Several schools of history, theology and philosophy attempt to address the parallels between the proper, Rodentia world and the human world. These systems of thought are burdened not only with the responsibility of addressing the obvious similarities between the realms, but also the divergences between them: some mice appear to have something like human ‘counterparts’, while others do not. Even when such parallels exist, ‘sets’ of persons across different orders might have vastly different lives. Sherlock Holmes met John Watson years before Basil Nest met David Dawson. Sherlock Holmes’ brother was a civil servant; Basil Nest’s brother was a clergyman with High Anglican loyalties and a philosophical disposition, who loved nothing more than to sit in his armchair, contemplating the great puzzle of the triumvirate world (rodent, human and spiritual).
Basil couldn’t see the point. Ascertaining whether someone had an oversized doppelganger couldn’t help you reliably determine who’d killed that someone, or how and why. Basil knew himself to have agency, to be a self-determining being. He’d never have been so crass as to suggest that that which couldn’t be held in the hand or put food on the table had no value, but nevertheless, he found his brother’s dreamy fascination with the world above little more than a gilded denial of his responsibility to the world they lived in, a cancer on his brother’s otherwise admirable mind, and an exemplary case of a too-common blight on the general intellectual flowering of mousdom. After all, it wasn’t as if the humans worried about them, or even noticed them for the most part.
Larger historical changes had, naturally, arisen out of these individual discrepancies. In the 14th century (by the human calendar), the Catholic church (though not so catholic as to speak for mousedom) redefined marriage in an effort to combat far-flung inconsistencies and heresies, and to consolidate its theological power. This new push towards a procreative understanding of marriage did away with the ‘uniting of brothers’, a long-standing tradition of union between persons of the same sex, which the Christian church had inherited from its Roman forebearers. Similar measures were debated in smaller council chambers, but ultimately, due to the influence of a few more prominent, wealthy citizens in such unions and a few key alliances contracted on these lines, they lost out. The newer model of marriage was only established on this smaller-scale during the Protestant reformation--thus there were nations, in the mouse world, where such unions are regarded as darkest popery, and, correspondingly, nations in which such coyness about the natural sexual urges of rodentkind was looked upon with amusement and scorn.
Basil was generally far too busy living aforementioned life to care about this theological quandary, either. He was tolerant, in that it didn’t matter to him either way. People, either humans or rodents, could do just as they pleased--provided it wasn’t dangerously criminal and didn’t interfere with his work.
He almost missed his nemesis--which was queer, given that while Ratigan lived, Basil had had no sweeter dream than that of ridding London of him. But it was undeniable that Ratigan had been a vital component of the criminal ecology--that the crime committed under his reign was more glamorous, less sloppy, generally less likely to involve the city’s innocent working-people, and far, far less tedious to deal with. Ratigan had had wit, style, and too much professionalism to bungle around regularly hurting the uninvolved. His crime had been of a higher class--and over several months Basil had realized, unpleasant as it was to contemplate, the extreme unlikelihood of ever facing that kind of challenge again. In a real way, he had peaked--and even if someone very, very good at what they did rose up from the gutter or swanned in from Vienna or some such place, it wouldn’t be anything like the same. Basil admitted to himself in the privacy of his own mind that Ratigan was--Ratigan had been--inimitable.
Basil had gotten what he wanted, what he had thought--and would still like to believe--was best for his beloved London. And what he wanted was wasting him by inches.
Ratigan had been a constant in Basil’s life since the start of his career, nearly a decade ago. They’d clashed so regularly, exchanged so many words and so many speaking moves as their game played out, and Basil had put so much effort into knowing his rival’s mind, that Ratigan death felt--Basil supposed one didn’t have to approve of someone or like them for them to become an important component of one’s life, even of one’s very self. Even the idea of ‘liking’ someone was strange, if one thought about it too much. Did a man ‘like’, for example, the poems or operas that brought him to wracking heights of emotion, or that had been crucial to the formation of his whole personality, as though they were so many clement days? He’d admired Ratigan, and pursuing the wondrous cracked cunning of his plots had brought Basil the greatest professional and personal satisfaction he’d even know. Being in his company had been thrilling and amusing and stupidly dangerous. Yet none of that properly amounted to any comparable relation. Basil wished there was some way to convey the experience to someone, to speak of it without misrepresenting the matter--to say it had been important to him, that it was a critical element of the foundation of the man he was now, to package that state and give it to people he wanted to have the knowledge. This exchange you see before you, friends, is who I am, it is the essence of me. But though Basil was eloquent, and cherished few illusions about himself, he couldn’t have begun.
His opponent had, for his part, known Basil uncomfortably well in turn. His taunts had started off quite general things, and had glanced off Basil accordingly. Over the years they’d changed, becoming eerily perfect. It was as though Ratigan could reach into his mind and pluck out whatever Basil was thinking, could locate Basil’s point of greatest vulnerability. No one else could do more than fluster and annoy him--Ratigan could make him incandescently angry, could rip him to pieces with two words in the right tone.
Basil still had the other man’s portrait--the locus of his hate, in older (better) days. It was tucked, haphazardly, into a bedside drawer. Displaying it, he realized now, because Dawson has gently teased him about it, had always been peculiar. (Basil wondered if the intensity of his fixation had been similarly peculiar.) Displaying it now would look too much like keeping the portrait of a beloved departed relation in a place of honor, and the thought sent a slippery frisson of annoyance through Basil. He couldn’t bear for some client to politely ask “who is that?”, and he didn’t, despite Dawson’s repeated kind offers, want to talk about any of it. If this was the peace bought by accomplishing the great endeavor of one’s life, then Basil must admit, it was something of a disappointment.
Sometimes the portrait caught his eye while he rifled through the drawer for papers and oddments. He flinched, shut the drawer swiftly and haphazardly, found something else to do. A moody snatch of a tune that desperately needed played. A demanding bout of physical training that could syphon off the energy of the reaction, and all the questions it provoked, and all the sleeping answers that he didn’t want to wake.
Take this gang. They were as stupid as any collection of thugs could hope to be (Basil had had to listen to hours of their chatter in the pub before the heist, and they’d left him no room in which to be charitable), but they worked relatively silently. They didn’t waste time debating their next move. Someone--someone they feared enough not to cross or second-guess--gave them orders. Good orders. This was, Basil thought, at least their fifth heist, and Basil needed it to come off so that he could follow them to their lair and raid it with the help of the men of the Yard. If Basil stepped in now, that was the rest of the loot lost to the lookouts when these ruffians didn’t come home by the agreed-upon hour. Dawson was outside with his trusty service-revolver, waiting to charge in if trouble arose, or, if all went well, to run for the police at Basil’s signal.
It wasn’t just this gang that had Basil stirring. The underworld had gotten quiet, lately--quiet but focused, thrumming with a pulse of new energy. He’d heard rumors of someone aggregating and twisting its threads of power--but curiously few. No one he’d spoken to had known anything, not really. No one was talking. There was a clipped, tight silence to ordinarily raucous dens of infamy. Everything was as tense as the air before a storm, and Basil could feel the pressure crackling, like static in his fur.
Something was about to break.
I was wearing this very coat, Basil thought, the last time I--but the gang reached its destination, and Basil shut the drawer.
Dawson caught up to him.
“Lovely night for it,” the doctor groused.
“I was thinking much the same myself,” Basil said, giving his friend a commiserating clap on the shoulder and leaning in to speak softer still. “Tell the police to mass here in numbers in--call it six hours. The thieves should be soundly sleeping off the caper by then, and the officers inversely fresh.”
“The start of their shift.” Dawson noded. “Yes, I take your point. Shall I join you back here?”
Basil shook his head. “Catch a few hours’ sleep, old fellow! I’ll keep watch to make sure this lot doesn’t give us the slip. If Mrs. Judson will be so good as to stir you when the cock crows, you can accompany the men here.”
Dawson frowned at the plan. “I say Basil, that seems an unnecessary risk--shouldn’t I be here, in case something happens? Better safe than sorry, as they say.”
Basil gave a muted laugh. “My dear doctor, I’m a veteran of a thousand and one solitary stake-outs--and I learned the craft in far more dangerous circumstances than this. I would have been glad of a stout companion--no offense, naturally--when Ratigan plotted to assassinate the Czar, or when the blaggard stole the Black Prince’s Ruby.” Basil cleared the nostalgic cast his expression had taken on. These fools wouldn’t dare steal so much as the Archbishop’s Toenail Clippings, and it was no use pining for well-organized crime. “As it is, I’ve nothing for you to do. Don’t lets both of us pass a sleepless night and catch cold.”
“Well,” Dawson sighed, “you know your business, I suppose.”
“I should hope so, Dawson!” Basil grinned. “I’m not the world’s foremost consulting detective for nothing.”
“No, as anyone who’s had the misfortune of paying the fees you charge can attest. Oh, very well. I’ll toddle on with a Chelsea bun at a quarter to six, then.”
“Breakfast?” Basil perked up. “What a sublime brain you have, Major! You should be the one lauded for genius.”
Dawson chuckled. “Who says I’m not, in those esteemed circles that know the value of a good sweet roll?”
Basil watched Dawson disappear into the mist, and settled in to pass an uncomfortable, dull night, with only the promise of an eventual Chelsea bun and another victory too easily won to sustain him.
He hated this bloody fog. It felt like it was inside him, like he was cold and muffled and wet and gray on both sides of the skin. Like he was itching to get outside himself, and like he couldn’t quite remember how to care. Everything was blunted. He’d felt like this for--well. For quite some time, now. Someone would have mocked him for such moodiness, once, all slick-voiced and syrup-sweet, and in so doing would have enraged him, would have forced to rise above it, to scramble up out of himself.
This curious muted, suffocating feeling was probably what caused him to miss the signs, the obvious signs--it was probably what caused him to make such a terribly stupid decision.
It occurred to Basil that he could slip into the hideaway and determine how many of them there were--could learn something of the layout of the place. Then it occurred to Basil that he should do just that. It was, naturally, the sort of information the police would need--having it could increase their safety, their chance of success. Basil knew himself to be a competent, silent housebreaker. It was an old, dilapidated rookery (in both senses)--just the place someone dressed like him might wander into in search of a dry bit of floor somewhat insulated from the cold. Even if they did catch him, by his clothes he was a sailor looking for a spot to kip for the night--common enough on the water-front. His self-defense skills were rusty, but more than adequate for the purpose. And how would he feel if he didn’t take the opportunity, and an officer, unprovided with the information, fell in the line of duty due to his negligence? Basil’s cheek twitched guiltily as he thought of just how little Dawson would like this plan, but then Dawson was asleep, on the other side of town, and it was Basil’s own business what risks he took, wasn’t it.
Slinking low, avoiding the light and noise from the ground floor, even skittering down on all fours, Basil made for the corner of the building. Nimbly, Basil scrambled up the side, using the condensation-slick drain-pipe--he thought wryly of the Prime Minister’s bon mot that politics essentially consisted of ‘climbing the greasy pole’, and wondered if that well-dressed fop would like to give this a try.
At the top of the drainpipe, Basil eyed the angle and, with a swing, popped neatly into the open window of a dark, empty-looking room. With almost no noise, he tumbled, rolled through, and picked himself up.
He paused a moment, letting his eyes adjust, listening--no response, no raised alarms. In the dark, he grinned smugly. Perhaps there was no audience worth thinking of, but Basil was damned if he wouldn’t put on a good show.
“It truly is a pleasure to see you again, Basil,” someone said in the darkness.
It was only theoretically ‘someone’. Basil’s eyes went wide, and his heart damn-near stopped, and sounds were loud, the beat of his suddenly-racing heart roaring like a motor, and the world flared into color--the very darkness around him went india-ink purple, sienna, coal.
“Ratigan,” Basil whispered, incredulous but certain, and the colors flared out and the blood surged in his veins and his hands whipped the air in useless struggle as strong, massive arms wrapped around him from behind. The detective was expertly chloroformed with a handkerchief to the patronizing sound of a mock-soothing ‘shhhh’. This irritated Basil enormously, even as he was busy losing consciousness.
