Title: Hope and Fear and All the Things That Happen In-Between
Feedback address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Date in Calendar: 21 June 2008
Fandom: Sanctuary / Neverwhere
Pairing: Helen Magnus/Portia of House of the Arch, Hunter/Serpentine (eventually)
Word Count: 4885
Advertisement: Part of the FSAC:DD08
Disclaimer: Sanctuary belongs to Sanctuary and the character of Helen Magnus belong to Damien Kindler, Stage 3 and Amanda Tapping. Neverwhere belongs to Neil Gaiman. I’m merely playing in their sandbox for a while.
Note: I have gone against canon in Sanctuary regarding what has been revealed so far about Ashley’s birth. This is part of a longer work-in-progress which can be found at my livejournal.
HOPE AND FEAR AND ALL THE THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN-BETWEEN
Her father had asked her not to return to the Whitechapel clinic but to join him and Dr Seward in running the Sanctuary. Dr Anthony Magnus was more than happy for Helen to continue to use her inheritance to fund the clinic if her two assistants were amenable to staying on. “I don’t like the idea of you being alone in his hunting grounds,” he said.
“Father, John’s ability means that he could hurt me at any time, at any place he wills it to happen,” Helen said. “I will not live my life as a sheltered recluse because of John Druitt’s malice. Moses will continue to accompany me and I am always armed. And that will have to suffice.”
“And what of Ashley?”
“He does not know of her existence. I had not told him that I was with child before we separated. John hardly seems the type of man to be concerned with his parental duty. I neither expect nor want anything from him. I am fully capable of bringing up Ashley on my own. John Druitt will have no part in her life.”
So Helen fervently hoped.
Every test that her father had been able to devise showed them that Ashley was completely normal but both Helen and her father knew how unlikely that was to be true given her parentage. John Druitt had the ability to move himself across time and space with a thought, an ability that had driven him mad and to acts of unspeakable inhuman violence. And Helen Magnus knew that since the accident in her laboratory immediately prior to Ashley’s birth that she was different and that given the blood-bond between mother and unborn child Ashley too had been exposed.
Mina Harker had never become a full vampire. Her sire was killed before that could take place. However she had been brought at least partially into that world and retained some of the abilities, the strengths and the weaknesses of a vampire. Mrs Irvine called her a ‘Daywalker’. When Helen had accidentally crushed the test tube, the sample of Mina’s blood that it contained had mixed with Helen’s, infecting her and most probably Ashley in the womb.
Aided by Mina, father and daughter had made a list of classic ‘symptoms’ of vampirism to see which applied in this case. Helen did not crave blood, she showed no symptoms of the ‘hunger’. She did not have an aversion to sunlight, garlic or religious iconography and items such as holy water. She could walk with impunity on holy ground. She did not appear to have abnormal strength, speed or other almost supernatural abilities such as the ability to read minds or unduly influence people. Yet something was definitely different. From their limited scientific study something had changed about her cells. The wound on her hand had healed in a day leaving no scar. Once she had recovered from the fever her body had returned to normal from the pregnancy and childbirth very quickly. Within a few days of her confinement the doctor who had attended her, Judith an old friend and colleague, had examined her and had uneasily confirmed that she was unable to tell if Helen had ever been pregnant or even given birth. It was too early to say what other physical changes there might yet be, whether Helen would develop the slow aging process exhibited by most vampires.
Across the city, a man stood over a young woman who tried very hard not to flinch at his touch. “You’re a good girl, Molly. You’ve seen her, talked to her?”
“Not for months now. She gave up the clinic. Keeps to herself. I heard she works with her father and that other doctor, now. Does research... experiments.” Molly tried not to show her terror but it was bright and sharp and ripping at her insides.
“Now why would she do such a thing? She loved working at the clinic. Did someone harm or threaten her? Has she been ill?” Druitt demanded to know.
“I don’t know, I just heard she’d given it up. Perhaps she got tired of playing the Lady Bountiful.” There was a sharp slapping sound and a whimper.
