8. Cold

It was the same as before, but different. So different. Something palpable hung in the air between them. It was a barrier, the polite smiles and even politer words. Their glances never met in conversation with the members of the league; both made sure not to chance to catch the other's eye. Skinner more frequently wandered about without any visible indication of his presence save a draft in the still air. Jekyll kept to his rooms mostly, devouring novel after textbook, coming out for only necessary face-time with the concerned American boy, having meals taken back to his room at all possible occasions. A few days of after-anger had left them distanced. But this distance had morphed over the fourth and fifth and seventh day of their avoidance spell. The rift between them was like a six-inch steel wall.

It was neither and both of their faults, stubbornness in the invisible man and hopelessness in the doctor ripping at the delicate seams of their connection forged in loneliness and strengthened in affection. The seeds of doubt for their 'relationship' that had been hibernating in the heat of their blatant desire to prevail, for these feelings to have some long-standing substance, had suddenly burst forth, growing and flowering until it covered the landscape of their wary hearts.

Jekyll's habits had returned. The ease that he had melted into under Skinner's soft tongue and light words had crumbled, his jittery movements and thoughts returning with the roar of Hyde. His flitting eyes, pulling on his cuffs, thumbing his watch chain, all ebbed back into his subconscious routine. He took more time preparing himself each morning, layers of fabric stacking over his gaunt frame with old anxieties of keeping the world out. Yesterday, what felt like months, he would languidly wake and slip into his shirtsleeves, sometimes neglecting his tie or coat, half in distracted thoughts and anticipation for the same wandering hands that awaited him each day. But it hurt now, physically ached when he pulled on his trousers and socks and tight leather shoes. The nightmares had returned as well, the most unsettling of reoccurrences. Even Ms. Harker had noted the gray circles under his eyes when he ventured out to breakfast. He smiled politely and dismissed it, eyes flickering towards the spot the invisible man frequented across from him. Anxiety crept up in his throat again with Hyde's abusive rants about his 'weakness' and 'vermin choice of tail'. Sometimes, he would lie awake on his mattress staring at the ceiling, trying to recall the goodness in him before Skinner, that man he was having relations- had relations, friend companion sort. Only most nights, he'd come out of a haze of utter dejection with nothing to show of it but bloodshot eyes and a headache. Hyde would growl, "A week, a bloody week away from that man and you completely fall apart. You're worthless." But what disturbed Jekyll the most, was that he was agreeing with him, more and more.

For all his naked wanderings, Skinner was listless in the daytime. He had gotten into more trouble for walking around places he shouldn't be in in a week than he had for all his time on the Nautilus. He had tried engaging the boy, but Sawyer was too young and too well raised to understand that his country past was not the most entertaining thing to be discussed for hours on end. Skinner had received the tongue lashing of a lifetime for bumping into one of Nemo's navigation mechanisms when slipping into the wheel-room, avoiding the captain a good two days for the mess he caused. Though Jekyll's quarters were a good walk from his own, Skinner would find himself in his endless roaming coming down his corridor without conscious decision, despite his resignation not to. Of the several times he had, he would swiftly turn back, afraid that door might be too tempting to knock on, as it had been the sixth day of their separation.

The thief had found himself face to face with a thick wooden door that midnight. Caught up in the familiar sight, he barely stopped himself before rapping on the door. But he did stop, enough to regain his composure and step back. The memory of Henry's- Dr. Jekyll's flushed face and sharp eyes prevented him from opening that quite creaking door. His face, the careless puncture wound he had inflicted would not be healed when it fell in dawning realization of his words, nor would the calls after Skinner as he had stalked down these same halls. He was unaware, as he traced his fingers over the grain of the door, sighed shortly, turned and reverted back to his rooms, of the doctor pressed close to his wall on the other side, watching with a sinking stomach as the shadows from underneath his door slowly disappeared.

Their dance around each other had gone relatively unnoticed, only eliciting the questions of Sawyer once, after his meet with Jekyll at his card game. The faint hope that appeared in his eyes when Sawyer mentioned Skinner just as quickly departed when he reported no news. Harker and Nemo were in their own safe, private worlds, not letting anything but the other disturb their respective lives.

On the eighth day, though, there was a change. The outcasts among outcasts had reached the critical point, the teetering high where everything would either take off into the air, or crumble and whimper its way back to the bottom of solitude.

A/n: Cliffhangers are