Warnings: There is nothing too graphic in this chapter (as compared to the other chapters) but there is a bit of violence. It's also darker than the previous chapters. Perhaps, if you like happy endings, you won't want to read this. But, if you wanted an ending, any ending at all, then read away.
A/N: I realized a while ago that I couldn't write this chapter the same way I had written the other two, and that was the reason why I wasn't sure about it for a while, but because of all of your support, it finally came together. I also realize that if I don't post this now it'll probably never be posted. So here goes...
Something had changed. Alois didn't know what it was, or how it happened but he didn't feel like himself anymore. There was something limitless about the world, about Claude's bed and Claude's arms and Claudes eyes as he scanned the morning paper. And Alois himself felt like he could cross all those limits, tear them down like cheap wall paper and paint the wall underneath.
He couldn't remember the last time he slept in one bed for the whole night, but the feeling of waking up next to Claude felt just like that- limitless.
"Good morning," Alois whispered and he wanted to say it again, because he believed in the words.
Claude glanced down at him before returning to his paper.
"Do you often sleep with prostitutes for the whole night?" He asked.
Claude glanced down at him again. "No. You're the first." And though Claude did not make it sound particularly noteworthy, Alois liked the thought of it.
He had come to realize Claude lived between extremes, on a wall between cruelty and cordiality, all the while wearing a face of stone. A black pool of bitumen with a bottom that couldn't be seen. Alois wanted to break that wall and dive into the pool below.
There was a knock on the door and the maid let herself in. Instinctively, Alois wrapped his arms around Claude's chest. He wanted her to see.
"Your schedule." She handed him a piece of paper, bowed and left. Claude observed it before balling his fist, the paper crushing in his palm, and throwing it away. Something about the motion frightened Alois, the way Claude's eyes scowled slightly and his lips formed into an almost grimace.
He would have asked, but Alois didn't care about maids or pieces of paper. He was already pressing his lips to the nape of Claude's neck.
"I'm not paying you for this morning." Claude placed the morning paper down.
And the morning paper was long forgotten on the bedside table.
When Alois woke again Claude had gone, so he stayed for a time, sucking up the afterglow of happiness that still existed on the sheets.
But there was another feeling, something pushing him out of bed. Something that told him to leave, that his job was over and there was no longer a reason to stay. In fact, it told him, he had already overstayed his welcome.
Out of instinct, he searched the floor for his clothes, though he could no longer remember just where he had left them. Instead of finding his clothes, however, he came across the paper that Claude had tossed aside. Alois forgot about everything else and the crumpled up piece of trash became the object of his fascination. He opened it and turned it around and around but nothing was written on it at all. Had he been mistaken? But this was the only piece of paper in the otherwise immaculate room. Bored with it, he tossed it aside and looked around again for his clothes.
There was another knock and he rose instantly as the maid entered.
"My clothes, where are they?" He asked her. Without answering she walked across the room, gathering the clothes that he had shed the previous night, from the well-made coat to the ribbon. He watched her, every movement the continuous flow of a trained housemaid.
"Keep them." She gave him the bundle after she had finished folding them.
"But these are-" But she smiled at him and his words dropped off to oblivion. He held the bundle close to his chest, because he had never owned anything like it before.
After she left he dressed himself slowly.
Clothes that suited him, neither for a job or because he was too poor to afford anything else.
Smoothing out each wrinkle.
Perfectly tailored clothes.
Mindful of the way he tied the ribbon.
But most importantly, clothes from Claude.
He saw the carriage drive up from the window and Alois knew his time there was coming to a close. He wanted so much to hold on to the precious seconds but there was no way out of it. This was the fate of a worker of the night.
As he came to the bottom he saw him.
"Goodbye Claude. Thank you for the clothes."
Claude stared at him blankly and Alois guessed that was his usual expression.
"Won't you say goodbye to me?"
But Claude continued to stare and Alois felt slightly irritated. "Fine, don't say it. I'll get it out of you eventually." He smiled as the servants led him to the carriage.
