They bury her at noon.
Victor stands in the Autumn leaves as they lower the coffin in, his finger tips are tingling. He could bring her back. Vanessa, who from the moment they met treated him like a wayward little brother, fixing his hair and his ties, smiling encouragingly when he spoke, but he will not. She would not want that, he thinks.
He had not spoken to her for nigh on a year, so lost to the morphine and Lily, so wrapped up in Henry's beastly science. If he had, perhaps she would not have fallen so far and so fast into despair.
Sir Malcolm's jaw is clenched. Ethan's eyes are bone dry and empty.
He stands with them long after the service, in the sunlight, in the city no more deserving of absolution than any of them that she saved.
No one but them know that. No one but them will mourn for her.
But, Victor thinks, there is no great tragedy in that. Vanessa was well loved and she decided her own fate. A cruel and unfair fate but her own nonetheless.
He pauses before he leaves, wonders whether he should bid them farewell but what would he say? He steps away from the grave in silence, leaves the graveyard with naught but the sound of crunching leaves to accompany him.
When he had left Henry's workshop that day, after Lily, after all of it, he had intended to allow the morphine to take him. It would have been a blessing, a quiet, pathetic end for a quiet, pathetic man. Maker of monsters. He should fall asleep and never wake up again and his landlady or some opportunistic thief would find him cold and stiff.
They would write to his father, he would be buried quietly, anonymously perhaps. Henry would be there, maybe. Perhaps Lily would visit. Perhaps Caliban. Now, when he reaches his rooms he tosses the needle and opiates out of the window.
There is a knock at the door and his monster stands before him. Victor swallows. He is expecting big hands on his neck, a short, sharp snap. Maybe Lily has sent him, maybe Caliban is here on his merit, is finally here to collect on his terrible, terrible debt but instead Caliban stands awkwardly, his gaze a few inches to Victor's right. "What happened?" he asks, his voice weak.
Victor stares. "What do you mean?"
"To her. To V - To Miss Ives," Caliban explains. He is gripping the door frame now, out of rage or to hold himself up Victor does not know but he is certain he can hear the wood cracking under the strain.
"Would you like to come in?" he asks, warily.
Caliban seems not to understand for a moment then he blinks, once, slowly and says, "Y-yes. Perhaps that would..." he trails off, follows Victor in to his rooms and hovers, uncertain of what to do with himself.
Victor positions himself at a careful distance from him, ensures there is a table between them, something heavy to hand just in case. He takes a breath, steels himself to question his creature, trying to recall whether it was he that pointed Caliban in Vanessa's direction or whether it was, perhaps, the luckiest of coincidences. If there was anyone in this great wide world who could see past Caliban's monstrousness, it would have been her but then Caliban, his creature, his creation sways and says, "My son died yesterday."
And Victor is flawed.
He stares, uncomprehending, sounding out the words in his head. "You had a son?"
Caliban nods, his gaze fixed on the floor. "From before. Jack, his name was. The consumption took him, he was so small, so young and I - " He breaks off, swallowing thickly. Victor thinks of Lily and her little daughter. Her little dead daughter.
"My wife," Caliban says, "His mother, she said - she wanted - "
Victor sees before Caliban says it where this conversation may lead. He closes his eyes against it, wills it away. "You cannot ask that of me," he says. Look at what happened with Lily, he is going to add but Caliban looks up sharply, bright eyes dark with rage.
"I did not come here for that," he snaps. "I would no more condemn my son to this existence than I would Miss Ives. I only came to ask what became of her."
Victor sags with relief. "Did you know her well?" he asks, curious.
"She was kind to me," Caliban replies shortly. "Kinder than most. We spoke of poetry." There is a gentle, revering smile on his face as he speaks and something tugs in Victor's chest.
"It is a long strange story," Victor says.
His creature sighs, "Aren't they all?"
Victor stumbles upon Dorian quite by chance one afternoon. He is on his way back, for the third time that week, from Sir Malcolm's home. It is a journey he has made often since Vanessa's death, once the worst of the opiate withdrawal wore off, but he has not yet had the gall to knock on the door, to speak to them. He has no idea what he would say. If he is even welcome.
(He knows he is. He knows that neither of them bare him any ill will. Sir Malcolm had clasped his neck gently, said his name with fondness. Ethan had returned his hug.
If they knew of Victor's demons, of Victor's monsters, perhaps they would recoil but they do not so why should he feel so unwelcome?)
