bringing Philip out of the kitchen. He was crying, bloody footprints trailing behind him. The men brought him to the couch, sitting him down and beginning to talk to him in soft tones. Philip only shook his head, crying harder.

Mr. Ellywin turned from P.T. to a medic also on the scene. “Go talk to him. Find out what’s wrong, if he can remember. And try to get him to speak coherently. I’ll speak to Mr. Barnum here.” Finished, he turned back to P.T. with a frown on his face. “Why don’t we sit down?”

P.T. nodded, eyes wide and afraid. They sat on a couch opposite Philip’s, P.T. shaking all the way there. He watched Philip sob and rock back and forth in his seat until Mr. Ellywin finally ventured to speak.

“Mr. Barnum, you know that I am the senior investigating detective of the New York police force. I had hoped to not have to speak to you like this. I trust you are aware of the circumstances?” Opposite him, P.T. nodded. “Then you know, sir, that there is a dead woman in your guest bedroom upstairs?”

P.T. shook his head, mind whirling.

“Then why, Mr. Barnum, is there blood all over your pants?”

P.T. stared at him, not knowing what to say. He was done for. Thoughts of ending it all began to swirl in his head again, pooling, growing--

“Mr. Ellywin! Sir! We’ve found something that might be of interest to you.” A small man in glasses and a uniform ran down the stairs, carrying a small box in his hands.

P.T.’s breath caught.

It was the music box.

The policeman handed the box to Mr. Ellywin, whose eyes widened. He turned quickly to P.T. before directing his gaze once more to the box. “We’ll continue this conversation in a moment.” He turned the box over in his hands. Something nagged at P.T. as he watched the man fumble with it, but he couldn’t quite place it. He turned his gaze back to Philip, brow furrowing.

Then, as Mr. Ellywin began to wind up the box, it hit him all at once.

He turned to the man, eyes wide. “Wait! DON’T--”

Too late.

Mr. Ellywin opened the lid, giving rise to the most horrible sound P.T.’d ever heard in his life. It far rivaled the static he’d heard previously; it sounded not quite like scratching, not quite like yowling--but a mix of the two combined with some sort of terrible crushing, compacting sound.

And oh, was it loud.

The officers in the immediate vicinity slapped their hands over their ears, losing their hold on Philip, who straightened. P.T. stared at him, understanding that this was very bad indeed.

Mr. Ellywin slammed the lid closed, but it was too late. The music didn’t stop. A slow, guttural noise began to emit from Philip’s throat, and P.T. shifted back on the couch as he watched his partner (lover? friend?) stand up slowly and turn to the nearest officer.

Philip suddenly threw his fist into the policeman’s face, making no further sound, and Mr. Ellywin snapped his gaze up, standing to try and incapacitate him.

A sickening crunch accompanied Philip’s fist, and Mr. Ellywin toppled to the floor, blood gushing from his nose. Philip continued in this fashion for the next three officers, until Phineas snapped out of his daze and stood up. When Philip turned to him, he grabbed his face, crushing their lips together for the second time that day.

But this time, Philip did not kiss back.

The music box continued its guttural screeching, and the cold insanity did not leave Philip’s eyes. P.T. surveyed this, confused, and kissed him again, and again, and--

Nothing happened, and Philip drew his fist back, snarling. P.T. ducked, gasping, and narrowly dodged it. He fell backwards, scrambling across the floor, and tears began to leak from his eyes yet again.

A baton clanged against Philip’s head, and he fell, screeching. P.T. watched him twitch on the floor, eyes large but pupils only tiny pinpricks.

Two officers fell onto him, pinning him down. “Someone turn that damned box off!” one shouted, and P.T. grabbed it, wincing at the sound. Shutting it didn’t work, and he frantically turned the winding mechanism the opposite way. It slowed, then stopped, and so did Philip’s twitching. He went limp, eyes closing, and the officers pinning him down picked him up, loading him to the doors. “Get him to a damn hospital!” yelled a stout officer, and the others nodded, carting him out the doors as P.T. looked after them, wanting to call out but not daring.

Philip came to in the back of a dark place. Not entirely dark, he recognized; there was a sliver of light coming from a small slit of the walls. As he woke up, he felt himself bumped and jolted, and registered that he was in a carriage. He frowned. Tried to sit up.

He couldn’t; he was strapped to wherever he was lying. Philip began to panic, breathing becoming thick and shallow. The sliver of light on the side of the wall seemed smaller and smaller every second, and the remaining darkness seemed to envelop him. He opened his mouth to scream, and,

A sickly yellow lantern flared to life, illuminating a terrible specter, a nightmarish monster--

Upon further inspection, it was only a man.

