Jezabel had long ago grown use to this feeling, the dizzy, weightless confusion of waking up somewhere quite different than where one had fallen asleep. Except, unlike the sweet innocence of a child fallen to slumber by the fire to be carried to bed by their mother or father, Jezabel’s little blackouts were hardly a time of fond memories.
“I...I fainted?” He asked with a heavy slur to his voice. He hadn’t yet even opened his eyes, fearing the pain of daylight blistering quickly into a migraine. Hell, he couldn't even be sure who he was speaking to until his younger brother’s even voice reached him through his thrumming pulse.
“How astute, Doctor, glad to see you’re still putting your degree and license to good use.” Twat. After a moment’s pause, Jezabel felt a light dance of fingers over his brow, sweeping his hair back. “Yeah, you took a bit of a fall, Jezabel. 5 stairs this time, a new record.”
“Hm,” Jezabel breathed, and finally tried to pry his eyes open. Immediately it was proven to be a foolish endeavor; not much pain, no, but the room was in such a dizzying, twisting loop that the sight of the blotched faces above him made him feel sick. Closed again they slipped, and he clumsily lifted a hand to press to his mouth. He’d been having a bad enough week as is, he didn’t need public vomiting added to his list. Already he slept little and could bring himself to eat less. The fussing and preening of the Hargreaves family was somethign hard won but also hard to shake.
“D’you think he’s catching a chill?” Came the boisterous voice of Oscar, never one to be able to control the loudness of his tone, even inside or in a sickroom.
Even with his eyes closed Jezabel could just /see/ Cain’s face, a pinched, sour thing maring his pretty features with worry and trepidation.
“Surely not, it’s May, you know Jezabel prefers to be waited upon in the winter, Oscar, to be relieved of leaving the nest we make for him against the cold!”
Fucking /twat/. Jezabel all but growled, scrubbed at his eyes and peeked through his lashes again. Ah, the parlor. He didn’t suppose he’d be in his room. The cushions beneath him were not his bed but from the striped chaise lounge, one of his more frequent haunts during his...fits. Honestly it wasn’t the most uncomfortable piece of furniture in the house and he had taken many a more willing nap there. Still, the fog lingered, and he felt very much out of place lying there while at least 2 others hovered about.
“Lord Cain, should I ring for Dr. Rumsfeld?”
Fuck. Cain’s valet made 3, then, and counting. Garette was tolerable, at least, having been in his appointment less than a year and yet had quickly learned how to stay out of Jezabel’s way. Two years living with Cain, and he still eschewed Neil’s offer to hire his own little shadow. Jezabel was the son of an earl and lived his whole life, monetarily, in wealth, but had never had a personal servant to mind after him and, having just turned 29 the month prior, was not about to start.
“...Not yet, Garette, thank you,” Cain dismissed, though Jezabel knew the man wouldn’t be far. Well. Perhaps far enough to save him some embarrassment as he began the struggle of setting himself upright.
“None of that, you ought to lie for a bit,” Cain immediately argued, cross with his brother in a tone one might expect to scold an older child getting on their father’s nerves.
“How long was I out this time?”
“...About fifteen minutes.”
“Oh. That’s longer than usual. Sounds like a full nap if you ask me,” Jezabel replied cooly, getting one elbow below him and enough leverage to grab hold of the lounge’s partial back. Once upright, though, he began to rethink this Herculean effort. That spinning and churning from earlier returned with a brutal force, and the ringing in his ears was almost deafening.
“Jezabel?” Cain’s voice was very distant, like it was coursing through a broken telegraph funnel, and Jezabel struggled to pay attention. This was made all the more difficult with Oscars upset chatter to his other side and the blood rushing through his head, the acid in his throat-
Cain, blessedly, had long since grown use to his brothers weak constitution, so when Jezabel became ill on the blanket, he didn’t even flinch, merely folded it quickly in on itself, sent Oscar to get Jezabel water, and called Garette back for Dr. Rumsfeld.
God damn it.
