Pairing: None. (Though hints of Richard/Marquis if you squint.)
Rating: T is probably not necessary, but there are knives being aimed at old women and stuff like that, so, wth.
Warnings: SPOILERS for the end of the novel!
Characters: Richard Mayhew, Gary, the Marquis de Carabas
Disclaimer: The dialogue between Richard and the homeless woman is taken straight from the novel. Neverwhere was written by Neil Gaiman. He's the genius, not me. He's also the owner. Or maybe the publishers are. It's not me, at any rate. I do this for fun and make no profit.
Big thanks to TheBrontosaurus for being my beta on this.
Gary hesitated. Then he said, picking his words with care:
"Have you thought about ... seeing somebody?"
"See somebody? Look, I'm not crazy, Gary!"
"Are you sure about that?"
Taxi came towards them, yellow "for hire"-light burning.
"No," said Richard, honestly. "Here's a taxi. You take it, I'll take the next one."
- Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere
Cats and Boots
Gary had begun to feel guilty. He wasn't sure it had been such a good idea to leave Richard like that; the man was clearly quite unstable. It wasn't safe, letting him roam the streets of London alone in the middle of the night. Not safe for Richard, and perhaps not for the people he might meet, either.
Gary hesitated. It wasn't as if they were that close, really. Gary had older friends than Richard, better friends; Richard was just his work buddy, not his responsibility. The thing was though, that he was rather sure that Richard didn't have any other friends at all at the moment, and to add to that, Gary was the only one who knew where he was.
He sighed to himself, and then he leaned forward and asked the driver to go back.
The alley was dark, and for a moment Gary thought Richard had gone. Then he heard his voice, further down. It sounded strange, and vacant. It was talking about a hunter. And then there was another voice, weak but shrill:
"Don't hurt me! I haven't done nothing!"
Gary froze. A voice at the back of his head told him to run – another told him to stop being such a pansy. The latter voice was his father's. Gary winced and obeyed it. He began to walk forward, slowly, cautiously, towards the voices.
"I wiped her blood from the blade! A hunter looks after her weapons! The Earl knighted me with it! He gave me the freedom of the underside!"
Richard was standing by the far wall, leaning over a bundle of rags.
"I don't know anything about that. Please, put it away, there's a good lad!" said the shrill voice from the bundle, and Gary realised it was a person; some poor homeless woman who'd had the bad luck to be in Richard's way as the man came unhinged. Richard stood and lunged. Gary flinched, but sighed, slightly relieved, as he saw Richard attack the wall and not the woman. Gary slowed his pace even further, crept up to some bins which stood by the right wall a bit ahead, and hid behind them.
"What you doin'?" said the woman's voice.
"Making a door," said Richard's.
Gary leant out and looked. He was much closer now, and he saw that it was indeed a knife Richard was using to carve at the wall. Gary had never seen a knife – except in horror movies – quite like this one: it was big, and it looked very old, and very sharp. Gary stayed where he was.
"You ought to put that thing away," the woman said. "If the police see you, they'll run you in for offensive weapons."
Richard didn't answer. Instead he started punching the wall, screaming at it:
"Hey! Is there anyone there? Can you hear me? It's me, Richard! Door? Someone?"
Gary recognised the name of the girl Richard had been talking about, and realised that the man had fallen even deeper into his delusions. He wished he had brought his cellular phone. He wasn't sure whether it was the police or an ambulance he ought to ask for, but someone should be bringing Richard in, that was becoming obvious.
And then suddenly, Richard slumped, whispered something, and slowly sat down on the pavement. Back in her corner, the woman in rags had begun to snore in an unconvincing way.
Gary began to calm himself down – deep breaths, positive thoughts and all that. He wondered if it was safe to walk up to Richard now. Did he still have that knife on him? Gary hadn't seen him put it down. He leant out further, trying to see Richard's hands clearly.
He blinked. Cracks had appeared in the wall where Richard had been carving, and a pale, greenish light seeped out from behind them. The cracks became a door, and the door swung silently inwards, revealing a long, dark tunnel lit only by what looked like a green gaslight mounted on a mouldy wall. Richard didn't seem to notice.
A man appeared out of the darkness. Well, Gary thought it was a man. He was dressed in a long black coat, patched and mended, and ridiculously high boots. Torn and miscoloured lace cuffs stuck out of the arms of the coat, and he had a high collar that looked, from a distance, like he had simply wound an old fashioned and not entirely clean handkerchief around his neck. His skin was black. Not the way people were black, real people, normal people, whose skin was actually different shades of brown, or perhaps, in some cases, even a really dark shade of muddy grey. This man was black. As black as a black cat, black as the night sky – the night sky anywhere but in London, that was – with two bright, white stars staring out of his face. It sent a shiver down Gary's spine, and a name from Richard's wild tale floated to the top of his mind: The Marquis de Carabas.
