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Our Mutual Undoing: Hanging By A Thread

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The night was dark but the twinkling lights and bustle of the city moved around him as he weaved through the last of the evening rush hour. A gloved hand worked the throttle of the motorcycle, shooting past any of the other cars in his way. Another bike moved over into his lane in front of him, the helmeted rider peering over at him before revving the engine loudly. He shot off ahead to lead the way.

The shining beacon of the Eiffel Tower showing him exactly where they needed to go within the sprawling city of Paris and before he knew it, the bike pulled over to the side of the street, braking to a sudden halt as the rider kicked down the kickstand. The one he’d been following came to a stop beside him, gazing around for a moment to serve the area.

Huesyth pulled the helmet from his head, resting it in his lap as he ran a gloved hand over his shaved head. “Va tutto bene. Nessuno ci riconoscerà immediatamente.”

Everything is alright. No one will recognize us immediately.

He turned only to be greeted by a shiny helmet instead of the face of his brother. Even when he couldn’t see Delmar, Huesyth could guess the blank expression he wore. Muffled through the helmet, Delmar said in a voice lacking the same accent that he once had. “Dice l'uomo nella lista dei più ricercati.”

Says the man on the Most Wanted List.

Huesyth cocked an eyebrow at him. “E tu pensi di non esserlo?”

And you think you’re not?

That earned him a glare that he could practically feel like a dagger in his neck. But Delmar revved his engine up again. “I’ll circle the block. Don’t take too long.”

Off Delmar shot into the night and Huesyth watched and waited until he saw his brother turn and exit his sight.

Finally, he peered up to the building he had found himself in front of, tall and ornate but showing its age. He stepped off the bike, leaving the helmet on the seat as he entered the building and followed the sounds of laughter and carefree conversation to the party venue inside.

In his biking leathers and gloves, he stuck out like a sore thumb against the backdrop of the extravagant and warm party with its finely dressed attendees but no one seemed to notice. As a waiter with a tray passed him, Huesyth removed one of the bubbling glasses of champagne as he scanned the room. A tiger stalking through the long grass of tuxedos and dressing gowns. It was then that his eyes seemed to zero in on his intended target, Dr. Roman Fell, a tall, older man with a nicely kept beard who spoke with his hands. 

He was surrounded by eager listening ears enraptured by whatever he was saying. And he certainly was lapping up the attention of the young acolytes and esteemed colleagues wishing him well. 

But as he stared, calculating and appraising, at the doctor, something seemed off. A feeling of someone else’s eyes on him and it made the hair on his arms stand on end. Huesyth’s gaze went to the side and landed on another tall but lean man, the same height as Huesyth himself and about the same age as well. He had short, dark but ashy brown hair and a jaw of stubble. His clothes were expensive but older and more well worn with a thin scarf wrapped loosely about his neck and his smile seemed coy as he kicked off the wall he was leaning against. Slowly, he approached Huesyth through the crowd with a glass of champagne in each hand, one already empty.

“Anthony Dimmond,” The man introduced.

“Boris Jakov,” Huesyth responded.

Anthony motioned his head to his full hands. “I'd offer a hand, but…”

Huesyth shrugged as he raised an eyebrow at the glasses. “It's a double-fisted kind of bash.”

Offering a pleasant chuckle, Anthony turned his look up to the doctor at the center of the room. “Do you know Roman well? You were staring with the thinly-veiled disdain of a man who does.” Huesyth assumed that that was just how his face looked then. Disdain was the only emotion he seemed to be capable of feeling besides despair. “I was his TA at Cambridge. He was insufferable even then.”

Anthony downed his second flute of champagne, placing both of his empty glasses onto an offered tray as a waiter passed them. “Have you read his books? They're terrible. You know they're terrible, you're just too polite to say. Blink if you agree.”

Out of instinct, Huesyth blinked. He knew he didn’t seem nearly as enraptured as he wanted to but Anthony took it in stride, giving a smirk. “See? That doesn't stop him from squatting over his keyboard and depositing a fresh one every six to eight months. It takes me six to eight months to write one line.”

Huesyth sipped from his glass, praying for this conversation to be over so he could melt back into the crowd and forget about the man already.

Anthony turned to the doctor, staring as if he was waiting for Huesyth to open the conversation back up again but he didn’t so he went on. “Poetry is hard. Too hard for Roman. Well, it's easier for him to slide into academia and dissect the work of others than it is to stand by his own words.”