When Basil was fully cognizant, Ratigan’s face swam into view. This was the fourth time he’d managed to knock Basil out, and he always seemed to be right there waiting when Basil came ‘round, like he wouldn’t want to miss the spectacle of Basil’s humiliation. Ratigan was saying something, and Basil couldn’t quite register it. What he did notice was the crackling fire, the warmth and comfort of the room. They’d moved. The air didn’t smell like the river. It didn’t smell like anything obvious--they were underground, perhaps, judging by the air pressure. By dint of long training, Basil noticed these things automatically, without thought.
Basil himself was tied to a sturdy wood chair with a jute rope and good, strong hojojutsu bindings--the Japanese-style that relied mainly on interconnected loops rather than knots. Basil wasn’t intimate with the form and didn’t know its tricks--though the binding was now surprisingly intimate with him, pressing against him indelicately through the fabric of his clothes. He could feel the rose-shaped press of the king knot at the base of his neck, where it would be fiendishly difficult to get at.
For a long moment, Basil just goggled at the impossible man before him. Real. Real beyond denial or question. Real and, no doubt, expecting some form of response to whatever he’d just said. A nameless, formless, urgent reaction welled up in Basil, and he shunted it aside because he couldn’t begin to process it and he must be alert to deal with this man, let alone to do so in poor condition, at a disadvantage.
“The river, I suppose?” Basil managed, glad to have missed ‘whereamI?” (Previously Ratigan has riffed off that at length and leisure.) He meant--you must have survived, somehow, and the most likely means of doing so is hitting the cold Thames from that high up and not snapping your spine, not drowning, not freezing. And no matter Ratigan’s sick twist of luck, no matter his burning desire to survive (writhing and clinging to life at the end, clutching desperately at nothing as he fell), he should not have been able to manage it. Basil had run the numbers until they fell apart in his hands. He should know.
“Obviously,” and Ratigan’s temper flared for a moment, his face twisting into an animal, murderous snarl, before his brittle veneer of civility snapped back into place and he smoothed his expression into his normal predatory, insinuating grin. “But let’s not dwell on the past, detective. We have a victory to celebrate, don’t we?”
“Over death?” Basil sneered. “I wouldn’t celebrate just yet. I think you’ll find it usually wins out in the end.”
Ratigan clucked. He’d been leaning over Basil, too close, but now he stood and lit his cigarette. “My dear Basil, you truly have gone to seed in my absence. I’ll give you a little moment, shall I?” He flicked his hand at seemingly-imaginary lint on the dark lapel of his jacket. It stung because it was true, and because someone saw it, and because that someone was him, of all people. And it occurred to Basil with that slight prompt that the man before him was the very spider at the center of the web of tension in the underworld--oh of course he was. Few people must know it was him, seemingly returned from the grave, and fewer still must believe it. Then came the knowledge that these break-ins had been staged for his benefit--interesting enough to follow up on, dull enough that he wouldn’t suspect this, or even be put on his guard. Basil had been left alone long enough, had been served enough easy shots to wear down his vigilance--and hadn’t even suspected he was being softened up. So what had been happening while he was on his fool’s errand, then?
“All caught up?” Ratigan had been watching him think, and while Basil knew himself to have an expressive face, it irked him that Ratigan could read his progress as easily as another man might glance at his wrist-watch. And Ratigan knew how much it vexed Basil, that was probably just why he was so sure and condescending about it. Basil was deeply glad he’d attended Cambridge instead of Oxford--dealing with Ratigan in his capacity as a maths professor would have driven him ‘round the bend.
“Not quite,” Basil said through gritted teeth. “What was all this in aid of?”
“Perhaps I just wanted to give you a surprise.” Ratigan pouted. “Anyone would think you’re not pleased to see me.”
“Ecstatic.” Basil deadpanned.
Ratigan’s pleasant, insinuating expression flickered and distorted for a moment, and then he snapped down on whatever savagely nasty thing he was about to respond with. His face seemed to broaden as it relaxed into a smile, and Basil found even that physically intimidating. He’d forgotten how large Ratigan was, the sheer animal power of his body--how being in the same room with Ratigan made his fur stand on end and his heart judder with panicked impulse to fight or flee. He was certainly remembering it now.
“We really must catch up, Basil. How have you been?” Basil gave him only a sour ‘really?’ expression, because they both knew at this point that Ratigan had been keeping tabs on him. And anyway, the faux-pleasantry was more than a little ridiculous to start with. Still, Ratigan pressed the question. “How is your new friend--Mister Dogson, was it?”
“Major Dawson,” Basil corrected automatically, feeling stupid in the next instant because he shouldn’t have risen to that.
“Ah yes,” Ratigan smiled thickly, tapping the ash of his cigarette out into a silver tray on the mantle of the fireplace. “How is your valiant associate, your bosom companion?”
“Safe, I hope,” Basil snapped back, his eyes flashing. He was trying to surreptitiously test the bindings that secured his arms--but apparently Ratigan caught the flicker of motion, because he reached forward and slipped two fingers under the binding--assuring himself that it was perfectly secure. Ratigan slid his fingers along under the slick, soft jute for a moment, up the fabric of the arm of Basil’s jumper--his coat, he could see, had been hung neatly on a rack in the corner. Ratigan pulled back.
“It may interest you to know that my men haven’t apprehended your--friend.”
Basil caught the slight pause, and wondered what that was all about.
“I suppose you’d hate for any harm to come to him,” Ratigan continued, and there whatever-it-was was again.
“Leave him out of this,” Basil growled. “He’s done nothing to you, and this is between us.” Ratigan looked rather pleased at Basil’s way of putting it. Still, Dawson had no idea that the flat was observed, no notion of the danger he was in--taken unawares, Basil’s sturdy friend was as vulnerable as anyone. Basil debated saying anything further, because the information might be used against Dawson and dear Mary, but there would be banns in the paper next week, and it was perhaps worth appealing to Ratigan as a gentleman--if only because he was so desperate to be taken as one. “If anything happens to the Major, you’ll disappoint the fond expectations of a likewise innocent lady.”
“I’ll what.” A chunk of cigarette ash dropped to the floor unobserved. Ratigan’s normally speaking expression had gone unusually blank.
Basil tilted his chin up. “I believe you heard me. Take it as you will.”
Remarkably, Ratigan began to laugh.
“What’s so funny?” Basil demanded.
“Nothing, nothing,” Ratigan waved his hand, still panting through great wheezes of laughter, clutching at his own sides. “Rest assured, Basil, I’ve no intention of involving your accomplice in tonight’s business. You can relax on that account.”
Basil was confused, a touch relieved, and very irritated--he seldom didn’t understand what was going on, and he’d never learned the knack of behaving gracefully in such situations. “You still haven’t told me what--” but then he noticed the painting on the wall, half-hidden in the darkness. The painting, not print. The very famous painting. The very famous painting that hung in the rodent galleries beneath the Victoria and Albert museum. The very famous painting that had no doubt been stolen, along with who knew how many others, while he himself had been across town, tracking minor jewel thieves. The very famous painting he should have noticed immediately, distracting ropes and nemesis or no, God in heaven, how utterly humiliating.
“Isn’t it splendid?” Ratigan half-turned to inspect it, smile on his lips. “I just knew you’d like it. I hung it up while you were dozing. I’m selling the rest on, but I do have a weakness for gothic ecclesiastical work.”
“Oh, you loathsome--!” Basil, mindlessly angry, rocked the chair so hard in his attempt to break free that he tipped the thing over. This provoked another burst of laughter from Ratigan, who stamped out his cigarette and came over to the furious, embarrassed mouse.
With careful, precise gestures, Ratigan righted the chair, skimming a gloved finger over the ropes and up to cluck the underside of Basil’s chin. “Careful, Basil--mustn’t hurt yourself. You’re the special guest at tonight’s festivities--call it a gathering in your honor, as well as my public welcome-back party.” Ratigan spun and strode over to the door, throwing it open and walking out. “All right, boys, let the celebrations begin!” A chorus of loud, lewd hoots and cheers greeted this permission. Basil could hear the bomb-like pops of champagne bottles of human proportions being opened.
Basil even caught sight of a corner of bunting, and somehow this was the most insulting touch. How the hell did Ratigan find time to decorate for these things? What did he do when not plotting ambitious crimes, sit at home crafting? Did he hire minions who were dab hands at especially neat copperplate lettering? Was there some form of sinister party supply ring? And Ratigan seemed to get everything together so quickly--
“Now now, Basil, don’t go getting distracted. Let’s not have a repeat of the last time you were captured,” Ratigan tisked, craning his neck to look over his shoulder back towards the detective. “How it pained me to see you reduced to that catatonic state!” Ratigan laid an ironic hand to his brow. “It isn’t any fun for me when you’re not on form. Where is your sportsmanship?”
“Probably wherever I’ve left my interest in performing for your amusement, you jackanapes.” There was little chance of falling back into that grey nothingness now--Basil felt afire, felt like running and swinging out and laughing hysterically at this strange turn of fortune. But Ratigan’s presence kept him from doing more than seething, and the crowning insult of his bonds, which didn’t even have the decency to be uncomfortable, felt like some form of torture to Basil’s senses and sensibilities.
A chuckle bubbled out of Ratigan, who seemed half to dance back towards the detective. “But Basil, you’re always so diverting! At this very moment you’re selfishly keeping me captivated--”
“I think you’ll find it’s the other way around!”
“--when,” Ratigan continued silkily, “I should be a proper host and attend to the revels. Don’t fret precious,” he patronizingly patted Basil’s cheek, “I’ll be back to check on you in a twinkling.”
“What do you intend to do with me?” If Ratigan wanted him dead Basil knew that he’d be dead--unless Ratigan was making preparations for a grand finale along the lines of last time’s attempt, but wanted to oversee the thing personally this time.
“What a delicious question! I’ll leave you to contemplate it, Basil dearest.” Ratigan slipped out, closing the door behind him.
Basil didn’t so much contemplate as stew. The last time he’d been captured, Ratigan hadn’t overseen his death. That in and of itself was amateurish. Ratigan was a showman who valued flash and display far more than even Basil did--and no one had ever yet called Basil an unimaginative plodder. But it was a display that grew out of well-deserved assurance. If Ratigan wanted an enemy dead, he knifed them himself in a lean twenty seconds. He did it prettily and didn’t muss his cuffs, but he didn’t dodge the question. Basil had attended on enough of the bodies to know. Ratigan’s failure to attend to the matter of Basil himself quickly and personally looked incompetent. Ratigan was many things, but he was not an inadequate criminal.
Ratigan had been clever enough to build a Rube Goldberg machine, and simultaneously stupid enough to fail to realize that it contained within itself the seeds of its own unraveling, provided one was very good at the sort of logic puzzles that the very person it had been built to eliminate was very good at. Had Ratigan, consciously or unconsciously, not intended the device to succeed? Was his intelligence so strangely warped that it allowed for such discrepancies? Why time the device with a long song that gave Basil more than enough time to figure out the trap? Why adieu--a prolonged, perhaps permanent goodbye--and then auf wiedersehen and arrivederci--both ‘until we meet again’, farewells of short duration? Ratigan wasn’t a fool, and he while he spoke theatrically, he didn’t use words carelessly. Basil had often given the subject thought over the past months, whenever he couldn’t help himself. He had never quite decided what to make of it.
Basil was twining his neck and biting at the knot, making tight, struggling noises, when the door swung open and he froze. His eyes slid over to the doorway, but his teeth stayed where they were.
Of course it was Ratigan, carrying a platter on his large forearm, backlit by the harsher light of the hall. Basil couldn’t see his expression, he seemed one huge, dark mass against the yellow glow. Ratigan stopped, as if arrested by the sight. Basil’s chest was puffed and panting around the self-made gag. Basil realized what a fool he must look--his posture bared his neck, and his eyes were wide and frantic--and grew all the more embarrassed. After a tense moment Basil slumped, spitting out the rope. His alert ears relaxed a little, and he turned to properly glare at his captor.
“How is your evening going? Well, I trust?” he asked sarcastically.
“Oh yes,” Ratigan murmured, “better than I might have hoped.”
“Jolly good,” Basil said moodily. “Congratulations and all that.”
“I didn’t want you to miss out--this is, after all, in part your occasion. I’ve brought you a little something.”
“How kind, but I’m not thirsty, thank you.” Basil’s Adam’s apple bobbed as he cleared his suddenly painfully dry throat. “Or hungry, so--” Basil’s stomach chose that moment to rumble audibly. Basil had no idea how long he’d been out, how long it has been since he ate, “thank you, but no,” Basil finished, determined.
