He had begun the business quite properly with a visit to her father. Despite having heard tales of the place, he'd never actually been invited in before, so when the butler showed him in to Gregory Magnus's study, he couldn't help but gaze in awe at the wonders confronting him. Improbably arranged skeletons stood amongst piles of ancient tomes and the occasional even older scroll; sketches on the walls depicted bizarre creatures in equally strange locations. Only the seriousness of his purpose saved him from complete distraction.
Doctor Magnus gestured to a chair in front of his desk. John dutifully took the offered seat. After a long moment in which he could practically feel his gaze dissecting him, Magnus said, "You wished to speak to me?"
John forced himself to look the other man squarely in the eyes. Magnus's presence was formidable. Gathering his courage, he began. "Dr. Magnus. Sir. I've come about your daughter, Helen."
Magnus smiled slightly - knowingly - and John was certain the other man knew exactly why he'd come. "I do know my own daughter's name, Mr. Druitt." It would seem despite his insight he wasn't about to make it easy.
"Yes, Sir. Of course." John took a deep breath before speaking, "Doctor Magnus, I've known your daughter for some time, both during the last few years at Oxford and lately here in London. During that period, she has earned both my truest affection and my deepest respect, and I have reason to believe this may not be entirely one-sided…" He paused, looking at Magnus for some sign of encouragement. The man's face was as impassive as ever. Still, John could not let that dissuade him. He quickly continued, "Sir, I'm asking for your permission to make a proposal of marriage to your daughter. I can't promise much, having an annual income sufficient only for the simplest of lifestyles, but I should be graduating from Oxford at the end of Hillary, and my tutor holds high hopes…"
Magnus cut him off with a gesture and amused expression. "Mr. Druitt, such a recital is quite unnecessary as I possibly know more about your qualifications and potential than you do yourself. Indeed, my daughter has been quite vocal on the subject." He paused, smiling significantly, and John couldn't prevent hope from blossoming within him. "And yet, young man, such things are never as easy as they ought to be. You do realize, I'm certain, that my daughter is studying to become a physician. No easy feat for anyone, and an almost impossible one for a young woman. "
"Yes, sir. In fact, you may or may not be aware that I am by way of being her very first patient.."
"She has kept me abreast of certain… events… yes. "
"Then you must understand I could never change - would never want to change - that part of who she is. Your daughter, sir, is the most amazing person I have ever known, and I would never let my l… admiration of her get in the way of what she is or who she can become."
Magnus studied him for another long moment, clearly weighing the sincerity of his words, before concluding. "Well, Mr. Druitt. To be completely frank with you, I've never held with the notion that any of this was my business in the first place. And while I'll admit you might not be my first choice for my daughter's husband, you would certainly also not be my last."
John could hardly believe his ears. "Sir.. Do you mean?"
Now Magnus really was smiling. "Yes, Mr. Druitt. You have my permission to marry my daughter. Always assuming, of course, that she'll have you."
He had started out properly enough, but there was nothing proper about where he found himself now. He had proposed to Helen earlier that evening, and to his great joy his proposal had been accepted without hesitation. After a slow and circuitous route which neither could pretend had any purpose other than to extend the evening as long as possible, he had returned her to her father's doorstep. The feel of her hand pressed to his lips in parting was already fading, and yet had still stood at the threshold. He could not return to the solitude of his own chambers; sleep was impossible.
So he walked. For hours he wandered, anonymous through the streets of London, populated even at that late hour. Inevitably, however, his steps brought him back to her doorstep. And to her. The lights had gone out in the rooms below and in the chambers above. The household slept.
But he knew he still could not. Not while everything he truly cared about slept above, so close and yet still just out of his reach. For now.
Only… Not completely. The injections he and the others had taken the winter before at Oxford had left him changed, and under Helen's care and guidance he had learned to control his newfound power which, uncontrolled, had threatened to destroy him. Which meant that, now, he had a choice. And so, knowing it was wrong but helpless to resist, he'd stepped into a nearby alley… and into the darkness of her chamber above.
He stood there now, draped in the shadows against the wall, watching as she slept. The yellow glow of the gaslights outside slanted through the window, falling across her face, illuminating her features. Even in repose, or possibly especially so, she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. It was enough simply to be in her presence, knowing she was his - or soon would be. The enormity of that overwhelmed him.
Helen stirred in her sleep and he stepped back, deeper into the shadows. The motion must have disturbed her further for her eyes opened, looking straight into his through the darkness. His heart froze, awaiting her reaction.
Unbelievably, she smiled. "You shouldn't be here," she observed, but there was no trace of scolding in her tone.
"Yes. But I couldn't bear being anywhere else." She nodded, her smile widening slightly in understanding. "I didn't mean to disturb you."
"It's alright." They both knew she wasn't speaking about being awake.
"Now, go back to sleep."
She nodded again and rolled back onto her side and within minutes her breathing had returned to the soft rhythms of sleep. John was gone long before she awoke in the morning, but he returned the next night and on many nights to follow and, though she sometimes woke to find him, neither ever mentioned his silent vigils in the cold harsh light of day.