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.”
The poem is "Love and Death" by Lord Byron.
Chapter 2: For Science
The day’s rain has blessedly ended and Vanessa is out enjoying the fair weather just as the sun is dipping below the horizon. It seems symbolic that such conditions parallel a stretch of time that has been calmer, less demon-ridden than usual. The peace is a breath of fresh air. And it has her on edge.
She is nearing Kensington Gardens when she notices Dr. Frankenstein sitting on a bench, writing in what appears to be a journal.
“Doctor,” she calls happily in greeting.
Looking up in surprise, he closes his journal and stands to meet her.
“Miss Ives,” says Victor. “It’s lovely to see you.”
“The feeling is mutual,” she smiles. “We have missed you these past several days. I was wondering if we had finally scared you off.”
Victor drops his head abashedly. “I have been very busy catching up on my research.”
Given the circumstances of the last time she had seen him, Vanessa isn’t entirely sold on his explanation.
“I hope that is the only reason.”
“Of course,” he insists.
“I only wonder because we have also not seen or heard from Mr. Chandler,” says Vanessa.
She knows she has hit her mark when Victor immediately averts his eyes and his cheeks turn a deep burgundy. She takes pity on him. For the moment.
“Would you care to walk with me?” she suggests. “I was just heading home through the park.”
He responds with a brief smile. “I would be happy to join you.”
They set off at a leisurely pace, neither in any hurry to retreat from the unusually temperate twilight.
Vanessa takes a cleansing breath. “Spring is my favorite season,” she explains. “The mud and cold of winter gives way to the renewal of trees and flowers, and lighter clothing.”
“Hmm,” agrees Victor distractedly.
She decides to test just how distracted he is.
“Or less clothing altogether,” adds Vanessa cheekily, inclining her head.
He doesn’t even acknowledge that she has spoken.
This won’t do. She stops walking.
“I’m sorry,” he replies, after realizing she has stopped. “What were you saying?”
“You seem very preoccupied.”
“Forgive me,” he says, shaking his head. “My mind is elsewhere.”
She takes a step closer and gently touches his arm.
“When we last saw each other, I offered you my ear. It is a sympathetic and non-judgmental ear and I offer it here again.”
Victor takes a breath, his shoulders falling. He is out of his depth. Vanessa realizes that she will have to do most of the work. And, if so, she will do it in her own way.
“I can imagine that kissing Mr. Chandler…”
“He kissed me,” admits Victor.
“He kissed you?” she echoes in shock, not because of what he said but because he actually said it.
“Out of the blue, yes, he kissed me.”
“Did you enjoy it?”
He turns away from her, closing his eyes in search of some control over his emotions.
“So, you enjoyed it.”
He shakes his head again. “It is not as simple as that. There were several factors involved. Change one and the outcome would likely have been different.”
“Ah, the scientific method,” replied Vanessa, reflecting a more professional tone. “What were these factors?”
Victor turns back toward her, slipping into scientist mode, and begins to catalog the variables.
“I was drinking,” he explains, “which I am unaccustomed to. He had been drinking, though I cannot attest to his level of intoxication.”
“So, your hypothesis is that had alcohol not been involved, you would not have enjoyed the kiss?”
“I suppose so, yes.”
“Then your only option is to repeat the experiment, this time without the influence of alcohol, and see if you get the same result.”
His brow furrows with anxiety.
“You perhaps overlooked the option of forgetting that it happened and never speaking of it again.”
She takes a deep breath, gazing at him sympathetically.
“But will you?” Vanessa asks. “Can you forget it? Can you ever forget your first kiss? The setting. The words exchanged. The heat of his body against your own. The scratch of his whiskers against your cheek.”
Victor closes his eyes briefly and his breath hitches.
“The taste of him lingering for days…”
“Miss Ives!” pleads Victor, teeth clenched. “Please.”
She smiles in apology and turns to resume their walk. Perhaps she had pushed too hard. Or perhaps not hard enough. It is hard to say. But she lets him alone and they walk in silence. There will be other opportunities, one possibly only moments away. She picks up her pace.