“We can appreciate the words of others without dissecting them,” Huesyth explained without looking at the other man. “Though, on occasion, dissection is the only thing that will do.”

There was a sharp and loud shatter of glass that caused Huesyth to flinch terribly at the sound. Every pair of eyes in the room snapping over to see more boisterous partygoers breaking the top off a new champagne bottle with a knife. The liquid bubbling and foaming out of the broken neck of the bottle.

Though the distraction was just what he needed to escape the conversation. He slipped into the crowd, placing his glass on a tray and moving back outside into the cool night air to rest on his motorcycle again. It wasn’t long into his wait after several others had already begun leaving, that Roman emerged alone, merrily drunk and excited for what the future held for him. He rubbed his hands together to warm them as he prepared to walk home.

Passing in front of the light on the front of Huesyth’s motorcycle, the taller man cocked his head slightly. “Bonsoir.”

Roman paused, barely looking at Huesyth before waving and slurring back. “Bonsoir.”

He continued on to the other side of the street and Huesyth slipped his helmet back onto his head before making a swift U-turn on his bike.

Moments later, Roman was rounding the corner to enter the courtyard of his apartment building when he stopped suddenly. Huesyth was leaned back against his bike seat, waiting in the dark for the other doctor.

Confused and wondering if it was truly the same person, Roman muttered. “...Bonsoir?”

Cocking his head in the same way he did back at the venue, Huesyth repeated. “Bonsoir.”

A few hours passed since he snapped Roman’s neck, dragging his body into the apartment to have him prepared. Delmar had joined him since then, sighing softly when he saw the body on the floor. But red wine splashed against the bottom of a glass, filling only partially before Delmar downed the liquid and snatched the bottle of his brother’s hand. He went off to the table, tossing his head back to drink a gulp from the bottle while Huesyth rolled his eyes at the display.

He dropped the needle of the turntable was dropped onto the opera record. The music swelled throughout the room and he began his preparation. Searing butter in a pan, he tossed in the liver he had procured and with a splash of brandy, the flame flared slightly. Well cooked and ready, the liver was plated with a side of greens. The knife sliced through the meat easily and he brought the piece to his mouth. Biting and chewing, delicious.

He heard the front door rattle with the sound of the keys in the lock, opening and shutting as someone entered. The slow approach of heels on wood told Huesyth just who it was and he peered up at the confused woman standing in the doorway.

“Bonsoir,” He greeted and Delmar offered a little wave.

 

Music and movement filled the room like a scene out of a fairytale, people waltzing in wide circles around each other and the Florence ballroom. The glitter of gold jewelry and champagne and through sweeping of the other couples came Huesyth and Bedelia. He spun her once before she returned to his front, mimicking the smiles of a happy couple but they were tense. Huesyth especially.

But as the music swelled and came to a final resting note, he dipped her low to the ground before bringing her back up again. They stared into each other’s eyes breathlessly before Huesyth quirked a brow down at her. As a tray passed them, Huesyth snagged one of the glasses, offering it to the woman to which she shook her head.

“Dr. Fell,” A voice began and Huesyth turned to Professor Sogliato as he approached the pair, a shorter, smooth-talking Italian man with a trimmed beard. Impeccably dressed as if he wore his ego as armor across his fragile skin. “I hope you translate as well as you waltz.”

Huesyth gave the man a thin grin. “Of course, Professor.”

Sogliato turned to Bedelia, bowing to kiss her hand with a greeting. “Mrs. Fell.”

“Our new appointee was confirmed by the board after close questioning,” Signor Albizzi, the president of the museum's governing board, expressed with pride.

“You've examined him in medieval Italian and I will not deny his language is... admirable…” Sogliato admitted and it seemed painful for him to do so as he looked the taller man up and down.

Huesyth smiled politely despite knowing Sogliato seemed to be wielding a double-edged blade. “Thank you.”

But Sogliato quickly finished. “...For a straniero.”

And there was the other edge. The short man smiled and Huesyth knew that his own eyes flashed dead for a moment at the insult. Bedelia’s gaze was lingering on him, scanning his reaction as Sogliato continued. “Are you familiar with the personalities of pre-Renaissance Florence? I think not. Dr. Fell might hold in his hand a note from Dante Alighieri himself. Would he recognize it? I think not.”