Dorian is alone, to Victor's surprise, no new beau on his arm, no dashing stranger at his elbow. He does not think he has seen Dorian alone for a very long time.
"It seems you lost your nerve, Doctor," Dorian says and the bitterness is palpable in his voice, the venom clear in his gaze. At least Victor can rest easy knowing that his is not the only heart Lily has broken.
Victor meets his eye, does not flinch back from Dorian's anger. "I did only what was right, Mr Grey," Victor says. The words taste false in his mouth. He only did the right thing after hearing about Lily's little daughter, had she simply spat in his face, had she launched herself at him, fists pounding, nails digging, he would have gone through with it. What does that say about him? That until he heard her plight, felt her pain, he saw her only as a pretty thing he'd like to have and hold?
He will be better. He must be better.
Dorian's lip curls in amusement, "Oh, yes? The right thing. Such a noble sentiment for a man who so carelessly creates monsters." He looks away for a moment and when he looks back he tips his hat, "It appears, Doctor, that you still owe me a favour."
"And don't worry, I will certainly be collecting."
In the end, it is Ethan that comes knocking on Victor's door rather than the other way around.
Ethan's gaze is steady and his smile is warm but there is something fragile about him still. "Hey, Doc. Thought I'd check in," he says.
Victor wants to apologise, to explain that he has been meaning to drop by, to check up on the Murray household but that he has had a lot to do, you see, and well, he wasn't entirely sure whether he would be welcome, whether they'd want to spend some time mourning in private but the words tangle together in his throat and he stammers like an oaf.
"I'm sorry - I - sorry. I should have come to you - I just... Well, I wasn't sure whether..." he trails off. Ethan leans against his doorframe and sighs, "Come on, Doc. You know you're always welcome," he drawls.
Victor nods, smiles weakly and then, belatedly holds the door open wider, "Would you like to come in?"
"Actually," Ethan says. "I was hoping you'd like to come out." His hands are twitchy. He's restless, Victor notices. "Get a drink, or something. Sir Malcolm is otherwise engaged."
Victor has never held his drink well but he has spent much of his time lately alone or back at his old job in a dingy cellar, thick with the scent of blood and viscera. While neither a crowded pub or smoky opium den sound appealing, a night spent with a man he considers a friend would not be disagreeable.
And besides, one can never be sure when a friend will be snatched away from them.
"I shall get my coat, then."
The pub Ethan picks is in the East End, a stone's throw from Victor's apartment. It is not overly crowded, nor is it overly loud and the ale is cheap and bitter. Three pints in and Victor finds himself leant forwards on the table, as close to Ethan as he can be with a table between them, hanging on Ethan's every word.
Ethan is telling him stories from his childhood. Happy ones, sad ones. Ones about his father and his mother and his siblings, ones about his time amongst the Indians. It is as though a stopper has been removed and he is finally flowing freely, bubbling over, in a rush and unstoppable.
It is mesmerising and Victor is envious.
He should like to be so free. To share his demons.
"That sounds fascinating," Victor says, when Ethan explains the Apaches beliefs about death.
Ethan takes a swig of his ale, smiles as he swallows, "So come on, Doc, what about you? You got any stories?"
Victor spreads his hands. "None that are worth sharing, I'm afraid."
He feels that he sees Caliban and Lily everywhere he goes.
It is nonsensical. Neither one of them are hunting him anymore, neither one of them want him dead.
He meets with Ethan, he meets with Sir Malcolm and he aches to tell them. He doesn't know why it has suddenly become so pertinent, why now, after all these years, the guilt is overwhelming.
He visits Henry as often as he can. He thinks that if there had been someone to act as the voice of reason when the fever of creation took him, his path may have been a lot less bleak.
He wants to be that for Henry, even though he knows there is little chance of making an impact. He has new equipment these days, his new title has come with certain perks. The other doctors still snigger about him behind his back, still call him filthy names that make Victor wish he were as comfortable with violence as everybody else he has become acquainted with is.
Henry has noticed the guilt, in the darker circles under Victor's eyes, in the tremors from withdrawal, in the way Victor holds himself, he remarks on it sometimes and Victor takes it as a sign that Henry can still be saved. After all, during Victor's madness, he would hardly have noticed his own ill-health let alone that of someone else.
"You ought to get more sleep, old man," he says, though he doesn't look up from the vials he is so carefully combining. "You look about ready to join the ranks of the dead."
"I've been working," Victor answers.
