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Title: Portrait of an Independent Genius
Author: bad_hay 
Rating: NC-17
Characters/Pairings: John Druitt/f, mentions of John Druitt/James Watson
Chapter warnings: Sex, prostitution, brief mention of sexual assault
Spoilers: Since this story chronicles John's history, I'm gonna be safe and say any flashbacks up through the most current episode are fair game.
Disclaimer: Sanctuary and its lovely characters are not mine. Montague John Druitt, the real-life cricketer, is also not mine.

Chapter summary: John didn't have to ask how William discerned the "right sort", for at that moment the coach turned onto the Haymarket and there they were--women in bright silks and tartans wearing no cover to speak of, women sitting on balconies with their legs crossed, women talking, laughing, flirting, drinking.

 

VI. The Haymarket Affair

 

“Prostitution was the Great Social Evil, a subject that both fascinated and repelled the Victorian middle class. Ladies were not supposed to know about it, gentleman only knew the theory, not, of course, the practice.”

 

~ Liza Picard, Victorian London

 

 

            The worst thing about such heartbreak, John decided, was there was no one with whom to commiserate. Had they been caught en flagrante delicto things might be different—as the upperclassman, James could have claimed some infraction on John’s part which merited that most sadistic form of punishment. But a kiss left little room for interpretation, and sympathy for the odd ducks who actually enjoyed such things was low.

 

            How had he been spared? Surely their malicious witness recognized him. A young man of John’s height was not easily disguised and he had gleaned something of a following for his skills on the field. Perhaps James was right about those unspoken connections. Well damn nepotism, and damn Winchester cricket. It might’ve kept John out of trouble but it did nothing for those closest to him.

            He took a bit of comfort in knowing Rosier had not gone unpunished. One night after the Prefects had gone to bed, John lured him to the cricket field on some pretext and dispensed his own form of justice. Rosier staggered to breakfast the next morning with bruises on his ribs and a badly broken nose, but no amount of interrogation would convince him to name his attacker. James was predictably outraged; he called John a “foolish vigilante” and threatened to turn him in himself. His anger dissipated quickly though, and he settled for shooting John disapproving looks whenever Rosier passed them by.

            With their relationship in a decidedly rocky state, John took to spending a good deal of time alone. He dove headlong into his studies, reading, memorizing, composing and reciting. No ancient text was left unexplored, no poet abandoned. Once he’d devoured the classics, languages and literature, there was nowhere to go but the sciences. John expected little from Winchester in that area (they were a classics school, after all), so he was pleasantly surprised to find a treasure trove of subscriptions to the more prestigious journals. Even more unexpected was the realization that he now appreciated them.

James had long ago claimed the library as his haunt, so John began taking his finds to the chapel. It was quiet much of the time, and there were no classmates around to prod him with suggested cures for melancholy. In any case, he had no desire for remedy. He’d all but lost that which was most important to him, why couldn’t he wallow a bit?

~

            John thought he’d done a fair job of appearing cheerful, but three days into the Christmas holiday Father “suggested” he visit William and his fiancée in the City, as there was “enough gloom in the house already.” Taking the hint, John re-packed his trunk and set off for London, looking as sullen as he possibly could.

            William met Dorothea in his last years at Oxford, when he was working towards acceptance to the Inner Temple. Her parents were wealthy, moral and had a vaguely noble bloodline, which meant Father all but shoved them together. William spent a great deal of time and effort on the courtship, all the while proclaiming his love as loudly as possible, but once both families gave their blessing he utterly lost interest. While her mother and sisters planned the wedding and Father and Mr. Fairfield worked out the financial aspects, William hid at the Reform Club and complained about her to anyone who would listen.

            Dorothea herself was a frail, mousey woman who seemed wholly cowed by both her imperious family and husband-to-be. John met her briefly during his stay and found it a challenge to get her to speak at all—she was forever glancing at him to ensure he found no fault with her opinions. William cited the instance as proof of her overwhelming dullness; John felt it said far more about his brother’s personality.

            One night William came into the sitting room dressed in a garish red waistcoat and black satin trousers—a far cry from his usual wardrobe of browns and grays. He beamed eerily at John. “How about an adventure?”

