Title:The Nature of the Beast
Author: Jordanna Morgan
Author's Email: email@example.com
Permission to Archive: Please request the author's consent.
Rating/Warnings: PG. Major spoilers for "The Victorian Candidate".
Summary: Sequel to "The Victorian Candidate". Self-doubts haunt Phileas in the wake of his ordeal in Scotland.
Disclaimer: Jules and company, and everything that goes with them, belong to Talisman Crest. I'm just having fun with them.
Notes: I really didn't want to write yet another sequel/postscript to "The Victorian Candidate"; other writers have already done a better job of it than I can. This story had other ideas, however. Multitudinous thanks to Oden, Vita, and the several other people who helped with fact-checking, nit-picking, and general reassurances.
The thunder of the explosion was not enough to wake Rebecca from a nightmare that was real.
Phileas stood impassive, unblinking, a broken toy soldier with empty and distant eyes. She couldn't take her gaze from his. She refused to believe that emptiness. Somewhere beyond it was her cousin: arrogant and frustrating, extraordinary and magnificent, the one and only Phileas Fogg. And if she broke the contact of their eyes, she feared to lose him forever.
She became aware that at some point, the foreign dignitaries had been herded from the room. A guard was stepping toward Phileas, and this new threat finally forced her eyes from his. "No!"
Her cry was echoed by another voice—a firm, quiet woman's voice, which carried behind it the power of a nation. Victoria Regina, Queen of England.
She still stood at the end of the long table. Rebecca turned to watch in uncertainty as Her Majesty slowly came to her side; she spoke to Rebecca, but her eyes were on the face of the second man to have almost blown her to bits.
"This… is the same as was done to Reverend Stigley?" With these words, there was a strange tone to her voice, taut and quavering.
Rebecca struggled briefly to find her voice. "Yes, Your Majesty."
The Queen turned to look at Rebecca now. Her tone hardened, her eyes gleaming with something that inspired awe—and more than a little terror.
"We give you leave to do whatever is necessary to render aid to Mister Fogg… and to see that justice is done in this matter."
Rebecca almost sobbed with relief. The Queen did not hold Phileas responsible.
Of course. She had known Reverend Stigley for three decades. Surely, in all that time, she had come to know to the very core of her being that the gentle man of God was incapable of doing harm to anyone.
Phileas Fogg was most decidedly not incapable of doing harm. But—hastily Rebecca searched the eyes of Her Majesty, now solemnly studying her inanimate would-be assassin—yes. The Queen knew just as well that Phileas, the true Phileas, could no more harm her than Reverend Stigley could.
"Thank you, Your Majesty," Rebecca breathed at last.
She was free to act. Swallowing hard, she shut away the tears. Later, alone, she would release her emotions and weep for hours—but now it was time to look after Phileas.
Searching the room with her eyes, she found Jules and Passepartout standing near, anxiously watching the events unfold. The two Frenchmen were rather hesitant about the proximity of the Queen, she expected; otherwise they would have been with her at Phileas' side. She tilted her head toward one of the abandoned chairs at the table, and understanding, Passepartout hurried to pull it out for his master.
Rebecca took Phileas by the elbow, and he pliantly followed her to the chair. It required only a slight nudge to make him sit, almost collapsing into it, and Rebecca's heart twisted. Apart from the monstrous abuse of his mind, he was suffering from physical exhaustion.
"Come here," she said softly to Jules and Passepartout, and they stepped forward to stand on either side of the chair—no, stepped was not the word. Jules staggered, and Passepartout shuffled.
They were near the breaking point. Phileas had long since surpassed it.
Kneeling, Rebecca took her cousin's hands in hers and looked up into his eyes. "Phileas, listen to me."
His head turned very slightly, his eyes shifted and met hers. For a brief instant as he recognized her, she saw an unspeakable pain written in his face. It faded swiftly behind that terrible soft blankness, but the sight gave her a bitter thrill of relief. She suddenly knew that her Phileas was not dead within.
"Phileas, we're taking you back to the Aurora. We're going to go home. Do you understand that?"
"Home." The word was a whisper.
"Yes, Phileas, home. To Shillingworth Magna. We're going to take care of you… You're going to be alright."
He blinked rapidly, sitting up a little straighter. "I… would like to see 'Rasmus."
Rebecca looked away, for if she hadn't, she would have broken down in tears that very moment. Phileas' voice, soft and absent-minded, was that of a child—yet there was nothing childlike in his face. Every trace of the weariness, grief and confusion was there, making him look terribly old.
