Sanguine by Rhi
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Author's Notes:
Disclaimer: Most of them belong to Rysher: Panzer/Davies; one belongs to history; the last is mine. No infringement intended; no money made. No, I don't know where this one surfaced from either.
Rated: PG or so.

London, England -- 1888

Shadows and shapes mixed together at dawn in the slow pavane of moonlight, sunlight, streetlight, and inhabitants precessing through and across the London streets. Fog lingered in the taste of the air, a whiff of trapped smoke and mist, salt and old fish, tobacco and stale cologne, amid the pervasive scents of a large city full of people. The last lingered under perception, accepted as part of London and noticed only when it was no longer there.

Like so many of the major cities, London barely seemed to sleep anymore, Ceirdwyn noticed. She prowled through the streets, hair cut short, cap pulled low, and bulky coat tugged forward to make the curve of her hips and breasts even less obvious. The current fashions were less than conducive to a sword and she had no intention of going without one, so passing for a man -- at least at a casual glance -- it would have to be.

The singing surge of another immortal pulsed through her blood like the moon through the sea, tugging in its wake her hunger for the hunt and the kill. The smallest of smiles curved Ceirdwyn's lips upward, cold and thirsty as the moon's endless path across the sky, and she slid into the spot beside her onetime student. Matthew Fielding this year, Matthew of Salisbury once, and as good a hunting partner as she could have asked for. They stood at a counter together and ate toast and eggs, bacon and beans, and washed it all down with over-steeped tea that had been sweetened until it clung to the teeth. Ceirdwyn dropped coins on the table to cover it all, and they vanished back out the door into the marginally-fresher air.

A breeze skirled down the Thames with a snap and flutter of flags and laundry hung out to air, since it wouldn't dry. Clouds lurked in the distance, boding rain eventually if not sooner. Ceirdwyn didn't glance at her one-time student, only strode along beside him with her hands stuffed into her coat pockets. "Alex?" she asked after they'd traveled a few blocks through the growing crowd.

"Came and went an hour ago," Matthew said quietly. He was angling them back along the river and into the worse parts of the city. The thick grey wool of his clothes matched sky and street both, and sturdy boots or no, he left less noise in his path than the wind. "She'd found a cold trail and meant to heat it again."

Ceirdwyn nodded and switched to her native tongue. The Iceni had been dead and gone for two thousand years, but she'd taught the language to her students so that no one else would understand them. For this, that was just as well. "Does she think this ripper is one of us or not?"

Matthew shook his head. "No. I don't either, come to that." His gaze flicked between the passers-by and the shop windows, tracking the crowds around them the way Ceirdwyn would have watched for movement in the forest. They turned down a cross-street at the last moment.

They both listened for anyone making the turn after them but heard no one and kept going. Ceirdwyn resisted the urge to duck her head and turned the collar of her coat up around her against the oppressive chill of the alley. It was still shadowed by the sun's angle and the close-pressing buildings on either side. "He still has to die."

"Mmm." Matthew flicked a speculative look at her but only said, "I'd rather not give this to the courts."

A recumbent, unidentifiable figure lay partially concealed by a barrel; they stepped over him without slowing to check for signs of life. No one snoring like that could possibly be dead -- dead drunk, maybe, but not deceased. "When we're sure we've found our prey," Ceirdwyn said calmly, "we give him what he deserves, Matthew."

He didn't look over at her, only settled his coat more comfortably, and his voice was as patient as if they'd been arguing this from the beginning. Perhaps in some ways they had; it was in the open now, however. "I'd settle for dead, myself. I'm afraid I lost my taste for disemboweling years ago, Ceirdwyn."

"Fair enough," she said and tried to ignore the smells rising up around them. "Dead it is. If only for making us hunt him through these alleys.... Where are we meeting Alex, anyway?"

Matthew chuckled. "We're going to see a fortune-teller."

Ceirdwyn looked over at him, one eyebrow raised from a mixture of annoyance and amusement. Her student's sense of humor was occasionally questionable, to her mind. (She conveniently forgot some of her own practical jokes over the years, particularly against her own teacher.) "If she can't read the leaves, we're not paying her."

That drew another chuckle and now Ceirdwyn really was wondering what was ahead of them. "I believe Alex said he's a card-reader."

~ | ~

Alex nodded to them as they came in, fierce and intent as the raven she called her totem, and dressed in faded gray and green men's clothes much like Ceirdwyn's, down to the soft cap rolled up and sticking out of a trouser pocket. A short, dark braid moved across her shoulders with the movements of her head; almost a raven's tail, if it had been black instead of brown. "About time you got here."

