I can't believe this, I thought incredulously as I glanced up at Ratigan, who smiled politely as our eyes met. Yet here I was, seated at the opposite end of a large table from the rat and having dinner with him. I still didn't understand why he would be so nice to me. It almost seemed like… like a… date. I suppressed a shudder and hastily looked down again, continuing to pick at the food on my plate. The meal was delicious, yet I found that I had no appetite. How could I when all I could think about was Basil, still trapped down there in the dark possibly starving to death?
Ratigan took a sip from his cup and cleared his throat. "So," he began, making an attempt at conversation to end the awkward silence. "Tell me a little about yourself. How old are you?"
"Twenty-one," I replied timidly.
"Really? I thought you were younger."
I couldn't help a small chuckle. "Yeah, I get that a lot."
"And you're obviously American," Ratigan continued. "From one of the southern states I would say, judging from your accent."
I nodded in response. I do have a bit of a southern drawl.
"Are you a student?"
"Not anymore; I graduated last May with an associate of arts degree."
"Ah, I see. The callus on the third finger of your right hand from where you hold your writing utensils suggests either a student or an artist. Or both, as you just said."
I glanced up in surprise.
"One doesn't have to be a detective to be capable of making such elementary deductions," Ratigan remarked with a chuckle. I looked down at my hands in my lap as he continued. "So…what kind of art do you do?"
"Drawing mostly. And a little painting."
"Ah. Do you have a favorite artist?"
I regarded the Professor suspiciously, growing a bit aggravated. "Why are you so interested in me?" I demanded.
The Professor dabbed his mouth daintily with a napkin. "My apologies, Miss Amber. I don't mean to pry; but seeing as you'll be here for quite some time, I thought we might get to know each other a little better."
I don't want to get to know you, I thought bitterly. Instead, I quietly replied, "Claude Monet."
"Ah, the Father of Impressionism," Ratigan replied with a smile. "Very interesting. You know, I would love to see your work. Perhaps someday I could commission a portrait of myself?"
I remembered the painting of Ratigan that Basil had on his fireplace. I had no idea why he would keep a painting of his archenemy, nor how he came to possess it. I supposed that Ratigan had sent it to Basil mockingly, so that he would be haunted by that smug grin every waking moment. Or perhaps Basil had taken it himself so that every time he saw it, it would fuel his desire to bring the criminal to justice. Either way, I'm sure Ratigan would wish to have another made, so I just nodded. "I guess I could try."
"Splendid! I look forward to it."
We continued eating in silence, and I glanced at the rat from time to time. The longer I was with him, the more curious I became. After all, I knew nothing about him other than that he was a genius and a criminal. But it was several minutes before I gathered the courage to speak up myself.
"Professor?" I asked quietly.
"Yes, my dear?" he answered politely.
"I-I've told you a little about me," I remarked quietly. "What about you?"
At first, Ratigan seemed to hesitate. But he relented and nodded. "Of course. What would you like to know?"
"Well… you're a Professor, I guess," I began awkwardly, not sure what I should ask.
"Ex-professor, actually," he remarked with a sad smile.
"Oh." I looked down again, afraid to inquire into the matter. So instead, I smiled and tried to keep it light. "I've considered teaching art myself."
"Really? That's interesting. It can a trying occupation at times, but very rewarding at the same time."
"That's why I've been thinking about it," I remarking. "I think it would be nice to teach something that I love and be able share it with others."
"And that's why I chose it as my profession," he chuckled. "Since I was young, I've been fascinated with mathematics. And I thought that teaching would help give me a sense of purpose in my life." A shadow passed over his face. "But the endeavor turned out to be much more difficult than I ever imagined. You see, unfortunately, because of my appearance, people often mistake me for…well, you know. And anyone of that species is always looked down upon, considered inferior to the rest of the world. It was because of this that I struggled to find a job. But finally, luck seemed to be on my side, and I managed to land a position at a local college as a tutor. I began with only a handful of students who came to me for extra help after school hours, but soon as my reputation grew, more and more students began to come to me for help. Of course, the board recognized this, and I was soon given an actual teaching position in a classroom. For a moment, everything was perfect."
I watched as Ratigan's face changed first to one of sorrow, then to one of hatred. "But of course, some of the other teachers, one other mathematics professor in particular, grew jealous of my sudden success. Soon, rumors began to spread, and eventually I was accused of… of attacking the students when they came to my office for a private discussion."
"Well, I don't know for sure what happened, but I'm sure that the other math professor was behind the whole thing, perhaps paying some of the students to lie about me. Because soon I was brought before the entire school board and relieved of my position, without a chance to even defend myself, and thrown out onto the street in disgrace with the police on my heels."
I gasped softly, appalled that anyone could do such a horrible thing, all because of jealousy. "That's awful," I whispered.
Ratigan glanced up at me with such a look of such pain and sorrow, and I was reminded that he was a person too, capable of feelings of hurt and sadness. However, as he balled his hand into a fist, I gulped and wished I had never brought the subject up. "But I got my revenge," he remarked quietly, and I shuddered at the sly grin that appeared on his face. "I showed them all, beginning with the mathematics professor. They never appreciated my genius. I was superior to them all. They were envious of my intellect, and so tried to eliminate me to better themselves. The stupid fools… It was then that I vowed to show the entire world just what I was capable of… that one day, all of Mousedom would bow to me."
I stared at the Professor with a mixture of fear and pity. How different things might have been, how different he might have turned out, had not one person been driven by jealousy to ruin him.
