He stopped briefly in the pool of light at the end of the alley and glanced quickly over his shoulder to make sure he remained unobserved. The street behind was clear of anyone who might pose a threat. The same could not be said for the alley before him. Still, sooner started, sooner ended as his mother used to say. Taking a deep breath, he turned and plunged into the alley's darkness.
A tall, slim figure stepped out to meet him, emerging from the blackness as if formed from the very shadows themselves. "Do you have the address?" The voice managed to be both soft and menacing, and it sucked what warmth there had been out of the air around him.
"Yes. I…" Long graceful fingers waved impatiently, and he thrust the folded paper into the other man's hand. "What about my…?"
A chuckle, cold enough to freeze the blood. "Oh. You'll get paid."
He saw the knife mere seconds before it slashed out; before he could even think to scream, it was too late.
The address remained legible, even under the poor overhead lighting of the dingy hallway. Even with the blood smeared across the paper, partially obscuring the writing. He stopped at the door of her apartment, checking one more time to assure the numbers matched. But he knew already that they did. The number had been forever etched into his memory with just a glance.
Because here, at last, was his final target. His final, and the most important. He hadn't even been aware of her all those months before when he had first sought for peace in a river of blood. Since then, he had succeeded, to a point. And if what he'd found wasn't exactly peace, but merely the temporary oblivion of the hunt followed by the mind numbing rush of adrenaline and blood in the kill, at least it was something. Some relief from the still nearly overwhelming grief and loss which otherwise threatened to overwhelm his every waking moment.
But now she lay just behind the door in front of him. Or, even if not there at this moment, she must eventually return home where he would be waiting. The doctor who killed instead of healed; who had ripped his daughter's soul from her body with her own two hands, leaving behind a monster in place of the young woman he had only barely learned to love. Tonight, it would be her turn. Tonight, he would send her to Hell himself. With his own two hands.
And then, at long last, Ashley would be avenged. He would have destroyed them all; her memory could be put to rest. Not that he had any delusions of ever finding peace himself. Not anymore. Not this side of true oblivion. But Ashley was gone, and Helen was strong, and so after tonight there would be one more monster left to kill.
One final Demon to send to Hell. And this time, he would not fail.
But not yet.
He still had a job to do.
Taking a deep breath, he let the blood lust wash over him and though him, letting it consume him utterly. Jack stepped forward, passing in a flash of red through the door before him, into the room beyond.
It was finished.
He straightened up, leaving her body nothing more than a pile of blood and gore at his feet. Her death had been his greatest work. His masterpiece. His magnum opus. And he had destroyed her completely.
Because she had been his masterpiece, too. The one thing he had done in which he could be truly proud. But they had destroyed her and so he had destroyed them. Which was why, standing there in the mass of tissue and bone which had only a few moments ago been a living, breathing woman, he felt no guilt. No remorse. Only --
It glinted up at him, still sparkling in the room's dim light despite the blood smeared across it. He reached down, picking up the rectangular silver charm hanging from the chain around the woman's neck. And he - the part of him that was still John - recognized it. Before the Demon could interfere - though his desire was so great it might have failed if it had tried - John yanked the chain from the corpse and slipped it into his pocket.
The Demon didn't care. A simple silver charm had no importance and was quickly forgotten. But John did care.
And, eventually, he remembered. And in the memory… if only for the space of a few minutes… he found the strength to act.
"What's this?" Magnus asked, picking up and curiously inspecting the small brown envelope she'd found sitting on her desk along with the rest of the day's mail.
"No idea," Will replied. "No return address."
"Hmmm…" She examined the envelope for another moment before carefully slitting it open and shaking the contents out onto her hand. Will couldn't quite see what landed in her palm, but he caught a glint of silver before her fingers closed over it.
She smiled up at him, but her expression wavered a bit, eyes shining suspiciously as she said, "I… Uhm… I just remembered I need to… In my lab. I'll be back shortly."
And, without even waiting for his reply, Magnus rushed from the room.
Helen opened her hand to reveal the rectangular charm lying in her hand.
It hadn't always been Ashley's.