"We were hungry." Ceirdwyn saw the mocking tilt of Alex's head and let her own grin flash out briefly. "So? What did you find?"

"I found Gilbert here." Alex nodded to the man sitting behind a table and Ceirdwyn studied him slowly, as much to see what she could read in him as to see how he reacted to the scrutiny.

The fine crow's lines along his eyes and the scatter of freckles across the bridge of his nose and the wrists exposed by a too-small jumper told her he'd been tan for a long time, but it had faded to city pallor. He'd also lost a leg above the knee and the outer two fingers of his left hand, which told Ceirdwyn why he was no longer at sea. Even in the dim light of the cheap flat, lines of pain had left their mark along his mouth and the edges of his eyes. Those dark brown eyes met hers steadily, unflinching under the combined regard of three hunting immortals, and a welling knowledge shone through his gaze.

Ceirdwyn realized with a bone-deep jolt that this mortal did have some version of second sight... and it was both relatively new and positively unwelcome. To her, the pieces added up to one answer: "Paid dearly for life, did you?"

"When you cling to a spar in the sea, you get to know the grain of it," he told her. "And the colors of the sea, and the taste of the wind. You're looking for the Ripper. All three of you. Why?"

"Why is our business," Ceirdwyn said bluntly, settled back to the hunt by his comment and wondering if he'd meant to distract her. "What can you tell us?"

"He runs like a boy chasing his sweetheart down a country lane, and he stinks like a butcher's apprentice," Gilbert said immediately, and she caught a faint trace of a Yorkshire accent. "And he knows the alleys and back ways of Whitechapel the way I know my cards."

"You saw him?" Matthew lounged against the wall with apparent indolence, and watched Gilbert, eyes half-closed.

"Not in that fog. I heard him. The noises were muffled, close and far both, the way thick fog always plays with sound. I heard his heels on the paving stones, and his breathing. Light, not hard yet. And he smelled like a slaughterhouse. He'd gone past before I smelled that, and then I heard the first screams start." He was watching his cards as if shuffling them could tell him something important, or protect him from the memories and their implications.

"Did you tell anyone?" Matthew asked, level and uninflected, no assumptions in the voice and suggesting any number of them behind the words.

Gilbert's head snapped up, his mouth tight with angry memories, hot to meet his questioner's cool. "Lose a leg in Victoria's service yourself, why don't you, and then you can find out how many people think you lost the better part of your sense with it."

Alex stretched her booted legs out, crossing them at the ankle as she mentioned, "Oh, Scotland Yard knows he was there, Matthew. They were here last night asking questions and mentioning 'duty' and 'obligation' and 'If you remember anything useful...'." She snorted derisively.

Gilbert's smile was sardonic and knowing. "I thought you followed them here." He began dealing cards out onto the battered oak table in front of him, deft and sure despite the lost fingers.

"So what else do you know?" Ceirdwyn asked him as she saw the ten of hearts spin out onto the table, followed by the eight, the four, the six, the five.... "If we cross your palm with silver, that is?"

"I know that the spades are the swords of the soldiers," Gilbert said quietly. "You three are; he's not. Dark and sharp, but not a soldier, nor such a blade. Clubs, though...." Gilbert's voice changed as the cards led him through their dance, words light and uninflected as if they meant nothing; his face was pale and strained, however, at odds with those calm tones. "He's at war with the strumpets of Whitechapel, a war they didn't declare and can't win."

Gilbert continued to lay out cards, hands and cards dancing between the deck and the pattern growing on the table. A spray of clubs flicked across the knotted grain of the oak, spinning into place to cover the scattered hearts. He set one card to the left of them all, seeming unsurprised when the ace of spades came up. When he dealt the eight below that, he only shook his head and said lightly, "Death, and more death, and ruin -- the losing hand. Dealt long since, if you're tupping men on the streets of Whitechapel...." On the right, he spun a card out and watched the jack of diamonds come to rest aligned across from, and slightly above, the spades. The next card turned out to be the king of the same suit and he only nodded at that, too.

The queen of spades fluttered down between them, escaping his hands to connect the other two by the barest margin of the corners, and that caught his breath in his lungs before it escaped in a hiss. "Death on the other side, as well. Light, sharp, and all edged deceptions. Bright warriors searching through the darkness to find the breaks in the sky. The end is coming soon."

