When Henry next saw Victor it was five weeks since he had let Lily go. Henry had spent the time settling in to Hyde manor, uneasily facing the ghosts of his past that dwelt there.
He had not heard from Victor. He had sent him a letter detailing briefly his current doings and asked him to come visit. He could either wait pridefully for an answer that did not seem to be coming, or he could listen to the worried whispers of his heart and go visit his friend. He chose the latter.
The streets outside Victor’s house were as dirty as ever and the people as foul. He knocked on his door and received no answer. He tested the handle and found it unlocked. He called out hesitatingly as he stepped inside.
There were broken dishes and equipment everywhere, shards covering the floor. The air was thick with dust and ill health. A surge of panic swept through him and Henry slammed the door behind him and called out again.
He found him on the bed, face down. Henry knelt hard on the floor and felt for a pulse. There it was, slow and weak at the neck. He turned Victor on his side and Victor went limply. He lifted his eyelids. The sunlight hit the bed, turning Victor’s eyes into orbs of translucent glass with tiny pinprick pupils. Henry could not see his chest rising, could not feel his breath against his fingers or his cheek. He grabbed for a shard of sooty black glass that lay within reach on the floor and held it to Victor’s lips. The faintest trace of mist appeared on it.
Henry’s exhale sounded almost like a sob as he slumped over the side of the bed. Victor was still alive, despite the morphine, despite Henry’s pride that had almost kept him away. He lifted Victor’s limp hand. In the crook of his bruised arm was a bead of blood, coagulated but not old. He could still be sinking deeper into his narcotic sleep. A second surge of panic stirred Henry to action. He sat on the bed and pulled Victor into an upright position against his chest. Victor seemed to stir slightly at this before his head lolled back onto Henry’s shoulder. Henry rocked him, pressed on his chest, hoping that the movement might stir his breath, stimulate his heart to beat harder. He gripped him tight, pressed his palm over his slow-beating heart and felt Victor’s slight breath against his own damp cheek. He shook him and felt Victor tense slightly as if to pull away. Hope surged in him. He spoke to Victor, prodded him, and felt his friend stir slightly more every time. He seemed to be waking and suddenly unfocused eyes met Henry’s. A murmur left Victors lips and his hand twitched. Henry smiled back at him, panic still causing his heart to race.
“Come now, old friend, don’t go back to sleep.” But Victor’s eyes started to slide closed again. Henry did the only thing he could think of to keep his friend awake and breathing: he hauled him to his feet, and draped his arm over his shoulder. “Come Victor, walk!” He pleaded. Victor did not seem to respond, but he moved, uncoordinated and weak and Henry dragged him slowly forward, carrying most of his weight. Henry watched Victor’s feet move as they walked. Counted the steps and babbled desperate encouragements. He lost count and started again several times and time seemed suspended in infinite fear. When his burning legs could not bear him any longer he dragged Victor back to the bed and dropped them both on it.
Henry lay still for a few seconds, feeling the burn in his legs and shoulders, breathing hard. Then he quickly turned to Victor, who lay on his back as he had fallen. Henry felt for the pulse, but could not feel Victor’s heartbeat beneath his own hammering pulse. As he tried to feel for Victor’s breath, look for his rising chest Victor stirred to Henry’s desperate relief. Victor’s eyes opened and he stared at the ceiling, then his gaze wandered to Henry, leaning over him with his hand outstretched above Victor’s lips.
“Henry?” It was a slurred whisper, cracking on the end. “I got your letter, I think.” Henry laughed, a choked sound and let his head hang heavy, half leaning on Victor. He felt Victor’s hand, cold and clammy, but steady take his in a weak grasp.
“Damn it, Victor.” Henry kept his voice as low as Victor’s, fearing that if he raised it above a whisper, it too would crack. “You nearly died. When I came, you were barely breathing. If I hadn’t come you would have died!” Henry gave him an angry look, spoiled slightly by the wetness that he had to blink away. Victor just looked back, probably still drifting on the morphine, and still holding his hand in a weak grip.
“It is good you came.” He murmured, his gaze sliding over Henry, off him and back. “It is good you’re here.”
Henry didn’t know how much of what he said that Victor could absorb in this state. He did not know and at that precise moment he didn’t care. Relief made him weak and almost giddy. He helped Victor move slightly so he would be more comfortable, lay him by the outer edge of the bed, close to where he was already. Henry sat next to him next to the wall, not quite daring to lay down, and made sure that Victor did not go to sleep until the effects of the morphine had lessened.
Victor dreamt. He was floating and content. Henry was there, sat next to him and held his hand as Victor drifted.
Henry woke from a light slumber half-sitting against the corner of the wall. The light outside was dimming. He felt drained, his back and legs ached and his hand stung. He looked down and saw his hand held in Victor’s weak grasp. It was bloody and had stained Victor’s white-now-grey shirt red. The glass. The shard of glass that he had used to see Victor’s breath had cut his hand. I didn’t notice…
Victor’s colour had improved, and after a few moments Henry could see his chest rising. Foolish to fall asleep when he was still under the effects of narcotics. What if his breathing had stopped? Henry lifted the hand he still held, and used his uninjured hand to check Victor’s pulse. It was a little slow and still a little weak, but steady. He lay Victor’s hand back on his chest and looked at his own.
The cuts were not deep, though one would be better off with a stitch or two. No tendons injured. Maybe he would ask Victor to place the sutures. He looked down at his friend and found blue eyes focused on him.
“You are awake.” Henry said, wincing inside at how his voice grated from his earlier sleep. Victor just looked at him for a moment. Henry could not judge the size of his pupils in the dim light.
“You are here. I thought it was a dream.” Victor sounded as if he hadn’t had water in a week. He didn’t slur his words though.
“I am here, old boy. And in the nick of time it seems.” Henry met Victor’s eyes with a calm he did not feel. “What are you doing, Victor? You know better. You know how morphine works, both as a doctor and an addict!” His voice rose at the end and Victor broke eye contact, his eyes drifting over the walls. “You took too much! Did you do it on purpose? Are you trying to kill yourself? You would have succeeded if I had come but half an hour later!” Henry’s voice broke, and he turned his face to the wall, leaned his head back, willing himself back to calm. He did not know if he wanted to hit Victor or cry on his shoulder.
“I don’t know.” Came Victor’s voice, low and dejected. Henry did not look at him yet. Victor reached for him, his hand still steady, and took Henry’s bloodied hand in his, examining it. “What happened, Henry?”
“I found you face down on the bed. You were barely breathing. I thought you would die.” Henry closed his eyes against the threatening wetness. He had not cried in years.
“You need sutures.” Victor said. Trust him to change the subject. “You should go find a doctor, you can’t stitch your own hand.” Anger flared in Henry. He welcomed it over the tears.
“So you can go back to the needle? You are a doctor, Victor. You stitch my hand.” He would make Victor stitch his hand or it would remain unstitched. Maybe Victor heard it in his voice, as he sighed and closed his eyes, dropping Henry’s hand.
“We’ll discuss it later.” He said, almost managing the sure, dismissive voice that had infuriated Henry so many times. But his voice wavered at the end. Enough to make Henry feel guilty for yelling at him.
“I’ll get you some water.” He muttered, and climbed out of the bed, careful to not jostle Victor. He managed to find a dusty but whole cup on a shelf, and filled it with water from the rattling tap. He rinsed the blood off his hand, and rooted around until he found a half-full bottle of clear alcohol. Victor did not drink because of the morphine (at least Henry hoped he didn’t) so it was likely meant for his purpose. Henry poured the stinging spirits over his cuts, rubbed them clean and rinsed them with a bit more alcohol. There was nothing in sight that would serve to bind his hand, so he let it drip, blood and alcohol falling on the broken glass on the floor as he walked across it. Victor lay as before with his eyes closed, face so pale that Henry felt he might see the blue of Victor’s irises outlined against his eyelids.
Henry knelt on the floor beside the bed, avoiding the blackened bloodied glass. Victor turned his face to him and opened his eyes as he called him. Henry helped him sit up and used his good hand to help him drink, spilling only a small drop that came to rest in the hollow of Victor’s throat, glinting and catching Henry’s eyes in the dimness. Victor avoided his gaze and kept his eyes on the cup as he drank.
“I think that is enough for now, Victor.” Henry placed the cup on the low table next to the bed. There was a lamp at the table, the glass protecting the flame missing and probably the origin of the shard that had cut Henry. He lit it. The firelight spread a golden glow over them, hiding Victor’s paleness. Henry lifted it closer and looked in Victor’s eyes. The pupils were almost their normal size. Victor seemed alert, and not so drowsy. Henry rose and spent a fair few minutes looking though the mess, placing the lamp down carefully as to not set fire to the house. He found Victor’s bag on its side in a corner and brought it back to the bed under Victor’s wary gaze.
“I can’t stitch your wounds, Henry.” Henry met his eyes silently and helped him to an upright position leaned against the wall.
“I can’t stitch them myself and I can’t leave you, Victor.” Victor lowered his eyes. Henry threaded the needle.
“I will hurt you.”
“I don’t care.” Henry bit back, feeling his temper flare again. Victor’s hand developed a fine tremor as he accepted the needle holder with the treaded needle.
“I mean it. I might hit a nerve. It will hurt.” His eyes were wide, fixed on Henry’s hand it was presented in front of him. Henry sat back against the wall next to him. Victor swallowed. “Maybe you should take something?” The words were low, almost timid, but Henry had to bite his tongue not to lash out at Victor as he said it. He took a deep breath.
“No. Now do it.” His voice was sharp and curt as he said it, and Victor bowed his head and reached for his hand.
It hurt. Victor worked agonisingly slowly, drawing the trembling point of the needle over his skin before he’d get it to the proper place and pushing it through with the same slowness, fumbling as he pulled at it. Henry grit his teeth and watched Victor’s work fixedly. Victor was bent over, one hand holding Henry’s in a death grip as the other worked. Both hands were shaking worse now, whether from nerves or withdrawal. Five stitches was all it took. Five agonising stitches, as Victor fumbled and shrank in on himself. Five stitches, and after Victor tied the last one off unsteadily they lay uneven and ugly against the palm of Henry’s hand. Victor threw the needle on the floor and covered his face with his hands. Henry forced himself to relax and allowed himself to lean slightly against his friend.
“Thank you, Victor.” He said, staring into the darkness beyond the lamplight. Victor did not respond, but he leaned back a little.
Victor felt his stomach cramping as he pushed the needle in. He got the angle wrong, tried to correct it. Henry grunted and his tendons were like steel wires under Victor’s shaking fingers. He couldn’t stop, Henry would not let him stop. Victor deserved this: the punishment for his sins taken out on his friends. It took an eternity. When it was finished he leaned on Henry and felt his friend’s long hair tickle his cheek.
They sat for some time. Eventually Henry broke the silence, telling Victor about his move, about his work at Bedlam, his plans to build a laboratory at the manor. Victor remained silent, leaning slightly against him, but he lowered his hands from his face and relaxed a little. At Henry’s gentle prompting he told him a fantastic tale of monsters more evil than those of his own creation. Of how he had gone with some others (other friends he called them, and Henry felt the sting of jealousy) to confront this evil. How one of them, his dear friend Ms Ives, had died. He told of her funeral, her grave, his grief and how the grief of his companions had driven a wedge of emptiness between them. A part of Henry, the dark part of his heart, where all the ugly feelings festered, was glad to hear it, glad that they would not compete with him for Victor’s affection. The rest of him was appalled. Victor had seemed better when they last spoke, at the laboratory. As if he’d found some peace. Then this. Henry could not make himself believe every word of Victor’s story, certain that some parts must have been twisted in his mind, by grief or drugs or sleepless nights. But the grief was real. The loneliness beneath was real and Henry berated himself for not visiting Victor earlier, for not making sure he was well. The pain of his failure stung him deep in the heart.
It had been long dark outside when Victor’s story ended. His voice had started cracking more than once and Henry had brought him water. He was supposed to see if there was something to feed Victor. Supposed to do something. Instead he just sat, silently chiding himself for failing his dearest friend. Victor sighed and shifted, laying down fully on the bed, and Henry moved to accommodate him, sitting between him and the wall as he had done during the day. He looked down at him. Pale, unwashed and unshaven, dark circles under his eyes, dark hollows in his cheeks, and still there was a light shining below his skin. Henry let himself look as Victor lay with eyes closed. Let himself trace those dear features that had been nearly lost to him.
“You won’t leave, will you.” Victor said, not really a question, but a resigned statement. “I won’t be able to sleep, not without-“ He cut himself off, wisely. Henry knew he should feel angry, but he felt merely weary.
“They you won’t sleep, old man.” Victor raised his gaze.
“I’d offer you the bed, if you’d take it.” He made no move though, he knew the steps to this dance, could see it in Henry’s eyes.
“No, Victor.” Henry said, rising with a sigh. “I will not. I will take this chair,” He got up, found the most uncomfortable stool in the room and placed it next to Victor’s bed. “And I will sit with you. I will keep you company until the morning.” Victor sighed.
“Very well then.”
Silence stretched on. Henry got up and took the lamp with him, fairly sure that Victor could not inject morphine behind his back in the dark without him noticing. He went through the cupboards, but found nothing edible. He brought back some more water for Victor, cup carefully balanced in his injured hand.
The night stretched on. The lamp burned out. Henry lay his hand on Victor’s arm to confirm his presence. Victor said nothing, just lay there with the still-faint trembles of dawning withdrawal running through him, sometimes shifting restlessly. Several times Henry jerked awake as he began to slump to his side in sleep. Victor remained. Eventually dawn broke and grey light filtered in through the window. Henry blinked wearily. Victor lay on his back with his arm over his eyes. The tremble was visible now, just.
“Are you awake, Victor?” Henry’s voice was rough with sleep. Victor nodded mutely. Henry rose and stretched, body sore after a night on a chair and yesterday’s exertion. Was it really yesterday? He thought, looking down at Victor. The grey light of dawn hid his pallor and gauntness, turned the ugly needle marks into shadows. Henry went looking for some clothes that Victor hadn’t spent several nights in and that weren’t covered in Henry’s blood. He had only some success. He brought them. “Come now, Victor, get changed.” Victor lifted his arm and met Henry’s gaze with red-rimmed eyes. Mutely he sat up, steadier than yesterday. Henry turned his back as Victor lifted his shirt, busying himself with looking for Victor’s shoes. When he brought them Victor sat listlessly on the bed. He put the shoes on without meeting Henry’s eyes. Henry recognised this from other times he had come across Victor especially intoxicated, this silent shame that lowered Victor’s gaze afterwards. He made sure that Victor’s sleeves were covering his arms, then sat on the stool in front of him.
“Victor, you can’t go on like this. You need help, and I don’t think you can help yourself. Will you let me help you?” Victor lifted his face slightly, eyes unfocused near Henry’s shoulder. “Let me. Please.” Henry let the urgency he felt bleed in to his voice. Victor shifted a little, nodded. “Then come, let’s go out and find us something to eat.”
Victor was unsteady on his feet down the stairs, and Henry steadied him with a hand on his arm until they reached the door. Outside, street hawkers were already waiting for customers in the corners. Henry bought some pies of questionable origins from an old woman who sneered at him the whole time. Victor stood mutely beside him. When they reached the top of the stairs Victor wavered and Henry felt guilty for dragging him along, frustrated because he had no other choice.
With the food in front of him Victor ate slowly. Henry himself was ravenous enough to find the pie palatable. Victor left it after a handful of bites.
“Victor,” Henry trailed off, unsure of how to phrase this, but desperately certain of the necessity of getting Victor to agree to his plan. “I don’t think it’s good for you, staying here, alone.” Victor looked at him listlessly. “Come with me, for a few days, just to get your health up. You know it’s not good to live like this, Victor. You’re wasting away. You’re letting your brilliance waste away. Don’t do this.” Henry looked imploringly at his oldest, dearest and only friend. Victor met his gaze. He looked tired, both in body and mind, like a man ready to give up. “Please.” Henry added, leaning forward over the littered table. Slowly Victor sighed and nodded.
“All right. For a few days.” The hope was like a dagger in Henry’s chest, and he smiled tightly.
Thank you all who have read this far! This chapter (and only this chapter) features some vomiting (not detailed). I hope that is not enough to turn anyone away.
Henry sent for his carriage. While waiting he made some effort against the mess while Victor watched from the bed. He found some half-hidden stashes of morphine. He stuffed some of Victor’s clothes in a bag, none of them clean, and tried to figure out what else he might need. Victor was not much help, getting unsteadily to his feet and picking aimlessly at the piles until Henry turned him back to his bed.
There was a knock at the door. His driver really shouldn’t have looked surprised to see him answer it. Henry let the man carry the bag of Victor’s belongings, as well as the bag that held the tools of their trade, minus the morphine, which Henry had placed in his own pockets under Victor’s pointed gaze. Victor was almost steady on his feet down the stairs and into the carriage. The foul people of his neighbourhood cast unkind gazes and words after them as they left.
The shame choked him. Henry looked at him with eyes filled with sorrow, anger and distress, with fear and impossible hope. Victor did not have any hope for himself, but when he met Henry’s burning eyes he could not bear to add to his disappointment.
They arrived at Hyde manor. The carriage pulled up in front of the large doors, and Henry led Victor inside. In his shabby clothes and obvious ill health he stood out against the wealth of the manor. Henry arranged for the quarters next to his to be prepared, for a bath to be drawn, Victor’s clothes to be washed and some clean ones to be found. Victor looked mutely around. A servant came with a tray of tea and biscuits, studiously avoiding to look at Victor.
They sat in a small drawing room with morning light shining in through the windows. Henry took Victor in as they drank their tea in silence. He’d shrunk in on himself even more since they’d arrived and sat staring gloomily into his tea. From him radiated the discomfort that Henry himself felt but kept firmly hidden.
“I never liked it here.” Henry said slowly. Victor did not look up, but he shifted his attention towards him. “There are no good memories for me here, but now that it’s mine, I feel I should try to claim it.” He sighed and placed his cup down. “I don’t know that I will succeed. I’ve moved in to the older wing of the house rather than my spiteful father’s quarters. It’s not as if I need more luxury.” He felt his voice turn bitter. Victor placed his cup down with care and put his finely trembling hand on Henry’s knee.
“It suits you, old friend.” Victor looked at him steadily. “You look a proper lord, as you should be.” Henry did not feel the truth of those words, felt like an impostor walking these halls, even as he bitterly thought that this was his birth right. He placed his hand over Victor’s.
“Thank you, Victor.” Victor lowered his gaze to a point below Henry’s shoulder.
“It is I who should thank you.” He said in a guilt-ridden voice. “I owe you my life many times over, and I have all but nothing to repay you, beside my friendship, such as it is.”
“That is all I need.” Henry answered truthfully. It’s all I can hope for and more than I deserve.
A servant appeared, informing them that the bath was ready for Lord Hyde’s guest. Henry escorted Victor there in silence, but hesitated as he made to leave.
“Will you do anything foolish if left alone, Victor?” Henry did not want to sit with him as he washed. Definitely did not want it. He felt mostly relief when Victor replied in the negative. “I will be back in a few minutes then.” Victor nodded mutely and started to unbutton his waistcoat. Henry turned his back swiftly and exited the room. He went to his rooms and got a key from the bottom of a drawer. Then he went to the newer wing of the manor, to his father’s study.
Even after just a few weeks, there was dust already hanging in the air. The furniture stood covered in white sheets. Henry shuddered as he stepped over the threshold. His father had summoned him here sometimes, kept him waiting as he continued his affairs, his correspondence, or just stared thoughtfully into the fire. Interruptions were not tolerated, no matter how trivial the activity might seem. Henry was made to speak when spoken to, and not before. The spectre of his heavy desk stood, dominating the room in its shroud of linen and dust.
Henry turned quickly to the side of the room, to a safe embedded in the wall between the bookshelves. He unlocked it and placed the morphine he’d taken from Victor inside. He would have to remember to get the narcotics from his own bag of medical equipment and place it in the safe as well. He would have to remember to get a safe for his own study so he would not have to come here. Turning on his heel, Henry hurried back to the older wing.
Back before the bathroom door Henry hesitated. He could wait outside. But even though Victor seemed level headed, Henry still didn’t know if his friend had exceeded his safe dose of morphine on purpose. Didn’t know if Victor might slip in the bath. He knocked, called out, and received no answer. He knocked again, harder, and then pushed open the door, feeling the cold echo of yesterday gripping his heart. Victor lay reclined in the bathtub, only his face above the water. Henry closed the door behind him, calming down. His eyes averted, he rapped his knuckles against the copper tub, startling Victor.
“Creeping up on me, Henry?” He asked, the shadow of teasing in his weary voice. Henry gave an equally bleak chuckle and sat down on a low stool by the tub. From this angle he saw only the upper part of Victor’s chest.
“Just making sure, old man.” The joke fell flat, but Victor smiled weakly at him. His freshly washed hair was slicked back from his face, and his skin even paler scrubbed clean. His arms were riddled with needle-marks, trailing along the veins and surrounded by mottled bruises. Henry noted that what he had taken for dirt on the back of Victor’s hand were half-healed needle marks surrounded by a yellowing bruise. The sight made his bile rise.
Victor did not linger in the tub, and as he made to get up Henry excused himself to wait outside the door. When Victor came out he was wearing Henry’s clothes, which hung off him. He had left the shirt sleeves rolled down, covering his hands to the fingertips. He had noticed Henry looking at his arms then. Either that or he was ashamed of his trembling hands.
Henry showed him his rooms. They were adjacent to Henry’s own, which had been the Lord’s quarters before his father had had new ones built. Victor’s had been the rooms of the Lady of the manor, and there was a connecting door between their bedrooms. Henry found the arrangement darkly ironic, but suited to his purposes. Both outer doors of their quarters locked with key, and this way he would be able to keep his eye on Victor. What Victor thought of the arrangement he kept to himself, but as Henry locked the doors he followed him with his gaze.
Feeling leaden with lack of sleep (though no doubt Victor felt worse) Henry found his bag of medical equipment in his ordered study. As he lifted it, he heard Victor inhale softly. His red-rimmed eyes were focused on the bag and his face held a hungry expression. Henry placed the bag on his desk and sat behind it. He withdrew bandages and alcohol, with which he wet some of the white strips of fabric and cleaned the dried blood of his hand. The cuts were red and inflamed, but was not showing signs of infection. Victor’s uneven row of stitches stood out darkly, a little blood seeping from the cut. When he put down the stained fabric and picked up fresh bandages Victor reached for them. Henry let him take them and held his hand out. Victor stood, shoulders hunched and eyes focused but distant as he slowly wound the soft strips of fabric around Henry’s hand. Henry watched his face as he worked. His brow was pinched and he looked pained and tired.
When he finished Henry patted his arm, took his bag and locked it in a cupboard. Not a safe, but safe enough for the moment. Victor’s eyes followed him and lingered on the cupboard, on the key in Henry’s hand.
“Try not to think of it, Victor.” Henry said wearily, placing the key in his pocket with the other keys that kept his friend from self-destruction. Victor grimaced and followed him with his eyes as Henry took off his coat and shoes and lay fully clothed on his bed. He was asleep in moments.
As Victor entered Hyde manor for the first time he felt like a dirty beggar. The withdrawal hadn’t set in quite yet, but it was waiting just under his skin. His hands had a fine tremor, and his brow felt damp. The staff was carefully neutral, and Henry was colder in their presence. Even bathing didn’t make him feel clean. He’d bandaged Henry’s hand as a way of mitigating his guilt, and it worked until his thoughts strayed to the sutures, to those agonising drawn out stitches, and bile rose in his throat. Henry locked his bag away. If there had been any doubt in Victor’s mind that Henry kept morphine amongst his supplies that erased it. As Henry collapsed in bed, face hidden behind the fall of his hair, Victor stared at that cupboard.
