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Sanctuary - Surcease
A dark piece by way of a tag for Tempus - very dark, as James goes looking for John to… resolve matters… after the events of Tempus.  Spoilers for Tempus.  Warnings for violence, drug use, and, seriously, Jack the Ripper.

James makes his way deeper into the rookery, aware that he’s marked, hoping that he’s hunted. There is little point in his hunting John:  oh, he could find him easily enough, but John can always play his trump card, and unless one of those device Helen allowed him too short a glimpse of allows a man to teleport, he will always be one step behind.  This is a neighborhood where Abnormals are known and tolerated; he is known here, as is John, and that will buy him a certain lack of interference.

The air curls at last, a flash of light and movement at the very edge of his vision.  Even expecting it, even knowing John, he is caught and held, and pistol half out of his pocket, John’s fingers like a manacle on his wrist and the kiss of a razor against his throat. The blade shifts just a fraction, so silken sharp that there’s hardly any pain, and he feels his own blood warm on his neck.


John sounds — well, no more sane than the last time James saw him, or than Helen reported, but a bit more calm.  Of course, he’s heard that they are no longer hunting him for Spring-Heeled Jack’s murders.  James stands frozen, John’s weight holding him off balance, the razor at his throat forcing his head up and back, John’s breath warm against his ear.  They’ve stood like this before, when it was not a blade that moved to kiss his cheek, and James’s breath catches in betrayal.  If John feels the same, he can’t be sure, but then they are falling, and John flings him away to stumble against the dirty bedstead.

“Sit down, James, and be quiet.”

James has lost the pistol, which he did anticipate.  No amount of planning can still the fear.  The room is dark except for the light from the banked stove, and John paces, collar and cuffs bright against the shadows.  Mastering himself, James thinks. He cannot clearly see, but he can hear the shifts of weight, the slither of shoeleather against the boards.  Now, too late, he recognizes the danger, hears the struggle in every movement.  He has never been closer to death in his long career, and he stays motionless where he landed, half sprawled on the bed.  His chest aches, knowing this is not the man he loved; his heart stutters, knowing that it is.

John stills, withdrawing just a little, so that the fire’s light catches the pallor of his shirt and the planes of his face.  “Why are you here?”

“I was wrong,” James says. It hurts to say it, to know the mistake he made.  He of all people should have seen the differences, subtle though they were.

“Yes,” John says.  “You were.”  And so was Helen, though as if by mutual agreement they will not speak of her. “Don’t think you can make amends.”

“I never thought so,” James says.

“So, I repeat.  Why are you here?”

James doesn’t actually have an answer for that, or at least not one that he dares say aloud.  He shrugs instead, miming elegant unconcern.  “Damned if I know.”

There is a moment of silence, and then John laughs.  It is unexpectedly normal, familiar, and tears prickle at the corners of James’s eyes.

“Well,” John says, still laughing, “that makes two of us, old boy.”

James smiles, in spite of himself, in spite of everything.  “Oh, John.”

John’s face changes, and he steps back again.  “Don’t,” he says.  “Don’t make me feel.  I can’t —”  He shakes himself hard, as though recovering from a blow.

“I can help,” James says, softly.

“No, you can’t,” John snarls.  He is the monster again, his rage flaring, but he controls it with an effort that makes the veins throb at his temples.  “No one can.”

“Opium,” James says.  It began as only the breath of a thought, the merest whisper of an idea, but he has brought the case and the needles.  Seeing John like this, reading his movements, his fury and his fear, the notion resolves itself into a temporary solution.

“Are you as mad as I am?” John’s voice breaks  on something that might have been either laughter or a sob.  “I can’t possibly — God, James, I tried so hard.”

“I know,” James says.  “And I know you’re at the end of your rope.  You were planning to go off to the continent to kill, weren’t you?”

John closes his eyes.  “Yes.”

“Opium,” James says again.