“You will not speak of her in that tone. However deeply Helen Magnus betrayed me, you will accord her due respect.” He buried his fingers in her hair, pulled her head back. “Ah, so near and yet so far. Why I ever imagined I could settle for you, a poor copy.”
“She’d never have you back. Not now.”
“I can be persuasive. Very persuasive.” He bent down, roughly kissed her then drew back, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
“You scared her. Disgusted her. She won’t want that taint about her, not with…”
“What do you know, Molly? Tell me.” The knife was in his hand now, caressing the lines of her face. She knew how little pressure it would take for that sharp blade to pierce the skin, carve off her whole face if that was his will. He had done worse. “Tell me, Molly.”
She sobbed. She wasn’t strong, not like her half sister. She was only a poor copy, like he said. “She gave up the clinic because she had a child. Your child, I reckon. I heard it was a girl.”
He laughed. “I am a father. I have a daughter. How strange. I’m not sure how I should feel about that.”
“Leave her alone, please. If there is any good in you at all…” Even as she said it, Molly realised the futility of her words. The light of the fanatic was in his eyes.
“You will take her a message. Get her to meet you. And then she and I will talk about how best to bring up our daughter.”
The maid brought the note just as Helen was sitting down to dinner. Ashley was in her crib, fussing quietly at the leg of a small teddy bear her grandfather had gifted her.
“A young lady left this at the door for you, Dr Magnus, ma’am. Did not wait for a reply.”
“Thank you, Kate.” Helen took the note from the silver tray and set it by her plate for a moment whilst she poured herself a cup of tea. Father was dining at Dr Seward’s so she was eating alone this evening.
Taking a cautious sip of the hot tea she regarded the note. It was written on cheap wood pulp paper and looked almost as if it had been torn from an exercise book. She unfolded it and read the simple stark message. “He knows. I’m sorry. Meet me tonight at midnight outside the Ten Bells. Molly.”
Helen prepared carefully. She slid a stiletto knife into the lining of her boot, a small weighted cosh that Moses had given her in her coat pocket. Her pistol she put in her back along with a small purse containing twenty pounds – enough to get Molly passage out of the country and to safety if that was what she wished. It was all the money she had been able to get together at short notice. She thought about asking her father for help but did not want to cause him embarrassment by acknowledging that she knew of her half-sister’s existence.
She slipped out of the house and got into a cab at the corner of the street, directing him towards Whitechapel. The old clock in the bell tower at St Mary’s was chiming the hour as she approached the Ten Bells. She could see Molly standing on the corner looking ill at ease. The young woman hadn’t yet spotted her. As she approached closer she was just about to make her presence known when out of the corner of her eye she saw a green-blue flash of light. John Druitt had found them. A flash of anger took her for a moment as she considered that this might have been a trap for her set by Molly and Druitt working together but the look of abject fear on the young woman’s face told her that his presence was as much an unwelcome surprise to Molly. Helen drew back into the shadows again and felt in her pocket for her gun.
“Still at it Molly?” Druitt asked, his tone light yet strangely menacing.
Molly took a step back. “Mr Druitt… you frightened me. No rest for the gifted, you know that.”
“Indeed I do.”
“You shouldn’t be in the habit of jumping out at the ladies these days, not with all the troubles…” Her voice died away as he came closer.
“What was I thinking. Forgive me…” He reached out to touch her face, her neck. It would take very little effort for him to snuff out her life. Helen could not bear to see that happen. She stepped out of the shadows.
“John, this ends here.”
He turned and smiled at her, showing no surprise at all at her sudden appearance. “Helen, what a lovely surprise. Molly, you remember my fiancé, or should I say former fiancé, Helen Magnus… Dr Helen Magnus.”
“Doctor… I’m pleased to meet you ma’am… well, I’ll be on my way,” Molly tried to pull away but John was not finished with her.
“Stay,” he said, pulling her close to his body, his mouth close to her ear.