Henry was shaken awake. He grabbed at the arm shaking him and felt pain lance through his hand. Right, the stitches, he thought drowsily. It took some effort to open his eyes. Victor stood leaned over him, a guilty expression on his face.
“There’s someone at the door.” He said quietly. Henry nodded and stumbled out of bed. It was noon. He smoothed his hair and clothes quickly in a mirror before opening the door to a pair of servants. They came in and set the table in the outermost room for two, as it was Henry’s habit to eat in his quarters. Victor stayed in the bedroom until the servants left and then he came outside. He looked much as before Henry had fallen asleep. To make sure Henry walked over to him, took his face gently in his intact hand and lifted his eyelid with an unharmed finger. Victor allowed it. His pupils were of normal size, and his pulse was strong under Henry’s hand. He’d not gotten into the morphine as Henry slept. When released, Victor stepped back with a sour expression on his face.
“I trust you Victor.” Henry said, waiting until Victor met his eyes. “But not with this.”
“I suppose you can’t be blamed.” Despite the words, Victor’s tone was tight. He turned and sat at the table.
The meal was quiet apart from the soft clatter of cutlery. Victor did not show much more enthusiasm at lunch than he had at breakfast, despite Henry plying him with pieces of fruit, soft bread and jam. When Henry gave up and turned to his own meal Victor turned to a cup of tea, clasping it in his hands as if cold. His tremor had grown more noticeable and his brow shone damp. Henry felt an unexpected stab of pity. Victor, so strong and brilliant, brought low by something as common as morphine. He placed down his cutlery, appetite gone and poured a cup of tea for himself.
They sat for some time without talking. Victor staring blankly at the table, and Henry fixedly at Victor. Henry felt worn, tired still despite the few moments’ sleep he’d caught. Drained physically as well as emotionally. Uncertain if he was doing the right thing, and if he was doing it the right way. He had spent many hours making similar plans since he had started working with Victor again (and before, when Victor’s addiction had not yet gripped him fully). When he had left a twitching Victor to do his rounds and found his friend serene as he returned. When he had visited him and seen him stumbling and slurring. He had planned this, as he lay in bed before sleep came. It may have been idle fantasies at the time, some desperate coping mechanism to be able to continue to see his friend in this state, but now it was real. Yesterday had convinced him that Victor was like a rudderless boat, and would drift without direction until he ran aground and sank.
There was a knock at the door. Victor rose jerkily and went into the study, out of sight. Henry let the servants in to clear the table and locked the door behind them.
Victor was walking restlessly back and forth across the floor of the study. Henry watched him silently. He was sweating, breathing hard and hunching in on himself. He looked hunted. Henry had seen Victor during the beginnings of withdrawal before, but Victor had always made some excuse to be alone or sent Henry away. Henry had acted the coward, had gone even though he knew what Victor would do in his absence. Now he would stay.
Victor stopped abruptly as he noticed he was watched. His eyes were wild and dark. His mouth opened and closed, no doubt he was trying to think of a way to persuade Henry to let him go, to let him have his morphine. Henry crossed his arms over his chest and steeled his heart. Victor read his firm stance and his face twisted in anger.
“Smugness does not suit you, Henry.” He spat. Henry did not reply. “That is why you’ve brought me here: to gloat. You may have a title now, a title begrudgingly given to an illegitimate half-breed, but you needed my help to finish your research. My genius, and that stings, doesn’t it?” Henry bowed his head, controlled his breathing. “For all your high thoughts of yourself, for all the time you put into it, you could not do what I did in a matter of days.” Victor knew how to push his buttons, had seen him pushed over the edge to violence far too often during their school years. Had seen him broken at the end of the day by the hurtful words and actions of their peers. And he had learned from it.
Henry tried to think of a way to diffuse the situation, tried to remember that it was the drugs talking, not Victor. But Victor kept going and Henry snapped. He grabbed Victor by his shirt and threw him up against the wall, hard enough to push the air from his lungs, to make him quiet.
“You have become such a cruel, small man, Victor.” He hissed meeting Victors startled eyes. “You are meant for more than this.” His voice turned pleading against his will. “You are my dearest friend. I want only to help you, you know that. You know why I’m doing this.” Slowly, Victor seemed to calm under his hands, his face turned regretful, his eyes wet.
“Forgive me, Henry.” He said in a small voice. “I’m not well. I don’t want you to see me like this. It’s humiliating.” Henry loosened his grip and Victor grasped at his wrists, held Henry’s hands still against his chest, looking at him with shining, feverish eyes. “It’s too hard, Henry. I can’t stop like this. What if we took it in steps? Just a little bit, and then the withdrawal would not be so painful?” Henry let the pain he felt show on his face. Pressing gently down at Victor’s chest, he drove his words in.
“No, Victor. This is the only way: you stop now. You are strong, you can bear this.” Victor shook his head, tears running freely down his cheeks. Pleading with Henry for his damned poison. Henry took him gently by the shoulders and steered them toward Victor’s freshly made bed.
Victor followed without more than token resistance. Allowing Henry to take his shoes and help him with his trousers. Henry found himself thankful for his friend’s slight frame as the trousers fell down as soon as he slid the bracers off his shoulders, letting him avoid the fastenings at his waist. Victor slid under the covers dressed only in shirt and smallclothes. He was shaking properly now, gratefully accepting the blankets that Henry put on top of him. Henry sat by him, took his pulse (fast and hammering) and checked his pupils (blown wide). He was drenched in sweat and drawing air in gasping breaths.
“What can I do for you, Victor?” He said quietly. Victor’s eyes darted quickly to the door between their rooms but he did not mention the morphine again. He gasped.
“Stay. Talk to me. I feel…” He trailed off, moaning slightly and squeezing his eyes shut. “It hurts, Henry. It hurts everywhere. I’m sick.”
“You are not sick, Victor. You are poisoned by your own hand.” Henry leaned against the headboard. There was more than enough space for him to sit next to Victor. He lay his hand gently on Victor’s shoulder. Victor turned towards him and lay his trembling, sweating hand on Henry’s.
Henry tried to distract him with talk of patients he’d met, theses he’d read, and theories that were discussed in the medical journals he received. After a while he turned to common memories, the happy ones, but they were surrounded of shadows. A successful experiment resulting in shards on the floor, another boy’s broken nose, and stern admonishment. Henry changed the subject.
Victor did not answer, did not give any sign that he listened, except a cramping squeeze of Henry’s hand if he stayed silent for too long. He twisted in the sheets, and his sweat stained the bedclothes. Sometimes his eyes were squeezed shut, sometimes they were roaming, dark and feverishly glossy. Henry talked of whatever came to mind, about his worries for Victor, told him how the process of withdrawal worked (although Victor knew very well himself) told him it would soon be over (though they both knew he was wrong).
As the sun sank lower Henry sat by Victor, only leaving his side when the servants came with dinner. He dismissed them and brought some food to Victor’s bedside together with a carafe of water and some glasses. He chose foods which would carry no smell and be soft and mild tasting, but Victor refused them all. He would take small sips of water and nothing more. Henry helped him to the bathroom and waited outside to take him back. He kept talking until his words ran out, and then he retrieved a book from his room. It was a book of poetry that he had gotten on a whim. He had never cared for poetry, but something had stirred inside him as he’d listened to Victor talking about his Lily. (Thinking of it still stung Henry’s heart.) There was some vague desire to prove himself to his friend, and as he’d lain eyes on the book, recognized it as one that Victor often quoted he’d acted with only half a conscious thought.
Darkness fell and with it the book fell from Henry’s limp hand. He’d slid down the bed during the evening and was now resting his head on the edge of Victor’s pillow. Henry’s thoughts slipped sideways as he fell asleep and he dreamt of poetry, Victor and monsters in the shadows.
Victor felt as if someone had stuck needles in every joint of his body. He was aware only of pain and cold and a slowly creeping feeling of terror, as if there were nameless horrors lurking in the corners of his eyes. He could no longer hear Henry’s voice. Frightful he dragged himself to the surface of conscious thought. He found the room dark, Henry lying still next to him on top of the covers, face relaxed in sleep. Victor thought longingly of the bag locked away just a few rooms away from him. He might have made an effort to get to it, might have crawled there if that was what it took. Henry shifted in his sleep, frowning briefly, turning slightly towards Victor. Instead of trying to get to the morphine Victor took his friend’s hand and squeezed it as the pain gripped him.
Morning sun woke Henry. He jerked awake, fear jumping up his throat for what might have happened in the night. Victor lay facing him on a sweat-drenched pillow holding Henry’s unbandaged hand tightly in a sweaty, shaking grip. Henry sighed in relief. Victor opened his eyes slowly, seeming to have trouble focusing on Henry. There were tear tracks down his cheeks.
“Could you sleep any, old man?” Victor shook his head silently with a miserable look on his face. Henry sighed and helped Victor out of the bed. He had to almost carry him to the bathroom, and left him there for a moment to summon servants to change his sheets. He drew Victor a shallow bath and helped him in, no longer able to be squeamish about his friend’s nakedness. Victor thankfully managed to wash himself, although he shivered despite the hot water. Afterwards Henry helped him dry and dress in a white nightshirt of linen, soft with use. Victor leaned heavily on him.
The day passed much as the afternoon before had. The servants brought food, soft and mild so that Henry might persuade Victor to take some. He left his outer door unlocked so that they could enter, seeing as Victor was hardly mobile at the moment. Victor didn’t eat, but only lashed out at Henry as he tried to persuade him. His sharp tongue and cutting words soon made Henry give up the attempt. He moved on to reading from a medical volume on diseases of the mind after finishing the poetry. Victor looked at him with unfocused eyes, cramping and sobbing as his body struggled to adjust to the absence of morphine.
In the afternoon Victor started vomiting, dirtying himself and the bed with thin, sour bile. Henry sent for new sheets and brought Victor to the bathroom to clean himself. His stomach didn’t settle and Henry kept him on his side as he retched so he could empty it into a basin. Victor’s mood grew ever sourer. Henry began to worry about dehydration. Victor did not manage to keep even water down, and began to refuse it when offered. Only desperate pleading from Henry made him accept some. Henry started giving him water with a bit of honey stirred in to give his body something to burn. That night Henry sat on a chair next to Victor to avoid the call of sleep.
The next day was much the same. Victor allowed himself to be fed more honey-water, but as often as not he would throw it up again. Henry had given up on keeping the sheets changed, opting instead to place a towel under his friend’s head to catch any vomit that didn’t make it to the basin. He tried to turn a deaf ear when Victor lashed out, and left the room when he couldn’t. In the night as he sat in sleepless vigil over an equally sleepless Victor, Henry wondered if he had made a mistake.
On the morning of the fourth day since Henry had found Victor sun shone through the windows painting Victor’s face nearly white. Henry touched his neck and Victor whimpered in response.
“Come, old friend.” Henry said in a hoarse voice. “Take a little water.” Victor glowered at him, but raised himself up as much as he could as Henry brought the cup of sweetened water to his lips. After Victor had taken a few careful sips, some liquid dribbling down his chin, Henry placed the cup down and grabbed the basin to see if Victor would keep it down. Victor sighed and lay back down. Henry took a soft handkerchief and wiped his mouth. “How are you feeling?” Henry asked, although he was liable to get a stinging reply.
“There’s less nausea.” Victor admitted weakly, and Henry allowed himself to hope that they were nearing an end to this ordeal. In the other room he heard the servants placing down food for breakfast. Henry retrieved some, noticing one of the women casting a startled glance at him before lowering her gaze. He had no doubt as to the state of his appearance. He had not taken the time to bathe, shave, or even change his clothes since he’d gone to Victor’s house. He could smell himself. Frowning in disgust he brought the food back. There were more important things than his vanity now.
“Will you eat something, Victor?” He said imploringly, lifting a small spoonful of boiled apples, cool and soft. Victor’s glossy eyes tracked it as it was brought it to his mouth, until it was right below his nose. He shifted his gaze to Henry’s and hesitatingly opened his mouth. Henry gently fed him and watched as Victor’s mouth and throat worked to get the soft fruit down, gagging only slightly. Henry smiled brilliantly at him. Victor accepted another two small spoons, and a drink of water before laying back, turning his head away rather than watch Henry eat his own small meal.
As Henry helped Victor to the bathroom he seemed steadier on his feet as well and he could take a bit more of his own weight than before. Henry drew him a bath, something he had not bothered with the day before. Victor looked at it without enthusiasm.
“You should draw a bath for yourself, old friend.” He said wearily. “You’re starting to look worse than me.”
“If you turned your face to the mirror, you would see that is not true.” Henry replied, but without real conviction. He helped Victor into the tub and then sat on a stool for just a second, possibly drifting off for a moment. He woke as he started falling sideways and went to find Victor a clean shirt and some new sheets. Victor watched him as he returned.
“You are wearing yourself out.” He said as Henry helped him back to bed. “Have you slept at all these last few nights?” Henry glared at him silently in reply. On the way back in the bedroom Victor somehow managed to persuade Henry to catch a little sleep.
“I can’t leave you alone.” He protested.
“Then don’t.” Henry let himself be pulled by the sleeve until he lay next to Victor, on top of the covers as he had done what felt like a week ago. He had time to think it a bad idea before sank into dreamless sleep.
When Henry woke it was early afternoon by the light through the windows. His head was still heavy, but clearer than for some time and he felt at least a little refreshed for the sleep. Victor half-sat next to him, keeping a shaking grip on Henry’s book of poetry. He looked gaunter, paler and the dark rings under his eyes seemed like bruises. Henry wasn’t sure if Victor was really reading, or just staring at the book. Still, the sight of him awake and alive filled him with joy.
“Go take a bath, Henry.” Victor said quietly, without looking up. Henry sighed.
“Do you need anything before?”
“There’s still some water on the bedside table, I’m sure I can manage to survive.” Henry was not so sure that Victor’s trembling hands would let him hold the glass, but he allowed the comment to pass. He felt hesitant to leave Victor alone, but then if Victor had wanted to escape the bedroom he probably could have crawled over Henry on his way out without waking him.
Henry got up, stiff and tired, to get some clean clothes and his razor from his own room, but opted to use the bathroom in Victor’s quarters to bathe. He turned on the water to fill the tub, and then turned to his injured hand. He had not changed the bandages since Victor had wrapped them. He cursed himself for a fool, it wouldn’t do to let himself develop sepsis while tending to Victor. It did not feel hot or swollen anymore though, and he had been able to use it during the last days. As he unwrapped it he found pink and healing cuts. They had wept into the bandages, but the fluid seemed clear and not foul-smelling. Even the bigger cut, with its uneven row of stitches, was healing nicely. He washed his hand carefully under the tap and left it unwrapped, but kept it out of the water as he sank into the warm water of the tub.
The warmth soaked into his muscles, and he forced himself to wash quickly for fear of falling asleep again. After quickly drying and dressing he stuck his head out to check on Victor. His friend was reclined in bed, much as he’d left him, still looking at, or through, the pages of the book. He looked up as he heard Henry and chuckled weakly. Henry supposed he made a silly figure: water staining his shirt, unshaven and rubbing at his hair with a towel, causing it to fall in messy spikes.
“Do you need anything, Victor?”
“No, you finish.” Victor’s voice was still weak. Henry ducked back into the bathroom to shave. It felt almost more refreshing than the sleep. He retrieved his hairbrush and some clean bandages and sat by Victor’s bedside. Victor’s gaze fastened on the bandages, no doubt remembering what else lay in the bag they came from. Henry really did need to move the morphine. As Henry unrolled the bandages Victor reached for them.
“Let me.” If anything, Victor was even slower in wrapping his hand this time. The worst of the muscle cramps seemed to have passed, but his hands shook uncontrollably. Henry let him take his time, wondering if Victor did this out of a sense of guilt, a need to repay him or just a desire to do something for a friend. He hoped for the latter.
Afterwards, Henry brushed his drying hair and Victor picked up the book again.
“I never thought I’d find a book of poetry in your possession.” Victor’s voice was amused. “I can’t believe you’ve gotten it yourself. Is there some noble lady trying to win your affections?” Henry shot him a sharp look.
“Are you not the one always telling me to read poetry?” Victor raised an eyebrow at him.
“So it is a lady?” Henry sighed. He was happy that Victor was in a better mood, but the topic of this conversation was not one he enjoyed.
“Victor, what woman would have me?” Even with the title, he’d be hard pressed finding one willing to look past his skin.
“Unrequited love, then.” There was a note of sympathy in Victor’s voice. Henry closed his eyes. It hit too close to the deeply buried truth.
“It’s a book of poetry, Victor. No deeper meaning, no great romantic tragedy, just a book.” He let a bit of annoyance bleed into his tone and Victor mercifully dropped the matter.
“Will you read it to me, Henry?” Sighing, Henry took the book. He was less keen to read to Victor now that his friend was fully awake and aware, but he did not want Victor to resume his line of questioning. The poem on the open page was entitled ‘To Sleep’. Henry figured that Victor did not need the reminder and started on the next page instead. Victor sighed and leaned back with eyes closed.
Henry was not fond of poetry. He found it exaggerated and faintly ridiculous, especially the Romantic poets that Victor favoured. He may have looked through the book a few times, though, in late evenings. May have read a few lines and thought of his dear friend.
His throat was getting dry when they were interrupted by a knock at the outer door to Victor’s quarters. His butler, Collins, stood outside.
“Sir Malcolm Murray is here to see you, Lord Hyde.” As always the man was carefully neutral. It was one of the reasons Henry could stand him. “I told him you would not see him, but he was insistent. He said it was a matter of some urgency, my lord.” Henry resisted the urge to sigh in annoyance. The name was vaguely familiar. If the man had managed to persuade his butler to disturb him he was likely to prove aggravating. Better to deal with such men sooner rather than later. Victor had seemed to feel better.
“Wait here.” He said and closed the door, returning to Victor’s bedside. “How are you feeling, Victor?” Victor turned a pale gaze at him.
“Tired of you asking me that.” Henry rolled his eyes and waited. “Better. There’s less pain, less cold. Though I haven’t slept at all.”
“What about the addiction?” Victor’s eyes turned sharp at the question.
“I am in control, Henry.” He said shortly.
“You will get a chance to prove it to me. I need to attend to something. It won’t take long and I don’t want to return to you trying to open my cupboards with a letter knife.” Victor looked at him humourlessly, but gave a slight nod. Henry helped him to hold the water glass to drink before he dressed himself in a black waistcoat and jacket of expensive make and ran his fingers through his hair, making sure to look every inch the stern Lord Hyde. He locked the doors before he left, following his butler.
Sir Malcolm Murray cut an imposing figure, and it was clear he knew it. As Henry entered the room Sir Malcolm fixed him with steely eyes.
“Lord Hyde.” His voice was that of a man used to getting his way. Henry disliked him immediately.
“Sir Malcolm.” Henry hept his own voice and face cool and reserved. “Forgive me for keeping this brief, but I am quite busy. What brings you here with such urgency?”
“A common acquaintance: Dr Victor Frankenstein.” Henry must have made some small facial expression, as Sir Malcolm gained a knowing look. That was why the name was familiar: he was one of Victor’s friends. One of those who had dragged him though danger and sorrow and then left him alone to seek comfort in the needle. Henry had not expected any of them to come looking for him.
“And what led you here?” Henry maintained his cool tone, his composed expression.
“A man of your description with a fine carriage in such a neighbourhood does not go unnoticed.” Henry’s eyes narrowed. “There were quite a few people that remembered you leaving together. I assume he is still here. May I see him?” Malcolm maintained his infuriating tone of polite inquiry underlined with smugness. A faint, assured smile pulled at the corner of his mouth and eyes.
“No, sir,” Henry answered, his tone growing colder. “You may not, though I will let Dr Frankenstein know you came.” The old man’s eyebrows drew down marginally, smirk disappearing. “If there is nothing else, I am busy.” Sir Malcolm could not continue insisting. He gave Henry an irked look as he made the goodbye that etiquette demanded. Henry turned on his heel and exited the room. Outside he passed his butler.
“Make sure he leaves.” He said in a low voice, barely waiting for acknowledgement before heading briskly back towards his rooms.
Henry did not find Victor with a letter knife in front of the cupboard. He was sitting on the side of the bed, looking sceptically at his bare feet, which shook same as his hands.
“Looking to escape, old man?” Henry said as he removed his jacket, smiling to show he was jesting. Victor did not look up
“It is a fine bed, Henry, but I grow tired of it.” He seemed to have lost his good mood from earlier. For a brief moment Henry considered not telling him about his visitor. But that would raise questions later, and Victor did not deserve the lie.
“Your Sir Malcolm came here looking for you.” By his face, the visit came as a surprise to Victor too. “I sent him away. I didn’t think you were up for a visitor right now.” Victor nodded, still with a surprised expression.
“What did he want?”
“He didn’t say, just asked to meet you.” Victor was quiet for a moment, thinking it over. “He was not pleased to be denied.”
“That sounds like him.” Victor mused.
Henry considered prying further, but that old burn of jealousy, the one that whispered that Victor did not need his friendship nearly as much as he needed Victor’s made him keep his tongue. He did not want to hear it right now. The sound of the servants entering and quietly placing down their dinner gave him the new course of action. He sat down opposite Victor, surreptitiously gauging his pupil size, breathing and tremors. It did seem that the withdrawal was subsiding.
“Do you feel up to eating at the table tonight?” He said, as if they’d had dinner at all these last days. Victor swallowed, and shook his head. “I’ll bring you something then, something mild.” Henry got a small table and placed in front of Victor and went to retrieve some food. There was a soup with pieces of meat and vegetables floating in a clear broth. He brought a bowl for Victor, together with something more filling for himself. Henry sat opposite Victor at the table and watched as his friend fed himself with agonizing slowness, bent close over his bowl. Though he didn’t need to be persuaded for every spoonful, his shaking hands meant that only a small amount made it to his lips. Henry watched him, paying little attention to his own meal. When he could not bear it any longer he quietly offered his help. Victor accepted and let Henry sit next to him and feed him.
That evening Henry asked Victor if he wanted him to stay. Victor replied in the negative and Henry went to his own bed after making Victor promise to call him if needed. He left the door between their bedrooms open. In the night he woke to Victor standing swaying above him. He followed Victor back to bed and read to him until he seemed to fall into a restless drowse. Henry spent the rest of the night by his bedside.
The morning light shone through the east-facing windows and landed on Victor where he lay, perhaps asleep at last. Henry spent a long time just watching him, noting the way the light cast small shadows from his eyelashes over his cheekbones. How it gave his pale skin an unworldly glow. Victor stirred, squinting against the sunlight and breaking the spell of stillness.
“I think I slept a little.” He sounded amazed and exhausted.
“I don’t know that it is possible for you not to sleep after all this time.” Henry smiled. “You are on the road to recovery, Victor. Do you feel it? It is plain for me to see.” Victor shook his head against the pillows.
“The road may be too long for me, old friend. I fear my legs are failing me already.” There was such weariness in Victor’s eyes as he looked at Henry.
“Do not worry about the road, Victor. Concern yourself about today. Think only of this morning.” Victor smiled wanly, raising an eyebrow.
“And leave you to take care of the rest?”
“I will.” Henry answered sincerely. “Now, I don’t believe you need my help to get around anymore, do you? Go draw yourself a bath, there is time before breakfast. I believe you will find your clothes in the wardrobe.” Victor rolled his eyes, perhaps discomforted by his previous helpless state.
“Very well, mother hen.” Henry smiled in answer. He did keep an eye on Victor as he got up though, making sure that he really was steady on his feet. Victor waved him away. Henry took the opportunity to see to his own hygiene. He washed, then realised that his shaving set in Victor’s bathroom. Come to think of it, maybe Victor would like assistance with his own thickening stubble. Henry dressed, bypassing his waistcoat, not wanting to stain it with shaving soap. Seeing Victor was still in the bathroom Henry sat down to brush his hair.