Alois knew very well what awaited him after the carriage ride. He stepped out and was met with a dated building somewhere on the wrong side of town and for once Alois did not associate it with returning home. The tarnished door he walked through did not give him comfort, nor did the rug that he had counted the stains on many times before. But he could not fully attribute his feelings to detachment, to the perverse wonder he had had for it before. It seemed even the cushions that he used to lounge on were hollow, their stuffing replaced with dried up memories that he didn't care to relive.
He made his way up the stairs and lost himself in the corridor. There was a new kind of emptiness now. He walked through it, aware of its presence like floating particles of dust. He felt nothing for this worn out place or the worn out people who inhabited it. In one of the upstairs bedrooms he still smelled the smoke from the fireplace, a memory of fire, burnt down to the coals. It permeated everything about the building. If he let it, it would erase all traces of the night he spent away from it.
And that was something Alois did not want to happen.
Alois woke to voices in the hallway. He could not remember even falling asleep but his waking world soon became infested with voices from outside.
"Have you seen the new boy yet?"
"That's what I heard, but I haven't caught a look at him. The old man keeps in his room."
"That's what I thought, but Mr. Trancy hasn't left his chair all day. It's like he's thinking about something."
Another laugh. "What to do with that boy."
"I thought so too, but you've seen the old man's eyes when he gets that way. It's not the same. It's something weirder."
"So what is it? Did that new boy get him that way or what?"
"I don't know what it is but all I know is that the new boy keeps asking for someone and the old man keeps him in his room because he won't shut up about it."
"Mr. Trancy probably doesn't want us corrupting the flavor before he gets the first bite."
Alois stood and walked to the door and the boys stopped their conversation. They stared at him like he had interrupted something. And Alois didn't care because that was exactly what he had done.
"How was Lord Faustus?" It was the old man sitting in his favorite chair and Alois sitting on the floor beside him. The same scene, the same composition, like a skilled painter who had gone mad, painting the same subject over and over again with only subtle differences.
Alois didn't answer. He couldn't find the words to describe Claude now.
"Not so quick this time, eh?" He chuckled slightly.
This time Alois looked at him and realized he was a very ugly old man, with bad teeth and even worse wrinkles. Alois had never once been afraid of him. Even at his most cruel Mr. Trancy was still just a tired, old man. And that was all he had ever been.
And maybe that was the reason Alois said the words, "I'm not working here anymore, old man."
At this the chuckles escalated into roars of laughter. "My best boy? You can't be serious. Where will you go? Don't you remember why you're here in the first place? Your brother-"
"It doesn't matter. Luca is dead," he said in monotone.
The roars got louder. "So you-"
Alois stood up and gripped the man's collar before he could say another word. "I'm leaving," he said slowly. "You can't make me stay here."
The laughter ceased. He was aware that all eyes in the room were on him. Boys whispering amongst themselves. Secret words and secret shapes and secrets that everyone knew except for him.
The old man's hand clamped down on one of his wrists. It wasn't a hard grip but it fit around his whole wrist like a shackle. It could have thrown him against the fireplace and cracked his skull if it wanted to.
"And what makes you think I'd let my best boy run away so easily? I have a lot of connections in this town. You'd be at the bottom of the river if I wanted it." Alois didn't give him even a hint of fear.
"I heard them talking. You're getting someone new. You don't need me anymore," he said. "There's too much of us as it is."
And again there was that same knowing smile. The smile that alienated him from Claude and freedom.
"And what is this about exactly?" The old man pulled him closer. His gaze locked on with Alois's and a battle took place in those intense stares until Alois had to look away. The grin grew wider.
"Could you be in love with that man, I wonder?" The old man's lips swelled into a grotesque form, the haughty, uneven curve of an orchid petal.
At that the room erupted in laughter. In love with a client? How much like a bad play told to them as whispers round the fire.
"Very well," Mr. Trancy said. The humor had drained from his face, as quickly as it had come. He was all business once again. "Faustus has something I've been wanting for a long time. It's a gold ring with a red gem in the center. Bring that to me and you're free to go."
