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Sanctuary - Refuge
stillhouse
dbalthasar
A tag to artaxastra 's fantastic Blood and Shadows, including spoilers for that series.  In which yet another of the Five washes up on Nikola's doorstep. Mentions of drug use, past James/John, past John/Helen, past John/Nikola, and, as ever, Jack the Ripper.


“You look like hell,” Nikola said, and poured his glass brim-full with wine.  James sniffed it, automatically characterizing the ruby liquid:  a California zinfandel, not cheap but not particularly well-aged, tasting of sun and tannins.

“I feel like hell,” he said, and took a larger swallow.

“Well, if you will go chasing lunatics,” Nikola said.  James looked up at that, and Nikola showed teeth in something that wasn’t entirely a smile. “Oh, yes, I heard what happened.  They said you got hit by lighting, by the way.  Is that true?”

“Yes.”  It had been his own fault, too, that was the galling thing. He had underestimated the woman, a mistake he should by now have learned not to make. She had called the lightning, and John had escaped — and he could have shot John, should have shot him, even before the girl had acted.  Brian had offered to try to find her, but James had refused.  Let her go, he had said, there’s nothing she can tell us that will be of any use.  But he knew perfectly well that he simply didn’t want to deal with either her anger or her grief when he proved that John was everything he had said he was.  Let someone have their illusions, after all.

“Well, that’s exciting,” Nikola said.  “I don’t suppose anyone bothered to look over your machinery afterwards?”

“One of the New York Sanctuary’s contractors gave it a quick once-over,” James said.  “But I wouldn’t mind your taking a look at it.”

Nikola snorted.  “Since you’re here.  And you can always tell Helen that’s why you came, assuming she figures out enough to ask.”

“I don’t intend discussing the matter with her,” James said, more stiffly than he’d meant.

“I bet not.  She doesn’t like the idea of you shooting Druitt, no matter how much he deserves it.” Nikola’s face softened slightly.  “No more than you do, for that matter.”

“He was a friend,” James said.  He let himself subside into one of the armchairs that formed the bulk of Nikola’s furniture.  The building was not quite gentrified, but the bones were there; another three years, and Nikola could sell the loft at a profit, assuming he actually owned the place.  His lab bench filled one long wall, and there was a low platform bed between the narrow windows.  An enormous abstract print hung above it, a stylized flower as vigorous as calligraphy. “I should have, though, damn it.”

Nikola shrugged, and topped up their glasses, though James had barely touched his.  “Do you really think you could?”

“That’s not the point,” James said.  “I should have done it.”

“People frequently find it hard to shoot their friends,” Nikola said.

“I’ve shot you,” James said.

“Yes, but that doesn’t count.  Besides, you didn’t mean it.” 

That was true:  shooting a vampire was barely enough to slow him down.  “How do you know I didn’t mean it?”

Nikola showed teeth again.  “Because here you are, working up to asking, ever so discreetly, if I’d mind if you stayed a few days and — what is it this time, drying out or were you planning on blotting out the world?”

James could feel the color rising in his cheeks.  “A little of both.  What are you working on these days?”

“Nothing that should concern you,” Nikola said briskly,

“Which means I should be very concerned indeed,” James said, and managed a smile.

“I would really prefer you didn’t mix cocaine and opiates in my house,” Nikola said.  “If anything went wrong, Helen would never believe I didn’t kill you.”

“I know what I’m doing.”

“If that’s so, why are you drying out?”

James looked away.  “I needed to find John as quickly as possible.”

“Which means you upped your usual therapeutic dose, and now you’re paying for it.  And at the same time —”

“I have no intention of harming myself,” James said.  Somehow his glass was empty, though he didn’t remember drinking the rest of it.  “I just want to stop thinking for a bit.  It hasn’t been doing me any good lately.”

Nikola refilled his glass.  “All right,” he said.  “You can stay.  I’ll even call an ambulance if you overdose —”  He held up his hands, bottle in one, glass in the other, forestalling James’s protest.  “I know, I know, you’re a physician, fine.  There’s one condition.  Tell me why you and Helen were so sure from the start that Druitt couldn’t be saved.”

James opened his mouth, closed it again.  “He’s Jack the Ripper.”

“And I’m a vampire,” Nikola said.

“You never murdered anyone.”

“I could have.” Nikola held his glass up to the light, squinting at the ruby pinpoint in its depths.  “I probably would have, if you and Helen and Nigel — and John — hadn’t worked out my medication. But nobody ever even mentioned that with Druitt.”

“He’d killed nine women by then,” James said.  And he deserved to be punished for that.  He said instead, “Anyway, I know you and Griffin tried it back in 1912, and it didn’t work, so there wasn’t any point.”

“Yes, but you never even tried,” Nikola said.  “Why not?”

“Because he’d killed nine women,” James repeated.  In a particularly horrible way, though he didn’t want to think about that at the moment. Or about the fact that he’d failed to kill him, which meant that the murders would continue…  He took another long drink of his wine, and Nikola obligingly refilled his glass.

“Assume it was a compulsion,” he said.  “An irresistible craving, something he couldn’t control even when he wanted desperately to.”

James opened his mouth to protest, and closed it again. “It doesn’t change anything.”

“Why the hell not?  It would for any other abnormal.  All right, maybe not for you, but for Helen, definitely.  Why not for Druitt?”

Because she loves him.  James swallowed that answer, which wasn’t his to share.  “You’d have to ask Helen that.”

“Fine, I will.”  Nikola tossed back the last of his wine, found the bottle empty, and reached to open another.  “Next time I see her.  But what about you?”

The answer was the same.  James could feel the color rising again, held out his glass for a refill, groping for the words that would let him brazen it out.  “It was more important to stop him killing than to cure him.”