As Victor came out he looked much like himself, dressed in his own clothes that were only slightly loose due to his weight loss, rather than Henry’s nightshirts which hung on him. It was a good sight.
“You look better, old man. How about I help you shave?” Victor sighed, sinking down on a chair.
“I have done nothing for myself these last days, you’ve had to help me with the slightest thing. I don’t wish to burden you further, Henry.”
“I have done nothing that you would not have done for me. Nothing that falls outside our profession.” Henry took his hand, trying to show his sincerity. “I am happy to have you here, Victor, happy to do anything I can for you.” Victor looked back, still with a troubled frown. He turned to Henry’s other hand, the one still wrapped in bandages.
“You’ll need that removed then.” His hand trembled as he unwrapped the cloth. He ran his finger gently over the dark stitches near the base of the thumb. “I think you could leave the bandages off. I’m surprised it’s healing as well as it has.”
“You underestimate yourself, Victor.” Victor gave him a wry look.
“Never thought I’d hear you say that.” Henry brought a chair into the bathroom for Victor to sit on and gave him a towel to lay over his chest. He tied back his own long hair so it wouldn’t fall in his eyes. Softly he covered his friend’s face in white foam. Then he carefully brought the razor to his skin. Victor sat very still and Henry worked slowly from the neck up, watching every contour as he bared them to the air, naming every underlying bone structure and muscle in his mind as he moved over it. It was meditative. He was above the symphysis mandibulae, right below Victor’s lips, when the thought came unbidden: How would it feel to kiss them?
He stilled. Victor noticed and made a questioning sound, mindful of the blade still hovering over his skin.
“Nothing.” Henry muttered and resumed his work.
He resolutely stamped down that stray thought, as he did with any similar thought that would enter his mind. That way lay madness. That was not the person Henry wanted to be. He thought of nothing but the razor over skin.
After he finished Victor complemented him on his work and borrowed of his aftershave. Then he left Henry to shave his own face. He managed to nick himself just under the lip. The scented alcohol stung his face and the thought that Victor would wear the same smell forced him to close his eyes and once again order his thoughts. He emerged from the bathroom with a clear mind.
Thank you everyone who has read, left kudos, bookmarked, subscribed or commented on this fic! You make me so very happy!! Today's chapter is a little longer than the last, and was one of those "Is this good or is this terrible?" kind of chapters... I hope you enjoy it!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Victor did seem better, invigorated by the shave and fresh clothes. Since he was steady enough on his feet, Henry suggested a walk through the garden to put some colour back on Victor’s face. The fresh air felt good after so many days indoors.
After that he showed Victor the old kitchen, a stone building set slightly apart from the rest of the house. It was where he intended to create his new laboratory. The walls would withstand any accidents that may occur and the windows were high enough up as to not let the light oxidise his chemicals. Victor had some suggestions of his own on how to adapt it. Henry did not show Victor more of the manor’s interior. There were many places in the house where he preferred not to go. Victor didn’t ask, perhaps tired from the exertion, or perhaps sensing Henry’s reluctance.
They retreated back to their quarters for lunch. Victor really was better and ate with a bit more vigour. The tremor was still there, together with the sudden swings in mood, but he was clear of the most acute phase of withdrawal.
Afterwards they sat in comfortable silence in Henry’s study. Victor flipping through the pages of a book and Henry going over some papers related to his estate. There was a knock on the door, Henry called out for them to enter. His butler came.
“Lord Hyde, there is a visitor.” He said with a small glance at Victor, unwilling to say too much in front of his guest. Henry motioned for him to go on. “It is Sir Malcolm Murray again, my lord. He is wishing to see Dr Frankenstein.” Henry sighed and looked to Victor. His friend’s face bore a frown.
“I can’t imagine he would come calling two days in a row without good reason.” Henry nodded. He couldn’t very well prevent Victor from seeing him.
“Very well. Collins, find somewhere for Sir Malcolm to wait for us.” The butler nodded and left the room. Henry got up and went to get his jacket. Victor did not seem to mind going as he was, in his waistcoat and shirtsleeves. As Henry checked himself in the mirror. Victor teased him about his vanity. Henry replied with something suitably haughty and a raised eyebrow. Victor didn’t realise how important it was to present oneself as proper in dress and speech and carriage when your skin belied all status. Where Victor could come dressed in rolled up sleeves and unbuttoned waistcoat and still receive his due respect, Henry would be disregarded based on nothing more than his complexion. He did not know if Victor could understand that would he try to explain.
They followed a servant to a drawing room where Sir Malcolm waited. Collins was good at reading his mood, Henry admitted, as the room Sir Malcolm had been shown to was quite large, with a refined extravagance meant to be imposing.
“Sir Malcolm!” Victor exclaimed, reaching his hand out to grasp Sir Malcolm’s in a warm handshake.
“Victor! How good to see you.” Henry felt a flash of jealousy at the intimate address.
“Sir Malcolm.” He said coolly. He got an equally reserved ‘Lord Hyde’ in reply, before the man turned to Victor again.
“I must admit I was surprised when I learned that you were in Hyde manor of all places, doctor. There must be quite a story behind how you came to be here.” Victor hesitated for a moment, clearly not wanting to delve into his overdose and subsequent withdrawal. Henry decided to come to his rescue.
“Not at all. Doctor Frankenstein and I are old friends, he is here visiting.” Sir Malcolm lifted an eyebrow.
“Is that so?”
“Lord Hyde and I studied together.” Victor said, mercifully maintaining the formal address. Perhaps seeing scepticism in the older man he added. “I’ve not been well. He’s been letting me stay here for a while.” Sir Malcolm’s expression softened a little.
“I’m sorry to hear that. Is there anything I can do for you?” Victor replied in the negative.
They sat down, a servant bringing tea. The conversation was light, and Henry was silent for the most part. No use souring Victor’s reunion with his own dislike of this man. When Victor asked what had brought him here, the older man shot the briefest look at Henry, as though he would prefer to discuss it without him present. Henry pretended not to notice, he would leave if Victor asked him to and not before.
“There is a matter that could use your expertise, doctor.” Victor raised an eyebrow.
“Surely not an illness or injury if you have not found another doctor to help you by now.”
“No. I think it may have a connection to the work we have done previously.” He must be referring to that outrageous story of vampires and ancient evil that Victor had told. Henry wondered how much of it had been truth, and how much drugged fever dreams. Victor gave Sir Malcolm a sharp look of surprise.
“I thought that work was finished.”
“I’m not sure that it is. There has been some… disturbing rumours.” That was why he was here, Henry realised: not to check on Victor’s wellbeing but to drag him back into the darkness, whatever it was.
Victor sighed and placed his teacup down, rattling it softly against the saucer. He looked down at his trembling hands.
“Sir Malcolm, I want to help, but I fear I may not be of much use at the moment.” He shot Henry a look, Henry tried not to look pleased that Victor would not run headlong after Sir Malcolm so soon after recovering.
“Doctor, you must. I will tell you later, there really is some urgency to this.” And he sounded urgent.
“What is this urgency then?” The old man didn’t answer. “You can speak freely, I’ve already told Lord Hyde about it.” The small act of trust warmed Henry, as did the brief flicker of surprise on Sir Malcolm’s face. The older man sighed, looking warily at Henry, and begun his tale.
It appeared that not all of the evil creatures they had fought were dead. There had been sightings, strange rumours, and bodies found cannibalised. Sir Malcolm had managed to get access to a body and wanted Victor examine it to try to see if he could find something irregular. Henry was stunned. Sir Malcolm did not go into details, but what he said confirmed Victor’s story. Was this some shared madness then? A break in the psyche after the loss of their friend that caused them to lapse into psychosis? Or was there something out there, some dark twist of nature not yet explained by science?
It was clear that Victor took the news gravely. When Sir Malcolm was finished, Victor looked at Henry as if asking his guidance. Quietly Henry replied:
“You are your own man, old friend. If you think you need to see to this: go. But I urge you to think of your health first.” Victor rubbed at his eyes, looking worn.
“Will you come with us?” The question took Henry by surprise. “I would probably be better off with you to help me with the body.” There was no question to Henry. Though he didn’t want Victor out there, did not want to spend more time in the company of Sir Malcolm, most of all he did not want Victor alone right now.
They left Sir Malcolm to retrieve Victor’s bag. Henry wondered if Victor would ask for his narcotics back, but he did not. During the cab-ride to the mortuary Victor sat next to Henry, warm against his side.
The mortuary were no different from any other. They were shown to the corpse, told they could do what they wanted with it, the police was done, there were no relatives. It was an old man. Half his face was missing, flesh torn off and broken bones shining through.
“Most of the other ones had their heart removed.” Sir Malcolm said, stepping close. “This one did not. The police heard screaming and found it before it could be done.” Victor bent over it. Henry opted to stay to the side until he was needed. On the chest and abdomen were a bruise or abrasion of an unnatural shape – circles and jagged lines interlocking. Victor turned its head.
“There are wounds, and judging by the pallor, I’d say he’d been drained of blood.” Absurd, utterly absurd. Henry thought to himself as he took a step closer. On the neck was what looked like two small stab wounds, a dark bruise surrounding them. The corpse was indeed pale.
“It could be anaemia.” He commented.
“Perhaps.” It was not an agreement. Victor shifted the corpse, revealing a portion of its back. “But there is no livor mortis: no blood for gravity to pull down to bruise the back.” He added, for Sir Malcolm’s benefit. Henry swallowed.
“I have had the markings photographed, and I will see if I can find anything about them. In the meanwhile, doctor, would you like to perform your examination?” Victor nodded at Sir Malcolm’s words. He rolled up his sleeves, took his scalpel from his bag and made the first incision in an uneven line. He opened the thorax without too much trouble. There was something strange about the heart. It was dark though the filmy sac of the pericardium and the shape was wrong, enlarged and bulbous. Victor ran his fingers over it, captivated.
“It feels firmer than it should. I would like to look closer at it.” He clenched his hands briefly. “Henry, you’ll have to help me with this.” Interested, Henry removed his jacket and rolled up his sleeves. He cut open the pericardium, careful not to dirty the healing cuts on his hand. The heart was dark indeed. He cut it from its hollow and lifted it out, placing it on the table. He made his incisions according to Victor’s precise instructions, rolling his eyes when he became too overbearing, reminding Victor that he knew what he was doing. Several times his hair fell into his eyes and he wished he’d tied it back, and several times Victor pointed at something, placing his finger perilously close to the scalpel. It was frustrating and fascinating. What they found was astounding. Inside the ventricular walls there were stones embedded. Rounded and of varied shapes, the biggest the size of a large walnut.
“I’ve never heard of anything like this.” Victor breathed after they had extracted them.
“I don’t see how his heart could have even worked.” Henry took one of the stones between his fingers. Flat and oblong, it was cold, but warming to his touch. It was slightly patterned under his thumb and the shape reminded him of something.
“What are they?” Sir Malcolm reached over to grab one and Henry nearly jumped, having forgotten his presence entirely.
“I have no idea.” Victor said thoughtfully. The old man nodded and wrapped the stones up in a handkerchief, staining it red.
“Very well then. I’ll bring them along with the photographs.” Victor nodded, looking at the lungs where they lay in their cavity, perfectly normal to the eye.
“I would like to take a look at the other organs. See if there is anything similar there.”
There wasn’t. Not in the liver or kidneys, nor in the brain. They were all perfectly normal for a man of that age.
“This seems to be a matter of the heart.” Victor said, smiling slightly as he turned to wash his hands. Henry shook his head with a faint smile as he finished stitching up the corpse, the organs placed safely inside.
“I take it it was medicine you studied together.” Sir Malcolm said.
“Yes.” Victor was still eyeing the corpse as he replied.
“An odd choice for the eldest son of a Lord.” Sir Malcolm’s assessing eyes were on Henry as he tied off his sutures. Henry’s reply was cool.
“Not at all, my father was a great supporter of my studies.” After all, it had kept him away. Victor stepped in, knowing the subject to be a sensitive one for Henry.
“Who do you intend to see about these findings, Sir Malcolm?”
“I was thinking of Ms Hartdegen. She may know something, or know someone else who does.” They said not much more as they finished up and left. Sir Malcolm went his way, and Victor and Henry theirs. Victor opted to sit beside Henry rather than opposite. By his silence and demeanour he seemed to be feeling the withdrawal keenly now that the excitement was over. Henry himself slumped against the seat, the effects of too many nights with too little sleep making itself known.
As they reached their rooms Henry asked quietly.
“What happened to that man, Victor?” Victor shrugged.
“I can’t say. Something supernatural.” Henry frowned uneasily.
“Victor, there is no such thing.” Victor looked at him with a raised brow.
“How would you explain what we saw tonight?”
“An imbalance, some infiltration of minerals.”
“An infiltration taking the shape of insects? Rolled-up worms and beetles?” Henry inhaled sharply. A beetle. That what was the stone he’d held had been. “I told you about my work with Sir Malcolm.” Victor narrowed his eyes. ”You did not believe me.” There was exasperation in his voice. Henry looked down, abashed.
“It was a difficult story to believe.” This did not serve to pacify Victor.
“And yet you believed me when I told you about the horrible results of my research. Why then?” Henry looked him in the eye.
“Because I know you, Victor. I know what you are able to achieve.” Victor looked back, somewhat mollified. He looked tired, the marks under his eyes were darker and the tremble of his hands was stronger. “I’m sorry, Victor. I believe you now.”
“I suppose that will have to do then.” He turned away. “I think it’s time for supper.”
Victor ate less at dinner than he had at lunch. If Henry didn’t know him he would have thought that their earlier activities had turned his stomach, but Victor had never shown that particular sensitivity before. Henry spent the meal trying to make him eat, which only resulted in Victor losing his temper.
“Stop mothering me, Henry!” He slammed his cup down on the table. “You are driving me insane with this constant nagging.” Henry took a deep breath, not allowing himself to respond in kind.
“You need to eat, Victor.” Henry calmly started, before he was interrupted.
“I am more than capable to care for myself.” Henry’s hand clenched around his cutlery. He was too tired for this.
“Are you?” Victor glared at him. Henry sighed bitterly, rose and stepped away from the table. He pressed his fingers against his eyes, counting his breaths.
Victor was quiet for a while, and then the clinking of china and poring of liquid were heard. He appeared at Henry’s elbow, wordlessly handing him a cup of tea and going into the study. Henry sighed and followed.
They sat in stillness for a while, Victor with a book and Henry with his papers.
“Henry,” Victor started, his voice quiet. “I’m sorry. I don’t want to fight, I’m just so tired.” Henry turned to him.
“You need to give it time, old friend.” Victor shook his head and said in a level tone:
“It is not food or time I need, but sleep.” Henry tensed, sensing where this was heading. Victor kept going, his expression painfully sincere. “I need the morphine, Henry.”
“Don’t ask me that, Victor.” Henry said, furrowing his brow.
“You will need to give me a dose, or my health will begin to deteriorate.” Victor frowned. “You know the effects of sleep deprivation on the psyche.”
“No. Don’t ask me again.” Henry said with finality. Victor lost his composure.
“You appoint yourself my doctor, but you won’t give me medicine when I need it?” A surge of anger drove Henry from his seat.
“I won’t give you the means to destroy yourself!” He said as he stalked towards Victor, who rose to face him.
“You enjoy this. Does ordering me around make up for your inadequacies, Lord Hyde?” He said, scornfully. Henry clenched his fists.
“I am helping you, Victor.”
“I can care for myself!”
“You clearly can not! Less than a week ago you were dying of an overdose!”
“It was a miscalculation!”
“Was it?” Henry was shouting now. “I find that hard to believe, doctor!” Victor scoffed.
“Believe what you will!”
“Are you trying to kill yourself, Victor?”
“That’s absurd, I’m not suicidal!”
“Convince me Victor!” Henry stepped closer. “Convince me that you will not inject a whole bottle if I turn my back.”
“If you turn your back I will.” Victor’s voice was dark.
“Don’t say that!” Henry shouted, grabbing Victor’s shoulders and giving him a shake.
“I just want to sleep!” Victor exclaimed and shoved Henry away. “Besides, what does it matter? You have your wealth and title, soon you will have the recognition for your work. Better that you do not have me like a millstone around your neck! You don’t care, Henry! Neither you, nor anyone else would be worse off for my death!”
“I would! I love you, Victor! Your death would destroy me!”
As soon as the words left his lips, Henry regretted them. Victor met them with stunned silence, understanding their meaning clearly. “I wish it wasn’t so.” Henry said bitterly into the silence, not meeting Victor’s gaze. With his eyes at the floor he said: “I wish I was free of this unnatural yearning that plague me, this perversion of love. It disgusts me.” Victor cut him off, a desperate pleading in his voice.
“No, Henry, please be quiet.” Henry looked up and met Victor’s expression of fearful disbelief, any trace of anger gone. “Take it back. Deny it!” Henry could not talk past the knot that was forming in his throat.
Victor shook his head disbelievingly, the shimmer of tears in his eyes. “You are my true friend! Were your words just lies? For how long? How long have you been lying to me! Is our friendship just some depraved scheme to-” He mercifully didn’t finish.
“No, Victor.” Henry said desperately. He took a step closer to Victor. Stopped. “It was never that. I always knew it was wrong, I never acted on it. I am your true friend.” Victor hit him. Pain shot through Henry’s jaw, and he reflexively fisted his hands.
“There is nothing true about you.” He spat, turning away and covering his eyes with his palm. Even now trusting Henry not to retaliate.
Unthinkingly, Henry reached for him. Victor recoiled, moving quickly away from reach. Henry let his arm drop and slid to the floor, leaning his back against a bookshelf. Tears started falling from his eyes. What madness had seized him? What had possessed him to speak so to Victor? To lay bare those darkest parts of his soul? For so long he had supressed these thoughts, this yearning to hold and touch. Done so more successfully than he’d ever been able to control his temper; most days these sinful urges did not exist to him. When he had been separated from Victor he was able to think of him only fondly. When he was with him he was able to lay his hand on him in only friendship. But in these last long days he had been worn down with fear and worry. With the constant proximity. With the constant need to care for Victor and to save him. His mind must have suffered some break, weakening the walls he had put up against the darkness. And now he may very well have ruined the friendship with the only person that mattered to him.
He did not know how long he spent in self-recrimination with tears running down his cheeks. At some point he noticed that Victor had sat down on the floor at the far end of the room with his profile to Henry, both turned away and able to keep an eye on him. Victor did not cry. He looked hollow, betrayed. It cut Henry like a knife to see him like this.
Not knowing what else there was to be said, and possessed by some feeling of hopeless unreality, Henry’s thoughts turned to a passage from that damned book of poetry that had stuck in his mind. Almost without conscious thought he gave it voice:
“Talk not of love, it gives me pain, for love has been my foe. He bound me in an iron chain and plunged me deep in woe.” There was a moment of silence, then Victor quoted back, sounding pained.
“Your friendship much can make me blest, o why that bliss destroy? Why urge the only one request, you know I will deny?” Henry had known those words would be Victor’s reply as soon as he’d read them.
“I do not urge it, Victor.” Henry’s voice was low, cautious. “Your friendship has always been enough for me.” It was true; Henry only hoped that Victor saw it. “Will you leave?” He tried to keep his voice even, not sure if he succeeded. Victor sighed.
“I don’t know.” Victor rubbed at his eyes. “I’m too tired to think, and you…” He didn’t continue. Henry nodded, though Victor wasn’t looking at him. He didn’t say anything, didn’t move. He felt as though he had no voice. “I’m going to bed. You stay here. If you have any regard for me you stay away.” The distrust in Victor’s voice cut Henry. He looked down as Victor got up and walked out.
Long after he’d heard Victor close the door to his bedroom (it didn’t lock, but Henry would have never touched it) he rose unsteadily. In a daze he walked into his own bedroom, avoiding the closed door with his eyes. Without undressing he laid on top of the covers and stared out the window at the moon until he drifted into uneasy sleep.
Victor lay in a daze on the bed. On Henry’s bed in Henry’s house. He was in shock, his mind spinning; disbelieving. A part of him rejected what Henry had said, wanting to bury it, forget it, or think it some insane joke or misunderstanding. But the truth of it had been so painfully clear. The instant Henry realised what he’d said, Victor saw the horror in his eyes, saw the truth deep buried. How many years? How many years had Henry been like this? How was it possible to misjudge a man so completely? He’d thought he knew who Henry was, thought theirs an unwavering friendship. What was that friendship based on? Some aberrant attraction from Henry’s side?
Every conversation, every touch that had ever passed between them twisted in Victor’s memory. Turned from expressions of a close friendship to something dark and unnatural. Victor’s head ached trying to hold it all. His heart ached. He turned and twisted, his thoughts circling throughout the night, interspersed with flickers of sleep.
Henry woke late, with aching eyes and head. For a moment his mind was blank from sleep and then the pain in his heart overshadowed everything else. The door to Victor’s room was closed. He didn’t open it. He went into his study. The servants hadn’t been there and Victor’s teacup stood on a side table. He left the study, went to the bathroom to wash. The face that met him in the mirror looked hollow. There was a bruise at the corner of his mouth, his lip split, and a line of dried blood down his chin. It felt numb to the touch. He washed the blood away. Exited the bathroom. Victor’s door was closed. He lay down on the bed and waited.
Maybe an hour later Victor opened the door and walked briskly through it. He was dressed, but not carrying his bags. He didn’t look at Henry as he passed him on his way into the study. Henry got up and followed him hesitantly.
Victor was scanning the bookshelves, pulled out a thick book of pathology and then continued to look.
“Victor.” Henry said, not sure how to continue. Victor didn’t look up, he just kept selecting books from the shelves.
“I can’t talk to you right now, Henry.” He sounded tired, and there was a tension around his eyes. Henry swallowed. “I almost walked out this morning. Would have, if you hadn’t locked the door.” His voice turned acidic for a moment. “But I’m not sure I would walk back.” There was a small prick of hope in Henry’s chest. “I need to think, I need to…” He didn’t finish, just took a final book, turned around and slammed the door.
The servants came with food. Henry instructed them to set the table for Victor in his rooms, gave them the key. He ate mechanically, laying down his fork within minutes of picking it up, almost choking on the food. The day passed without his conscious notice. Victor’s door remained closed. There was nothing he could do, only wait. When darkness fell he washed, changed and lay in bed running his thumb over the stitches Victor had made.
Victor spent the day trying to find something even slightly similar to the findings in the dead man’s heart in the books. He could not. His attention wavered and there was a sick burn in his throat, a clenching in his chest. His thoughts kept turning back to Henry, his feelings swirling between anger, betrayal, disgust and despair. It was exhausting. He needed the quiet, needed the peace of mind that came from the needle. It was hard to think, his thoughts shattering as he tried and tried and failed to not think of it. By the time he lay down to sleep his thoughts were revolving entirely around the morphine.
It was dark when Henry woke. He did not know what had woken him, but he sat up in bed, uneasy. There was the faintest glow coming from the half closed door to his study. Behind it Victor kneeled, ghostly in his white nightshirt and lit by a single candle next to the unlocked cupboard. Henry’s bag was in front of him, the case where he kept his injections open in his hands.
“Victor!” Henry hissed, slamming his knees against the floor as he knelt next to him. He yanked the case away from him, grabbed his shoulders and shook him. “Did you take it?” He pulled at the sleeves of Victor’s nightshirt, frantically checking for needle marks. Victor slumped defeated, eyes hollow.
“Henry, please. I just want to sleep. Let me have just a little.” His voice was quietly imploring, the difference from their last conversation jarring. Henry stilled, assured that he had made it there before Victor could restart his vicious cycle. Victor looked at him, swallowed hard. Henry still held his wrists. Victor reached out with a badly trembling hand and laid it on Henry’s chest. “Give me just a little, and I’ll let you do what you want with me.”