The strange man lowered the lantern. “Good evening, Philip. I trust you feel a little better?”

Philip made a strange gasping noise; the events of earlier that day had begun to hit him in one giant wave. He felt himself slipping away again, and the man’s face faded out, grinning like a grotesque jack-o’-lantern.

He woke again in a white room. Memory flooding back to him, Philip sat up abruptly, pleased to find he was not strapped down. His relief evaporated, however, when he tried to brush his hair off his face and found he could not. His arms were held fast around him.

He was confused, in a strange place; there was no sign of Phineas in sight, and so he did what any rational person would do in his situation.

He began to cry loudly.

He went on for at least two minutes before he heard a heavy latch click open. A door he had not noticed swung open in the seemingly endless white room, and a man stepped in.

Philip stared at the face; he'd seen it before, but couldn't remember where. It was an unremarkable face, marked by thick brown eyebrows and piercing, beautiful brown eyes.

The playwright in Philip awakened, and he thought to himself how strange it was that his eyes were so striking. In stories, if someone's eyes were piercing, they were always blue or green, the color of emeralds or clear skies. And there was nothing remarkable about the color of his eyes, either. They were plain, muddy brown. But...all the same, Philip’s inner writer recognized a tint to them; they had a strange quality he'd never seen before.

And so he mused, forgetting himself and his situation, until the man began to draw closer and speak.

“Hello, Mr. Carlyle. Feeling more awake now, are we?” He grinned, and suddenly Philip was reminded of a dark, bumpy carriage and a sickly yellow lantern. So that’s where he’d seen him.

“Where am I? Where’s P.T.? Who are--”

“Patience, Mr. Carlyle.” The man laughed, and Philip felt a chill run through him. He did not like this man. A doctor, he recognized; he was wearing white all over. The doctor sat on the surface--it was a bed--next to Philip, and Philip drew away, shaking.

“No need for that. My name is Dr. Phillips. You are no doubt scared and confused--no, I won’t use those words, they make you sound like a little girl, don’t they?” He retrieved a sleek red pen from his pocket and began clicking it. “I have been assigned as your physician--”

“Physician?” Philip’s mouth dropped open as he began to put two and two together. “I’m in a--”

“Recovery house for the mentally ill? Yes, you are. After your little fight with the officers trying to help you, we took you here for a psychiatric evaluation. And, Mr. Carlyle,” he said, speaking low and moving closer, “you may want to stay here. It is, after all, a little bit better than a jailhouse…”

Phil started. The doc--Dr. Phillips reached over, wiping a tear from his cheek, and Philip shivered. There was not a trace of warmth in the finger.

“So...I’m…”

“Certified insane by the state, yes. Your evaluation could change that, but as of right now, it’s looking like this is your new home. Don’t worry. You’ll be perfectly fine here.”

Phineas sat in the cold wooden chair, feeling very small. He was at the police station, and had just spent two and a half hours telling the police what had happened, then repeating himself, then telling the story again--with a few modifications, of course. In his version, Jenny wasn’t pregnant. To say that hurt something inside of him, but he ignored it, pushing onwards. It was the music box, he said. Philip was perfectly fine until he got that box.

The investigators who were there testified with him, but when the forensic team got to the house, they could find no scrap of evidence that the strange box had actually existed. The subject of it had been dropped; Phineas had a feeling that the officers who had seen it and heard it had quite a large desire to forget it.

Philip had been taken away; to a mental institution, they said. Phineas had simply nodded, unable to feel anything at this point. He intended to find a quiet alley once the police were done with him and put to use the kitchen knife he’d taken from the house when the officers weren’t looking. Hidden in the waistband of his pants, it pressed against his back, a cold but welcoming weight.

“Mr. Barnum? There is a carriage outside waiting to escort you to a hotel. All expenses are paid for while we investigate the crime scene at your home. Whenever you’re ready, then.”

Phineas nodded, standing up slowly. The knife was cold, unforgiving against his skin, but he forced a strained smile and followed the officer out.

The circus had not heard from Barnum in weeks, and despite the cold contempt which still surrounded him and Philip’s names, they had begun to worry. There was tension in the air; shows had ceased for the time being, and more accidents than usual happened during practices. Anne, for instance, had sprained her ankle twice and broken her right index finger.

W.D. did not practice with her.

He felt guilty. Giving Philip the apoti ti ibanuje had been a mistake; he had been impulsive. I am sorry, Mother, he thought, sitting on the steps outside the circus building. I have dishonored your memory.