The shorter man was preening at the attention his jabbing was getting him and Huesyth sipped from his glass instead of bashing it over the man’s tiny head.

Finally, Bedelia had to interject. “Professor Sogliato, would you do me the honor of a dance?”

She offered her arm to the man, so keen to lead him away before things got ugly, and Sogliato gracefully accepted but Huesyth was far less keen to let the loud, little man slip through his claws so proud of himself.

“‘Allegro mi sembrava Amor tenendo meo core in mano, e ne le braccia avea madonna involta in un drappo dormendo’,” Sogliato and Bedelia turned back to him as he recited the words and he knew the shorter man hated it. “Poi la svegliava, e d'esto core ardendo lei paventosa umilmente pascea; appreso gir lo ne vedea piangendo.’”

The taller man smiled to Sogliato, turning to the crowd that was listening to him before returning to the two. “Dante's first sonnet. It fascinated Cavalcanti. The eating of the heart is a powerful image.”

Huesyth didn’t even have to be so smug as Signor Albizzi was smug enough for them both. Proud of his professional choice no doubt.

Sogliato snapped. “If he's such an expert on Dante, let him lecture on Dante, to the Studiolo. Let him face them,” He looked up at the taller man and narrowed his eyes. “Extempore.”

The crowd whispered around him, meaning it must’ve been far more of a challenge than Huesyth realized but the taller man simply inclined his head. “I'm happy to sing for my supper.”

They seemed to squint at each other a moment longer before Bedelia intervened again, offering her hand. “Professor.”

Huesyth gave a satisfied smile to Bedelia who didn’t return it as the two stepped away and into the crowd.

 

Huesyth turned from the window he was gazing out of, admiring the buildings surrounding them, as Bedelia approached with an offered glass of brandy. He scanned over the extravagant apartment they’d had managed to acquire, considering the safety it brought and the illusion it withheld for him. “I've found a peace here that I would like to preserve. I've killed hardly anybody during our residence.”

Sipping from his glass, he heard Bedelia sigh behind him before stepping away. “You created a vacancy at the Palazzo Capponi by removing the former curator.”

“A simple process requiring a few seconds' work on the old man... and a modest outlay for two bags of cement,” Huesyth shrugged.

“You no longer have ethical concerns, Huesyth.” She peered over his shoulder at him, offering only a raised brow. “You have aesthetical ones.”

“Ethics become aesthetics.”

“You seem more interested in making appearances than maintaining them,” Bedelia motioned to the high zipper on the back of her strapless dress that she couldn’t reach. “Would you help?”

His eyes flicked down to the zipper then back up. The style of the dress was familiar but not as warmly colored in the perfect shade of wine red, not as flowing with a split up the leg. It wasn’t him.

He approached her, setting the glass down on the table before he began to work the zipper down to slowly reveal her bare back. “If this is about my position at the Palazzo, once the path was cleared, I won the job fairly. On my own merits.”

“Yes, even the most contentious Florentines can't resist the verse of Dante ringing off of frescoed walls.”

Huesyth stepped back, allowing her to move away from him. “One contentious Florentine can.”

He retrieved his glass again as Bedelia moved to the bathroom, perched on the side of the large cast iron tub as she tested the temperature of the water coming from the spout.

Lingering in the doorway, he sipped his drink as she asked without looking back at him. “Have you given serious thought to eating Professor Sogliato?”

“Killing Sogliato now would not preserve the peace,” Huesyth reminded her as if she needed the reminder.

The ornate tap handles squeaked under her hand as she adjusted them. “Your peace is without morality.”

Huesyth leaned against the doorway, sipping from his drink. “Morality doesn't exist. Only morale.”

Bedelia slim shoulders rose and fell noticeably with a heavier breath. “It all relies on how you feel today.”

“How do you feel today?” Huesyth asked.

She made a soft sound, an exhale. “I still believe that I am in conscious control of my actions. Given your history... I’d like to think that's a good day.”

Huesyth gave a little smirk until there came the sound of the front door being ripped open and slammed loudly, the noise echoing off the walls of the apartment. Both of the doctor's eyes snapped up at the sound and the accompanying heavy footsteps until Huesyth saw who it was. Delmar, moving quickly and rashly as he ripped off his dark hoodie and tossed it to the floor, stepped into view, cursing under his breath. Confusedly, Huesyth stared after his brother as he disappeared into the other hall but then the metallic scent of blood hit his nose.