The man, who might have been the man who called himself a marquis, leaned against the frame of the door. He did it in a way that resembled nothing so much as the way a cat brushes itself against the walls as it walks. Gary had never liked cats. The man looked down at Gary's mad friend, who still seemed oblivious, with the big, predatory smile of a cat that had stepped out of its door only to find a particularly suicidal canary on its doorstep. Gary blinked again, hard, trying to re-focus. He was beginning to suspect that he was the one who had gone mad.
The Marquis crossed his arms and schooled his features into a masque of boredom. And then, Richard looked up. The man in boots faked a yawn in what Gary found to be a highly theatrical manner.
"Well?" the man said, in a drawling voice, feigning annoyance. "Are you coming?"
Gary watched Richard gape and stare at the man, which was understandable, but he stared at him like he had just seen the gates of heaven open and St Peter step out to greet him, which was less understandable.
He expected Richard to answer, but he didn't. He simply stood up and approached the opening in the wall. Gary wondered if he was actually considering walking in to that ... what was that down there? Sewers? The man in the doorway gestured for Richard to enter with a flourish that reminded Gary of old period movies – and also, a little bit, of a transvestite prostitute he'd seen once in Soho, back when Soho had still been the place to find such people. It was the boots, Gary decided. He watched in disbelief as Richard entered the door, and the man in the black coat, and the black boots, with the black skin, wrapped an arm languidly over Richards shoulder. Gary stepped out from behind the bins and was just opening his mouth to shout to Richard – he didn't know what exactly, but he was pretty sure the first word was going to be "stop" – when the man turned his head, looked over his shoulder, and looked straight at Gary. The man leered, and Gary shivered. And then, the man winked at him.
They disappeared beyond the reach of the shabby green gaslight, and the last thing Gary ever heard of Richard Mayhew was a faint echo of: "How on earth did you get your coat back?"
The door shut of its own accord. For a moment, pale, green light seeped through the cracks. Then it faded, and there remained no trace of the brick wall ever having been anything but a brick wall.
Gary stared at the wall and wondered what had just happened.
Then he wondered why he was staring at a brick wall.
He blinked again.
Then he wondered what exactly he was doing out this time of night, and why he had left the guys from work to walk around London all on his own, when he could have been snug and warm and chatting up that nice-looking new girl from computer services. He walked a block and waved down a cab.
A while later, rolling through dark streets, a name nagged at the back of Gary's head. It wouldn't stop, and it wouldn't start makings sense, either. Against his habit – against the habit of any sane Londoner – he interrupted the taxi-driver, who was telling him about his opinions on inner-city traffic problems, how best to deal with crime, and thorny political issues of the day.
"Excuse me," he said, "I wondered, does the name 'Marquis de Carabas' mean anything to you? It's been nagging at me all evening, I know I recognise it from somewhere."
The taxi-driver stared at him in the rear-view mirror, and for a while Gary thought he would be dropped off in a part of London that he was not entirely sure he recognised.
Then the driver said:
"Well, it's from that fairytale, isn't it? With the cat? The ... 'Puss in boots'."
"I'm not sure I remember that one," Gary said, even though the title rang a bell.
"Well, as I recall it, this bloke is really poor or something, when he gets this cat, and the cat says that if the bloke gives him boots he'll make the bloke rich. And then the cat goes off spreading all sorts of rumours about this 'Marquis de Carabas' until the King hears about it and is real impressed like, and there's this castle with a wizard, or a troll, or something, and the cat tells the wizard that 'I bet you can't turn yourself into a mouse' so he turns himself into a mouse and the cat eats him. And then he gives this big old castle to the bloke, and the bloke gets the princess and half the kingdom, all that jazz."
"And the cat gets a pair of boots?
"Well, I guess he also gets a bloke with half a kingdom who owes him a real big favour. Not bad, I'd say."
"So ..." Gary was still a bit confused about the name. "The bloke was the Marquis de Carabas?"
He wasn't entirely sure he had followed the driver's story.
"No!" the driver said. "There never was a Marquis de Carabas."
Gary felt oddly relieved by that sentence.
"That's the whole point," the driver continued. "It was just this clever lie that the cat told, about this amazing person. I mean, it was the cat doing all the tricks and all the clever stuff, the bloke was just a lucky little sod. If anyone was the Marquis de Carabas, it was the cat."
Gary had a sudden vision of a man-sized black cat, standing upright in a pair of high, black boots, wearing a coat and a Cheshire Cat grin. A shiver ran down his back. He felt as if he had forgotten something. Something big.
The cab stopped at a red light.
"Would you believe this bloody traffic?" the driver said, and Gary shook his head, and forgot all about Marquises and smiling black cats.
And with that, his last fragment of memory of Richard Mayhew slipped away from him – just as easily as it had the first time.