Fandom: Count Cain
Characters: Jezebel, Alexis, random prostitute No, it isn't Jezebel/random prostitute.
Rating: Somewhere between PG and PG-13? The hell with it-- if you're not disturbed by this series in general, then you shouldn't be disturbed by this.
Warnings: Generally disturbing themes, including disturbing religious themes; this is set during Mark of the Red Ram, but there are implied spoilers for the end of the series.
Summary: A name can have a great deal of meaning. Jezebel knows that. But Alexis may be the only one who knows what Jezebel truly means.
Disclaimer: I am not Kaori Yuki, and therefore don't own.
A/N: This fic really only works if you assume that the proper spelling is Jezebel, not Jizabel. Just a heads-up.
It’s not a good name, you know, the one he has– that person who you refuse to call your younger brother. What must that mean, to share a name with the first murderer– what could be worse than that?
The fog has rolled in, come to stay for the day, to cover you in its clinging dampness. You glance up at the gray sky as you walk, then peer over the edge of the bridge at the river– exactly the same color, a very pale color, almost the color of nothingness. It is oddly quiet and the streets seem nearly deserted: a group of men passed you at one point, and there have been a couple of carriages, but other than that, nothing. No one has taken a second look at you; most didn’t even take the first look.
You notice the woman when you’re already most of the way there. She’s leaning casually against the side of a building, looking at nothing in particular, but there’s somehow an air of readiness about her.
She’s one of them, of course. It seems that wherever you go these days, you run into a prostitute– odd. Is it really that they’re everywhere in this city all of a sudden, of did you merely never notice before?
(Well, what reason would you have to notice? All you could feel, you know, for someone like that is a sort of vague disgust: what is she worth? What ought you to feel, aside from that disgust? Surely anyone who would sell themselves that easily is worthy of it; it’s enough to make you think that there weren’t rumors flying thick that Jack the Ripper was back– all right, you’re not completely insulated; you’re not that naïve. Sometimes, people just need the money; sometimes they just get left to fend for themselves....
Then again, that just makes the whole thing more pathetic, as far as you’re concerned. It would be better to die than to live a pitiable life like that.)
Your scalpel is with you as always; you slip your hand into your pocket and let your fingers run across its coldness before bridling yourself, deciding against it. –But still, how easy it would be, how simple to slice through flesh and not have to feel.
Instead, as you come level with her, you give her a brief smile and comment, “Gotten cold, hasn’t it?”
She looks up and you glance her over, her shabby green dress, her blonde hair. And you watch as she looks you over too: a quick, calculating glance. Ah, she must be thinking: a gentleman? Or something better– gentry, old money. But before the words can reach her lips, you’ve already passed. You don’t look behind you, don’t watch as she fades into the gray of the fog.
You fade away too.
Here is a long hallway, rows of doors the lead into empty rooms stretching out on either side of you. At the end of the hall is a final door, and faint light leaks out from around its edges. He’ll be there.
He’s not the sort of man you keep waiting, your father, not if you know what’s good for you at least. But you, you don’t know what’s good for you, so you take your time; you walk slowly and take in everything around you. There is a mirror hanging in the space between two doors, and you stop and glance into it; you run your fingers through your hair and brush some imaginary dirt off your lapel.
The light is low, the color of old brass. You could probably read by it, even if it would strain your eyes, but no matter: Alexis doesn’t have a book or a sheaf of files in his hands as he sometimes does; he is sitting with his eyes closed and his hands lying limply in his lap, almost as if he were asleep. You’re not fooled, not really, but you are a fool, so you stop for a moment and stand very quietly in the doorway just to look at him and the quiet room he sits in.
Augusta’s portrait peers down at you from a spot on the wall above your father’s throne-like chair. You don’t give it more than a perfunctory glance– you don’t allow yourself to give it more than a perfunctory glance– for it’s a picture you have seen many times before.
In every building in which there is a room reserved for the Card Master, there is a picture of her.
So you don’t look over her striking green eyes, her dark hair and ivory skin– all those hallmarks of a true Hargreaves. As for you– well, you take after your mother’s side of the family; you inherited her fair, slightly curly hair. Occasionally you wonder if he ever thinks of her these days, now she’s long since dead and all that remains are her organs in their glass jars on your desk– does he think of her, does he call her by her name– Margaret? (Margaret: a pearl. That’s something beautiful to be owned, possessed; it’s also one in a string of many.)
Augusta, you know, is not like that. She is the proof, proof enough that he has his son– true son. You won’t be able to look into her eyes this time; you don’t let your eyes wander any higher than her perfect bow mouth. Like all goddesses, she is both God’s sister and his wife– Ah, or perhaps his mother, depending on how you look at it. –Pretend you didn’t think that last part.
(Augusta– the name means just what it says: August one, great. You won’t be great like that, you know.)
Just then, while you’re still lost in thoughts, he opens one eye and smiles; you catch the movement and bow as low as you can. You go and kneel before him.
