The Death of Me
By Scarlett Burns
Author's Note: This is a short one shot, and is an exploration of what might have happened in 1897, before Barnabas changed the past. I've always felt that by the time the show got around to explaining Quentin's death in 1897, Barnabas had already changed history and the circumstances surrounding Quentin's death. Too many things in their explanation didn't fit with the ghost storyline, so... I wrote this story! Enjoy.
It can be felt before it takes place. It clings to the chosen like a morbid perfume. It lurks in the lengthening shadows in every corner, in every room. It lingers in the mind. It taints the actions of others. It is something that is unstoppable, final, feared, and on a rare occasion welcomed. It waits until the time is right, and can have incredible patience or unbearable eagerness.
It is death.
Everything has spiraled out of control; as is often the outcome when lies are continually stacked on top of one another. One never stops to look at the stack until it has reached an unmanageable height and can no longer be ignored. I believe that this is natural. After all, I have yet to meet a man or woman who's told a lie, then thought immediately after, "This will surely be the death of me."
Perhaps I should go back to the beginning. Isn't that where one is supposed to look when faced with the end?
The beginning… I suppose little white lies came first. Harmless. Denials.
I'm not the villain, truly.
Then the small lies. Harmless… to me. Passing on the guilt.
Ah, your investigation would be much more fruitful if you were to divert your attentions to a more worthwhile suspect. Where was I last night? Why, here in the drawing room, listening to my music.
Small lies turned into larger lies. Harmless to me… if I'm not caught. Deception. Manipulation.
We're going to play a game, Jamison. What game? Oh, just a little game of selling your soul. You won't miss it, I promise.
I could go on. It takes a lot to bring a person to the point where I'm at now. But I'm growing bored with all this, and my time grows shorter with each passing note of my favorite melody. Perhaps if I have a brandy I'll find it easier to mull over my life. Yes, a brandy.
A man like myself doesn't spend time reflecting on the path I've chosen; not until I've reached a dead end, and no doubt about it, I've most certainly reached that.
Ah, now where was I? Oh yes, of course. Lies. I take pride in the mastery of lies; it is a true art. One cannot say that they've mastered the art of lying until they can fool themselves. I used to be able to do that. But then, that was before the big lie.
The big lie. That was my downfall. It is ironic, really. If it were not for my years of practice in deception, I could not have lived the lie for as long as I did. Yet, if I wasn't the scoundrel that I am I would never have had to live the lie in the first place.
Perhaps one cannot say that they've mastered the art of lying until they can fool themselves into believing that they are a creature that they're not. That, I think, would be truly impressive.
I wonder, if I had convinced myself that I'm not a monster under the light of the full moon… would I have mastered the art of lying, or of denial?
I need another brandy. Yes, just one more. I shan't get drunk tonight.
I refuse to make it easy for them, if for no other reason than to be disobliging. I have a disreputable reputation to uphold, after all, and I won't disappoint.
They will have to look me in the eyes as they sentence me to my death; sober, clear, comprehending blue eyes.
I'm standing in front of the fireplace, one foot on the hearth, when the drawing room doors open. My back is to them, but I know that they are standing there in the doorway; watching me like one would watch a wild animal. I do not turn to look at them right away. I find the fire far more intriguing as I wonder why in hell I didn't just run.
But then, I know the answer to that one too. I have nowhere to run too, no one to run with me, and nothing worth running for.
I drain the remnants of my brandy, setting the empty glass onto the ledge above the fireplace.
Edward, Judith and Carl. Who would have thought that my own family would be my executioner?
A small smile touches my lips as I turn and face them. I find humor in my own demise. They won't understand it, but that isn't of any consequence to me.
"Ah! I see the tribunal has finally concluded."
Carl fidgets nervously behind Judith and Edward, looking down at the floor. Judith looks pained, but resolved to go through with what must be done. Edward shows no emotion at all.
I know now that I did not waste time in preparing for my coming death. I walk over to my gramophone and shut off my music with a pang of regret, as it could very well be the last time I listen to it.
