Author: Jordanna Morgan
Author's Email: email@example.com
Permission to Archive: Please request the author's consent.
Rating/Warnings: PG. Spoilers for my fiction "The Nature of the Beast".
Characters: Rebecca, Phileas, Chatsworth and Passepartout.
Summary: An epilogue to "The Nature of the Beast". The enmity between Phileas and Chatsworth takes an unexpected toll.
Disclaimer: Jules and company, and everything that goes with them, belong to Talisman Crest. I'm just having fun with them.
Notes: This piece of fiction takes place roughly six months after the final scene in my story "The Nature of the Beast". It is intended to shed some light on Phileas' enigmatic behavior therein.
"Miss Rebecca... there is a gentleman to see you."
Passepartout's chilly tone could not have been a more distinct calling card for the guest. Rebecca Fogg looked up from the book in her hands, one eyebrow arching in grim bemusement. Her cousin's dislike of Sir Jonathan Chatsworth was apparently rubbing off on his valet.
"Miss Fogg," Sir Jonathan said by way of greeting. He stood at the threshold of the sitting-room, looking ill at ease, and gave her a stiff little bow which was more than he usually bothered with.
She stood up, inclining her head. "Good evening, Sir Jonathan. Please, do sit down. Passepartout, would you bring us some tea?"
The valet frowned, but clicked his heels together and retreated in the direction of the kitchen. Sir Jonathan rather reluctantly crossed the room to sit, surveying the cozy décor as if he expected something to leap out at him. In Sir Boniface Fogg's day, he had become familiar enough with the estate at Shillingworth Magna, but his visits to the townhouse on Saville Row—a somewhat more personal domain to Phileas Fogg—had been far less frequent.
"Might one inquire what brings you here, sir?" Rebecca asked.
Chatsworth's eyes went flat as they turned to her. "I was in the neighborhood." It wasn't even an attempt to lie; his tone was enough to put a blunt end to that line of discussion. Nonplused, Rebecca resumed her seat, just as Passepartout was returning with the tea.
"Is your cousin somewhere about?" Sir Jonathan asked rather warily, accepting a cup from the scowling manservant. Rebecca noted that Passepartout offered her sugar and cream, but pointedly left her employer to tend to his tea by himself. She would have to speak to him about that later.
"No, Phileas is out at the moment," Rebecca answered. "He went off to the Reform Club or somewhere. I expect he'll be back soon, though." She surmised that Sir Jonathan wanted to discuss a mission and didn't care to have her cousin get wind of it. Still, it was curious he would come to her, instead of summoning her to Whitehall.
"Oh." He paused to shoot Passepartout a glare that was a good match for the ones the valet had been throwing his way.
Rebecca sighed. "That will be all for now, Passepartout."
"Yes, Miss Rebecca." One last dirty look at Sir Jonathan, and the valet retreated from the room. Rebecca smoothed her deep red skirts and leaned back in her chair. "Now, sir…"
"What about that Frenchman friend of yours?" Sir Jonathan was evidently still determined to talk piffle. "I understand he suffered a bout of yellow fever not too long ago. How is he holding up?"
"Jules has made an excellent recovery." Rebecca frowned. "He's back in Paris at the moment with his law studies. Sir—"
"What I have to say is for Fogg," he said abruptly.
Taken aback, Rebecca quirked her lips. "I see." Really, she didn't, but that didn't seem to matter. Sir Jonathan had words for Phileas; ergo, it was not going to be a good evening.
They sat in silence for a while, and at length they heard the front door close, followed by the voices of Passepartout and then Phileas. Chatsworth uttered a ponderous sigh and set aside his teacup, assuming a rigid posture on the edge of his seat, as hurried footsteps approached in the hallway.
Clearly alerted to the visitor, Phileas stalked into the sitting-room with his hat and walking-stick still in hand. Laying eyes on Sir Jonathan, he assumed a tension equal to the spymaster's, narrowing his eyes and setting his jaw.
"Chatsworth," he said. It was either a greeting or a curse.
"Fogg," Sir Jonathan returned, in the same tone, and Rebecca bit her lip. The similarities would have been funny, if the two men weren't automatically poised to quarrel like tomcats the moment they caught sight of each other.
Phileas glanced at her, then relaxed slightly and turned over his hat and walking-stick to Passepartout, who was hovering in the doorway. As he shifted his attention to removing his gloves, he spoke again to Sir Jonathan, in a deceptively casual tone. "And what brings you to darken my door? Plotting another chance for my cousin to get herself killed, hmm?"
Sir Jonathan's jaw worked for a moment before he spoke, in an uncharacteristically quiet voice. "Lawrence Evans is dead."
The name meant nothing to Rebecca, but it roused a significant reaction in Phileas. He froze, his eyes widening in surprise, then slowly filling with quiet sadness.