“Card Master,” you say. Not father this time, and certainly not Alexis. You don’t think you would really dare to address him by his given name, although his at least certainly is a good one. (No mystery about the meaning of that one. It’s really another way of saying Alexander, of course, and there you have your answer. It’s the perfect description of a man who has as many designs for the world as he does– how many cities are there that are named Alexandria?)
You have explained it all: Merredianna’s progress and Emmeline Rotterdale, and gotten a blow to the face for your words. That is only to be expected, and he didn’t even have his whip with him this time. A pity, you say to yourself. It’s bad form, you know, but you reach up to run your fingers across the bruise that has already begun to form on your cheek. You want to feel the skin as it swells and breaks, scabs over, becomes sore.
And you almost want to reach up and touch him too; his hand rests on one of the arms of the chair, mere inches from your own. You don’t actually do it, but his eyes narrow nevertheless; he must have seen the intention in your face. Is it now that he makes the decision to move in for the kill?
“I hear that you have been seeing more of your brother, too. Against my wishes. But still, tell me: how is he, how is Cain?”
(Cain, what a harsh-sounding word, especially the way he says it. An ugly word, almost, a terrible word.) –That evaluation doesn’t change anything. He doesn’t even look at you when he beats you.
It is Cain that he wants to hear about.
“He is well,” you remark, and you shrug, you try to appear nonchalant. “He still keeps Riffael as close as ever. It’s rather pathetic, really; if only he knew.... No, don’t worry; I won’t interfere with it. They can go off and be disgusting together all they want; I won’t do anything about it.
“And I think that’s all there is to say. Cain was engaged to Rotterdale, but other than that... his involvement isn’t that significant.”
And miraculously your father seems willing to let it go at that– for now, at least. So you stand and turn away; for today, it is all done.
“But Jezebel,” he calls just before you reach the door, “Using the White Chapel murders as a cover? How salacious of you.”
You stop walking and breathe in sharply. There it is: whatever you really came here for, it is here in the statements that are just to come to pass.
“It hardly seems appropriate for you to bring up something so well-known when you ought to be keeping as low a profile as possible. If I didn’t know any better, I would say you were trying to attract attention.”
There would be no use in trying to ignore or resist (and that’s not what you want anyway, not really, is it?); you turn around and walk back to him, kneel once more at his feet.
“Although that of course begs the question: whose attention is it you’re after anyway?”
You ignore that.
“I don’t think that any of it will be a problem for Delilah,” you say, and you glance up at him then, keeping your face carefully blank. “We have made arrangements to have the entire string of killings pinned on a young doctor– well, an aspiring doctor, anyway” –You feel your lips curl up into a smile then; at least you got through your schooling, and quickly, too; you weren’t an aspiring doctor for long– “Named Clarence Nash. We did take precautions. It was quite easy, really, to get into his mind; by the time the police notice him he’ll be a lunatic, nothing more.”
“Of course,” he says, and you know that he already knows all of this, that he has probably read over Nash’s file more times than you have. “Now tell me, how did you approach him in the first place, this man, after he– what was it that caused him to leave his first job, again?”
And he knows.
“Naturally, I approached him as his superior. He really thought he was getting a new job, you know. He was easy to deal with. So compliant. We’ve planted newspaper clippings about all of the murders in his house, and we killed his mother as well– he ought to get blamed for that too. It is all in hand, Card Master.”
“Hm,” he replies. Just, hm.
“It occurs to me, Jezebel, that you ought to be more careful. So much of your planning relies on the police being not overly observant– not noticing, for instance, your own presence in the case. It’s almost like it doesn’t worry you that you’re leaving a trail that will lead back to you if someone is observant enough to look for it. You’re hardly the first person ever to frame another for his own crimes– did you really think it was some sort of unheard-of thing?
“Anyway, I just want you to know this. Listen carefully, carve it into your skin if you have to; whatever you do, don’t forget: if you slip up, get yourself caught... well. I honestly don’t think I’m interested in bailing out an ungrateful son who isn’t even interested in making the effort to join the major arcana. Don’t count on anyone from Delilah pulling any strings on your behalf; I won’t rescue you.
“Well, I suppose that you aren’t completely without talent; I’ll give you that. I do hope that if you ever get arrested for any of these things you’ll be able to escape on your own. But if not, well....”
He gives you a long, grim smile and then bends low so that he can whisper directly into your ear.
“You’re not worth the rope they’ll hang you with, my dear boy.”
You have heard the old story– well, who doesn’t know it, really?– of the wicked queen, your namesake. You have heard it before, but now you stop and think it over for the first time.
Is that all? A woman who killed those who did not worship her god– it must have been trite, even at the time. Uninspired, surely. What spark– divine or otherwise– ever touched her? What did she ever do that no one but her could have done? Perhaps it would be better to be original at least; yes, to reach for stark black heights would be a fate far better than that.