It is Judith who speaks first; voice stern, eyes searching. It hits me then, and I could almost laugh. She'd expected me to run. Perhaps she'd even wanted it. It would have made things much easier for her if I had. But why should I care? I have always enjoyed making things difficult, and there was no point in changing my ways now.
"Quentin, you can't go on like this." She stops, expecting me to interrupt.
Well, I never have been known for my silence and I decide not to fall short of her expectation. I take the opening she gives me like a child would take a gift. "Oh yes, and I'm quite sure all of you have figured out a marvelous solution. One that shall benefit everyone."
I smile nastily and take a step closer to my siblings. Carl takes a step back, but Judith and Edward stand their ground. "Everyone… but me, of course."
I look to Edward and repress the fear that has suddenly crept into my body. Death suddenly feels as if it is hovering insufferably close, and I don't like the sensation. Even so, I push it down and relax into my words.
"Have you put a great deal of thought into the myth of Quentin Collins, dear brother? It is your duty, after all, to come up with a socially acceptable fabrication. I regret that I won't be around to hear the story you're going to tell. Really. Do me one favor: don't make it boring!"
Words have always been my weapon of choice. My silver tongue might just be my only precious possession. One can cut with words just as easily as with a knife, and the bloodletting is far more satisfying. I could kill a man a thousand times with my words, but only once with a gun, a knife, a rope.
"Someone must look out for the family name," Edward stated haughtily.
I laugh because he's all too predictable, and close the gap between us. There is a glint of fear in Edward's eyes, and he attempts to hide it, believing that he's succeeded in doing so. It makes me laugh even harder. The fright in Edward's eyes turns to ire; no one should laugh at Edward Collins.
"Even now you can't be serious!"
My laughter ends abruptly. All traces of humor vanish in me completely. I have a piercing stare, I have been told, that can make even the most sure man uneasy. I use it now because I want him to understand me. For once in my goddamn life, I want them all to understand me.
"I am dead serious," I say, and even then there is humor in my choice of words. My voice doesn't convey it, however, and Edward seems startled by my sudden change in mood. There was truth in Edward's words, although I am loath to admit it. I take time to bore into Judith and Carl's eyes, but return to my eldest brother's before I speak again. "I'm fully aware that my story will end tonight."
"Q-q-quentin, don't you be talkin' like that! We're going to help you!" Carl stutters from behind Judith and Edward.
If I had the emotional capacity to feel sorry for Carl, I would. This would be hardest for him; he was an innocent soul and the closest thing to a brother I will ever have. However, my life does not allow me to feel such pity anymore, and I don't dwell on the thought for long.
"Yes, I know the kind of help the family is best at administering," I say sarcastically, as a cast a quick glance in Carl's direction.
It occurs to me rather suddenly. The gypsy's curse has hardened me in many ways; good and bad. Six months ago I would not be standing here and facing my own death. Six months ago I would have run, would have done anything to keep living a little longer. Perhaps that was the reason for Edward's fear, for Judith's regret, and for Carl's anxiety.
This was most unlike the brother they thought they had known so well.
Ah! That's one type of lie I hadn't thought upon earlier: self deception. Well, the whole household could tell about that one, so I don't think I will bother. Needless to say, they'd never known me very well.
"We don't know yet what we are going to do," Judith says uncertainly. I ignore her remark. It is, after all, a blatant lie.
I take a step back and look at the three of them. "A fine family portrait you all make," I say in my wry drawl. My eyes do not show the same amusement as my voice, I am sure. "A hundred years from now the three of you will be remembered as saints – courtesy of one Edward Collins," I proclaim, making my usual exaggerated gestures to punctuate my words. I nod to my eldest brother. "All your sins will be abolished, all you faults erased. Convenient."
I turn away from them, and saunter to the window overlooking the grounds. The sun is just beginning to set, and I pull back the drapes to get a better view. "But Quentin Collins?" I continue, almost to myself. "I am nothing but sin and fault, and to erase all of it is to erase my very existence." My right hand tightens its grasp on the drapes. It is a hard truth: one that I do not like or accept.
"We have to lock you away until we find a cure for your… ailment," Judith says.
Still she lies to herself. Everyone in the room knows that Quentin Collins could never, and would never be locked away in the tower as Jenny had been.