“John let me help me before you make things worse,” Helen tried.
“And how is that possible? I’ve already murdered what… seven whores? How could one more make the slightest difference… what more have I to lose?” he asked.
Molly was visibly shaking. Believing that someone you knew was a mass murderer and hearing him verbally admit to it were whole different levels of comprehension, especially when his length was pressed against your body, his hand fondling your breasts.
“Your power is driving you mad, John. I can help you,” Helen said. John might yet be saved. Father and Dr Seward agreed. Of course he would have to be kept in close confinement and required to take powerful sedatives to diminish his abilities but at least he would be alive. If he agreed. As things stood their choices were narrowing. Live or die. Not all of them would walk away from this alive. And if it was the only way to protect her daughter, Helen was quite willing to die, but only if she could take John Druitt with her to the grave.
“My power is all I have left,” John said. “You have made sure of that, Helen. You deprived me of my family, my daughter. But that can be remedied. I will not be kept from my child, Helen, I warn you.”
“Let her go…” Helen aimed her pistol, cocked it. “And then we’ll talk.”
Suddenly the blade was in his hand. He drew it lovingly over Molly’s cheek and neck. “As the lady wishes.” He allowed Molly a moment of hope before with all deliberate brutality he slashed the blade across Molly’s throat, severing both arteries. At the same moment Helen fired. The bullet hit him in the face and with a cry he reeled backwards, enveloped in the green-blue light that was the manifestation of his ability. Molly fell to the cobbles, her blood washing over the stones. Blinking back tears, Helen bent over the body of her half-sister. She was quite dead, her crystal blue eyes staring upwards, all terror faded as if in the last she had found a kind of peace. Helen drew her fingers over Molly’s face, closing her eyes and commended her soul to the hereafter.
Helen fled the area before the police arrived. She spent a sleepless night sitting beside Ashley’s crib, her reloaded pistol clutched in her hands. With daylight came clarity of a kind.
During the last weeks of her pregnancy she had filled in her leisure hours reading through her father’s notes on a great many of his former patients. Many had spoken of a society of underground dwellers, of the city beneath the city. It was a strange, feudal society the flotsam and jetsam of different times, different ways of life. Many of its denizens manifested abilities or syndromes that in London Above (as they termed the metropolis in which she lived) would have meant incarceration in Bedlam or one of the freak shows that still lamentably toured the country, such as the one from which poor Mr Merrick had been rescued a few years earlier. Their numbers were swelled by street children, orphans and indigents and they lived on what the city discarded or misplaced. And places, evocative of ‘London Above’ but with a deeper, darkness and purpose. ‘Knightsbridge’ for example, very different from the affluent area was by the accounts she read an area of primal terror, a rift across the city. Not all who entered its darkness came out again. The description of one who had safely passed through it came to her “All the nightmares that come out when the sun is down, since the cave times when we huddled together in fear for safety and for warmth are happening. It is why we are afraid of the dark.” The city took its toll.
It read like a work of fantasy, the stranger musings of Jules Verne or the darker tones of Lewis Carroll. Or the fervoured imaginings of a mental patient. But somehow Helen knew it for gospel truth.
London Below was real. And if she could take Ashley there, perhaps there they would be safe.
Ashley woke and began to fuss. The nursery maid came in, stopped when she saw Helen. “I’m sorry ma’am, I didn’t realise...” Her eyes widened as she saw the pistol. “Ma’am – is everything all right?”
“Everything’s fine, Daisy. I’ll see to Ashley this morning, if you don’t mind.”
“Of course ma’am,” Daisy bobbed a curtsey. “Will you require...”
“It’s all right, Daisy. I think I can manage,” Helen managed a smile. She laid the pistol on the mantel and leaning over the crib lifted out her child, holding her close. No one would touch her. No one would harm her little girl. Not whilst she still had breath in her body.