“Go now,” he says after a while– and he’s smiling, oh, how he’s smiling. “Leave me. I have people coming over; those who did choose to join the major arcana. I won’t make them wait on you.”
And so you turn and you go.
The woman from earlier, the blonde prostitute, is still there when you walk back, right in the same place as the last time you saw her. Did she go and come back, or has she been standing here all this time? How long were you away, anyway? You lose track of time when you’re talking with him.
Seeing her reminds you that the scalpel is still in your pocket; you still have that, at least– but this time, it’s not her that you’re thinking of using it on.
(So soon? It hasn’t taken long, has it, to reach this conclusion: just a few quick strokes– no, just one; you are a doctor, after all; you can do this much– and you won’t have to wake up with yourself ever again.
No, you decide, not now, not yet. But it will be someday, you realize; is it that you can already feel it coming, your death? Do you already know that you really will die by this hand and by this instrument? A life can be a very small thing sometimes, and the boundaries of certain lives are easily reached. Your life must be a small one then, a petty one.)
Worthless, you think, but you can’t make yourself believe that it’s her you’re thinking of.
But does any of that matter? Everyone knows the story of the queen, of course, but it’s not of any particular relevance to them. No, you’re only deluding yourself again.
Consider the word the way people really use it: what does it mean, this ‘Jezebel’?
And then you turn, on some sudden impulse, and call out to her: “What happened?”
She looks up sharply and her brows knit together as she tries to make sense of your question.
“Sir?” she wonders aloud as she saunters towards you. “What were you wondering?”
“What happened to you? You have children that need the money? And they have no father, do they, at least no father that’s around. Am I wrong?”
“No, look, that isn’t it...” she starts, then ends up giving you this puzzled look and shaking her head. “What interest is it of yours, anyway?”
“So, the man. Probably he ran off and left you, right? That must have been what it was.”
“No, I told you. That’s not how it was. Look, don’t mind this. Relax, and–”
“But do you know why? Why he went? Because I can tell you.”
She sighs then, and puts her hands on her hips. “All right, tell me then, if you don’t plan on wasting my time completely. Tell me about this imaginary man of mine.”
“You know he left you in accordance with one of the most basic laws of the universe: that a person like him can do whatever he pleases with a person like you. It’s true. Because he’s so much more important than you could ever be, and it doesn’t matter what happens to you after he leaves.”
“Well.” She says that and she just stares at and shakes her head again. “You’ve got it all wrong, so it doesn’t matter.”
But you know you’re right; you understand these things better than anyone.
(Oh, to know that you carry within yourself your own destruction, to hold all your own evils– to know that you contain within yourself all of yourself.
That isn’t your legend though, is it?)
And then it hits you. That’s when you start laughing, laughing so hard you can’t stop yourself, and the woman edges away from you until her shoulders are pressed against the wall behind her.
“I understand now,” you say, and it’s true; suddenly, you understand a lot of things. “I see. At first I thought it was just coincidence. But I think I get it now. My father, it’s all about him, isn’t it?”
“Your father?” she breathes, very quietly, and her eyes are very wide. She’s searching your face, or wanting you to search hers, to look at her frightened expression until you believe that she doesn’t know what you’re talking about.
Sometimes, the name describes the thing perfectly, that’s what he is trying to tell you.
“My father. Exactly,” you confirm. “Tell me, how much did he pay you to do this?”
“I– I don’t know you; I don’t know your father, whoever he is; look, maybe this was a bad idea–”
She tenses, like she’s about to run off, so you grab her by the wrist– hard, and you twist it, just so, so she cries out in pain.
“Admit it. He’s been paying you and your... your associates to loiter around, to always be wherever I am. He’s been trying to tell me something and you know what? I almost missed it completely. Yes, almost. But my god. Now that I see it... very funny. So amusing, isn’t it?”
“No, no, you’re wrong... Won’t you please–”
It’s then that you move, just a little; you merely shift your weight from one foot to the other, but you brush up against her and in the process the scalpel slides partway out of your pocket. You can see her blanche as the light catches the blade, and she manages to break free then. She ducks under your arm more quickly than you would have expected and starts running. You can hear the loud, uneven panting of her breath for moments afterward. Her footsteps are rapid, and she doesn’t take the time to look back.
You let her go; there’s no use in chasing after her. But you resume your laughter, and you laugh more loudly this time so that she’ll be able to hear it a long way away.
And then you call out into the fog: “Tell him I get the joke now! Remember to tell him that!”
–Because Cain was the first murderer, but in the end, a Jezebel is just a whore.
- As far as I'm aware, Jezebel's mother has no name in canon. But I wanted to give her one for this, and Margaret seemed appropriate.
- Jezebel actually talks to Alexis twice during this arc, and I meant for this conversation to take place sometime between those two.
- The first version of this fic was massively shorter, so I felt like experimenting with style. I'm not sure how well second-person POV and present tense work on something longer. Thoughts?