Lettie called him from inside, and he got up, still regretting his actions. He’d go to see Philip tomorrow.

Hopefully it was not too late.

Chapter Text

Phineas was becoming irritated.

He had allowed himself to be escorted to the hotel room, intending to escape to the nearest backstreet or alleyway as soon as possible, but was so far finding it impossible. The officers with him had evidently taken offense to the stiff way he’d sat in the carriage and his lack of spoken words, and had refused to leave him alone for even one second. He’d tried everything, but they did not go away. After two hours of this, Phineas had thrown his dark alleyway and quiet death out the window. If he meant to die, he’d find a way, officers or no officers.

He slept that night with a knife and a bottle of crushed nightshade under his pillow.

The next morning, W.D. walked the streets to the Barnum house, heart racing faster with every step. A feeling of wrongness grew with each corner he turned, and when he finally reached the house, his mouth dropped open.

Policemen and people in uniforms surrounded the place. I’m too late, W.D. thought, and squeezed his eyes shut. A policeman walked up to him, and W.D. immediately began to drill him for details. The officer was reluctant at first, but upon learning that W.D. knew his wife (and also happened to know that his wife was cheating on him with the African stable boy), he was quick to give up all that he knew.

Twenty minutes later, W.D. was feeling quite a bit more informed, but not at all any less guilty. The box had backfired. It hadn’t worked, and the results had been fatal. He had cost Barnum everything; he had cost the circus everything, and for what? To avenge some petty affair formed on the whims of two arrogant white men? It had been stupid, no better than the reckless decisions he had made as a small child.

Have I learned nothing, Mother?

He needed to find them. But first, rest. He would rest

(you’re scared, aren’t you?)

and continue thinking on it in the morning. It would resolve itself on its own, wouldn’t it? Yes, it would, he thought. He'd underestimated Barnum. The man would fix it on his own. If W.D. didn't stay at the circus and out of trouble, he would cause unnecessary confusion. Better to keep out of it. He'd already muddled things up enough.

A voice that sounded suspiciously like his mother began to nag at him, but he closed his eyes, walking away from the house.

And with every step he took towards safety, salvation grew farther away.

Agh.

Attempt four had been foiled. The officers were beginning to look at him funny, and P.T. suspected that his fifth attempt would be his last. They'd realize for sure what was going on if he messed up again, and either he would be successful, or he'd land himself in a long white room next to Philip.

Nightshade hadn't worked, of course it hadn't worked; the small vial had been suspicious and there was an officer there who had been unlucky enough to have lost two sisters and a wife to nightshade poisoning. He recognized the smell immediately, and there went attempt number three.

Number four was where he'd really gotten careless--pulled out a knife in the middle of the hotel suite’s living room. It had been snatched from him immediately, and the explanation he'd come up with was...patchy at best.

One more mistake and you can say goodbye to freedom and hello to padded walls and a lifetime of misery.

He wanted, needed, to end this inane game the universe seemed to be playing with him. Yet, as time went on, his resolve weakened. A little bit of his old brash confidence had begun to dig its way through all the sorrow and red thoughts piled over his heart, and he thought he could fix this.

A woman is dead, you bastard. You can’t bring her back to life, and as much as you love Philip, he killed her. He killed your child, too.

No. It wasn’t Philip’s fault. He just had to ride this out--wait for the police to clear his house and leave him alone--and then he would fix this. He could do it.

He could fix this; what was a little time while he waited for things to calm down? Philip would be fine in the meantime. The circus could use a little more time to practice. Nothing bad could happen if he just...sat tight, could it?

Philip was fine, wasn’t he?

Wasn’t he?

Philip lay on his bed. It had been seven days, but he did not know that. Time had begun to blur together; his room had no windows, and he was not allowed out except for the bathroom and his evaluation. He had not needed to take Dr. Phillips’ advice; the evaluating psychiatrist had taken one look at him and sent him back to his room. Philip could understand why.

He was not allowed a mirror, but Dr. Phillips told him. He looked haggard, tired, and ten years older.

But still beautiful, the doctor had whispered under his breath, and despite him being nearly at the door and Philip being on the bed ten feet away, he had heard.

The room had seemed to drop ten degrees in temperature.

Philip had begun to look forward to the doctor’s visits. He came four times a day, and sometimes he brought Philip his meals. He would talk about wonderful, strange things, and his eyes would bore into Philip’s and let him forget. He would talk about doctor-y things, too, and Philip didn’t understand, but he listened all the same. Dr. Phillips’ voice was like honey and molasses, and Philip would often find that three hours had passed, when it had felt like five minutes of stories and wonders.