“Huesyth?” Bedelia asked.

“It’s just Delmar,” Huesyth soothed and the woman’s shoulders relaxed. “I’ll go see what’s wrong.”

The taller man downed the last bit of his drink but picked up the bottle as he passed it. He thought idly that he might need it, especially when he passed the hoodie on the floor. Due to its dark color, he couldn’t tell if it was stained with blood but the smell gave it away.

The cursing and fumbling got louder as Huesyth approached the guest bathroom and he turned the corner to find Delmar standing before the mirror above the sink. The white porcelain was already stained red and Delmar’s ruined shirt was in another pile by his feet. His hair was dark with sweat, clinging to his forehead, and his eyes were turned down to a dark red mark over the right side of his ribs. Bloody hands were working firmly over what looked to be a knife wound.

But Huesyth’s eyes were drawn to the deep scars that were carved into his brother’s back. A stark reminder of the past they had survived. Though the reminder wasn’t well received when Huesyth immediately averted his eyes.

“How did that happen?” Huesyth asked.

Delmar flinched at the sudden voice that broke the silence, whipping around to spot the taller man in the doorway before immediately relaxing. He had a stream of drying blood going down from his temple, knotting his hair. “Got into a disagreement.”

“I hope this isn’t how you solve all of your disagreements,” Huesyth expressed, stepping closer to his brother to observe the wound in his side.

The older man scoffed slightly as he raised his arm up and out of the way. “You should see the other guy.”

Nodding slightly, Huesyth handed the bottle over to his brother, who gratefully took a large swig from it. The taller of the pair ran a hand towel under the water from the sink faucet in order to clean around the jagged knife cut, it wasn’t deep or large in any way. Delmar probably moved out of the way fast enough to avoid further damage.

“You don’t intend to make this a regular occurrence, do you?” Huesyth asked without taking his eyes away from his brother’s side.

“You mean will I go out every night and get in a knife fight?” Delmar asked sarcastically. “Well I wasn’t planning to.”

Huesyth sighed softly as he pulled away in order to retrieve a thick bandage from within the mirror shelf. He peeled it in half before applying it over the wound on Delmar’s side, not bothering with any special treatment because he knew the older man wouldn’t care. One way or another, he was going to be hurt again by the end of the week.

“I’d tell you not to go looking for a fight but I’m not going to pretend that I have any control over you.”

“I wasn’t looking for a fight, Hue,” Delmar hissed out softly.

Huesyth tossed the hand towel aside into the hamper. “You’re always looking for a fight.”

Delmar gave a breathy laugh as he finally dropped his arm back, wincing slightly when it rubbed over the edge of where the wound would be beneath the bandage. “Then I guess you got it from me.”

He stepped around his taller brother and left the bathroom smeared with blood.

 

The house was dark, empty besides the furniture covered in dust sheets that had been left behind. He didn’t bother turning on the light when he arrived there because he knew if he did, it would disrupt something. Some disturbing darkness that didn’t need to be pushed any further to the edge.

The last time he turned the light on after Huesyth had lost his temper he found his brother shaking with adrenaline with a blood-soaked corkscrew in his hand. Suffice to say, it was better that Delmar not see just what Huesyth had done. At least for the time being. But through the quick shape he saw whizzing around the house, he spotted blood stains and a soaked, crumpled black jacket on the floor.

He had been given a clipped explanation for why he had to bring a bag full of important getaway items and why they had to wait. But that didn’t make any of it better.

Nevertheless, he listened, sitting back on one of the covered couches in the dark, waiting for any other sound besides his own breathing. That sound came in the form of a key entering the front door lock and then the slow steady click of heels against the wood floors. A shadow passed over the doorway before freezing at the sight of him.

Delmar raised an eyebrow over his shoulder as he looked back to see a blonde woman standing in the doorway, clutching her handbag close to her as if about to reach into it.

“Are you Dr. Du Maurier?” He asked and she just seemed to register that he was real, flinching slightly when he spoke.

“Who are you?” She questioned back.

“Delmar,” He answered before adding. “ Cavalli .”

The woman stiffened at the name and he noticed her hand inching closer to her bag. Delmar could’ve guessed what weapon she was reaching for. “Where is he?” She demanded softly.