Mr. Trancy's eyes gleamed. "And be careful with it. It's cursed, possessed by the spirits who've worn it before."
Alois laughed, but there was no humor in it. "And the money I've earned? Where is that?"
"Spent. But well spent. Think of it as our little trade." The glimmer in his eyes was not from the fireplace.
"Stupid boy! Get the damned ring before I change my mind!"
But before he left Mr. Trancy called to him again.
"And hurry back, I have someone I want you to meet."
He ran down the streets, excitement welling in his blood. The dusk was setting on and everything was draped in mundane colors. The wan faces of women matched the store fronts, everything hiding its true colors before the street lights were lit.
He had mapped out the way in his mind. Though it was Mr. Trancy who had truly told him the directions, the landmarks to look out for, it felt natural to him. Like he was running for home after days, weeks, years of pretending to be who he wasn't. Now he had caught a glimpse of his true self.
Of the person he had always wanted to be.
The house was dark when he entered it. The front had been locked so he used the servants' entrance. He struggled around for some time, keeping close to the walls and guiding himself with what little light filtered in from windows. At last he came to the main rooms and guessed that Claude and the entire house were out for that night. The thought of Claude off somewhere bothered Alois, but he buried the feelings and instead thought about his current task.
Would Mr. Trancy really let him go if he brought him that ring? Was it some kind of trick? And why did Claude have it? He didn't want to wonder about how it was all connected. If Mr. Trancy knew Claude then... what then? Had their meeting been initiated by Mr. Trancy instead?
After searching the lower levels for some time he became bored. He looked at the stairs. The upper level was completely dark but he heard a sound. He hadn't noticed before, but by listening closely he heard muted talking in a guttural tone. There was no expression in that voice and he recognized it instantly.
Claude was up there.
Alois climbed the stairs. He expected it to creak but it didn't make a sound. The higher he climbed the more he was aware how dark it had become.
Alois was sure it was Claude. Surely, once he got up there, there would be some lights on.
He touched the wall to guide him. Soon the stairs disappeared and he was stepping on the second floor. A soundless floor. He tried to remember the hallway from the other nights.
But the darkness was too much. It scared him, invaded all his pores and poured darkness into him. That feeling that had whirled and whirled around him whenever he gave himself up to another man, when no one would play with him in the village. That feeling. This was it. Aching and hopeless, something so immense and lonely that it didn't need a name to exist. A purely metaphysical feeling.
But there was an image in his mind. Of Claude and him. That night when Claude had reached out to him and held his hand. Something as simple as that had made him forget about the feeling. It had happened in this place, on this very plane. He held on to that image, the warmth it gave him, and fought through the dark.
Surely he had changed. He was not Jim whose parents had given him up or Alois whose name was known by all the corrupt men who visited Mr. Trancy's den.
He wanted to be Claude's.
His hand moved along the wall and touched a shelf of some kind. It wrapped around something. He picked it up. It was light enough, small, flat, metallic and cold. He decided to hold on to it, dropping it into his coat pocket. To reminded himself that it wasn't pure darkness.
That Claude was in this darkness somewhere.
But what would he do when he finally reached him? What had he been planning when he climbed the steps into this darkness? His mind had never felt so drowned, so filled with questions. He wanted to know how Claude felt about him. What Mr. Trancy was planning. How to get through this darkness. There were so many questions that he had never thought to ask. What could he have become if he had never left his home? Would he be happy? Was he happy now? Too many questions. Ones he didn't even want to know the answers of. Were the questions themselves spilling out and over into the darkness?
It felt like it. Everything felt uneasy, unstable. His skin pricked and his breath became heavy. He could feel nothing but the wall and cold object in his hand. What was it anyway? He felt it, moving his finger along the length of it. Sharp corners, an indentation along the middle and a sharp, sharp edge.
Certainly the coachman and the maid hadn't left it there... Claude then.