I spin quickly on my heal, my anger finally breaking through my composure. "Oh, what tangled webs we weave when we practice to deceive," I sing-song as I step away from the window. "The least you can do is give it to me straight."
I left myself open for attack, I quickly realize, and Edward is rapid to strike. "Why should we? You've never done us the courtesy."
I smirk and walk back towards them. "And you don't lie every day? Dear brother, I would laugh if there were any laughter left in me. We are all liars, and I speak my mind far more often than you do." As if to prove my point, I state, "I will do so now."
I approach them again, growing bored with their denials, and growing bored with them. I've often grown bored with my life, and I maintain that it has been my greatest burden.
I could say so many things right now. Choose so many paths. I could plead for their help, but it would do no good. I could try and make them understand the torture that I've been through these past six months, but they wouldn't care. I could try and escape my fate, but it seems like a useless effort.
Instead, I opt for the painful truth. Not because I suddenly want to be an honest man – wouldn't that be amusing? - or because I feel guilty for my past sins… it's much too late for that. No, I will tell the truth because it will hurt them the most.
I want to hurt them, and the desire to do so burns in my eyes. I want them to experience as much pain as I have felt. Let them feel the agonizing pain that comes with each full moon. Let them feel the crushing guilt every second of every day. Let them hate themselves as I've hated myself. Oh, they deserve that as much as I deserve my fate, and I will do everything within my power to see that they get their comeuppance.
"My dear siblings, I know that you intend to kill me. I have never been stupid, so don't make the mistake of thinking me so now. Do your duty, as I know you will, but I want you to do so with the knowledge that you will not be murdering a drunk or a liar or a killer or a coward tonight. You will be murdering your brother. I will not have it any other way."
Edward becomes even more irate, while Judith turns away from him. "You've killed people, Quentin and more than once. You're a monster! You'll destroy this family! I can't let you continue on."
I had a retort all ready on the tip of my tongue – about how the Collins family is quite self destructive without my help – when there was a gasp from the doorway, startling us all. I look up and my stomach turns at the sight of Jamison. Tears are already beginning to form in the child's eyes as he stares at me. He's overheard their conversation.
Edward stutters something to his son, but I don't hear what he says. All I see is Jamison, and his young brown eyes filled with horror, disgust, hurt and betrayal.
"Tell me it isn't true," Jamison whispers, his lower lip trembling.
I open my mouth to speak, but I find that for once in my life, I can't. Words: they have always been there for me, but they fail me now, just when I need them the most. We stare at each other in silence and shock. Judith is trying to usher Jamison out, but he seems frozen to the spot. With each passing second my guilt becomes more apparent in his eyes and my own, and I suddenly feel worthless.
I can't say to those sad, innocent eyes that it isn't my fault, that it isn't true, that I didn't do it; for it was, and it is, and I did. I find that my silver tongue is useless to me now, and I search my mind for something appropriate to say. What does one say in a situation such as this? I am at a loss, in more ways than one, because I have not only lost my quick tongue; I have surely lost Jamison, forever.
I open my mouth once more, and what I say is almost inaudible.
"I'm sorry, Jamison."
So inadequate, those words are, and they hang dead in the air. I love him like I would love my own son. Jamison has a spirit much like my own; adventurous and carefree.
Jamison turns and runs out of the room, but not before a tear ran down his cheek. I'm still staring at that spot, unable to tear my eyes away. My mind runs in circles, useless words and explanations go through my brain. If only I could make him understand… if only I had the time to explain it all.
I don't know if a full explanation would change his opinion of me now, but I long for it only because he might at least comprehend the entire situation.
I take a step, desperate to follow him, but Edward grabs me roughly by the arm. I realize as I turn to face him that I have tears of my own, and attempt to divert attention away from my weakness with anger. I break myself away from his grasp.
"Don't touch me!" I shout, and as the room blurs and tilts around me I realize that I'm losing control. I fight to slow my breathing, and I cast another glance at the spot Jamison had vacated.
To my surprise, the spot isn't empty. Beth is standing there, and her eyes hold pity and understanding. Only she has seen my pain these last months. I'm not worthy of such devotion. I tried to show her that, but she refuses to leave despite my foul treatment of her.
