Looking back, he couldn't see how he could have missed it. It was all there in front of him, laid out for anyone to see. He was, after all, his friend – and James was awfully observant. It should have been simple.
His guilt had marked him, making him jumpy and distant, despite the mask that had been tightly pulled across his surface. James couldn't remember the last time he had met his eye completely. It wasn't like him; James should have known it was him.
When the truth came out, wrenched from his comrades curling lips, the truth had lost all power to shock or surprise him. He had missed all the clues along the way, each and every one. But now, now it was all too clear.
It was his brother who had broken the vase.
James had an eye for detail, always the constant observer. For this he could tell you which of the school's cooks had prepared dinner and where it was exactly that Professor Dobson had left his glasses. It was a gift he had always possessed.
It was this gift that delivered him all he could ever want to know about one Helen Magnus. He knew the sound of her step, and the exact pitch of her laugh. He could identify the hue of her eyes from a skyful of blue and the scent of her perfume amongst a hundred fragrances.
He knew Helen Magnus and it was in the knowledge of these details that his love basked and bloomed. But there was one clue his brilliant mind refused to see, refused to acknowledge.
She would never choose him.
They had been friends for years. They had met at Oxford, inadvertently sitting at the same table in the Christ Church dining hall. It had been a mere decade, but it seemed a lifetime, one in which they had shared everything.
They had studied together, drunk together and fought together. It had been John, not his brother, who had helped James bury his father. It had been James, not Nigel, and definitely not Nikola, who John had sought out for advice on his plans to propose. They were brothers.
There was nothing of the brother in the man James now faced. His lip was curled not in confided laughter, but in a sneer of derision. John had finally bested James in the covering and uncovering of clues, but his championing had come with a price: death. The death of those poor women, the death of their friendship, the final blow on Helen's innocence. The death of John himself.
John was no more. There was only Jack.
He had been left clear instructions. Clear WRITTEN instructions, as if a man of his intelligence (not to mention abundance of years) could not be expected to know how to handle a mere babysitting job. He had captured and house trained creatures with more mouths than limbs - surely anything Ashley Magnus could dole out would pale in comparison.
Helen's conference in Peru would only be a few nights, but with Barney getting, well, a little forgetful of late, she had thought a second pair of eyes watching her wilful daughter would be prudent. James, however, thought it highly unnecessary. Perhaps Ashley had a soft spot for her "Uncle James", one that negated Helen's warnings, but after dinner she had promptly returned to her room to complete her homework.
Collecting a cup of sweet tea and a volume from the library, James settled into Helen's sitting room. Yes, this babysitting was child's play.
They had run every test available - and then made up a few more. This was no minor experiment, after all. This was everything - the answers of the past, the potential to unite humans and abnormals in the future. It was everything, and they couldn't afford to make any mistakes, to leave any avenue unexplored.
James had spent years working alongside Helen, stooping their limbs into long-lasting arches over their microscopes. Their world had long ago come to be filled by the five of them, but there were days, weeks, when James' universe was made up of only her, the woman beside him and these few vials of precious blood.
But still, there were things even the two of them could never have anticipated. He did not know that the serum came with more than the gifts it bestowed upon them. He did not know the effects it would have to come on John and he did not know that their lives would be enhanced... lengthened... stretched out beyond endurable belief. He did not know the pain he would come to see in Helen's eyes, the pain that centuries would not erase.