Jezabel did not...hate this doctor as much as he could. Perhaps it was familiarity that bred his tolerance more than anything. Shamefully, he would have to guess the longest he’d gone without a visit since their first would be 4 months, maybe 5. The flu he had last winter knocked out a solid week or so of his memory so he couldn’t be sure. Regardless, Dr. Rumsfeld had become Jezabel’s personal physician, something he took with a grain of salt. There was little doubt in Jezabel’s mind that he himself was the superior doctor; brain transplants pretty much guaranteed a surgeon to a lifelong privilege of crowing. At the same time, though, it was more than a little difficult to treat one's self through sickness. He had tried, back in Delilah, though that usually accounted to sneaking doses of laudanum far beyond what should be necessary for a man Jezabels size. It worked, to be fair. He sure didn't feel any pain.
Perhaps, though, having Dr. Rumsfeld on hand wasn't the worst idea. Didn't make Jezabel any more agreeable. He had argued his point valiantly, that he didn't need to be seen by the physician that day. It had become common knowledge that Jezabel was not strong, but he was not a delicate invalid either. With the dust cleared, he was helpful in the renovations needed to his childhood home to make it liveable, helping to haul fence and carry in pails of water. Fainting was just...something that happened from time to time. Perhaps some of it could be attributed to his own failings. Perhaps he could remember to eat more regularly, and perhaps he hadn't slept that well as of late, but it was still normal.
“Nonsense,” Cain argued, helping haul Jezabel up the stairs to his bedroom. In the last year, Cain had hit quite a growth spurt, and now stood a good hands length over his older brother, and his face had lost the last bits of adolescent softness. While this was beneficial for his step into manhood and the responsibilities of taking the family title, it had the unfortunate outcome of Cain looking remarkably like Alexis. His jawline, his strong nose; Jezabel dreaded the day Cain had to wear glasses. Surely if his lungs had not killed him by then, that image alone would send him to an early grave. “Nonsense, Jezabel. You haven't had a spill this bad in a while, and I daresay Rumsfeld’s pockets must be piteously empty without our money lining it since January!”
...On the other plus side, though, it no longer fell entirely to Oscar to carry the burden of Jezabels weight on the days where his legs just forgot how to work, and it was almost a comfort to lean against him till he was sat carefully onto the edge of his bed.
“Come now, I’ll fetch you a dressing gown?”
Jezabel sneered, as Cain was already whisking over to the wardrobe to rifle through the collection of night clothes Jezabel had on the shelves. Blessedly he had gathered a fair few more in the last year, and hadn’t needed to wear his brothers clothes in some time. Though, come to think of it, Cain’s nightshirts would now be quite roomy and comfortable on Jezabel.
“I don’t need to undress, Cain.”
“You were ill.”
“And you were quick.”
Cain let out a small sigh, barely audible, but continued to root out a cozy flannel night shirt, one patterned with gray vines in tiny stitches around the button row.
“Get dressed,” he insisted, hurling the gown at Jezabel, who failed to catch it and instead let it land and billow around his shoulders and half his face. Lovely.
...Actually, damn it all, fine. Jezabel was exhausted, and the familiar folds of a comfortable nightgown were all too enticing right now. As always, his tie and shirt had been loosened after his fainting spell, but shirtsleeves and trousers and suspenders were hardly what he cared to lounge in.
Jezabel didn’t ask Cain to turn around, but he did all the same, very interested in a vase of posies Mary had collected for her eldest brother the afternoon before. Silently, Jezabel thanked him, and those strange threads of commonality than bound them as brothers. Cain was very delicate about Jezabel’s personal space, protective of it, and of the understanding that being within it was a hard earned privilege. Ever since Jezabel had crossed that one, singular and unholy line, the two had never spoken of it, but there was no need. It had happened, and like most things of their past, it could not be forgotten nor undone. Somehow, though, while Jezabel wouldn’t say it brought them closer in any way, it hadn’t driven them apart as he had feared. Rather, something about it had made their entangled lives easier to bear. It was almost as though, by committing that one grave sin, all other aspects of their disturbed lives paled in comparison. What difference was it now if they had once hated one another, craved one another's blood, wished to destroy the other? They had already committed the same sin by which Cain was begotten into the world, and if they could survive that, nothing else seemed nearly as troubling.
