Author: Guede Mazaka
"They're still watching," Godley noted as he pulled aside the curtain. Across the street, a nondescript man slouched in a doorway, the only incongruity a spark of metal between his fingers as he tipped his hat at a passing women. "The Masons are persistent."
"So I've noticed." Abberline scribbled down the last notes on the report, then discarded file and chair in favor of going over to the window. He came just in time to see a figure stop in front of the watcher and exchange a few words with him, at the end of which the watcher blanched and suddenly abandoned his post. Dark-tinted glasses turned up to wink grayish London sun at him, and then a cane poked out to rattle its way down the street.
"What the…he left." The other man absently pushed at Abberline as he leaned over the sill, squinting. "Why, I wonder. It was only a kid."
Abberline halted in mid-turn, then twisted back. "What did you say-no. What did you see?"
Godley's eyebrow went up at Abberline's unintended emphasis on the last word, and he assumed a wary air, as if Abberline might collapse at any minute. "I saw a boy. Dark hair, scrawny, like a thousand other pickpockets." He slowly came toward Abberline and scuffled one hand through the various files on the desk. "Did you…see…someone else?"
He was always seeing someone else, Abberline thought with a touch of tired irritation. Some other place, some other life, some other death. "I think I'll start the weekend early, Godley. I'm not feeling well."
"Picked a good day to do it; streets have been quiet as the graves lately." Godley began to clean off the desk, then jerked his head up to peer closely at Abberline. He looked rather concerned, which must have been a thankless task. When Abberline was fairly conscious, he felt a little sorry for his friend for taking it upon himself to care about the fate of a hopeless addict. When he was drugged nearly into oblivion, he sometimes thought Godley a fool for trying to prevent what couldn't be helped. "You're not going down to the dens, are you?"
No, in fact. Abberline was determined to make it home, and not be tempted astray. He told himself it was because Gull had been, if nothing else, a competent doctor-too competent, and that's where the flaw had started-and the opium was ruining more than his mind. After the strain of the Ripper cases, he needed a rest.
It had nothing to do with the two…men…never showing up again when opium was present, after those first two times.
"No." He took up his coat and bag, then forced himself to face the plain worried honesty in Godley's face. They were friends, even if Abberline couldn't fathom why, and he owed a great deal to the man. "No. I'm not. I'm going straight home, and you can watch me do it, if you wish."
"'I'll observe his looks. I'll tent him to the quick. If he do blench, I know my course.'" With an air of vigilant resignation, Godley returned to his filing. He let Abberline get another step away before continuing. "You're not so special as you think, sir. There's many who believe themselves damned in this poor world, and not a few who think their best lot is with the Reaper. But no one ever dies without notice, even in Whitechapel."
A smile surprised Abberline by flickering over his mouth, and he paused. "Thank you, Godley."
"But you'll still go your own way," came the irked mutter. "The right of every man, even one as hopelessly careless as yourself…"
"And thank you, Godley," Abberline repeated in a sharper tone. He didn't wait for the usual apology, but instead headed out into the hall. He picked up speed going about the first corner, but lost it when a group of laughing constables crowded him on the stairway. Once he'd hit the street, it took very little time to regain his stride.
Only a block from his apartment, a carriage nearly ran him over as the coachman yelled and cursed and heaved at the reins. Abberline stumbled back, shaking his dizzied head, and had just leaped onto the curb when someone grabbed his arm and yanked him the rest of the way into the alley.
"Thank…" his voice trailed off in direct proportion to the spread of searing acid through his body, cobwebbing from the hand on his shoulder.
The musician, dressed as fine as any lord out on the town, amusedly stared back at him before lifting a hand and running knuckles softly down the side of Abberline's face. "You're welcome."
"Are you a man?" Abberline hissed out through teeth desperate to chatter. He winced when the words came out, then tried again. "Are you what I think you are, or are you something different? Am I-am I seeing what's there, or am I seeing a lie?"
"What are you seeing?" The fingers brushed back the hair from his temple, then stroked down to rest on the edge of his collar. They were like tiny coals, singing his nerves and burning his breath.