He pointed off towards the staircase. “Upstairs.”

Bedelia’s eyes immediately flicked over her shoulder towards where he pointed and she exhaled deeply, looking back to the other man. “Did you know what he was?”

His eyes slid shut as his brow furrowed, Delmar looked away from her and back into the dark. The sound of her heels was telling enough that she was moving into the room with him but behind him, his blind spot. “You must have known. He spoke of how close you were… The things you’ve done for him. The things he did for you.

She was trying to get a rise out of him and he wouldn’t be the one to admit it was working but after all the years of mentally chastising himself, it just sounded like another empty voice. There was a sharp pop as one of the bottles resting beneath a cloth was opened.

“They say that most human behavior is learned…” She commented. “I can’t imagine how destructive you might be.”

Delmar shot a glare over his shoulder at her. “He freed me.”

“He made you a killer,” Bedelia corrected sharply as she poured herself a glass of wine, unbothered by him. “That’s a cage all it’s own. Trust me I understand the feeling intimately.”

“You don’t know us.”

Her eyes snapped up to his, blinking once before settling. “I suppose I don’t.”

The bottle was placed back in the rack and she collected the glass before finally slipping back out of the room and up the stairs towards the sound of running water. It left him alone again but he promised Huesyth that even though she would have a weapon, she wouldn’t shoot him.

He had no idea how Huesyth knew that for a fact but there wasn’t much else he could do to stop her.

Upstairs, the blood was scrubbed from his skin until his flesh felt raw and even then it didn’t feel like enough. He wasn’t clean enough. He may never feel clean again. His own wounds were pressed into until they stopped bleeding, the pain burning through him like a hot iron. The water had long since run clear but he still felt stained, still felt dirty, disgusting. A debilitating feeling.

Huesyth finally came back to his own mind, still reeling and working through the emotions of what he’d done, when he heard the distant sound of a gun clicking as it was cocked. It was familiar by then and Huesyth’s lip curled back in a grimace.

She was there.

The handles squeaked as the water was shut off, he quickly toweled off his body and dressed in clean clothes that Delmar had brought for him. As the bathroom door opened, a new light was cast across the room and illuminated Bedelia, sitting calmly on her bed with a glass of wine in one hand and a gun trained on him in the other.

Her body noticeably tensed as he exited, taking in the state of his exhausted eyes and stiff movements. She was the first to break the silence. “What have you done, Huesyth?”

“I've taken off my person suit,” The taller man mumbled.

Bedelia narrowed her eyes at him, mulling over the bareness of his words. “You let them see you. Let him see you.”

Huesyth sighed. “I let him see enough.”

She paused as she took him in, brow furrowing. “How does it feel... finally being seen?”

“Well, you're in no position to ask, Dr. Du Maurier,” Huesyth clipped. “You ended our patient-psychiatrist relationship.”

“I lacked the appropriate skills to continue your therapy,” Bedelia explained and Huesyth wanted to scoff at the lazy excuse. He knew exactly why she left. He could see it from the fear in her eyes the day she came to his office.

“I never found you to be lacking.”

“I'm sorry I didn't provide you with a suitable substitute for therapy,” Bedelia paused, studying him before he turned from her to pick up the bloody clothes he had left in one of the chairs. “Is Bec Reyes still alive?”

Abruptly, Huesyth went impossibly still in the middle of folding his bloody shirt. He picked at the stains across the shirt tail, the ones no doubt belonging to the empath. Taking a quiet moment to curb his emotions before speaking. “Bec Reyes was not a suitable substitute for therapy.”

Bedelia softly asked. “What was he?”

Huesyth hesitated before answering quietly. “Pregnant. He was pregnant.” Another pause before Huesyth was clarifying. “He was going to have twins... I murdered my own children.”

With her mouth parted slightly, Bedelia didn’t know how to respond. He assumed she had guessed that he and Bec were involved but that was clear proof.

Huesyth didn’t know what she would ask him but the first question when she could manage words caught him off guard. “Does your brother know?”

“No,” Huesyth sighed. “I don’t plan on telling him just yet.”

Curiously, Bedelia cocked her head slightly. “He’d never forgive you, would he?”

He suppressed a shiver of grief and turned to her, taking a step forward. “Do you trust me?”

“No,” Bedelia answered.

“Are you taking into consideration my beliefs about your intentions?” Huesyth questioned.