Today, it had been three and half hours since breakfast, and there was no sign of his doctor.

Philip felt the stirrings of worry--he always came in right after breakfast. Even with Philip’s skewed interpretation of time, he could tell something was off.

The schedule was off.

Philip heard a latch click, and lurched up from the bed, gasping. He felt the faint ghost of a smile fall from his face as he took in Dr. Phillips’ appearance. It was wrong. The energy surrounding him was wrong. And something was missing.

Dr. Phillips walked over and began to speak rapidly. His eyes were dark, focused, and Philip felt that his gaze pinned him to the wall.

“Hello, Philip. I can call you Philip, can't I? I never asked. Of course, I shouldn't have had to. Don't you recognize me? I recognized you, Philip. From the moment I saw you, I recognized you.”

Philip stared at him. True, there was something familiar about his face, but it was faint enough that it just slipped his mind. He stared at the doctor, eyes blank. Dr. Phillips sneered, then marched over and grabbed Philip by the arm, hard.

“Come with me; I have something to show you.”

As he dragged Philip out of the room, Philip noticed what was missing. The red pen always in the doctor’s pocket, the pen he was always clicking--it was gone.  

He was distracted by light flooding in through a window in the hall. It hurt his eyes, but he had missed it.

The doctor pulled Philip into another room, turning to lock the door behind him. Philip attached no significance to this action; the door to his room was always locked, after all. He was too busy taking in the room. The walls were a light mint green, and there was a white couch on one wall. A large window took up another, and the curtains looked as if they had never been touched. A large brown piano stood near the windows, gathering dust. This room was not regularly inhabited.

Dr. Phillips stood, a small, open-mouthed smile gracing his not-quite-familiar features. “Do you like it, Philip? I had to pull a lot of strings, but now you can come in here as well as your room.” He whirled, suddenly, and walked to Philip, putting his hands on his lower arms. Philip flinched, but remembered what the doctor had done for him and endured.

“Can I tell you a secret?” he murmured, voice lowering. Philip nodded, head buzzing with alarm. “I’m only supposed to see you once a day. But I get to come more often; I put in requests and sat through a lot of meetings, but it was worth it, so worth it. For, Philip, I am fascinated with you. Come with me.” He began to lead Philip towards the couch, but Philip shook his head, pulling away. “Dr. Phillips--”

“Call me Henry.” The doctor pulled on Philip’s arms and he stumbled onto the couch. “We’re at that point now, aren’t we. For god’s sakes, don’t you remember me? ” His hand was on the back of Philip’s neck now, and it was cold as ice. “Maybe I ought to start with something different. When you killed that girl, Philip, I was at the house with the officers. I saw the body...and I found something. Something they, no doubt, have forgotten about.” He leaned in closer, and Philip closed his eyes, trembling. “The music box, Philip. Where did you get it?”

Philip whimpered and shook his head. He sensed something bad; with the addition of a first name Dr. Phillips grew even more painfully familiar.

“I’ve been looking for that for a long time. It is an old folk legend, Philip, did you know that? Among the slaves and the plantations; the one place I was comfortable and wanted, they told of the box in stories and tales. It was fascinating, Philip--and to think that it would resurface with you at the helm? I’ve missed you so, Philip. Missed you so…” His hand caressed Philip’s cheek, and suddenly it all clicked into place.

Phillips.

Slave plantations.

He gasped. “Henry.”

The doctor smiled, revealing slightly crooked but white-as-ivory teeth. “Remember, the ball?”

“My aunt--the only one in the family whose husband owned a slave plantation...he made so much money that--”
“That your parents named their only son after him.” Henry Phillips, second son of Laura Carlyle-Phillips and Richard Phillips, put a hand on Philip’s leg. Philip’s head whirled and he had to force himself to stay. Cousin. His cousin. His doctor was his cousin. All at once, memories began to rush in, and he jerked, gasping.

“You killed my cat. The only time I met you, you killed my cat.”

Dr. Phillips moved closer. “Ah, so you remember. You were nine, I thirteen. We had a connection, Philip, a connection, and do you remember how we snuck out to the oak tree in the back of the gardens? The branches hung, Philip, and we were together--almost, almost, but the damned devil of a cat...stupid thing, it tripped, and broke its neck. I didn’t kill it, Philip, its own stupidity killed it.”

He leaned closer, closer, until his breath tickled Philip’s ear.

“Just as the idiocy of so many men becomes their downfall.”

Alarm bells that had been hanging suspended in Philip’s head went off all at once, and he scrambled back and away on the couch.

“I want to go back to my room.” The words were small, whispered, and Philip suddenly seemed to have found something invisible on the floor very interesting.