And so everything came back to Claude in the end. He felt empty without him and empty with him. And frustrated and happy and hopeless, so hopeless. And all the feelings came welling up and he couldn't push back down. Something hot touched his cheek and it took a few more steps to realize he was crying.
He walked on crying. It felt like ages, with just his hand against the wall. And everywhere a great silence.
Was he sad? It felt like sadness. But why? What purpose would that serve? Did one even need reasons to be sad? He hated thinking like this and longed for the mind he had had before. Nothing had affected him back then. Nothing ever meant anything to him before. Not sex. Not love. Not even pride. He had given that all up because it was easier to live that way, when everything was meaningless and nothing hurt.
And Alois guessed the reason he was sad, because he had almost let himself forget what it felt like to be happy.
At last he saw some light at the end and he ran towards it.
And then he saw him.
Claude. And her. He was kissing her.
Alois's hands shook. In an instant he knew all the answers to the questions he didn't want to ask. He saw with vivid clarity the way through the darkness, the way to Claude's heart.
His mind was devoted in searching for the ring. If he thought about that he didn't have to think about... His hands worked furiously, ripping linen from drawers, knocking down chairs and tables.
At last, in a room in a far corner of the house, a room as expressionless as all the rest, he found it, sitting out in the open in a case.
It didn't strike Alois as something particularly valuable. He'd seen bigger stones on the fingers of whores and somewhere in his dark thoughts he knew how fitting it was when he slipped it over his own and looked at the stone. He felt he had seen the red somewhere before, a vision overtook him fleetingly until a shadow passed over him and the gem lost its shine.
"Mr. Trancy sent you for it, didn't he?" He asked, the same familiar, emotionless, unfeeling voice.
"Do you know him?" Alois asked without turning around. He could feel the other's presence looming over him.
"Not personally," Claude's hand reached down and touched his own. "This ring has been given to all the inheritors of this fortune. It even belonged to Mr. Trancy's son once. I suppose that's why I received sent you."
The words did not feel cruel. Instead Claude talked as if it were a business transaction and Alois realized that was what it had been.
"Still, even if he does get it he still loses. He lost the real fortune."
"What do you mean by-?" But Claude's touch had left him. Alois turned around to look at him. His stomach twisted. The man looked no different than he did before.
"You can't work like that for anyone else, can you?"
Alois felt his hand moved to his chest. It felt hallow and heavy at the same time.
"Aren't you useless now..."
And hard too. He felt inside his coat pocket and gripped his hand around the object he had found in the dark.
"...because I ruined you."
Memories flooded from every direction. Every man that had taken advantage of him became one man. The laughter from the den came back to him. Every smile magnified, the voices a chorus in the dark, silent room.
Again Alois was in the absolute darkness. He could not see though his hand kept moving and his ears rang with a chorus that cancelled evereything else out. He thought he was laughing but he couldn't be sure. He thought he was crying but his mind was devoid of anything but the color of that red, red ring.
And the worst feeling of all was that he still loved Claude.
Finally Alois stopped moving. The void in his memory returned and his hand let go of the knife that he had driven into Claude's chest. Blood seeped into the black that was his suit. Red on black. Indistinguishable.
The man slumped downwards and Alois tried to catch him, but a hand caught Alois's hand instead and held it to the knife.
"What are you-?" Alois cried.
"Go ahead," Claude said horsely. He drove the blade deeper.
"Claude!" He screamed. "No. I don't want to-"
There was a dark chuckle and Claude looked at him, the same look that burned him down to his soul and ripped him in two.
"Claude," he whispered this time, a desperate, broken whisper. Claude led his hand deeper. He twisted it.
"Don't worry," he said, "She'll come for me."
"Please Claude!" At last Alois was able to get his hand free.
"She knows what I want."
"What are you saying?"
"Goodbye Alois," he said as he slumped to the floor.
Alois had to run. He clamored in the hallway and tripped on the second step of the stairs. Without a moment's hesitation he was back on his feet, running down the stairs and into the anteroom where he finally stopped.