Henry snorts, "Performing illegal autopsies and surgeries should hardly tax you, Victor. We both know you are capable of much, much more."
Victor changes the subject, "A new formula?" he asks, nodding towards Henry's vials.
"The final I'm hoping," Henry says. He raises the vial to the light, it's an odd purple colour. "I must test it, of course, but I am hopeful."
"And who is the lucky patient?"
"Oh, no. This shall not be tested on a patient. To truly pass muster, it must work on someone sane. Don't you see? Removing madness is easy, relatively, anyway. To remove the darkness of someone who otherwise appears sane? That is the real test."
There is a sense of growing unease in Victor's gut. "And who will be playing the role of guinea pig?"
Henry spins to face him, his hair is unwashed, tumbling into his eyes. "Why, I will, of course."
"Henry, no. You cannot test that on yourself," Victor snaps. "You have no idea what will happen!"
"The first man to drink water probably had that same thought!" Henry says, he is not angry, no. There is an expression of serenity on his face, of patience. It is as if he is explaining something to a very small child. "This is how we make leaps forward, Victor!"
He argues until his throat is raw and his head is pounding but when he leaves Henry has every intention of jabbing himself with a needle and a mysterious serum.
Victor ends up running into Dr Seward in his haste.
"Dr Frankenstein," she greets curtly. "Do watch where you're going."
"I'm sorry, I was just - " he breaks off, looks back down the corridor to Henry's lab. "I must apologise, Doctor. I was distracted."
Dr Seward follows his gaze, "Oh, don't tell me you have been dragged into that idiot boy's experimentation. I tell you, Dr Frankenstein, chemicals are not the way to cure psychosis. They offer a reprieve, yes, but true wellness can only be achieved through discovering the root of the trauma and tackling the issue, not willing it away with clever remedies."
"I must admit," Victor says, "When Henry first showed me his results I thought him a genius but now..." he trails off. There is part of him that wants to guard Henry's secrets from this woman but Henry is a friend, perhaps the only friend who knows him truly and if this can help him... Victor runs a hand through his hair. They shake often now, it has become troublesome.
"Are you quite well, Doctor?" Seward prompts. She's bored, Victor knows. Victor bores her. If only she knew, he thinks.
He clenches his hands into fists to hold them still. "He intends to test his serum on himself."
Seward raises an eyebrow, "And is that has you so troubled?"
"Of course it is," Victor answers. "He's my friend."
Seward does not look convinced. She looks down towards Henry's laboratory. "We all take risks for our chosen fields, Doctor, do we not? I imagine you have taken your fair share. Your hands," she says, suddenly. "How long have they been shaking like that?"
Victor tucks them into his pockets. "Opiate withdrawal," he explains.
At that she snorts and Victor withers under her clever gaze. "Should you ever wish to speak about what is really troubling you, Doctor Frankenstein, my couch is open, free of charge."
Victor visits Vanessa's grave whenever he can. He has always found it comforting. As a boy, he would sit by his mother's for hours on end. At first, he talked, then he simply sat in silence.
He alternates between the two with Vanessa. He tells her of his job, of Henry. He reads out loud or sometimes in silence from the books he has borrowed from Sir Malcolm. Vanessa's favourites he has been assured.
(He does not tell her his terrible secrets. He does not want to imagine her thinking of him as the monster he really is.)
He happens upon Caliban on occasion, Ethan more often. Most days, Ethan is composed, some days he is less so. All days end in the pub, talking, drinking. It has become habit now, they meet so often.
Victor still does not hold his ale well but he is getting better. The nights still end all too often with Ethan half-carrying him through the streets back to his rooms. Tonight is different though, it is Vanessa's birthday. Ethan has drunk two for every one of Victor's. They walk together down chilly streets, Ethan is steady on his feet but his eyes are distant, Victor has a hand on his sleeve to guide him.
"Your hands are shaking," Ethan observes, as they stumble up to the front path to Sir Malcolm's home.
"It's cold," Victor says, dismissively. He leans Ethan against the wall, reaches up to knock on the door but Ethan makes a grab for his hands as he does.
"This isn't cold shaking, Doc," Ethan says, his voice is low and raw. His hands are big and rough and warm.
Victor breathes in sharply. "It's fine," he snaps. He tries to yank his hands back from Ethan but Ethan's grip is strong.
"Do you think he blames me?" Ethan says. "I did what she asked. I only did what she asked."
Victor swallows, "You set her free."