Henry let him go as if burnt, scrambled away from Victor as if he’d turned into a snake. The words cut him to the heart, aimed at the very darkest recesses of his soul. There was no temptation. Only the pain of having his friend think so low of him.
“I don’t want that, Victor.” His voice shook. “I never want that.” Victor was still sitting on his knees with his arm half-raised. His silhouette wavered, gained a glowing aura in the candle light. “It’s not your body I want.” Henry’s voice broke. “I just want you back as my friend!” He pulled his knees to his chest, lowered his face and tried to hide his shameful tears.
- - -
In a moment crushing guilt overshadowed the burning need for morphine. Victor was at once reminded of the Henry of their school years: caustic and vicious to their bullies during the day, but worn down and broken in the dark nights of their shared room. Then as now trying and failing to hide his tears behind his curtain of dark hair. Then Victor had comforted him. Now Victor was the one who hurt him. This was still Henry. Henry who had tried to help him to regain Lily (Victor’s heart ached at the thought of her) despite his feelings towards Victor. Still Victor’s friend first, no matter what unnatural desires his heart held.
Victor swallowed and crawled towards him on his knees. Henry did not notice. His head was bent down, his shoulders shaking. Victor placed his hand softly on his old friend’s shoulder.
“Forgive me, Henry.” Victor’s voice was small and quiet. A jolt went through Henry at his touch, but he didn’t look up, did not stop shaking. Victor kept his hand there, though the gesture felt strange. It was at the same time too intimate for a man who had likely lied to him as long as they’d known each other, and too distant for his closest friend.
He sat with Henry until his tears dried out. Then he told him that he needed to leave. Henry did not protest, did nothing to stop him. Victor left him there on the floor. In the morning he left the manor.
So sad... We are now seeing things from Victor's POV, and will continue to do so for a while. Thank you for reading!
The poem quoted is "Love In The Guise Of Friendship" by Robert Burns.
Victor returned to his flat, looking at it with sober eyes for the first time in a long time. It was in shambles. Broken glass littered the floor. It smelled. He placed his bags down and went looking for his hidden stashes of narcotics. He found a broken syringe, an empty bottle. What Henry (and how he ached at the thought) hadn’t taken, Victor must have used in those last few weeks when life seemed to hold less and less meaning. There had been no research. No evil to defeat. His friends had all been absorbed by theirs. There had seemed to be less and less reason to hold back. Less and less reason to reason to restrict himself to a low enough dose to remain functioning. So he didn’t. He had started taking more and more morphine. Started to reach out for that place where nothing mattered. He was fairly sure that whatever money he’d had, had been spent on opiates.
He rubbed his face. Now that his head was clear he saw clearly how perilously close to the edge of the abyss he had been. Still was. He shuddered. A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts.
“Victor, it’s good you’re here!” Ethan looked better than last they’d met, at Vanessa’s funeral. His eyes were clear and filled with purpose. “We need you. Might want to bring a change of clothes as well, I think we have our work cut out for us.” Victor picked up his bags, accepting the hand that might keep him on the right side of the edge for just a little longer and left the mess behind. They could stop at a druggist on the way.
At Grandage place the investigation was ongoing. Sir Malcolm was there with Ms Hartdegen. She apparently recalled reading about cannibalism and missing hearts, and thought the mark on the man’s chest familiar. The work she put them to was dull, reading through the dusty tomes she’d brought for references to some similar thing. The texts were old and heavy to read, the references cryptic and the work was slow for it. Some phrases that stood out was “disease of dark heart” and “madness of the blood”. They found an illustration of a mark that looked very similar to the one they sought. It appeared that this was not an isolated individual.
The papers reported on a dead woman, found in the river with her heart missing.
When the connection to some disease of the mind became clearer they brought Dr Seward in. She was able to help them put together an image of the mind of the deceased, and those like him. Finding such a person would be a good step on the way to finding out what kind of monsters they were dealing with. But the problem was the place where such a person was most likely to be found.
“Well, I imagine if a person has symptoms like these, delusion, psychosis, et cetera, they would not be able to care for themselves. There may be a few that are being cared for by their family, a few making their living on the street, but I’d think our best bet would be Bedlam.” Dr Seward’s reasoning made perfect sense, but inwardly Victor groaned. He did not want to go back there. He could not remain behind without a good reason though, not when the reasons for him to come were so many. He could not think of a reason to refuse other than what had happened between him and Henry.
And so it was that, three days after he’d left Hyde manor, Victor stood in front of the gates of Bethlem Hospital once more.
It was the same as it had been. Dark, in spirit if not in truth, and full of screaming, tragic souls. They went from cell to cell, Victor, Sir Malcolm, Ethan, Ms Hartdegen and Dr Seward, looking for a patient that might fit their description. Victor was forcibly calm, bolstered by the tiniest dose of morphine. During the days at Grandage place he’d kept the injections small and infrequent. Not enough to drift away, just enough to keep himself balanced. Sir Malcolm knew of his addiction, Ethan must know by now. He wasn’t sure if Dr Seward knew. She was a psychologist and not a psychiatrist, so who knew how familiar she was with the signs. He told himself it didn’t matter.
They looked at every patient, young and old. Some did obviously not fit the description they sought. Others held them up for quite some time, where they tried to talk to them and see if they could find out the particulars of their madness. Sometimes they had to move on without being certain.
With every corner they turned Victor tensed. Henry did not need to be here every day, did not need to be here at all since his inheritance, but Victor knew him. Knew that at a time like this he would throw himself into his work. With every side passage that opened, every cell door they passed he tensed. When, after an hour’s fruitless search, they rounded the corner and ran into him he wasn’t even surprised.
Henry was though. He stopped abruptly and his eyes widened. He was dressed for work: sleeves rolled up and hair messily tied back. In the dim light Victor could make out the scab on his lip from where he’d hit him. If there was any bruising remaining it was hidden by the shadows. He looked worn.
“Lord Hyde,” Sir Malcolm’s voice cut through that brief moment of stunned silence. “You are the last man I would expect to meet here.” His voice was just the wrong shade of pleasant surprise that Victor knew would rub Henry the wrong way. He didn’t care.
“I work here.” Henry said, narrowing his eyes, finding his footing. “I might say the same for you.” Sir Malcolm raised his brows.
“You treat these poor souls then? How fortuitous, we could use someone with knowledge of the inmates.” He said jovially. “Perhaps you would agree to help us?” Henry’s answer was cold.
“I don’t have the time.” He made as if to leave. Victor spoke.
“Take the time.” Henry stopped, looked at him sidelong. Victor wasn’t quite sure why he had spoken. Looking Henry in the eye felt like swallowing gravel.
“Very well.” He sounded tired. “What do you need?” Sir Malcolm made introductions, explained their findings, told him what they were looking for. Victor saw a spark of interest in Henry’s eye as Dr Seward explained the symptoms, but he kept his answers short, questions to a minimum and his tone cold. Fully retreated behind his carefully cultivated exterior of cool arrogance. Victor knew why he did it, but it aggravated him all the same. Henry had been more open when they first met, more accessible. Then he made himself unreachable to anyone but Victor. And now perhaps Victor couldn’t reach him either. Victor blinked and banished that thought from his mind. Dr Seward finished and Henry replied.
“There are at least one such patient here. I’ll take you to him.”
Victor walked at the back of the group. Ethan turned to him, speaking in a low voice.
“So you know him then, this Lord Hyde?”
“Yes.” Victor answered tonelessly.
“Well enough to order him around, no less.” Victor opened his mouth to protest, but found nothing to say. He understood how Ethan could have gotten that impression. And the defeated way Henry had agreed made it seem worse. His stomach turned. “Did you save his life or something?” Ethan continued, chuckling quietly as if remembering something.
“He saved mine.” Victor answered softly. Whatever Ethan saw on his face he didn’t ask any more about Henry. They walked through the dark corridors in silence.
They stopped before a wooden door. Henry extracted a keychain from his pocket and opened it. Inside it was a man, dirty and smelling like so many others here. He was chained to the wall. Dr Seward approached him. The man jerked his head up.
“My name is Dr Seward, what is yours?” The man didn’t answer. He sat with his back to the wall, tension in the lines of his body. His eyes were wide, darting between them. “Do you know where you are?” The man growled something incoherent in reply. “Do you understand me?” She reached a hand towards him. He snapped at it with a loud snarl. She quickly withdrew it from reach. “You didn’t say he did not talk.” Her voice was perfectly calm.
“You did not ask.” Henry replied from where he stood by the door. “There are a few patients like that here, but he’s the one best matching the criteria and none of the other are much clearer.” His voice was cold boredom.
“Very well then.” Dr Seward replied with an unimpressed expression. “Dr Frankenstein, if you would?” Victor sighed and stepped forward, imagining he could see Henry tensing from the corner of his eye. He kneeled next to Dr Seward, in front of the man but outside his reach. He reached out slowly for the man’s hand. It was snatched back. Victor hushed softly and reached out again. The man growled but held still. This time he was able to take a hold of the man’s wrist and lay his fingers against his pulse.
It was strange to say the least. Slow, not irregular, but coming in the strangest way. Rather than the quick inflation of the vein and then the brief pause he would expect, there was a slow expansion, rising almost like a wave, then reaching a culmen where he could feel the vein pressing hard and round against his finger before receding as slowly as it had come. It reminded him of a coiling snake.
“Doctor?” Dr Seward was looking at him. Victor came back to himself.
“His pulse is… unusual.” Victor said, not knowing how to describe it. “Definitely not normal, I’ve never come across anything like it. I should like to listen to his heart.” He let the man’s wrist go and the growling stopped.
“I would not advise it.” Under the veneer of indifference Victor could hear the tightness in Henry’s voice.
“It needs to be done.” He replied coolly. “I will sedate him first. With your permission, doctor.” The last sarcastic remark was directed at Henry who turned his head away. Getting the needle into the man’s vein was easier said than done. As Victor brought it towards him he growled and jerked at his chains. In the end Ethan, Sir Malcolm and Ms Hartdegen had to help hold him down, Ethan almost getting bitten in the process. The drug worked quickly. Victor knew from experience.
When the madman had fallen back against the wall, relaxed and with a slack expression, Victor felt the pulse at the neck. It should have slowed, but the beat was the same. The same frequency and the same unsettling wave-pulse as at the wrist, but stronger, bringing to mind the snake even more. Victor opened the man’s tattered shirt over the heart, took his stethoscope and placed it slowly over the heart as if afraid what he would hear. He heard nothing. There was no heartbeat. He stared blankly ahead for a moment, taken aback. Then he heard something else. He had mistaken it for the sounds of breathing, but the rhythm didn’t fit. It was a wheezing, rasping sound, so faint he almost could not hear it. But it was there. He moved the stethoscope. The sound was there, strongest over the heart, but projecting over the aorta, over the venae cavae. He could follow it up over the carotid arteries in the neck. When he laid his fingers next to the stethoscope he could hear it, just as that unsettling wave-pulse came, and he heard it for what it was: the rasp of an insect’s carapace over soft tissue. Victor recoiled instinctively, the image of a coiled black millipede in his mind. It grated against his thoughts.
“What is it?” Sir Malcolm asked in a low voice.
“I don’t know.” Victor said, his voice shaken. “There is something in his veins. I think we’ve found the right man.”
“Well then, let’s continue the examination, doctor.” Sir Malcolm said with the satisfaction of the hunt clear in his voice. Victor took a deep breath. He laid his hand over the man’s heart but felt nothing. He looked in his eyes, which were bloodshot, but normal. Examined his skin which was dirty and full of sores, which could be explained by his accommodations and his state of mind. On the back of his shoulder he found a mark similar to that on the other man, this one almost hidden by the sores. Ms Hartdegen made a quick sketch of it while Victor listened to the lungs as well he could while his breaths were shallow with sleep. He did whatever he could think of while all the while aware of the five people watching him. Everything was normal. Everything except the pulse and the heartbeat. He reported his findings as he worked. Eventually Sir Malcolm spoke up:
“Perhaps a blood sample, if there is a strangeness in the blood.”
“What if there is something in the blood that we don’t want to interfere with.” Ethan cut in. A small silence met those words.
“If we want to take a step forward, that would be the way. Or what do you suggest?” It was Ms Hartdegen’s practical voice. Ethan shrugged.
“Very well.” Victor said. A blood sample was the logical next step, but he did not relish the thought of sticking a second needle in those veins, not when he’d heard whatever was inside them. He did it anyway. For a moment the blood appeared black in the fickle light, but when he finished and lifted the syringe to the light he saw it was red, appearing no different from ordinary blood. A small droplet snaked from the puncture on the man’s arm. “I’m not sure how much more we can do for now. A psychological evaluation perhaps, if it would be possible.” He stood and went to place his equipment back in the bag. Ethan had stood nearby, ready in case the man would wake.
“What the hell?” He said, pointing to the madman. They all turned to him. From the puncture wound a line of blood ran, snaking impossibly into a pattern. It was the same as the rune on his shoulder, as on the dead man’s chest, here painted in dark blood and distorted by its projection on the arm. Ms Hartdegen answered the thought running unspoken through all their minds.
“It’s not the same. I recognise it now.” There was an undertone of dread in her voice. “We are all in terrible danger.”
“What do you mean?” Sir Malcolm’s voice was low.
“It is an obscure glyph. I’ve come across it in my studies.” She shook her head. “I should have recognized it before, but there are permutations. I believe everyone in this room is in lethal danger.” Victor glanced at Henry. He stood by the door, watching with narrowed eyes, not the blood rune, but Victor. When their eyes met, he lowered his gaze.
“From what?” Victor asked, the cold feeling of discomfort that had stayed with him during the examination amplifying.
“I don’t know.” She said it almost calmly. “I have never studied it explicitly. I will need my books. Some of the ones I need are already at Sir Malcolm’s house, and the rest I can send for. I don’t think it wise for us to split up now.” She took a deep breath and looked again at the rune on the man’s arm. “And that includes Lord Hyde.”
“I don’t have the time to join your occult society.” Henry protested immediately. She was unfazed.
“I’m afraid you are a part of this now. And if you do not come with us I believe you will soon run out of time entirely.”
Henry shot her a sharp look, then glanced at the corpse and at Victor who stood next to it. His expression changed minutely, from annoyance to resignation.
“I will get my things.”
“We’ll come with you.” Ethan’s sure voice cut in. “Best stick together.” His friendly smile had no effect. Henry led the way out. They left the unconscious man in his chains.
They walked the dark corridors towards the lab in silence. Victor’s thoughts spun. That pulse, that sound and that crawling sense of wrongness they had evoked were heavy in his mind. The rune drawn impossibly in blood. Henry. He’d dragged Henry into this, and now Henry would be there, at Grandage place together with all the others. He knew Henry would detest the company, even under ordinary circumstances. As for his own feelings, he still felt the need to withdraw, to lick his wounds and rearrange matters in his own mind until they made sense. But it seemed the time for that was ended. And he himself had forced it: had he not asked Henry to help them they would not be here.
“Wait here.” Henry said and closed the heavy door of the laboratory behind him before anyone could follow. Victor blinked, so absorbed had he been in his thoughts that he had not noticed their arrival. The sight of the door made his stomach turn and his heart twist sharply as he remembered Lily leaving through it. He had watched her until the door slammed shut. The memory cut through him and he longed for the needle. They were heading back, he told himself; soon he’d find himself a moment’s solitude and get some respite.
Henry closed the door behind him. For a moment he stood there, just breathing. Victor was here. Turning the corner and seeing him he’d felt like being struck by lightning. He started putting chemicals away, those unsafe to leave out. The next step of his experiments would have to wait. He’d thought he’d known what Victor wanted. Thought he’d done that as he’d turned to leave them to their search, but Victor had stopped him. Had asked him to help, and Henry could not refuse him no matter how much it hurt to be near him. Because it hurt more to be apart from him. Even now there was a part of him that was only happy to follow Victor on his insane quest. Even as it hurt him like knives the way Victor looked at him. Even if he would always look at him like that, as long as Victor would let him Henry would follow. He took his coat and left the laboratory.
After Henry rejoined them there was some discussion of what to do. Dr Seward wanted to get the man’s records and Sir Malcolm agreed. Ms Hartdegen was of the firm opinion that they leave straight away, and Ethan leaning the same way. Sir Malcolm felt that the potential benefit overrode the need for hurry.
Victor did not involve himself in the discussion. Neither did Henry, he merely observed them with a detached expression. He was again avoiding Victor’s eye, so Victor took the opportunity to steal an oblique look at him. He was more properly dressed now, with his hair down, but there was still a haggard air about him. There was a smudge of soot or dirt on his cheek. On his hand was what looked like a chemical burn. Not like Henry to be careless with corrosives.
Eventually they agreed to leave without the papers. Henry led the way and Dr Seward walked along him, asking questions about the patients. Henry’s answers were short. Victor walked behind, watching Henry’s black coat and hair bleed into the shadows.
They had to take two cabs to Grandage place. Sir Malcolm and the women in one, and Ethan, Victor and Henry in the second. Victor sat next to Ethan and looked straight out the window the whole ride. When they arrived there was no time for him to seek the solitude he required. Ms Hartdegen, Dr Seward and Henry sent for those things they would need to spend an undetermined time here. Sir Malcolm and Ethan lamented Kaetenay’s return to America and Mr Lyle’s absence. They spent what remained of the evening in study and discussion without reaching any conclusions. The only thing that was made clear was that the sign was indeed the same one foretelling death that Ms Hartdegen knew and she renewed her insistence that they remain together.
Henry’s things arrived, including a microscope. He worked with Henry in near complete silence, acting the assistant rather than the partner. The blood-sample did not look abnormal in any way, no matter the staining. Victor thought briefly of Professor Van Helsing and his stain, but its formula had died with him.
When they finally agreed to retire Victor had to hold his arms crossed, hands squeezed to his chest to prevent their tremor. While Ethan showed the new guests to their rooms he went to his and sat down on the sofa, opening his bag. He was drawing morphine into the syringe when he heard the soft voice.
“Victor, please.” Victor jumped, nearly spilling his bottle and turned. Henry stood just inside the closed door, head bowed and a pained expression on his downturned face. He’d entered completely unnoticed by Victor. “After what you went through to rid yourself of it, I would have hoped you weren’t so quick to return to the needle.” Victor placed his equipment down with a click.
“What I went through was not of my choice.” He said heatedly, but keeping his voice low. “And why do you come sneaking in here?” Henry’s mouth tightened. His voice sharpened, but he kept his eyes down.
“It was clear for me to see what you intended. No matter your feelings, I still care for you. You can’t ask me to stand idly by while you do this.” He remained by the door, the heat in his voice belying his unassuming stance.
“I am asking you nothing!” Victor hissed, rising.
“You asked me to help you and I did. Had you not, I would not be here!” Victor deflated. It was true, and he had no energy to argue.
“What do you want, Henry?” He asked in a tired voice. Henry looked up, his expression unreadable.
“I want you to put the needle down, Victor.” His voice was low and steady. Victor’s eyes turned to the table where the syringe and open bottle lay. As he returned his gaze to Henry he could see that dreaded disappointment in his eyes. He did not know why it still cut him so. “Just for tonight.” There was such sincerity in his voice. “If you let me take it, I will keep them just for tonight.” Victor rubbed at his face. His head ached, his hands trembled. He needed it. Without it, he could not function. With it, he could not function. He was still walking on the edge of the abyss. He bent his head in a single nod.
Henry crossed the room slowly, stepping no closer to Victor than he needed, and picked up the bottle and syringe. Victor turned his face away, lest he’d change his mind. Henry turned to leave. Victor felt the urge to call him back, to ask him to leave the morphine, or ask him to stay, he didn’t know. He held his tongue until Henry closed the door behind him.
Victor sank down on the sofa with a sigh. His whole body ached. He was so tired, in body and mind. Tired of thinking. Tired of feeling angry and betrayed. For a moment he missed Henry more than the needle. The moment grew. He told himself he didn’t need him, that he had other friends. But that was different, wasn’t it? Sir Malcolm and Ethan – those he’d known the longest, grown the closest to – had made each other their family. They were glad for his company, he thought, but they hadn’t come calling on him until they needed him. He knew it was unfair to think so after the loss of Vanessa, who’d been a love of Ethan’s and a daughter of Sir Malcolm’s (and a dear, dear friend of Victor’s), but the thought didn’t leave him. He had no closer friend than Henry. Victor had not kept in contact with him for years, and he had been ashamed of it. Had been ashamed of himself. But when Henry came, after those first few moments of awkwardness, it had been almost as before. Their friendship resumed. Absorbed as he’d been, Victor only now realised how much he’d missed it.
The thought made him rise, leave the room. The corridor was dark and empty, everyone preparing for sleep. Henry’s door was closed and forbidding. He hesitated for a moment, then knocked. After another moment Henry opened. When he saw Victor his face changed from cool reservation to tired suspicion. He stepped aside.
“Come in.” Victor entered. Henry closed the door. His waistcoat was unbuttoned; he’d been about to go to sleep. “Don’t ask for it back.” His voice was firm, but the pleading note below it was clear for Victor to hear.
“No,” He said, looking around, uncertain what to do now. “I won’t.” Henry relaxed at his words, but there was still wariness in his expression.
“Then what do you want, Victor?” His voice was quiet. Victor kept his equally low. He couldn’t quite meet Henry’s eyes.
“I want my friend back.” Henry was very still. Victor sighed and rubbed his face. “I’m tired of this distance. I can’t return your… feelings.” He stumbled over the word, and saw Henry lower his head from the corner of his eye. “But I want to attempt… I would like to have your friendship.” He looked up, straight into Henry’s eyes. They were pained and hopeful and so very open.
“You always have it.” Henry’s voice wavered a little. Victor pretended not to notice. Something loosened inside him, some hard knot. He was still angry, still felt betrayed, but he’d made a choice. They stood in silence for a moment, a strange awkwardness between them. Unable to bear it and not knowing how to break it, Victor turned to the door.
“I will let you sleep.” He felt Henry’s gaze follow him as he left.
The next day they gathered over breakfast, courtesy of Ethan’s cooking abilities. Victor had slept poorly, twisting and turning and aching, but he had gotten a moment here and there still. He took a seat next to Henry. His old friend looked up as he sat and his expression warmed, though Victor could see a line of nervousness in his body. Henry looked better this morning, the dark circles under his eyes had faded and he looked less worn. But in the morning light Victor could see the bruise over his mouth from where he’d hit him. It was fading and yellow, nearly blending in with his skin, the cut on the lip a red-brown line above it. Victor told himself not to feel guilty, but it was hard. Henry, noticing his attention, said softly.
“Don’t worry, Victor.” Victor swallowed, and nodded mutely, not wanting to continue the line of conversation while the others were sitting down to breakfast all around them. The withdrawal was starting to set in, making him feel nauseous, though not to the same degree as last time. He took a cup of tea and a single piece of toast, eating in small bites. He sensed Henry’s approval. It should have annoyed him, but he found that it didn’t.
“So, Ms Hartdegen. What’s on today’s agenda?” Sir Malcolm asked.
“More research, I’m afraid.” She sipped her tea. “I have confirmed the meaning of the rune, but as I said, I’ve never studied it specifically. It, or some variation of it, is used in many cultures to signify death. More precisely a creeping death, come by night. Striking from within.” She paused for a moment, staring grimly ahead. “I am reinforced in my belief that we are in present danger. This morning I found a book describing means of protection. I think we should see about addressing it, though some of the methods are… unconventional.”
After breakfast Ms Hartdegen divided the labour. Henry declined a thick book on ancient curses and superstitions.
“I think it better we study the pathology of the matter. I have had my books brought over, and will conduct my own studies.”