Why? Well because she loves me, of course. Damn her for it.
I find strength in her eyes though, and after a moment I turn back to my siblings, calmer than before.
"Let's get this show on the road," I say at last, but my tone does not match my words.
Edward nods, his duty clear. Judith and Carl refuse to look at me at all. Beth doesn't know all that has transpired, and shoots me a questioning gaze.
"Beth, get a couple of servants to bring my gramophone up to my room. Don't come yourself. I… want you to make sure that Jamison is alright."
She leaves reluctantly, terror in her eyes as she begins to piece things together in her mind. I never could bring her comfort. No sense in trying now.
I cast a last glance at the trio. "I hope you all survive to ripe old age, and remember this day for as long as you live. May it haunt you forever, because if it is possible I surely will." My tone is icy, my eyes are hard, and I mean every word.
I turn away and make my way to my room… and to my fate.
As I step into my suite I can feel it. Death. It waits impatiently. The servants have brought my gramophone, and I sit beside it now, playing my music.
Edward finally comes, and the air in my room seems to buzz with anticipation. I smile and turn my music up. Edward comes over to me and hands me three silver bullets.
Oh, so that's the way you want it, Edward? I should expect nothing less from you. But no, I don't think you'll have your way this time.
I don't take the bullets. Instead, I stand and walk over to my roll-top desk. Edward is saying something. I'm not listening. His words are meaningless to me. They always have been. I open a drawer and grab the object within.
I turn back to Edward. "Too much of a gentleman to kill your brother? You disappoint me, Edward." I return to him, the object hidden from Edward's sight.
"Only you can take your life, Quentin. You know it must be done, and you will do it for the family. It will be the only thing you've ever done for it."
"True, but why should I be helpful now?" I surprise Edward when I roughly grab hold of his coat and pull him towards me. We are nose to nose. "No, Edward. I won't let you get off so easy," I say viciously. "Only you can be my executioner. My death will not be another of my sins. It will be yours."
I present the knife in my hand between us, and its blade catches the light of a candle, glinting dangerously in the dark room. Edward's eyes widen, and he begins to back away. I hold onto his coat tightly. He will give me a decent death, even if I have to make him do so. I smile wickedly and run the flat of the blade along his right cheek.
"Give this devil his due, brother."
I pull the knife away from his face and take a step back. I flip the knife expertly in my right hand, now gripping it by the blade. I hold it out to him. Our eyes lock, and for once brief moment it seems that we understand one another. Edward takes the knife awkwardly into his own grasp, but I can see he will not be able to slay me without some help.
"Have you no honor, Edward? No pride? Here I am. A werewolf. A killer. A Satanist. An adulterer." I take a step closer so that the tip of the blade is lightly pressing into me. Edward knows what I am doing.
My heartbeat quickens. Despite everything, I don't really want to die. I hate myself for what I'm about to say next, but he must have rage to kill me. "I had such fun sneaking around with your wife. You were such an arrogant fool; completely oblivious. I never did like Laura, but she was a good fuck on a lonely night."
A dangerous spark ignites in his eyes, and he lifts the knife to my heart.
Damn it, Edward. Don't make me continue. To my dismay Edward doesn't move in for the kill, and it's clear he needs a drastic push.
"Have you ever wondered why Jamison is so much like me, Edward? Do you ever look at him and wonder?" I taunt cruelly, knowing it's a horrible thing to insinuate, especially when it isn't true. "Can you not help but think of me when you see your son?"
Ah, that Collins' temper. So predictable.
It's funny; I barely feel the knife plunge into my chest. Edward looks up at me in fury, then realization dawns as he becomes aware of his mistake. Rage and time had made him forgetful, as is often the case.
I hadn't even been at Collinwood at the time Jamison was conceived. I had been at sea, and I returned three months too late to be the father.
I close my eyes as I begin to collapse to the floor. I never feel the impact. In fact, I don't feel anything at all. Perhaps Edward caught me. The mental image of him doing so is rather amusing, I must admit.
All that's left now is my music, and it sooths me as my heart gives out and blackness engulfs my soul; at least, what is left of it.