It’s been raining for days in London, cleaning the streets of their winter layer and hinting at the coming of spring. Most sensible folk are in their homes asleep at such a late and miserable hour but Ethan Chandler isn’t one of them. And like a majority of his late-night colleagues, he is aided by the fact that he’s had a fair bit to drink.
His destination is Sir Malcolm’s doorstep. Not wanting to disturb its occupants, he lets himself in and looks around briefly but finds no one about, until he notices the fire burning in the sitting room. Pulling his gloves off he walks over to find the good doctor sleeping peacefully on the chesterfield, a book clutched to his chest.
He considers leaving the man to his slumber, but then a playful smirk curls up the side of his face. He leans over the back of the sofa and tips his bowler forward, dripping rainwater onto Victor’s brow.
“Whuh,” sputters Victor, bolting upright, immediately noticing Ethan and his mirth. “Have a care!”
“Sorry,” says an unrepentant Ethan as he walks further into the room and drapes his sodden coat over the back of a chair. “It’s raining out.”
“So I gather,” replies Victor in irritation, wiping his face on his shirtsleeve.
Ethan slides his tall frame into the nearest chair, stretching his legs out in front of him.
“Sir Malcolm must be doing better if you’re sleeping on the job.”
“I was not sleeping,” insists Victor. “I was...meditating.”
“Of course you were,” Ethan looks at him with amused skepticism.
“It has been a long day,” explains Victor.
Ethan’s demeanor turns more serious. “How is he?”
“Sir Malcolm was able to take some tea and his fever has subsided. I believe he is on the mend.”
“No demons or witches or vampires?”
“Given what we’ve dealt with, I hesitate to rule anything out. However, it doesn’t seem too nefarious.”
“And Miss Ives?”
“She appears to be in good health,” replies Victor. “She went to check on Sir Malcolm some time ago.”
Ethan yawns and sinks a little deeper into his chair.
“What are you reading?” asks Ethan, nodding at Victor’s book. “Looks a little too thin to be a medical journal. More of Van Helsing’s writings?”
Victor turns away, obviously not wishing to share.
“What?” prods Ethan.
“Lord Byron,” admits Victor quickly.
Ethan’s forehead wrinkles in confusion. “Did you think I would mock you for reading poetry?”
“You seem to delight in my embarrassment.”
“The only ‘delight’ I have is in seeing you take yourself less seriously,” declares Ethan. “What’s the proverb? All work and no play make Frankenstein a dull boy.”
In no mood to quarrel, Victor ignores the comment and instead watches the glowing embers in the fading fire.
“Read some to me,” suggests Ethan.
Victor turns to look at him in surprise. “What?”
“Besides the occasional bar room limerick, I don’t hear much poetry. Read some Byron to me.”
Victor hears the challenge in Ethan’s voice, whether it is genuinely there or not, and refuses to be intimidated by the man. He clears his throat and begins to read.
“I watched thee when the foe was at our side,
Ready to strike at him—or thee and me,
Were safety hopeless—rather than divide
Aught with one loved save love and liberty.
I watched thee on the breakers, when the rock,
Received our prow, and all was storm and fear,
And bade thee cling to me through every shock;
This arm would be thy bark, or breast thy bier.
I watched thee when the fever glazed thine eyes,
Yielding my couch and stretched me on the ground
When overworn with watching, ne’er to rise
From thence if thou an early grave hadst found.
The earthquake came, and rocked the quivering wall,
And men and nature reeled as if with wine.
Whom did I seek around the tottering hall?
For thee. Whose safety first provide for? Thine.
And when convulsive throes denied my breath
The faintest utterance to my fading thought,
To thee—to thee—e’en in the gasp of death
My spirit turned, oh! oftener than it ought.
Thus much and more; and yet thou lov’st me not,
And never wilt! Love dwells not in our will.
Nor can I blame thee, though it be my lot
To strongly, wrongly, vainly love thee still.”
Victor closes the book and sets it on the table in front of him.
“So, you’re not immune to romance,” notes Ethan.
“My occupation has always been focused on other things,” argues Victor.
“And yet, you read Byron.”
“I am not without…desires.”
“But you’ve never pursued them.”
“I can explain to you the physical workings of the heart but that is where my expertise ends. And the older I become, the more I’ve come to accept that that is all that I shall ever know.”
Ethan doesn’t care for his answer. He sits up and takes a deep breath, slapping his hands to the top of his knees. “Well, there’s a little more nuance to it than shooting a gun but I suppose I can offer a lesson in the ways of love.”
“I beg your pardon,” says Victor.