Abberline closed his eyes and attempted to inhale, then choked on the air when the other hand slid from shoulder to waist, fitting itself to the curve and rubbing small circles over his clothes. Might as well have been naked, for all the good his shirt and vest did to block the touch. "Do you even have a name? Do they give you names in…in…" hot dry mouth of dust and tongue of flame "…in Mexico?"
"Call him El," murmured the other man's voice, which swirled deep into Abberline's mind and hooked itself there before the second face faded into view behind the musician. "And I prefer Sands, when I'm walking around here."
"Odd names." Four hands on him now, fingering his lips and his hair and his bones, patting down powdered lightning all over him so he shivered and yearned. Tried to move forward, move into them. He wondered why no one else had noticed yet; his neighborhood wasn't always safe, but it did bustle with life. He wondered why he hadn't woken yet. He wondered if he could stop himself from waking, from remembering death and pain and the shine of golden curls in a coffin.
El shrugged, loose and liquid, and pulled Abberline into a lean hard side that seemed made of solidified heat. When Abberline gasped and lost control of his knees, Sands stepped in behind to push him back. Taking a light lick up Abberline's cheek as he did, like a cat lapping at its trapped prey. "We should discuss that inside," El said, tugging them through blurry space and slippery time.
"The dog's gone," Sands noted as they entered Abberline's apartment. Flames suddenly flicked into all the lamps-including the empty ones. "Good."
"I gave him to Godley," Abberline moaned, clinging to El while he was shoved down onto a sofa. Nails traced shallow and deep, trailing painful tingles as they slowly peeled fabric from skin. He felt almost as if he were being dissected layer by layer, with each translucent piece being held up to El's dark eyes for a thorough examination of every hole and tear and flaw.
Ann Crook. Sir William Gull. Strapped to a table, poured full of chloroform dreams while the surgeons gently tapped and cut their minds to catatonic pieces. Abberline struggled against the rising red and black, curling his nails into his palms and slicing consciousness into himself. "He wouldn't stay in here after you showed up. Just-" somehow wriggled his way out of the encroaching waters. "He would start at nothing, and growl. He never slept, so it seemed cruel to keep him any longer."
El let him go, rocking back to impassively regard his heaving chest and flushed face. "Do you miss him?"
Over in the corner, Sands laughed as he ran fingers over the cluttered shelves. He plucked out a tarnished silver frame, then laid it back down and meandered through the books. "Do you miss her? The more important question, I think."
A rough finger danced about the edges of Abberline's pursed mouth, which sudden anger and grief had clamped shut. El fluttered his palm down to press against Abberline's breastbone, above the heart. Push and snap and spray, and he'd have that pitiful muscle in his hands. Gull had carved out the heart from his last victim and boiled it in the fireplace. A meal, the others had ventured in between retches. Not that, Abberline had known. More than that, just as Jesus' last supper had meant something greater than a simple breaking of bread. Gull had seen something-perhaps the madness had thrown untruths into the light for him-but it was the belief that counted, and he had believed.
"Victoria." Sands draped himself over Abberline's shoulder, piercing the folds of silence that had fallen. "Named after your most honored queen?"
Any kind of rank left a sour taste in Abberline's mouth now; he had had to force indifference to the "sirs" and "Inspectors" upon himself. But at this moment, that apathy was failing him. "Don't talk about my wife."
"Fine, then." Drifting scorch down his throat, Sands curving round to slide a thumb back-and-forth across soft flesh. Threat or caress, he couldn't tell. He raised his hands to do something-maybe drag himself out, maybe to scrape off the invasive touches-but too slow, inhibited by something else that was equally out of his comprehension. His wrists were pinned down, one by each man, and his head was bent back till it strained to follow the slope of the couch arm while two mouths leisurely ate his shaking protests as they teetered on the edge of his lips. "Fred. Frederick. Peaceful ruler. Though you neither rule nor have any peace."
And Godley was right, and he was wrong. Abberline was an addict-he'd always been, from before the first vision had ever scarred its way into him. But his masters had changed over time: work, love, opium. This, now.
