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Sanctuary - Momentary Oblivion
stillhouse
dbalthasar
For the sanctuary_bingo square "John Druitt."  John/James, post King and Country, rated R, with warnings for drug use, implied underage sex (between schoolboys), and Jack the Ripper.

James has his own bad habits.

Adam Worth is dead a little more than a year, and the Five have scattered to the winds again.  Tesla is in New York, trying to sell alternating current to the Americans, which is a bit, James thinks, like trying to sell ice to Eskimos.  Nigel is also in America somewhere, having decided it might be wiser to take himself out of reach of the Crown.  James thinks he might be in Pittsburgh, having read a newspaper report of a rather odd bank robbery there, but he’s been careful not to inquire too closely.  Helen has been traveling for the last three months — at the moment, it’s Paris, discussing an alliance with the Refuge there — leaving him to manage the new London Sanctuary.  It’s a great pile of a place, with cellars and high walls, but already he fears it will become too small for Helen’s plans.  Still, he’s acquired staff and a few of Gregory Magnus’s more interesting patients, and there is work to be done. 

John is gone.  James could, he expects, find him if he put his mind to it.  There were useful clues in their last encounter, the cut of his hair, the style of his coat, the traces of mud left on Helen’s carpet, but James refuses to consider the problem.  Instead, he leans against the window of his tower suite, looking out over the garden to the wall and the gaslight glowing beyond.  It’s late, the late summer twilight deepening rapidly to dark, and the first touch of autumn is in the breeze that stirs the curtains.  He has, for the moment, no responsibilities, no pressing problems and he lets the curtain fall, turning his back on the night.  There is just one thing, a telegram open on his desk in the office below:  the Prime Minister would like to consult with him on a matter of urgent business.

He finishes the last swallow of his whiskey and soda, sets the glass on the nearest shelf.  He doesn’t have to nudge aside books or odd artifacts, and for a moment he misses his crowded, busy rooms on Baker Street.  The Prime Minister did not send for him there, or did so only through several layers of intermediary.  It was a far more comfortable relationship. 

He should probably telegraph Helen, warn her of this latest request, but he thinks he’d rather wait until he knows precisely what the government wants of them.  If he has to refuse, he would like to keep her clear.  He could probably figure out what it is that the Prime Minister wants, there will be clues enough in the papers, but for the first time in a decade he doesn’t want to know.  He wants peace, restful oblivion, just for one evening, and he locks the door before he takes the case from its drawer. 

It’s warm in his rooms despite the open window, and he slips off his dressing gown, settles himself comfortably in the leather chair he brought from Baker Street, and rolls back his sleeve.  He’s a physician, after all; it’s a matter of moments to prepare a suitable dose and find the vein, and then he sets the syringe carefully aside and leans back, letting the drug roll over him. 

After the first rush, it’s very pleasant relaxing there, drowsing, the breeze swirling the curtains.  It reminds him a bit of Oxford, and of a holiday between  Winchester and Oxford, so he’s not surprised when the air curls and twists, and John is standing there looking at him.  James smiles up at him, and the hallucination shakes its head.

“James, are you —?”

“Of course I am,” James says, “or you wouldn’t be here.”

“That’s arguable,” John says. 

He looks slightly perplexed, and James lifts an eyebrow.  Surely his fantasy could have the courtesy to cooperate.  If he’s conjured John’s memory, it’s not this man he wants, but the friend of his schooldays.  Instead, this is John in a German coat and a dreadful haircut, with a copy of the Tatler in his pocket:  most annoying.

John hesitates, then draws up a chair and sits opposite him.  “You do know I’m here,” he says cautiously.  “Actually here, in the room.”

“I doubt it,” James says. “That would be rash to the point of suicide.”

“Except that you’re too drugged to do anything about it.”

“Therefore you’re not here.”

John opens his mouth as though to question the logic, then stops, shaking his head. The new smile curves his mouth, hard and self-mocking, and James tips his head to one side.

“Why are you here?”

“Because —”  John stops, and takes the Tatler from his pocket.  “Never mind.  You’ll figure it out in the morning.  Do read it before you see the PM.”

He stands, shifting his shoulders, and James says, “You are here because I was thinking of Winchester — of Oxford.  And of course I thought of you.”

“James,” John says.  He looks tired, suddenly, and guilty, and James lifts a hand to touch his sleeve.  John takes it instead, holding hard, new calluses shaping his touch.  “Bed,” he says, as he had said a hundred times before, when there was nothing to be done, nothing else that could be done. James lets himself be drawn to his feet, let stumbling to the heavy bedstead.  John takes off shoes and socks, deft as ever, loosens his collar and draws the shirt off over his head.  James waits for the rest, but John shakes his head.

“You’re in no condition,” he says, and swings James’s legs up onto the counterpane.  “Don’t forget, read the Tatler in the morning.”

“I never read the Tatler,” James says.  It isn’t true, but everyone expects him to say it.

John smiles, cups a hand against his cheek.  “Just this once,” he says and James nods.

“Stay,” he whispers, as he has done a hundred times before.

John winces, but sits cautiously on the edge of the bed.  If the prefects come, he will have to hide, out the window or under the bed, but they’ve taken the risk before and not been caught.  John touches his shoulder, tracing lines that no longer burn.  Perhaps the marks are gone entirely, but James will never know.

“I can’t,” John says. “You know I can’t.”

The prefects.  James sighs and nods, and John hesitates, then leans forward to kiss him roughly.  That is different, harder and older and far more knowledgeable than memory, and then John is gone again, vanished in a twist of smoke.  There is a moment when James could know, if he wanted, but he turns his head, burying himself in dream.
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Oh James! Oh dear James. He doesn't want to know, doesn't want to hold it all for now. And John, who can't help but cooperate, because he does care.

What does the paper say? Now I want more. Now I'm curious.

There are times when it's all too much, and James isn't actually going to talk about it, even if Helen were there.

As for what the paper says... I think the PM is about to ask something that neither Helen nor James would want to do, and which would also affect John. What's in the Tatler is the lever James can use to get out of it. Helen might not commit social blackmail at this point, but James certainly will.

Aaagh! Oh, James. This is so wretchedly sad.

And, oh, John; he can't quite bear to force James to acknowledge at that moment that the present is real.

Yeah. James is... not happy. I think he still feels guilty, even if he'd deny it, and then being alone - it's not good.

It catches John off guard, and he just can't make things any worse.

(Deleted comment)
Thank you! This is one of my favorite pieces, because I think it catches the only way that James can, at that moment in his life, admit to any feelings at all about John.

Lovely. This is a great James POV. Very well done.

Belated, but - thank you very much!

How did I not comment on this the first time I read it? Perfect and heart-twisting all around.

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