"How?" he asked, moving to stand beside Rebecca's chair and face Sir Jonathan.
"He was on a covert mission in India. There was a small but violent uprising by a relatively minor rajah…" Sir Jonathan made a small, futile gesture with one hand. "Evans was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Phileas' eyes darkened. "A covert mission? But he hadn't the experience!"
"Your opinion, Fogg." Sir Jonathan's expression hardened slightly. "You knew nothing about him."
"I knew he was no fighter, Chatsworth. He—"
"He was a highly talented agent, and he was sent where it was believed those talents could be of use," Sir Jonathan interrupted, then looked away. "In any case… what's done is done."
Phileas stiffened, his jaw twitching. He was getting an increasingly dangerous look about him, and Rebecca decided it might be best to intervene. "Phileas…"
"It was your doing, wasn't it?" Phileas ignored Rebecca, taking a step closer to Sir Jonathan, as his voice dropped almost to a whisper. "Why did you do it, Chatsworth… was it because of me?"
Sir Jonathan lurched to his feet, glowering at Phileas with sudden anger. "Yes, Fogg. I sent him away for his own good… to keep him away from you."
Phileas gaped. "I wasn't—"
"Oh, yes, you were. Of course you were—and you would have ruined his life. Sooner or later, I know you would have told him about his father. You would have destroyed his faith in himself and in the Service, and compromised his effectiveness as an agent."
His back was turned to her, but Rebecca saw a tremor pass through Phileas, and caught her breath.
Sir Jonathan glanced down at Phileas' hands, clenched into fists at his sides, and a grim, humorless smile stole across his lips. He lifted his chin almost defiantly.
"If you're going to strike me, Fogg… kindly do it and be done with it."
It was almost as if he wanted that.
Rebecca shot up from her chair, ready to wedge herself between the two men, but Phileas didn't move. He stood for a long moment, staring into Sir Jonathan's eyes with a burning gaze. Then, abruptly, he turned on his heel and strode out of the room, roughly pushing a wide-eyed Passepartout out of his way.
The front door slammed a moment later, and Sir Jonathan sank back down into his seat, producing a handkerchief to mop his brow. His sigh was almost a groan.
Baffled and disturbed, Rebecca sat down, returning her frowning gaze to her superior. "Who was this man Evans?" she asked. In response he gave her a cagey look and proceeded to stuff the handkerchief back into his pocket, glancing darkly at Passepartout.
Rebecca sighed. "Go on, Passepartout."
For a moment she thought the Frenchman might actually protest, but he simply made a slight growling noise of exasperation and trudged out of the room. Rebecca gave Sir Jonathan a pointed look, and the spymaster grimaced, settling deeper into his chair.
"It's rather a long story. You may recall that after the… incident in Scotland six months ago, I told you and Fogg that there was a certain truth in Nicol McLean's lies. Twenty-five years ago, there was an agent who planned to condition his son to be physically superior, using drugs, under McLean's guidance. Do you remember that?"
Those days, the nightmare of Castle Banquo and all the pain that lingered after, were hurtful memories to look back upon. Rebecca wished she didn't remember, but she did, and mutely nodded confirmation to Sir Jonathan.
He let out a slow breath. "Lawrence Evans was the subject of that experiment."
"Oh." Faint surprise rippled through Rebecca. "But… sir, I thought you had refused to tell Phileas who it was."
"Of course I did! Do you think that would stop your cousin?" Sir Jonathan leaned back in his chair, scowling. "The man belongs in the theater. He gave me quite a pretty speech—said he felt his father never saw to it that Evans was properly compensated for his 'suffering', or some such rot. I must give him credit for being quite persuasive, when he wants to be. In the end, he actually convinced me to let him leave an anonymous gift of money for Evans."
Rebecca frowned. That was rather unlike Phileas. He didn't blink at losing breathtaking amounts at the gaming table—an admittedly seldom occurrence, given his skill at gambling and his almost supernatural luck—and he was not indisposed to equally seldom and breathtaking acts of charity. To take any sort of responsibility for a perceived shortcoming on his father's part, however…
"He set me up well and truly," Sir Jonathan went on. "Of all the arrogance! He was lying in wait outside my office, and he contrived an 'accidental' meeting with Evans at my very door. By heaven, he was smug about it, too."
The pieces were beginning to fall into place. Rebecca's frown deepened, and she leaned forward. "So you thought that, for some reason, Phileas would try to further his acquaintance with Evans."
"Can you doubt it? Oh, he told me he had no such plans, but I knew it. I believe he had it in his head to tell Evans about what his father had tried to do to him."
A nameless feeling was stirring which Rebecca did not like. She gazed down at her hands, pressing her palms together, and spoke in slow, measured tones.