They arrive at Sir Malcolm’s and, before he can decline, she ushers Victor in to find Ethan standing in the entryway, looking as surprised as they are to see him.
“Mr. Chandler,” greets Vanessa with relish. “How delightful to see you.”
Ethan appears slightly flustered by their appearance but recovers quickly.
“Good evening,” he responds, taking off his hat. “I am just waiting for Sir Malcolm.”
“This is fortuitous,” continues Vanessa. “We were just talking about you on our walk. Dr. Frankenstein wanted to speak with you.”
Victor cannot believe her boldness. He glares desperately at Vanessa. She simply smiles back, very pleased with herself.
“I’ll just leave you two alone.”
Victor and Ethan stare at each other awkwardly for a minute. Victor feels very much on the defensive.
“You wanted to speak with me?” prompts Ethan.
He clears his throat and turns abruptly to walk into the sitting room. He takes the stopper out of the decanter to pour himself a drink but then stops himself. This is ridiculous. He is a grown man, and a doctor to boot. He needs to pull himself together and deal with this in the only way he knows how.
He takes a deep breath and turns around to find Ethan leaning against the entrance to the room with a perplexed expression on his face.
“I wonder if you could help me,” says Victor.
“If I can, I will,” says Ethan.
“An event occurred that I would like to repeat, to compare results.”
“And where do I come in?”
“I would like to run an experiment,” explains Victor. “One that requires your sobriety.”
Ethan looks at him in irritated confusion. “When have you seen me not sober?”
They exchange a look that raises the heat of the room several degrees and flusters them both.
“Just so we’re on the same page,” says Ethan. “This has to do with the last time we were in this room together?”
“So, you want me to kiss you?”
“Yes, essentially. Empirical data is essential for analysis and extrapolation.”
“Such sweet talk,” Ethan notes sarcastically. “How can I possibly say no?”
“I assume you are sober,” says Victor.
“Yes,” asserts Ethan in irritation. “Are you?”
“Of course,” huffs Victor.
“’Course,” repeats Ethan, rolling his eyes.
Ethan raises an eyebrow. “Oh, did you want to do it right now?” he chides. “I thought you may have paperwork to fill out. Or maybe take a blood sample."
“Please don’t laugh at me,” says Victor quietly.
Ethan’s manner instantly softens. “Sorry.”
Ethan sighs. Finally, he sets his bowler down and takes a step toward Victor. Victor involuntarily takes a step back and Ethan freezes.
“Hey, if you don’t want to do this…”
“No, it’s fine,” stammers Victor. “I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine. You’re as skittish as a wild colt.”
Ethan steps closer still, close enough to heat the space between them with their breaths. Their increasingly erratic breaths. Ethan reaches out to curl his large hand around the back of Victor’s neck.
“I am not a horse.”
“Thank God for that.”
Ethan’s thumb wanders its way down the side of Victor’s neck and back up in a lingering caress before he moves it over and slowly, carefully touches Victor’s bottom lip.
“Ethan,” breathes Victor.
“Christ,” growls Ethan before crashing their lips together.
Victor is once again overwhelmed by sensation. And again, it’s as if he is electrified. The irony is not lost on him even in the moment. He feels alive. He feels everything. Ethan’s demanding lips. The scratching of his beard. The taste of him. Damn Miss Ives! His lungs feel as if they will burst and yet he has no desire break the kiss. He grips Ethan’s coat desperately, wanting to consume him, melt into him, be with him in every way possible. Nothing could tear him away.
“I am terribly sorry to interrupt,” says Sir Malcolm from behind Ethan. They break apart and Ethan whips around. “I require Mr. Chandler’s assistance. With any luck, we will be back shortly and you can resume your…activities.”
Ethan hurriedly grabs his bowler and walks out the door without looking back, followed shortly by Sir Malcolm and Sembene.
Vanessa walks hesitantly into the room. “I tried to delay Sir Malcolm but he can be insufferably impatient.”
Victor pours himself a drink and quickly downs it.
“Did you get your result?” she persists.
“Yes,” he murmurs miserably.
