FORTY-EIGHT, Part 1

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The Academy

1 January, 1920. 8.00PM

Hannibal watched the boy sleep. When Apostol drank at all, he generally limited himself to wine, and he had not noticed the faint bitterness beneath the peaty flavour of the whisky. Or perhaps he had noticed and did not care. Sleep would not come to any of them without an engraved invitation, that night.

The body could not be found. That was not unusual in itself; the mud at the bottom of the river was deep and sticky and eager to devour. Certainly, the police thought nothing of it. The body might reappear, they had said, but if it did, it could be days or even weeks from now, absolutely anywhere downstream of the Victoria Railway Bridge. Though rare, it was not impossible that the body might wash out to sea.

The body, the body, the body, over and over again. And with each repetition, the anguish in the room grew until the Van Helsing girl had to leave. Apostol had followed her, but he had appeared again only moments later, expression too smooth not to be concealing distress.

He'd wanted to stay. So had Hannibal, really. Grief does not increase one's powers of observation, nor the speed of one's reflexes, and the Holmwood house would be safer under the protection of as many Academy men as could be gathered. But Apostol had no handle at all on his own emotions, and his effect on the well-meaning policeman was beginning to show, and he had to be removed from the situation.

And none too soon. Hannibal had watched the boy's eyes as the two Mrs Harkers were informed, each handed a folded slip of paper that had been found on the bridge, weighted down by a cigarette case. And he saw there an abyss of temptation. Black magic darker and fouler than the river mud seethed behind his eyes, restrained by self-control no thicker or stronger than a strand of spider silk. A single act more putrid than the seal laid on Quincey Harker, more vicious than the binding that ripped Imelda apart.

Gheorghe Apostol knew how to raise the dead.

A week ago, Hannibal would have clocked anyone who suggested the boy could possibly slide back into his old habits. But then, before a week ago, Apostol had never found his nascent conscience in conflict with his infant ability to love. Viewed in that light, perhaps this series of slips was a necessary learning experience.

Or it could be, if it went no further. If he did learn from it. But if he decided his regard for the Harker family outweighed his determination to do no harm...

Hannibal swallowed the remainder of his own whisky, washing down the sour tang of fear in his throat. Six years ago, this backslide into sorcery would have prompted him to find the bottle of morphine and dose the boy into a sleep from which he would not wake. Now, he didn't believe he could, even if it became a full regression, even if the boy would have wanted to be stopped.

It wasn't fair, he thought, rising from his seat by the radiator in the interns' common room. He slipped the drawing pad from the boy's loose fingers and set it aside. It wasn't fair of God to give him a son this way, one he couldn't protect, already too old to be raised right, without fear or coercion. Much too large for an old man to carry to bed.

Hannibal shook the boy's shoulder until a sliver of white appeared beneath his eyelid and he breathed a soft, questioning sound.

'Come on, lad,' he whispered, looping the boy's arm over his shoulders, his arm around the boy's waist, and lifted the slack weight of him out of the chair. Apostol's head lolled, but he got his legs under himself enough to stagger along to his bed.

Hannibal removed the boy's tie and collar, waistcoat and braces and shoes, laid him down and tucked him in. Then he touched the boy's forehead and let the connection snap to life between them, muted by the drug and exhaustion.

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