She narrowed her eyes again, this time in confusion. “My intentions?”

“Human motivation can be little more than lucid greed.”

“Greed…” Bedelia repeated. “And blind optimism.”

Huesyth cocked his head slightly. “You're optimistic I won't kill you just as I’m optimistic that you won’t shoot me right now.”

Smoothly, Bedelia uncocked the gun in her hand and set it aside on the bed, sipping from her wine glass.

 

Warmth seemed to drip through the windows with the beams of the sun. The corridor of the Palazzo Capponi opened into a wide curving staircase which he swiftly descended and the bright sun shone down onto him as he moved in the plaza.

But before he could actually make it through the tower pillars to leave, a voice called to him. “Ciao, fratellino.”

His step stuttered and he gave a slight sigh before turning back. Leaning casually against one of the stone pillars was Delmar, who offered a pleasant smile but one Huesyth could tell was forced. His clothes were creased and loose as if he’d been sleeping in them after long bouts of drinking and Huesyth wouldn’t doubt that as the truth. The older man hadn’t been back to the apartment in days but Huesyth hoped that it was because of something besides a drunken stupor.

“Delmar,” Huesyth greeted tightly, approaching his brother again. “This is a surprise.”

The older man raised an eyebrow at him, running a hand through his hair as his fringe had grown longer since they arrived back in Italy. He had obviously not been taking very good care of himself. “I’m glad to see you’re blending into your favorite form of human. The rich, powerful, and stuck up.”

Huesyth questioned, his fake smile wavering slightly. “Why are you here, Delmar?”

The older man pushed off the pillar, running a hand down his face as he shifted his weight on each of his feet. “Huesyth, I-”

“Dr. Fell,” Huesyth quickly corrected which earned him a slight lip curl of disdain from his brother.

“Okay, Dr. Fell ,” Delmar spat back like an insult before shaking his head. “I can’t stay here any longer.” Huesyth cocked his head slightly in confusion. “I’m going home.”

His eyes momentarily widening at the preposterous idea, Huesyth perplexed. “Why would you ever want to do that?”

Delmar scoffed, crossing his arms. “Because I’m not like you. I can’t put on a new face and pretend nothing happened, pack up and move on. I can’t do this again. It will destroy me.”

“Delmar, let’s talk about this somewhere else,” Huesyth moved to reach for his brother’s shoulder but the shorter man quickly brushed it away.

“I’m not changing my mind,” Delmar told, looking up at his brother. “Maybe I’ll be back but I… I-I need time alone for now. To think about what’s been happening and I can’t do it here.”

“You mean you can’t do it with me around?”

With a heavy sigh, Delmar offered. “I’m going home… with or without you. When I figure this out, I’ll find you.”

“Delm-” “Hello! Bonjour!” A voice came suddenly from behind them which made Huesyth flinch, peering over his shoulder to see a familiar face moving towards the two of them.

Anthony Dimmond.

For a moment, his eyes threatened violence but Huesyth couldn’t suppress the soft groan that escaped him once he recognized him.

“Mr. Jakov, isn't it?” Anthony asked as he came to a stop before Huesyth, hair wild but eyes sharp. “We met in Paris a few months back.”

“You know where to find me,” Delmar reminded, squeezing his brother’s arm gently before he slid passed the two to leave them alone, disappearing into the sprawl of people in the busy square.

Anthony looked between Huseyth and his disappearing brother before cocking his head slightly. “So sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt. It's just... here I was and there you were. I never forget a face.”

“Anthony Dimmond,” Huesyth named. He was certainly a man who was hard to forget and that wasn’t always a good thing.

But the other man seemed to beam with pleasure. “Nice to be remembered.”

Blankly, Huesyth deadpanned. “You're quite hard to forget.”

He wished his displeasure was evident enough for Anthony to take a hint and leave but of course, it went ignored. “What are you doing in Florence? Are you working with Roman?”

“Dr. Fell?” Huesyth asked.

“I heard he took an appointment at the Capponi Library.”

So despite his carefree attitude, Anthony doesn’t miss much. Huesyth didn’t care much for that sort of attentiveness. “Yes, I believe he's the new curator and translator at the Palazzo Capponi.”

“Evidently, the last one eloped with a woman or her money or probably both.” An attempt at a joke that Huesyth wasn’t in the mood for now that he knew his brother was planning on leaving. He needed to leave this conversation before his emotions slipped through.