"Has Phileas ever tried to seek out Evans, in all these months?"
The spymaster hesitated. "To my knowledge… no."
Perhaps that little creeping darkness in her heart was akin to anger, after all. She drew a steadying breath, and raised her eyes to his. "Perhaps you were wrong, Sir Jonathan."
The room was silent but for the snapping of the fire on the hearth. Sir Jonathan closed his own eyes briefly, lowering his head. Though his face was downturned, for a moment, the weight of all his cares became visible in every line of his posture.
"Perhaps, Rebecca. Perhaps I was."
Sometime in the night, Rebecca was awakened by the thought that she had heard a noise. Drawing herself up on one elbow in bed, she listened, and her suspicions were confirmed by the muffled but distinctly irate voice of her cousin.
Phileas was home, and judging by the sound of him, he was very, very drunk.
Heaving a sigh, Rebecca got up and wearily wrestled on an orchid-colored dressing gown. She could hear Passepartout's softer voice interspersed with Phileas', and while she couldn't make out their words, she could well enough imagine the setting. She had observed it a hundred times before. Passepartout would be gently coaxing his master to go to bed, a suggestion Phileas was disinclined to heed.
Generally, Passepartout was successful. He had ways of handling Phileas that at times seemed almost like magic. On the worst occasions, however, the scenario was more apt to end with—
Rebecca winced at the sound of shattering glass.
A moment later, she was standing at the threshold of the sitting-room, confronted by a tableau which was sadly not unfamiliar. Phileas sat in one of the deep armchairs, staring at nothing, a dark look on his face and a half-full glass clutched possessively to his chest. Passepartout, in his shirtsleeves, was kneeling on the floor, silently collecting the shards of a broken bottle from the rug.
Phileas didn't twitch when Rebecca spoke. "Never mind, Passepartout. We'll see about it in the morning." As the valet looked up at her, she glanced toward Phileas, explaining with her eyes that she would handle him herself. Passepartout frowned, and carefully clutching the glass fragments he had picked up, he approached her where she stood in the doorway.
"Mister Fogg is being very intoxiquated, Miss Rebecca. He's throwing the whiskey bottle." He gestured to the broken glass in his hand. "I am thinking, maybe… we leaving him alone for now."
She smiled sadly at her cousin's manservant, once more finding occasion to wonder what Phileas had done to deserve him. "I'll talk to him, Passepartout. It'll be alright."
Passepartout uttered a resigned sigh. For this moment, he was looking at her not as a servant to his mistress-by-proxy, but as one friend to another. "You will calling me when Mister Fogg is ready for his bed?"
Rebecca nodded, and with a shrug, Passepartout went out of the room. He wouldn't go far, she knew. He would find some secluded niche in the hallway and wait—wait until he was called upon, until Miss Rebecca had worked a magic of her own upon his master.
She turned back to the matter at hand.
Phileas was slouched low in his chair, his waistcoat and collar loosened, somehow managing to look like a coiled spring even in that bonelessly languid pose. His chin resting on his left hand, he was eyeing her with a hooded gaze. The unnerving childlike innocence he usually exuded while drunk was absent.
First things first. Rebecca marched across the room, took away the glass that was still clutched in his right hand, and downed what little was left of its contents in one go—causing Phileas to arch his eyebrows and sit up a little straighter. Not the best of examples, but with the bottle broken, there was nowhere else to put it. She was probably going to need it, anyway.
Without a word she sat down facing him, and waited.
After a long moment, Phileas stirred and dropped his hands to his lap, staring stiffly down at them. When he spoke, his voice was rough and a bit slurred, but not quite as badly as she expected.
"If I'd hit him, Rebecca… I don't think I could've stopped."
Sir Jonathan, of course. Rebecca sighed. "He told me about Agent Evans. Why was he so important to you, Phileas?" Pause for the two seconds needed for her words to penetrate his brain. Dealing with him when he was drunk was so tedious.
"Didn't he tell you?" Phileas shot back.
"He told me you said something about the Service or your father owing Evans. Really, Phileas. That may have worked on Sir Jonathan, but not me. Correcting Boniface's mistakes has never exactly been a priority to you." It was hard to keep the faintest note of bitterness from her voice. She had always been a little more sensitive than her cousins to their father's dreams of the family legacy. Those might-have-beens would always exist in her mind, as impossible as she knew they were.
"Were you thinking of becoming better acquainted with Evans?" she asked tentatively.
"Oh, for heaven's sake. A bright-eyed young novice of an agent?" Phileas made a face. "That would've been rather like having another you and another Jules Verne to cope with. The two of you are more than enough to handle in one lifetime, thank you kindly."