“Tip number one,” offers Ethan, standing up and moving to the credenza. “One thing that is sure to raise your confidence and relax your nerves – alcohol.”
He pours two glasses of Sir Malcolm’s Scotch. He downs one quickly and winces only slightly before refilling it again. He then walks over to offer the other to Victor, who takes it reticently. He sits down next to Victor, stretching his arm across the back of the chesterfield.
Raising his glass in salute, Ethan toasts, “To romance,” and taps his glass to Victor’s before taking a drink. Relenting, Victor takes only a small sip, which still makes him cough a bit.
“Bottoms up, doc,” cajoles Ethan. “And appreciate the full benefits of liquid courage running through your veins.”
Sighing, Victor quickly tosses back the pale amber liquid and instantly feels the accompanying heat spread through his chest like a brush fire, causing him to cough profusely.
Ethan pats him on the back with a proud smile. “Atta boy, doc. Ride it out.”
Victor slowly regains his composure, thankful his body didn’t completely reject the foreign substance. He didn’t think he wanted to experience its return journey.
“Okay,” begins Ethan, “Now, if you saw a woman you were attracted to, how would you approach her?”
“I wouldn’t,” admits Victor.
“Okay,” Ethan starts again. “In theory, how do you think you should approach her?”
Victor sighs in resignation. “I suppose I should introduce myself and try to make conversation.”
“Good. See, you know what to do.” Ethan swats at his shoulder. “What sort of conversation?”
Victor shrugs half-heartedly. “I could remark about the weather.”
“It’s a start but the weather will only get you so far.”
Victor sighs heavier in frustration. “Then we can discuss the epidemiological measuring and mapping of mortality and morbidity. I don’t know. You’re the instructor.”
“I’ll remind you that I am a doctor, not a poet.”
“Okay, okay, relax. Let’s step back for a minute. What do you know about this woman?”
“You’re asking what do I know about the hypothetical woman I am hypothetically attracted to? Nothing.”
“Exactly,” replies Ethan. “So ask her. Where is she from? Where did she grow up? Does she have siblings? Does she work? This is how all relationships start out, getting to know each other.”
Victor takes a deep breath and calms a bit as the alcohol works to do its job. “I see your point.”
“And, here and there, Byron comes in,” explains Ethan. “You compliment her. Bring her flowers. Share your thoughts and feelings. Just be honest with her.”
Victor blanches at the thought of being honest about his work and Ethan notices his reaction.
“There is a profound difference between theory and application,” deflects Victor. “I do not have your manner.”
Ethan is undaunted. “Try it out on me.”
“Practice on me.”
It has been a long day and Victor is already halfway to intoxicated. He doesn’t want to play games with Ethan. “I’ve had enough of this.”
Victor makes to stand up but Ethan firmly grabs his arm to prevent it. But the hold quickly goes gentle, along with Ethan’s expression.
“Look, I know a thing or two about trust issues,” explains Ethan, giving Victor’s arm a squeeze before letting go. “But I’m a friend. You can trust me. I’m not here to laugh at you. I’m offering to help. You can make your mistakes with me and I can offer advice.”
Victor frowns into the fire pondering Ethan’s words. Ethan takes a sip of his drink as he patiently waits for Victor’s response.
“I like your mustache,” says Victor.
Ethan busts out into bellows of laughter.
Upset by the reaction, Victor stands up before Ethan can stop him. “I thought you weren’t here to laugh at me.”
“Sorry, I’m sorry,” responds a still chuckling Ethan. “I just wasn’t expecting that. But it brings up a good point. Humor is also a good tactic.”
“I wasn’t making an attempt at humor,” Victor insists, standing in front of the fireplace. “You said I should offer a compliment.”
“You’re right, you’re right, I did,” concedes Ethan, still trying to quash his amusement. “I’m sorry. Come sit back down.”
After a moment, and to Ethan’s great shock, Victor walks over to the credenza to refill his glass. He then sits back down next to Ethan, though still frowning and refusing to look at him.
“So, you like my mustache,” says Ethan, a smile still playing at his face.
Victor takes a sip of his drink before answering.
“It suits you,” he responds shortly. “You have a handsome face. You’re tall and able-bodied. You’re the sort that women are attracted to, not me.”
Ethan’s smile disappears.
“That’s not true,” says Ethan.
Victor snorts at that and takes a larger sip of his drink.
Ethan gently grasps Victor’s forearm again to get his attention. “You’re intelligent, and kind, thoughtful, the most curious mind I’ve ever known,” extols Ethan. Victor turns to stare at him in surprise. “You can be a pain in the ass at times but I admire the passion you have for what you do. And you are very capable and able-bodied. I trust you with my life.”