“That's the commonly held belief.” Huesyth motioned over his shoulder back the way he came from the Palazzo. “You just missed Roman.”

Anthony’s face fell. “Did I? Was hoping to take the piss.”

He studied the other man for a slight moment before he made a rather rash decision that he was sure Bedelia wouldn’t appreciate. “Spare the piss for the time being. If you're free, my wife and I would love to have you for dinner.”

 

That night in their apartment, Bedelia sat with Huesyth and Anthony Dimmond at the table. She was hiding her fears well the taller man noticed, surrounded by a tray of oysters and nuts. He knew that as soon as she found out that Delmar had left the city, Bedelia would be more visibly shaken. The two of them seemed to have bonded over their situations in the months the three spent together. A type of comradery had replaced where there was once a biting edge to their conversations.

But Delmar was gone, the buffer between their butting heads was completed erased. That was something the both of them would have to get used to.

On the surface, Huesyth was far more at ease with a platter of meat between him and Dimmond, who was obviously enjoying the hospitality.

Skewering a piece of the oyster with her fork, Bedelia raised an imperceptibly trembling hand as she brought it to her mouth. “How well do you know the Fells?”

“As well as anybody. Which would be not really,” Anthony answered. “Is Lydia a friend of yours?”

With a shrug, Bedelia mumbled. “Not really.”

Anthony nodded in agreement. “I'd be more surprised to hear that she had one. She disapproves of my disapproval.”

He offered her a smile as Huesyth questioned. “What do you disapprove of?”

“Roman, mainly,” Anthony explained. “Lydia isn't quite bright enough to see that I'm just intimidated. Roman does, of course. How he loves to strike fear.”

Huesyth circled them to stand between the two, adding more oysters to Bedelia’s plate. “Dante once wrote that fear is almost as bitter as death.”

“Dante wasn't dead when he wrote it,” Bedelia whispered next to Huesyth’s ear before he straightened up moved away.

“Are you traveling alone, Anthony?” Huesyth asked and he could see the shudder the question sent down Bedelia’s spine.

None the wiser, Anthony gave a shrug. “The only way I travel.”

“Oh! Roman is speaking to the Studiolo on Friday about Dante,” Huesyth offered casually but based on the look he received, if Bedelia had been chewing, she would’ve most definitely choked. “You should come.”

“Sounds appropriately hellish,” Anthony commented as he unfolded his napkin to lay it across his lap. However, he peered up at Bedelia as she went for another oyster. “Are you avoiding meat?”

She seemed caught off guard but recovered elegantly. “I'm trying not to eat anything with a central nervous system.”

Anthony looked over, calling out the food items on her side of the table. “Oysters, acorns, and Marsala. That's what ancient Romans would feed animals to improve their flavor.”

As the horror dawned on her, Bedelia did her best to hide her realization but Huesyth caught it as she steadied herself. She almost looked as if she wanted to spit out the oyster in her mouth.

“My husband has a very sophisticated palate.” She swallowed heavily. “He's very particular about how I taste.”

They matched pointed looks over the table and Huesyth didn’t try to bury the dead glint in his eye at her comment. A silence stretched uncomfortably between the three before Anthony finally looked between them, raised a suggestive eyebrow at Bedelia, and asked. “Is it that kind of party?”

Bedelia’s eyes flashed briefly to Huesyth and he hoped he expressed his displeasure accurately. She corrected. “It's not that kind of party.”

“No, it really isn’t,” Huesyth repeated, more firmly.

Anthony looked disappointed. “Shame. You were both suddenly so fascinating.”

 

That Friday night, his speech was over and the Studiolo was more than pleased with him just as Sogliato was displeased, rolling his eyes as he left. But Bedelia had disappeared mid-speech, matching eyes with Anthony before her life seemed to flash before her eyes. He didn’t even see her leave. Anthony, on the other hand, seemed far more delighted with finding out Huesyth’s identity than he thought he would.

It unnerved the doctor to no end until Anthony leaned over him after the crowd had long since filed out. His morality was just as twisted as Huesyth’s was and for some reason that made the doctor all the more uncomfortable when the other man offered to help him ‘untwist to their mutual benefit’. A sly, knowing smile. Anthony thought he was holding something over Huesyth’s head. That the doctor would be in his debt or he’d go to the police and tell them everything.