“And if I lose control, I will kill,” John says.  “I might even kill you.  And I don’t think you’d like the way I’d do it, old boy.”

“With the dose I’d give you, you wouldn’t be capable of standing,” James says.  “Let alone wielding a knife.”

“Or you could kill me outright,” John observes.  The feral look is back in his eyes, in the way he holds his shoulders, and James is careful to make no sudden moves.

“I might,” he says, “but I can’t.”

The shameful truth of that is clear, and John’s eyes flicker closed.  “Quick, then, for God’s sake.”

James prepares the dose with careful haste, accounting for the weight John has lost and the fact that he is unused to the drug.  Enough to incapacitate, to drown the raging mind, to bind him with invisible chains.  John’s dreams may roil with knives and death, but he will be incapable of acting on them, no matter how bloodily demanding they become.  John rolls up his sleeve without apparent fear; James finds the vein, John’s flesh warm under his fingers, and presses the plunger home. John flinches, such a small thing to catch at the heart.  James eases him to the dirty sheets, strips off shoes and stockings, loosens his shirt a little more.  Still he lies frozen, eyes fixed, every muscle stiff with effort.

“It’s all right,” James says, when he’s sure the drug has taken good hold.  “You can let go.”

“I’ll hurt you.”  John’s voice is a bare thread of pain.

“You can’t,” James says firmly.

“I can,” John whispers.  “I will.”  His voice trails off in spite of himself, and slowly the rigid muscles ease, his eyes fluttering half shut.  His hands twitch, as though he might have reached for a knife, or James’s arm; one knee bends, but he can manage no more than to settle himself differently on the mattress.  James does not move, waiting, only the tick of the coals in the stove for company.

“Oh, James,” John said, his tone caressing, the words only a little slurred.  “have you ever thought what I might do to you?  What I could do to you?”

James freezes.  “I have not.

A low chuckle, not John and yet still him.  “It has crossed my mind.  It crosses my mind now.  You’re not so different from those women, and you’d die just the same.  It would be so easy, James, and I could make it last so long….”

I’ll hurt you, he said.  James closes his eyes, knowing now what John meant.  He has drugged him to immobility, but the mind still functions, wielding words like blades.  There is a price for every safety.  In the near-dark, John’s voice runs on, soft as a lover’s, spinning out in obscene and anatomical detail exactly what he would do with knife and razor and scalpel, each cut savored, each wound deliberately made.  James sees himself flayed, and a part of him would welcome it, if only this would end.

And then at least the voice runs down, stumbles into silence, even this madness at last dragged under, drowned by the drug.  James closes his eyes, but he cannot unhear the whisper.  And he cannot leave, either, cannot abandon John to the doubtful mercies of the rookery:  he has taken John’s defenses, and he is responsible — responsible now for whatever happens, whatever is to come.  For all the future murders, for if he cannot kill him now, he never will.

There are no blankets, and the night is chill, despite the stove.  He sheds his coat, drapes it over them both, mute comfort when there is nothing else to offer.  John sleeps at last, spent, and James stays wakeful until dawn.

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Oh, that's just heart-rending. What a disaster everything is, and yet ...

Thanks. And yet... There's still something. There's still someone standing?

Oh dear James. Poor John. He's suffering so much at this point, and there's nothing James can do other than provide temporary respite. Oh boys. The price of specialness is dearly paid, isn't it?

Yeah. John - Mephistophilis' line seems to fit him too well. "Why this is hell, nor am I out of it." James does what he can, but he knows the price.

One of your eternal themes, no? The cost of being special.

Yeah. I suppose it's no wonder I love this show so much!

So much of love, and pain, and torment of spirit, for both of them. Of course James stays (stays his hand, stays to ward, to witness, stays up his own unhappy and unfickle heart...)

I think, or at least I hope, that this is John's nadir, and by extension, James's? Because James clearly can't stop him, or he would have done it long before....

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