So Cain never pressed Jezabel about his wounds or scars, but neither did Jezabel hide them. They simply worked in tandem, feeling out one anothers moods when it came to touch or closeness, to know what each could tolerate or what each craved. Yes, Cain would turn away, but should Jezabel ask for help, there was no shyness about Cain’s hands atop his whipping wounds to help him dress, over his hips to carry him up, his throat to rub salves and balms for his breathing.
It wasn't blood, but it was an adequate trade.
With a sigh surely dramatic enough for Cain to hear (and an even more dramatic one sent back) Jezabel eased himself out of his waistcoat, his shirt and vest, and then struggled to get himself out of his trousers. It was...more difficult than he would care to admit. Every time he stood, he felt the room around him start to pitch and dive, and he had to learn back and grab hold of his bedspread to make sure he didn’t meet the floor again.
“...You’re alright?” Cain asked , tipping his ear over his shoulder without looking, and Jezabel grumbled that he was, indeed, alright. Jesus, he was dizzy, though.
Finally he magaed to kick his trousers onto the floor, leaving just his drawers and stockings, and shrug on his gown, sighing at the lingering scent of lye and cedar mixing into what he could only describe as clean. Knowing that resistance was a fight he would not win, he pulled back the covers and sheets on his bed and let himself sink in. All the same, he felt his cheeks color pink, feeling vulnerable and almost guilty as he settled back against his pillows.
Cain, however, seemed to share none of his malaise and picked Jezabel’s discarded clothes up without a second look to toss into the laundry.
“Just rest for a change will you?”
“As though I don't spend enough time laid up in bed?” Jezabel countered, running his fingertips over the tiny stitching of his gold and blue quilt. Like much of his room, it had simply come with the accommodations, a Hargreaves keepsake like the Georgian vanity and the iron bed frame. Not that Jezabel hadn't acquired a few of his own bits and bobbles. A plush rug in cornflower blue and cream kept the chill from his feet in the morning, and a changing screen patterned with cranes and reeds gave just enough familiarity of home to be comforting without being upsetting. The bookshelves had become filled with his own collection of novels and medical journals, and a few pieces of sea shells, pewter swans and a sizable bag of bird seed.
All in all, it was a comforting enough place, and he even dared to say he felt welcome here, even if he was starting to look forward to the completion of his own home.
Cain shook his head, done as ever with Jezabel’s shit.
“Maybe if you broke down your rest into 8 hours every day or so you wouldn't be laid up for a week every couple months,” he suggested, his voice annoyed but eyes teasing. Jezabel narrowed his own behind his glasses, thin gray brows arching up to look ever so collected and ever so superior.
“Not all of us have the luxury of a life spending our days in leisure disguised as work, Earl Cain.”
“Oh ho, pulling that one again are we?” Cain snit back, even as he pulled a favorite shawl of Jezabel’s from the wardrobe to wrap around his shoulders (Neil had voiced his desire for Jezabel to not traipse about in a woman’s wrap, but Jezabel insisted it was a socially acceptable way to wear a blanket and to kindly shut up.) “I told you when you first came to stay with me, Jezabel, you could fight for the title if you wished. All it would take to fit in would be a haircut and a wife and-”
“Spare me the nightmares.” Jezabel let his brother drape the shawl around him, savoring the warm weight across his chest. “Make yourself useful and fetch Cassian for me.”
“Like you could ever face a physician without him,” Cain grumbled, throwing both hands up in a fit of motherly exasperation as he, indeed, turned to do as was asked.