There is a smile on Ethan's face, a soft, twisted smile, "Death ain't freedom, Doc."
He lets go of Victor's hands.
Victor feels suddenly cold.
Ethan slumps against the door.
"Stay here tonight," Sir Malcolm says when he and Victor have helped Ethan up to bed. It is not an offer or a question so Victor does not refuse. He takes the room he always does, across the hall from Ethan's. Smaller and cosier than all the others.
"I hired you as a doctor, Victor," his boss says the third time Victor is unable to hold a scalpel in his shaking hands. "Without your hands you're useless to me."
"There is always a place for you here, old man," Henry tells him, later. He is more kind these days, more gentle, more approachable. He is less inclined to bitterness and flares of temper. It is unnerving. The result of the serum, Victor is certain. "You know that."
Victor twists his mouth. His father has long since cut him off and he is in need of money if he is to pay his rent but he cannot look at Henry's patients without thinking of Vanessa, without thinking of Lily. Lily's words. Lily's pleading.
"We shall see," is all he says.
"Well, we better figure out how to stop your hands from shaking," Ethan says, when Victor tells him.
"It's withdrawal - " Victor begins.
Ethan waves him off, grinning. "Yeah, yeah. It's been six months since you kicked that habit, Doc. I think there's a little more to it."
"And you would know, would you?" Victor snaps.
Ethan chuckles, "Now, now, Victor. Settle down. You know, Doctor Seward has some interesting theories about your hands."
Victor's eyes narrow, "You've been speaking with Doctor Seward about me?"
"Only in passing. She suggested the shaking might be psychosomatic, you know what that means, Doc?"
"Of course she thinks it's all in my head," Victor mutters.
"Is it?" Ethan asks.
"No," Victor snaps.
"There is always a room for you here, Victor," Sir Malcolm says when Victor tells him.
Victor swallows thickly and nods.
Sir Malcolm's smile is warm and Victor is still not sure whether Sir Malcolm is seeing him or the son he lost years ago in the jungle but lately, Victor has found he does not care.
He tells Vanessa all his secrets on a summer's day.
His hands still shake and he can picture her disgust, her despair. It is not for man to play god, Victor, he thinks she would say. It is an abomination.
His vision is blurry with tears when is through and a heavy hand falls upon his shoulder. He spins, terrified but it is only Caliban. "I like to read her poetry," Caliban says gently.
Victor nods, trying to steady his breathing.
Caliban squeezes his shoulder.
"You ought to get that looked at, old man," Henry says, distantly. "You're miserable without work."
Victor runs in to Seward on his way out again. She raises an eyebrow at his quaking hands but stays quiet.
"Come on, Doc," Ethan says, he is pressed close against Victor in the crowded pub, his breath warm and whiskey-sweet. "Tell me what you're hiding."
Victor is pressed close against the wall, his cheeks are flushed, his head is light.
Ethan's mouth is so close that it brushes against Victor's ear when he speaks, "What are you afraid of?"
So many things, Victor thinks. Death, loneliness, loss.
It's hot in the pub. Victor's hands are splayed against the cool of the room.
"You'll think me a monster," he manages.
He is not certain but he is sure that Ethan nips at his earlobe. "You've seen me, Doc. You know what I am."
Victor arches. "It's different," Victor insists.
Victor feels it in his chest.
He has been staying at Sir Malcolm's more often as of late, out of convenience more than anything else. He has not been able to find work yet (this is only partly truthful. Sir Malcolm's connections have drummed up a number of opportunities, teaching, studying, but for now, Victor is content to wallow.)
He spends most of his days reading, slowly retrieving his possessions from his rooms. He has no idea what he will do with his resurrection equipment. Bringing it with him would mean telling Ethan and Sir Malcolm of his monstrous secrets (Ethan will find out eventually, Victor is sure, better to make the most of this uneasy peace while he can.)
He decides to destroy it, his equipment and he puts it off for as long as he can. On the day he finally makes the journey back to his rooms, he is shocked to find a slumped figure on his doorstep. At first he thinks it must be Caliban but no, the figure is too small, too slight. Lily, then but again that's wrong.
Henry stands slowly, the ratty blanket he is holding against himself falls. There is blood on his chest, on his hands. Long dried, too much to be Henry's. "I fear I have made a mistake, Old Man," Henry rasps.
"My, my," Sir Malcolm rumbles. "You certainly know how to pick them, Doctor."
Victor has managed to drag Henry home, plans to destroy his equipment forgotten.
