Summary: In which Jekyll and Skinner take a walk, Jekyll asks an unbearably awkward question, and an understanding is reached.
The question was innocent enough.
Jekyll and Skinner were abroad that morning on League business – looking into a seller of antiquities who had passed along a number of very unusual (to say nothing of very dangerous) artifacts from India into the hands of unwitting customers. Their encounter with the man had been utterly anticlimactic: the shopkeep in question, a tweedy old man with a voluminous white beard, had been blissfully unaware of what he had been selling to London's curiosity seekers, and once the situation had been explained he was more than happy to turn over his remaining stock to the care of Her Majesty's Government.
Their business concluded (and the cursed gems they'd been sent in pursuit of safely tucked away in the numerous inner pockets of Mister Skinner's trenchcoat), the pair began their return journey to League headquarters on foot. It was a fine day for walking – the weather was mild, the air clear, and the traffic not too heavy. Indeed, only one thing set the two of them apart from any pair of Londoners abroad in the city – and that was the amount of attention one of them was receiving from their fellow Londoners.
Jekyll had lost count of the number of passers-by who had shot startled glances at his companion. From time to time one of them would stop in his tracks, staring after Skinner and Jekyll as the pair grew further away; others would catch sight of Skinner and dash immediately out of his path. Not every passerby did so, of course – many were too caught up in their own trivialities – but the number of those who did was high enough that Jekyll thought it quite unlikely Skinner himself had not taken notice.
After all, he's hard to miss. Edward Hyde murmured sardonically in Jekyll's mind. Right now, at least.
Do be quiet. But Jekyll had to admit, he was right. With his turned-up collar, slouched hat, and darkened pince-nez, Skinner would have cut a somewhat distinctive figure; the coat of shockingly white greasepaint that covered all of his visible features made him nearly impossible to miss.
"Hardly inconspicuous, is it?" Jekyll winced; he hadn't meant to voice the thought aloud. Edward's poor habits coming out again.
Here now, don't blame me. You said it.
Skinner raised an eyebrow at him, cocking his head. "What is?"
Jekyll cleared his throat. "The greasepaint you use, it's . . . well, hardly inconspicuous." He gestured to yet another dumbstruck passerby, who darted away upon being spotted.
"Ah." Skinner glanced away from Jekyll, studying the crowd around them. "No. I guess it's not."
"Yes. That is, no. Though I don't see why it couldn't be." Jekyll paused thoughtfully for a moment. "I'm sure Mina – Mrs. Harker, that is – would be quite capable of tinting it for you. For that matter, I shouldn't be surprised if it could be bought in some color that would more readily blend in."
"It can be." Skinner replied a trifle too quickly, burying his hands in the pockets of his coat and still not looking at his companion.
"Ah. I see." Jekyll cleared his throat tactfully. "Then, if I might ask . . . why . . .?" He trailed off, not quite sure of how to phrase the question.
At first it appeared that no answer was forthcoming; Skinner seemed reluctant to address the subject any further, and Jekyll was equally unwilling to pry. The two continued walking in somewhat strained silence for a while before the invisible man finally sighed and shrugged one shoulder.
"After a long enough time blending in," he said with uncharacteristic gravity, "I suppose a chap wants people t'take a bit a' notice. Makes 'im sure he's still there."
"Oh. I see." Jekyll fell silent for a long moment before adding. "I suppose I can understand that . . . quite well, actually."
Skinner glanced sideways at him and grinned crookedly. "I suppose you can."
The pair lapsed into silence again, although this time it was less constrained and more companionable, and they threaded their way through the heavy London foot traffic until they were lost in the surrounding crowd.