Jezabel sighed into the quiet, empty room. Wonderful, this was exactly what he’d wanted when he woke up this morning, to be back in bed before lunch. Somehow, though, he was hardly surprised, and without his younger brother there to cast him suspicious, withering eyes, Jezabel let himself sink back heavily onto his pillows. He was just so damned /tired/. If it wasn’t nightmares keeping him up, it was his cough, or the too many cups of coffee he’d had the day before in an attempt to make up for all the sleep he hadn’t gotten the /night/ before, to stay alert when he was called to the hospital for a second opinion or to the stables to help clean the cuts of a horse who had gotten herself into brambles. Regardless of the reason, sleep liked to elude him, and all the coffee killed his appetite, resulting in awkward family dinners where he made every excuse he could to leave the table early or pretend he was far more interested in his mashed potatoes than he honestly was...damnit, that just made him tired too, really.
So exhausted, yet sleep remained elusive as ever. Even in a calm, quiet room, birds singing sweetly outside, eyes closed against the light, Jezabel could rest, he could even out his breathing, but he couldn’t bring himself to sleep.
No need, though, as within minutes there was the sound of paws and claws trodding on the floors outside his room. Cassian shoved his way in as soon as the door was just cracked, trodding along merrily and leaping onto the bed in the most gentle way a 70 pound mutt could manage.
“Hallo, Cassian, did you enjoy your run? You didn’t scare off that nest of rabbits did you?” He asked, his world feeling just a little lighter as Cassian laid his head onto his lap, tail thumping wildly against the blankets.
Cassian's dark eyes looked at him sorrowfully as he sighed, indicating that he did, indeed, leave the rabbits alone, but that it pained him immensely to do so.
“Don’t be so dramatic,” Jezabel implored, his fingers stroking softly through Cassian's spring-thinned fur. “They’ve done you no harm, Cassian, and you’ve plenty of other places to go sticking your nose.”
“Right, it’s the dog being dramatic,” Cain grumbled under his breath.
“Oh, look, Cain’s forgotten again that it’s my eyesight that is poor, not my hearing. Honestly Cassian, you ought to go take a bite out of him some time if you want to hunt so badly.”
“Cassian loves me.”
“Cassian tolerates you because you keep a roof over our heads,” Jezabel corrected with another pious tip of his nose, but a racking shiver cut down some of its effect.
Cassian whined, nudging closer against his human’s belly.
“No, it’s nothing, Cassian, I’m only tired is all, and Cain had to go and fuss like he always does...no, he does /not/ fuss just enough, don’t give me that look, Cassian!”
Jezabel had long ago made it apparent that he had no intention of making discreet his little conversations with Cassian, and while they stilled pained Neil as a sign of the boy’s madness, Cain seemed to have accepted it, which suited Jezabel just fine. Living corpses and ghoulish remains and hypnotism; after all Jezabel had shown him of Delilah, he’d be fool to think this was somehow beyond the realm of the possible.
“Cassian’s right to be skeptical, brother, did you tell him we found you at the bottom of the stairs face down this time?”
“It was only the bottom five steps, Cain, hardly the entire staircase,” Jezabel grumbled, a bit of a whine creeping into his voice, just enough to hint at a tantrum. However, the last thing he wanted was for Rumsfeld to see him in the middle of one of his fits; he may have promised Jezabel he would never sign papers for him to be committed, but somehow Jezabel couldn’t be sure that promise would hold during a...a bad spell.
“Ah, yes, and five stairs won’t hurt, right? I’m sure I’ll see the bruises after your bath tonight.”
Pompous, preening little arse...Jezabel had a mind to go into another diatribe about how Cain just wanted to coddle Jezabel to feel worthwhile and useful for five minutes, but a gentle and familiar rapping on his bedroom door hushed him up, and he hurried to pull himself together as Dr. Rumsfeld was let in.
Late thirties, strong build, auburn hair just starting to gray, Rumsfeld would be a comforting ideal of a physician for most patients, Jezabel could assume, but for him, Rumsfeld was...passable. At best. He was surprisingly forward thinking, for a London doctor, but Jezabel had...understandably high standards for medical knowledge.
“Lord Cain, a pleasure as always,” he greeted the young earl at the door with a warm smile and a handshake. “My cousin tells me you’ve been seen with her friend Luella at a few coutillions as of late, should I be awaiting a wedding invitation?”
Jezabel bristled, calmed only by Cassian's flat tongue dragging over the back of his hand.