His soul had died with Victoria's last breath, lost its substance when the blood had spilled out of her like a screamed accusation. But its shadow remained, and oh, God, but he'd never known its worth until it was being eaten out of him, bite and nip and swallow.
"'The devil hath power t'assume a pleasing shape.'" Sands nudged up El's head and kissed the other man above Abberline, their tongues pink and glistening. Their lines wavered and melted into each other, then snapped back into high relief against the changing light, smoke and reflecting blades. "'Perhaps out of my weakness and melancholy, as he is very potent with such spirits, abuses me to damn me.'"
Abberline twisted his face away when they came back down, but that only shifted their attentions to his jaw and ear. Teeth nibbled nerves raw, then tongues rubbed more fire into the fresh wounds. "You…you've been watching me. You mentioned Godley, that time in the den…"
"You remember?" Sands betrayed hints of surprise and delight as he grinned. As his fingers crushed the feeling out of Abberline's one wrist and his lips sparked it behind Abberline's ear. "I thought you might have been snatching at the dragon's tail by then."
"Why?" Struggle for breath, struggle to make his chest lift, and then to make it compress after grazing against El. Who was dropping kisses all over Abberline's shoulders and the bared skin of his front. "Why me? What do you-do you want?"
El looked at him and through him, solemnly appraising, before moving away and leaving Abberline in the chilling air. He lunged after the musician, winding himself around the other man so every possible spot that could touch did. He was shaking, unable to tell whether he had abruptly regained the ability to warm himself from inside out, or if he was still forced to do it from outside in.
Sands was still holding onto Abberline's wrist, and he twisted it up between Abberline's shoulderblades as he perched himself on the couch. "Not Fred, then. See you've lost that-" cocking head audible in the sardonic tone "-personal feeling."
El rumbled a wordless warning, his hand covering Sands' and slowly lowering Abberline's restrained wrist. Fingers-either man's-rubbed the soreness around the delicate bones, spreading it out to even thickness, then did the same to the other wrist after drawing it softly back.
"Why when you did, then?" Abberline gritted out. His consciousness had surfaced once more, thrashing and pitifully screaming. Something about this was off, wrong-no, not morality. He found it hard to care about that, or about society anymore. That was Godley's job: to care. Abberline saw-that was all. He didn't feel. He didn't. Victoria-
--dead and rotting, rotting gold scummed over with black black used to be red and white but not now not so bright and cheerful ain't she--
"Stop," El said, and shutters clicked across the spiraling flashes in Abberline's mind. "That wasn't her you were seeing. You barely remember what she looks like now."
"What concern is it of yours?" Abberline snapped, rearing back and promptly ramming himself into a devouring, entangling mouth. Both men pressed in on him as El swept a demanding tongue around the borders of Abberline's moans, then caught Abberline's lower lip between his teeth, which prickled and stung. Abberline froze. The teeth sank in, releasing traces of blood that inspired his tongue to probe at his lip. Copper washed in and coated the inside of his mouth, while palms stroked up and down his sides as if to calm him.
"Regardless of what you might think, there are limits on everything. And everyone." Sands sounded faintly frustrated, though his lips on Abberline's nape were languid enough in their movements. "While El may not mind your pretended ramblings, I in fact neither have the inclination nor the time to play along."
A mistake, that. Abberline's lip ripped itself out of El's teeth, blood and pain trickling down his chin. Sands delivered an admonishing nip to Abberline's neck while El lapped at the blood. "Do you truly miss her now? Or have you grown to like the idea of missing her?"
"You kissed Mary Kelly," El breathed into Abberline's nose. Hot. Sweet. Cinders and the smoothed tang of sugar in alcohol. "Yes, we watched. We had to. But we didn't…" deliberate pause as Abberline's shirt was torn the rest of the way open and shoved off his shoulders "…have to talk. Or…" glide of thumb along jaw "…remind you of this sense."