The doctor smiled, and scooted closer. “Not until you play for me.”

Shaking, eyes wide, Philip pushed himself off of the couch and walked slowly over to the piano. It was old, dusty, and out of tune, and Philip hadn’t played in months--but as he sat at the keyboard and ran his fingers over the keys, it all came back. A minute later, he was lost in the melody and old memories of happy times when he was young and taught by the sweet old lady in the house on Decker Street. He hardly noticed Dr. Phillip’s--Henry’s--hands descending onto his shoulders.

He was ripped from the keys three minutes later by the doctor’s cold hands. Philip stared into his eyes, scared. Henry was breathing heavily, pupils dilated, and Philip had just enough time to whisper “Don’t,” before the doctor’s mouth came down heavily on his.

*****

Somehow, his mouth was cold. Philip tried his best to not kiss back, whimpering through the forced joining of lips, and when the doctor wrapped his arms around Philip and dragged him to the couch, he took advantage of the distraction to scream.

Dr. Phillips hissed, and slapped Philip hard across the face. He began to cry, yelling for help, and the doctor growled at him. “Don’t cry, love, it makes it harder. None of that, now--shhhhh, shhhhh, it’ll be alright, you’ll feel good, I promise--”

Philip shrieked and began to flail, pushing out of the doctor’s arms and running for the door. His brain chose that exact moment to remind him that it was locked, but it wouldn’t have mattered--he tripped halfway there, and the doctor was on him in a second. “I love you, you know that, you’re just scared--it’s fate, Philip, fate, what are the odds that I’d get assigned to you? Assigned to you, and the music box...shhhhhh, dearheart…” He was carrying Philip now (despite his loud wails and wild flailing) and took no time at all to drop him onto the couch, falling on top of him with a swan’s grace.

The kissing resumed, and Philip gave one more halfhearted kick before giving up. He cried, cried loud, but Henry gave no heed. He kissed down Philip’s neck, ripping open his shirt when he ran out of flesh to mark, and reached a hand down to his crotch, moving his palm against it in slow circles. It was arousing, but Philip only cried--he hated this, hated this, and if Henry was going to do it, why couldn’t he at least speed it up? He just wanted to get back to his room and his bed, wanted to sleep forever and forever until he forgot.

Then Henry began to unclothe him, and he moaned, realizing that there wasn’t any hope now. This was going to happen, whether he wanted it or not. His pants and shirt were gone in a second, and the doctor kissed him harder, pulling off his last layers of clothing and kissing the area just above his crotch.

Philip just lay there.

Henry touched his lips to the head of his penis, cooing so perfect and marble statue, aren’t you? Philip stared at the ceiling, pretending it was P.T. When Henry lifted and spread his legs, however, tears began to fall again. No, Philip, it's Phineas. Not your cousin, Phineas. You love him, and he loves you, and it's all going to be alright.

Then his illusions were shattered as what felt like a hot steel rod was rammed into him, tearing him open and causing hot, searing pain unlike any he'd ever felt. Philip sobbed and swore as it began to move, seeming to grow hotter and bigger with each senseless thrust. He slowly registered that he was being kissed again, but the kisses were sloppy and wet and not Phineas kisses at all. In this mess, he faintly heard Henry moan--he was saying words, but Philip, in his painful daze, could not hear them.

The doctor--Henry hit a new angle, and Philip screamed in pain. Soft words began to flow past his ears, but they only accentuated everything. It was killing him, killing him, killing--

Then Henry shuddered and moaned, and just like that it was over.

The terrible pain abated a bit as he pulled out, but a steady throbbing had begun in its place. Henry murmured something along the lines of beautiful you did so good and kissed Philip’s open mouth once more, before looking down and frowning.

“Oh dear, sweetness, you’re bleeding a bit--let’s get that cleaned up, shall we?” He stood up, pulling his pants back on

(when did he take them off?)

and handing Philip his clothes. Philip looked down and screamed.

A bit? He’d be surprised if he didn’t die of blood loss right there. The doctor retrieved a handkerchief and tried to clean him up. It worked, partly, but it hurt like hell, and Philip ended up just lying on the couch while Henry dressed him, silent tears leaking from the corners of his eyes.