“Not just yet, Doctor, the season has only begun, afterall, and I’m but 19! I’ve plenty of time to play the field before I decide to settle down don’t you think?”
Ugh. Jezabel was never one for such pointless chatter. Besides, Jezabel had seen Luella; she was far out of Cain’s league, if anybody asked him.
“And Dr. Disraeli, I was wondering how much longer it would be before I had the pleasure of your company again.”
“Naturally, I’m sure our bimonthly visits are the highlight of your social calendar.”
“Well, you seem to feel well enough to complain heartily, that’s a good sign at least!” Rumsfeld laid his bag heavily on the bed table, and sat carefully on the edge of the bed. He had long grown accustomed to Jezabel’s pains and sicknesses and bruises, and had learned how to move slowly and with care around his skittish patient. Which Jezabel supposed was...appreciated. Better than that barbarian Neil had called in when he had pneumonia last year. Undressing a patient while still asleep? Honestly, that man was lucky Jezabel hadn’t gone to hunt him down.
“Your brother tells me you had another one of your spells? Took a bit of a tumble, then?”
“It was only five steps, not the whole staircase,” he grumbled again. “I only fainted-”
“He was out almost 15 minutes, Doctor, that isn’t normal for him.” Cain poked in, and both Cassian and Jezabel shot him looks, though Cassian's looked more weary than upset.
“However did you graduate grammar school, dear brother, when surely you spent its entirety with your nose in a corner for tattling?”
Cain held up his palms in a ‘what can i do I’m just that bright?” gesture that was enough to have Jezabel pressing himself upright with the intention of Starting Some Shit, but Dr. Rumsfeld was quicker and very wise to Jezabel’s patterns.
“No, no, you’ll stay here in bed for the time, thank you very much, Jezabel. Why don’t you lie back for me, hm?”
It was only the knowledge that he was up against 2 men and a dog, all of which could best him, that had him relenting and letting himself sink into the pillows behind him.
Easing right in as Jezabel made himself comfortable, Rumsfeld removed his pocket watch, taking Jezabel’s wrist in his right hand to time his pulse. Pronouncing it steady but slow, he tipped Jezabels head back, feeling both sides of his throat for swelling, and then his cheeks and brow for fever, finding none.
“That's a good sign then, hm? No sign of infection yet. Let me have a listen to your chest-”
He followed his heartbeat and breathing, helping him to sit up and lean against him to listen at his back, having grown long use to the rope like scars running down his body. Jezabel winced, both at the cold metal over his warm skin and how it always took him a moment to find patches of smooth, unharmed skin to touch.he had never pressed for information about the one's on his back, blessedly, and Jezabel was sure he would probably maim him if he did, causing him to redact his promise about not signing him away
“Everything sounds fine...well, as fine as I can expect for you, doctor,” he quickly amended upon seeing Jezabels withering stare. “I don't think you should be fearing a spring flu, in any case. Exhaustion, more like, if I've come to understand your habits at all, coupled with-” And here Dr. Rumsfeld took Jezabels hand and, with his other, gently pinched the skin behind his knuckles, which puckered and slowly retook its shape. “You're dehydrated. My guess is you've gone to being fussy over your meals again too, am I right?”
Jezabel gave the expected response; an absolutely offended scoff, while Cain stuck his nose in to confirm the doctors suspicions, making Jezabel want to sulk all the more.
“That's what I thought.”
“I /eat/,” jezabel defended himself, crossing his arms beneath his shawl. “But the warmer days make my appetite wane -”
“As does the coffee, the lack of sleep and not caring about himself. “
Jezabel looked so damn aghast that Cain had to wonder if perhaps he should sleep with the door closed that night.
“I...care…” jezabel segued with what little dignity he could muster. “I just...forget…”
“Well now you're being reminded, as is your brother,” Rumsfeld pointed out, reaching again for his bag and pulling out one bottle after another, searching labels. “So after you have a bit of a rest, I expect you to have a hearty tea, followed by a solid dinner.”