He was the elder; he always had been. He was the strong, fearless elder brother and cousin, able to dispell fears by the mere force of his presence. Now their places were reversed, and she had to be strong for him, to guide his lost and wounded soul back to himself.
She was grateful when Passepartout intervened, taking Phileas by the left arm—his lower arm only, considerate of the injuries they had inflicted on him the previous night, in that hellish battle of mutual self-defense. "You are coming with Passepartout now, Master. We will fixing everything. Master Jules…?" But Jules had already placed a steadying hand under Phileas' right arm.
"He'll be better when the drugs wear off," Jules said quietly, but fiercely, as if he was trying to convince himself of that.
Phileas stood by himself with only slight prompting, and he raised his head, taking in first Jules and then Passepartout. He was turned away from Rebecca, but she saw Passepartout's expression change fretfully when his master looked at him. The valet averted his eyes, glancing toward Jules, and in silent agreement they began to lead Phileas away. Rebecca moved to follow them out.
"Just one moment, Miss Fogg."
Sir Jonathan Chatsworth's hand clamped down on her arm above the wrist—and between his two guardians, Phileas appeared to hesitate in his step. Clenching her jaw, Rebecca turned to her superior, and surprised herself by not taking his head off.
"You still have a great deal of explaining to do," Sir Jonathan went on, and this time Rebecca knew her eyes did not deceive her. Phileas paused, turning his head slightly, and only continued to walk at a slight nudge from Jules.
Chatsworth annoyed him.
Her baser instincts threatening to explode, Rebecca looked back at the spymaster. His supercilious expression masked something else; this was a token fuss on his part, if only because he saw the look in her eyes. Even that was intolerable. Rebecca tensed to shake off his hand and tell him, in no uncertain terms, precisely what to do with himself; however, she was spared such a problematic incident.
"Sir Jonathan, you will kindly unhand my goddaughter."
Rebecca's heart skipped a beat. Queen Victoria was still in the room, and if she minded having been overlooked, she wasn't showing it. She gazed at Sir Jonathan with an expression that would have caused far greater men than him to cower, and the fact that she had spoken for herself alone—"my goddaughter"—made her suddenly far more intimidating as simply a woman than as the leader of the most powerful nation in the world.
Sir Jonathan drew back his hand as if touching Rebecca had suddenly burned him. He turned to the Queen, his jaw working for a moment before he spluttered, "Forgive me, Your Majesty."
"We give you pardon." The Queen allowed her expression to soften slightly. "We wish to have the answers to all of this as much as you do… but not at the expense of the welfare of a loyal subject, whom we know has suffered much." She glanced at Phileas' retreating back, and then at Rebecca—and it was impossible to tell which of them she was referring to.
"We have given you leave to tend to Mister Fogg. However, we trust you will return here to give us an explanation of this, as soon as he can be left in the care of others."
The gratitude was almost enough to make Rebecca smile. Almost, but not quite. "Thank you, Your Majesty. I will," she promised in a weak voice. She even managed a perfunctory curtsy, if not quite a ladylike one in her clinging leathers.
Before following Jules, Passepartout and Phileas, she unthinkingly paused to gather up her cousin's discarded coat and walking-stick. Then she turned and hurried from the room, without looking back, lest Her Majesty should see the tears welling up in her eyes.
Aboard the Aurora, Passepartout fiercely insisted upon tending to his master by himself—undressing him, caring for his wounds, and finally settling him in bed. It seemed ridiculous to worry about Fogg's pride at a time like this, but if duty and propriety were a comfort to the valet, he could hardly be begrudged that. After all, Fogg—or the dull shadow that Fogg had become—was so placidly obedient that Passepartout needed no assistance.
Jules paced the narrow hallway outside Fogg's cabin, feeling useless and trying not to glance at Rebecca. She leaned heavily against the doorjamb, facing out of the room, looking frighteningly almost as empty as her cousin—but Jules knew better. Rebecca had to go to the Queen and relate this entire disaster, once she knew Fogg would be alright for a while. She had merely shifted to that unsettling mode peculiar to the Foggs when they shut everything down inside, bracing for the blackest of circumstances.
He could almost have hoped that such internal defenses were what gripped Fogg now, if he hadn't heard the way Fogg spoke of Erasmus.
He counted himself a blind idiot. He should have known something was wrong at Castle Banquo, the minute Rebecca burst half-panicked into his room—for Rebecca Fogg was not a woman who panicked. Instead, he had become absorbed in smug satisfaction that she in her fright had turned to him. Now he couldn't help but feel that his foolish vanity had condemned his friend to suffer.
Within the room, they both could hear Passepartout moving about, speaking now to himself and then to his master: cajolingly coaxing Fogg to raise his arm to be bandaged, or muttering about where he had left some object or other. At last he came to the doorway and motioned Rebecca and Jules to come in.
Fogg lay in bed, halfway sitting up against a nest of pillows and warmly covered by a blanket. His face remained inexpressive, but the glassiness in his eyes appeared to have taken on shades of genuine, healthful drowsiness. His eyelids lowered slightly, but he raised them again, the slightest trace of a frown playing over his lips.
Rebecca knelt at the bedside, reaching for his hand. "Phileas."
He turned to her, perhaps with a little more awareness than before, and the frown was transmuted into a hesitant, sleepy smile. "You didn't leave me."
"Of course not." Rebecca stroked her free hand along the side of his head, gently brushing her fingers through his fine black-and-silver hair. "We're going to go home very soon now, Phileas. You should rest."
Again the frown, mildly puzzled, just slightly afraid. "I don't want to sleep."
Passepartout, looking suddenly inspired, went out of the room.
"Sleep will do you good," Rebecca answered gently—and Jules couldn't look at her, because he heard the tremor in her voice. Having to speak to Phileas Fogg as if he were a child was wrong, so terribly wrong.
He'll get better. Soon. He'll be better when the drugs aren't working on him anymore.
It was an uncertain hope, and Jules knew it, even if he couldn't quite admit it to himself—or to Rebecca. No amount of drugs could have made Fogg do the things he had done, or almost done. Somehow, Sir Nicol McLean and his thugs had pried into Fogg's psyche, twisting the deepest truths into lies and robbing him of everything that grounded him in reality. There was no other way his razor-edged mind could be reduced to this.
Presently Passepartout returned, carrying a cup which Jules surmised to contain warm milk. Remembering the valet's explanation of his "antidotal" at Castle Banquo, he knew it would soon make no difference whether Fogg wanted to sleep or not.
"Look what I am bringing for you, Master," Passepartout said lightly as he approached the bed. Rebecca moved out of his way, looking dubious. As for Fogg, he at least reacted to his faithful servant—albeit with a grim, foreboding look.
"See, Master? This is for making you feeling better." Reaching the bedside, Passepartout bent down solicitously, lowering his hand to hold the cup where Fogg could drink from it. Fogg's unsettled eyes grew a shade more alarmed, and he turned his head away.
Passepartout was troubling Fogg. Jules had noted that much in the strange moment when he had appraised them both, before they brought him back to the Aurora. And if the fact was notable to him, it was even more evident—and distressing—to Passepartout.
"Why for you are looking at me like that again, Master?" The question was almost a wail. For all Fogg took him for granted and at times insulted him, even the thought that he had displeased his master was under ordinary circumstances a cause of near-anguish to the valet. Of course, these were not ordinary circumstances, and no behavior on Fogg's part could be subject to common rationalization; but natural inclinations were hard to ignore.
With a frown that said she expected to regret it, Rebecca wordlessly took the cup from Passepartout's hand. "Drink this for me, Phileas. Please."
This put a different complexion on things. Fogg turned his head, eyeing the cup warily, then turning his gaze to Rebecca. After a moment of what must have been very deep thought, for his weak state of mind at least, he finally sat up a little further and put his hand over hers, bringing the cup to his lips. He drank down the milk, then sighed and laid back.
"That's better." Rebecca gently stroked his cheek. "Will you rest now, for me?"
His eyelids were drooping again, and this time he didn't—or couldn't—fight his weariness. "I'll try," came his meek response, and he closed his eyes.
"Erasmus is dead… isn't he?"
Jules hadn't thought Rebecca could grow any paler, but she accomplished precisely that at the soft, matter-of-fact inquiry. Muffling a choked sound into the back of her fist, she looked away from her cousin and swallowed hard.
"Yes," she whispered, after several attempts to answer.
Fogg's eyes remained closed, his voice becoming dreamy as he drifted toward sleep, yet his words strangely wavered between past and present. "It's alright. You're alive, and Jules is alive, and Passepartout is alive. I killed 'Rasmus, but I haven't killed any of you."
He was asleep.
And Rebecca was already halfway to the door, fingers pressed to her lips to hold in the anguished sob. Jules' heart ached for her, but he quickly spun out of her way, unwilling to present any sort of target to her enraged grief. She ran past him, and a moment later the door of her own cabin slammed shut.
Passepartout turned a doleful gaze to Jules, and shook his head.
"This is being very, very bad."