“And your conclusion?”
He turns to look at her.
“You are truly diabolical.”
She grins in satisfaction.
Chapter 3: The Alley
“Sir Edward would have my head!” hisses the library guard, leaning out the side entryway. “Please come back during regular operating hours.” He firmly shuts the heavy door with a resounding bang.
Sir Malcolm takes a breath. “Perhaps I overestimated my influence.”
“Should we force the issue?” asks Ethan.
“Maybe there is another way in,” suggests Victor.
“No, no,” says Sir Malcolm, turning to his companions. “It is late. And we mustn’t upset Sir Edward,” he chides, sharing a look with Sembene. “We shall wait until morning.”
It is unusual for Sir Malcolm to acquiesce so easily. There was certainly a story there to be told but it would wait for another time.
“Come to the house first thing tomorrow,” instructs Sir Malcolm, turning to walk away. “We shall make another attempt. Good night, gentlemen.”
They bid their farewells. Sembene nods to them and follows Sir Malcolm down the street.
Ethan and Victor are left standing under a flickering street lamp. They share an awkward glance.
“Guess I’ll see you in the morning,” Ethan says finally.
“Yes, good night.”
Ethan turns to head down another street.
“Ethan!” calls Victor, stopping Ethan in his departure. “Might I inquire as to where you are going?”
Victor has become used to Ethan’s sense of humor, though it doesn’t make it any less aggravating.
“Where are you going?”
“Not exactly tired. Thought I’d grab a drink or two.”
Ethan realizes that he is fishing for an invitation and waits to see if he’ll come right out and ask. The outlook doesn’t look good.
“Would you care to join me?” Ethan asks with a flourish.
“Yes, thank you,” smiles Victor. “I, too, and not tired.”
“Do you ever sleep?” asks Ethan, once Victor catches up to him.
Ethan wants a drink more than he wants to compare sleeping patterns. He ignores the comment.
“Where exactly are we going?” asks Victor.
“A little hole in the wall where everyone keeps to their own business.”
“It can be a rough crowd. You’ll fit right in,” jokes Ethan. “Just keep your gun hidden.”
“I didn’t bring my gun.”
Ethan looks at him sharply. “Why didn’t you bring your gun?”
“I forgot it," admits Victor sheepishly.
“You should always have your gun on you when we go on these late-night hunts with Sir Malcolm. You’d think you’d have more sense by now.”
“We were going to a library,” replies Victor defensively, though he knows it’s a weak defense.
“As we’ve seen, books can be just as dangerous as their owners.”
“I am not used to the need to carry a weapon,” admits Victor. “I will make an effort to do better in the future.”
“See that you do. I can’t always be watching over your sorry ass.”
Victor turns his head to see Ethan’s trademarked hint of a smile and wonders if there is more to the statement.
They walk quietly for a block. Ethan content in the silence. Victor less so.
“When did you learn to shoot?” asks Victor. “Or are all Americans schooled in firearms?”
“I was taught at a very early age, out of necessity.”
Ethan leads them into an alley.
“What sort of necessity?” asks Victor, picking up his pace to keep up with Ethan’s long stride.
“Wild animals,” shrugs Ethan.
“What is the largest animal you’ve shot?”
“Jackrabbit. I never did much hunting. Though we had a lot of property for it.”
“So your family is wealthy?”
“You could say that.”
“And you’re from the ‘Wild West’?”
“Thereabouts,” chuckles Ethan.
“Do you have any siblings?”
Ethan stops abruptly.
“What are you doing?” he asks, brow furrowed with suspicion.
Victor is taken aback by the quick change of subject. “I’m…getting to know you.”
“Why...” Victor takes a deep breath, gathering the courage for what he was about to confess and trying to find the words. “The other day, there was a cadaver, a man, young, in his twenties, whose leg was nearly severed from his body when he became entangled in the rigging on a local ship. He died from the hemorrhage. The body was barely twelve hours cold. It was the perfect opportunity to dissect the femoral and popliteal arteries.” He notices that Ethan is looking at him in confusion and, likely, nausea. “But instead of remaining focused on this task and all that I might learn,” he takes another breath, “my thoughts turned to you. Not for the first time.”