Ceirdwyn looked up from the cards and realized he was drowning in the vision, whatever he saw. The flow of words had given the impression he was coping; they'd lied in that much. Gilbert's good hand was tight around the deck, the weaker, maimed one clamped to the edge of the table, when Ceirdwyn stepped forward to pry them loose. His face was ashen, drained by what he saw or what it took to see, and Alex looked from his face to Ceirdwyn's and reached for the cards.

"No, Alex," Matthew said sharply and stepped behind Gilbert. When his hands slid down over the mortal's eyes, Gilbert gasped and sagged; only Ceirdwyn's reflexes and Matthew's hands on his face kept him from cracking his head on the table.

Alex raised an eyebrow at Matthew's lingering tendency to give orders, then she moved unhurriedly to her coat. The pockets yielded a silver-chased flask, which she handed off to Ceirdwyn, and a wrapped packet of bread and cheese. She fed coal into the fire and stirred it with the poker to speed air to the embers.

Gilbert sagged back against his chair, sweat-soaked and breathing hard as if he'd been running, and took a long draw off the flask without trying to see what it was. He shuddered it as it hit, and color began to surge back into his face like the tide lifting the fleet at harbor. Ceirdwyn waited through the too-tight grip on her hand, knowing he needed the anchors of her touch and Matthew's.

Matthew only waited until Gilbert could support himself to let his hands slide down onto too-thin shoulders.

"What are you--"

Strong fingers dug into tight-clenched muscles and snuffed Gilbert's words like a guttering candle. All the seer could do was lean forward, eyes still closed, and trust Matthew and Ceirdwyn not to let him fall. His breath hissed in and out as knots unwound, will he or nil he. Ceirdwyn knelt beside him, bracing him as she promised, "He'll do nothing you don't need, and nothing you'll mind later."

"I'll mind when he stops," Gilbert finally gasped. "Sweet Christ but he's an ugly one." Behind him, Matthew raised an eyebrow but kept working.

Ceirdwyn frowned, somehow sure he hadn't meant her student for more reasons than simply the evidence of her eyes. "You saw the Ripper?"

Gilbert finally opened his eyes, blinking rapidly against the light as he stared at the cards resting in their odd patterns across the table. He freed his hands to knuckle some image out of his sight. "Didn't I tell you? I know I was talking....

"He'll be wearing a brown and black houndstooth coat when you see him, with a red carnation in the buttonhole. Thick wool and a loose cut, to hide the butcher's tools hung inside." Gilbert looked directly at Alex Raven. "He'll be walking past the fishmonger's; I saw a grass-green scarf on the woman to his right. He's tall, taller than I am. Tall as your not-quite nameless friend back here. He has the hands of an artist, long-fingered with dark lines under his nails. He looks sane." His voice made that an impossibility and Alex nodded.

"I'll remember. We'll find him." She brought over the toasted cheese and fed it to him while Matthew finished working out knots that seemed to have settled to the bone. "Don't go that deep again."

The smile for that comment was tired and resigned. "I see what I see, and it takes me where it will. I'll drown or not, but I can't seem to swim in it."

Ceirdwyn knew the sound of a man accepting his own death; from the matched frowns, neither Alex nor Matthew was any happier with what they heard in his words. She reached into a pocket inside her coat and counted out half-crowns, shillings, and an old gold guinea. Gilbert looked as if he was fighting his pride; he won the struggle and only said quietly, "Thank you."

"This is for the reading," Ceirdwyn said calmly, tapping the guinea, "and well deserved."

"Let the Yard say what it will, you've done your duty in fullest measure." Matthew's voice held the old traces of noble's command that his father had taught him when they held court in Salisbury.

Alex smiled at Gilbert, eager to be in motion, but she made no move to retrieve the flask of whisky. "We'll handle the hunt, now that you've flushed our prey."

Ceirdwyn, however, pinned Gilbert in place with her gaze. "However, you have one more thing to do, and this one is for yourself, not for England. While we're gone, take the rest of the money and buy warmer clothes that fit, a bag, and food that will travel. We'll be back when this is done, to discuss tides and times and learning to swim."

He stared at Ceirdwyn, at Alex and Matthew's agreement, and raised both hands over the table in anger or incomprehension... and then the chance to argue was gone with the immortals who'd vanished out the door after their prey.