Abberline's vision was erratic and weak now, black and white spots randomly fuzzing out parts of his surroundings. He was distantly aware of more ripping cloth, of strips being twisted around his wrists to lock them together. Different…the Ripper hadn't bothered with such. He'd lured them with grapes.
Fire-laced sigh down his bared back, tickling the vulnerable bumps of the spine. Sands kept laying bites into Abberline's skin, making some kind of pattern. Ritual. Marking the sacrifice. He wasn't a whore like the women had been, but all the same, he'd spread himself for the visions, hadn't he? The seeings and the drugs, he'd let both rip through him in place of love and life. "Ripper, Ripper, Ripper. You're awfully concerned with a closed case, aren't you?" Sands asked in a whimsical voice. "Silly little inspector."
"That's when," Abberline realized, hauling his reason out of the thickening haze. "When you first came. The night before the first murder, when Gull must have been preparing. Stalking. You came with him, and you're here for him."
Fingers knotting in his hair, pulling his head back until he could feel bones strain against breaking. El rose, dark falling about him like judge's robes, and gently encircled Abberline's throat with both hands. "No. We're here because of him."
"He's a fool, but even fools can open the wrong gate," Sands added, his free hand rippling across the planes of Abberline's chest. Tracing muscles to their roots with nails, scratching down deep to bring out the sharp ragged cries, flicking at the hardened nipples. He explored further, brushing light fiery strokes just inside a too-tight waistband. "He did what he couldn't hold, and he fractured."
"There will be retribution," El told Abberline, quiet steel as he took long drafts of kisses from Abberline's twitching lips. His fingers tightened whenever Abberline tried to move closer, then relaxed once the motion had been arrested. "He'll die, very soon, and pass into the hands of his betters."
"But that isn't actually our concern, this time. We don't deal with the failures. We deal with the successes." Sands played a little longer with Abberline's nipples, his smirk widening with every hitch of breath resulting, before slipping off the sofa with graceful suddenness, like a waterfall of flame. In his smoking wake, El twisted Abberline over and pushed him face-down onto the cushions. Held him there while his feeble fighting reflex wore itself out in near-suffocation, then tugged his head to the side to blow air back into his lungs.
In that position, Abberline had a perfect view of Sands searching out the absinthe, glass and sugar cube. He'd seen his share of those who were deceptively disabled, but he'd never seen any one of them move quite like Sands, who seemed boned with water. "Why is he still blind? Can't you heal yourselves?"
"Sometimes you keep the scars because they're all that's left." El stared pensively at his gauntleted hand as he spoke, then petted Abberline's cheek with the back of it. Rich buttery leather filled Abberline's nose, binding itself into his blood.
"You talk like we're human," Sands laughed as he measured out the absinthe, one thumb dipping into the glass to mark the stopping point. "But that's fine. It only proves my point, after all."
"Everything comes from man, and everything can be reduced to man. I was told that once, by a lunatic in the streets, but it doesn't sound so unreasonable, does it?" Abberline panted as he tried to roll himself over. But the upshot of that was El effortlessly pinning him down and then stretching out on top of him, a molten weight that crushed glowing embers out of the tarnished dross that made up most of Abberline.
Sugar cube precisely arranged, if a bit prissily. El chuckled, low and mellow and thrumming. "He's showing off for you."
"The man has to choose, so he may as well see all of it," Sands argued as he set the spoon across the top of the glass, its white lump over the center. "Congratulations, Inspector Abberline. You've understood what the Masons never did, what burnt out Gull's pathetic brain."
Flame leaped out of the green liquid of its own accord, and the sugar popped out glistening drops, like tossed pearls, as it sizzled. Abberline watched the flicker-twine of yellow and blue and white, their writhing seeming to mirror his own restless twitching. The embarrassing rise in his trousers hadn't gone away, but continued to swell and harden with every breath that ghosted over his throat, with every passing shadow over Sands' face.
But he needed-needed to think. To decipher their words. "I didn't. I couldn't even stop the murders by myself."