“... … the rest sounds fine,” Jzabel sighed, giving Rumsfeld and Cain just that much room.
“excellent, then,” his doctor declared, seeming to have finally found what he was looking for. “I recently acquired these from a colleague in Chelsea, and I think they'll set you right for a good rest.”
Suspicious as ever of modern medicine, Jezabel held out his hand to take the bottle, reaching to his breast for his glasses to read the tiny dark script. He pursued the ingredients, and seemed unable to find fault with the concoction, as he handed it back with no fight.
Obviously pleased, Rumsfeld twisted the cap, pulling from it a glass dropper full of some deep amber liquid.
“Alright, 2 drops should do you fine, Jezabel. Open up...right, under the tongue...good.”
No, not good. It was terribly bitter and made his mouth water. And judging by Cains laughter, his displeasure must have shown on his face.
“Lovely,” jezabel groused, shaking his head and accepting the water Rumsfeld offered once he was sure the dose had absorbed.
Helping steady his hands, Rumsfeld nodded.
“It's a terrible flavor, but I assure you, you'll get a good bit of sleep, doctor. And it should be a longer sleep than a dose of laudanum.
Jezabel shrugged, not caring much either way. As long as it knocked him out, he was content.
And knock him out it did, and how. Within six minutes he felt his eyes growing heavy. By 8, Cains and the doctors voices were starting to sound far away, and it became hard to follow their conversation. And by ten, his head was rolling forward, and a sitting nap with his chin to his chest sounded like a great idea.
“Alright now, doctor, why don't we just lean back a bit hm?” someone said to him, strong hands lifting up his chin, tipping his head towards the light. His eyes squinted open, earning him praise, for just a moment before slipping closed again, with Jezabel following back to sleep as soon as he felt his back hit the pillows.
Waking from a laudanum sleep was always slow, sluggish, but mostly lucid. Jezabel would swim to the surface still soaked in the drug, no pain, no ill feelings, but still aware of the world around him. Not so much with whatever configurations of opiates and binders comprised those drops. When jezabel next opened his eyes, fiery afternoon sunlight streamed through the sides of his curtains, looking for all the world like a blaze. He'd stumbled all the way over to the drapes and had started trying to pat down the flames before Neil found him. Even through the haze of drugs and sleep, Jezabel would always recognize his uncle's deep, long suffering sigh.
“Jezabel, child, what fairies are you chasing now?” Jezabel could almost swear that Neil's voice was soft and tender, to match the hands that laid on his forearm and back.
“...it’s on fire,” he replied, even though his assurance of this fact was waning. Out of bed, his body was chilled, and shouldn't his skin burn?
“no, it isn't, just sunlight- no, leave the curtains closed, it's too bright and will only strain you.” With a light pressure, Neil turned Jezabel away from the curtains, though he was quite reluctant to let the damasque fall from his hands. Small whines left him, which Neil soothed down easily.
“I know, a mind such as yours is ever curious, Jesse,” he sighed, again trying the short name he'd been attempting to sell to Jezabel, a sanitized version less likely to upset the family. Even high though, Jezabel was not fond of it, and wrinkled his nose.
“Jez’bel,” he corrects, his tongue slow in his mouth. Honestly, the nerve Neil had! “I'm Jez’bel.”
“...alright, I’m sorry, Jezabel,” his uncle sighed, and Jezabel nodded, quite self satisfied at this win. With the ground swirling and tipping all about him, Jezabel allowed Neil to lead him back to bed, where he promptly crawled in with all the grace of a six year old.
“Right there, Jezabel, looks like he was trying to steal your warm spot.”
Heavy quilts, too many for a bed in May, were laid overtop him, providing a very soothing weight.
“Hmmm…” he sighed, nestling down between his sheets, sure in this dreamy state that nothing had ever felt more deliciously soft or smooth. Well, perhaps Cassian's fur, still reasonably clean from yesterday’s bath, and he tested this hypothesis in the most scientific way possible; by burying his face into Cassian’s neck.”
“...at least he doesn’t bother your asthma,” Neil’s voice reached him, along with a solid hand on his shoulder. Twice he patted his back, once he stroked over his hair, and then bid Jezabel a good night.