"I killed a man, Victor," Henry says as they walk, voice distant and faraway. "Beat him to death with my own hands. Have you ever killed a man, Victor? Have you seen the light go out of someone's eyes?"
Yes, Victor thinks, thinking of Brona.
"We're doctors, Henry. We've both seen our fair share of death," he says, concentrating on getting Henry somewhere safe.
"Not like this, old man. Not like this."
Henry sleeps for almost two days straight. It is most fortuitous that Sir Malcolm has so many spare rooms. Victor spends much of his time at Henry's side. Once he is awake he brings a selection of his favourite books, reads them to him, lying side by side on the bed like they had once done at boarding school.
By now Victor has read all about a mysterious stranger's reign of terror. Lord Hyde's reign of terror.
"My serum," Henry says, eventually. "In the labs. You have to destroy it."
They send Ethan, as Victor is loathe to leave Henry's side. Henry pokes gentle fun at him for it, but he's glad, Victor can tell. When Ethan returns he leans against the wall in the hallway, arms crossed, "So Doc, you ever going to tell me about your serum?"
Victor's hands still shake. He clenches his jaw. "If I tell you, Mr Chandler, I fear you will be far less content to be in my presence."
Ethan smiles, "Try me."
"Your friends," Henry begins, one evening. "Do they know of your accomplishments?"
Victor looks up sharply. He is helping unpack some of Henry's things since it has become apparent that Henry is loathe to leave the house. "No."
They are arguing. Henry wishes to turn himself in. For one such as him, it will mean hanging, no matter how much money his father has left him. But he was not in control, how can he then be guilty? Henry had laughed at that, pointed out that half of his patients had the same story, the same lack of control. Should they go free too?
It's different, Victor argued, Victor insisted. You're back in control now.
Henry had shaken his head, is anyone, Victor?
Henry cocks his head, "They should, you know. You conquered death, Victor. Created life. It is not something to shy away from so lightly."
"I stitched together corpses and condemned good people to live a life they did not want," Victor corrects.
"You gave them a second life, Old man. A second chance. If given the choice, really given the choice, they would have taken it. Don't you think? If only to watch their loved ones from afar," Henry is not looking at Victor; he is looking out across the city.
"Your hands still shake," Caliban points out. They have met at Vanessa's grave again, the same time as last month though neither of them are currently acknowledging that face.
Victor does not bark, withdrawal, he sighs instead, tucks them into his pockets neatly. It is September, the leaves are beginning to turn. Soon it will have been a year.
"Do you think she would have hated me for creating you?" Victor asks. He is asking honestly, gauging Caliban's response.
Caliban is quiet for a long moment, considering. "I think," he says, eventually. "She would have forgiven you." He looks at Victor, amber eyes bright in the cool sunlight. "She spent so long hiding herself away because she feared what she could do to people, how she could hurt them and she was miserable because of it. She would not want us to do the same, I think. She would want us to be happy."
Victor meets his gaze. Yes, he thinks. She probably would.
Ethan does not speak to him for a week after he tells him about Caliban, about Proteus, about Brona, Lily. Sir Malcolm is as fascinated as he is horrified and when Victor announces he will pack his things and take Henry with him, Sir Malcolm laughs and tells him he will do nothing of the sort.
Little by little, Victor's hands stop shaking.
Ethan corners him in the reading room and Victor is expecting him to demand that Victor leave. Instead, he grasps at Victor's hands, holds them up and examines them.
"They've stopped shaking?" he asks.
"That's good," Ethan says but he does not let go of Victor's hands. "That's good."
"I have received a message," Sir Malcolm announces one morning at breakfast. "From Ferdinand Lyle."
Victor looks up from his tea. Ethan sits beside him, close enough that their legs brush against each other under the table, Henry is opposite him, looking all together a lot more like himself. Lady Catriona has joined them for no discernible reason other than boredom, Victor assumes.
"It appears all is not well in Egypt and he is requesting our aid," Sir Malcolm is smiling, far more genuinely than Victor has seen for a long while.
Lady Catriona claps her hands, "I have always wanted a chance study the Book of the Dead."
"Well if Mr Lyle is in distress, I believe I am obliged to sweep in and rescue him," Ethan says. He nudges Victor with his shoulder, "What about you, Doc?"
Victor has never been to Egypt. He looks across at Henry. They had spoken of travelling once, of seeing the world. Henry shrugs, "You could probably do with some more sun, Old Man."