Hands smoothing under him, teasing his stomach as he clenched fists around his bonds. El raked teeth down the top of Abberline's spine, shockingly violent and harsh, then shredded off his trousers and socks and shoes so there were no more shields. The other man somehow turned every one of Abberline's protests into a moan, every buck into a quivering wordless request for more. "You saw the pattern, and you let it in," murmured along his writhing body.
"St-stop…this isn't…" But even as he was rejecting, he was begging as well. Arching up into the scratch of El's clothes, the knowing firm caresses. "…not going to last…"
At the table, Sands tipped the melted sugar into the absinthe and stirred. The spoon clicked on the glass rim, rapping out the time of the fall. "I probably worded it wrong-English is such a tricky language, isn't it? You felt it, then. Glorious horror and violence, and also its shit-splashed backside. It's not meant to be taken apart and set down as rules. It's meant to get into the blood and lash out through every single bit of you. It's a sensation, Inspector. A cresting wave that you leash and ride into history. If you're strong enough to remember that it is a part of you, and you are not a part of it."
"Why we were watching you." El wrapped arms around Abberline's half-crumpled body and lifted them both up into a sitting position. He turned his head slightly to let Abberline's lolling one fall back onto his shoulder. "Why we asked about your wife, and talked about Godley. Because you'll have to give them up, sooner or later. They're only of this world, and have no place on the other side of the threshold."
Abberline's legs were weighted with lead skulls. He blinked and the dull gray craniums vanishing into his feet that were dangling to either side of El. Large, long-fingered hands cupped the sides of his waist, their golden skin making his own seem bleached. Like ivory.
"The gate through which false dreams pass," Sands remarked in an idle tone as he brought the glass over and took a seat across from them, on the table. "Gull's headed for that one; he saw once and it conquered him. You've seen since childhood, and you think of it…or rather, you don't think of it at all. Very lucky man, you are. Most as careless as you with such a talent would have had it burnt out long before now."
"You can't stay." El skimmed rough-silk palms up to cup Abberline's chin and slip a finger into his mouth. He reflexively suckled at it, which brought another black chuckle from the other man. A second finger worked in and pried his lips apart for the absinthe. "Not as you are."
Sands delicately spooned the now-milky liquid in, brow slightly furrowed in concentration as he used El's fingers to guide him. Abberline choked a little, not wanting to give up this last chance at control, but then El softly coasted the pad of his thumb down Abberline's throat in encouragement, and the addiction quietly swallowed up the last particle of rationality.
The next brimming spoonful went down without a fight, and by the third, Abberline found himself straining forward to meet it. His head was spinning on a tilt and his breath rattled his hearing, while the rest of him seemed to soak up the dreaming afterbite of the absinthe as if it were water and he a desert.
"That's the problem with being too good." Sands swiped off the droplets clinging to Abberline's moustache, then offered the finger to El for a lingering lick. "You don't fit. You never have, and it'll only grow worse with time. You are, in effect, a walking fuse."
Another mouthful while he moaned and squirmed, while fingers dropped to finally attend to his aching erection. More taunting slow circles and ovals and figure-eights, searing through his skin and into the backs of his eyes. "We might have to come for you in a few years, just as for Gull," Sands continued. "The Ripper you aren't now, but the possibility lies there."
Acid trickling down his throat. Gentle, gentle kisses to his face and neck and shoulder while a hand took firm hold of him, while a nail scraped its way inside to prod him into whimpering. "The equation's got more variables, though." Sands' tinted lenses had slipped down to reveal living bone ringed round with lush black lashes. Sin in death. "You could go the other way. In fact, you've already made it past the first guard-though Ben Kidney made quite a pathetic Cerberus, didn't he? Now you've got the two doors: ivory and horn. Illusion and truth."
Abberline had an opium pipe of horn; the soot-palmed and crack-toothed merchant who had sold it to him had claimed it for unicorn horn. A lie, of course. Possibly the beaked whale about which he recalled hearing a long, long time ago. Whales with horns…weren't they as fantastic as unicorns? Yet the one was legend and the other real.
