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Sanctuary - A Twist of Smoke
stillhouse
dbalthasar
(I blame this one entirely on artaxastra .)  Set during For King and Country, while Helen and the Prime Minister's man are talking, and with a crossover of sorts to From Hell....  As usual, Jack the Ripper.  Fair warning.

James Watson had largely given up opium after the debacle of the Ripper case, preferring the hard bright rush of cocaine.  But in the antechamber, waiting with four of the Five for the Prime Minister’s man to finish talking to Helen, he caught the faintest whiff of opium smoke on John Druitt’s coat, and in an instant he was back in Limehouse, staring at a corpse with coins on its eyes.

He’d known Abberline was an Abnormal from his sergeant’s evasions, and by the end of that conversation had known exactly what kind of Abnormal he was — a clairvoyant; precognitive, in Helen’s new taxonomy — as well as where he could be found, and why.  Plenty of clairvoyants needed help controlling their visions, it had been no surprise to find himself at Chiao Jianjia’s basement parlor.

But even Abberline’s undeniable talent hadn’t been much use against John.  What good was knowing where the killer was going to be when he could just — step away?  They’d almost caught him once, arriving in time to keep him from mutilating Liz Stride’s body, but he’d merely disappeared, and found Catherine Eddowes instead.  And then he’d gone after Mary Kelly.  James  had always suspected that had been deliberate choice, not random, and it had broken Abberline.  James had seen the danger, but he had had nothing to offer except work, and drugs, and in the end neither could match the bright seduction of Mary’s death.  He had stood in the back of John Ma’s shop staring at the corpse and the coins, knowing he had lost something else that he couldn’t afford to lose.  Oh, there had been nothing between them, how could there be, but they had shared a pipe once or twice, in the gray cold days after he had known it was John, and Abberline’s drowsy smile had warmed his heart.

Almost twenty years, and the anger was still fresh.  His eyes flicked over John. Mud from Rotherhithe on the top of one shoe, probably where the opium-smell came from; the suit itself cut in Germany, the linen newer, and English; the long jaw smooth beneath an eccentric haircut that might allow one to mistake him for something harmless, vegetarian — a Theosophist, perhaps, or a musician.  The big hands were spotless, the nails trimmed and buffed.  He could imagine the patterns of the calluses, the cricketer’s hands overlaid by the marks of a killer.  He should have known, should have seen it — if nothing else, Stride and Eddowes should have given it away.  There was no other way for the Ripper to escape except to vanish in a twist of smoke.  And night by night he and John had sat over brandy, wrestling with the problem, spinning theories that failed to meet the test of daylight.  He had never seen the mockery in John’s eyes.

But that was twenty years past, and he still had no proof to give, though having seen John again, at least he thought he could find him at need.  The clothes, the way he held himself, the very shape of his freshly cut nails:  all of them told the story of where he had been, where he kept his lair.  He was aware that John was watching him without expression, the predator at rest but mindful of his surroundings.  There were things he wanted to say, questions that demanded answers, but here and now — Tesla and Griffin there to listen, the Prime Minister’s man in the next room, Helen herself too close and with perhaps more right to claim answers of her own — here and now the words choked him.  He had nothing but silence, and he let it lie between them like a curl of smoke, answer enough for the men they had been.
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Oh thank you! That's gorgeous, and also so sad. Of course James and Fred were friends, and of course James is still pissed. A lot. About that, and other things.

I love the way you do James analyzing John's clothes and demeanor. So good!

Oh, James. So sad! John Druitt: crushing hearts into tiny, heart-shaped pieces since 1888.

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Thank you! I adore James - I adore all the Five, really, but James, and James and John, are so compelling.

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