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Chris doesn't need his help even close to as much as Victor wants to give it. Victor knows that. He's grateful for the indulgence, but feels simultaneously shamed by it.

At this moment, Chris is reclining in the bathtub. It was recently filled with water hot enough that his pale skin has taken on an almost healthy shade of pink from mid-chest down to toe, and Victor could almost permit himself to be deceived that Chris is well and not dying at all. Chris has not been well for a number of years, even before his liver bloomed with cancer. Chris was a drunk long before the intermittent pain he feels commenced requiring something stronger. When Victor started to bring laudanum home in his medical bag, Chris was still drinking even then. It seems very unlikely that he'll change now, no matter his doctor's strong advice to the contrary.

Victor has his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, not that that has saved his shirt from the bathwater. It might be easier were the water cloudy with salts or soaps or the light were lower, but the sun is bright outside the bathroom windows and reflects in the water and the copper of the tub. Chris's eyes, however, are mercifully closed. Victor is unsure he could continue if he opened them; removing his clothes was trying enough, lifting his arms as he sat in the chair they keep by the window, fingers at his wrists and his chest as he pulled off his shirt, at his hips and his ankles as he stripped off his trousers. Chris is, as a result, unsurprisingly naked as he lies in the tub. It's far from the first time Victor has seen a man naked, but he knows that context is everything.

There's a cloth in Victor's hand. He is a doctor, yes, and tries to place that first and foremost, but sometimes, however, he fails. This is undoubtedly one of those times as he moves the cloth over Chris's warm skin, underneath the surface of the water. He feels the rise and fall of Chris's chest. He feels his breath tousling the hairs on his forearm, so much darker than Chris's but then that shouldn't be surprising given they share family but not blood. What's in their veins might look the same - he's let Chris's blood and he's let his own and he's noted the obvious similarities - but they're as different as two men can be. He would like to believe that makes his desires more understandable, but the fact is it does not.

He runs his hand down Chris's chest, with the cloth pressed to his palm, but his fingertips skim his skin. Chris's mouth twists with the faintest ghost of a smile and he lifts his arms and rests them along the sides of the tub, which drips water onto the floor where Victor's kneeling. He runs his hand down lower, over Chris's abdomen, understanding what's there underneath the skin. What's in him will kill him, slowly and surely and anthropomorphically cruelly, and Victor knows that he can't save him from it. But that hasn't stopped him trying.

He can't be there every waking moment of every single day because he needs to be elsewhere, though that's not for his patients. Chris doesn't know what he's doing but the surgeries he performs are his attempts to make this right. He remembers blood swirling in water as he washed it from his hands, patients' blood dripping from the edges of the table where his assistant slipped in it, screams that usually died out quickly for one reason or another. Pandora once rebuked him for the deaths of several women who paved the way for saving one; the toll for Chris is higher still. His only regret is his failure, not their deaths. They were dying anyway.

He runs his hand down lower and Chris sighs, the exhalation ruffling Victor's hair. He runs his hand lower, telling himself he's helping, telling himself this is necessary and not just another indulgence Chris grants him. He's surprised when Chris's manhood stiffens under his fingers; the laudanum usually keeps him soft, or else the alcohol or the illness does, though Victor knows the cancer is not so far progressed that it should keep him from erection. He believes it's Chris's indifference to Victor's obvious desires that keeps him from it, but now Chris takes a sharp breath in and his fingers tighten on the edges of the tub. He swallows visibly. And Victor discards the cloth into the water and wraps his bare fingers around the length of him instead.

He does this with female patients sometimes, but it's not the same. That's medicine and this is...this is something else, when Chris's breath hitches and his thighs spread a fraction wider. He's sure he's never seen Chris like this before, with the flush in his cheeks and the sharp rise and fall of his chest. He's imagined it, before telling himself he shouldn't want to.

"Victor..." Chris says, his voice strained, with the base of his skull pressed back against the rim of the tub. He turns his head. He opens his eyes. And Victor's insides twist and pull as his cock starts to thicken. His jaw tightens. He swallows, too.

"Would you call this...treatment?" Chris asks him. Victor's hand stills and so Chris's dips down lower, underneath the water. Chris's hand squeezes Victor's as it rests there, wrapped around his cock. Chris's hand moves his. "I didn't tell you to stop," he says. Then he closes his eyes and he moves his own hand away. Victor doesn't stop again.

They're tied together by their family, by their parents, by their children, by their child, and Victor knows his life has been shaped by his stepbrother as much as any other person that he's ever known, or more than. He's wanted him since they were young, since he went away from home to study, when letters arrived that he could never bring himself to answer. He started ten responses for each new one that arrived, and every one began, Dear Chris. Dear Chris. He presses his lips to Chris's temple and he strokes Chris's cock and Chris pushes his hips up against his hand. Water sloshes over the rim of the tub. It soaks into the fabric covering his knees but Victor doesn't care.

"I was looking for you that night," Chris says, as his head lolls back. "I couldn't find you and she said she'd help me. I was going to say I wanted you to stay. I planned to persuade you." He reaches up; he strokes Victor's cheek with one wet hand. "I didn't know how, but I would have thought of something."

Victor pulls back. He sits back on his heels and he runs his wet fingers through his hair. "Instead you went to France and I took a wife," he says, sharply. "Was that part of your plan?"

Chris looks at him. The way his manhood juts up toward the surface of the water is utterly obscene, and Chris is utterly unselfconscious. Victor, on the other hand, is not. The physician in him has all but deserted and he's not sure he likes what that leaves behind..

"I'm going to bed," Chris says. "Come with me. I'll show you what my plan was."

Victor knows he shouldn't, but he also knows he wants to just as overwhelmingly as he knows what he would have done if Chris had found him that night. And when Chris rises from the water and steps dripping from the tub, Victor remembers just how far from helpless he still is. The polite fiction that he needs him is for now precisely that.

Chris walks naked from the room, dripping as he goes. At the door, he glances back, and then he leaves.

Victor wishes he had ever felt about any other person in the world as he feels about Christopher Blais, but he has not and he will not. This will end with Chris's death and not before; he can no more cure himself of this illness than he can cure Chris of his.

He follows.