Probably. He was already half asleep.
Thunder rumbled the darkened sky outside Jezabel’s window, evening-gray when it was only 6pm. Soft pats of rain began to speckle the glass panes, a soothing rhythm for Jezabel to wake to.
“Whatever Rumsfeld gave you, we need a bottle. I haven’t seen you sleep like that in months,” Cain chirped, having made himself very much at home on Jezabel’s bed. Shoes off, he sat cross-legged, black stocking toes wiggling the wrinkles of the quilt.
Jezabel nodded slowly, the last gossamer strands of a heroin-fueled sleep dragging over his eyes.
“Hmm...too heavy,” he grumbled, rubbing the heel of one hand to his eyes while reaching for his glasses with the other. “Laudanum’s better.”
“Whichever. Do you feel any better?”
Jezabel nodded without even thinking about it. 6 hours of solid sleep was honestly a coma for him, and though he felt disconnected and a bit foggy, a slight headache still from his fall, much of the weariness had begun to leave him.
Another flash across the sky, shocking everything a violet, arsenic green, and moments later, another cacophony from the heavens.
“...I love lightning storms,” Cain breathed, tipping his head almost all the way back to peer out the window behind him, stretching a long neck and strong jaw, prickled in places by the stubble of hair he still wasn’t very good at removing.
Jezabel ghosted a finger over his own white blond peach fluff, which only gathered below his temples. “As do I,” he breathed, feeling that familiar ache in his heart when he and his brother unearthed some new shared treasure. “I only wish they weren’t so rare.”
“Oscars family had a trip to New Orleans some years ago,” Cain began, still peering out the darkened glass. “Middle of the summer. Said the storms in America are something monstrous, the winds ripping buildings clear apart,”
“Shoddy building,” Jezabel insisted.
“Wrathful Gods,” Cain countered, a lopsided grin on his face as he righted himself. “Whatever the cause, I wish we had them more. Falling asleep to thunder is magical.”
“Waking to it isn’t so bad either.”
Quietness settled over them like another blanket, one that was still new and stiff in places, but growing more comfortable with each use. Too often, the sons of Alexis Hargreaves would look into one another's eyes and see each other’s ghosts, the hauntings in their heads that couldn’t be cleared out by any mediums or spirit boards, and it locked their mouths from the inside, least their spirits go visiting. Those days, though, were rare, and their silence was spent only to /be/ with one another, to exist with heartbeats and pulses and working lungs, no matter how tenuous.
Another crack, this one near enough to rattle the windows. Wide green eyes met wide violet as both jumped from the rumble, before both dissolved into laughter, each heartily entertained by the skittishness of the other, and embarrassed of their own.
“A storm like this, Neil will be having the electric lights turned off soon,” Cain said, getting control of his laughter. “And probably the gas too. Old man is afraid of the sparks causing fire.”
Jezabel drew in a breath, more than ready to lecture his little brother about the improbability of such faulty science, but Cain rolled his eyes halfway back into his skull, holding up both hands before he had a chance.
“He’s as backwards as anything, I know, but if we don’t do it he’ll be in such a fuss all night that nobody will be able to enjoy the storm. We’ll just have to dine by candlelight.”
“How romantic,” Jezabel let past his lips, before he could mull over the...ever so weighty connotations of such a jest. Again their eyes met for a flutter, a moment of silent understanding, and Cain responded only with a cocky grin.
“Honestly, brother, we must get your married soon,” he teased, the image of a wedding preposterous to them both, but it was enough to add levity to the bedroom once more. “Neil won’t allow you out of bed, not with Rumsfeld telling him two days-” that traitorous asshole, so he’d learned to give his care instructions to Neil, had he?! -”so I shall have supper with you.”
“You know that just means Mary will hurry through he own dinner and rush upstairs to have dessert with us,” Jezabel warned as Cain made long legged strides to the door, to check on the aforementioned supper.