"You can take the ivory without dying, but you'll forget." That stirred dull interest in Abberline, distracting him from the seductive call of the next helping of absinthe. Sands smirked at that, downing the portion himself and giving it to Abberline in a deep kiss. "No, you'll remember her and Godley, and even Mary Kelly, who was a bit fonder of you than you think. You'll remember grief and rage and horror and pain."
"You'll forget us," El said, sinking his fingers into Abberline as far as they would go. They held still during the gasping spasm-too still. Then, ever so gradually…little twists. Like flicking rain off a strand of hair, like winding a nerve round the knuckle and tugging. "You'll never see anything like this again. You'll never see anything but the plain death in the streets and the bodies afterward. Flesh without spirit-you understand?"
"I think he does." Sands swirled the dregs to mix in any remaining sugar, then held the inside of his wrist to El. Silver winked, and then the knife was tapping off the last scarlet drops into the absinthe while Sands hissed and swayed. But that was in the background; healing scarless skin filled the foreground. El leaned forward over Abberline to nip at the still-proffered wrist, startling the first moan Abberline had heard from Sands. "We like you. We like the way you make yourself stumble, all the while knowing you'll only get back up. We like the way you lose yourself, and the way you feel us. Feel for us-you want to know everything about El and me." Hint of demonic in that smile. "That's sweet."
"But if you take the horn, you'll have to wait." El's voice was oddly regretful, and so was his gaze. "You can't cross now, because the opening wasn't meant to happen here. Gull tore things, and they have to be mended quickly, or else everything tangles and nothing can go forward. We have to leave soon, and we won't be back for a long time."
"Another century, and a few." Sands discarded his glasses and shed his coat, then pulled off his cravat. He sniffed thoughtfully at the absinthe and blood. "Long, yes."
"Long…" Abberline wrenched his jaw out of El's grip, then nearly blacked out as the fingers within him spread to press into the stretched flesh. His arousal was beyond pain now, enveloped in a too-slowly massaging hand. "I'll die before then."
That provoked a wolfish grin from the blind man, who snickered as he yanked the tie from his ponytail. Black hair came looping around front, sharpening the planes of his face. "Where's your intuition now, Inspector-"
"Abberline." Surprisingly fierce, and why the last name? Why not the Christian name?
"Abberline, then." Perhaps a little more respect in that feral expression. "'There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy.' You can't decide how to think of us, man or spirit or demon? Well, I'll tell you a secret."
El's shadow-molded face bending forward, raw red rip in his lip. Sands held out the glass for the drops before going on. "I came after El. I started…not exactly like you, but in similar circumstances."
"You waited a hundred years?" Abberline asked, disbelieving and hoarse. He hurried the words along, trying to get the matter finished before the thousand cuts forced themselves onto his skin and sliced him into pieces. His wrists, limp all this time, abruptly regained will and strength to jerk at his bindings. He clawed at the small of his own back, at El's clothing. Some beasts treasured freedom enough to gnaw their own limbs off in order to escape the hunter's trap.
Others wearied of the struggle and came into the fire, exhausted and longing.
Sands turned coy, head tilting as he came close to rub his cheek along El's. "It's possible."
Snort of devil's humor from the musician. "He isn't a patient man. He kept himself occupied. There are graveyards and cemeteries full of his…"
Smooth cold glass pressed against Abberline's lips. "The point is, are you going to do the same?"
Logic tried to encompass them and failed miserably, falling apart into innumerable splinters. Memory desperately tossed fragments and ashes at Abberline in a poor attempt at recalling him to the known world.
He was tired of it. He'd seen the gains and the losses to be had in that land, and the former was ultimately not enough to balance the latter. And then he'd glimpsed the edge of madness and genius, and he'd been called. He had heard, even if he had managed to do what Gull had not and had ignored it. But the experience had awakened knowledge of possibilities beyond the common pale, chances of happiness away from Victoria's everlasting gray pall.
Abberline had had other visions during the Ripper murders. He'd dreamed, too: wide plains of tanned dust and bruised-blue skies, dancing skeletons and hard-faced people. A forest of guitars, unvarnished and still carrying a trace of wildness. Brilliant pools of blood in the streets, and scrawled over the walls. Harsh and vivid and so full of energy that things coiled in upon themselves. He remembered tasting the lightning and whirlwind on his tongue, and lying in the warm shade before falling into the rising swell of violence.