            John blinked. William did not have adventures. Every day he woke up at the same time, had the same breakfast, walked the same route to his chambers and returned home the same way, only to do it all again in the morning. An “adventure” in his mind likely had something to do with buying a cravat in a darker-than-usual shade of brown. “What kind?”

            William smiled more broadly. It was a disturbing sight. “You’ll see.”

            Ten minutes later they were jostling along the streets of London atop a rather unstable omnibus. John was perched awkwardly between William and a man holding a green bag, which was entirely unremarkable but for the fact that it was meowing. He poked William in the side. “Where are we going?”

            “You’ll find out.”

            “Oh please, do be a bit more cryptic. I’m not certain I’m quite confused enough.”

            William snorted. “Don’t worry. You’ll enjoy yourself, I promise.” Just what he said before shoving John into the local cesspit at the age of six. “As you know, I’m getting married next week and it—No more well-wishes!” He snapped.

John’s “Congratulations” died on his lips.

“As I was saying…once Dorothea and I are ‘blissfully’ wed, it will be more difficult for me to partake of certain…nocturnal amusements, if you catch my meaning.”

Repressing a bit of bile in his throat, John nodded. He really had no desire to hear about his brother’s nocturnal amusements.

William smirked rather rakishly. “Tonight will be my last foray into that world, for a while at least, and I thought it was the ideal opportunity to share with my dear younger brother all the knowledge I’ve acquired of the fairer sex.”

John rolled his eyes heavenward. “I’m your alibi, aren’t I? So if Miss Fairfield’s father becomes curious about your whereabouts tonight, you can say ‘John and I were simply taking in some intellectual conversation at the Reform Club, weren’t we Johnny?’”

William looked quite nonplussed. “That was a spot-on impression.”

“Thank you. I’ve been working on it.”

“All right, so you’re my alibi.” William grinned. “But you’ll like it. These girls are unforgettable.”

It suddenly occurred to John that he had little practical knowledge of women beyond the innuendos of his classmates. He anxiously tugged at his sleeves. “And what if they’re not interested in me?”

William gave him an incredulous look. “Not interested? You’ve been talking to the wrong sort of women, John.”

John didn’t have to ask exactly how William discerned the ‘right’ sort, for at that moment the coach turned onto the Haymarket and there they were—women in bright silks and tartans wearing no cover or chemise to speak of, women sitting on balconies with their legs crossed, women talking, laughing, flirting, drinking. More than a few waved or whistled as they passed. William waved back, and after a while, John found himself doing the same.

At last they stopped in front of a large townhouse. It looked rather shabby, and like all its neighbors was grey with soot, but William sauntered up the steps as though they were entering Buckingham Palace. He gave the door two quick raps. A haggard-looking woman of about forty answered. She wore an enormous crystal necklace and a blue satin gown that must have been very fine at one time but was beginning to fade in spots. Seeing who it was, she smiled broadly.

“Mr. Druitt! Always a pleasure.” She eyed John with mild suspicion. “And you’ve brought a friend?”

“Hello, Alice. This is my brother John,” William replied, pushing him forward. “It’s his first time.” John resisted the urge to scowl. That was William—always looking to make a fool of him.

“Come in, come in!” Alice moved aside and they stepped across the threshold. It was very dark inside, the only light shining feebly from two lamps on opposite walls. John could just make out a massive staircase on the far end of the room, winding up and out of sight to the second floor.

“D’you have a girl in mind, darling?” Alice asked, taking their coats. It took John a moment to realize she was talking to William.

William frowned deeply, as though he were deciding which shoes went with his vest. “I’m not sure…is Margaret here?”

Alice nodded. “Maggie!” she barked into the darkness. “Mr. Druitt’s come to visit.”

A woman in pink materialized out of the shadows as quickly as if she were made of air. She floated across the hall to rest her hand on William’s arm. In response he turned and kissed her full on the lips. John tried not to stare, but it was difficult—Margaret bore a disturbing resemblance to Georgiana. Was William aware of it? He could hardly fail to be…he firmly pushed the thought from his mind.

“What about you, love?” John started—he’d forgotten all about Alice.

“Er…”

William smirked at them, still tangled in Margaret’s arms. “I think he and Violet would get along splendidly.” Alice glanced at John for approval.

“Oh…yes! Of course,” he stammered, feeling more stupid by the minute.