Ratigan set down his platter--on which Basil could see balanced two round-bellied mugs of some sort of hot punch, and a generous plate of food--on the bed. As if Basil weighed nothing, Ratigan lifted his whole chair, plonked it down opposite the bed, and sat down across from Basil, so that their knees were a few inches apart.
“For a man on the side of the angels, you’re an inveterate liar,” Ratigan commented. His smile was roguish, coaxing. “I promise you it isn’t poisoned. Why should I bother? There are far easier ways for me to kill you than that. Trust me just a little, eh Basil?”
Basil set his teeth against intrusion. Ratigan’s smile remained the same, but his eyes grew a touch harder. “I’ll try one myself, and you can see it’s perfectly safe.” What looked like a generous cheese kebab was dwarfed by Ratigan’s enormous hand--it resembled the most dainty appetizer, or the miniature faux-food Mr. Flavisham made for dolls. Ratigan ate a piece, and because he was a sybarite of the highest order he couldn’t resist making a delighted sound that struck Basil as leud. Basil flushed, angry and disconcerted. “Mm, it’s exquisite Basil, you really must try one.” Basil didn’t respond. “Oh go on,” Ratigan pressed, “oblige me.”
“Has it ever occurred to you that I wouldn’t want to eat what’s no doubt the fruit of your ill-gotten gains with you if I had gone without food for a month?” Basil was at his nastiest when he felt caught off guard, and he felt thoroughly at a disadvantage. He’d made a poor show of it this evening, and now he had Ratigan’s treacly, patronizing hospitality to contend with on tip of it. “Besides, now you’ve touched it it’s thoroughly befowled. No doubt it reeks of the sewers.”
With false calm, Ratigan picked up the punch and held Basil’s head in his free hand. Basil struggled to twist free, but Ratigan’s grip subdued his struggles. The blood in Basil’s neck pounded against the pads of Ratigan’s large fingers through his white gloves. The harsh pressure of his grip popped Basil’s jaw open, and Ratigan tilted Basil’s head to keep him from spitting as he poured down first one glass of punch, then followed it with the one he’d clearly intended for himself. The punch was heavily alcoholic, mixed for Ratigan’s tolerance rather than that of Basil’s own small frame and more conservative habits. Basil choked and wheezed, and it hit his empty stomach like a blow. When Ratigan was sure the mixture was properly down, he released Basil to sputter and cough.
“That ought to improve your mood,” Ratigan sneered. “You’re awfully tiresome tonight. And to think I was so looking forward to becoming reacquainted with you. Still, I don’t think I’ll let you spoil my evening.” Ratigan fetched a crystal decanter and two glasses from a dark wooden chinoiserie cabinet and returned to the bed. “It’s not every day that even I outwit and capture you.” Ratigan poured himself a generous measure, downed it, and poured another for himself, and yet another, presumably, for Basil. “You can either willingly share a drink with me, Basil, or repeat the humiliating process we just underwent. What’s it to be, hm? You can insist on being forced, but either way, you’ll be imbibing. And between you and I, as much as I enjoy having your neck where I can snap it, it’s not doing much for your dignity. Or your windpipe, for that matter.”
Basil could feel a hot bruise, like a love bite, swelling up where blood vessels had burst under his skin. He swallowed hard.
“As you like,” he muttered sullenly.
“Good boy.” Ratigan’s tone of approval made Basil want to squirm. So too did the firm, but far gentler, hold Ratigan took of his head to enable him to drink--the way the other man’s finger supported the cup, brushing Basil’s lower lip as he poured. Delicately, with a handkerchief in his gloved hands, he patted a stray drop off Basil’s lip when he’d finished.
“Why aren’t you out there drinking with your men?” Basil noded towards the rising din outside the door.
“Because I prefer the pleasure of your company, Basil, naturally. Now tell me, no spitting defiance this time, did you suspect anything tonight, hm?”
“I certainly didn’t expect to see you.”
“No,” Ratigan chuckled. “If I’d had any doubt, the look on your face--” he sprawled on the bed facing Basil, supporting himself on an elbow. At the recollection, he practically writhed with glee, and Basil had to look away. “I’ll treasure the memory of that, I can assure you.” Ratigan’s voice dipped down like a spoon into a jar of treacle, then brightened, lilted back up. “But you had no suspicion that the caper was a diversion?”
“No,” Basil admitted with bad grace. “As long as we’re asking questions, how on earth did you survive that fall?”
“You may recall I wore my best velvet cape at the time,” Ratigan said smugly. “Though sadly tattered,” he sighed, for he hated to see his fine things spoilt, “it was still a great help to me. Wind resistance, Basil. Why you yourself used a similar principle when concocting that ingenious little dirigible of yours.”
“So you used it like a parachute, holding it wide, with all your limbs, to provide maximum wind resistance and slow you down--”
“And then let it fly and opted instead for a precise nose-dive at the end. Oh I broke bones, I don’t mind telling you, and I had to convalesce in hiding for months at my residence nearest the waterfront, with only dear little Felicia to bring me sustenance--such a good girl. But as you see, I’ve recovered.” Ratigan downed his measure, poured another.
“Remarkable,” Basil admitted grudgingly.
“Isn’t it though?” Ratigan smiled with self-satisfaction. “Of course even when I was well, my trial wasn’t over. Far from it. For the past two months I’ve had to lie in wait for you, amassing my power and waiting for the perfect moment to spring my trap. It was maddening, but, as they say, patience is a virtue. Drink up, Basil, and tell me whether anyone managed anything entertaining in the way of capers in my absence. I do like to know whether I have to work to outshine anyone in your fond reminiscences.”
When Basil was too drunk to properly escape--and just for good measure, Ratigan gave him two more glasses, to be sure he wasn’t faking intoxication, and because a man with his tolerance had trouble believing other men were, comparatively, such light-weights--Ratigan loosed his bonds. Basil slumped onto him dizzily, his pins-and-needles legs unable to support his weight. The larger man allowed it, his breath catching when Basil’s head came to rest against the bulk of his chest. Basil’s mouth traced out a vague ‘oh dear’ against Ratigan’s shoulder
Ratigan lifted Basil and deposited him in an overstuffed chintz armchair. He conducted their conversation either striding about the room or standing behind Basil, leaning over the back of the chair, looking down on him rather fondly. Basil kept having to crane his head up to look back at him. (The relocation was something of a mercy, because Basil had caught himself developing an erection during one of their ‘feeding’ sessions, pinned against the ropes as he was. Ratigan, blessedly, seemed not to have noticed, but Basil, in his half-drunk state, had had something of a job containing his panic and thinking of the late Queen naked to try and will that away.) Ratigan started petting the tuft of fur on the top of Basil’s head as they spoke, and Basil was too far gone to find that strange, much less objectionable. He might even have leaned into it, provoking another sharp noise from the professor--he couldn’t possibly comment.
“Look at you,” Ratigan crowed, slurring. His large, thick tongue darted out to lick his lips (Basil watched it intently). “entirely at my mercy. The greatest detective in all mousedom. I could do anything to you, now couldn’t I?”
“You’ve said as much several times tonight,” Basil rolled his eyes, but stopped because it was making him dizzy. “I do get the point.”
“I don’t know that you do,” Ratigan mused, and there was a theatrical, plaintive tone to his voice. But then Basil knew that Ratigan’s theatricality was no tell as to whether he was in earnest--he did not cleanly separate his truth from his performance. Ratigan decided Basil needed another drink, and set to it. The decanter clinked against Basil’s glass, but only a feeble trickle ran out. “All out,” Ratigan sighed, “and I’m afraid I haven’t any more to offer you. I did take special care to have some in my rooms--I know it’s your favorite.”
“A favorite,” Basil agreed, only blearily wondering why Ratigan knew that and why Ratigan cared, “but one of several. I’m not precisely wedded to it.”
Something clicked in the professor’s brain. “Anything I like to you,” he murmured. Ratigan seemed not precisely to sober up, but to pull himself together. His expression bloomed into a look of revelation, and a wicked smile--even drunker than he’d ever been in his life, this worried Basil enormously. Ratigan clapped his hands together, delighted. “What an ingenious fellow you are!” he practically cooed, and Basil found himself blushing under his fur, flattered and embarrassed. Basil forgot to be worried.
Ratigan practically fell onto all fours as he scurried to the door, calling a henchman, sending him out for someone. The henchman, himself the worse for the alcohol, tried to remind his boss of the hour. “I know what time it is, confound it, you fool!” Ratigan shouted at him, continuing to rail at the man’s retreating back. “If that man knows what’s good for him he’ll be here in a quarter of an hour!” He instructed another henchman to ‘tell the lads to get things ready’, whatever that meant.
Turning and shutting the door behind him, Ratigan returned to Basil. “Now where were we, my sweet?”
Basil, who believed in accuracy, reached for Ratigan’s large hand, and, surprised, Ratigan let him thread it back through his fur, let Basil encourage him to return to stroking his head. “There, I think.”
Ratigan swallowed audibly. His normally modulated voice was a bit rough when he spoke. “Don’t tempt me dearest--in half an hour, just a little half an hour, we’ll be able to do the thing properly. Normally of course I wouldn’t stand on ceremony, especially not with you, but since we’ve the opportunity--”
Basil bit his lip and tilted his head, confused.
Ratigan’s face took on a considering expression, as though he were evaluating whether he himself was capable of handling something. Gingerly he lifted Basil, sat in the chair himself, and settled the detective on his lap. Basil squirmed to get comfortable, because there was a gun barrel or something under his thigh, and Ratigan’s eyes crossed. Ratigan let out a low hiss. “Damn you, you maddening little brat! Half an hour,” he repeated in strained accents, seemingly to himself. “Come on man, what’s half an hour to years?”
“Could I have something to eat?” Basil asked, wiggling his fingers as if in anticipation.
“Good to see you’re coming ‘round,” Ratigan snorted, but he looked like the question had improved his mood. A few hours ago Basil had as much as said he’d rather starve than willingly touch anything Ratigan had to offer him. Now requests! How Basil did improve. Ratigan had moved the tray to the little table beside the chair some time ago--not that normally observant Basil had noticed--and so he picked it up to offer it to his companion. Basil seemed delighted by the food, and popped open his mouth to receive it as though he were still bound. Ratigan, looking physically pained, nipped off a glove with his impressive teeth. He placed a piece from the cheese kebab into Basil’s mouth, shuddering as Basil’s tongue briefly came into contact with his fingers. He laid a hand on Basil’s soft cheek. They’d never touched there, Basil thought. They’d never talked so long at a stretch, either. They--god this cheese was excellent. Basil moaned.
“Oh you’re right that is good. May I have some more? I’m so very hungry.” Then he had to adjust himself because that gun was bothering him again. Ratigan’s hand--the bare one, the one not holding the tray of delicious food, came down on the small of Basil’s back and clenched compulsively.
“I’ve never hated you as much as I do at this very instant,” Ratigan assured the detective, very confusingly--he’d thought they were getting along famously! “You’re going to have to feed yourself I’m afraid.” When his eyes could focus again, Ratigan tried to change the topic of conversation. “In all your years tracking me, did you never think to inquire as to my Christian name?”
“I hardly thought you and the Lord were on a first-name basis,” Basil responded automatically, because he was drunk as a lord himself, not a completely different person. It had actually never occurred to him to wonder. Ratigan was just--Ratigan. Surely he came into the world adult, fully-formed, in an impeccable dinner jacket, with a devious scheme brewing in his over-fertile brain? He knew what anyone other than Ratigan knew about the man’s origins: nothing at all. They didn’t seem as important to understanding the professor as his actions in the present were.
Ratigan laughed, amused by Basil’s insolence. “Still, that’s rather hurtful--it’s Pádraic, actually.”
“Pádraic,” Basil tested it out. “Patrician. I suppose that’s appropriate, if a touch grasping. I didn’t know you were Irish.”
“Oh yes,” Ratigan’s smile grew more meaningful. Basil totally failed to grasp its significance.
For once his practical, workaday world was being impacted by those theological questions he routinely avoided, and his refusal to spend time dwelling on them was about to result in far greater consequences than his curate brother’s mild annoyance. “We’re an old Irish Catholic family, my dear.”