*****

They walked out together, pain flaring with every step Philip took. A nurse tapped Henry on the shoulder. “Goodness, Dr. Phillips, what was all that racket? Sounded like bloody murder in there!” she said, and Philip began to open his mouth, to yell, to say no, it wasn’t murder, but it was worse because he raped me, he’s my cousin and he RAPED me and he killed my cat and now I’m bleeding, don’t you see how much I’m bleeding, I can see it so why can’t you, you stupid whore he RAPED me and he’ll do it again no matter what I say why won’t you stop it why won’t you

Henry laughed. “My patient had a bit of a...hard time adjusting to the change in environment. He’ll come around after I bring him back here a few times, though...he’s pretty reasonable.” He looked straight at Philip during that last sentence, eyes boring a hole through his head. Philip stifled a sob.

Help me.

Chapter Text

*

The whitejackets think I’m nutty,

‘Cause I shun the diplomats

But their pills turn my brain to putty,

Now Lucifer’s not just a cat

(I AM)

(SATAN)

Their insulin puts me under;

Shock therapy makes me insane

And after years of steady frying

The doctors gave up trying;

They stuck two steel rods in my brain.

*

Philip had taken to sleeping on his stomach.

The bleeding hadn't stopped at first, and he'd been scared, but after a day or so it had trickled to a stop. Henry’s regular visits had recommenced, but Philip found it hard to listen to him. He was always afraid--afraid that one day the doctor’d come in without his pen, saying come, my darling, I have something to show you.

On this, the second day since the incident, he came into Philip’s room before it was time. Realizing the schedule was off--and what had happened the last time the schedule was off--Philip squeaked and retreated to the corner of the bed farthest from the door. Henry came in, smiling that wide smile of his, and walked over to Philip, putting a hand on his head. Philip closed his eyes, trembling, mind babbling incoherent afraid nonsense. Henry began to speak.

“Hello, love. The schedule’s changed a bit; I get to see you earlier now. Don't you love that, dear?” He leaned over to drop a cold kiss on Philip’s lips. Philip shuddered, but Henry did not seem to notice. His hand gravitated from the top of Philip’s head to the back of his neck, and Philip let out a small whimper, knowing what was coming next.

When the doctor spoke again, his voice was husky, lowered.

“Would you like to play the piano for me, dear?”

“You said you’d be done three days ago; I can and will take you to cou--”

“Now, sir, that was an estimate, not a promise. I can't say for myself when they'll be done--”

“Do you realize how much this is costing? I can't be at my job if I can't be at my house. You are dragging this out much longer than necessary; she's dead and you've been beating a dead horse for--what is it, a week? I have things I need to--”

“I understand that, but we need to understand the psyche of our killer--”

“‘Your killer’ has a name--”

“Sir, I’m going to ask you to step back--Sir? Sir, step back!”

“You will not tell me what to do on my own property!”

Whack.

P.T. woke up in a dark-ish room that smelled of mold and urine. He sat up, grimacing--his back ached--and felt around, frowning. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light (for there was light, he saw, coming through a small window in a wall), he saw that he was not completely enclosed--opposite him, where there should be a door in a wall, there was only a set of thick metal bars.

Realization dawned on him, and instead of giving up, he felt red-hot anger flare in his core as he stood, making his way to the offending bars.

“Hello?! I will have whoever is in here with me know that this will be taken to court! ” He stared through the bars as his statement echoed. No response. He was getting ready to yell again, louder this time and with a few more choice words, when there was a faint click at the end of the corridor (there was a long corridor, he saw, with more bars etched into the walls). Light flooded in, and a large figure came to P.T.’s cell, unlocking it. He began to speak, to P.T.’s indignation.

“Calm yerself. You’re innere for assaultin’ a po-leece officer, you are, but the people-in-charge say you’ll be fine inna minute. Shock, they told me, yes they did, so they ain’t pressin’ charges. Just come with me, okay? We’ll getcha out in a snap.” He smiled, revealing crooked yellow teeth, and P.T. wondered how in the everloving hell this man had become a police officer. Nevertheless, he followed the man out, seething quietly the whole time.

It was happening again, for the third time in a row.

Henry was quite randy today.

Three hours. Three hours sitting in another police office, going through more reports, giving more testimonies--just to return to a stupid gilded cage of a hotel room while strange men rifled through his house and his belongings.

Oh, he was mad.

All his issues bounced around in his mind, and he sat at the hotel suite’s couch, head in hands. As soon as the idiots of policemen cleared his house, he’d have to begin the inquiries about Philip. He'd sue, of course he'd sue, as soon as he could figure out where the damn box had come from in the first place. He'd sue the makers of the box, whoever had sent it to Philip--because it had to be the box causing this.

It had to be.

And then there was Charity; he hadn't thought about her for a long while. Was she still with her parents? If he had received any letters from them, they were at the house.

The house where he was not allowed.