“Very well then, my lord.” She replied with a raised eyebrow. Henry nodded coolly and turned to his own stack of books. Victor joined him.
“You’re not doing yourself any favours, you know.” He said without thinking. Henry’s fingers twitched on the book he had chosen, but there was no pointed reply. Victor cursed himself internally. He didn’t want to antagonise Henry. What peace they had made was still too precarious.
“Make yourself useful.” Henry said quietly, handing over a book on neuropathology. Victor took it gratefully.
As the others kept digging through the dense books of history that had plagued them all, Victor felt lucky to have the books of medicine with their modern, clear language. Well, clear to a doctor at least. The morning passed slowly. At lunch they paused for a light meal and then kept to their studies until evening. There was much discussion as they worked. Few answers. They found nothing in the medical books suggesting that anything like this had ever been described, but formed many hypotheses of how it might work. Towards the evening a few protective sigils were painted and totems created, half by guesswork, but Victor confessed they did have a certain calming effect. There was some success was when it came to the study of the enemy they faced. A thin book described a family. The mother hit by gradual insomnia, progressing to hysteria, then psychosis. The father and daughters tended her until one day she ran away in the night. There was a description of a rune painted in blood on the door. Over the succeeding nights the family members would disappear one by one.
“The interesting thing is,” Ms Hartdegen said “That the oldest daughter lived. There could of course be many reasons, but it does say that she was away when the mother fell ill, and again while she ran off and during the time of the first disappearances. She never saw the rune, only heard it described. I believe the rune is either the cause or the catalyst of this curse”
“But how would that explain that no one who witnessed the dead body has disappeared? It bore the mark as well.” Dr Seward pointed out.
“Perhaps it is only when made in blood it takes effect. Perhaps the rune in the skin just marks the cursed ones.” Ms Hartdegen added thoughtfully.
“The cursed ones…” Ethan’s voice was dark. “Cannibals. And how do they select their victims? Family-ties?” Ms Hartdegen shook her head.
“That I do not yet know.”
It was unsettling information. They found other mentions of those struck by the madness and their victims both. Sometimes the victims would disappear into the night, sometimes they were found slaughtered, with or without the heart remaining. What the sources agreed on was that they were all stalked beforehand. Victor supressed a shiver and looked out though the darkening window. It was far too easy imagining a silhouette in the shadows outside.
It was almost time for dinner when Sir Malcolm pulled Victor aside.
“How are you feeling, my boy?” He projected an air of fatherly concern.
“I’m fine.” He tried for confidence, but it did not appear to have an effect.
“You are very pale, is it your illness returning?” Victor sighed.
“It’s not an illness, but my addiction.” He confessed. Sir Malcolm knew about it. It was a relief to him sometimes, that he didn’t cast judgement on Victor for it.
“Is it worse?” Malcolm asked, sincere concern in his voice. “We need you to function, doctor.”
“I assure you I am fully functioning, sir.” Victor replied, trying to inject some sureness in his tone.
“Good, make sure you are.” Sir Malcolm smiled, some worry still in his eyes, but he let Victor go.
The dinner was a subdued affair consisting of the scrape of cutlery and low conversations. Ethan broke the silence.
“So, on the matter of protection, does everyone know how to shoot?” A round of nods around the table. Victor frowned, Ethan knew very well that they could handle firearms, all except... “Lord Hyde?” Henry shook his head.
“I am a doctor, Mr Chandler. I have had no need for guns.”
“Well, your esteemed colleague Dr Frankenstein has a need and a gun.” Ethan’s voice was firm. Henry shot Victor a look. He could not tell if it was reproachful or concerned.
“It’s for all our safety.” Sir Malcolm added, probably intending for persuasiveness, but Victor groaned inwardly as he saw Henry’s back stiffen.
“Well, in that case.” Henry said dryly.
After dinner Ethan took a reluctant Henry down to the basement for shooting practice. Victor stayed behind, cleaning the dishes with Dr Seward. They made a clattering sound in his unsteady hands. It was partially drowned out by the sounds of gunshots in the basement.
Victor remembered his own lesson, how heavy the gun had felt. Ethan’s words: ‘Like you’re touching a lady’s neck.’ He’d been unsure if Ethan had been mocking him, referring to what Vanessa had said in her possessed state.
Another thought came to him, something else she’s said. About Ethan. He hadn’t thought much of it until now, what was it? ‘He fucked you, didn’t he’ Victor paused for a moment, a plate held loosely in his hand. Another shot rang out, causing him to startle and resume his work. Perhaps Ethan and Henry had something in common. The thought didn’t sit well with him, but he refused to examine why, instead focusing on the dishes. The shots were coming evenly, no long pauses. It was not Victor’s business. It would solve his own problem if Henry’s attention was diverted.
He was finished with the dishes and sitting in the parlour with the others as Henry and Ethan emerged from the basement. Victor watched surreptitiously. Ethan had seemingly decided to ignore Henry’s unfriendly manner and gave him a friendly clap on the shoulder as they entered. Henry reacted with nothing but his usual cool reserve, giving Ethan a disapproving look. Victor felt fairly confident that nothing had changed in Henry’s opinion of the sharpshooter. He felt slightly ridiculous for having harboured the thought. He didn’t think Henry would act on his predilection, not truly. Henry sat down on the sofa, not too far from Victor.
“How was it?” Victor asked quietly. Henry shook his head.
“Not to my taste. It is an ugly thing.” Victor nodded. For all his rage and darkness, Henry wanted to be the innocent lamb. And perhaps deep down he was. Victor didn’t know.
They sat in contemplative silence for a while. Around them was Ethan and Sir Malcolm, cleaning a large pile of guns, and Dr Seward who was idly smoking a cigarette. Ms Hartdegen had excused herself to paint protective markings over the windows. Victor leaned his head back, closed his eyes and tried to relax. He felt the effects of the withdrawal, though it was infinitely less painful than before, when he had gone from a near constant use to nothing over the course of a day. Still, his body ached, his hands shivered and nausea rolled in his stomach. He knew that Henry watched him, could feel his evaluating gaze. Or perhaps not evaluating, perhaps just lingering. Perhaps he looked at Victor like Victor used to look at Lily. The thought chilled him.
A crash sounded through the house and Victor started. Sir Malcolm and Ethan were already on their feet and the rest of them hurried after in the direction of the sound. They followed it upstairs and toward the back of the house, where the sounds of a struggle now originated. When they burst through the door it was over. Ms Hartdegen was standing over a prone body in a puddle of blood, in her hand was a sword from Sir Malcolm’s wall.
“It’s good you keep these everywhere.” She said flippantly. She was slightly out of breath. There was a dark stain down her front.
“Are you injured?” Victor said and hurried up to her. She turned her attention to him, wincing.
“Not so badly, I think.” She touched her hand to her stomach. Victor batted it away.
“Let me have a look.” He guided her to a chair as the others investigated the body. After she unbuttoned her waistcoat and shirt he gingerly lifted her clothes aside, feeling awkward and embarrassed. There was a gash on the side of her abdomen, under the right arc of her ribs. It was not too deep, cutting but not severing the musculature. “This will require stitches.” He became very aware of his shaking hands. “I think it best that my colleague performs it.” She frowned.
“I think I’d rather you did it, doctor.” Her voice was remarkably unaffected by the pain.
“I assure you, Lord Hyde is just as capable a doctor as me.”
“Then why him and not you?” She raised her eyebrow. Victor suppressed a sigh, and made his voice firmer.
“I am suffering a momentary impediment to my fine motor skills. If I stitch you up, the result will not please you.” She looked as if she was about to protest. “You really do need to get this stitched, and stitched well. It will not heal right otherwise.” She gave him a firm look.
“All right, doctor.” Victor nodded. He tried not to think of the fact that he could have had a small injection and then stitched her wounds himself. The morphine was just in the next room. Henry had said he could have it back. But with their reconciliation so recent and fragile, he didn’t want to risk it. Tomorrow, he promised himself.
They relocated to Ms Hartdegen’s room. At their arrival she lay down on the sofa and Henry prepared his things while Victor sat beside.
“The edges look clean. Was it a knife?” Henry asked as he started wiping away the blood.
“Yes, a small one.” Ms Hartdegen’s voice was cool and her eyes were fixed on Henry’s hands as they swiped over her belly, his touch light. Victor noted that Henry didn’t appear to have the same awkwardness that he himself had in the same circumstance. He kept his touch firm and his eyes on his work.
“I will begin suturing the wound now. Would you like something for the pain beforehand?” Victor’s hands clenched, his eyes moved to Henry’s bag, his thoughts to the morphine within. Ms Hartdegen shook her head.
“Just do what you’re supposed to.” He lay his hand fully on her belly, holding the skin still for the sutures. She twitched. He gave her a warning look, and she gave him one in return. She had had no problems when Victor had examined her earlier, and he had placed his own hands in the same way. He realised suddenly: it was Henry’s touch specifically she disliked. She had wanted Victor to treat her, not Henry. A sick feeling came to him as he watched her watch Henry as he worked. There was suspicion in her eyes, masked but present. The way one watches a dog one knows might bite. Victor might not credit such talk, but he’d heard what people said. Had heard people say some of it to Henry’s face. He tried to tell himself that it was not Henry’s skin that made Ms Hartdegen distrust him, that it was his cold manner, but he did not believe it. By the time Henry had finished Victor’s throat felt sour.
“Now, you must take it easy. No strenuous activity. No sudden movements. When there is pain that is your body telling you to be still. If the stitches break you will let me know.” Henry instructed as he wrapped Ms Hartdegen’s waist in bandages. She was holding her shirt up to allow him room. She looked to Victor.
“Do you agree, doctor?” Victor saw Henry’s mouth tense.
“Lord Hyde is right.” He said tiredly. They left her in her room. Henry turned towards his own room and Victor followed. Inside, Henry dropped his bag on the floor and sat heavily on the sofa, resting his face in his hands, his hair falling in front of his face. Victor sat beside him.
“She didn’t trust you.” As the words left his mouth he realised they were the wrong ones. Henry glared at him.
“Of course she didn’t. What woman would want a wog to put his dirty hands on her?” His voice was seething. Victor met his eyes sadly.
“She was wrong.” Henry raised an eyebrow, lowered his voice.
“Yes, since my particular perversion makes me uninterested in women she has nothing to fear.” He said with sharp self-deprecation. Victor swallowed, uncertain what to say. Henry placed a hand over his face, rubbing at his temples. Something dark in his palm caught Victor’s eye. And perhaps gave him an excuse for a different subject.
“Henry, have you not removed those stitches yet?” Henry started slightly, curling his hand defensively.
“I haven’t had the time.” Victor thought he detected a lie in those words. He let it slide.
“They should have been removed days ago. It will scar.”
“So let it scar.” Henry’s voice was tired. Victor reached for his friend’s bag.
“Let me remove them.” Henry snatched the bag from him. For a moment they were frozen, looking at each other. Henry moved first, withdrawing a small pair of scissors and pliers from his bag.
“Very well then, doctor.” His voice was carefully even as he gave Victor the instruments. He held out his hand, palm up, allowing Victor access to the wound. Victor carefully removed the sutures, his hands only slightly steadier than when he’d made them. Small drops of blood beaded where the stitches had been. It would scar. The smaller cuts might disappear, but this one was a long, slightly curved line of scar tissue with the suture-marks surrounding it unevenly. Victor felt the urge to trace it with his finger, as if to smoothen it away. A sudden knock on the door startled him, and Victor realised he’d been staring at the hovering hand. Henry was very quiet. Standing outside was Dr Seward.
“We’re meeting downstairs.” She said and then left. They followed without another word.
They were all gathered downstairs. Ms Hartdegen had changed her torn and bloody clothes and sat on the sofa. Victor took a seat far from her. Sir Malcolm stood at the middle of the gathering.
“We have moved the body to the basement.” His voice was practical, despite the circumstances. Victor found it calming. “I suggest the doctors take a look at it in the morning, but as for tonight, we need to decide what to do. They have attacked us in our home. We are not safe here.”
“‘Our home…’” Victor wasn’t sure that Henry meant for anyone to hear his muttered words.
“I will work harder to fortify our mystical defences.” Ms Hartdegen did not give any sign of her injury. ”The window they broke in through was one I had not yet marked, it may very well mean it’s effective.” She seemed her normal, charming self, but Victor found he could not look at her the same. “We can’t be certain, of course, but better we have them than not.”
“We need to fortify our physical defences as well.” Ethan added. “They came through a window on the second floor. Boarding up the windows seems a sensible precaution.”
“Yes.” Sir Malcolm agreed. “But if there is one think I learnt in Africa, it is this. The lions stalk their prey at night, and this was very much like a lion. They waited until one of us was alone, and then they attacked. I don’t think we can afford to give them the same chance again. Until we can take more permanent precautions, I think it best that no one sleeps alone.” His words settled like a lead weight in Victor’s stomach.
- - -
Sir Malcolm’s words struck Henry like a fist. He carefully maintained his calm demeanour and glanced from the corner of his eye at Victor, whose eyes had gone a little wide, but otherwise held an unaffected expression. With the six of them it was obvious how the rooms would be divided. The women would take one. And since Sir Malcolm and Mr Chandler already lived together in this house, as he understood it, they would be natural candidates to share a room. And even more natural for two old schoolmates to share one. After all they had done so at Cambridge, though Victor’s friends likely didn’t know it. The prospect loomed dark before Henry. He could not share a room with Victor. His shame would crush him. He welcomed the late night spent boarding up the windows, as it postponed the time to retire. But finally the last board was up, the last nail driven in, and yawning they all retired to their rooms. He followed Victor to theirs.
“I will take the sofa.” He said as soon as the door was closed behind them. He felt again reluctant to meet Victor’s eyes. Victor murmured his agreement, not looking at Henry, and went towards the bed. Henry turned his back to him, so he could not be accused of watching, and dressed down to his shirt for sleep. He laid down on the sofa. It was hard and too short for him. It was wicker and the backrest was a lacework of tiny holes. Though them he could see Victor getting under his covers. He felt guilty for looking. Guilt was his constant companion. For years he’d felt guilty for hiding his abnormality from Victor. Now he felt guilty for revealing it; it was clear that the knowledge weighed heavily on Victor.
He lay for some time in the dark. Though he was tired, sleep did not want to come. He watched through the backrest. He could not see Victor, but he could see the covers moving as Victor twisted in bed. He longed to sit with him, to read to him, to stroke his hair. After his sordid secret had been revealed he’d watched his every word, every movement. He’d stopped laying a hand on Victor’s shoulder, hand or arm, lest it be thought something less than innocent. Perhaps doing so alleviated Victor’s fears, but it made his own aberration grow. In considering what his actions might be misconstrued as, he found himself lingering on the thought. Found himself wishing to fulfil it, to let himself take that step from friend’s touch to lover’s. He knew he could not, knew that if he acted on these desires he would kill any remaining friendship there was between them. He had controlled these feelings. Now they controlled his thoughts. He would not let them control his actions.
“Henry?” Came Victor’s quiet voice. Henry considered feigning sleep only briefly.
“Yes?” A moment of silence followed.
“Do you dislike it terribly here?” Victor’s voice was a low murmur. He did not specify himself.
“No, Victor. I am fine.” It was true no matter what Victor meant.
“I dragged you into this danger.” He said. “Was it not for me you would have been home in your comfortable bed by now.” Henry rose on his elbows to look over the backrest. He could make out Victor’s pale face in the dark.
“I am happy you did it, Victor.” He kept his voice carefully even, did not let it show the depth of his feelings. “Or I would have been alone in that horrible house.”
“You dislike it so?” Henry paused, choosing his words.
“It was my father’s preferred residence. When I was not away for studies I lived there too.” He paused again, saw Victor raise his head a little more. “You know our relationship was strained. It was hell for me there.” He rubbed his face. “He would treat me like a servant. No, like one of his Indian slaves.” He heard the bitterness in his own voice. ” The servants would follow him in it. I had to discharge all of them and hire new ones.” They would not have an easy time finding new employment; the thought was satisfying. “Even so there are memories in every wall.” Victor was quiet for a while. He did know something of Henry’s father, but not everything. He didn’t need to know everything.
“I can understand that.” Victor said eventually. “But still you live there.” His face was thoughtful.
“I have earned it.” Silence stretched. Henry lay back down. Though the wicker-lace he saw Victor laying down a moment later. Henry turned his back to the bed and listened to Victor twisting restlessly throughout the night.
In my mind, Sir Malcolm hangs swords from every wall of his house. Also, sorry to any Catriona-fans. I really like her too, but I really wanted that scene...
Thank you for reading!
I've had a really long week, with little time for this fic. And when I got the time I started fiddling and rewriting parts, meaning it took some time to get it posted. Thank you, my readers, for making me want to make this fic as good as I can. Hope you enjoy it :)
Morning brought a ray of light shining straight into his eyes. Henry tried to turn over, hide his face in his pillow, but his feet hit the armrest and he felt the edge of the sofa perilously close. He groaned and lifted his head. By the boarded-up window stood Victor, dressed and ready. His back was turned and there was a slump to his shoulders.
“How was your night?” Henry asked, rough with sleep.
“Like every night lately.” Victor turned around, his eyes were red-rimmed, his voice tired. “Sleep eludes me.” He rubbed at his face. “I’m going downstairs, I think the others will be up soon.”
He left the room. Henry rose slowly, aching from the hard bed. He wondered if Victor had waited for him to wake before leaving.
Henry dressed and went downstairs. Sir Malcolm and Victor sat at the dining table, breakfast in front of them. Ms Hartdegen was seated across the room with a cup and a large book. Henry sat at the table. Sir Malcolm greeted him with a nod.
“Good morning, are you ready for some dissection after breakfast?” The omittance of his title did not escape Henry. He didn’t correct him, it was too early a morning after too late a night.
“Certainly.” Henry replied evenly as he served himself. He looked over to Victor. He seemed well enough, his hands relatively steady around his cup, but not so steady as to make Henry suspect he’d had his injections. He was eating this morning, but slowly, and he was still too thin. “And you, old friend?”
“Yes, if this one is similar to the last, I don’t doubt it will be fascinating.” There was some energy in his voice, despite his drawn face. “We should start as soon as possible.”
“First finish your breakfast.” Henry kept his voice light, knowing that Victor would hear the intended admonition. He knew it was a dangerous move, that it might annoy his friend, but he couldn’t help but worry for him. Victor took an unenthusiastic bite of bread with jam and cheese. Satisfied, Henry turned to his own breakfast.
Afterwards they retrieved their equipment and went to the basement. The corpse was laid on a table. It was a man, younger than the last two they’d seen, but equally unkempt. His clothes were ragged and dirty, but appeared to have been of good make. There was a deep cut across the abdomen, likely the cause of death.
“Well then, doctor, let’s get started.” Victor’s demeanour spoke of the enthusiasm he’d lacked for breakfast. They began by opening the thoracic cavity, freeing the heart. It was much like the other, again filled with those black, insect-like stones. This time they continued with a more thorough dissection. Victor had gotten this mad thought that there was something moving in the veins. Henry didn’t want to credit it, but found that he could imagine it all too well. They cut open the larger veins and arteries. Examined all the organs not damaged by Ms Hartdegen’s sword. Took out the brain and examined its sinuses and ventricles, even opened up the vertebral column and looked at the spinal cord. They found nothing new despite their efforts. It was immensely frustrating. They took careful samples of any tissue they could think of: the vessels, the brain, the heart, organs, muscles, whatever they thought might be of interest. Despite the frustration it was good, Henry thought, working next to Victor. For some time they could slip into that zone where the only thing that mattered was the corpse on the table in front of them, everything else falling away. But eventually they had to admit defeat.
It was well after lunchtime when they emerged from the basement. The others were gathered in the parlour.
“Anything new?” Sir Malcolm approached them, entirely unwelcome to Henry after the comfortable stillness of the basement. Victor shook his head in reply.
“For the fixation and staining needed for microscopy we will need more chemicals than we have here.” Henry pointed out, addressing Victor and disregarding the old man’s presence.
“We’ll go purchase them after I’ve preserved these.” Victor’s voice was distracted, he was studying the last few samples before placing them in formaldehyde.
“It’s getting late, and I’m not sure it’s safe for you to go alone, doctors.” Henry really had to put a stop to Sir Malcolm’s informal address, or the man would never cease. He turned to him with a cold look.
“It’s ‘my lord’, and it’s mid-afternoon.” His voice was frosty, and Sir Malcolm replied with a put upon expression. Victor stepped in, finished with the samples.
“We won’t be gone long, and the store I’m thinking of is on quite a busy street.” He took a light hold of Henry’s sleeve and steered them towards the door. “We’ll be back before you know it.”
As they emerged from the house Henry drew a deep breath of fresh air. Victor followed, still putting on his coat.
“He doesn’t mean to be discourteous, Henry.” There was a slightly reproachful tone to his voice.
“Perhaps not.” Henry said. He wasn’t sure if Sir Malcolm meant his disrespect or not, but he was sure that if he yielded, the man would only continue. He would have the respect he was due.
“You really dislike him?” A cab stopped as Victor waved it down. They got in.
“He’s arrogant.” It was more than that, but he needn’t be rude to someone Victor considered a friend. Victor raised an eyebrow.
“You’re arrogant.” There was nothing accusatory in his voice, just a simple statement. Henry couldn’t find it in himself to mind it. “I’m arrogant and you like me.” He made a small grimace as he realised what he’d just said. Henry could have argued the difference, but the words ‘Yes, I do’ lay on his tongue, waiting to escape. He didn’t give them voice, but spent the rest of the ride in silence.
The store was operated by a tall, lanky man who stooped as to not loom over his customers. As Victor spoke to him the effect was that of a snake bending over a mouse. He worked intolerably slowly, and had to search for several of the chemicals in his back room, giving Henry a suspicious glance every time he left the room. When they finally emerged from the store, the sky was showing the first signs of darkness. They were waiting for a cab on the busy street as a beggar approached them.
“Please, sirs?” He grabbed Henry’s sleeve. Henry shook the unkempt man off with a disgusted grimace. He was not dissuaded. “Please.” He grabbed at Henry again, some crazed light shining in his eyes. “Please, don’t run.” His voice turned dark. “It won’t help.” Henry recoiled as the man lifted his arm, the glint of steel in his hand. Victor shouted something. He managed to avoid the blow and instinctively struck out with his fist, hitting the beggar and staggering him. The man lunged at him. Then suddenly there was a pair of policemen there, wrestling the beggar down.
“Come, Henry.” Victor said in a low voice, pulling him into the crowd. Henry’s heart was hammering, calling for him to go back, to finish the fight. Perhaps it was for the best that Victor was pulling him away. “I think he might have been one of them.” Victor said in a low voice. “It’s far too unlikely an event.” The thought chilled Henry, clearing the anger from his mind.
“How could they know we were here? Are they watching us?” Victor waved down a cab.
“Perhaps. This one seemed clearer than the last. Less psychologically affected.” He gave Henry a look. “He didn’t hurt you?”
“No, but he had a knife.” Victor’s expression turned alarmed but he said nothing. As Henry climbed into the cab there was a twinge of pain over his ribs. Victor noticed his wince.
“I thought you said he didn’t hurt you.” Henry put his hand to his lower ribs. Felt damp, split fabric. His hand was stained with blood when he withdrew it.
“Not overly much I think.” Victor gave him a frown. He pulled his coat aside, placing a hand briefly on his side. Henry stayed very still.
“I hope you’re right. I will take a look once we’re back.” Henry nodded and kept his hand pressed to the wound. The ride seemed to take longer than needed. When they finally pulled up outside Grandage place it was definitely dusk. There was a man standing on the street a few houses down. He appeared perfectly normal, but there was something off about him, in the way he stood. Henry told himself it was paranoia talking. They didn’t linger to examine him.