“And I repeat, you wouldn’t say that about any other abnormal.” 

“He’s not any other abnormal,” James said.

“Not to you.” The bared teeth were a little too sharp, and definitely not a smile. 

“That’s not relevant.”

“No?”

“Not that way.”  James looked away, trying not to see the bodies, the first nine, and fifty-one more over the years, and more to come because of his weakness — which was not a particularly helpful line of thought, and exactly what he’d come here to avoid. 

So why hadn’t they tried?  It was a fair question, not just another jab at his failure, and he took a swallow of the wine, bracing himself to look at this as just another problem.  Helen had taken it personally, of course, as a personal threat as well as a personal betrayal, and if she ever let go of her anger, she would have to face an avalanche of grief and guilt and fear.  So instead she retreated into denial, insisting in spite of all evidence that John Druitt was dead.  And, yes, he was painfully aware that most of her reasons could apply equally well to himself, though it had never been young men that John killed.  Which was in itself interesting — he dragged himself back from the safe distraction, made himself focus on the real question.  Why, once the initial horror had worn off — why hadn’t they tried to face the problem scientifically?

“It has to have been the Source Blood,” Nikola said.  His face was human now, and he filled their glasses yet again, as though this were an ordinary evening.  “I’ve never been all that fond of Johnny, but even I’ll admit that he wasn’t a homicidal maniac until after we used the blood.  Nigel and I thought it might be a vampiric side effect, a thirst for blood sublimated into simple murder, but we couldn’t get him to stay put long enough to test it.”

“Why not?”

Nikola shrugged. “Why do you think?”

“You really believe it’s an irresistible compulsion,” James said.

“If you were honest with yourself, you’d admit it,” Nikola said.  He inspected his fingernails.  “Or is there something you and Helen know about Johnny that I don’t?  Besides the obvious.”

“Oh, don’t pretend you haven’t slept with him,” James exclaimed.

“Yes, but not until after,” Nikola said.  “It makes a difference.”

“I suppose.”  The new bottle was a cabernet, not a zinfandel, still Californian, and big and bold in flavor.  James swirled it in his glass as though he had nothing else to think about.  Of course it made a difference, how could it not?  Even if it was was only the way one interpreted certain actions, certain — choices.  And it was easy to look back and say with hindsight that there had been signs, when at the time he had invited all of it.  Welcomed it, even, because even though in general he craved control, there was nothing quite as exciting as flirting with control’s loss.  And John had known exactly how to push him to that edge — who better, when he’d known him so long and so well? And that was it, he realized, the last clue slotting into place like a key into a lock.  Not only did John know all his secrets, he’d been there when they were formed, been the one to shepherd him through the petty tyranny of school.  Not unscathed, no one in their year could claim that, but less — scathed — than he might have been.   If John could be taken, destroyed, by some unknown factor in the Blood, there was no safety anywhere, for anyone, and that was still beyond bearing.

“I don’t know why we didn’t think of it,” he said softly.  It was important, suddenly, that someone understand.  “You’re right, it should have been an obvious idea, but — I can’t speak for Helen, but I was afraid.  And if we’d tried and failed….  I couldn’t kill him now, you know, even when he begged me to.  Then — it would have have broken me.”

“It had better not break you now,” Nikola said, and James looked away from what he suspected was compassion.

“No.  Not now.”

“Right,” Nikola said.  He topped up their glasses, and James took another long drink, grateful for the gentle haze that was finally creeping over him.  It made it possible not to think, to let go of everything he still saw far too clearly.

“You can stay,” Nikola said again. “You sleep on the couch, you don’t interrupt me when I’m working, and if you overdose on anything, you have to tell Helen.”

“I won’t,” James said, and then, because he thought something else might be needed, “Thank you.”

“You should be electrocuted more often,” Nikola said.  “It improves your manners.”

“Don’t get any ideas,” James answered, and slumped lower in the chair.
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Oh, James! He's such a mess. And Nikola is being a friend, in his own way. (You're right that Nikola probably does really wish he could get drunk at this point. Not that he would while James was doing chemistry experiments on himself, on the theory that one of them ought to be a responsible adult.)

Thanks! James is a total mess, and Nikola will be the responsible one, no matter how much he may wish that he didn't have to be. Though I think one reason he's willing to let James stay is that he wouldn't want to have to talk to Helen about this yet, either.

Nikola is a good friend to have, really. He'll look after James and not mention to James that John has already been there. He has, hasn't he?

I love the details of the wine, James analyzing though he's a mess, and Nikola asking the question nobody else will ask, "Why?"

Thank you! Nikola is a good friend, and, yes, I think he only got rid of John a few days before. A John literally shocked and certainly repentant and even more of a mess than James.... But Nikola is always the one who asks the hard questions.

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Thank you! The Five are so much fun to write.

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Thank you! James needs this break rather badly....

This is painfully gorgeous, and a perfect follow on to the story. James really is kind of held together with string and baling wire at this particular moment, isn't he? And Nikola is the one asking the right questions. Plus providing duct tape to shore up the rest of the works.

I love how James can allow himself to think of the whole picture once Nikola points it out, even if he won't quite say the actual L-word in regards to himself.

Thank you! I think that once Nikola has actually posed a question, James can treat this as a problem to be solved, even if that means sidling up to an actual emotional acknowledgment. But, yes, mostly what James needs right now is a place to collapse in private.

This is so utterly awesome! They are so... them. I wish you two could write for the show (admittedly, we probably would need unlimited budget, a post-watershed slot and time turners for you both - but I'd love to watch it).

Thank you! That's high praise indeed! (And don't I wish I could...)

Lovely story, and very much in keeping with it's companion piece. I love Watson!Angst.

Thank you! I loved artaxastra's series, and wanted to go just a little further...

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