Last he had heard of his daughters, they were with Charity--they must be hopelessly confused. He missed them terribly--ah, what he would give to have his girls in his arms for but a minute. Just one minute. Just one.

Philip woke to a wet mouth on his neck. He allowed himself to indulge in the fantasy that it was, in fact, last month and the kisses were Phineas’, before being forced to confront the reality of the situation. The lips marking him were definitely not Phineas’. They were cold.

His limbs felt weird, and he tried to shake them, thinking they were asleep. They did not move.

Oh no.

Why hadn’t he told the doctors about his condition? They would have done something to prevent this, they would have; Henry in all his twisted wickedness at least seemed to care a little--and he was a doctor, wasn’t he? The doctors had saved Philip once; twice would be pushing his luck--oh, why hadn’t he said something?

But he knew, oh, he knew why he’d kept his mouth shut.

He hadn’t thought anyone would care.

The mouth on his neck began to change position, and Philip moaned. Henry, taking this as a sign of pleasure, began to murmur sweet-sounding things through the kisses, creating a less-than-pleasant hum against Philip’s sore neck. Philip tried to signal that something was wrong--but all he could do was moan loudly, and that was certainly not a good thing to do in his situation. And he would not start crying again. That would make Henry mad, and Philip was still smarting from the last time he had done that.

Henry lifted off of him-- thank god-- and Philip registered that they were both naked, and through the overarching numbness that had begun to settle over his limbs, he was hurting quite a bit. Memories flooded back, and he remembered that Henry had been in the middle of--in the middle of doing what he did when Philip, who had given up all last vestiges of struggle, had felt violently sick all at once--pain rivaling what he had felt during the terrible, terrible day he had almost died. Thankfully, it had lasted for all of ten seconds (an eternal ten seconds) before darkness began to creep into his vision and he blissfully surrendered to the peaceful, silent, painless oblivion of sleep.

He’d passed out.

And Henry’d just gone on--

He suddenly felt that he would not mind very much if he passed out again and didn't wake up.

The numbness was fading, and he needed very badly to use the bathroom. Groaning, he raised a hand creakily, and Henry stepped over, picking Philip up to dress him.

“Feeling very well, my sweet?” Buttoning his shirt. “I've got something very special for you, but you can't have it now. It's a surprise. I'm confident you'll love it, my Philip--finally, finally, all mine mine mine…” Slipping on his pants. “I love you, my sweet. I love you so much. You were so beautiful, do you remember?” Tucking in his shirt. “With your hair yellow as wheat and your lovely young eyes…” Sitting him up on the pillows. “You were so small, so innocent, and I loved you then as I love you now. Your hair has changed; it’s less pure now, but it does not diminish your beauty one bit.” Dropping a small kiss on his brow. “I had thought I would wait to give you your present--but now’s as good a time as any, is it not? Come here, love.”

He forced Philip to stand--on shaky legs, no less--and then placed his hands on his shoulders, running a hand through his unruly hair.

“Never forget that I love you, Philip.”

With that, he turned and disappeared into a door on the side. Philip hadn't noticed it; it was painted the same shade as the walls and bore no distinct markings.

He really needed to use the bathroom.

P.T. paced. And paced. And paced.

He'd worn down the carpet; his feet ached, but he did not notice or care. He was lost and confused.

Maybe he should just--no. Nope. Nuh-uh. He’d leave too much behind.

We talked about this, he reminded the voice screaming of suicide in his head. We have to fix the mess we made first.

Philip would have paced as well, if he were in better condition. As it was, the pain flaring between his legs did not seem to be ending soon--it prohibited him from moving very much. He was afraid he'd start bleeding again.

So he remained standing there in the spot Henry had put him, waiting for something he didn't know.

Two minutes passed before Henry slammed back through the door, a metal bucket and long rod in hand. Philip recognized the rod immediately. A poker.

Everything but the poker was immediately eradicated from his mind, and he began to scream.

Something flashed in Henry’s eyes and he dragged the bucket over, enough for Philip to see the flames licking from within.

“Took a-- ngh --took a bit to get it started, but it got going real good, see?”

Philip began to cry.

“Shhhhh, shhhhhh, it'll be fine--I just have to make sure nobody sees your pretty face and decides to take you away, love--I’d surely kill myself if you were to be stolen from me. Happens more often than you'd think, my sweet; happened to my own brother--his wife, a beautiful, respectable lady, taken from his grasp on a dark winter night. ‘Didn't see your name on her,’ they said when he found them. Well, I can't put my name on you, but this is just as well.” He pushed Philip back down onto the sofa, ignoring his insane wails. “Shush, shush, you don't want someone to hear you, darling, it'll be over in a moment--”

Philip, sensing the meaning behind the words, looked fearfully at the poker--seeing that it wasn't a poker at all. He knew what it was--he'd seen his father place orders for them, seen his father use them on each new servant. They'd visited his uncle’s plantation once (he hadn't seen Henry, though now he had no doubt that Henry had been watching him from a window, or perhaps even following him), and he had seen the slavemaster’s collection, all bearing different seals, or initials.