But most of all, he remembered the feeling of feeling.
Had he cried out to that dream place? Perhaps. Was it whispering back, slinking along his skin and slipping beneath his flesh, tingling between his legs and playing clever lips over his collarbone?
He was drinking the absinthe before he'd quite realized that he had decided before their first visit, and that he'd already been waiting.
"Good, good," Sands crooned as he tipped the glass so Abberline could reach every drop.
The world flew up and back when the glass went away-El flipping Abberline stomach-down onto the cushions again. Fingers gone, and God, emptiness was supposed to be devoid of anything. Not ache like a fever raging through the bones. But then Sands, stripped of clothing, slid underneath and cradled Abberline's writhing body. And El, also having lost his garments somewhere along the way, was taking up Abberline's hips. Kneading his buttocks, shocking pressure points into crackling.
It hurt like nothing ever before when the musician pushed in, and Abberline let the pain creep into his groaning. But it was good as well, raw pleasure screeching down each limb and gathering in his dazed head. He was kissing Sands as he'd never kissed anyone. Nothing like that one moment with Mary in the alley-no, that was a ripple to this torrent. And there'd been too many other considerations that had lingered around her, muddying her motives.
Abberline didn't quite know El and Sands' reasons, but he could feel them, pulsing in the air and the earth and Jesus--
Deep hard strokes, forcing out the old life. Shoving the ancient heartache and disillusionment into Sands' welcoming mouth, where they were disintegrated in a single flaming curl of a tongue. Hands wandering over his pinioned arms, rubbing around the tied strips as if to remind him of his helplessness in the middle of this constant tumbling fall.
But he'd known about that when he had chosen. That was his trick that Gull had never learned: to rise above the undertow, use its strength for propulsion. Don't struggle, don't assume superiority of it, or else it would curl and crush.
Faster and impossibly harder, until Abberline thought his back would snap. Rougher caresses. Bites that drew blood, scratches that engraved whorls and rows into his skin. He found breath to scream once, and then the rushing caught up to him as his body split down the center.
* * *
Warmth, enfolding him in endless calm. He floated in a sea of grazing fingers, nipping lips. Movement around and under and over him, but always near.
"Yes," he murmured, settling into the bonds.
One last glide of fingertips down his face.
"We'll be expecting you."
* * *
Monday morning was soul-breaking loneliness.
Abberline woke in his bed, lying on top of the sheets. No one and nothing else in the apartment except the ever-present rats, and the lack made him curl in on himself like a street child huddling in a doorway. He was cold, and the laudanum was so near. On the table. And after, opium just a brisk walk away.
When he reached for the bottle, his fingers stubbed against something cool and thin and rippling silver. A chain, like one of those that had marked El's sleeves and trouser legs the first time he had seen the man. He picked it up and felt the metal heat up till his fingers should have burnt-
blood sun music of the guns
cane marking the way guitar playing by the graves
hollow place waiting
--the links cooled, leaving his skin untouched. No blisters. No pain.
But a ghost of fire remained.
Abberline wasn't surprised when upon further examination, the chain ends proved to have been modified into clasp and hook. He clicked the one into the other, then put on a shirt and adjusted the cuffs so that the chain wouldn't show.
It took nearly two months for Godley to find out, but by then a new gang was wrecking their way through the Whitechapel district, and so there was only time for a chary look and a short, stilted conversation.
"That's a new addition," the sergeant observed as Abberline got up from checking over the corpse.
"So it is." Abberline's sleeve had caught on some fence and torn; he casually shoved the chain higher up on his arm and then awkwardly knotted the flapping ends of the sleeve so they would be out of the way. And cover the bracelet. "I think we'll start with the Bakers."
"You're…" Godley shuffled uneasily after Abberline. "You've recovered rather well from Mary Kelly leaving."