“Oh yes,” Ratigan smiled. “Born in Dublin, educated at Trinity, the lot.”
“Your accent--” O’Mousey suggested timidly.
“Ameliorated,” Ratigan snarled through his unchanging smile, voice then changing pitch, swinging sweeter, “by good breeding.” Ratigan had been born both poor and sharp enough to cut. He and his sisters had writhed and fought their way out of the slums, in the teeth of their poverty, their Irish origins, and the visible, obvious fact that they were rats--violent, loathsome creatures, shunned by good mouse society. They had broken their Gaelic like St. Catherine was to have been broken on her wheel. They had cultivated gentility like a rough harvest, out of lifeless, stony earth. They had collectively destroyed their past, and then parted ways.
His older sister had passed herself off in society as a low-hanging branch of the Ascendancy and married far above her station. No one would guess the severe woman’s background, and no one dared say anything about the exotic edge to her features. Their younger sister flitted through Europe, charming and conniving, using her brutal, savage handsomeness ruthlessly to accumulate safety for herself. She wielded her capriciousness, her violence, and her contempt, and her defects were read as charms. And if people let so much as indicated in her presence that they thought a mistress was next door to a whore, then she would laugh at them over an excellent dinner someone else paid for and take greater pleasure still in watching them burn when she found the opportunity to do so. By the time the last of her charm melted into the raw heat of her unmanageable temper, she would be richer than a score of better-born girls. Pádraic, because the option was available to him as a man, had competed for scholarships like gladiators trained and sweated to kill. When he got to England, he’d chased both his professorship and his throne atop the criminal classes like his younger sister chased Bohemian princes.
But for all that, it was the hellish slum Pádraic had happened to be born into that would yield him this: his greatest triumph. Ironic, really. Perhaps one day he’d share the joke with Basil.
Ratigan left the priest to prepare and, racing up the stairs, knocked on the door of his room. It was windowless, and guarded from the front, so he had felt relatively comfortable leaving an extremely incapacitated Basil on his own to dress. Not that himself he was any less discombobulated, to be fair to the poor detective--he was just far more used to working in such a state of debauch. Still, he could hardly knock on the door without overbalancing and falling backwards.
“How’s it coming?” he asked the door, which promptly opened to reveal Basil, neatly pinned into a gray morning coat one of the henchman had used to disguise himself as a gentleman during a bit of Goodwood-rigging Ratigan had had on two years ago. Ratigan himself had picked the ensemble out, and so it was perfectly correct, except--
Authoritatively he stripped Basil’s dull blue tie and, pushing past him, plunged into the his armoire. He pulled out a deep green silk affair that better flattered Basil’s bottle-green eyes. “Perfect!” he pronounced.
“Perfect for what?” Basil asked, catching his hand on the door-jamb against a wave of disorientation, to stop himself falling.
“You do so like dressing up and playing pretend, Basil, I thought I might indulge you a little! I’ve told you before, I just love your disguises.”
Basil sniffed. “You were being--fa--fatuous? No, facetious!” he managed, standing on his injured dignity.
“Oh no no no!” Ratigan reassured him. “I’ve the highest possible opinion of your skills in the deceptive arts! In fact you and I are going to put on a little pageant together, and you can display your talents! You know,” he dropped his voice, sidling up to Basil with his hands clasped together in a plea, “I feel I could learn a great deal from you, Basil. You’ve always been so much my superior in these matters. Oh I do hope I can keep up with such a master!”
“Well,” Basil cleared his throat, chuffed, “well I supposed I could demonstrate some of my improvisational techniques… just this once, now…”
“Excellent!” Ratigan smiled like a shark. “How very generous of you, Basil. Another drink?”
“Oh, why not?” Basil flailed over to fetch the glasses, and Ratigan pulled the reinforcement spirits he’d liberated from the men out of his jacket. “It is my party after all, isn’t it?”
“Of course it is, precious.” Ratigan soothed. “Bottom’s up!” They drained the glasses and, smacking his lips, Ratigan tossed his at the fire, where it shattered and hissed satisfyingly.
The hall was decorated for the occasion, and the men took up a raucous sort of bridal song as Father O’Mousey left. There was even a cake, as nice as the one in the Harrods window display! In fact, it bore an amazing likeness to that very cake. Certainly an unusual wedding. O’Mousey didn’t often get called on to perform the old brotherhood union ceremonies in England (though all the sons of Erin were entitled). But he didn’t feel uncomfortable with his role in the proceedings. It wasn’t his business whether the rumors about Ratigan’s unsavory career were or weren’t true (Wasn’t he supposed to be dead, for a start? It just went to show how trustworthy rumor was.), and anyway it was more than his life was worth to be over-nice about such questions. Besides, the man had asked O’Mousey to perform a sacrament. A good Catholic believed in the possibility of redemption. Whatever Ratigan’s past had involved, and whatever his present moral character might be, perhaps this was a means of settling the poor soul down into a more regular life?
Ratigan lightly kicked the door shut behind him, dropped Basil onto the bed (where he bounced slightly), and went back to lock the door soundly. He fumbled with the phonograph, drowning out the noise from downstairs with some violin concerto Basil didn’t recognize, but found appealing.
“A marvelous performance,” Ratigan cackled. “Your finest, I think. Bravo, Basil!”
Basil drunkenly preened. “Only too happy to help, old fellow!”
Ratigan leaned down, pushing into Basil’s space, all gleaming teeth and suggestion. “Say, Basil--”
He didn’t get much further than that, because Basil, apparently suddenly realizing there was an opening and going for it with absolutely no forethought, yanked Ratigan down by the lapels of his coat and kissed him feverishly. Ratigan’s eyes went wide. He had begun to kiss back and bear down on the detective when Basil suddenly slipped out from under him, using Ratigan’s weight and downward momentum to his own advantage. No sooner had Ratigan flipped on his back to see where Basil had gotten to--was this the overdue escape attempt? This whole rigamarole would be for nothing if he couldn’t consummate the marriage!--when Basil was on top of him, clambering up to kiss him again.
“Basil,” he growled, dazed.
“I thought you were dead,” Basil said, as if that explained something. He’d known since public school that he prefered the amorous company of other men, and he’d spent a good deal of time trying not to know he was attracted to Ratigan. In light of the revelation that Ratigan lived, and in Basil’s state of extreme intoxication, the whole rules of the world seemed suspended, as in carnival season. Even alcohol didn’t slow the fierce mechanical play of his mind--nor did it seem to slow Ratigan’s. What it did accomplish was to leave Basil unable to envision his ends, to suppress his impulses, to see a single reason why not to give lease to the need that had been building in him for hours now, throbbing every time Ratigan fed him another glass of liquor.
Ratigan had (he thought fairly, given that he’d brought the nuptials about and--well, actually, given almost everything about himself) assumed that he would be the one leading the figure. Basil, not having been consulted, was cheerfully ignoring all his partner’s presumptions. As far as the ‘rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated’ business, Ratigan thought about pointing out that on his part, he thought Basil had been involved with Dawson. He decided this probably wasn’t the time, and that there might never be an hour for that particular humiliating revelation, and that that that was probably as it should be. Ratigan relaxed as Basil enthusiastically sucked the tip of his tongue, only to tense again when he felt Basil’s hand flicking open the buttons of his flies.
“Remind me not to underestimate you in future,” he panted, sure that Basil would anyway, at every opportunity.
Still ignoring him, Basil rocked back to examine the member he’d worked out of Ratigan’s trousers. “Proportional, I suppose. Still, it’s a little gauche, don’t you think? Obvious I mean.”
Ratigan bristled. He normally appreciated Basil’s pert conversation, but this sort of commentary was surely beyond the pale, even for him. “My dear Basil,” he rumbled dangerously, “whatever are you implying?”
“I’m not implying anything. I’m simply stating it. You’re ludicrously over endowed and I can’t possibly imagine how I’m going to manage to house it.” At this, the thing in his hand bobbed vigorously, swelling, if possible, even further. Basil rolled his eyes. “If you haven’t noticed, I’m a mouse of slender proportions. I naturally always thought you’d be be over-sized, but this--if you’re not careful you’ll rip me apart. Oh, there it goes again. Delightful. That had better be the last of it.”
“Could you--could you possibly repeat that?” Ratigan’s smooth voice had gone somewhat ragged. “All of that? Perhaps slower?” My god, could he make a recording?
“I don’t see any reason to, you understood me perfectly well the first time.” Basil shrugged. “Might as well make a beginning, I suppose.” With no more warning that that, he bent and took the head of Ratigan’s member in his mouth, then crammed himself fuller, quite determined. Ratigan’s hand immediately shot up to push Basil’s head down, on instinct. Basil swatted his arm away without looking. “Don’t help,” he murmured with his mouth full. “I’m trying to concentrate. If you feel the need of some occupation--” he freed his tail from his trousers and flicked it in a graceful arc back up towards his partner’s mouth.
As clever and entertaining as Basil was sober, there was a distinct possibility that he should never be allowed to be sober again. Who could have anticipated that a certain amount of alcohol would make Basil so aggressively, bossily interested in forming a more intimate acquaintance? (Certainly not Ratigan, or he’d have done it ages ago.)
Gingerly, Ratigan caught Basil’s tail and stroked it with the soft, downy fur. Basil made a noise along the lines of ‘guh’. Much encouraged, Ratigan propped himself up on some pillows, taking the tip of Basil’s tail in his mouth. He could see the bulge where the head of his cock was pushing against the inside of Basil’s cheek, and he could see Basil’s mouth stretched around him. He groaned, unashamedly wanton, at the image. Supporting himself with an elbow, Basil ran his knuckles up what he couldn’t get in his mouth. Flicking his tail away from Ratigan’s mouth and, guiding it with his free hand, he swept it over the base of Ratigan’s tail, not entering but skating over him in distracting strokes. After a moment, Basil popped off. “Do you want to finish in my mouth, or would you prefer to spend on my face?” he asked pleasantly.
“God dammit, Basil!” Despite his determination to drag this out, and despite all the alcohol he’d imbibed, Ratigan could feel himself reaching his peak, spurred onto it by the very question. Frantically, he batted Basil’s head back down and held him there while he came, hands gripping Basil’s shoulders, claws sliding out without his volition and grazing Basil slightly. After shuddering through, he slumped back on the bed, breathing hard. “I might have known you’d find a way to make this difficult,” he grumbled when he’d finished panting.
“My dear fellow, I’m not being difficult!” Basil protested, unbuttoning Ratigan’s shirt and starting to work off his soiled trousers. “I’m being very civil!”
“I know,” Ratigan moaned, lolling dramatically like an operatic dying Dido about to give an aria, “that’s the worst part.”
“You can’t be comfortable in these clothes. They’re much too fine, you’ll spoil them--mm,” he rubbed his cheek against the silk cravat unthinkingly, hungry for sensation--Ratigan watched, enchanted, “you always wear such exquisite things. And anyway, they’re disordered now. Flip over, come on.”
With a glare at being told what to do, Ratigan complied, shucking his clothing himself and folding it neatly because, appreciative of his sense of style or no, Basil certainly wasn’t going to do so. On his stomach, he leaned over to neatly place the pile of clothing on the bedside table, and then froze as he felt hands massaging the base of his tail. Glancing over his shoulder revealed Basil’s hands wrapped around him, looking especially fine-boned, elegant and small in proportion. Basil had somehow managed to get undressed while Ratigan was attending to his own business, and was staring rapt at the thing in his hands, unfocused.
“Take apart the oil lamp,” Basil commanded, “if you haven’t anything better at the ready.”
Ratigan did not stop to question the specifics of Basil’s plans. There was a lamp on each side of the bed, but one would likely do. Ratigan quickly took the nearest to pieces. Letting the glass bowl wobble on the table, roll away and smash on the floor, Ratigan handed Basil the oil-chamber. Dipping his finger in the stuff, Basil sniffed it.
“Organic compound,” he pronounced, tasting it and smacking his lips delicately, “oh yes, the stuff they sell at Ambrose’s. He marks up, you know, and it isn’t any better. Anyway, it’s perfectly safe. Fit for the purpose, I should think.”
Ratigan blanched slightly. “As interested as I am in the project you propose, I’m afraid I’m not quite--”
“Who said anything about you using it? Play fair, you’ve had a turn.” The oil-slick finger that had been in Basil’s mouth resumed the sweeping his tail had been doing earlier, then popped into his partner.