Ethan looks mildly alarmed.
“I seemed to have developed a fondness for you," admits Victor
“A fondness?” Ethan asks in amusement.
“Yes, a fondness,” asserts Victor, irritated and embarrassed by his admission given Ethan’s response. “God knows why. You’re brash, quick to anger, always full of mockery.”
“You continue to be terrible with compliments.”
Victor’s shoulders droop. “I fear I am terrible at a good many things.”
Ethan takes some time to digest what is being said. A sullen Victor avoids looking at him.
“This…fondness,” prods Ethan. “What do you intend to do about it?”
“It’s obvious you don’t share the sentiment so we shall endeavor to forget this conversation.”
“How is it obvious? I’ve kissed you twice.”
“Once at my behest.”
Ethan's eyebrows raise in amusement. “I didn’t exactly put up a fight.”
Victor is more confused than upset at this point. “So, what are you saying?”
“I’m saying…” Ethan sighs. “Fond isn’t exactly the word I would have chosen, but it works as well as any.”
“You’re fond of me?” asks Victor, dumbstruck.
“Fond, yes, fond,” repeats Ethan. “The word is starting to sound strange the more we say it.”
Victor feels giddy at the declaration.
“Wouldn’t this be an opportune moment to kiss?”
“It would,” agrees Ethan. “But I figure it’s your turn.”
Victor steps closer, licks his lips, and slowly, carefully, tenderly kisses Ethan. He draws back only long enough to witness the intensity in Ethan’s gaze. Ethan then takes him into his arms and pushes him back against the wall, the kiss instantly increasing in fervor. Victor groans as Ethan’s weight settles against him. This new and stirring sensation overtakes him. He grasps at the back of Ethan’s coat to pull him closer, if possible. He can’t imagine anything better than this moment. They are kissing with abandon, hands roaming, bodies rubbing, adrenaline skyrocketing.
Suddenly they hear the tell-tale sound of a handgun being cocked.
“Tsk, tsk, Mr. Chandler,” says a deep American voice. “What would your father think?”
They draw back and Ethan looks at Victor in a desperate panic before throwing himself at their assailant. He knocks the man to the ground. A gunshot goes off. Victor turns and sees someone running toward them from the other end of the alley.
“Ethan!” he cries.
“Run!” shouts Ethan.
Victor runs past the man on the ground, who appears to be only dazed. He hears more gunshots behind him and assumes Ethan is shooting back but then he hears Ethan running at his heels, pressing him to go faster.
They zig-zag through alley after alley, in and out of shadows, looking back periodically to see if they are being followed. There are no more gunshots and Victor is quickly running out of energy. He steers them in the direction of his flat, hoping they have lost their attackers.
They pop out of an alley and enter Victor’s building, hustling up the stairs as Victor struggles with key. He finally gets the door open and ushers Ethan inside before locking it securely.
“Who was that?! What did they want?!” Victor whispers frantically, lighting a lamp. He looks up to see Ethan stumble backwards into a small table, his face ashen. “What’s wrong?”
Ethan looks down and pulls back his coat to reveal his vest soaked through with blood.
Victor races to his side and helps him to the bed where he virtually collapses. Ethan is breathing shallowly and begins to cough up blood. Victor, with more haste than care, tears open Ethan’s wardrobe to reveal a bloody bullet wound.
Victor immediately goes into shock. He places a shaking hand atop the wound in an effort to staunch the flow of blood. He sits frozen. Where is his medical expertise? His objectivity? Damn it, his arrogant confidence. It was as if it had disappeared into the ether and he was left impotent.
But a medical degree wasn’t necessary to determine the outcome. Given the location of the wound and the blood emanating from Ethan’s mouth there could be but one diagnosis, Ethan was going to die.
As if hearing the pronouncement, Ethan places his own trembling hand over Victor’s and rasps, “It’s okay. It’s okay.”