Alice gave him a sympathetic sort of smile. Turning in the direction Margaret had come from, she called Violet’s name but received no reply. She nodded apologetically at John. “A bit headstrong, that one, thinks she’s the bloody Queen…VIOLET!!”

“Oi! Give us a blasted minute, would you?” A rather flustered-looking redhead emerged from the dark. Nodding at William as she passed, she hurried across the room to Alice. The beleaguered abbess frowned and shoved her in John’s direction.

“This is Mr. Druitt’s brother, John. He’s requested your company…that is, if you haven’t already scared him off acting like the Queen of Sheba.”

“No! No,” John said. “It’s a pleasure, Miss Violet.” Somewhere to his left William snickered.

Violet giggled as well, but not unkindly. “Such a gentleman! I like him,” she declared. John flushed.

Alice threw up her hands in exasperation. “So glad you approve! Best of luck with this one, love,” she added to John. “Goodnight gentlemen.” With that she vanished back into the gloom.

“You’re a treasure, Alice,” William called after her. He gave John a smug look. “I think it’s time Margaret and I retired. Enjoy yourself, brother.” Laughing, Gee—no, Margaret dragged him out of sight, leaving John alone with Violet.

She was by no means unpleasant to look at. Red locks curled loosely over her shoulders, contrasting vibrantly with the splendid green of her gown, clearly chosen to match her eyes. She was quite pale, a trait made all the more obvious by the mass of freckles dotting her face. Without thinking John followed those dots down her neck, across her bared collarbones and further…

“See anything you like?”

Mortified, John forced himself to meet her eyes again.

Violet regarded him carefully, as a cat might an unfamiliar meal. A small smile played across her lips. She stepped closer and laid a hand on his wrist. “How old are you, Mr. Druitt?”

“Sixteen,” he managed.

“Still a schoolboy, then.” She reached up, tracing her fingers along his jawline, leaving soft lines of heat in their wake. “Shall we go upstairs?” He nodded dumbly.

The second floor, which was better lit, turned out to be a long hall with dozens of identical doors. There were no numbers, but Violet led him to one and turned the knob without hesitation. Inside were just the necessities: a large, plush-looking bed with deep red linens, a bedside table holding a bottle of wine and two glasses, and on the far wall an enormous painting of a naked woman. John did his best to look anywhere else.

“Mr. Druitt?” Violet was peeling off her bodice, an expectant smile on her face.

“Please call me John,” he said, trying to sound normal. She must have caught the tremor in his voice, though, because she stopped undressing and moved to take his hand.

“Don’t worry, love. I don’t bite. Unless you’d like me to, of course.” He forced a laugh. She fixed him with a bold, searching stare not unlike James’. “You’ve never done this before.”

“Never.” She didn’t need to hear the particulars.

Violet’s hands slid upward, coming to rest on his shoulders. She gave them a comforting squeeze. “Then perhaps we should begin slowly. How about a kiss?”

He grinned. Simple enough.

                                                            ~

William was right, for once. It was different but not wholly unfamiliar, and certainly no less pleasant. While their tryst lacked the camaraderie he’d felt with James, it more than made up for it with passion. Violet seemed to view John as her pupil, and took it upon herself to teach him the finer points of “the fruitful vine.” Whenever he could afford it (which wasn’t often), John crept out of Chernocke and caught the train to London. Incredibly, the Prefects caught him only once and promptly let him off with a warning in exchange for Miss Alice’s address.

Violet was twenty-four years old. She’d started out as a sweet-shop girl until her employer landed himself in debtor’s prison. Other shop owners found her willful, so on the advice of a friend she solicited Alice’s unique brand of charity. It was easy work, and she liked selling her own “sweets” better than someone else’s anyway. Or so she said. Possibly the first bit was true, possibly none of it was. You’ll never really know them, William warned, and John supposed he was right. He was one of many to her, why should she let him in?

Still, he grew foolishly fond of her. She called him Schoolboy and told him he was handsome and charming and better than the others. She endured his ignorance with patient encouragement and accepted the meager gifts he gave her with delight. Above all she listened to him, expressing tearful (if potentially feigned) sympathy for his mother’s illness and their collapsing household.

Every so often he tried to get inside her head, understand her pain as she understood his, but there was nothing for it. Violet seldom betrayed any emotion but happiness, and when she did it was quickly brushed off with a laugh and a seductive smile.