~ | ~

Train to boat to train, moving through a land whose language he didn't understand, guided only by sharp strokes of a pen on paper, clearly written names with pronunciations marked beside them and letters of introductions included in the packet the three hunters had written out for him before they handed over tickets and traveling money and escorted him to the dock.... Gilbert felt like he'd been traveling forever, and somehow it was no comfort that at least Britain's relations with Belgium had been good since Waterloo days.

There was the street name he'd asked for. The priest who'd arranged a ride for them both with a farmer leaving the morning market was gesturing at the street sign and the house in front of them to indicate he'd arrived. Gilbert studied the trim, sweetly proportioned house next to a quietly bustling church, and felt something ease deep inside him. The shadows in this street were only the absence of sunlight; no storm hovered behind him or in front of him. He couldn't hear rivers overflowing, or voices of rage and ruin. Sunlight poured down on him, around him. It whitened the collar of the priest beside him, glinted off the gold of his cross and the polished brass of the door knocker, shone in the corners of windowpanes.

Gilbert steadied himself between crutch and foot and knocked at the door, wondering again if these strangers would be able to help him swim, and hoping that either Dr. Burns or Father Darius knew English.

~ | ~

Jack the Ripper's dead,
And lying in his bed.
He cut his throat
With Sunlight Soap.
Jack the Ripper's dead.

British schoolchildren's rhyme

~ ~ ~ finis ~ ~ ~

Comments, Commentary, and Miscellanea:

Jack the Ripper did of course prey upon the streetwalkers of London's Whitechapel area in 1888. Officially, he's held responsible for seven deaths; some put his final count at fourteen or fifteen. His true identity is still unproven, and probably always will be, although suspects ranged from a convicted murderer to a royal heir.

'Crossing a palm with silver' is a traditional phrasing for paying a fortune-teller, particularly a gypsy. Not as common as 'grease a palm,' and with an implication of making the sign of the cross as you did to avert ill-fortune being foretold.

As to why I wrote this in particular? I couldn't tell you. We'll blame it on the season and let it go at that, shall we?

Lyrics provided by tarsh: sorry not to have done better, hon! Lines used, in part or adaptation, marked with a * and yes, I used lines and themes from all of them.

"Hero," by Phil Collins

Well it was one of those great stories
that you can't put down at night
the hero knew what he had to do
and he wasn't afraid to fight
the villain goes to jail, while the hero goes free
I wish it were that simple for me.

And the reason that she loved him
was the reason I loved him too
and he never wondered what was right or wrong
he just knew - he just knew.

Shadows and shape mixed together at dawn *
but by time you catch them simplicity's gone
and so we sort through the pieces
my friends and I
searching through the darkness to find *
the breaks in the sky. *

And the reason that she loved him
was the reason I loved him too
and he never wondered what was right or wrong
he just knew - he just knew.

And we wonder, yes we wonder
how do you make sense of this
when the hero kills the maiden
with his kiss - with his kiss.

Well it was one of those great stories
that you can't put down at night
the hero knew what he had to do
and he wasn't afraid to fight
the villain goes to jail, while the hero goes free
I wish it were that simple for me
- if it were that simple for me.

"Shape of My Heart," Sting

He deals the cards as a meditation
And those he plays never suspect
He doesn’t play for the money he wins
He doesn’t play for respect

He deals the cards to find the answer *
The sacred geometry of chance
The hidden law of a probable outcome *
The numbers lead a dance *

I know that the spades are the swords of a soldier *
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that’s not the shape of my heart

He may play the jack of diamonds *
He may lay the queen of spades *
He may conceal a king in his hand
While the memory of it fades

I know that the spades are the swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that’s not the shape of my heart

And if I told you that I loved you
You’d maybe think there’s something wrong
I’m not a man of too many faces
The mask I wear is one

Well, those who speak know nothin’
And find out to their cost
Like those who curse their luck in too many places
And those who fear are lost

I know that the spades are the swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that’s not the shape of my heart

"Bad Moon Rising," CCR

I see a bad moon rising
I see troubles on the way
I see earthquakes and lightning
I see bad times today

Don’t go ’round tonight
Well, it’s bound to take your life
There’s a bad moon on the rise

I hear hurricanes a-blowin’
I know the end it’s coming soon *
I fear rivers overflowing *
I hear the voice of rage and ruin *

Don’t go ’round tonight
Well, it’s bound to take your life
There’s a bad moon on the rise

Hope you got your things together
Hope you’re quite prepared to die
Looks like we’re in for nasty weather
One eye is taken for an eye

Don’t go ’round tonight
Well, it’s bound to take your life
There’s a bad moon on the rise