Victor looks over at his friend and a powerful heat shoots through him. No, it is bloody well not okay his mind screams. And the ether, in its mercy, opens up to him and he races for his tools. His feet barely touch the wood planking as he scrambles into his laboratory to grab what he needs.
He is back at Ethan’s side within minutes. Ethan is unconscious but breathing, both blessings, as he immediately sets to work.
He works for hours finding and retrieving the bullet, suturing the layers of damage, while simultaneously siphoning the blood that was drowning Ethan’s lungs. His mind is filled with such a will to restore Ethan that there are several instances where the flesh seems to be repairing itself right before his eyes. He shakes his head to clear his vision and focus his attention on the task at hand.
Having done all that he can do, Victor finally sits down. Both he and Ethan are covered in Ethan’s blood. The tremors begin anew as he recalls the events leading up to this tragedy. Had Victor experienced the most passionate moment of his life only for it to be destroyed before his very eyes? It feels like a dream, only Ethan’s body lies before him as a heartbreaking reminder of the truth. He swipes at a tear that rolls down his cheek. This is not a time for grieving. Ethan is not dead and they may yet be in danger.
He finds his gun in a drawer and sets a chair next to Ethan’s side but facing the door. He holds the gun in his lap with his right hand. With his left, he lightly grasps Ethan’s wrist so he can monitor his pulse. It thumps with approval.
He waits, for either the door or the pulse to give him cause to react. He resolutely stands guard until physical and mental exhaustion overtake him just as the sun is rising. His chin rests against his chest as he sleeps.
Several hours later, he is shocked to his feet as his door bursts open violently. He points the gun shakily toward the doorway only to find it filled with Sembene and Sir Malcolm. His shoulders drop in relief.
“What happened?” asks Sir Malcolm, shaken. “You didn’t show up this morning and there is blood leading to your door.”
The strain of the evening and the shocking arrival of his guests have Victor near to a breakdown.
“Ethan,” chokes Victor. “He was shot.”
Sembene moves over to Ethan’s side.
“Shot?” exclaims Malcolm. “By whom?”
Victor shakes his head. “I don’t know.”
“We’ll move him to the house.”
“You can’t,” says Victor. “He wouldn’t survive the journey.”
“What are we to do?”
“I’ve done all that can be done,” says Victor, voice quavering.
“Surely there must be something else.”
“He was shot in the chest. It is miraculous that he is still yet breathing.”
They hear a rustle of clothing and turn to see Sembene helping Ethan to sit at the edge of the bed.
Victor stares awestruck. “How can this be?”
He kneels at Ethan’s side.
“You should be dead,” whispers Victor.
“It wasn’t as bad as you thought,” insists Ethan, moving slowly.
“Yes, it was!” declares Victor.
“Then I guess I had a great doctor.”
Ethan pushes himself to his feet, grimacing. Sembene and Victor jump to his aid.
“What are you doing?” asks Victor in alarm.
“I have to go,” says Ethan, straightening his clothes.
“You’re mad,” asserts Victor, noticing that Ethan won’t meet his eye. “You need to rest.”
“I have to go,” repeats Ethan, sharing a look with Sembene.
Ethan heads for the door. Victor grabs for him but Sembene holds him back.
“Ethan,” pleads Victor, on the verge on hysterics. “You cannot leave.”
Ethan doesn’t turn back. Victor squirms to be free but Sembene holds fast.
Chapter 4: The Crux
The distant noises of the party can still be heard but Ethan has stolen away to the sitting room, uninterested in the revelry. Sir Malcolm was throwing a formal soiree for the Royal Geographic Society and insisted that Ethan attend. He would never have agreed had both Sir Malcolm and Miss Ives not guilted him into it, insisting it would be good for his current mental state.
He pours himself a drink and quickly downs it, alcohol about all he has consumed in the past week.
His current mental state.
It was a battlefield of warring emotions. His secret had been exposed. It wasn’t entirely surprising the acceptance he received in their company, given the demons they’d already confronted. What was surprising was that there was one more secret to be revealed. One that had turned Ethan’s world upside down.
The anger flares once again within him. The room is too warm. Too small. He loosens his collar and pours himself another drink.
