Gray, all dark eyes and pale skin, had not been made or meant for him to touch. His was a beauty that did not match to his soul, thought Macfarlane, laying out his facts as he might lay out his knives before an operation. Yes, Gray had invited, coaxed, and Macfarlane had answered, with all the enthusiasm of his youth, yes, yes, he would, oh, he would. Still it had been tainted, that shout in his head still crying out how wrong he was to let Gray take this of him, how he could not sit still as Gray raked his fingers up and down his back, how his mind never lost the thought of his own failure to reject such things as Gray had taught him.
(You were happy for a time, some small part of him insisted. It was love, it was love, it said.)
Macfarlane pushed that away, buried it with the rest of those accursed thoughts he strove so hard to flee.
(Who are you to bury anything, when you already spend your life in digging up again what others have put to rest?)
But no, there was no returning to whatever it had been, whether it had been love or no. Gray was dead, and by Macfarlane’s own hand was he dead, and by Macfarlane’s own hand had he been laid out bare and broken on the stained and pitted dissecting table. Once again he twitched fingers ‘round a familiar wrist, but now no pulse could be felt beneath the skin, no heat in the flesh that had been so warm to his touch before. No longer burning with his own peculiarly bloody, living heat, no longer sweat-damp beneath his hands, but clammy, cold, all the oozing rot of Gray’s bright awful life beginning to putrefy inside him at last in death.
Gray now lay still and colorless like a marble-carven statue, shrouded in canvas even as a masterpiece might be, but he was no work of art now. Nor had he ever been, villain and rogue and sinner that he was in life, Macfarlane insisted. Already the discoloration of death showed heavy on his face, bruised dark at his eyes, finger-marks marring the line of his throat that had been so smooth and elegant while he lived.
Now to render that sculpture to rubble, to break the pieces until they were rendered utterly unrecognizable, was his task. To Richardson would go the head, to other students each limb, the torso and viscera portioned out equally among the throng. Gray was known well enough in Edinburgh, but one man’s interior was like enough to another’s.
(What you hide beneath your skin is not worth this, Wolfe. You cannot take him apart and hide him, nothing will come of it. You cannot escape who you have become.)
Macfarlane chose his scalpel, and, with almost-tender care, placed it against the sternum of the man who he could not come to say he had loved. He pressed the blade against Gray’s skin as if he was cutting into his own chest, as if he might take out his own heart and hand it away to another student to be dissected, to be cut apart and commented upon, to be catalogued for the rot within.
He inhaled, the smell of old blood and last night’s wine still heavy in Gray’s hair. Hands steady, mind resolved, Macfarlane pushed the knife inward, and made his first cut.