Victor is floored by Ethan’s praise.
Ethan smiles briefly at him. “Now, as for looks,” continues Ethan, a twinkle in his eye. “You’re not ugly.”
Victor snorts a short laugh.
“It would probably help if you got a full night’s sleep every now and then.” Ethan reaches out to playfully poke at Victor’s perpetually bloodshot eyes but Victor dodges him so his hand ends up resting on Victor’s shoulder. “You could use some more meat on your bones. Though odds are there is some woman out there with low enough standards.”
“Your flattery is overwhelming.”
Ethan chuckles. His hand finds its way to the back of Victor’s neck, thoughtfully running it through the short hair there. “Maybe let your hair grow out.”
“Are you going to be offering fashion tips as well?”
“Don’t laugh,” jokes Ethan. “I am a font of knowledge.”
They share a smile and Ethan casually runs his thumb up the side of Victor’s neck. Their smiles slowly fade but their gazes don’t waver and suddenly and mysteriously the room heats up as Ethan slides curiously closer.
“What are you doing?” breathes Victor as he tries to understand why his heart is racing.
“I’m gonna kiss you,” replies Ethan, his voice softer and huskier than Victor has ever heard it before.
“Because I want to,” explains Ethan. “Are you ready?”
Ethan leans forward and presses his lips to Victor’s for just a brief and shocking moment before drawing back slightly, wetting his lips.
“Ethan,” exhales Victor, already out of breath.
Ethan pushes forward again and instinctively their eyes close and mouths open to the intimate embrace. Victor grasps tightly to Ethan’s upper arms to anchor himself as he feels electrified at the touch of Ethan’s lips, the caress of his tongue, his teeth as they nip at his own chapped lips. He is overwhelmed by sensation. It is a mixture of tenderness and curiosity. His analytical mind has been turned off. He is unable to do anything but feel. Feel the touch of Ethan’s hands, the heat of his breath, the…
“Doctor,” calls Vanessa, descending the last step of the staircase. “Did you…oh.”
Ethan and Victor scramble away from each other, standing at opposite ends of the couch, eyes blinking in shock, wiping at their mouths.
“Forgive me for interrupting,” she apologizes, eyes wide in her own surprise. “I wasn’t aware of your arrival, Mr. Chandler.”
“I…” Ethan clears his throat. “I didn’t want to risk disturbing Sir Malcolm with my entrance but I did want to check on his condition.”
She nearly laughs at his awkwardly formal tone.
“He is much improved, thank you, as I’m sure Dr. Frankenstein has already related to you.”
“I have, yes,” says Victor, who seems to be at a loss for further conversation.
Vanessa can’t help but be amused by their behavior.
“I am glad to hear it,” says Ethan, grabbing his coat and bowler. “I’ll say good night.”
“Please don’t feel you have to leave,” insists Vanessa. “Your company is always welcome at any hour. Isn’t that right, doctor?”
“Of course,” stammers Victor.
Ethan and Victor briefly exchange awkward glances.
“Thank you, but I must be going.” He bows his head slightly in farewell. “Miss Ives.”
“Good night, Mr. Chandler,” says Vanessa. “I hope we’ll see you again tomorrow.
Ethan responds with a nod before turning only briefly to Victor. “Doctor.”
It takes a second for Victor to find his voice. “Mr. Chandler.”
Ethan dons his bowler and quickly leaves. After his departure Victor still seems to be trying to retrieve his bearings. In sympathy, Vanessa links her arm through Victor’s and slowly walks with him back toward the sitting room.
“I would suggest that you get some sleep but by the look of it,” says Vanessa, “you won’t be sleeping for a good little while.”
He continues to stare off in shock.
“Apparently, you won’t be speaking either,” notes Vanessa good-humoredly. “No matter. When you feel like speaking, if you do, I would be happy to lend an ear.” She gives his arm a squeeze. “We are all good friends here. We’ve dealt with many things. We must have each other's backs, for there are surprises at every turn.”
She stops them abruptly and lets go of his arm. “Good night, doctor.”
“Good night,” says a very distracted Victor.
When he finally looks up, he notices that she left him in front of a mirror. He looks at his reflection and scarcely recognizes it. His hair is disheveled, his face pink with color, lips swollen from use. The memory of only moments ago returns, along with the heat that lit his body on fire. He tugs at his collar and runs his hand through his hair, finally alighting on his lips. His lips that had been kissed by, and had been kissing, Ethan Chandler. An almost unbelievable turn of events.
His analytical mind begins to wake up, along with a thousand questions. But Vanessa’s words are what echo quietly but insistently in his brain, “There are surprises at every turn.”