And because she knew there was only one person who could have found it and sent it, and that it meant he was still alive out there, somewhere… And that he had meant what he'd said. That he still loved her, regardless of all that had happened.
She unclasped the chain and refastened it around her neck. Then, alone in her chambers, the charm clutched tightly in her hand, Helen wept.
She turned to find the upper house maid standing in the doorway to her chamber. "Yes?"
"There's a gentleman here to see you, Miss."
"Is it…?" She trusted the sudden quickening of her heart was not truly as loud as it sounded in her own ears.
The other woman smiled knowingly, and Helen knew she'd been far less discreet than she'd intended. "Yes, Miss. It's Mr. Druitt."
Helen started towards the door, but the maid held up a hand, stopping her. "He suggested you dress warmly, Miss…"
Curious, Helen asked, "For what?"
The maid smiled. "He didn't say…"
"But might you hazard a guess…?"
The other woman's smile grew wider. "He holds ice skates in his hand, Miss."
He knelt in the snow at her feet, assisting in slipping on her skate. As he finished lacing it up, his hand lingered a bit too long, fingers lightly tracing her ankle beneath the top of her skate. "John," she chided, though she had difficulty putting quite the amount of reprimand into it she knew she ought.
His smile as he glanced up at her was completely unrepentant. "Yes?"
Defeated, she gave up. "Help me to stand?"
His smile grew wider as he stood up. Reaching down, he took her hand and helped her to her feet next to him. It was her first time on skates, the unusually cold January having thoroughly frozen the lake at Worcester College for the first time in memory, and her ankles threatened to collapse beneath her as she stood. John had no such trouble; his arm snaked around her waist and he clasped her to him, supporting her weight with his.
"You've done this before," she accused.
He chuckled. "My family often Christmas in Germany when I was a boy. Over the years, I got quite good."
She cocked an eyebrow at him. "At ice skating, I assume you mean."
He laughed again. "Exactly. Of course."
Her laughter joined his. "You're incorrigible."
"Yes, I am," he agreed and, arm still clasped tightly around her, holding her close, he led her out onto the ice.
"I shall be sore for a month," Helen declared as John helped her to sit down upon the bench again.
"Nonsense. You did brilliantly."
She snorted. "You're just saying that."
He laughed. "Yes, I am."
Despite her very real pain, she couldn't help laughing. "John…"
As he helped her remove her skates, he asked, a bit too casually, "But, was it worth it?"
Yes, it had been difficult. And, yes, she had ended up on her backside as often as not. Yet, at the same time… An entire afternoon together and a ready-made excuse to spend it in his arms… "Yes, it was," she admitted gently.
He glanced up sharply at the change in her tone, searching her face for a minute before answering, "Good. I'm glad. I was hoping…." He paused for a moment, hesitating. Uncertain. Then, reaching into the breast pocket of his coat, he slowly pulled out a bright red envelope. Taking a deep breath, he asked, "I was wondering if perhaps you might accept this…? I know Valentine's Day isn't until tomorrow, but Sunday isn't… I mean…. I wouldn't--"
He stopped talking and looked at her expectantly. "Yes?"
She held out her hand. "May I have it?"
His smile melted her heart. "Yes."
He passed the envelope to her and she carefully opened it, slipping out the heart-and-lace covered card inside. "It's beautiful," she said.
Something inside the card slid out and into her hand. A silver rectangular charm on a matching chain. She held it up, admiring it as the bright winter sunlight danced across it's surface. "It's beautiful," she repeated.
"Will you…?" he began uncertainly.
She looked back at him, hoping to assure him with her smile what mere words could not express. "I'd be proud to," she said. Then, holding it out to him, she asked, "If you could…?
Smiling broadly now himself, John reached out and, taking the necklace from her hand, fastened it around her neck.
The charm clasped tightly in her hand, the cool of the silver a sharp contrast to the heat of his hand upon her neck, she smiled up at him. "Thank you."
"My pleasure," he replied. "I'm glad you like it." Then, taking her other hand, he helped her to her feet.
As he escorted her home, her arm slipped through his, Helen remained acutely aware of his charm around her neck, the silver an unspoken vow between them.
A bright promise of all that was to come.
- fin -