                                                            ~

“So why do they call you Violet?” he asked one night. Her real name was Mildred after all—Millie, she spat, hardly sensual—and there was nothing terribly purple about her countenance. Tangerine might’ve been more appropriate.

She shrugged, idly tracing a pattern on his arm. “Oh, it’s a silly story…not worth telling, really.”

“I want to hear it.”

“No, no. It’s stupid!” She was blushing a bit now, a tinge of color muting the hue of her freckles.

John chuckled and drew her close. The scent of perfume and their recent coupling pervaded the air, making him pleasantly sleepy. He smoothed the hair back from her face and watched her eyes close slightly in pleasure. “Well, now I must hear it.”

“All right,” she pouted. “But no laughing.”

“Of course not.”

Sighing heavily, she began, “I had this gentleman—ugly bloke, nothing like you, love—and he was just the worst sort. Demanded everything. Made me keep giving him drinks, told me what to wear, how to lie, you know—aristocrat. So I give him what he wants. The whole time he seems perfectly happy, pays me compliments…and then when it was done he says ‘That was most unsatisfactory’ and tries to make off without paying.”

“What did you do?”

“I chased him down is what!” John snorted. “I did! Followed him all the way down the stairs and out onto the street, screaming, swearing, throwing whatever I could reach. I wasn’t really trying to hurt him, just wanted what was mine—you said you wouldn’t laugh!!”

But the image of her chasing down the aristocrat was too much to bear. John’s repressed sniggers burst forth, his sides aching from too many silent chuckles. As Violet went to pinch him her own sense of humor got the better of her and she laughed too, burying her face in the pillow.

When they finally recovered, John wiped his eyes and asked, “Did you get your money?”

“I did,” she said proudly, “and no one’s tried to cheat me since.” She chuckled a bit. “Miss Alice said they could hear me all the way to the Thames. She called me Violet because she swore I turned purple with rage…and the name sort of stuck.”

John’s lungs were too exhausted to allow him anything more than a chortle. “And here I thought you were going to tell me a story about flowers.”

Violet attacked him with pinches again, which quickly turned to kisses, and the ugly cheating aristocrat was soon forgotten. Much later it occurred to John that this story might too be false, but he could not find it in him to care.

~

His last year at Winchester would have been lonely indeed were it not for Violet. James graduated the previous spring (with honors, of course) and was immediately snatched up by Oxford’s Department of Life Sciences. They continued to write one another, but James was soon deeply entrenched in University life and his letters became few and far between. His workload sounded quite grandiose; had it been anyone else John might have suspected him of exaggerating.

John divided his time between cricket, studying and the occasional trip to Miss Alice’s. His habit of cloistering himself in the chapel earned him the Cap Prae position—laughable, considering his complete lack of faith. Still he persisted, lamely preaching from the pulpit once a week and feeling like a complete hypocrite all the while. He received a modest salary for his trouble, most of which, ironically, went to Violet.

In April Professor Acton pulled John out of class to inform him he’d won a scholarship to New College. Tuition was included, as were room and board, but he’d have to come up with book fees himself. Don’t forget, you are representing Winchester. John nodded, hardly hearing him, and spent the rest of Latin composing a hasty letter to James:

 

I’ll wager you thought you’d gotten rid of me, old boy; sadly, you were mistaken. I’m starting at New College in autumn so you’ll have to put up with my waxing poetic about Wordsworth for at least another four years. May I suggest purchasing some cotton to plug your ears with?

 

His reply was unusually swift and brief:

 

Alas, any money I might have for cotton will undoubtedly be spent on books. Meet me on September 3rd at two by the north town wall.


Glossary:

- Abbess: Brothel madam.
- Cap Prae: Prefect of Chapel

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
dhfunk
Jul. 8th, 2011 12:25 am (UTC)
Yayyyy! There will be another chapter, I hope.
bad_hay
Jul. 8th, 2011 01:45 am (UTC)
Don't worry, there will definitely be more! I haven't actually decided where to stop yet. :-p
palmaceae
Jul. 8th, 2011 04:45 am (UTC)
i've been really enjoying this... looking forward to seeing how you balance out john's feelings towards james once he meets helen.
bad_hay
Jul. 9th, 2011 03:11 am (UTC)
Thanks!! I've been thinking about that a lot, since Chris does such a great job balancing those feelings on the show.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )