Henry didn’t mind mopping Victor’s brow, hauling his increasingly-skeletal frame to an upright position to make him drink water, waking up at all hours at each minor stir, or, as time went on, refusing to sleep at all as to be vigilant, ready to soothe Victor when nightmares struck.
Anything to get him well again.
He was glad when the time came. After a multitude of relapses, and not without blood, sweat and tears, Victor regained his strength.
Henry was a fretting father- laying out his shirt and trousers, pressing his socks, gently resting his shoes against the cotton. When the morning came, he took especial care in dressing Victor, slowly raising the fabric over his shoulders, his cold hands brushing against Victor’s chest as he fastened the buttons.
“Henry, I’m very glad of all your help, truly...”
Victor chuckled in a half-whisper.
“But...” There was a tone of dejection in his voice that he attempted to mask. Had he overstepped? Had Victor grown sick of him in his health?
Victor held a hand to Henry’s cheek. “But, my dearest, Henry. I can manage.”
The blood rushed to his face, his freckles clashing with his newfound vermillion hue.
He withdrew, applying himself firmly to his desk, pretending to be interested in a work on language, his studies of which he’d neglected these past few weeks in favour of attending to Victor.
The brooding scientist glanced at him, tilting his head and releasing a sigh. “Henry... I only meant that...”
He waved his hand dismissively, immediately returning it to his face to hide his expression. “I know what you meant.” He mumbled.
The lodgings felt unusually empty, icy in loss of Victor’s warm presence. Henry supposed there was only so long he could wallow, and rose to his feet.
Instinctively, he began piling old documents, discarded parchment decorated with absent-minded scrawls and reminders to return to postponed notions, throwing them into the bin.
His father had never been particularly kind to him. Henry was far from the ideal son, he reasoned, and seemed to constantly find new ways to disappoint him. He understood that there were men of far lesser a class better suited to be the son of Mr Clerval, men who didn’t entertain ‘liberal notions’ of language, classics or history, men who would sooner fight than feel.
“Men who were men in the way that men should be.”
The emotions and memory began to bubble inside of him, threatening to bring steam, powering his body as he vigorously scrubbed, scrubbed until his hands were sore and his nails worn.
His vigour led to him knocking a shelf. A small book, no bigger in diameter than a Bible, and similar in thickness, clapped against the stone floor beside him.
The gold emboss seemed to snag on his eyes, almost as if it was meant to fall, ensnaring him and holding his interest captive.
He knew not to look, for Victor wouldn’t invade his privacy like that, and so nor would he his.
Henry returned the book to its original position.
For so long he had tried to tell himself that Victor was grateful for his efforts in nursing him, that Victor maintained the same affections for himself as he did him.
Victor was an enigma. His attentions and affections would taunt, rising and falling, all without warning or indication.
“Is it me?” Henry found himself wondering.
There was one occasion where their hearts shared the same ache. A letter from home told that Victor’s brother had been killed, and the pair returned almost immediately.
It was selfish of him, Henry thought, but he felt anguish as if it had been his own brother who had perished, as if his own flesh and blood and had been torn from him- and in that manner...
Again, he had been left to nurse the boy.
He’d do it until the last light faded, until Earth’s wick grew blunt or the sun simply refused to rise. It was an honour, to him, to be appreciated, and given, although inadvertently, a role where he was entrusted and important.
Despite all his love, despite his benevolent disposition, he couldn’t help but wish someone would check on him for once. He had held the love of his life in his hands, his grip ever-tightening for fear he would slip away, watched as Victor turned the other cheek to his efforts, fawning over letters from Elizabeth, and now...
Now, the boy he had known from infancy, pacing the halls during his birth, calming a frantic Victor, anxious at the prospect of becoming a brother again, had been killed- and by who?
Nature had a strange healing effect on Victor- as if the colour of the flowers restored it to his own cheeks, borrowing the livelihood of Artemis by means of soothe.
As his health, again, improved, he, again, seemed to draw further from Henry.
On one occasion, Henry had planned a day in the Lake District, hiking up the fells and perhaps a swim in the, ironically, only lake there. Victor had been missing all day. Henry awoke to a fearful freeze around his freckled scapulae, half-dazedly patting the linen to his left, only to see that Victor did not wake up next to him.
Did he sleep here at all?
Unable, or unwilling, to see any wrong in his beloved, Henry perched himself at the end of the bed, hoping Victor would find him exactly where he left him.
It reminded him of a time he had gone into the city with his father. Henry had asked to accompany him in hopes of seeing, and perhaps visiting, the library, eager to borrow a new count of knights and regality, the idea of which he had always adored. When, in his six-year-old excitement, he prodded at the idea a second time, reminding his father of the reason for his accompaniment, Mr Clerval told him to “wait patiently, boy, while I attend to matters”, and promptly disappeared into a nearby cavern.
Six hours the young boy waited, his feet planted firmly to the soil they were sewed in, remaining as such as he was knocked, barged into and walked over.
Nobody took notice, but his father wouldn’t leave him there. He would come back. He wouldn’t do that to him, would he? He loved him very much, just as Henry loved him.
Some time later, the drunken sailor emerged, picking the child up rather roughly. Henry played pretend that he was a pirate, braving choppy seas to save the prince from the mercy of a rival boat, holding him hostage for bounty.
Victor returned on the twelfth chime.
“Henry.” Victor sighed, removing his shoes as he entered.
Henry moved his mouth as to reply, but could only muster a croak.
“I’m so... I’m truly sorry, Henry.”
Henry shook his head, lying back into bed. “Not as sorry as I am.” He scoffed.
Victor grabbed him by the shoulder, pulling him in a position that forced Henry to either look at him, or the ceiling. Henry opted for the latter. “I’m sorry.” He reiterated.
“You’re always sorry.”
“Truly. You don’t understand- There are things...”
Henry pushed himself up so that their faces were almost touching. “What ‘things’, Victor? What don’t I understand? Because I’ve seen things quite clearly these past few months... Hell, Victor, it’s almost been a year.” His voice had a strange calmness to it. “I... fought, and fought for my education, for my right to finally be a match to you. All my life, never comparing to your... your class, your status, you’ve always had things I haven’t. All of it, everything I ever wanted...”
His breath hitched, voice cracking slightly.
“Everything, given up for you. You,” He held his sleeve over his hand and rubbed his nose, trying to suppress tears of anger. “It’s always you, Victor. It’s always going to be you, and just once , I’d like it to be me.”
“I couldn’t begin to...” Victor started, stunned at the display before him- Henry had never been like this. The edge to his voice was startling, a fear matched only on a dreary night of November.
“I’m talking, Victor, I’ll tell you when I’m done, and you will listen, just as I have spent my year wiping vomit from your lips only for you to promise them to Elizabeth, just as I have listened to your groaning through the night, just as I have listened for every murmur of discomfort, emaciating myself in the name of curing your own ail.”
Victor stopped himself from protesting, his mouth agape, his eyes locked to the glassy shine of his friend’s.
“But for all my education, all of my...” He took a deep breath. “I’m tearing myself apart to mend you, Victor, and it hurts. I can’t keep... I can’t keep doing this to myself if you won’t afford me even the smallest affections, I cant keep killing myself to keep the spark in you alight.”
A silence befell.
Shocked by his own volume and behaviour, Henry hung his head and began to shiver.
Victor pulled Henry close, despite his attempts to escape. The boy finally accepted him, sinking into Victor’s sweat-soaked vest.
As much as the exertion pained him, a pang of worry hit Henry’s stomach- what had Victor been doing? Was he going to worsen his condition?
Both thought Victor had said so much in his silence, the difference laid in what.
Henry allowed Victor to lie down, his head still pressed to his chest. Henry fell asleep as Victor twirled his curls, a favourite method of Caroline Beaufort, who had often, in secret, coaxed Henry to sleep at sleepovers as he worried about all the things he would be in trouble for when he got home.