The tasks of cleaning, changing and feeding her child kept her mind and hands occupied for an hour. Clean, dry and full, Ashley lay against her mother’s breast, one chubby fist crammed into her mouth. Helen smoothed her hand over the down of fine blonde hair and hummed a lullaby.
Decisions made, she pressed the bell for the servants. A few minutes later Daisy appeared in the doorway. “Yes, ma’am?”
“You can take her now, she’s asleep. Daisy, I want you to keep her inside today. Don’t go out with her. Is my father still at home?”
“I believe he’s in his study, ma’am.”
“Thank you. I will be back in a little while.”
She pressed her lips to Ashley’s hair for a moment then allowed Daisy to take her from her. Repairing to her own rooms for a few minutes she washed her face and brushed out her hair before putting it back up in a simple twist. Then she went downstairs again to Father’s study.
He was poring over what appeared to be a set of architectural drawings. Helen presumed it was for one of the buildings of the new clinic. “Father, I need to talk to you,” she said.
He took off his reading glasses and looked at her. “Yes of course – my dear, are you all right? You’re very pale...”
“Father, Mollie Cassidy was murdered last night. John killed her. He knows about Ashley. He wants her.”
Her father paled, closed his eyes. “My God, so...”
“I know everything. Yes. I was there when it happened. Mollie tried to warn me about John... and she died for it. John... used her. He told her that she was a poor copy of me.”
“The poor child... I should have done more...”
“She bore neither you nor I any ill will, father. She wouldn’t have taken any money from either of us. But now John knows about Ashley and he wants to take her from me.”
“You know how talented he is, Helen. If he sets his mind to it...”
“I shot him, last night. I hit him. I don’t think I killed him. He apparated away. But I definitely injured him.”
“Then we may have a little time to get you and Ashley out of the country...”
“I’m not leaving the country, father. There are other places we could go where we could be protected. I read your journals... de Carabas, the Lady Portia, Hunter.”
“There are several prominent citizens of that place who do owe me considerable favour,” her father said slowly. “But London Below is hardly a safe place in itself even without the dangers that John Druitt represents.” He got up and walked over to his book case, picking out one of his journals. “The House of the Arch is best placed to offer you Sanctuary. Their security is without compare. I have heard that the Lady Helen of the Seven Sisters offer Sanctuary to any woman who seeks her help but I have not had any direct dealings with her. There is the Lady Serpentine of course, but she...” He glanced at his daughter and Helen swore that he blushed.
“What is it about the Lady Serpentine?” Helen asked. There was not much information about the Seven Sisters in the journals, just bits and pieces. Whether they were truly siblings was lost in time. For millennia London Below had been reft by their squabbles. The Lady Serpentine was the eldest, arguably the most powerful. Olympia had waged war against her for years but her holdings had been largely destroyed. Of the others, Damara, Medea, Andrasta, Brigantia and the youngest, the Lady Helen she knew little more than their names.
“It is said that she has... appetites, that she enjoys the company of women a little too much, that she takes...”
“The man’s part?” Helen shook her head. “Father, really. I think I am capable of defending myself against the unwelcome advances of any woman – or man. We don’t have much time, father. Ashley is in danger.”
“I will send a message directly,” her father said. “You had best prepare yourself and young Ashley for a journey. Do not be fooled into thinking that this is just a matter of walking along a few tunnels. London Below has many levels.” He took a sheet of paper from his desk and started to compose a note. After a few moments he put down his pen again. “Come with me.”
Helen followed her father down into the cellar where her father kept up a small laboratory. Against one wall was a cage of white rats. Helen presumed they were experimental subjects though she had never seen her father perform such experiments. From a drawer, her father took a small tube. He folded the note until it fitted inside the tube and capped the tube sealing it with candlewax. He took one of the rats out of the cage and set it on the counter. The rat made no attempt to escape but stared up at him expectantly, nose twitching. The same drawer provided what appeared to be a harness which her father quickly fitted around the rat’s chest and front legs. The tube snugly fitted into sprung clamp on the rat’s back. In the corner set into the floor there was a small hatch. As Helen watched, intrigued by this whole process, her father opened the hatch and set the rat and its burden on the edge of the hole. “The Lady Portia,” he said clearly. “And as quickly as possible. It is of the highest importance.”