Inside the lights were on and Henry admitted it was a comfort to close the heavy door behind them. Sir Malcolm appeared from the parlour.
“Out a bit late, weren’t you?” Henry wasn’t sure if he aimed for concern or patronisation.
“Probably.” Victor answered, as if the man was perfectly within his rights to address him so. “We were attacked by a beggar, most likely one of them.” Sir Malcolm’s eyes grew sharp.
“Are you all right? Where did this happen?”
“On the open street, surrounded by people.” Victor replied.
“So much for lions hunting the isolated.” Henry added dryly, drawing Sir Malcolm’s attention.
“A flock of sheep is no protection. You shouldn’t have gone alone.” His tone was berating, like a father admonishing unruly sons. Henry felt a flare of indignation.
“It is not for you to decide where we go, and I doubt a grey old sheepdog would have made much difference.” Sir Malcolm’s eyes flashed, Henry’s barb had drawn blood.
“You mind your tongue when you’re in my house.” His voice was dark with anger, his shoulders squared.
“You are the one who should mind your tongue when talking to your betters.”
“Don’t make me laugh. No matter your ill-acquired title, you could not be further from nobility.” Scorn was plain on Sir Malcolm’s face, his words making Henry’s blood boil. He took a step forward.
“Stop it!” Victor inserted himself between them, his stern voice betrayed by the unwilling set of his shoulders. Henry hesitated. “We’re doing the enemy’s work for them.” Mr Chandler suddenly appeared beside him, placing a hand on Sir Malcolm’s shoulder.
“Let’s not let our tongues run away with us.” The American’s words seemed to have an effect on the older man, who let himself be turned towards the parlour, his back still arrogantly straight. Victor turned fully towards Henry.
“You’re bleeding.” Henry became aware of the throbbing in his side, the wet warmth spreading from it. “Come upstairs, I’ll take a look at it.” His voice was the concerned doctor’s, but Henry heard the sharp reprimand beneath it. At once he felt foolish, embarrassed to have caused a scene. He let Victor lead the way upstairs.
“You don’t have to bother, Victor. I can tend it myself.” Henry spoke quietly when the door was closed behind them.
“I’d like to have a look all the same.” His voice was perfectly professional, the anger underlying his earlier words gone. “I’m not sure I trust your judgement.” Perhaps not entirely gone.
Admonished, Henry sat down, unbuttoning his waistcoat. The dark fabric hid the stain, but once removed the bright red blood stood out clearly against his white shirt. Victor made an alarmed sound.
“You’ve made it worse, you shouldn’t work yourself up like that.”
“My fault, is it?” Henry felt the anger, not yet gone, bubbling under the surface. “That old man should mind his manners.” Victor narrowed his eyes.
“You’re starting to sound dangerously like our colleagues at Cambridge.” His voice was cold, his words striking true. Henry deflated, turning his gaze to the floor. The anger evaporated entirely, only the old feeling of self-loathing remaining, as always after a fight. No matter how he tried, his temper continued to run away with him. Why could he not control himself?
“Perhaps I should leave.” He spoke with only half a conscious thought.
“No.” Victor said quickly, his voice perhaps not quite as cold as before. Henry looked up. Victor’s expression shifted, too quickly for him to catch. He cleared his throat before speaking. “Don’t be foolish, Henry.” Henry realised he’d just forced Victor to either bid him to stay, or ask him to go to what appeared more and more to be certain death. Guilt flared in his chest. He wanted to speak, but didn’t know what to say. Victor sighed, breaking the moment. “Let me look at your wound.” Henry was not much happier with the new subject, but didn’t complain. Victor retrieved his bag and sat next to him on the sofa. Henry pulled up his shirt to bare his injury.
The cut was not serious, maybe one or two inches long and quite shallow. It seemed that his clothes had absorbed most of the impact, and it was only the elevation in blood pressure that had caused it to bleed so freely. Victor leaned in with an alcohol-soaked cloth and started wiping away the blood. Henry twitched as it stung him and kept his breathing shallow.
“Lucky.” Victor murmured. His touch was cautious. “It could have caught on your rib and gone in.” He was focused fully on the wound now, and Henry watched him work. His hands were almost steady as he worked with his eyes fixed on the task. He took great care not letting his fingers touch Henry’s bare skin. Henry could understand his motivation. With the wound clean, Victor reached for the bandages. “No need for sutures, I think.” Henry felt relieved, eager to shrink away from Victor’s gaze. He felt terribly exposed under those eyes.
After Victor had tied off the bandages it was a relief to let his shirt cover them. He would have to change his clothes, but for the moment he just sat. Victor leaned back, and the mood seemed easier now than when they came upstairs. Henry took a deep breath for the first time in what felt like forever. He spoke into the silence.
“It seems our situation is more precarious than we thought.” Victor hummed in agreement. Henry turned his head to look at him. His head was leaned back, eyes closed. He looked drained. Henry spoke before thinking.
“How is your sleep, Victor?” He feared a sharp reply, but Victor only gave a small laugh.
“I thought you were the patient at the moment?” The faint amusement in his voice was good to hear, speaking to Henry of forgiveness, at least for his most recent transgression.
“It is your turn now.” Henry returned the smile, though Victor’s eyes were not open to see it. Victor’s expression turned gloomy.
“I fall almost asleep, just starting to dream, and then I wake.” He placed his hand over his eyes. “I’m not sure I can go on like this.” His voice was quiet, defeated. It broke Henry’s heart.
“It will get better.” He wanted to reach out, to lay his hand on Victor’s and offer him his strength, but he did not.
“Perhaps.” Despite Victor’s dejection, he hadn’t mentioned the morphine. Henry took it as a good sign.
They sat for a while longer, Victor leaning back against the backrest and Henry watching him in silence. Then Victor went downstairs to begin preparing the slides, leaving Henry to change out of his bloodied clothes.
Downstairs there seemed to be a silent agreement to pretend like the argument had never occurred. It suited Henry fine. When he arrived, Victor begun a retelling of the events on the streets. Henry kept to the background. The others reacted with varying degrees of alarm, but they were all in agreement that more care was needed. Then they moved on, it turned out that they’d made some discoveries themselves while Victor and Henry had been gone.
“Seems like for all your careful examining you forgot to check our dead man’s pockets.” Mr Chandler said. “There was a slip of paper with an address in one of them, it could be a possible trail.”
“Well, I suppose we’re better off leaving the corpse-looting to you then.” Victor said in a mild tone. Mr Chandler chuckled at that.
The question was when to go to this address. If they were indeed under surveillance by these creatures it would be best to move carefully. Victor wanted to wait until they could examine the tissue-samples and Henry agreed it was best for them to have as much knowledge as possible. Dr Seward seemed to be of the same opinion, stating that there was still books to research. Sir Malcolm and Ms Hartdegen were keen to leave, and Mr Chandler somewhat ambivalent. In the end they decided to take one more day for research and then investigate the address.
The dinner that night was filled with conversation, planning and theories. Henry stayed quiet. He noted that Sir Malcolm was more subdued than usual as well. He doubted the old man felt ashamed about the fight, he probably felt he had acted well within his rights. But for Victor’s sake, Henry would try to keep the peace. He had observed the way Victor interacted with these people for a few days now and he was starting to get a sense of the dynamics at play. It was clear that Victor was not very close to Ms Hartdegen or Dr Seward. He was closer to Sir Malcolm and Mr Chandler, but it seemed to Henry as if they were more familiar with each other than Victor. Mr Chandler was warm towards Victor, but there wasn’t the same type of easy confidence when he spoke to Victor as when he spoke to Sir Malcolm. There was something fatherly over Sir Malcolm’s interactions with Mr Chandler that was lacking when he spoke to Victor. Something that said that Victor was once again the less favoured son. Henry thought Victor must be aware of it too, but was uncertain how much it bothered him.
After dinner they spent time preparing what they could for the morning’s work on the slides, but eventually there was not much left to do and the hour turned late. They went upstairs. Henry laid down on his hard sofa, Victor sat on the edge of his bed, staring at the boarded up window.
“I can’t shake the feeling that they will come after us.” He sounded so tired.
“Don’t think of it, Victor. Try to rest.” Victor chuckled mirthlessly.
“That is all I do.” He laid down. Henry frowned worriedly. Victor was getting better, but the withdrawal had taken a hard toll on him. The loss of sleep and lack of appetite would wear him down, make him sick, or cause him to turn back to the needle. Henry pondered the problem for a long time before he fell asleep.
Victor turned over. For a moment he’d been dreaming. Of Proteus standing beside the bed, asking him to come outside and look at the fairy lights. Of black insects crawling out from under his skin. Victor had jerked awake to find him gone. The only sound in the room was Henry’s even breaths, each catching the edge of a snore. Victor envied him desperately. His thoughts turned back to the beggar, how Victor hadn’t noticed before it was too late. How he hadn’t noticed Henry was injured. Victor remembered the relief in seeing that it really was just a small scratch. The red blood had been so bright against the tan of Henry’s skin, so wrong. Tending to it had been utterly uncomfortable. Henry had sat as still as a statue, barely breathing. Victor’s hands had been unwilling in their task. He sighed and turned. He felt exhausted and alert at the same time. He needed to sleep, but his thoughts would not stop spinning. He needed to think, but he was too tired. He just wanted to sleep.
Henry woke. The room was still dark. He lifted his head and looked around. Victor stood by the window, peering out though the boards.
“Victor?” He said in a hoarse voice. Victor didn’t reply. Henry wondered for a moment about the morphine, but no, if he’d taken it he would be asleep at last. He rose and stood next to him, looking out. There was nothing to see but an empty street.
“There’s a man.” Victor whispered. “Over there, outside the light.” Henry looked again. He saw no man, and was about to say so, when a small movement drew his eye. In the shadows of a corner was a dark shape. “I can feel him watching me.” He sounded haunted. Henry turned to Victor, took in his exhausted posture, the distressed stare.
“Come away from the window, old man.” He said in a low voice, feeling suddenly exposed. Victor didn’t move. Henry carefully laid his hand on Victor’s arm, over the sleeve and steered him towards the bed. Victor sat down obediently. Henry felt the chill of his skin through his shirt. How long had he stood there? “They won’t get in.” He said, even though they both knew that wasn’t certain. “Lie down.” Victor shook his head.
“I can’t. I have such horrid dreams.” He said in a choked whisper.
“You are freezing, you will make yourself sick.”
“I am sick already.” There was such misery in his voice. Henry longed to reach out, to embrace him, warm him and comfort him. He sat down next to him in bed, maintaining a few inches of space between them.
“You are getting better.” His words sounded paltry. Victor swayed where he sat.
“It doesn’t feel like it.” The whisper was barely audible.
“What can I do to help you, Victor?” He steeled himself for the reply. Victor rubbed at his face. When the answer came it was quiet, embarrassed.
“Would you read to me?” Henry sat quiet for a moment, surprised. Victor continued. “It helped. Before.” He didn’t look at Henry, who found his voice.
“Of course.” Victor relaxed a little. There were books of poetry on the bedside table. Henry was not surprised. He got a chair, lit a lamp and started to read. Victor lay down under the covers and listened.
Thin lines of morning light shone through the boards. Henry put the book down, his voice hoarse and cracked. Victor’s eyes were closed, his breathing even, face relaxed. His night had not been a restful one, but here and there he’d seemed to fall into a slumber. Henry himself felt the lack of sleep, but he’d slept less than this and remained functioning. It was more important that Victor rested now. Henry should get up, should not sit here staring, but he did. Victor started to stir, breath deepening. He blinked open his eyes, found Henry by the bed. For a moment they looked at each other, then Victor broke the silence.
“You needn’t have spent the whole night by my side.” His voice was quiet and still, Henry thought there was gratitude in it.
“I slept plenty.” I wanted to. I want to spend every night by your side. “And besides, that sofa doesn’t do my back any favours.” He rose, stretching despite the twinge in his side. Trying to break the mood: too quiet and too dangerous. Too tempting. “Let’s go get some breakfast in you.” Victor gave him an unamused look.
There was no one downstairs as they got there. They went into the kitchen where Victor put the kettle on as Henry started toasting bread. They sat at the small kitchen table to take their breakfast. Henry cut an apple in small slices and placed them on Victor’s plate, which earned him another look, but Victor ate them. When Mr Chandler came downstairs they were already busy preparing the slides for microscopy.
“Good morning, Victor, Lord Hyde.” His voice betrayed his surprise to see them up. “Had a good night?” Henry wondered if Victor would tell him about the man in the shadows last night, but he didn’t mention anything. Henry answered equally noncommittally.
One by one the others woke and sat down with breakfast and books. Dr Seward was examining the pile of black stones again, although they had found nothing in their studies of them. It was early afternoon before the first slides were finished, the day passing quickly. They found nothing of note. Victor was interested in the lining of the arterial walls where there was some atypical damage, but neither of them could say if it was relevant. The other samples showed nothing in the stains that they performed.
“I would like to wait for some of the more time-consuming stains to be finished.” Henry said as they examined the last batch of slides for the evening. They needed to lie in a chemical bath overnight and then have a few hours of preparation in the morning.
“It’s a shame we don’t have the time.” Victor was frowning over the microscope. “But we can certainly look at them tomorrow after we return.” He seemed so confident that they would. But Henry remembered the crazed look in the beggar’s eye. He remembered the haunted expression on Victor’s face in the night. How easy it was to dismiss your fears in the light of day and company of others.
“We should leave early in the morning, it will be easier to move.” Ms Hartdegen’s voice broke through Henry’s thoughts. They had been debating the course of action for tomorrow’s expedition for the best part of the day. “I agree that there will be less people, and thus a larger risk of being spotted, but frankly the presence of others didn’t prevent them from attacking Lord Hyde in the streets.” There was a derisive edge to her voice, Henry pretended not to notice.
“I suppose you’re right.” Sir Malcolm sighed. It seemed they were finally in agreement. “We will set off before dawn then. We have a few hours to sleep, I suggest we take advantage of them.”
Upstairs in their bedroom as they prepared for bed Henry turned to Victor.
“Would you like me to read to you again?” He felt foolish for asking, afraid of sounding too eager. But it had seemed to help Victor, and he wasn’t sure his friend would ask him again. Victor paused as he sat down on his bed.
“You won’t get any rest.” There was hesitation in his voice and he didn’t look at Henry.
“Neither have you for some nights now.” Henry kept his voice carefully light.
“The chair will be uncomfortable for you.” Henry was about to say that so was the sofa when Victor continued in the same quiet voice. “We can share the bed.” Henry stilled. Victor didn’t move, sat on the side of the bed with his eyes on the floor. Henry searched for words, looking for anything that would not sound desperate or depraved. He should say no, shouldn’t think about it, but he couldn’t. He knew Victor did not mean it in the way that Henry deep down wanted. Knew it was exhaustion and possibly guilt speaking. He shouldn’t. But Henry wanted to be close to him. In any way that Victor permitted.
“If you’re sure.” His voice came out a whisper. Victor looked up at him with an unreadable expression. Henry didn’t know which emotions his own face betrayed, but Victor nodded and rose. There was a sword hanging over the mantle. He took it down and lay it in its scabbard on the middle of the bed over the covers. Henry found himself giving a quiet chuckle. It was a gesture from an old tale, where the hero would place his sword in between himself and the princess to protect her chastity. So like Victor to think of it. Victor slipped under the covers on his side, and Henry slowly did the same. The weight of the sword pressed the covers down between them, but the bed was wide and there was enough space. Victor handed Henry a book and turned his back to him. Henry read until Victor had fallen into uneasy sleep and he felt his own eyelids droop. When he turned his face to the pillow it held Victor’s scent.
Victor slept lightly. There were no dreams, only the distant sound of Henry’s voice and then silence.
A knock on the door woke Henry. There was a brief moment of disorientation before he could call out to let them know he was awake. He was lying on his side, in Victor’s bed. He turned over and could make out Victor’s open eyes in the shadows.
“Did you sleep?” He felt dismayed to hear his apprehension colour his voice. Victor drew a deep breath and nodded. There was something sad in his expression. Henry met his eyes in silence. Victor’s gaze moved slowly over his face, coming back to meet his eyes.
“Do you feel ready?” He whispered. Henry shook his head.
“I’m not sure I ever could. We’re walking into the unknown.” Victor gave him a melancholy smile, then turned over and slipped from the bed.
The others were already there when Victor and Henry came downstairs. No lights were lit, but the house kept in darkness as they gathered their arms and equipment. Henry was given a gun and a grave look from Mr Chandler. The weapon seemed to weigh more this morning than it had a few days ago in the basement, heavy with the promise of violence. There was little conversation and every face seemed carved in stone. They slipped out though a hidden passage in the basement. As they reached the streets they kept close together, Mr Chandler at the front and Ms Hartdegen at the rear, keeping guard.
Mist was hanging in the air, softening the silhouettes of the surrounding buildings and cooling their faces as they walked. Henry stayed near to Victor in the middle of the group. Silence ruled, their steps seeming louder against the cobblestones than what six people ought to produce. Henry looked around the dim streets, but could not tell if the few people they saw were ordinary people or madmen with stones in their hearts. It seemed the others shared his concern, judging by the quick glances they cast around them as they moved through the shadows.
When they arrived at the address the sky were no longer black, but an inky grey. They stood in front of a tenement building, which might not have been unlike Victor’s once, but now it was run-down and abandoned. They forced the door. Henry took a firm hold of the gun as they entered.
Inside was darkness, shadows and complete silence. There was rubble and debris on the floor and a faint odour of unwashed bodies in the air; it seemed it was not uninhabited after all. Mr Chandler took point, leading them through a door, where they were met by more dirt, dust and rubble. They pressed on. Found similar things in every room and a few signs that people had lived there recently. The silence was thick in the air, but despite it, Henry felt a cold pressure on the back of his neck, as if glazed eyes were watching from the shadows. On the landing of the second floor Sir Malcolm bent down to root through a pile of blankets when they heard a sound behind them. They spun, and faster than Henry could react a gunshot rang out and the dishevelled woman standing behind them fell, dead.
“Seems we’re at the right place.” Mr Chandler said as he lowered his gun. Henry took a step towards her. It was a different feeling, standing over a corpse, when you’d seen it breathing just moments ago. When you’d seen it being killed. The blood was dark on the front of its dress.
They had only that moment to collect themselves before more people appeared in silence, above and below them in the stairs. They all had that same wild stare and seemed to have armed themselves with whatever they could find. As one they threw themselves at the group. Henry barely got his gun up before a young man was on him, trying to claw at his face with his hands. Henry got an arm up between them, but the man did not stop trying to get his long nails in his eyes. He seemed abnormally strong, and Henry felt a rising feeling of panic as the fingers grew nearer. He shifted his angle, got the gun pointed at his ribs and squeezed the trigger. The madman went limp, falling from his grip. There was no time to reflect, no time to feel, only to raise the gun and take aim at a second madman. The gun jerked and the man fell. A third came after him. The world was reduced to a few feet and a mass of bodies.
As soon as it had started it ended. The wall of creatures still standing froze, then backed away. A horrible chattering sound started emanating from their throats. Henry was sure they had killed a fair number, could see the bodies surrounding them on the floor, but it seemed not to have made a dent in their numbers. As one, their heads turned up the stairs. Above them stood a tall woman. She was dressed in a ragged dress, her hair fell matted to her waist and she had the same inflamed marking as the others, branded over her face. But there was a different fire in her eyes. She was pale, her eyes rimmed with red and pearly blue in colour. She gave them a contemptuous look.
“Dead men.” Her voice was dry and cracked. “Fools.” She raised her arm and pointed at them. Mr Chandler raised his gun and fired, but she dodged, quick as thought. The rest of the creatures fell silent as they attacked again.
“Fall back!” Sir Malcolm’s voice rang out over the sound of gunshots. Henry looked around desperately, saw Ms Hartdegen at his side firing at the creatures, Victor a few feet away, not visibly injured. They started retreating down the stairs, focusing on thinning the numbers below them. At the rear Ms Hartdegen had switched to knives to keep them away, and Henry did his best to cover her, knowing that if one of them fell they would be overrun. He started despairing that they would ever leave this house, when suddenly he was jerked back by a hand on his arm.
“Run.” Mr Chandler’s voice was urgent. The path to the door was clear, or clear enough. He ran for it, tearing away from the hands that would grasp him. The morning light nearly blinded him as he passed through the doorway. Victor was just ahead of him and Henry felt immense relief to see him unharmed. The creatures hesitated in the door for just a moment. They didn’t wait for them to follow, but kept running.
After a few blocks they stopped and breathed. It seemed as if they all had made it out and their hunters appeared to have let them go for now. The people in the street cast sidelong glances at them that were quickly angled away when they fell on their weapons. Was there any whose gaze lingered? Anyone with the glaze of madness over their eyes?
“Come on, we can’t stay here.” Sir Malcolm cast a wary gaze around him and led them away.
The relief when the heavy door of Sir Malcolm’s closed behind them was palpable. They all stood just breathing for a moment. Victor spoke first.
“Any injuries?” Astonishingly, there was nothing major, some scrapes and bruises that he and Henry treated as they sat down in the parlour. Victor was looking at Ms Hartdegen’s stitches, which seemed to have miraculously held. Henry tended a cut over Sir Malcolm’s eye, both of them uncomfortably stiff. Mr Chandler made tea.
“Well that was a mistake.” Dr Seward cut to the heart of it. Henry didn’t disagree.
“There was nothing in our research indicating that they might aggregate in such numbers.” Ms Hartdegen’s frustration was clear. “Or any mention of a leader such as that.”
“Your research has not provided much tangible information at all.” Victor remarked, his voice unusually cool.
“They seemed almost enthralled.” Dr Seward mused. “But then again, we don’t know if that is normal or not.”
“What did that woman remind you of?” Mr Chandler asked quietly. Sir Malcolm answered.
“Vampires.” Dr Seward added, a thoughtful frown appearing on her face. Henry felt his own brows draw down. From what Victor had told him, this was not good.
“I have not come across anything connecting vampires to these creatures.” Ms Hartdegen was not outright dismissive.
“Perhaps it’s something new.” Victor mused.
“Whatever it is, we need to rethink our strategy.” Dr Seward sipped her tea. “I don’t think we can go wandering in there again. We need to take a defensive stance until we can figure out a strategy.” There were no objections.
Since it was still mid-morning, Henry and Victor returned to their work, finishing the last few stains. As they worked, Henry noticed that Victor’s hands shook more and more. After he almost spilled a bottle of acid over the worktable, which would have ruined their work, Henry spoke up.
“Let’s take a break.” He said in an undertone and led Victor away. They went around the corner, behind the stairs. “What’s wrong?” Victor didn’t meet his eyes, he held his arms tight around his chest, shrinking in on himself. A horrible suspicion came to Henry, he had not kept Victor constantly within his sight, had trusted him perhaps too much. “Have you gone back to the needle?” His voice came out unsteady. Victor shook his head quickly.
“No.” He said in a murmur.
“Then what?” He tried to catch Victor’s eye. Victor didn’t let him. “Victor?”
“It’s nothing. Just nerves. I’ll be more careful.” There was no truth in his voice, but Henry didn’t know how to push for more without starting an argument. He didn’t want that with Victor’s friends in the next room. He went into the kitchen to make some tea, leaving Victor in the hallway. Mr Chandler was there, preparing lunch.
“Good to get some help in the kitchen.” Henry gave him a cool look. He didn’t seem to take notice.
“You seem to like it here well enough.” Mr Chandler chuckled.
“I don’t mind it. By the way, you did pretty well back there.” Henry sighed. There had been no thoughts of right or wrong in his mind then, just reaction. That’s what he told himself. He had only reacted to those creatures trying to kill him. But there was some dark part of him that had been thrilled with the violence. Some part that had liked the power of it.