Ratigan must have seen the look on my face. He cleared his throat and straightened his tie, and I was surprised to see his cheeks turn a slight pink from embarrassment. "I-I'm terribly sorry. I didn't mean to turn the subject into such a dark matter. Is there anything else you would like to know?"
Glad for the opportunity to change the subject, I nodded. "How did you survive the fall from Big Ben?"
To my surprise, Ratigan laughed heartedly. "Ha ha, yes, I'm sure the entire world must be asking that same question. However, I'm afraid I must decline to answer this one. You've heard the phrase, 'a magician never reveals his secrets?' Well, the same goes for a criminal mastermind. Where would the mystery be if I revealed how I did it? You see, people have infinitely more respect for you when you come back from the dead. Perhaps I'll tell you sometime in the future. But you've had a trying day, and I'm sure you must be tired."
I could see that he wanted to change the subject, so I nodded slowly. Besides, it was true; I was exhausted. Rising from his seat, Ratigan made his way over to me and offered me his hand. As I took it gingerly, he placed it on his arm and escorted me out the door.
But instead of taking me back to my room as I expected, we turned down another corridor and came to a large ornate door. As we stepped inside, I saw that it was a large music room, full of instruments of all shapes and sizes.
"This is my favorite room in the castle," Ratigan remarked fondly. "I've found that music seems to have an almost healing quality about it that can sooth the soul and just melt your frustrations away." He led me to a chair off to the side, allowing me to sit, then made his way to a large golden harp nearby. To my surprise, Ratigan took a seat beside it and began playing. A soft, beautiful melody filled the air as his long fingers glided gracefully across the strings.
He was right. I instantly felt myself began to relax, and I settled down in my chair, gazing about the rest of the room. There was a grand piano, cellos, trumpets, flutes… I wondered if he could play all of them. Then my eyes fell on a violin in the corner, and I was reminded of Basil again. I imagined him back at Baker Street, standing in the sitting room, the glow from the fire causing his fur to take on a golden brown color, his eyes closed as he held his beloved Stradivarius tucked under his chin, the bow gliding across the strings in his skilled hand. But the pleasant image also caused a pang of sadness. If we couldn't escape, I would never hear those melodious sounds again. Never hear his voice, never see his face, never feel his gentle hand in mine…
The sadness I was feeling must have been written clearly on my face, because Ratigan noticed. "What's troubling you, my dear?" he asked with concern, continued to play the harp.
At first I just looked at him. After all he'd done, he couldn't deduce what would be making me feel so sad? So I answered plainly. "I just…I miss Basil."
The music stopped abruptly and Ratigan froze in place. "I don't see why," he replied, his voice dangerously low. "I said I wouldn't harm him, didn't I? Do you doubt that I would keep my word?"
My heart fluttered in my chest. "N-No, that's not…I-I didn't mean-"
"Let me make something very clear to you, Miss Amber." Ratigan stood up from his seat and began to walk toward me. I stood up as well, ready to flee. "You gave your word that you would join me. But this concern you continue to show for him causes me to question your loyalty. Basil of Baker Street is my enemy; if you side with him, then you are my enemy as well. That my dear, makes you guilty of treason. And in my kingdom, treason is punishable by death."
I backed up slowly, but bumped into a large bass violin, causing a chain reaction as it crashed into several other instruments.
"I-I'm s-sorry-" I stammered as I bumped into the piano, now cornered helplessly.
"Shut up!" Ratigan hissed, and I thought that he was going to strike me. But he caught himself, suppressing the monster inside of him. Clearing his throat, he drew closer to me, and I turned my head away as he towered over me. "You are to never speak of that mouse again." I trembled as he tilted my head up to look at him. "Do you understand?"
"Y-Yes, Professor," I whispered. "I-It won't happen again."
"See that it doesn't," he replied coldly. I had closed my eyes tightly, bracing myself for whatever punishment he might deal to me, and I flinched as I felt his gloved hand on my face. But to my surprise, he simply brushed away a small tear that had escaped and was running down my cheek.
Ratigan sighed wearily as he lowered his hand. "I do hate to end the evening on such a sour note. I'm afraid I can be despicable company when someone upsets me."
I remained completely still, afraid to move or speak.
Then suddenly the door burst open and four guards rushed into the room calling "Professor! Professor!" One of them stumbled forward nervously, tripping over his own feet and nearly falling onto the golden harp. Ratigan growled angrily as he strode over to the mouse and jerked him away from his beloved instrument.
"I thought I said I wasn't to be disturbed," he reprimanded all of them sternly.
The guard standing before him trembled fearfully. "B-But Professor, i-it's an emergency-ack!"
"What could be so important that you would deliberately disobey my orders?" Ratigan shouted as he grabbed the unfortunate mouse by the throat.
The guard whimpered pitifully and managed to gasp out a few words. "I-It's Basil, s-sir…h-he's… escaped!"
Author's Note: Yay, the dinner scene! I must admit, I think this chapter has been the most fun to write ^_^ I took some liberties in exploring Ratigan's past as a Professor, trying to come up with a reason of why he would turn to a life of crime. I feel kinda sorry for him because everyone gives him a hard time for being a rat :( His mood swings are making me dizzy though XD
And everything described about me is true: I'm 21 (and people think I'm younger than I really am for some reason) ,I have a southern accent, and I like art :D
And the reason why I chose not to reveal how I think Ratigan could have survived the fall is because...well, I'd like to save it for a future fic ;)
And yay, Basil's finally escaped! I'll reveal how next chapter!