The rat gave a snuffling squeak and disappeared down the hole.
“And now we wait,” Father sighed.
Helen tried to comprehend what had just happened. Exposure to her father’s work over the years had given her a high tolerance for the unusual and the frankly improbable but this was something else again. “The rat is going to deliver your message.”
“Of course. She’s highly intelligent,” her father said. He set a gas burner going and placed a tripod over it. From the cupboard under the small sink in the corner he produced a copper kettle a Delft tea-pot and three plain off-white earthenware mugs. He laid the tea-pot and mugs on the table and filled the kettle at the tap and set it on the tripod. “I may as well make a pot of tea whilst we wait. Portia’s quite partial to Lapsang.”
They heard the front door bell ring a few moments later. Helen looked enquiringly at her father who shook her head. “That won’t be Lady Portia. She never uses front doors.” A few moments later Grevis the butler appeared at the top of the stairs. “Dr Magnus, sir. There is a policeman who wishes to speak with you. I have shown him into the drawing room.”
“Thank you, Grevis, I will be there directly,” Dr Magnus said.
“It may be about Molly,” Helen said softly. “If she left some indication in her lodgings that…”
“Her birth certificate clearly states that I am her father,” he said quietly. “Helen, I loved your mother dearly but…”
“I understand,” Helen said quietly.
“And Philomena Cassidy was no longer in my care when… there was no professional impropriety.” He sounded almost as if he was trying to justify his actions to himself rather than to Helen. He sighed. “I should go and deal with this. If the Lady Portia should arrive before I return, introduce yourself, explain the… difficulty. She is a most resourceful woman.” He patted her on the shoulder and disappeared up stairs.
Helen took a deep breath, resting against the edge of one of the big wooden work tables. So much had happened in such a short time, so many incredible horrible things and she had barely allowed herself time to process it all.
“You must be Helen,” a voice said from behind her.
Helen gasped and turned to see a dark haired woman ease back the hood of her dark blue velvet travelling cloak revealing a cascade of dark curls. The woman had apparently walked through the cellar wall. Helen remembered that her father’s journal had called the Arch family ‘openers’. From a pocket in the cloak, the white rat nosed its way out, the woman lifted it out, petted it fondly and took off the harness before putting the rat back in its cage. The kettle began to whistle. Before Helen could react, the woman picked up a thick wad of cloth and lifted the kettle off the burner, brushing past Helen to the shelf above the sink. She ran her fingers along the collection of jars and bottles lined up on along it.
“Chloroform… acetic acid… flowers of sulphur… lapsang… here we are. One of these days your father is going to accidentally poison himself, you do realise,” she said, smiling over her shoulder at Helen.
“You must be Lady Portia,” Helen said faintly. She remembered her manners and breeding and straightened up, holding out her hand. “I am very pleased to meet you.”
“And I have wanted to meet you for some time, Doctor Helen Magnus,” Portia said, putting down the tea caddy and taking Helen’s hand in hers. “Your father speaks of you with such pride and deep affection. He was overjoyed when you agreed to work with him. Where is he – his message said the matter was urgent?”
“Something he had to attend to – he will be back directly,” Helen said. She watched as Portia, with an air of familiarity that made Helen feel distinctly uneasy, poured water into the tea-pot to warm it before spooning in the tea leaves.
“You should find sugar on the shelf as well if that is your taste,” Portia said. “I don’t take it myself and neither does your father, I know, but sometimes he has a visitor who prefers sweetened tea.”
“I don’t take sugar either,” Helen said. She paused a beat. “Though I do take milk.”
“I presume your father will bring some down with him from the kitchens. He always said that it does not keep well down here. Something about the etherics.”