Though Rebecca couldn't help but smile for a brief moment, she felt an ache in her heart. His answer was what she'd both hoped and dreaded to hear. Hoped, because as much as it pained her, she suspected Sir Jonathan was right; a connection to Phileas would almost certainly have been no good for Agent Evans. And dreaded, because the only ulterior motive she could think of was one she did not want to believe of him.
"Then… it was because of Sir Jonathan," she said.
Phileas sighed wearily. "Please just leave it alone." There was something of a warning in his tone, but Rebecca ignored it, and the foreboding it made her feel.
"He said no to you, and you saw it as a challenge. You sought out Evans to spite Sir Jonathan, and he had Evans reassigned to spite you. It was all part of these childish games between the two of you." Her frustration welled up as she stared at his blank expression. "Phileas, a man has died—"
"Because of me."
She was silenced by her cousin's quiet voice. His eyes darkened in the golden firelight, and he looked away, his fingers gripping the armrests of his chair. In that moment, she knew what was really in his heart, and she desperately wished she could take back her words.
She knew too well the emptiness in his eyes and voice. This was what he looked and sounded like when he was slipping away into his own private hell.
"Just go away, Rebecca." He spoke in a broken whisper as he lowered his head. "Take Passepartout and get out of my life, before I get you killed, too."
Rebecca's heart skipped a beat in horror. "Please, don't do this."
"Erasmus and Father and Saratoga. So many others. Now that innocent boy." He squeezed his eyes shut. "I am death's shadow, Rebecca. Everyone I touch… dies."
"No, Phileas." Rebecca leaned forward, reaching for his hands, feeling a pang when he recoiled from her. Resolutely she sought his eyes. "What you did was wrong, but you could never have expected this. You didn't know the way Sir Jonathan would react, or what would happen when he compounded your mistake. It isn't your fault."
Eyes lowered, he shook his head. She continued to speak, in a soft, soothing voice.
"No matter what you might believe, there's so much more of life in you than death. I know that. I've seen it in the good things you've done, and all the lives you've saved… including mine."
He looked up at her, with a lonely, shadowed gaze. "It's only a matter of time."
"Oh, stop it!" Rebecca huffed. "Look at me, Phileas. I am alive, and I'm going to stay that way for a very, very long time. I promise you—"
Her wrist was suddenly caught in an iron grip that hurt, and she stifled a gasp. With wide eyes, Phileas stared down at his hand, then abruptly let go and turned away.
"Don't make a promise you can't keep, Rebecca."
The simple, oddly dispassionate admonition gave her pause. Somehow, it came all too close to the things unsaid: the silent consciousness of feelings held in check, the unspoken promise never to make promises. The danger and uncertainty of the only lives they found worth living, and the depths of suppressed need that could be the death of either or both of them. It was the need for a familiar grounding presence, for an understanding that no one else could share—and for something more, deep within the heart. There was no name and no boundary for what tied the two of them together, and they couldn't escape it if they wanted to.
No matter how much they pretended it wasn't there.
Slowly, Rebecca reached out, taking Phileas' hands in both of hers. He tried to pull away, but she didn't let go. "Look at me, Phileas."
Hesitantly he lifted his gaze. There it was—a little bit of the sweet softness that came into his expression under the influence of alcohol—but it lay beneath other things which were harder to face. She held her gaze steady on his eyes, watching the subtle changes of their amber-green color in the firelight, and squeezed his hands a little more tightly.
"I'm not going anywhere for a very long time. I'm not going to die, Phileas—I promise you that."
He stared at her, but he didn't say anything; he didn't have to. The look in his eyes told her more than she would ever have wished to know about the consequences, should fate someday make a liar of her. It was almost enough to make one regret such a promise.
No. She didn't regret it at all.
Smiling at him only a little sadly, she raised her voice, without moving her gaze from his. "Passepartout."
The faithful servant appeared, as swiftly as if he had been in the room all along. For a moment Rebecca wondered… but no. Passepartout was sensitive to the cousins' discretions, even if he somehow had a way of knowing them at heart. Therein, perhaps, lay his truest value to them both.
"Yes, Miss Rebecca?"
Still holding one of Phileas' hands in hers, Rebecca stood up. "It's time for bed." She was saying it to Phileas as much as to Passepartout.
Phileas looked up at her, his lips quirking, then slowly levered himself to his feet. With some reluctance he withdrew his hand from hers, but he stood for a moment looking into her eyes.
"I'm going to hold you to that promise," he said softly.
This time Rebecca managed an almost genuine smile. "You won't remember it in the morning."
"Oh, I'll remember." Phileas turned, heading for the door and Passepartout. "I'll always remember."
Rebecca knew he would.
Her smile faded as she watched him disappear into the hall. With a heavy sigh she curled up in her chair, brushing the tears from her eyes.