“Better we had not gone.” He said. Mr Chandler hummed his agreement. Henry finished the tea and left the pot in the kitchen, bringing a cup for himself and one for Victor. His friend was sat at the table, resting his head in his arms.
“Here.” Henry said, placing the cup before him. Victor raised his head and took it. Henry sat opposite, trying to steal a look at Victor’s pupils. Victor noticed and frowned, giving him a pointed look. They were of normal size.
“I think we will be able to finish the slides within the hour.” Victor’s voice was nonchalant.
“I agree.” Henry watched him. Despite his shaking hands he was looking better. Still underweight, but there was more life in him. That feverish glow that had surrounded him since the day they had reunited in his lab had faded. Left was Victor.
“I’m glad you have the time to take a tea break.” Dr Seward’s dry voice cut through Henry’s thoughts. “It’s going well then?” She sat down next to them.
“Yes.” Henry kept his voice neutral. He found Dr Seward was one of the less grating people in the house.
“Good.” They talked little more as they finished their tea.
They could not finish the staining within the hour, as they had to pause for lunch and Henry insisted they didn’t skip it. Mr Chandler had made a thick soup of vegetables, but Victor barely touched it. Henry’s concern grew, but he said nothing, surrounded by the others as they were. After, they returned to their work and were able to finish the slides half an hour later. They selected a slide of the liver and Victor was the first one to look. His expression changed immediately.
“What?” Henry said sharply. Victor frowned.
“There are specks. Tiny specks throughout the tissue.” He surrendered the microscope to Henry. There were indeed tiny, black specks throughout the liver. They seemed to be in larger concentrations near the vessels, but permeated the whole tissue. “Have you ever seen a sample like this?” He asked.
“Never.” Victor was reaching for a second slide, Henry reached over and took it first, with a look at Victor’s unsteady hand. Victor didn’t comment, merely bent closer as if he could look over Henry’s shoulder. For once Henry was not distracted by his nearness, so absorbed in the discovery he was. They found the same thing in almost every sample. The more blood flow to the area, the more tiny specks there was, with two exceptions: The highest concentration was found throughout the brain, and in the heart there was nothing.
“Remarkable, I would have thought them some kind of precursor to the stones we found, but it appears they are not.” Victor said.
“Perhaps they are, perhaps it’s merely that the ones in the heart have all grown.” Henry indicated the stones in their pile on the table.
“What does this mean for us then?” Mr Chandler asked. The others had gathered around them, following their discussion.
“The high concentration in the brain definitely confirms that this is what changes the behaviour of the hosts.” Victor’s voice was light, satisfied with their discovery. “As to how we can use it, that remains to be seen.”
“Well then there is just one thing remaining for this afternoon.” There was some kind of grim satisfaction in Sir Malcolm’s voice. “Preparing for a siege.”
That’s what they did. Preparing guns, making plans and compiling their research. The results were meagre. There were no references to these creatures gathering in numbers. No references to them stalking anyone in such an organised manner. No reference to any leader, or any connections to vampires. Outside the window the shadows were lengthening. Victor stood looking out through the boards, hands tucked under his arms, his expression betraying nothing. Henry joined him for a moment and thought he could occasionally glimpse a figure in the shadows, but never clearly. Never enough to be sure they were really there. If they were, the charms seemed to be working well so far in keeping them out.
As they prepared for bed there was some debate whether to have someone awake and on guard, and in the end Mr Chandler and Ms Hartdegen volunteered. Victor had grown more and more quiet throughout the evening, not eating a single bite for dinner, and Henry had grown more concerned. He knew that the symptoms of withdrawal could come in waves, but this seemed to him to be something more. When they were finally up the stairs and in the relative seclusion of their room he turned to him.
“Victor, talk to me.” He kept his voice low, mindful of Ms Hartdegen sitting in the corridor outside. Victor kept his back to him, walked over to the window. “Victor!” Henry hissed, his voice firm. He strode after him and laid his hand on his arm, spinning him around, too worried to be mindful of his touches. He’d expected resistance, but Victor just sagged in his grip, letting his head fall onto Henry’s shoulder. Henry froze. Victor was shaking. His hands slowly came up around Henry’s waist, gripping the fabric of his waistcoat. Henry let his own arms enfold Victor, feeling as if a fog had descended on his mind. Victor was clinging to him now, shaking with silent sobs. He had rarely seen Victor cry like this. It had been Henry who had succumbed to his tears while at university and Victor who had seemed always able to stay loftily above it all. Victor had been the one to provide a shoulder to cry on. Carefully he stroked Victor’s back, feeling his hair brush softly against his cheek. They stood there for a long time. Eventually Victor’s breathing evened out, his tears drying up. He didn’t let go and Henry didn’t release him, merely continued to softly stroke his back. When Victor finally backed away his eyes were downcast.
“I’m sorry.” His voice was thick.
“I’m concerned for you, Victor.” Henry answered. His arms felt empty, his chest cold. Victor shook his head.
“Don’t be. I’ll be fine, just a long day.” Again he shut Henry out, as quickly as that, leaving him only to watch as Victor sniffed and reached for his handkerchief. The skin of his eyes and nose were red and swollen, his face wet. His eyes were brilliantly blue. Henry’s heart ached.
They changed for bed in silence. Henry asked, though it pained him, if Victor wanted him to take the sofa, but Victor replied in the negative. Again, Henry slid under the covers with Victor just an arm’s length away, separated only by the weighted covers. Victor was turned towards him, his eyes lost in the distance, still glossy with moisture. Unbidden, Henry picked up the book from yesterday and resumed reading. Every now and then he glanced at Victor, who lay unchanging by his side. Eventually his eyes closed and his breathing evened out. Henry kept reading a while longer. His own sleep was filled with uneasy dreams, forgotten by morning.
Victor wanted only to get away, only to be alone. There had been a pressure building up inside him all day. Part of it was the tension from the battle with the insect-like creatures, part of it exhaustion. Part of it the lingering psychological effects of the withdrawal, and part of it was grief. Grief over Lily, over Vanessa, over Henry – his lost friend. There had been no time to process any of it. Victor had not given himself the time, he’d escaped into the tranquil haze of the syringe. Henry was talking to him now, wanting to know what was wrong, but Victor wasn’t sure he could put it into words. He withdrew, moving over to the window. Henry followed, took him by the arm and the touch broke something in Victor. Rather than pushing away, he leaned in. Some primal part of himself craved the comfort. This close he could smell Henry. Could not avoid comparing his scent to Lily’s – sweet perfume, flowers and femininity, but underlying it all the smell of formaldehyde and decay. Henry’s scent was musky, masculine and above all warm and alive. Victor’s grief caught up with him.
Henry woke slowly. It was warm and soft and he felt content to just lay there for a moment. He moved a little, his head hitting something hard. He opened his eyes. The hilt of a sword was in front of him. When he lifted his gaze further he saw Victor just a few inches away, breathing softly, his eyes moving in sleep under his eyelids. His face was burrowed into the pillow. The marks of exhaustion on his face seemed softer than the day before, but his eyes were still swollen and red. Henry told himself he lay still because he didn’t want to wake Victor by moving. His eyes drifted over Victor’s features – his nose, his long lashes, the dimple of his chin, his lips. Suddenly Victor gasped and opened his eyes. He was breathing hard, staring straight ahead before focusing on Henry, startling and drawing back a little.
“Nightmare?” Henry whispered, hoping that Victor hadn’t noticed him staring. Victor squeezed his eyes shut and nodded.
“I keep dreaming of them. My creations.” He said in a pained whisper. Henry kept quiet, and he continued. “My monsters. I think it was the dreams as much as anything that drove me to the needle.”
“Don’t let them drive you back, Victor.” Henry breathed. Victor looked small like this, in the dim light filtering in through the windows. Downstairs with the others he would be the self-assured professional, but that façade fell away when they were alone. Below it Victor was badly hurt. “Let me help you.” Victor sighed and turned on his back.
“You can’t help with everything, Henry.” Henry resisted the urge to reach out, to pull him back as he rose on his elbows. Perhaps sensing it, Victor looked down at him. “But thank you.” There was hesitation in his voice. “For reading. It helps.” He got out of bed. Henry stayed still for a moment longer, trying to hold on to that feeling of closeness.
They came downstairs. Sir Malcolm and Mr Chandler sat in the sofa, turning as they entered.
“Good morning, gentlemen.” Mr Chandler’s voice was too cheery for a man who had been up half the night. “There’s tea in the kitchen.” Victor murmured his thanks and they went to get their breakfast. As Henry was pouring tea into a cup Sir Malcolm entered.
“Doctor, may I speak with you?” Victor looked up and nodded. “Alone?” He gave Henry a pointed look and Henry returned it coldly, slowly picking up his food and leaving the kitchen. He took a seat in an armchair. Mr Chandler turned to him.
“So, now we hole up and lick our wounds, but they’re still out there.” His voice was low and intended to persuade. Henry kept his attention on his tea. “They lick their wounds and regroup, and they have numbers on their side. Don’t you agree that we should take the opportunity and strike back?” Henry took a deep breath, his annoyance growing.
“I think that yesterday was a mistake, Mr Chandler.” He kept his voice and expression cold. “It surprises me that you are so eager to repeat it.”
“I’m concerned about you, Victor.” There was sincerity in Sir Malcolm’s voice, but Victor was tired of being the subject of others’ concern. “Yesterday you nearly got your throat cut.” And how glad Victor was that Henry hadn’t seen that. “And in the evening you were not yourself. What is the matter?” His gaze was heavy, his expression serious and Victor felt he had to tell him something.
“It’s withdrawal.” It was the least damning part of the truth. “I’ve stopped taking the injections.” Sir Malcolm’s concerned frown did not change.
“Are you sure that’s wise?” The question surprised him. Henry was so adamant that he quit, and Vanessa’s eyes had been full of sadness and disapproval of his habit. But then again, Sir Malcolm had never shown any objection to it. “If it affects you so?”
“Yes.” His voice was less certain then he would have liked. “It became… too much. It left no room for anything else.” Sir Malcolm’s face softened in fatherly concern.
“If you say so I believe it. I just worry that you are not at your best at such a critical time.” Victor shook his head, uncertain what to reply. “It’s a hard thing to do, breaking an addiction.”
“Henr- Lord Hyde has been helping me.” Sir Malcolm frown returned.
“Very well then. Just know I’m here for you if you need me.”
“Why should we throw ourselves back into that trap?” Henry said. He really could not believe these people’s urge to throw themselves into danger. The American raised his eyebrows, but paused as Victor and Sir Malcolm returned. Victor gave Henry a questioning look and Sir Malcolm frowned at him. There was no clue as to what they may have talked about. Henry winced internally at the thought. He didn’t want to be jealous or possessive, but it was hard when it came to Victor.
“Do you still think we should go on the offensive then, Ethan?” Sir Malcolm’s voice was light. Victor sat down on the end of the sofa closest to Henry. He seemed distracted.
“I think it’s the only reasonable option.”
“I think it’s too big a risk. You saw how many there were there, how dangerous they were, even when surprised. Now they are forewarned and there will likely be many more, if they are even still there.” They had clearly had this argument before, resuming it with great vigour and soon Ms Hartdegen and Dr Seward came downstairs to join in. Victor involved himself, arguing that waiting might be more dangerous in the long run. Henry stayed out of it, despite a pointed look from Victor. Though he felt that going back was a mistake, he didn’t think that his voice weighed heavily in this company.
“What we need is a plan.” Ms Hartdegen said. “We can’t just run in with guns blazing like the last time. I believe that that woman is the key.” She leaned over, ensuring their attention. “Whatever the books say, we can agree that she seems to hold some kind of power over the rest of them.” Her eyes were sharp, her expression serious. “I don’t know if it would make them abandon their hunt, but it seems likely that killing her will at least make them less organised, and thus a less dangerous foe.” It made sense as a plan.
“Perhaps, but how do we get close to her without a repeat of last time?” Sir Malcolm’s tone was not dismissive, but interested.
“We will have to sneak in, use stealth.” Mr Chandler’s voice was thoughtful. “And to a greater degree than last time. I think we need a smaller group.”
“You, me and Sir Malcolm?” Ms Hartdegen suggested. Henry was did not mind being left behind, but he could see that it stung Victor. Dr Seward too looked displeased.
“Very well.” Victor sighed. “I suppose we will stay behind to treat you when you return.”
“We will count on you.” Sir Malcolm softened his voice a little, probably intending to lessen the blow to Victor’s pride. Henry wondered if he knew just how proud Victor was. “You should stay inside the house. It will be safer.”
“Yes, yes.” Dr Seward’s rational voice cut him off. “Now let’s plan the attack, at least that we can all assist in.”
They decided on the evening as the time for the attack. Early morning had done them no favours, and this way there would be people around to mask their approach. They would try to enter the building from the upper floor, the neighbouring houses were close and it should be possible for them to go from one to the other. Henry didn’t pay full attention to them, but instead glanced at Victor. He was involving himself in the planning, not showing any bitterness over not being selected to come. There was a difference in his manners, and Henry couldn’t pinpoint what it was. Something in the way he gestured, talked. There was a restless energy to him. Perhaps it was due to getting more sleep, but Henry wasn’t sure. While he was absorbed in his thoughts they apparently decided it was his turn to cook lunch. He protested, but Victor gave him a scolding glance and offered to help.
He was not unfamiliar to the kitchen. When he was at school his father had never seen fit to give him enough money to hire a servant, and Henry didn’t think he could have stood having one. He’d cooked for himself and later, when he and Victor had gotten rooms together, they had taken turns. But it was not something either of them enjoyed, and he supposed it would show in the stew they put together. They spoke little, cleaning and chopping. Victor was again distracted, glancing toward the door, toward the others.
“Does it gall you so not to have been invited?” He said lightly. Victor started a little at the words. He looked like he would deny it, then changed his mind.
“To be honest, yes.” He turned back to the meat he was cutting into pieces. “I’ve told you about my brothers.”
“And in a way, Ethan reminds me of them. Especially when we first met. There was that same kind of comparison.” He gave a half-smile. “I find it ridiculous that there is still some part of me that feels that physicality matters.” Henry smiled back at him with his eyebrow raised.
“Is it not natural, to wish to emulate those values that society deems most desirable? No matter if you yourself possess or value them.” Victor looked at him, sceptically.
“Natural perhaps, but should we not try to rise above our nature? To our better selves?” Henry looked away, suddenly ashamed.
“We should.” He agreed quietly. The light mood evaporated and they continued in silence.
The afternoon passed slowly, spent at the books at Ms Hartdegen’s insistence. A few hours after dark the selected few left though the basement.
Left was Dr Seward, Victor and Henry. There seemed to be little point to research more. Though they didn’t show it, Henry suspected that Victor and Dr Seward were as doubtful as himself as to whether the others would succeed. Dr Seward engaged them in a discussion about the ethics of long-term medical incarceration, and was had some surprisingly good points about the matter. Her arguments were clever and did not go on the defensive when Henry questioned them. After a while he noticed that Victor had left quietly as they debated. Dr Seward noticed his distraction.
“I think Dr Frankenstein went upstairs.” She said dryly. Henry cast her a suspicious glance. “Oh, come on, there is obviously some issue between you. At least it’s obvious to me.” She took out a cigarette and lit it. “Go on, check on him, I have my gun right here.” Patting her pocket, she waved him on. Embarrassed to have been read so easily, Henry got up and left.
Upstairs he went to their room. The door was closed. He lifted his hand to knock, but a tendril of suspicion ran through his mind, and instead he pressed the handle down. Victor was sitting on the sofa with the tourniquet around his arm and a syringe in his hand. For a frozen second Henry wondered how many doors he would open to this scene.
“Victor!” Victor jumped and turned. Henry grabbed the hand that held the needle. “Please don’t.” Henry said desperately. Victor looked at him with a broken expression.
“I’m sorry. I can’t…” He trailed off. Looked down. His hand was slack in Henry’s grip and he relinquished the syringe without struggle. It was half-filled with liquid.
“Did you inject any?” Henry asked, looking down at Victor’s arm. His wrist was covered in blood; he’d had the needle in the vein and cut through it when he startled. Henry cursed, threw the syringe aside and reached into the bag for bandages. He staunched the flow and held Victor’s arm tightly, kneeling down in front of him on the floor, slumping.
“I’m sorry.” Victor repeated, his voice lost. “I just… lost control.” Henry looked up, Victor wore a despairing expression. “I can’t stop thinking of it. I know I was not well, I haven’t been for years, but I keep thinking that if I just had a little I would be all right.” Henry held onto his arm.
“You are all right, Victor.” He said imploringly. “You don’t need the narcotics. You are better without them.” Victor sighed and slumped.
“Did I do much damage?” The desperation in his voice had dulled into misery. Henry gently lifted the bandages. A tendril of blood immediately ran down his arm.
“You will need sutures.” Henry said, reapplying the pressure. He would give Victor this moment to collect himself. He got out the needle and thread while Victor held the bandage to his arm. He sat next to Victor and placed his arm on his lap. Victor removed the bandage and Henry placed the sutures, neat and close together. Victor leaned listlessly against the backrest.
“Do you want me to lock it away?” Henry asked after he’d finished. He hoped with all he had that Victor would not decline. Victor shivered.
“Yes. No. I don’t know.” He took a deep breath. “I don’t think I can trust myself with it, but the thought of not having it terrifies me.” His voice was distant, his eyes at the ceiling.
“Why?” Henry asked quietly.
“If I dream. If I can’t sleep. If I fail.” He turned his face to look at Henry. “The thought of being forced to be present terrifies me.” Henry returned his gaze. Victor’s eyes were lost and shadowed.
“Is it not better to be present than to be lost?” Victor’s expression didn’t change.
“Take it.” He whispered, barely audible. “Hide it. Lock it away.” Henry nodded solemnly. He left Victor to stare at his bandaged wrist, hid the box away in the room he’d used when he first came. When he returned Victor was still sitting in the same position. Henry led him downstairs. In the light of the hallway he paused and looked at Victor’s pupils. As far as he could tell he hadn’t yet gotten any morphine in his veins. Victor allowed the handling passively. Before they stepped into the parlour Victor straightened his back, visibly steeling himself. Dr Seward was sat in an armchair with a cup and a small book.
“There’s tea in the kitchen.” She said, as if they’d been gone for but a moment. Victor sat down on the sofa while Henry brought tea for them both. Victor took it with his bandaged hand. The cup clattered against the saucer. Henry sat down next to him.
“Should they not be back soon?” Victor asked, Henry suspected, more to fill the silence and to direct their thoughts.
“I suppose it depends on what they meet.” Henry answered.
“Not much we can do about it other than wait anyway.” Dr Seward added.
The conversation died down and the remaining tea was drunk in silence.
Henry was just about to take their cups to the kitchen when there was a knock on the door. They looked at each other, then rose as one and carefully approached the door. Dr Seward was the one to open the shutter. Sir Malcolm’s face greeted them.
“Success!” He said triumphantly as they entered, all looking hale and well. “The vampire is dead.”
“It seems we are out of the woods, so to speak.” Ms Hartdegen was wearing a broad, slightly bloodthirsty smile.
They gathered in the parlour to listen to the retelling. The group had snuck in and not alerted a single creature before coming upon the vampire. There had been a battle, ended by Mr Chandler’s bullet between the monster’s eyes. At that moment the rest of the creatures had scattered and as they made their way downstairs they had seen a few watching, but not approaching, not attacking. It did indeed seem as if they were out of danger.
“It was a strange woman, that.” Ms Hartdegen said. “She seemed vampire and creature both.” Victor replied pensively.
“Could it be possible, I wonder, for two strains of disease – or two curses, if you wish – to infect the same host?”
“And could it happen again?” Sir Malcolm added.
When they finished their speculations the hour was late. It seemed only practical for the guests to spend one more night. Henry felt a lump in his stomach at the thought, and was only too grateful that the others were the ones suggesting it. He snuck a glance at Victor, who had been participating in the conversation, behaving as if everything was well. Henry saw though him. Those shadows that plagued him still lingered in his eyes. When they walked upstairs his steps were slow. As soon as they reached their room (no one had raised the question of separating again to Henry’s great relief) he walked over to the window and looked out through the boards. Henry went over to stand next to him. The street below was empty.
“So it is over.” Victor said quietly, voice calm.
“Yes.” Henry answered back, uncertain of what he was referring to. It didn’t matter. He didn’t want it to be over, didn’t want to leave Victor. “Will-” The lump in his stomach had moved to his throat. “Will you go home?” Will you leave me? The question made him seem weak, made him seem low, but he needed to ask it.
“Where else would I go?” Henry wasn’t sure if it was his own wild hopes, but there was something not-quite rhetorical in Victor’s tone. Henry glanced at him. Victor was watching him, his expression indecipherable. Henry glanced away, looked out the window, searching for the right words. Perhaps movement drew his eye. At first he didn’t realise what he was looking at, absorbed by his swirling thoughts, but then he saw.
There was a hand pressed against the glass.
Henry drew a sharp breath, drawing Victor’s attention. The arm was moving, the hand pressing harder, the skin of the palm whitening as the blood was pushed out of it. Henry grabbed Victor’s arm, felt his own arm being grabbed as they backed away from the window. There was a moment of horrified stillness before the glass shattered and a pale hand smashed through the boards behind it.
Henry had to shield his eyes from the glass and splintered wood. When he lifted his gaze he saw a creature hanging from the window. Henry didn’t take in much of its appearance, only its eyes and its expression, both completely blank. It moved with a graceful stumble through the window, rising to its full height as soon as it touched the floor. There was another hand on the windowsill. The shock of the moment was fading, replaced by a dawning terror. Henry still carried the gun in his pocket. Raising it seemed to take forever. The first shot hit the creature in the arm. Its eyes focused on Henry, it took off like a sprinting cat and Henry fired again, blindly. The man crumpled.
Henry turned to Victor, who was grappling with another, too close to use his firearm. Henry raised his gun, hesitating, but the choice was taken from him as he was knocked to the floor by a heavy weight. The gun clattered to the floor, strong hands tried to close around his throat and he had to use all his strength to keep them from choking him. Distantly, Henry was aware of gunshots ringing out. The face above him was eerily blank, eyes boring into his without emotion. The hands were closing, fraction by fraction, and Henry felt the strength start to leave his arms. The world was going dark around the edges.
Suddenly the man collapsed. Henry was pinned under him and for a moment he could only lay there, gasping. Victor’s face appeared above him.
“Henry!” He could only blink, his arms were too heavy, his throat too bruised. Victor kneeled down and helped him out from under the dead man. “Hurry, the others.” He pulled Henry up and handed him his gun as they ran through the open door towards the sound of gunfire and yelling.
The nearest room belonged to Dr Seward and Ms Hartdegen. Their door was open as well, and as they approached Ms Hartdegen came rushing out.
“You’re unharmed, good.” She said before turning and rushing towards Sir Malcolm and Mr Chandler’s room. Dr Seward followed and together they ran into the room. Inside there was still a fight going on, Sir Malcolm and Mr Chandler were each grappling with one opponent, and a third one was running for the door before he met with Ms Hartdegen’s knife. The other two were quickly disposed of.
“Some of them ran past us.” Said Mr Chandler, he was breathing hard and had a line of blood down his face.
“Same here.” Echoed both Dr Seward and Victor. They turned to the door. The corridor was silent, no sign that they’d entered any other room. They carefully descended the stairs, weapons raised. Henry followed on Victor’s heels, noting that the bandage on his wrist was soaked with blood. In the parlour there was a broken window and books and items strewn around. A lone figure stood by the table, startling as they entered. Hastily it put one hand to its face, then ran for the window in loping, broken strides. It made it two steps before it was gunned down. They found no others as they searched the building.