Ratigan’s eyes bugged. “Wait just a moment--”
“What the devil for? I’m not letting you take me, unless I’m permitted to take you, and that’s final. And don’t say you could make me--have you ever been able to make me do anything?”
“On several occasions,” Ratigan babbled slightly. “Recollect the false trail during the pie shop affair, when--”
Basil smacked him on the arse with his clean hand. “Don’t be cheeky.”
Basil worked another two fingers in, and Ratigan hesitated to bring up that he hadn’t done this before (when and with whom did Basil imagine he would have done this before? Bloody Fidget?).
Still, glancing back, he could see that Basil was naked, stiffly erect, and breathing very hard. Basil put a generously lubricated hand on his own cock and pumped, biting his lip around a soft mewl, staring at his own fingers twitching inside his partner as if the sight enthralled him. Ratigan abruptly lost interest in not having Basil fuck him. “Get on with it then, if you’re going to.” He canted his hips up a bit to facilitate.
Basil pushed in, and he was of course comparatively smaller, but then Ratigan was inexperienced and Basil was deeply enthused, and it felt like plenty. Basil’s hands obscenely pumped and petted the base of Ratigan’s tail as he thrust. The soft, sensitive skin of it pressed against Basil’s furred stomach and draped over his thigh.
“I’ve always loved your tail,” Basil throatily murmured. Preening a little, Ratigan coiled it around Basil’s waist and squeezed. Basil gasped and continued. “It’s so crude. Huge and thick,” he pumped, “and serpentine and naked,” he squeezed “and obvious. It shows exactly what you are.”
And here Ratigan tensed. “Tread carefully, Basil.” But Basil continued unheedingly.
“I mocked you for being what you are because it bothered you, because you were weak on that point and I needed every chink in your armor. But I never cared at all. I admired you. All that genius and control and personality united with such a savage nature.” Basil’s voice was getting threadier as he spoke, his eyes wilder, his thrusts more uneven. “I even found the dichotomy--specially attractive. You’re a genius, and you talk like the ideal gentleman--but you can be such a beast. Such a temper. You’re so massive, so strong. I wondered what it’d be like to be shoved down and had, completely bested by a depraved, filthy sewer rat.”
Ratigan found his shame and his anger burning away. Basil, whose opinion he valued more than anyone’s, didn’t care. Basil wanted him, cultured and base. Basil was fucking him with so much want, and prettily telling him he got off on the elements of Ratigan he--proper little Basil--should most shy from. Basil came panting, his essence spilling down on Ratigan’s thighs as he pulled out.
Clumsy with lust, Ratigan flipped him over and lubricated a finger.
“Are you mad?” Basil snorted. “You’ve not even recovered yet, and I’m certainly not starting with those…” his voice got a bit soft and distant, “my, what big, clawed fingers you have. Mm.” It was a rat that Red Riding Hood had been menaced by, after all, and there had been more than a hint of sexuality about the affair.
Still dreamy-eyed, Basil slowly slipped his own hand down and worked a couple of lubricated fingers into himself, breath hitching. “I thought you were supposed to be a competent engineer,” Basil slurred. “You should know all about tension, and dimensions--and with hands like those--you won’t just fit like that.” Still sensitive from coming, Basil started gasping on his own fingers--three, four. “Try now,” Basil murmured, and slowly they managed enough of Ratigan’s lust-trembling fingers to risk the thing itself. And that too had to be obscenely slippery with oil, eased in--which Basil didn’t make easy, squirming and moaning whorishly, a saint would have felt a compulsion to fuck him to pieces, Ratigan was sure. All his nerves were strained by the force of not moving. Basil, strangling his cock with his body, arched his back wantonly, bucking up off the bed.
Ratigan sloppily fucked him, snarling at his cries and panting stupid, over-fond endearments. Having Basil, marrying Basil, felt like being crowned King. Like the most ingenious, wicked crime he’d ever committed, like getting away with it, like that highest opiate, beating Basil. He was mindless with triumphant glee, rutting and glutting himself. He squeezed Basil’s renewed erection in one hand and Basil keened his name as he came. Ratigan finished himself with snapping thrusts that made Basil’s head pop and bounce like a toy.
Alcohol and exertion saw them lose consciousness directly after.
“Oh I should have realized,” he moaned as Dawson fanned him, bemused. “That conniving, evil--Papist!!” Basil writhed for words. “That low-down, rotten--”
“I thought you said you escaped from Ratigan’s foul den by drinking him under the table, keeping your wits about you, and slinking out when he was in a stupor?”
Basil winced. “And so I did, in a manner of speaking!”
“In a manner of speaking?” Dawson was incredulous. “Basil, you told me last night was shockingly uneventful and that Ratigan must have lost his touch or had his brains scrambled by the fall. This seems rather like an event to me.”
“Yes, thank you, Dawson. It seems I was much mistaken about the--ramifications of--it doesn’t matter!” Basil rose from his chair as if propelled. “I’ll see this annulled at once! Now how does one go about actually serving Ratigan papers… he’ll have moved from the location I escaped from, but he said he’d spent the last months in his residence nearest the water front. Perhaps he’s returned to the very spot. Somewhere I can’t have been in the last year, which eliminates his former lair--” Basil busied himself with a map of the waterfront. “Dawson, call out the door and fetch us an urchin. I need to send an urgent message to my solicitor.”
“Perhaps it’s unwise to be too--public about this affair?” Dawson suggested.
“Nonsense, doctor! Truth will out! And besides, if I don’t see it brought to court first, he’ll only find some way to do so himself, in a manner more to his own advantage. Best to have it out now.”
Hours later, Basil, grim-faced, stood next to a trembling bailiff, who pushed papers towards an unimpressed Ratigan. They stood on the threshold of a deceptively-shabby looking old crate in a rough neighborhood. Basil had no doubt that the crate’s interior was the sort of nouveau-riche gilded horror he’d come to expect from his adversary’s decorating.
“Um, if you’d be so kind, sir--” the Bailiff stuttered, his knees knocking together.
“Oh for god’s sake man!” Basil snatched the papers from his hand and shoved them into Ratigan’s face. “Here!”
Sniffing, Ratigan gingerly took the documents and, sliding on neat spectacles, perused them. He began to laugh heartily about a sentence in, which cased Basil to further puff out his chest. “Oh my dear boy, this is going to be delicious.”
“It will hopefully be very brief!” Basil snapped, his ears going flat and his tail bristling. “I’ll see this travesty annulled by the week’s end, damn you! I can’t believe I went over all nostalgic when you were dead!”
Ratigan absently patted Basil’s cheek, still reading. “I do so look forward to the attempt. I’ll be only too happy to see you at the Royal Courts of Justice. Thursday morning suits me very well, thank you,” he said as though Basil had proposed an outing.
“Fine. Come along, Bailiff, you’ve been most helpful.” Basil, cheeks burning under his fur, dragged the still-trembling mouse after him as he charged out of the alley. Ratigan’s rich gales of laughter pursued them.
“If the scandal about our earlier involvement with the court’s business breaks, it will undoubtedly unseat the entire government,” the Prime Minister pointed out archly. “I do owe you, Basil, but unfortunately, due to your inopportune timing, what you’re asking for--essentially that I entirely circumvent the court’s jurisdiction in a matter involving two prominent citizens, against one of those citizen’s probable loud protests, and thus make a mockery of the courts’ authority--is the career of half the ministers. Even if I did it, the courts would probably reverse the decision, just to show me my place.” The mouse chuffed. “All this for someone who doesn’t even vote for me. Really, Basil.”
“I don’t vote for you because you’re rather an idiot, and I shouldn’t have had to clean up your mess with the courts in the first place,” Basil snapped. “That and your politics.”
The Prime Minister was unfazed. “You’ll never learn to flatter, will you? I wish him joy of you.”
“I can’t wring your conservative sympathies on the basis of having been shanghaied into a most unnatural union?”
The Prime Minister snorted. “You bark up the wrong tree, I’m afraid. Some of us would do rather a lot for the opportunity to marry Papist-fashion, you know.” He surveyed Basil up and down. “And I don’t think your protestations of robust, red-blooded love for woman-kind would fool someone who wouldn’t enjoy a Papist marriage, either.”
Annoyed, Basil switched tacks. “Perhaps this is the opportunity to take a truly moral stance against the obvious corruption of English marital law? The women of this nation should certainly have the right to leave unsuitable situations and start afresh, without having to prove all the cause under the sun!”
“The women of this nation,” the dark mouse said with wry irony, “do not vote, Basil. If the dear ladies did, I’d never have to worry about another election. My opponent has all the charm of a wet February. The men of this nation, by and large, rather like things as they are.”
“And that doesn’t bother you at all, does it. You’re a terrible little person, you know,” Basil snapped.
The Prime Minister shook his head. “I’m practical. Pragmatic. If you hope to escape your situation, I suggest you apply your famed detective detachment to your own emotional life and cultivate pragmatism rather than moral indignation.”
Basil, a bit stung by the accusation that, where Ratigan was concerned, he could be unusually irrational, huffed out. See if he helped Fisdaeli the next time the fool bungled in Europe and came calling.
And so it was that Basil came to be sitting in front of a bewigged judge, pointedly not looking at the other table, which looked small and silly in comparison to the bulk of his rival.
Father O’Mousey testified that he couldn’t rightly say one way or another whether the ceremony had been legitimate.
“Certainly it took place at an unusual hour, but the papers were all correct--there were witnesses, and there was certainly no canonical impediment. The hall was even decorated for the celebrations--I was satisfied at the time,” O’Mousey feebly protested.
“I was roaring drunk!” Basil protested. The barrister he’d instructed had his head in his hands. Trying to get Basil to sit down and let himself be competently represented by a professional was a lost cause. If Basil insisted on conducting the cross examinations himself, well, it was his retainer’s fee he was wasting, and his liberty he was taking chances with. “You call that ‘of sound mind and body?’”
“You know I’ve never conducted an Irish wedding in which the parties involved were sober,” O’Mousey mused, earning a chuckle from Ratigan and a guffaw from the gallery.
“Ladies and Gentlemen,” Basil addressed the assembled, “you are witness to a heinous farce, a complete miscarriage of justice! On the evening in question, this scoundrel absconded with the paintings that have gone missing from our own fair museum, an insult to the memory of our dearly departed Queen, who dedicated the institution to the public trust!” Gasps, but for some reason Ratigan seemed to be almost enjoying it. Concerned but determined, Basil pressed on. “He has been my implacable foe for years! His crimes are legion--”
Ratigan stood, weaving his fingers together, his expression solicitous. “My dear Basil, I hate to interrupt this display, but a point of order--unless our union is annulled, we are, at this moment, legally wed, are we not?” His barrister too was silent, but he looked a more disreputable affair--very probably he was a limb of Ratigan’s organization.
“Yes,” Basil hissed through gritted teeth.
“Then I must point out that the evidence of my spouse--” and here his voice dropped, becoming gravely, as he leaned over Basil’s table and growled into his face, “is completely inadmissible in a court of law.” Ratigan straightened, smiling again. “As well you know, from your practice as a consulting detective. The court must strike anything Basil has to say about my--” Ratigan examined his gloves, popping nimbly up to sit on Basil’s table, “activities. It’s a well-established rule.”
“That’s true enough,” murmured the judge.
Basil’s mouth had dropped open as he realized what was happening. The full horror of his predicament had seemed to land on him. “Did you purposely entrap me?”
“Strike!” Ratigan called cheerfully. “‘Entrap’ is a legal term, dearest.” As Basil fumed, Ratigan hopped off the table to address the court at large. “And, of course, it’d be equally unfair if my husband’s good friend and known accomplice stepped in to be his mouthpiece. Sit down, chubby!” With ill-grace, Dawson did so in the gallery. Turning on the charm, Ratigan oozed closer to the stands. “Ladies and gentlemen, how could I possibly have stolen those paintings that evening? Why, no less than two-score mice witnessed my marriage that night, and I’m afraid I was kept rather busy with the preparations and our celebrations.”
“I can prove the theft took place early in the evening--” Basil cut in.
