Fandom: Wicked Gentlemen
Word Count: 1,400
A/N: For frantic_mice, with much love. Thank you for many things, including the gift of this book, which touched my heart. Thank you also to melusinahp, for loving Wicked Gentlemen just as much as I do, and for reading this ficlet for me, even though you were tired! (Note to any/all readers: if either of us overlooked anything, please don't hesitate to comment and let me know!)
Belimai's hands were shaking again, and he could no longer pretend it had anything to do with the cold. He'd had ample time to warm up after the brief distraction and fleeting exhilaration of an early evening flight.
He leaned against the wall in the darkness of his room and slipped his hands into his pockets, as if placing them out of sight would also remove the need to make any decision.
The intermittent trembling continued within the confines of the fabric, and the vague discomfort that had been gathering in his gut momentarily coalesced into a sharp, bright stab of pain. It had been brief, like a flash of lightning, but Belimai knew it for what it was. Far greater indignities and unpleasantness would eventually follow, if he allowed them to continue.
Without further thought, he found himself straightening and crossing the room. He pulled open the drawer of his desk and ran a sharp, black nail along the vials that were contained inside.
There was no decision to make, he realized. This had been an interesting experiment. Nothing more.
He'd have to hurry, though. Harper would be here soon.
And it wouldn't matter how carefully he hid the needle and syringe. Somehow Harper could always tell when the Ophorium was burning fresh through Belimai's veins.
Harper never said anything, but there was always a sadness, and even worse, a quiet acceptance in his eyes at such moments.
Belimai slammed the drawer shut.
Perhaps he was just cold after all.
The hat was still in the filing case under his bed. He pulled it out, brushing a spider from its brim, and placed it firmly on his head, then picked up the drawing that had slipped free as well.
A sketch of a grasshopper, surely drawn when his nails had been bleached and trimmed, a lifetime ago. He had obviously been fascinated by the insect's delicate beauty, but now he could only imagine all the ways in which it might have died. Crushed under the unfeeling boot of an Inquisitor, perhaps. Or devoured by some unexpected, hungry creature, whose strength and appetite could not be resisted. Or hidden and alone, paralyzed by the encroaching winter's cold.
He crumpled the paper and threw it on the floor.
A knock sounded at the door, and Belimai plucked the hat from his head and hid it away again, along with the dust, and the insects, and the papers, and whatever other sentimental, useless things he might have slipped into the filing cases over the years.
"Come in," Belimai called, resettling himself on the bed. The trembling was not so bad yet, and Harper might prove a far better distraction than flying.
Harper shut the door behind himself, appearing entirely unfazed by the near absence of light in Belimai's rooms.
Belimai took the opportunity to watch him unobserved and was slightly unsettled, as always, at the ease with which Harper navigated his room. It wasn't so strange now, as many times as Harper had visited, but it never failed to remind him of Harper's keen ability to notice things. He wondered what other insights Harper might have into his private spaces.
Harper stood for a moment by the lamp table and then peeled off his gloves, first the left and then the right. Belimai's breath caught in his throat.
Harper set his gloves on the table, lit the lamp, then turned to look at Belimai, as if he'd already known he would find him on the bed. Perhaps he had.
Harper's mouth curved up in a small smile as he approached, but his hat was still shadowing his eyes. Belimai opened his mouth, intending to tell him to take it off immediately, when he caught scents other than the familiar ones of soap, gun oil, and leather. There was a hint of the stinging pungency of Hells Below. And some other scent--one that did not belong with Harper at all. He couldn't identify it but immediately disliked it.
"Been to Hells Below?" Belimai asked, and Harper stopped a couple feet from the bed.
This close, and from his seated position, Belimai could easily see Harper's brief frown. "Not exactly. The Acolytes went. One of them--Stewarts--was overcome by the fumes and collapsed. I happened to be near the gates and assisted him back to the chapel, so the others could continue without him."
Stewarts. So that was the other smell.
"Can't resist a young man in need of rescuing?"
Harper's frown deepened.
"Never mind." If it hadn't been Stewarts, it would have been someone else. Harper had probably happened to be near the gates because he'd been looking for someone or something in need of saving. Belimai's hand trembled again, and he clenched it into a fist, then reached out, grabbing at Harper's coat. He wanted to pull those clothes and their unwanted scents from Harper's body, pull Harper onto the bed, and distract them both.
Harper sank down onto the bed, shrugged off his coat, and allowed Belimai to push the hat from his head.
They kissed for a long moment, Harper's hands tracing careful patterns along his sides and back.
Too careful. Belimai moved to kiss Harper more deeply, push him back on the bed, but Harper broke the kiss and stared down at his hands.
"I'll be taking my vacation soon. I always...I usually visit my family estate. Outside the capital."
Belimai nearly growled in frustration. This was not the sort of distraction he needed. "I'm afraid I can't help you with vacation plans, Captain Harper. My movement outside the capital, you might remember, is rather restricted."
Harper stared at him.
Belimai felt another lightning-flash of pain in his gut, and realized how foolish he'd been to invite Harper into his home this evening.
"Perhaps Acolyte Stewarts could assist you. In fact, I think you ought to check on him. He might not have recovered properly from those fumes."
Belimai scooped up Harper's coat and hat with trembling hands and placed them on his lap. "I've remembered there's something I need to do. Right now."
Harper slowly pulled his coat back on. "I just got here," he finally said.
"Come back tomorrow," said Belimai, his tone abrupt and harsh, and Harper's eyes widened. He didn't sound like himself, he realized, having gone so long without the Ophorium. Or he sounded too much like himself. "I really do have something I need to do right now," he said, in a softer voice. "Come back tomorrow."
The moment Harper had left, Belimai pulled open the drawer. The vials glittered back at him. Each one contained poison and perfection and liquid self-hatred, but he couldn't bring himself to care or even think about it any longer. He'd gone too long.
His eyes fluttered shut as the Ophorium slid into his veins. The syringe dropped to the floor.
For a while, he drifted, but it didn't take long for unpleasant thoughts to intrude.
Harper, searching every day for others to rescue, in a city filled to the brim with suffering souls in greater need of salvation than Belimai. Harper, planning to travel to pleasant places that Belimai could never go.
They could never last, but something very deep within Belimai rebelled at the thought of their remaining time together being clouded by an Ophorium-induced haze and saturated by Harper's pity.
Slowly, he crossed the room and picked up the crumpled sketch of the grasshopper. He smoothed it out, and stared at it for a long time.
It was two hours later when Harper returned. He wasn't drunk, but he smelled of alcohol. He didn't knock.
"I forgot my gloves," Harper said, with a hint of defiance. And then--"I thought you had to leave."
"I changed my mind. Feel free to change yours as well, and stay a while."
Harper stared at him, appearing puzzled. "All right," he finally said.
Harper stepped closer, and then his hands were on Belimai's arms, his lips on Belimai's throat. Belimai savored the sensation for a moment before speaking.
"So this vacation of yours," he said, and Harper stiffened. "When is it?"
"In two weeks."
"Hmm..." Belimai said, when Harper seemed to expect a response, and then pulled Harper down onto the bed.
Two weeks. He'd be ready.
HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE! :D :D :D