Huesyth knew what that meant and he didn’t appreciate being twisted into a new position for Anthony to blackmail him into a corner.

By the time they had returned to his apartment, the door had opened to Bedelia, donning a coat with a small suitcase in one hand and her handbag in the other. He ushered Anthony inside anyway, he’d have to deal with her later. The door slid closed behind the trio, shutting out any hope for any of their escapes.

As quick as a flash of lightning, he dispatched Anthony, brutally and efficiently, by bashing the sharp corner of a heavy statue across the side of his skull. Anthony crumpled to the floor, blood streaking his face as he panted through the pain.

Huesyth placed the now bloody statue back on its pedestal. “Observe or participate?”

The doctor pulled his coat off, Anthony began attempting to pull himself across the floor towards the exit. A desperate escape.

But Bedelia remained tense with a splatter of blood across her cheek, unflinching at the violence but obviously affected. “What?”

“Are you, in this very moment, observing or participating?” Huesyth snapped loudly.

Shakily, Bedelia answered. “Observing.”

The corners of Huesyth’s lips curl back ever so slightly. “You say you're observing, but this…” He motioned to Anthony, creeping towards the door with a streak of blood moving across the floor. “This is participation, Bedelia. Did you know what he would do? I would prefer you answer honestly.”

Bedelia struggled for an answer, stuttering when Huesyth stepped over the blood towards her. “I-I was curious.”

“You were curious what would happen,” Huesyth sneered, narrowing his eyes. “You were curious about what Mr. Dimmond would do. What I would do. Did you anticipate our thoughts? Counter-thoughts? Rationalizations?”

“...Yes.”

He looked over to Anthony, still struggling. “Is this what you expected?”

A moment passed before Bedelia looked up at him, her eyes watery with tears. “Yes.”

“That’s participation.”

Finally, Anthony had reached the door, struggling to reach up to the knob and escape when Huesyth crossed the floor and took a grip of his head. He yanked it backward and with a choked snap, Anthony went limp in under his hands.

Huesyth let the body drop to the floor, turning to return to Bedelia as tears began to streak her face. “What have you gotten yourself into, Bedelia?”

Bedelia shook as she seemed to stare through the floor, numb and empty. Through her shaking though, she asked softly. “Where is Delmar?”

The doctor paused, jaw clenching. “Gone,” He clipped. “He will not be coming back.”

Huesyth stepped toward her carefully to keep from startling her before offering. “Shall I hang up your coat?”

Absently, she slid her jacket off of her shoulders and allowed Huesyth to take it from her. He folded it over his arm and moved to put it on the hook by the door but when he turned back, he seemed to freeze. Standing across the room, face hidden beneath matted curls and the shadows of a doorway into another room, was a familiarly haunting figure. His shoulders were slumped, arms hanging loosely to his sides but his clothes were still pitch black.

But something was off, disturbingly off.

The figment’s head lulled to the side and a dark stream leaked out of the side of his mouth as his lips pulled back into a smile. His stomach seemed to split into a grin as his fresh wound reopened, releasing a waterfall of black liquid that poured out onto the floor around him.

As dark, bruised eyes slid open to greet him, the white teeth glinted. “ Hello, lover.

His voice was deep and garbled as his throat filled with his black blood and he spat specks of dark out as he spoke.

A shiver of fear ran through the doctor as he observed the scene and he swiftly exited the room, feeling the dark eyes following him as he did.

 

His train ride across the Italian countryside passed in a blur. If anything were to have happened, Huesyth wouldn’t have noticed. Even as he moved across the country, Huesyth could see that dark figment of his imagination moving out of the corner of his eye. That dark, disturbing grin just begging him to try and face it but he didn’t dare turn to look. If he looked, it would be as if he admitted that it was real.

It wasn’t real.

It wasn’t Bec.

But it followed him all the same, real or not. It was there in the back of his mind as he snuck into the chapel and set up his latest creation.

When dawn came, he stepped back from his work in the Norman chapel to admire the work he’d done on Anthony’s body. The sun glittered through the stained glass windows onto the silver blades of the three swords skewered through the purplish red flesh he had molded into the shape of a human heart.

He heard slow, deliberate claps from behind him, echoing off the walls. It was mockingly praising him for his work. But he didn’t look, instead, he turned and escaped the way that he had come in.