Ratigan shook his head. “I’m afraid your ‘proof’ has no legal status, beloved. Besides, even if it did,” he appealed to the gallery, “do you really believe that a marriage can be celebrated with no preparation? That I could pop directly from a fiendishly difficult heist to my own well-executed nuptials?” Ratigan propped his elbows on the stall and cradled his head in his hands, addressing a sympathetic wife. “Isn’t that just like a man?”
“None of this can erase your years of criminal precedent--” Basil fumed at his back.
“Have you ever once managed to pin a charge on me, Basil? Have I spent so much as a night in jail?” Ratigan turned back to face him, shaking his head sadly. “It’s all unsubstantiated rumor, and I of course am innocent until proven guilty. Oh, I’m afraid I must apologize for my husband, good people, and explain. You see I have done one truly terribly thing in my life, which I bitterly regret. Many years ago, I promised to marry the sweet mouse you see before you. But I was young and timid,” Basil choked audibly with rage, but Ratigan continued, “and I’m afraid I cruelly deserted my intended. His poor heart couldn’t take the strain,” Ratigan placed a gentlemanly hand on his own, as Basil’s lawyer earned his fee and restrained him from committing assault, “and he became rather hysterical, pursuing me with the frustration of a mouse scorned, accusing me of all sorts of crimes. The devious, clever little thing would have said anything to repay my--shall we say, caddishness. I don’t blame him--I did this to him, after all!” Ratigan dabbed his eyes with his handkerchief in mock sorrow. A woman in the stalls began to sniffle audibly.
“This is ridic--”
“But I came to my senses,” Ratigan interrupted, voice ringing out, “and asked my darling Basil to forgive me when we were both under the sweet spell of Bacchus. In vino veritas, as they say! Basil may have married in hasted to repent at leisure, but I intend to do right by this poor, ill-used creature! To lavish my attentions on him for as long as it takes to restore his shattered trust.” (Audible sobbing from the gallery sniffler, which only got harder when, like a true gentleman, Ratigan offered her a clean handkerchief. Even some of the men in the audience looked moved by this appeal to duty and setting things right--bizarre Popish union or no.)
“You have no proof of any of this!” Basil frothed. “We were never engaged!”
“Don’t I, my sweet?” Out came the reading glasses and a roll of parchment, which comically fell to the floor and kept rolling outwards. “I took the liberty of compiling a list of a few of our more romantic incidents--now, do you deny that last year, the night of October the 25th, you screamed in front of witnesses that you would,” he cleared his throat, “‘have me, have me if we both died for it?’”
“And did you not, in the middle of Hyde Park, February 9th of that same year, exclaim that you would pursue me to the very ends of the Earth?”
“IN AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT CONTEXT!” Basil roared.
“My dear, in what context can one take such declarations?” Ratigan glanced up at him mildly and then appealed to the court, looking excessively reasonable. “Now let’s see--ah yes, in Spitalfields market, in view of all traders--I can produce several, by the by--you demanded I right you, insisting you would never sleep until you saw justice done and morality and the law appeased--” Ratigan clucked, shaking his head, “I am ashamed to admit I ran from you, my own much-wronged Basil.”
Basil, aware that it would make him look like an unsympathetic closed-minded villain, but desperate, pleaded with the assembled, playing on their prejudice. “Are you really going to believe this circumstantial nonsense from what is obviously a sewer rat?”
But rather than, as Basil had hoped and expected, putting his monstrous temper on display, Ratigan just smirked. It was as though he’d undergone some kind of sea change--as though that insult, the aspersion he loathed above all others, could no longer touch him. Ratigan traded out the sneer for a theatrical sigh. “And when just the other night, while we were exchanging tender lover’s vows, you assured me that while others might cast aspersions, you loved me just as I was, and my heritage meant nothing to you! Can you deny you said as much? Oh, how long will it be before you stop trying to punish me? But I know I deserve it!”
Ratigan put his hand to his heart and gazed moonily at Basil. Basil gave an inarticulate scream of frustration and slumped down on the floor.
“There there,” Ratigan ruffled the fur on the top of his head condescendingly as he walked back to his own bench to sit primly behind it, prepared to exchange final blows from his proper position. “I understand--we have a great deal of healing still to do!”
“I’m religiously opposed!” Basil tried desperately, jumping up. “I’m Chapel!” High Anglicans, everyone knew, were next door to popery anyway, but the religiosity of the lower classes looked on incense and sodomy with a far less kindly eye. The Judge looked a touch swayed by this development. “There!” Basil gloated, slamming his fists on Ratigan’s desk. “Can you force me to act against my religious convictions?”
“With a brother in the High Anglican clergy, a youthful tenure in a High Anglican boys’ choir, attendance at a College associated with High Anglican traditions, semi-regular attendance at High Anglican services, and not a single Chapel minister who’d swear to having seen you in his audience?” Ratigan smiled placidly, capturing Basil’s hand in his own and holding it fast when Basil tried to yank it back. “I’m afraid I don’t find your sudden change of heart particularly convincing.”
“It’ll never work! I like Dickens, he likes Decadents!” Tugging with the other hand availed him not.
“I’m sure you’ll come to appreciate Huysmans' Against Nature if you get to know it.” Ratigan began to stroke the captive hand.
“Oh no I will not!” Basil raised his other hand to smack Ratigan’s wrist, but Ratigan just captured that as well, raising it to his lips.
“If you’ll pardon the intrusion,” the Judge said sarcastically, “I don’t understand why Basil, if he feels he’s been coerced into this marriage, isn’t seeking to annul the union on the grounds of non-consummation?”
All the color left Basil’s face.
“Oh I’m afraid that isn’t possible,” Ratigan said, faux-delicate and concerned, releasing Basil to gesture demurely at himself. “I should not wish to shock the ladies present, but the marriage was very much proved true. I for one allowed indignities to be committed upon my person that I should never have permitted outside the bonds of matrimony--as I’m sure any physician to examine me could attest. Isn’t that right, Basil?”
“Er,” Basil concluded.
“Quite so. And if my feelings are to considered, the court is perfectly aware that Catholics do not countenance divorce.”
The judge sighed. “I admit I don’t know what to believe--I was inclined to side with the celebrated Basil of Baker Street on the strength of his reputation alone, but there is ambiguity here. Whatever other dark rumors swirl around him, Professor Ratigan is also undoubtedly an academic of good standing and international reputation at one of our oldest institutions, with a good living and a certain well-earned status in the world, to which I must also defer. Precedent states that in cases where such ambiguity exists, I must rule in favor of the legitimacy of the marriage. I hereby command you to live in wedlock. The court has the authority, further, to compel you to attempt to dwell together peaceably, in regular relations. What may I list as your shared residence?”
“Baker Street--” Basil got in first. Dazed by this foul turn of fortune he might be, but he damn well wasn’t giving up his flat!”
“Oh excellent,” Ratigan broke in. “Some might say a trifle small for us, since you run your practice out of those quarters as well, but I say, cosy! I can’t wait to learn everything about your work.”
“Wherever he lives!” Basil hastily backpedaled. “We’ll live in his residence!”
“That’s just as amenable.” Ratigan’s voice seemed to have gone extra-silky with self-satisfaction. Basil suspected he was barely reigning in his chaotic glee. “Don’t worry, my primary residence is still in Marylebone, you won’t be far from action.” He gave the judge his address, and Basil, realizing he hadn’t guessed at that one, felt like melting through the table.
When he had calmed down enough to speak and properly notice his surroundings, Basil clapped his hand on Dawson’s shoulder.
“I’m--grateful for your support, old boy. You’re a good friend. The best a man could have.” He shook his head, forestalling further conversation. Dawson found them a barouche going their way, and soon they were hanging up their coats and settling in the parlor. Dawson murmured something about going to change for dinner and left.
Mrs. Judson came in with tea, but stopped short when she saw his expression. “I thought it was supposed to go well?” she asked without thinking.
“It was.” Basil said shortly. After a moment, he turned his head and watched her setting down the tea tray. “It was laughable. They wouldn’t listen to a word I said. The man’s villainy is more obvious than his species, and still. I could have come in beaten black and blue and he’d still have been able to work ‘round it, facilitated by the very machinery of his majesty’s courts.” Basil laughed bitterly.
“I’ve a great deal of sympathy for you,” Mrs. Judson said after a moment’s hesitation, “but be fair, sir. Divorce laws in this country have always been terribly hard on women, and you weren’t exactly up in arms about their plight before you landed in it yourself.”
“I--” Basil started, then stopped, clearing his throat embarrassed. “You might be right Mrs. Judson,” he admitted sulkily, “though it seems rather cruel to throw it in my face just now.”
“I’m sorry dear,” she patted his hand. “It’s a hard lot, I know. I don’t suppose there’s any chance he’ll tire of the joke and loosen your jesses, as it were?”
Basil’s mouth twisted grimly. “Not likely this side of the grave, I’m afraid. If he knew it would inconvenience me, that fiend would find a way to gnaw off his own tail. And he would do it with that insufferable glee of his, as well.”
“Mind you,” Mrs. Judson observed, “Even if getting a divorce turned out not to be as bad as all that, you’d find your position in society in something of a mess after the divorce. Though I expect you’d muddle through with some clientele. We could all tighten our belts--you liked my parsnip stew well enough, back in the old days when there was naught else to be had.”
“Let us pray for parsnip stew,” Basil agreed.
“It might be a papist union, but this is still England, and divorce is hardly unheard of. You could always try provoking him into deserting you for a couple of years? Or hitting you? He does have a temper.”
Basil considered it. “Risky,” he observed. “He could snap my neck as easily as he might shake my hand.” Though frankly that had never stopped him provoking Ratigan in the past. It was an idea. Trickier still to provoke Ratigan enough that he forgot this fact, which he too must be aware of, and yet not so much that he descended into a murderous frenzy Basil might not survive.
“And of course nothing he might do within the marriage can count as rape,” Mrs. Judson observed bitterly on behalf of her sex. Basil winced at her frankness, and in part in shame. There were evils that the law he so assiduously defended did not prevent, or even condemn. “You’re both men, so adultry’s not good enough grounds--it would have to be aggravated adultery. Could you catch him out doing anything of the kind?”
Basil ran through the options in his head--bigamy, bestiality, incest, rape, sodomy (though that was out, under the circumstances--there was a sort of ‘good enough for the gander’ precedent against it, he remembered). “You know,” he said after a thoughtful moment, “I’m not sure I could even catch him out on adultery. Oh if he did it, I could catch him,” he forestalled Mrs. Judson’s impending ‘are you a detective or aren’t you then?’, “but he’s my match for focus, I’ll give him that. If he’s determined to see this farce through, you’ll never catch him slipping up, no matter the temptation. Besides, I’m not sure the required vices are particularly his style.” Basil didn’t feel his own encounter had been particularly redolent of consent, but that was, well--them. Ratigan was perfectly capable of any depravity, but if such cracks in the professor’s assiduously maintained gentlemanly front were common, Basil, who had listened for news of his nemesis’ behavior like the wives of sailors listened for news of their husbands’ ships, would have certainly heard as much.
Mrs. Judson snorted. “So you’ve a rich, handsome husband who’ll never abandon or cheat on you, and who probably won’t beat you, even if you set out apurpose to make him do it. Half the women I know would trade places with you in a heartbeat.”
“They’re very welcome to it,” Basil said drily, “only I suspect he might notice.”
“Inquest. I’ve never been on trial,” Ratigan corrected automatically. They both spoke sotto-voiced, not wanting to attract Basil’s attention. Dawson seemed to be either out or in his rooms.
“Three days it’s been!” She shook her head. “Like one of his moods between cases.”
“How interesting--I’ve never seen him in one.” Whenever Ratigan saw Basil, the man was totally engaged, snapping with vitality--prone to slips of despair, certainly, but he tended to press through them ruthlessly.
Mrs. Judson snorted. “Serves you right for marrying him without knowing about what he’s like when he’s not in his element, on top of the world.”
“My dear lady,” Ratigan handed her his cloak, cane and hat, piling them on her arms until they obscured everything but her eyes, “I know what Basil looks like disguised as a Belgian cheesemonger. I know what he looks like trying to kill someone. I know the type of tobacco he buys, how frequently, from what shops, and in what quantities. I could quote his monograph on cigar ash in its entirety. I know how his mind processes information probably better than he himself does.” With every sentence he brought his face a touch closer to hers. “Do you really think I don’t know what I’m getting into?”