Forget Claude! He didn't matter. He had loved the maid! That look in her eyes, of course, it all made sense now.
Alois sat on the floor. His knee hurt from the fall.
"Stupid," he muttered to himself. He had everything he needed. He would bring the ring to Mr. Trancy and then he could get all his money and leave that place. Claude didn't matter.
He was only another client.
But then Alois stopped himself. Claude always mattered. The reason why he wanted to be free, why he even cared about being free, was Claude.
Alois stood up and walked slowly.
He didn't want to be free anymore. He didn't want to be anything anymore. It was all meaningless if Claude wasn't there.
"The ring?" Mr. Trancy asked.
"I don't have it," his tone was cropped and controlled.
"You don't have it?"
"You stupid boy!" Alois had expected the hand to strike him. He had turned away so it caught on the side of his head. His ears rang.
Alois turned and stared back at him. His gaze was dead, his soul was broken and the old man seemed to respond to that.
"Didn't you want to be free?" " Mr. Trancy smiled, that sickly cruel-sweet smile. "It's a shame, I even had a goodbye gift for you."
"From all the money you earned."
"You spent it."
"I did it for your brother." Alois's eyes narrowed. Would the old man lie to the end?
Mr. Trancy turned and called for someone in the other room, "You. Get over here."
And then Alois realized Mr. Trancy hadn't lied at all.
He was older now, his face not as round as he remembered.
"Is it really you?" The boy ran up to him. "I've missed you so much."
His arms remained at his side even as the boy hugged him.
"I thought I'd never see you again. I was sick for a long time after you left, but mother and father said you were sending me money for medicine. Mother and father... they... Oh, Jim I've been so lonely. Mr. Trancy was so nice to send me money to come here. He even says he has a job for me. Oh Jim, is London really as wonderful as they say it is? I want you to show me all the places you've been and all the things you've seen. Tell me everything. What have you been doing all these years in London? I want to know. I want to live the life you've lived."
It was a cruel trick, it was a bad joke, it was...
"...a lie," Alois whispered.
"What?" The boy let go of him and took a step back.
"It's a lie."
"What are you talking about?"
Alois didn't listen to him, he stared at Mr. Trancy. "Tell me you're lying. This is all a lie. Tell me it's a lie."
"You're all lying."
When the boy tried to approach him again Alois pushed him down but the expression of the fallen boy was not one of hurt but concern.
"Jim, is everything alright? What's the matter?"
"Get away from me!" Alois yelled. He made to run but a hand caught him on the wrist. He looked and it was that boy staring at him, the same innocent eyes that his brother had all those years ago.
"Please don't go. I haven't seen you in so long. Please don't leave me again," tears streamed down the boy's face and Alois wondered when the last time was that he had seen someone cry like that. Not because of a physical pain but as if his heart would shatter simply because he loved someone.
And although Alois stared into the face of a dead boy he felt like the one who had died.
He shook off the hand. "I'm ruined old man. I'm leaving."
"You're not going to stay with your-"
"Luca is dead!"
Mr. Trancy looked at him in disbelief. The boy looked at him in tears.
"I killed him. I left him there to die," Alois said, and he wasn't sure if he was talking about Luca or Claude and it didn't make any difference as he stormed out of the room and into the cold streets outside.
He just had to see Claude. Surely he was alright. Surely that hadn't killed him.
But as the streets led on and on his pace faltered. There was no point in going back there.
There was no point in going back anywhere. He walked slowly with no direction. And that was when he realized what exactly had changed about him: he had always been lonely but he never felt so lonely before.
It was quiet now. The ringing in his ears had stopped. He didn't know where he was going. He didn't care where he was going.
Somewhere between exhaustion and desperation he caught a glimpse of her. She stood at the end of the bridge, as if waiting for someone.
"You gave me these clothes didn't you?" He asked her, the slightest twinge in his voice. He hadn't realized it, but now he felt sad. Just sad.
"Yes. It was me."
"And you were the one who arranged for me to meet with Claude, weren't you?"