“And?” he wanted to know, that devilish grin on his face once more. “I know you, Jezabel. You play so cold hearted with dear sister but she holds a cookie to your face, and I KNOW you’re going to eat it.”
As the night rolled on and the storm flew nearer, Neil did indeed order the house to be lit only with candles, lamps and lanterns, which delighted Mary to no end. Ever since being brought in off the street, she had known only manors lit by bulbs or gassaliere jets, and the dimmer lights of a roomful of candles was awfully delightful to her, and after supper she promptly demanded ghost stories. Naturally, her brothers abided her wish, although Cain kept having to prod Jezabel’s side when it was his turn to tell; Jezabel was very much one for a very visceral sort of spook, and the last think Cain wanted was Mary waking at midnight with awful, frightful dreams.
“It’s not my fault I’m a talented storyteller,” Jezabel said with the most put upon, faux innocent voice he could muster. Cain saw right through it, and handed him a mug of cocoa from a tray.
“More like you draw far too much from life.”
“And what good is our trauma if it can’t be used for the entertainment of an up and coming little Mary Shelley?”
Cain took another mug, his own drink containing just a splash of bourbon; Jezabel’s doctor had advised against any alcohol for the time being. Which was fine, Jezabel rarely partook more than a few sips at night sometimes, but simply the fact that he was told no had him eyeing Cain with a second of contempt.
“Bite your tongue, Jezabel! An author? Neil would have a heart attack! Mary is the only chance he has to produce a normal child from our litter!”
Jezabel took a rich sip of cocoa from his cup, quite sure that his own contained a fair bit more cream and sugar than did Cain’s.
“And it’s Mary’s role to carry the family, is it?”
Cain’s eyes lit up with the next lightning flash, something wild and dangerous surfacing for just a moment.
“I only said it’s what Neil wants. With myself the darling of the tabloids and you the sickly, effeminate bastard, he has a lot riding on her shoulders...but she’s a Hargreaves, after all-”
“And what do we care about societal expectations.” Jezabel raised his mug, as though in toast, and Cain, ever the rebel, met with his own, both brothers taking a swallow. It warmed Jezabel, throat to belly, settling in his middle like a fiery little ember, burning away the muck and the mud and the cold.
Round 3 of Jezabel’s wakefulness was very late, or very early, depending on one’s unit of measure. Black outside, with the rain pouring, the thunder at its peak, and only a single lamp burning near his writing table. In the rich amber light, Cain’s profile peered down at the slant, the shadows played harshly upon the angles of Cain’s face. Between the cracks of thunder came the scratch of a pen against paper, and he pictured Cain’s tidy loops, his f’s and y’s and g’s containing far more flourish than necessary. What he was writing, Jezabel couldn’t say, but whatever it was, held his concentration, his eyes harsh against the dim light but his mouth soft, calm...and in a moment, Jezabel’s chest seized with the horror of so many possibilities. A letter to The Family, attesting Jezabel’s sins. A letter to an asylum to finally put him away. A love letter, to the woman here to take his brother from him. His older brother, who in this light and with those shadows looked so very, very terribly like father-!
“Jezabel? ...Jezzy, is it nightmares?” Cain’s voice reached him softly with the stilling of his pen.
Jezabel had not even realized he had sat so suddenly upright, his body tense from his stressors.
In four fluid strides, Cain crossed to his bed, smoothing his hair back in both hands, temple to neck, one of the tricks he picked up from Neil on how to check for fever.
“Hush, Jezabel, your mind is too busy for such a late hour,” he said, whisper soft to not break the veil of night. And under Cain’s hands, Jezabel’s breath quieted, it slowed, his heart going with it.
Cain was here. Not father, long dead, but his brother. Who chose to sit with him as he slept. Who had his own heavy stones around his neck and a family appearance to keep up. Who stood ever strong against the storm of their family’s demands. Who had made the choice, long ago and ever since, to allow this sinful soul into his house.
Slow, deep breaths, a hand over Cain’s, a part of him still aching for something he could not have, but growing more and more at peace with that each day.
“Yes,” he said, the last of his stress blowing out with his breath. “Only my nightmares, brother.”