Mrs. Judson set her jaw. “You’d be the first,” she retorted tartly, marching off to hang up his accessories. “All I say is, you’ll get nothing of use out of ‘im until he’s in a better humor.”
Ratigan stood behind Basil’s chair. The mouse wore a dressing gown and stared at nothing in particular. After a moment in which Basil failed to respond, Ratigan stroked the top of his head. Basil simply moved away, not glancing up at him.
“Oh. It’s you.”
“None other. I thought we might discuss our situation.”
“I don’t feel like talking, thank you all the same.”
Ratigan continued as though he hadn’t spoken. “I’ve endeavored to give you some time, but you are supposed to take up residence in my abode. The court did order it, and you’re so very in favor of law and order--you wouldn’t want to disobey, would you?”
Basil scoffed. “Oh go away.”
“But Basil, I’ve run into a problem that might be professionally interesting to you,” Ratigan tried. And there it was--a slight flicker in Basil’s eye, quickly subdued. Ratigan smiled, knowing he’d found the vein.
“It’s probably some insipid locked room mystery,” Basil sighed. “Everyone thinks those are so clever--it’s the sort of parlor trick that only appeals to people who don’t know my business.”
“Ah, but I know your business very well, don’t I--albeit from an unorthodox perspective. Last night, two good fingersmiths--”
“In your employ?”
“Irrelevant to the question.” Ratigan sat himself in the chair opposite and proceeded to toy with Basil’s pipe on the table between them. “Two ladies of the trade entered a country house in Hampshire. They were about their business when they came across the body--not of the man of the house, but of his young daughter. Anxious not to be blamed for the crime they hadn’t committed, they fled, and are now in terror of being traced. You know how unimaginative the police can be--they’ll assume, against all protestations, indeed against all evidence, that the young lady surprised the visitors at their work and was silenced accordingly. The girls were especially frighted because the more soft-hearted of the pair attempted to aid the lady, only to find that her body was ice cold, on a warm day--but loose. Now isn’t that curious? A body may be cold, and a body may be pliable, but seldom the two shall meet.”
Basil had grown more and more interested despite himself throughout the explanation. Now totally unselfconscious, he was up out of his chair, leaning over his husband. “How old was the girl?”
“Eight, I believe.”
“Was there a fire in the room?”
“At this time of year?” Ratigan raised an incredulous eyebrow. “The girls didn’t mention one.”
“Any other signs of disturbance?” Basil was practically crawling onto him now, his eyes huge and luminous, his expression shamelessly rapt.
“Well--” Ratigan played it out, lengthening the word.
“Yes, yes?” Basil begged. Ratigan stood, and Basil, unthinking, pressed close, so excited he hardly blinked.
“My informants in the police tell me that the girl’s pet cricket is missing, and no one can seem to find the poor creature.”
“Oh Ratigan,” Basil breathed, looking up at him adoringly. “That means someone’s snapped its neck. It’s down a well or my name isn’t Basil Nest. Tell me, where are your girls?”
Ratigan considered pointing out that his name wasn’t Basil Nest, it was Basil Ratigan--he’d made sure of that on the special license--but forbore. “The fingersmiths are hiding in Whitechapel, off Brick Lane--Daplyn Street, if you know it. The flats above the butcher’s.”
Basil swung away and started pacing, thinking how best to proceed.
“The poorest service is repaid with thanks,” Ratigan remarked, as though it were nothing to him.
Basil turned around, placing both hands on his husband’s chest. “How thoughtless of me. Thank you, my dear.” Ratigan was so surprised he almost missed Basil’s right hand twitching his memorandum book out of his front jacket pocket--but only almost. He caught Basil’s wrist and tightened his grip, but Basil bit his hand and Ratigan let go with a cry of surprise. He could only scramble after Basil, skitter to an abrupt stop, and try to look respectable when Basil made the door and threw it open.
“Oh constable!” Basil called cheerfully.
A policeman on his beat ambled over. Behind Basil, Ratigan smoothed his hair and adjusted his tie. “What can I do for you, sir?”
“Constable, I seem to have found this strange memorandum book with,” Basil flipped it open, holding it up so Ratigan’s mad swipe for the book missed, “some mysterious dates and locations in it. I entertain grave suspicions as to its contents. Perhaps the police should examine it further? Please convey it safely to Inspector Bullstrode.” Basil whistled. “Take--Toby! Toby, here boy! I need you to--no I do know who that is, a good strong scent for you to pick up on, isn’t it? Eau de Cloacina. But don’t eat him--at least not in front of witnesses--oh bless you for trying, who’s a good boy? Who’s a good boy!” Basil cleared his throat. “Scotland Yard, Toby, on the double! And they’re off!” Basil shut the door. His husband’s chest was heaving. He looked livid.
“I’m not a shrew, tame or otherwise, and if you think for a moment that I won’t find means to confound you despite this gag-order of a marriage, you’re even madder than I imagined! Now where was I--” he plucked his pipe from Ratigan’s hand (Ratigan had forgotten it was there), lit it (ignoring Ratigan’s offer of a lighter to fumble with a box of matches), and began to pace.
Deciding not to be angry (not easy), Ratigan decided to take a moment to appreciate the aesthetics of Basil in deep concentration. His sartorial choices weren’t always what they might be, but the dressing gown the color of his eyes against his wheat-colored fur, his elegant lips pursed around the pale stem of his pipe--that added up to something like his idealized tableaux image of Basil at home. Yes, that was soothing. Basil puffed so picturesquely. “Such a charming habit,” Ratigan observed.
Without missing a beat, Basil dropped his pipe, ground it into dust under the heel of his shoe (Ratigan winced), and kept pacing.
“My good carpet!” Mrs. Judson wailed when she poked her head in to see what the ceramic cracking noise issued from. Basil hadn’t bothered to first extinguish the pipe, and so the patch of carpet was not only filled with ground-in shards, but also slightly singed. “Oh, Basil--”
“Forgive me madam, I was provoked.”
“Ooo--” huffily, Mrs. Judson went for a dustpan.
“I’ll visit them!” Basil suddenly decided. “Dawson--DAWSON!”
“Yes, yes, what--oh!” Dawson ambled in and started at seeing Ratigan. “Oh I say. Er.”
“Oh nevermind him, we have a case!”
“If he gave it to us, how do you know it isn’t a trap?” Dawson crossed his arms over his paunch. “It may get us killed.”
“Oh no, everyone suspects the husband in that sort of thing--marry and murder me within a month? He’d be more thoroughly convicted in public opinion than I ever managed to make him. It could happen halfway across the world, I could be taken by a sparrowhawk or drowned in a shipwreck, and people would still look at him. What it might do is further his schemes in a way I can’t immediately see, beyond freeing some of his staff from suspicion--but I shall be on the lookout for that. Better the devil you know. Get your medical bag.”
“Right-ho,” Dawson shrugged and left.
“Are you going to keep pretending I’m not here?” Ratigan asked, unamused.
“If I say ‘yes’ that’s something of a paradox, isn’t it?” Basil energetically rooted through some trunks. “A-ha!”
Years ago, in gratitude for his having helped find her missing sister, Miss Kitty Mouse had taught Basil more than most women ever consciously know about the performance of femininity. Miss Kitty was an entertainer, and she took her craft seriously. She had thought about her make up, her clothing, her expressions, her manner of walking, the pitch of her voice. Basil, who was surprisingly slender and soft-faced for an adult male mouse, learned from Kitty how to be a few different kinds of young woman, to suit the occasion. There was the Kitty who performed, all promises and outsize charm; the Kitty who slunk through the city unnoticed on the way home from work; the respectable, professional Kitty who greeted her landlady and her banker and her parents.
Kitty taught him, most of all, that what he actually looked like mattered not a jott. People thought a plain woman was a beauty every day--it was almost entirely a matter of expectation, of bearing. Dress and act like a beautiful young woman, trick people into expecting one, and your real identity, whatever such a chimera can be said to be, is effectively invisible.
With perfect confidence and practiced speed, Basil ducked behind an Oriental screen, shucked his robe and trousers and slithered into stockings.
“You can’t possibly get into that corset you brought back there by yourself--” Ratigan said, simultaneously scoffing, confused, and very hopeful.
“Watch me. Or rather don’t. It’s a modified theatrical model, of my own design. It looks like a proper corset, but is nothing like as difficult to get into or out of. Good for chases. Now where--ah!” Basil stumbled out from behind the curtain in a bottle-green gown along French lines, wound his tail neatly, stuffed it under the bustle and worked the buttons closed with one hand. Hastily he brought out a box of women’s cosmetics and applied long lashes, then powders to his fur. Ratigan watched the process in the mirror, somewhat alarmed by the involuntary way his body jerked when Basil’s lips gave a big smack, evenly spreading the lipstick. Basil popped a little green hat atop his head and pressed his Adam’s apple down behind a collar fronted with ribbon, but, invisibly from the outside, backed with leather.
“It prevents strangulation,” he said tersely, catching the question in the professor’s eyes.
“Perhaps you should wear its equivalent every day--you do tend to make yourself a great many enemies, pet.”
Basil shook his head. “Assailants tend to attack a man head-on. I hesitate to call it chivalry--more a force of habit. They’re far, far more likely to try and strangle a woman. It’s as if they suddenly become aware that my throat is vulnerable when it’s coming out of a dress.”
Basil stood, surveyed the effect in the glass, and nodded sharply. While hunting something, he started to sing Kitty’s big number. The first notes were in his normal voice, but then it started to bend a little, to better approximate Kitty’s delivery. “Your baby’s gonna come through” fell a bit flat--irritated, Basil snatched up his violin, played the bar twice, listening attentively--and then with a great smirk and a surprisingly Kitty-esque swing to his hips, he hit the final “let me be good to you” perfectly. He sounded like himself, but equally like a woman with a low, pleasant voice.
“Dawson!” A female twin of Basil’s called out. “Hurry up!”
“Ah, you’re dressed then,” Dawson said, judging by the sound, coming in still examining the contents of his medical bag. He looked up. “Oh, not the Prowling Young Widow? That’s by far your prettiest.”
“Too showy--we’re aiming to establish trust rather than lust. No, definitely Marlborough Maid. A-ha! My bag.” Basil turned out the pockets of his inverness and shoved some of their contents, seemingly at random, into a small lady’s clutch.
“Not that I didn’t enjoy the review--or your transparent attempt to prove me wrong about the efficacy of your disguises--but what is all this in aid of?” Ratigan asked.
“We’re off to talk to the ladies, of course!”
“And this necessitates your being dressed as a woman--why?”
“Naturally I can’t parade myself around Whitechapel--people know what Basil of Baker Street looks like. They’d never let me through the door. An unknown woman is another matter.”
Ratigan looked him up and down. Green silk in a score of ribbons and bows. “You’re hardly inconspicuous.”
“I’m not supposed to be.” Basil snapped. “Inconspicuous people are just people who might be noticed and thought about, or might not. I shall attract their attention, but I shall direct it. At first they’ll wonder why a woman of my class is in the district, and then if they figure out I’m not a woman, they’ll have a whole new series of questions to ponder. Not a one of them will wonder whether that so-called ‘inconspicuous’ creature might be a person they recognize from the paper. I’ll have given them too much else to think on.”
Ratigan sneered. “And why doesn’t the Major need a disguise? Your argument is as convincing as your false bosoms. If a student dared turn a proof like that in to me, they’d be lucky to escape with a third-class degree.”
Basil stepped closer. “For your information I have a first in chemistry!”
“Which just goes to demonstrate the sort of institution Cambridge is!” Ratigan stepped forward, shouting into Basil’s face.
“I went to St. Andrews,” Dawson interrupted. “And I’m afraid I don’t care. To business, gentlemen. You can sort out your marital issues after hours.”
“You’re supposed to take my side, you traitor!” Basil hissed at Dawson, taking some hasty steps away from his husband.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Ratigan asked silkily. “The address, perhaps? You can’t just go bumbling around the building you know.”
“No need, thank you--the ladies in question occupy the flat most convenient to the fire escape.”
Ratigan’s oily smile drooped into a grimace as he briefly recalled the building and found that they did. Basil continued.