"Why?" He asked.
"It was what he wished."
"But did he wish for me?"
"He wished to feel something in his heart."
"Then... was it me?"
"You stabbed him there."
Alois wanted to scream and cry and laugh but nothing happened. He simply asked, "Where is he?"
"In here." She pointed to her stomach. At one time Alois would have walked away from such nonsense, he would have laughed and laughed as he hurried back to...
There was no place to return to.
Alois stayed silent for a long time. The chill reached his bones and yet he couldn't move.
"Do you think I'll be able to see him again?" He asked, his fragile voice carrying on the night wind.
"Not in the same sense as you were able to before." She turned to walk away.
"Wait!" He called to her.
She turned around and looked at him with those sad, demure eyes that hid everything from him and in doing so, told him more than he wanted to know.
"I want to go with you," he said the words without thinking and yet they felt so naturally right. He didn't know where she was going. He didn't know why he wanted to go with her. He just knew he wanted to be somewhere that wasn't here.
She smiled at that. "You may come but I require some sort of payment in return."
"What about this ring?" It had seemed too important to give to Mr. Trancy but now, now nothing was important anymore.
She simply shook her head, "The payment I require is far more valuable, but I will only accept it in exchange for something you truly want."
Alois tried to think. What did he want?
He knew what he didn't want. He didn't want to be Mr. Trancy's boy anymore, or anyone's boy. He didn't want to be the one who everyone wanted.
He wanted to see Luca, that dead boy who wasn't dead, but he knew he couldn't. He wanted to smile and laugh with him like he had in childhood, but he couldn't stop picturing the crying face from Mr. Trancy's. He didn't want to think about what would happen to that face. It only brought pain.
What he really wanted was Claude, that one person who had seen all of him: his anger, his joy, his feelings that were too strange to describe. Who had taken all of him and held him for one millionth of a second until he forgot he was.
His hand still tingled from Claude's touch.
Alois. He heard the echo of Claude's voice.
He closed his eyes and thought. This too was darkness. But a warm one. One he could feel all over.
He knew what he wanted.
"...I just want to be with Claude again," he said as he opened his eyes again.
Perhaps it was just a trick of his eyes, after all the darkness, but as the sun rose he saw her eyes flash a shade of red.
"If that is what you wish."
Alois woke up to the feel of sun on his face. For a second he thought he was back in the country, fallen asleep in a field somewhere. Soon his brother would come for him and they'd play together until the sun went down.
But that couldn't be, could it?
Alois opened his eyes.
He was on Hannah's lap, at least that was what she called herself.
"I had that dream again," he said.
She smiled, a warm smile that made him think of all things he had lost.
He tried to remember how he got there. He had left Mr. Trancy's house in a hurry because he was upset about something. Had it been a client? Everything blurred in his head and it became hard to think.
"Why am I here again?"
"Because I wanted to see you."
That seemed like a good enough reason.
"Where are we?"
That was right. He had come to London some time ago and started working for Mr. Trancy. He was so good at what he did so Mr. Trancy had started calling him Alois.
Again he felt like he had lost something, but he couldn't remember what it was.
He leaned his head against her stomach. It was warm here. Here he felt connected to everything he had ever lost and all he could ever hope to gain. He felt happy and sad at the same time.
"I want to tell you my real name."
He whispered it. It seemed like another thing he was forgetting about.
"Do you like it?"
Her last two contracts had been too fast and she had hardly been able to savor the taste. She'd take her time with this one.
"It's a nice name," she said it for herself, "Luca."
A/N: You can probably guess but this chapter took a long time to write. I kept coming up with new things and getting rid of old things. Actually, I came up with completely different scenes in some places, which is rare for me. Maybe one day I'll make an alternate version of this chapter with all those things I didn't use for this version, but knowing me that'll probably never happen.
Actually this is the end I had wanted from the beginning. A sense of despair but also of hope, where maybe they were all together in the end... but I'm saying too much. Hope you enjoyed. Sorry for the wait.