“What were they after?” Sir Malcolm mused as they gathered in the parlour again. There was relatively little glass and splinters on the floor; the creatures had broken out rather than in. They sat by the fireplace having their wounds tended. Victor was looking at Dr Seward’s shoulder, Henry stitching a cut in Mr Chandler’s scalp, Victor dismissed his own bloodied bandages as a minor thing. Ms Hartdegen was bent over the corpse.
“They weren’t after us.” She said, straightening. “They were after these.” In her hand she held one of the black stones. “He was about to swallow it.”
“So the corpses with the hearts missing,” Sir Malcolm added darkly. “They were eating them.”
“Reclaiming those stones?” Mr Chandler put in. The thought was macabre.
“Perhaps we should dispose of the bodies.” Victor’s voice was practical. “Dump them in an alley where they can easily find them.” There was no disagreement. As soon as all wounds were treated they begun. The last patient was Victor, impatiently holding his arm out for inspection. The stitches had held.
Removing the corpses through the basement took most of the night, and when they turned their attention to the mess inside the sky was greying. Repairs and cleaning was needed, but Sir Malcolm could not bring workmen to a blood-soaked house where all the windows were boarded up and arcane tokens hung in the corners. They were put to work removing the boards and charms and cleaning up the bloodstains.
Henry should have resented the work, but again he felt a feeling of dread at the thought of leaving. He could have left, there was no danger holding them together now. And since there was nothing holding them together, what would keep him by Victor’s side? After all, they’d lost contact before. He thought they had separated as good friends when he left Cambridge, but then Victor’s letters stopped coming. He felt as if these last few days Victor had stopped pulling away, but that could be because of the circumstances. Even worse was the thought that once Victor was on his own, nothing would keep him away from the morphine. His thoughts circled ceaselessly as they worked. They finished shortly after lunchtime and sat down to a small meal in the draft of the broken window downstairs.
“Thank you all for your help.” Sir Malcolm started. Henry had not expected him to acknowledge their efforts, but his voice and expression was sincere. “Let us hope that this time, we are really safe.”
“But have your guns nearby, just in case.” Mr Chandler shot in with a wink. Henry found himself giving a small smile along with the others.
“Oh, I will be sleeping with a gun under my pillow for the rest of my life.” Said Dr Seward. Henry believed her.
“Well, since that’s that, I for one will extract my things from the rubble and head home.” Ms Hartdegen sounded glad to do so. Henry hazarded a glance at Victor. He was tracing the rim of his teacup with a finger with a distant look to his face. Was he sad about leaving? Was he simply planning what to do when he went home? Or was he thinking about the narcotics? Henry took a drink of tea, trying to steer his mind back to the conversation around him. His throat hurt as he swallowed, the bruises from last night forming a dark ring around his neck. His mind kept wandering, and before he’d reached any clarity it was time to pack up and leave. He went upstairs while Victor was in the kitchen, helping with the dishes. He had only started when the door to the room opened.
“Looking to escape?” Victor’s voice was light, but his eyes serious. He closed the door and walked over to Henry.
“I don’t wish to outstay my welcome.” Henry’s voice was still hoarse from the bruising. Perhaps that would keep Victor from hearing too much in it.
“I don’t think you have. I think they’re warming to you.” Henry let out a painful chuckle. He needed to ask Victor, needed to keep him safe. He gave him a serious look.
“Victor, what will you do now?” Victor looked back. His expression was calm.
“I don’t know.” He was waiting for something, Henry realised suddenly. Waiting to see what Henry would say. The weight of the moment settled heavily in his stomach.
“You could come with me.” The words sounded so small, their implication so great. “Just until you get better.” As if one ‘got better’ from an addiction. “It won’t- I won’t do anything improper.” His voice was nearly a whisper by the time he finished. Victor just looked at him with unreadable eyes.
“Very well.” He said simply. Relief bloomed in Henry’s chest. The ache and weariness from the last day was washed away as the weight of dread disappeared. Whatever Victor saw in his expression he nodded and turned away. “Then we’d better get ready.” Henry resumed his packing with renewed vigour.
Their goodbyes were brief, saturated with exhaustion and tinged with the promise of meeting anew. Henry and Victor sat in their cab in silence. Henry maintained a careful inch of space between them, but as the carriage jolted their knees knocked. Victor didn’t withdraw, merely sat looking out the window with a distracted expression. Henry had almost drifted off when they reached their destination.
It felt like weeks since he’d left the manor. The servants approached, taking their bags. Letting them walk ahead, Henry turned to Victor, not quite managing to meet his eye.
“Where would you like to stay?” He’d thought of not asking, thought of just having Victor’s things brought to the same adjoining room as before. But that would not have assured Victor of his intentions. Henry would act the good friend.
“I thought I would take the same rooms as before?” Victor sounded surprised at the question.
“There are other rooms if you want.” Henry said quietly.
“Those rooms are fine.” Victor replied. There was a questioning frown on his face when Henry looked up.
“As you wish.” Henry kept his voice still, hiding his contentment inside.
He needed to lock the morphine away. He debated whether to bring Victor or not, but Victor had been the one to ask him to do it this time. It felt dishonest to leave him, distrustful. He sent the servants to prepare their rooms and brought Victor to the newer wing and his father’s quarters. On the doorstep to the study he hesitated for a moment.
“This was your father’s.” Victor stood next to him, peering in to the dusty room. Henry nodded mutely. Victor frowned at him.
“I told you there are no dear memories for me here. And in this room perhaps least of all.” He swallowed. “He summoned me here after I was thrown out of school. He was angry and scornful and smug. He’d been proven right after all. He always said I was useless.” The words slipped out of him, tasting like poison on his tongue. The spectre of his father’s voice seemed to hang in the air. Victor placed his hand on his shoulder.
“He was wrong.” The quiet conviction in Victor’s tone was comforting. There was such certainty in his eyes. Henry had to look away. He took a breath and stepped over the threshold. The safe already held Victor’s old case of narcotics. Henry added the new one and his own and locked it. He turned and saw Victor looking down at the linen-draped desk with a sad expression.
“Let us dwell on the past no more.” Henry said quietly and led the way out.
While the servants finished preparing Victor’s rooms, they sat in Henry’s study.
“It’s hard to believe it’s over.” Henry said, sighing.
“Yes, I know the feeling.” Victor’s voice was distant. “Last time I saw them was at Ms Ives’ funeral. Before that shortly after her death. And then this. There’s always so much death.”
“Is that not why you’ve made death your profession?” Henry asked. Victor shook his head.
“I’m not so sure of that choice anymore.” He looked down, dejection in his expression. “It led to such horrors. How could I continue? The only one of them that was pure was Proteus,” Victor’s voice was tinged with sadness. “And had he lived he might have turned out the worst monster of all.”
“Or he might have been a good man.” Henry said, Victor didn’t seem comforted. “Don’t give up on yourself, Victor. Even if you decide not to continue that work, there is still plenty to do.” He leaned forward a little. The impulse to reach out, to lay his hand on Victor’s was easier to suppress now. “In any field you’d care to apply yourself to.” He paused for a fraction. “Including mine. You will always be welcome as my partner.”
“I will drive you mad.” Victor said with a half-smile. Henry gave a small smile back. The mood between them seemed almost like before.
“Think about it.” He hoped Victor would. They sat in comfortable silence for a moment. Victor was studying the bandage on his wrist, running his fingers along it idly. Henry ran his finger over the scar in his own palm. He heard the servants leave, finished with Victor’s room. Victor looked up.
“Perhaps you should go have a rest, Victor.” Henry said, just like the mother hen Victor accused him of being. Victor didn’t comment on it though, instead he rose.
“I’ve a hard time sleeping lately.” There was a strange tone in his voice. He walked up to Henry where he sat in his armchair. Henry opened his mouth to speak, to ask him if he could help, but the words evaporated from his tongue as Victor reached out, laying his hand on Henry’s cheek. Henry looked up at him, bewildered. There was an aching pressure forming over his heart. Victor bent slowly forward, meeting his eyes, pausing with his lips hair’s breadth away from Henry’s.
Henry’s mind went blank. Victor leaned in, letting their lips brush in the softest of kisses. Before Henry could process it Victor had straightened.
“Victor?” He didn’t quite recognise his own voice. Victor looked down at him with a hesitant expression.
“I don’t think your feelings will change, Henry.” Victor said slowly. “But I’m starting to think that maybe mine can.” Henry’s mind was enveloped in mist. His heart was hammering. He reached out, took Victor’s hand, grounding himself. Victor returned the grip. Henry rose slowly. Victor could have backed away to give him room, but he didn’t. They stood chest to chest, almost touching. Henry swallowed.
“I never wanted to compel you to anything, Victor.” Victor looked up at him, eyes sincere.
“I know.” He said, leaning forward a little, bringing them into contact. Henry leaned in, Victor met him. The second time their lips touched was equally light, but without hesitation. Henry’s eyes closed. Victor’s lips were warm and soft, and the scent of him filled his nose. For a moment they stood there, hands clasped, meeting in a chaste kiss. Then Victor pressed closer, parted his lips and Henry pushed forward. Victor’s mouth was wet and warm. Henry shivered. His hands went to Victor’s waist without his conscious thought and he pulled him closer. Victor’s arms wound around his shoulders and one hand buried itself in his hair.
It was not as Victor had imagined. He’d thought kissing a man would feel alien, even if it was Henry, but it did not feel much different. Henry’s touch was more hesitant, almost afraid, his lips were cool. Experimentally, Victor parted his lips. The kiss changed, deepened. Henry pulled him close and Victor felt his heart skip a beat. This was different. There was a passion in it that he had never experienced. Intoxicating and addicting, it woke a yearning in his chest. He pressed closer to Henry, tangling his fingers in his soft hair.
They broke apart, both breathing hard, arms still around each other. Henry leaned his forehead against Victor’s, eyes closed. He felt Victor’s fingers ghost over his throat, tracing the dark ring of bruises there. He looked at him. Victor’s eyes were downcast, following the path of his fingers. Henry watched his long lashes move as he blinked. He ran his hands along his sides. Victor looked up, met his eyes. There was a look of soft wonderment in them. Henry reached up, brushed his thumb along Victor’s jaw and flattened his palm over the back of his neck. It was intoxicating, holding him. He tightened his grip, bringing Victor closer and he followed. Leaned in and kissed him and Victor allowed it. Victor’s free hand went around his waist and the other tightened in his hair. Henry felt the urge to deepen the kiss, turning it devouring, possessive, but he restrained himself. Victor was essential to him, he would be careful. When Victor pulled away he let him, loosened his grip, but kept his arms around him. Victor’s lips were flushed and gorgeous.
“Not bad.” His voice was breathy.
“No regrets then?” Henry could hear his uncertainty shine though, but Victor smiled and spoke.
“No.” Henry smiled back at him, filled to the brim with love and hope.
“Perhaps we should take that rest now.” Victor’s voice was warm. “And I mean rest.” He added, as an afterthought.
“Of course.” Victor held his hand as they went into the bedroom. He sat on Henry’s bed, removed his shoes and waistcoat and Henry started doing the same. Then he remembered. “The doors, let me lock them.” The servants should know better than to come in to the bedroom without his permission, but he could not risk them coming upon him and Victor asleep. He did not have much esteem as it was. Victor was laying down on the bed when he returned, looking at him with his eyebrows raised.
“You take no chances.” He said half-jokingly.
“No.” Henry said, smiling as he lay down close to Victor, face to face. Victor reached out and took his hand. “Do you want me to read to you, Victor?” Victor shook his head.
“You have a good voice for poetry, but I think you best let it heal.” Again he reached out to trace the bruise around his neck. He lay his hand lightly over it, fitting his palm to the mark. Henry shivered, didn’t know if it was from the memory or the feather-light touch. He lay still, tilting his head a little to allow Victor a better angle. He was filled with warmth. He looked into Victor’s eyes, and it was allowed. He could watch him and not feel like he was betraying their friendship. Perhaps it would end up a betrayal in the end, but for now all was well. Victor ran his fingers over the shell of his ear in a tickling touch. There was an examining aspect to Victor’s expression, as if he was conducting an experiment. But there was warmth there as well, and perhaps amazement. Henry gripped his hand a little tighter, and Victor met his gaze.
“That is not very conductive to rest.” He said quietly. Victor smiled softly and let his hand fall. He shifted, moving a little closer, his head coming to rest under Henry’s chin. Henry shifted so that his arm was under Victor, letting him rest his head upon his shoulder. It felt strange. They had shared a bed once or twice before, but not like this. But it felt right. Victor lay his arm on his chest. Henry buried his nose in Victor’s hair. Filled with content he drifted off to sleep.
Victor lay still and listened as Henry’s breathing evened out in sleep. He felt his own eyes wanting to drift shut, but kept them open. There was relief in lying here, in having made his decision. He’d felt so conflicted and unsure. Torn between wishing to never see Henry again and wanting his friendship. But when they’d tried to return to friendship it had not been the same. Shame had been radiating from Henry, charging every interaction, and Victor had not been able to stop thinking of that word. Love. It would have torn them apart. It still might, but this way, he thought, their chances were greater. Victor had never felt attracted to a man. But after some time’s contemplation he stopped feeling that initial sense of instinctive repulsion. And when he kissed Henry it hadn’t felt unnatural. It had been at once strange and familiar. Not repulsive, but compelling instead.
He rubbed his thumb over Henry’s side. He could feel the heat of him though the fabric of his shirt. Lily had been cold. He felt guilty for comparing them, but she was his only frame of reference when it came to this. She’d claimed she never cared for him, that it had all been an act. When comparing her touch to Henry’s he felt that perhaps he could at last believe that. There had been reverence in Henry’s face, devotion in his touch. Victor thought his decision had been the right one. There was a seed of happiness in his chest that had not been there for a long time. He closed his eyes and let sleep claim him.
There will a short chapter after this, and then it will be finally finished :) Thank you so much, everyone who's read it, and everyone who's clicked any kind of button, from kudos to comment. You've really made this such a happy experience for me.
This chapter might be pushing the rating a little? I've never written anything like this before, so any feedback would be appreciated. It was... hard to write.
Dear sibling, if you find it, please skip this chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Victor stayed at the manor. He kept his rooms and his laboratory on the South Bank, unwilling to part with it. Henry didn’t mind, had taken care of the rent for him, though Victor would never ask. They kept busy, planning and overseeing the construction of the new laboratory, where there would be plenty of space for them both to work (although Henry wondered how long it would take for them to get on each other’s nerves).
Victor’s health was improving by increments. He was still too thin, but would eat at almost every meal now, which was as much as he’d ever done. The nights were still difficult for him, sleep hard to find. He’d never mention the morphine, though Henry could tell it was on his mind. Sometimes his gaze turned hollow, his hands turned unsteady. Henry had little hope that that facet of his condition would improve. But Victor was strong enough to control it.
To Henry’s surprise and annoyance Victor’s friends seemed more inclined to keep in touch now than before. They sent letters, and even once invited them both for lunch. Henry declined, of course, but Victor claimed that they had been disappointed by his absence. Henry opted not to dwell on it.
In the evenings they shared a bed behind closed doors. They traded soft kisses and caresses, but nothing more. Henry still sensed hesitation in Victor, and did not want to press him. He had wanted for this for so many years, he could wait for as long as Victor wanted, forever even. What they shared now was more than he could have ever hoped for. Each day seemed filled with sunlight and each night he fell asleep with a warm glow in his heart.
Henry was dreaming. Victor was there. They were standing in his laboratory, by the copper tub where he had performed his miraculous work. Victor was smiling, asking if he could illustrate the procedure. With the logic of the dream Henry was naked before him. Victor was describing the operation in explicit, morbid detail, tracing his fingers over Henry’s chest in illustration. Henry wished he would trail them lower, and Victor reached down-
“Henry.” He was aware of being gently shaken. His face was in his pillow, he lifted it and looked over to Victor though a tangle of hair. He sat beside him in bed, lit by a single lamp with a book in his lap. “You were dreaming.” There was an amused expression on Victor’s face. Henry became very aware of in just what state he had awoken. “Moaning too. Was it a nightmare?” Victor’s voice held a teasing note. Henry was mortified. Victor had heard that. Maybe seen him writhing on the bed, pressing himself against the mattress. He let his head fall back onto the pillow, hiding his burning face. Victor leaned over and brushed his hair away, trying to turn his face towards him. “What did you dream about, Henry?” His voice was low. Henry twisted his head away. Victor leaned close and whispered in his ear. “What was it?” Henry shivered. “Tell me.” His lips were brushing Henry’s skin now.
“You.” He breathed. Victor chuckled softly, withdrew a little. “Don’t laugh.” He tried to turn his voice sharp but it came out breathy. Victor’s hand was still on his neck, stroking softly, sending shivers down his spine.
“Very well.” He murmured, and Henry could feel him moving closer, laying down right next to him. He tried to turn Henry’s head again, and this time Henry allowed it. Victor’s face was very close, his eyes soft and warm. Henry reached out, laying his hand on his waist and stroking softly. Victor leaned in and kissed him. His lips were cool and soft and Henry still felt awed that Victor would want this. He deepened the kiss slowly, savouring the moment, the feeling of Victor near him. He felt like he was burning, a slow, consuming fire filling him. Victor shifted nearer, bringing them fully into contact. Henry’s first instinct was to back away, to hide his arousal. But then he felt Victor’s similar affection pressing against him, and instead moved closer. He shifted his hips against Victor’s, the friction sending sparks up his spine.
Victor gasped, bringing a rush of cold air between their lips. He pressed forward, fisting his hand in Henry’s hair, the kiss turning almost forceful. Henry rolled over, on top of Victor, unthinkingly seeking more contact. He could feel Victor shivering against him, felt him relaxing minutely, letting Henry take control of the moment. Encouraged, Henry ran his hand down Victor’s side until he touched his bare leg. His other arm took his weight, hand stroking Victor’s face. He needed to see him. He pulled away, smiling as Victor tried to follow. He stroked Victor’s thigh lightly, feeling the small soft hairs that grew there. Victor’s eyes were dark, pupils fully dilated, his expression dazed. His mouth was red and swollen and wet with saliva.
“May I?” He made his voice soft, the words coming out almost like a purr. He moved his fingers slightly higher, making his meaning clear. Victor swallowed and nodded, reaching out to pull Henry in for a bruising kiss. Henry traced his fingers slowly upward, feeling the faint shiver running through the muscles. The hair turned denser, coarser. Victor’s breath caught as Henry reached his goal. He moved his hand experimentally and Victor moaned softly. Henry drank it up, devoted himself fully to his task. Before long Victor was grinding against him, breaking the kiss and tilting his head away. His eyes were squeezed closed and his long, white throat was irresistible. Henry leaned in and kissed it, tracing his pulse through his lips. The collar of the nightshirt prevented him from following its line further.
“Take it off.” He murmured, releasing Victor from his grip and pushing the shirt up his stomach. Victor rose shakily on his elbows, struggling out of the garment and capturing Henry’s lips in a searing kiss. Henry trailed his hand over Victor’s chest, feeling the contour of each rib clearly. He trailed his hand down the stomach, and lower. Victor gasped. Henry returned his mouth to Victor’s chest, resolved to kiss every inch of it.
Victor was making the most enticing sounds, as Henry’s tongue circled his nipple. His hands were dragging over Henry’s shoulders, fisting in the fabric of his nightshirt, grasping at his hair. “Don’t pull, Victor.” He meant it as an admonishment, it came out more like a moan. Victor softened his grip, running his fingers feverishly though it.
“Sorry.” He breathed, turning it into a whine. “Don’t stop.” There was an edge of desperation to his voice now, a franticness to his movements. Henry sped up his strokes, leaning up to lay a messy kiss on his lips as Victor came, moaning shamelessly loud and twitching against him.
Henry stayed on top of him a moment longer and then rolled away, taking his weight off his burning arm. He lay down close to Victor’s side, feeling the heat rolling off them both. Victor was breathing hard, eyes closed, sweat glistening on his skin. Henry watched him, shivering with nearness and need, but he lay still, indulging in the feeling of Victor’s bare skin against him.
Victor’s breathing was slowing by degrees. He turned his head slowly and watched Henry though lidded eyes.
“I feel like we should have done this years ago.” Henry chuckled into his shoulder. Victor reached out, running his fingers down Henry’s cheek. “And I believe I have a favour to repay.” His voice was quiet, seductive. He leaned in for a soft kiss, Henry let him take the lead, reining in his desire, keeping the kiss soft and slow. Victor trailed his fingers down Henry’s neck, down his chest, under the collar of his nightshirt.
“Take it off.” His voice was like warm honey. Henry moved to oblige, feeling suddenly hesitant, despite his want. He had no illusions when it came to his appearance. Had always known there was nothing like Victor’s ethereal beauty and milky skin about him. He lifted the shirt over his head, steeling himself. Victor was looking at him, something new in his eyes. He reached out across the small distance between them and ran his finger over Henry’s clavicle, splayed his hand across his chest. In the dim light the difference between their skin seemed magnified.
“You are beautiful.” He murmured. The words were unexpectedly painful, striking some dark chord, some half-buried memory within him.
“I’m exotic.” The words slipped out, and he did not entirely manage to mask the hurt bitterness in them. Victor looked up, meeting his gaze. His eyes were so very blue and sincere.
“Not to me.” He stated plainly. He reached out and framed Henry’s face with his hands, their eyes still locked to each other. The gesture felt intensely intimate, in a different way. “To me you are familiar.” The way he said it was strangely soothing.
Not being able to bear the eye contact, Henry leaned in for another kiss, Victor obliged, moving closer, his hands mapping Henry’s chest. A moan escaped Henry’s lips as Victor ran his fingers in a feather-light tickle over his flank. Victor smiled into the kiss and repeated the motion. Henry twisted slightly, unsure if he wanted to get away or lean into it.
Victor broke the kiss and brushed his lips against his cheek, trailing them over his ear, making a tingle move down Henry’s spine. Victor’s hand moved lower and Henry held his breath as it reached that place where he wanted it the most. He gasped at the touch. His own hand had not prepared him for the feeling of Victor’s deliberate movements, mysteriously slick and slippery. Victor’s other hand went once more to his hair, pulling at it softly. Henry did not care, absorbed by the sensations. Victor’s mouth was on his throat, hot and wet. Henry reached out, grasping him by the neck and pulling him up to meet his lips. He felt like he was coming apart, like he was floating away and the only thing that kept him grounded was Victor’s arms around him. Perhaps Victor sensed this through the kiss, as his movements sped up. Henry held on to him desperately as the world faded into white bliss.
He was aware of Victor shifting, leaning against him and embracing him, but for a moment all he could do was breathe. He opened his eyes. Victor was looking at him, with an absorbed expression. It made Henry’s heart swell to have such a look directed at him.
The sweat was cooling on his skin and he was becoming aware that they were both uncomfortably sticky, but it was not enough to even dent the feeling of delighted contentment that filled him. He curved his arm under Victor’s shoulders, gently stroking his back. Victor reached up, once again running his hands though Henry’s hair, his fingers catching in the tangles. Henry winced.
“Stop pulling my hair.” He muttered.
“Stop counting my ribs.” Victor replied, with an undertone of amusement. Henry sighed, too comfortable to retort.
They would need to get up soon, to wash the mess off their skin, but for now he wanted only to lay there and hold on. Victor seemed to share his view as he moved closer, laying his head down on Henry’s shoulder and closing his eyes. Henry bent his neck and planted a soft kiss on Victor’s forehead. There was no urgency to get up. He was happy where he was.
Thank you everyone who has stayed with me until the end! I almost can’t believe I got here. I’m not sure what to do with myself now… Would anyone be interested in a sequel? A different story? Is anyone considering writing their own fic with these two? Cause I’d love to read it :) I’ve been lurking and reading for a long time, and I could not have imagined that writing and posting was this much fun, I recommend it ;)