“Anyone you’re even slightly concerned about losing to a botched caper must of necessity be a highly valuable professional criminal. One can always deal with that sort of craftswoman--she is infinitely preferable to your common thug, or your wild, sloppy offender of passion. Becoming a fingersmith--a good, reliable example of the breed--takes solid years of experience. Most fail in the attempt at the pick-pocketting stage of their apprenticeship, when they’re most vulnerable. Someone who’s survived long enough to become useful to you in that capacity is both seasoned and warry. She’s seen a hundred comrades in arms taken. When the law is hammering at the front door, she’ll be down the back, out the side--as many exits as possible for our good lady. If she’s analytical, then she knows why that particular property appeals to her. If she’s just superstitious, making good use of good luck and good instincts, then she knows that property warms the cockles of her heart for reasons she can’t be bothered to discern. Well?” Basil snapped, half imperious, half seeking affirmation. “Am I right?”
“Good. Well, I’m off.” Dawson had already headed out the door, uninterested in Basil’s preening. Basil didn’t quite seem to know how to say ‘goodbye’ like a normal member of civil society. He had just made a random burst for the door when Ratigan caught him by the back of the neck and turned him around.
“I want something, in return.”
“There isn’t any time for intercourse, and Mrs. Judson wouldn’t like marks on the furniture. We rent the chairs from her, you know.”
Ratigan blinked at him. “You’re implying you’d trade sexual favors for leads, but for the inconvenient fact that you feel there’s not a moment to lose on this case.”
Basil scoffed. “No, I--that’s not even what you were asking for, is it?”
“I was going to demand an exchange. After you attend to your inquiries, you will hear me out. Properly. Alone. At my establishment.”
“You should have stipulated your terms beforehand,” Basil narrowed his eyes, “but fine. After I attend to my inquiries, we’ll speak.” (No mention, Ratigan noted, of his establishment.)
“Shall we shake hands on it like gentlemen?”
“I’m not touching you anymore than I have already.”
“That’s going to make the court-ordered performance of our marital duties something of a challenge.”
Basil gaped. “You wouldn’t haul me before the magistrate, like some schoolboy snitch--”
“Wouldn’t I?” Ratigan mused. “I’m becoming awfully fond of the power of the law these days. It so usefully supplements my own.”
“Good luck with that.” Basil sneered. They then had a vicious, enjoyable argument about the best way to get to Whitechapel, because they both prided themselves on their knowledge of the city and because they really couldn’t help themselves.
Once Ratigan was sure he was gone, he slipped back to what he knew to be Basil’s room, locked the door, buried his face in a Basil-scented pillow, and unsteadily pumped himself into his hand, just-shucked glove clenched in the teeth he’d used to take it off. Enraging, talented, taunting Basil, with his painted red lips, his glittering eyes under long lashes, his slender waist cinched tight by a cruel device Ratigan wanted to replace with the too-tight pressure of his own squeezing hands. Basil’s tail tightly-nestled, coiled under a bustle, padding on his hips to create the illusion of femininity (or to cushion thrusts--Basil dressed like that was an absurd, over-indulgent, glutinous luxury). Ratigan had hardly spoken because it was difficult not to think about Basil right behind that thin screen, rigging himself up like a toy to be fucked. Just think--Ratigan moaned--of the wire that restrained him even now. Ratigan’s engineer’s mind flicked automatically to devices for containment and display and control. Four times he’d had Basil wrapped up for his amusement, and every one of them had been so good.
And how Basil had positively panted after the gore, the challenge. If he’d filched Ratigan’s memorandum book and ruined the smuggling operation, then he’d been equally willing to suck his husband’s cock for the tip. Perfect, ruthless thing--had he panted after Ratigan like that, wanted him like he wanted that address? Admired Ratigan’s cleverness like he could hardly breathe for it? Next time he’ll draw it out--make Basil say ‘please’--and on that he came with a groan. Recovering quickly and flipping on his back, urbanely cleaning his hand, Ratigan surveyed the room. He’d realized by now that Basil was going to take advantage of vague phrasing and not return until he’d solved the entire case. But Basil had been a fool to imagine Ratigan wouldn’t use the opportunity to fully go through his rooms in search of anything interesting.
“And way-laying Dawson,” Basil groused, “with that sham message from Mary?”
“I’m sure he wanted to look in on his fiancé after your abrupt departure--the poor fellow shouldn’t be forced to chaperone you, just because you’ve managed to get yourself into a, shall we say, sticky situation.” Ratigan flicked a page, continuing not to look at Basil. “You’re right incidentally, about the binomial theorem. That’s a printing error. They’ve left out the decimal point.”
Ratigan’s portrait was back on the mantle. Embarrassed, Basil walked over and set it face-down. “Where’s Mrs. Judson?”
“Visiting her sister. I showed her a telegram ‘from you’ insisting you’d not be home for a month and commanding me to convey this to her, as well as your advice that she take advantage of your absence. She found it convincing--I told her you couldn’t possibly have done it, and she lept on the opportunity to display a superior knowledge of your habits.”
“Well-played,” Basil admitted.
“Cut to the chase, Basil! You’re positively aching to tell a fresh audience how it went, and I seem to be the only one in attendance. Come on,” Ratigan set the book down, propped his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands, “dazzle me.”
Basil resisted, but Ratigan could feel him cracking. “One or two minor points of interest aside, it really was quite a common affair.”
Basil started to explain one of them, but quickly saw he’d have to go back and establish a frame narrative for it to make any sense. Getting more excited by his account, he charged around the room, weaving around the furniture, all frenetic energy, gesturing and emphasizing the points where he felt he’d really outdone himself this time. Listening to him talk was like hearing effusive thanks for a well-chosen gift.
Near the climax of the story, Ratigan caught a wildly charging Basil’s wrist, tugging him towards him while still paying attention. Seeming not to notice, Basil clambered onto him, still talking.
“It was the fourth window--” suddenly he grabbed Ratigan’s face and kissed him, and just as suddenly drew back, “the one above the maid’s room. And none of the flowers were trampled, not a stem broken!” Ratigan kissed him in turn, pressing his tongue into Basil’s small mouth. Basil reciprocated and then pulled back. “But it was the father all along, do you see? Him and that damn grasshopper in the well--” Basil laughed triumphantly, and Ratigan was sure that in due season he had felt and wept, but this was the hour given over to the element of his nature that enabled him to find the victim to feel and weep over, this was the advent of the pure, amoral, savage riot of the mind that made him, as a detective and as a man, the hunger and the greedy glutting. Basil laughed like a thing past madness, kissing him twice more, “I knew it I knew it, mm, fuck me. Here. Don’t talk, just do it.”
Ratigan swallowed. “You did agree to--”
“After,” Basil panted, shucking his shirt. “Please, just--after. Please. God after the Tower Bridge job I dreamed about this--but you weren’t--”
And with a single exception, he didn’t use words for the next several hours. No one had ever understood his craft and the needs behind it like this before. No one else would look the thing in the eye and want him for it, not in spite of it.
Pushed into the other man’s lap, low in Ratigan’s ear he murmured Pádraic, just the once, and the vowels weren’t precisely right but it was still idiotically wonderful.
They’d had a great row--or rather Basil had been splittingly furious and called Ratigan every slur he could call to mind, and Ratigan had been beside himself with amusement--when Basil discovered his clothes, or at least all those clothing items in his regular wardrobe that didn’t meet Ratigan’s exacting sartorial standards, had been ‘stored somewhere or other’ (Ratigan was vague on this point) for future use in ‘his little disguises’. His regular wardrobe now consisted of what appeared to be the fruits of a (legal, transaction-based) raid on Savile Row.
“I look like a doll!” Basil had snarled. “Like some kind of dandy pet!”
“What I like most about you, Basil, is how perceptive you are. I often commend your unflinching self-awareness, ask anyone.”
At the present moment, Basil kept glancing at the door, wondering if he could make it before his husband swiped his claws around the back of his neck and had him pinned. His sore, bruised neck. He’d enjoyed the biting at the time but really, Ratigan was going to have to learn restraint. Or abstinence, Basil mentally corrected himself. Complete and total chastity.
They stood across from one another in the parlor. Ratigan was smoking a cigarette, considering him. “You do realize I adore you? It’s not as though you’re simple.”
Ratigan rolled his eyes. “Never mind, Basil, I take it all back.”
“Are you--” Basil tilted his head back slightly, his expression confused and wary, “joking? Usually you’re much better at that.”
“You’re the only person who’s ever been able to foil me, I’m the only person who’s ever been able to foil you.” Ratigan waved the hand holding the cigarette as if all this was self-explanatory.
“What in blazes made you think marriage involved a lot of ‘foiling’? Maybe one should just--settle down with someone pleasant! I don’t know, keep bees together or something.”
Ratigan gave him a ‘really?’ expression, blew a smoke ring, then continued, decorously refusing to comment on that last. “As I was saying, since soon after we met, I’ve been rapturously obsessed with you. Incidentally, I love the portrait.” Ratigan had somehow found the time to set it right again, and gestured towards his own grinning countenance airily. Basil fumed. “I didn’t have a moment’s peace of mind. And naturally I understood myself well enough to realize that I wanted to fuck you more than I wanted to breathe, and obviously all my plans, my entire life, truth be told, essentially revolved around you. But I didn’t quite put the components together until after that business with the automation--”
“That was an excellent automaton,” Basil couldn’t help himself.
Ratigan grinned. “I know, wasn’t it? Flavisham’s craftsmanship of course, but the difference engine at its core was my own.”
“And the dirigible, while we’re at it.”
“Oh yes, I rebuilt that! Improved of course--well, you saw the steering issue. What did you think of the Rube Goldberg machine?”
“Over the top of course, but still, splendid. Tell me, was I supposed to trigger the mechanism early?”
“You weren’t supposed not to,” Ratigan almost sing-songed. “Where were we?”
“Highly improbable declaration.”
“Ah, yes--anyway, there I was in hiding with half the bones in my body broken--and I saw in the paper you survived with hardly a scratch--and I thought, some people have all the luck, that miserable little pipsqueak, that’s just like my beloved Basil. And then obviously I thought back over that and realized I had something of a problem on my hands.” Again, Ratigan thought about mentioning he’d also suspected Basil of being romantically involved with Dawson, who he now knew, despite the sailor costume Basil must have picked out, was the world’s most woman-oriented mouse. And again, he thought about never, ever mentioning that.
“So you didn’t stage the marriage in an over-complicated plan to keep me from ever being able to testify as to your hideous misdeeds.”
“No,” Ratigan drawled, “no I got quite, quite drunk and decided to marry you because I didn’t really know what to do with you next. And besides, I can’t really imagine being married to anyone else, can you?”
“I can’t really imagine being married to you,” Basil pointed out. “Or at least I’m trying not to. Listen, in the interests of fair play I should admit that I was perhaps also unduly interested in--” Ratigan’s gaze slid over to the portrait of himself. “Oh fine, I won’t tell you then! Say I believe you. Listen, there’s not an actual way for us to make this situation workable,” there was a strange, rising note of hope in his voice, “is there?”
“No murders on my part or interference with the city’s poor inhabitants: only high-level, bespoke crimes. We can agree not to cross each other’s paths, or continue to fight it out, as you like. You have to agree to give up on either trying to put me in jail, or any project of total moral reform. You can, however, shop me to the police if I fail to abide by the terms.”
Basil blinked. “You just worked that up?”
“I’m an engineering genius, as previously discussed.”
“And you’re really willing to abide by those terms?”
“You seem incredulous. I think you’re vastly underestimating the degree to which I hope to continue enjoying marital relations with you.”
“I’m not that good.”
“You’re my favorite thing in the world.” Basil could give him up to the law or rip his soul open or bring him a hundred unimaginable satisfactions. Basil was an extreme luxury--the rawest and most dangerous thrill--and Ratigan wanted to indulge in him.
“I feel,” Basil said after silently processing that for a moment, “as though we should be intimate now, or close with some operatic grand gesture--but we were only just intimate before I discovered what you did to my tweeds, and I forgot all about lunch on the train.”
“Dinner,” Ratigan agreed. “Champagne and caviar, to mark the occasion? There’s a basket from Fortnum and Mason in the kitchen.”
“Crackers,” Basil retorted. “Maybe a little caviar. No champagne.”
“Still feeling alcohol-shy? There’s no need to be embarrassed Basil, you’re a delicious drunk!”
Ignoring him, Basil stalked into the kitchen. Would Ratigan never let him live that down? (He didn’t.)