With her trust in her father’s judgement so recently imperilled by the revelation that she had a half sister, Helen felt compelled to ask. “Forgive me if you find this impertinent, Lady Portia – but just how well do you know my father?”
Anthony Magnus opened the cellar door and heard laughter. He sighed, wondering what outlandish tales the Lady Portia was regaling his daughter with. There were so many to choose from and some of them were even true.
He set the small jug of milk down on the table. “I hope you haven’t let the tea stew,” he complained.
“It should be perfect,” Lady Portia said, her large violet eyes sparkling with humour. “Don’t fuss so, Anthony.”
Helen did the honours, pouring the tea out into the rather utilitarian mugs. It wasn’t her father’s usual style at all, she supposed it made some of his visitors more at ease to be handling earthenware rather than porcelain. Lady Portia leant over her mug, inhaling the fragrant steam with relish, the heat lending a blush of colour to her pale cheeks.
“Now, what is this great urgency?” she asked.
Helen’s smile faded. For a moment she had forgotten. In the space of a few minutes her relationship with this strange woman had blossomed from suspicion into the knowledge that this was a friendship that would flourish for years ahead.
“Helen’s life has been threatened. And her child is in danger,” Magnus said gravely. “Her former fiancé - the father of the child… was one of my patients whom I rashly supposed was if not cured then in control of his abilities. He has the power to translocate himself anywhere and we suspect at any time though his ability in that sphere seems limited to a few hours at the moment. But as his abilities grow so does his instability. The act of apparating, of performing the translocation seems to cause damage to certain areas of the brain. We… I … did not realise until it was too late. He has murdered at least eight women that we know of in the past few months. The last was a young woman called Molly Cassidy yesterday evening.”
“We’re talking about your Whitechapel Murderer, the so-called Jack the Ripper,” Portia said slowly. “Word of his exploits travelled fast and far. And now he threatens Helen?” She reached out and took Helen’s hand, squeezing it.
“I am calling in the favour, Portia,” her father said firmly. “I want you to give my daughter and grand-daughter sanctuary until we can sort this business out.”
“This would cancel all debts between us, Anthony,” Portia said. “The danger this man represents – it is no small thing that you are asking.”
“I know,” Anthony Magnus said. “But I believe that you are their best hope.”
“I would meet the child,” Portia announced. “Before I make my decision.”
Helen bristled at that. “What do you mean?” she asked. “Do you think my child is somehow unworthy…?” Portia’s finger was pressed against her lips. Helen resisted – barely – the sudden urge to suck that digit into her mouth. She blushed.
“I meant no disrespect. There are dangers I think that your father does not fully comprehend,” Portia said. “Only the most powerful of us can travel between the worlds with ease, are fully cognizant in either realm. For the majority it is either one or the other. There is a reason that most former Below-dwellers end up in asylum’s like your Doctor Seward’s when they attempt to live in London Above. Very few get both. If you travel to London Below, there is a good chance that you will never be able to leave.” She drew the backs of her fingers down Helen’s cheek. “But you… there is something about you that tells me that you already have one foot in my world. Perhaps for you, and for your child the risk is worth taking.
“This is Ashley,” Helen said, holding her daughter who smiled toothlessly at her, grabbing at her ringlets.
“She’s a pretty thing,” Portia observed. “She has your looks. No one could mistake her for anyone else’s child.”
You didn’t meet Molly, Helen thought sadly. She has Molly’s eyes. Ashley leant over and made a grab at the string of amber beads and pearls that Lady Portia wore. Helen tried to apologise and retrieve them from Ashley’s grasp but the little girl held on fast.
“It’s quite all right,” Portia laughed, ducking her head and sliding the necklace from around her neck to around Ashley’s. “Let her keep them since she has taken such a fancy to them. I believe that is how such things should be passed on. And let it be a welcoming gift for her.”
“You will help us?” Helen whispered.
“Be ready tonight at dusk,” Portia said. She glanced at Anthony Magnus who was trying not to let his relief and worry for his daughter overwhelm him. “I will send Hunter to escort you.”