What he wouldn’t give to find enough alcohol to bury the last week. The last year! But there wasn’t enough alcohol on the continent to make him forget who he was, what he’d done, and what drove him to do it.
In a fit of rage he throws his glass across the room, just missing the startled figure standing there. Ethan freezes.
It is the first time Ethan has seen Victor in a week and it is a devastating sight. Victor is in his tux, his left arm in a sling, claw marks peeking out of his collar. God knows what other scars lay hidden. Ethan feels sick.
“It…it is good to see you,” states Victor shakily.
Ethan can scarcely breathe from the shock of Victor before him.
“You look very handsome,” continues Victor genially.
Victor does not look well at all. He has lost nearly a stone in weight, his tuxedo hanging loosely about his limbs. He looks close to falling over.
“You should not be here,” says Ethan in a low, hoarse growl.
It sends a nervous shiver down Victor’s spine, and sends further shame into Ethan’s.
“I wished to speak with you,” says Victor, stepping cautiously into the room.
Ethan makes sure to keep a fair distance and several pieces of furniture between them.
“What is there to say?”
“I would like for you to know my mind,” begins Victor earnestly. “In my life I have not had the benefit of friendships like the ones I have acquired in this house. I had been accustomed to acting selfishly, perhaps foolishly.”
“Perhaps?” huffs Ethan in disbelief.
“My research has been my life. My books were my refuge. Dead bodies were my instruments…”
Ethan can’t stand listening to it. “Why are you here?” he roars in frustration.
“Because I want you to understand!” cries Victor, equally frustrated.
Victor sways from his exertion, grabbing the back of a chair to catch himself. Ethan can’t stop himself from taking a step towards him, which further stokes the embers of his anger.
“Christ’s sake, sit down before you fall down,” snarls Ethan.
Victor carefully sits in the closest chair and takes a minute and several breaths to gather himself. He finally turns to Ethan in obvious remorse.
“I am sorry,” he states simply.
The rage that shoots through Ethan consumes all the other emotions fighting for attention.
“What are you sorry for?” asks Ethan through clenched teeth. “Are you sorry for defying nature itself? Are you sorry for using Brona for your unethical experimentation? Or are you just sorry that your secrets have been discovered?”
Victor lowers his head in contrition. “I did nothing out of malice or self-aggrandizement. I believed that I could solve the mystery of death. Like a disease, it could be healed. Like a puzzle to be solved. I was to be its master.” He takes a shuddering breathe. “I was wrong.”
Ethan clings to his fury, for fear of being overcome by another emotion.
“And what do you want from me? Forgiveness? A penance?” bellows Ethan. “How can… I was walking down the street and I come upon the woman I loved arm in arm with the…with you. Brona, Victor! Brona whose dead body I held in my arms. Do you even recall her? Only it is not Brona any longer, is it? Lily, is her name?”
Ethan’s hands clench into tight fists.
“I gave her over to your care and this was your response,” he says lowly. “How can that be forgiven?”
Victor is slouched over in his chair, trying to blink away the tears in his eyes.
“I don’t know,” he mutters.
“You worked in secret, day after day, for how many years?” presses Ethan. “And what do you have to show for it?
“I have nothing,” replies Victor, looking up, voice breaking. “You destroyed my laboratory and very nearly killed me.”
Ethan is visibly shaken by the statement.
“But you didn’t,” offers Victor gently, attempting to soothe the hurt in Ethan’s eyes. “You stopped, which means you are able to control it.”
Ethan shakes his head. “You don’t know that.”
“You could’ve killed me but you didn’t. You stopped yourself.”
Ethan continues shaking his head.
“I can help you,” insists Victor. “Please. Let me help you.”
The imploring look in Victor’s eyes cannot assuage the festering wound that is Ethan Chandler.
“I have seen what your medicine can do,” replies Ethan. “I want no part of it.”
Victor’s shoulders sag.
“Stop,” Ethan pleads, ever affected by Victor using his name.
“We now know the truth of each other,” says Victor, fighting to reach Ethan. “We can start over.”
Unfortunately, Ethan is not done with his self-flagellation.