As the blue-eyed boy fell into a deep sleep, Victor kept a firm hold on him, taking in the pain Henry had carried, wishing to bear the weight of it.
“I love you, I love you, I love you...” Victor whispered into Henry’s hair as his unfaltering hold persisted. “I love you most ardently.”
He had had no idea of the events of his sickness, and now sicknesses plural- it was almost as if he had became a different being entirely. The thought of Henry going to all that effort to be his nurse wasn’t at all shocking, it was in his nature, but brought a feeling of sorrow to his chest.
How was he to stop hurting people?
How had he allowed himself to hurt the only man who had never doubted him, the man who would give him his last penny for a gamble if he asked?
How had he hurt Henry?
And how could he make it up?
The thought weighed on his mind until, while tracing the stretch-marks on Henry’s back, Victor too fell asleep.
Victor had made up his mind to make peace with the Creature, no matter the cost. To rid himself of all obstacle to the love he had been so ignorant and ungrateful to.
To be with Clerval. To love the boy who had done nothing but love him, and expected naught in return. To love Henry. To live without fear.
Henry had made up his mind. To bring happiness to Victor, no matter the cost. To rid the boy he loved of all that troubled him. To let him live without obligation. To free him.
Grabbing a pen, Henry searched for parchment to bid his farewell by.
Lost for it, he grabbed a notebook at Victor’s bedside, blind to the emboss.
As he found an empty page, his eyes were drawn to prior entries, as it dawned on him what he had grabbed.
He found explanations as to Victor’s avoidance before his taking ill, the tale of how he selected only the most beautiful body parts to mould his own Adam, how he had brought it to life and the haunting that followed.
Things seemed to drop into place- entries from letters were quoted, dates and places given- Victor’s claims were far from fictitious, and he was facing a very real, very deadly threat.
“ ‘ You have deprived me of all love, Father.’ The Creature told me,” Victor wrote , “ ‘and now I must deprive you of yours.’ “
Henry darted out of the lodging, crying out for Victor.
“Victor! Victor, I know! Victor!” He yelled out desperately.
Finding himself consumed in vegetation, trees of green swallowing him from all directions, Henry suddenly found himself back on the edge of the bed, back in the middle of the street, back saving the captured prince.
A shadow emerged from behind him, thrice his width and twice his height.
He snapped around.
Henry held his hands out in submission. “Please...”
“You speak of Victor.”
He nodded slowly, fear in his eyes that reflected the being before him.
“Then you speak of my Creator.” It declared.
“I know of your peril. I know everything, Sir.” Henry whispered, staying put as the Creature approached him. The words seemed to come from him before he could register what he was saying.
“Then you will know why I must do this.”
Henry pressed his hand to the palm of the creature, looking rather like a child to a father. “Please... not Elizabeth...”
The Creature remained silent.
“She is gentle, and kind, and she is too reserved for her own good. She knows nothing of you, she knows no evil. She is far too amiable for your mercies, hasn’t she suffered enough at the death of Mother, William...”
Another figure approached. Henry glanced at him as if to halt.
“I’ve been selfish, blind... I knew, and I know of you. I had chances to know you. I didn’t... And this is why you must...”
“Henry?” Victor said breathily, a begging expression visiting his countenance before fading in favour of fear.
“You must accept me as your bounty.” Henry continued.
A smirk grew upon the Creature’s lips.
Closing his eyes, Henry revisited those nights nursing Victor, all of his antics, every remark, every argument, every tender embrace, every regret, every moment he fell in love again, and again.
He would do it a hundred times, a thousand times.
With Victor as his prince, Henry surrendered to the tumultuous sea of love, white flag raised, as a hand grasped his neck.
As the colour drained and the light began to fade, Henry only hoped that Elizabeth’s sparing could bring Victor even a morsel of comfort, as his final thought directed to V.F’s journal,
‘You have deprived me of all love,’
Realising this was to be the ending all along,
‘ and now I must deprive you of yours’
He took his final breath.