They were branders.

Henry dipped the brander into the flaming bucket. It came out orange at its tip.

Too hot. He hasn't done this before.

But he had seen it; he'd mentioned spending all his free time at the plantations. He knew how it was done. And it was too hot.

Henry ripped open the collar of Philip’s shirt. “Where they--the nurses and such--won't see it, but anyone who tries to take you, my love, they'll see it, and they'll leave you be, my sweet, my beautiful.” He stabbed the brander into the flesh right below Philip’s collarbone.

All disappeared, and in that moment all Philip knew was pain. It engulfed him, swallowing memories, thoughts, desires--no other sensations were apparent. He only felt that one pit of hell on his chest.

Minutes, hours, passed, and when the pain finally dimmed the smallest bit Philip became aware that he was sitting in a chair. He was in a different room; this one was red and gold and purple with a bed and a fireplace. There were chairs, a desk, and file cabinets against a wall. The door was large and mahogany, and he could tell that this was a place regularly lived in.

Henry’s room.

He tried to ask a question, but all that came out was a hoarse, agonized scream. His throat hurt. He must have been screaming a lot.

Henry turned from a tall window and walked over. “Feeling better, love? I told you it would pass. And it will heal into a nice mark in a few weeks. Come, my sweet, I’ll let you forget it.”

*****

He dragged Philip up, ignoring his agonized moans, and pushed him to his knees.

“There, sweet, easy, love…” Undoing his trousers, he ran a hand through Philip’s hair. Philip closed his eyes, tears trickling from them again. He didn’t need to pee anymore, which was a good thing. He focused on that as something soft and hot touched his cheek, sliding across his face with a smoothness akin to fabric.

Philip wasn’t sure he would ever be able to touch velvet again.

“Shhhhh, love, open those lovely lips…”

Reluctantly, he did, and immediately choked as Henry shoved himself into Philip’s mouth. Philip almost closed his mouth on reflex, but a sharp twist of the hand in his hair remedied that. It was hot, unfamiliar, uncomfortable--but the pain in his chest reminded Philip of what Henry was capable of, and he kept going.

He got the hang of it after a while. Up, down, lick, suck, remember to keep your teeth out of the equation, repeat. Henry reassured him all the time of how good he was doing, how pretty he looked, how perfect he was--these comments, far from being flattering, rattled Philip’s unease. Henry was thrusting into his mouth now, thrusting hard, and it hurt. He wanted it to stop, stop, sto--

But it had been longer than he anticipated, and Henry thrust one more painful time before gasping and clenching a hand painfully in Philip’s hair. Sticky liquid splattered onto his face, mixing in with his tears. This was terrible, terrible, and he just wanted to sleep.

Henry pulled him up, and Philip stared blankly in front of him. “Please,” he whispered. “I just want to sleep.”

Henry kissed the top of his head. “And so you shall, my sweet.”

Late.

Philip was back in his room. His brand was bandaged. He did not know what it said--what it looked like--and he was certain he’d kill himself before he looked. It hurt like hell.

It was dark; the lights had been turned off, so it must have been night. Philip closed his eyes, hoping to sleep. No luck. The pain in his chest kept him awake.

His hair was in his face. He had wanted to get it cut, he remembered, an eternity ago when the worst of his problems had been the exposure of his and P.T.’s agreement and his bad stomachache.

How in all hell had this come from a switched waistcoat?

Chapter Text

Hey guys!


This isn't a chapter--not a story chapter, at least. I’ve got some big plans, and I’ve realized that I need to announce them to y’all, my faithful readers!


First on the list: I’m opening a tumblr. I already have one--some of you know--but the one I’m opening is for updates and other related things. Posters, covers, and snippets of fics-to-come will be there; I'll also be hosting polls for y’all to vote in that will influence coming works!  So if you like Just An Agreement and/or my crackfics, be sure to find and follow me at mellon’s_updates !!


Second of all, I’m announcing (offically) the next fic: Playwright of Misery. Also Barlyle, it will be quite dark (haha, no surprise there) and for those of you who read Stephen King’s works, it's inspired by Misery. So look out for that!


Thank you all for following this so long! You help me so much.


All the love,


Taxicab/Mello