“It is truth you seek?” spits Ethan. “I walked into your laboratory knowing what day in the month it was, knowing what would happen. There’s your truth.”
“It is no less than I deserve.”
“I am a monster!”
“We are both monsters!” declares Victor. “We cannot change what we have done. We must go forward and change who we are.”
Ethan is overwhelmed with emotion, raw and turbulent. There is only one option he can currently offer.
“Do you care for me at all?”
“Yes!” Victor vows adamantly, a flicker of hope running through him.
“Then you will stay away from me,” orders Ethan. “For the next time I lose control, you may not be so lucky.”
The devastation in Victor’s expression only exacerbates the torment that Ethan feels. He rushes to leave and barely makes it out the door before he is throwing up expensive liquor next to the doorstep.
Chapter 5: The Fire
Please be warned that there are descriptions of fire that may be found disturbing.
Victor sits in a broken chair, a syringe hanging from his arm. He isn’t sure what the creature injected him with. It hardly matters. Victor has no interest in escape.
His thoughts have been on a continual loop of his failures. His work. His relationships. He lives in a hell of his own making. All that he has lived for has been destroyed, much like the remnants of his laboratory that surround him. Books scattered about the floor. His equipment in ruin. Shards of glass strewn amongst pieces of twisted metal bearing claw marks. Victor closes his eyes to the memory of it.
Caliban walks into the room carrying Lily in his arms. He lays her on the slab where she was born. She now lies lifeless once again.
“My Juliet,” sneers Caliban, running a finger across her cheek.
Despite all his defects, you can say one thing for the creature, he is an eloquent bastard.
Victor feels a crazed bit of laughter bubble up from within him but it doesn’t quite make it to the surface. Whatever is flowing through his veins is working quickly and, most likely, permanently.
“You flew too close to the sun,” Caliban sermonizes to Victor. “But your wings turned to monsters and you crashed back to earth with the weight of them.”
Victor can barely follow what the creature is saying. His head drops to his chest.
The creature seems intent to have Victor present for whatever act he plans to perform. He grabs Victor’s chin and forces him upright.
“Do not leave us yet, father,” instructs Caliban. “I would not wish for you to miss the final act of your tragedy.”
Victor swallows, the task becoming difficult. He watches the creature stand on the opposite side of Lily, presumably the stage for his magnum opus.
“You created life,” begins Caliban with a smile. “By all rights, you should be exalted by all who share it, the entire human race, scientists and laypeople alike, your name emblazoned in historical texts. Frankenstein, creator of life.” Caliban stares at him intently, the smile drifting into something darker. “But what kind of life did you create, hm? What was the true result of your experiment? You abandoned me immediately following my birth. I was a babe in the woods. A disfigured and abominable figure without anywhere to turn. And you abandoned me. How can I repay you for your great kindness, your generosity of nature?”
Caliban strikes a match and holds it up for Victor to see.
“Frankenstein, destroyer of lives,” declares Caliban. “I choose to erase you.”
He drops the flame to Lily’s dress and it catches like a field of dried wheat, instantly and horrifyingly.
“There will be no body to mourn, no grave to venerate, no record of your great contributions. Your friends…are they still your friends? They will inevitably forget your existence.”
The fire spreads swiftly, making frightening jumps from books to floorboards to cotton. Caliban tears off his outer cloak as it alights.
“There can be no greater pain than that of the forgotten,” Caliban whispers, eyes wide with terror.
Victor’s limbs are heavy, tingling with poison. He couldn’t escape if he wanted. In his delirium, he watches the flames dance across the room, climbing up and into the rafters.
He sees the fear in the creature’s eyes, the tears, the torment. Victor can offer no comfort. It is too late anyhow. He deserves his fate.
He thinks of his friends. Those who were once his friends anyway. Sir Malcolm, often acting like a father to Victor. Miss Ives, the most caring and simultaneously wicked person he knew. Sembene in his steadfast faithfulness. And Ethan. He closes his eyes in anguish. Victor’s heart is broken so inexorably that he wonders at its ability to still beat.