Abberline frowned for a moment, searching his memory. "Oh, yes. Her. I wrote her a month ago, and got a reply two weeks back. She's set to marry a local lad."
Raised eyebrow, and considering expression as they rounded the corner. Godley coughed a bit, then asked the questions. "You aren't worried about the Masons anymore?-granted, we haven't seen them about, but they might have decided to switch to other means of watching you. And you seem…" his voice dropped, slightly embarrassed "…I thought you might have taken a liking to the girl."
"She was all right," Abberline shrugged, mind busy with testing and rejecting hypotheses, reviewing last night's visions. "And I suppose you could say I've taken the precaution of learning a few of the Masonic methods."
Better than that; he may not be able to dream of El and Sands, but he had figured out how to access an interesting assortment of information by that channel. It filled the nights, and kept him from the opium while that craving relinquished its hold on him.
"So you're…fine, then?" Godley sounded oddly hopeful, and the spark in his eye made him seem almost a boy. But just for a moment.
Abberline sighed and glanced at the sky, smoke-stained even on the sunniest of days, before wrapping his coat more tightly around him. Godley grunted and looked away while handing over his scarf, which Abberline reluctantly took. "Thanks. I'll last."
"'The time is out of joint.'" Piercing gaze as Godley caught his shoulder and halted them in front of the police station. "I don't know what it is you found, but if it keeps you…"
"That's a good quote. For once." Abberline shook off the hand, then trudged up the stairs.
* * *
Sands tipped the chair onto its back two legs and snagged a gun from the windowsill, then whipped it around to aim at the approaching footsteps. "Hi. How may I not help you?"
"There's this folklore motif." Soft and low voice, liberally doused with Brit. Male. Idiot, because he kept walking toward the gun, albeit more slowly than before. "Every so often, gods are reborn into the mortal world, so they can be reminded of what human life is like."
Something prickled at Sands' brain, persistently enough to keep him from blowing holes in the shitwit as the feet shuffled closer. The gun dipped slightly as the weirdo Brit nuzzled down it to kiss Sands' fingers. "Who the fuck are-"
Chain and the wrist it encircled tickling the underside of his forearm, and then his mind exploded.
When he came back to himself, the gun was shoved lengthwise into the other man's mouth, they were on the floor, and Sands was buried up to his balls in hot, tight, sinfully clenching flesh. "Holy…well, what do you know? The Inspector caught his man. Men. Whatever-El's fault for taking so long just to buy groceries."
Muffled groaning in response, and as good as that sounded, holding the pistol there kept Sands from getting a good hold on Abberline and delivering a proper welcoming ream. So he tossed the thing aside-practically had to wrench it from the other man's lips-seized jerking hips, and lost himself in the frantic, messy rhythm.
Sweet and yielding. So much so that he couldn't last when warm thick liquid splattered across his stomach. A few last thrusts, and then Sands was gone, plunging through a shattering layer of whiteness.
* * *
Abberline let himself sprawl into Sands, soaking up the sunbeam in which they were lying. The corners of his mouth were torn from the gun, and his insides felt like jelly, but above all that, he felt full and content for the first time in…ages, really.
Then satisfaction turned to bliss as another body sat down on his other side, and a hand calloused by guns and guitar smoothed down his arm to finger the silver links. "You're here," El said, not sounding surprised at all.
"Don't even tell me you remembered first, or I'll…I'll…make you wait till we get to a bed before letting you fuck me the next time," Sands grumbled drowsily as he shifted around to put his head against El's hip. "Stupid asskicking assbrained…damn it, a century gone and English still doesn't have a word for what we are."
"I can stay with you this time?" Abberline rolled over so he could look at El, whose lips were slightly turned up.
Sands mumbled again as he moved to plaster against the both of them. "Yeah. Whole fucking country is a gate. Hell to keep things balanced, you know."
"Yes." El rubbed a thumb over Abberline's lips, then bent down for a short but deep kiss. "You've crossed over. You're ours, now."
And that was what Abberline had waited for. Smiling himself, he pillowed down on El's lap and finally allowed himself a peaceful sleep.