Smoke engulfs the room. Victor cracks his eyes open to the sting of the heat and fumes filling the space. He doesn’t have the energy to even cough. He is suffocating.
Victor can no longer see the creature but he hears as his lamentations turn into screams.
Victor ducks his head, ready for the end. With all the strength he can muster he takes a deep inhalation of smoke and feels the toxins fill his lungs. He collapses to the floor.
Shallow, wheezing breaths are all that remain of Victor’s life.
The last thing he feels is a pair of rough hands gathering him up as if the devil himself has come to collect him.
And then there is nothing. No bright light. No eternal flames. Nothing.
He slowly awakens, to an unfamiliar room, in an unfamiliar bed. His eyes won’t focus and his breaths are labored. He closes his eyes and returns to the darkness.
He is beleaguered by nightmares, of fire inhaled and burning its way down his throat and out through his veins, turning his insides to blackened embers. He cries out in pain.
When next he blinks his eyes open, he is feeling well. His breathing is much easier. He feels very calm. Except he can’t remember what happened. There was a fire. And…he should be dead. Is he dead? He turns his head and is overcome to find Ethan frowning at him from across the room. He sits in a chair leaning forward, elbows on his knees, shirt stained with blood. He’s not looking well.
Victor cannot believe he is real. Tears fill his eyes. With great effort, he sits up. He notices that the sheets are also dirty with blood.
“Why is there blood?” asks a bewildered Victor, hoarsely, looking at his arms for signs of injury.
Ethan swallows, brow furrowing. “It’s mostly mine.”
Victor stares at him in confusion.
“I’m not as skilled in transfusion as you are,” admits Ethan darkly.
The cobwebs are starting to clear for Victor. He can only gape in shock. “You gave me your blood so that…”
“I didn’t know if it would work,” interrupts Ethan quickly.
“Does that mean…”
“I don’t know,” growls Ethan in aggravation.
Victor doesn't have the energy to argue, and there is no point. There will be time for analysis later, when he has more strength and Ethan’s disposition has improved. He sits weakly at the edge of the bed, content to have Ethan before him.
“Thank you,” breathes Victor.
Ethan’s mood grows even darker. “You may not be thanking me come the next full moon.”
Victor shakes his head. “I have not known such happiness.”
That seems to be the wrong response. Ethan leaps over and grabs Victor by the collar. “Do you understand what I’ve done!? How I’ve cursed you!?”
“You don’t know that,” murmurs Victor gently.
“I should’ve… I wanted…” Ethan struggles to find the words. “I saw the fire. I thought…” Ethan’s brow furrows in anguish as he pulls Victor forward until their foreheads are resting against each other. “Why do we keep doing these things?”
“We are uncommon men,” replies Victor, reaching up to touch the hollow of Ethan’s cheek. The lines of worry having expanded since he last saw him. He replaces his hand with his own cheek, rubbing it lightly against Ethan’s. Ethan leans into the contact with a deep and exhausted sigh.
“We will continue doing uncommon things,” continues Victor, dragging his lips up to Ethan’s ear. “But we will do them together.”
The tension in Ethan’s body has eased with each soothing touch but Victor draws back to see if it is reflected in his face. Ethan just looks sad. Victor doesn’t know what it will take to coax Ethan out of his shroud of self-hatred but he is determined to find its solution.
“You need to rest,” says Ethan.
Victor shakes his head again despite his exhaustion. He has already spent too much time away from Ethan.
As if hearing his thoughts, Ethan crawls up the bed and pulls Victor with him until they are lying on their sides facing each other. It is Ethan’s turn to run the pads of his fingers across Victor’s cheek and down his neck.
“Close your eyes,” instructs Ethan.
“I don’t want to,” replies Victor petulantly, his eyelids already drooping.
Ethan rolls his eyes inwardly. “C’mere.” He gathers Victor in his arms, situating them so that he is resting his lips against Victor’s forehead, his hand rubbing soothing circles onto his back. Victor sighs, relishing the feel of Ethan’s strong body against his own. He has never been more content. They lie tangled in their bed stained with blood.