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A Matter of Observation

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"Are you going to bed?" Crow asked. "You have brushed your teeth and washed your face, only you do not always retire immediately after those tasks."

I had made Crow wait until Jennie cleared the dinner service and several hours since for Downstairs to settle for the night. I did not wish to wait any longer.

I told him I was. "Can you see to the lamps?"

"Of course," Crow agreed.

My blood raced as if he had chased me the length of the Euston Road, not the few strides Crow took to cross to where I stood.

We shared the furtiveness of the unmarried and confirmed bachelors, but our mutual perversity was one that had been unknown to me before our previous nights' awkwardness and experimentation. It is strange that perversity can be found as much in what one abstains from as what one does not.

I did not want Crow like I had wanted Mary Morstan those months before, nor as I have wanted other women since. I did not want to discover the taste of his skin or the shape of his bones beneath it. I did not want his body discovering mine. I did not want to touch or be touched. As I had on our other occasions, I performed the necessary motions myself, without fully undressing. Crow stood by my bedside, pacing in place as he waited for my signal.

I tried not to think what our landlady might think of the groans from my mattress and the creaks from the floorboards under Crow's feet. I had raised this objection with Crow previously. He had assured me that Mrs Climpson and Mrs Chandler did what our queen believed two women could not do, and would not betray us.

I endeavoured not to guess what our queen might believe an angel and a hell-hound might do. Whether she would deem it worse than what two men should not do.

I could not have done what we did if I had dwelled on what others made of us.

Crow was a marvellous distraction against such thoughts. Without candle or lamp, I could not see him, but his presence was inescapable within the close confines of my bedroom. His attention, more so. I knew Crow could see what he termed my 'psyche', but he could not see my clothes or my flesh. I could not have done it if I had had to see myself.

The conclusion of the Ripper case had left us both adrift.

I had signed away my humanity. The Home Office had given me a fine commendation on letterhead for my active contributions to the case. Crow had signed my registration papers as a witness to my good character, linking us indelibly in the eyes of the law. In all the sheets of paperwork, not one page mentioned my name.

In the absence of another so consuming problem, Crow set upon my low mood as his preoccupation. It was a measure of my own absorbed wretchedness that I did not immediately notice that Crow had set the Nameless to scour the city for eligible young women.

My refusal to court a nice young woman (of his choosing, if I would not) led Crow to renew the offer of his own intimate company.

I compress the salient points of several days' repetitive arguments for narrative simplicity:

"What could sexual congress be between persons such as ourselves?" I asked. I did not want Crow's body, nor did I wish to make him endure mine.

"What indeed?" Crow had returned, as if I had set him a puzzle. Were we not more than bodies, more than the mere sum of our parts? "If we eliminated all that we do not desire, is there truly no possible communion that remained, however queer, however strange?"

No puzzle confounded Crow, the Angel of London, for very long.

Now, in my bed, I whispered his name.

"Doyle," he answered. His voice was ready at my ear.

I had never been the sort of person who cries out the name of my partner in the throes of passion. I had barely had partners, given the threat they posed to my career. I now said Crow's name nightly, for the pure, wondrous delight that he had in saying my own back to me.

My voice faltered close to my peak. Crow then called me "Joanna"; I tumbled over as if pushed, my full name echoing in my ears all the way down.

To my knowledge, Crow did not attend manually to his person as I had done. With several nights' repetition behind us, I trusted that his enthusiasm for our encounters was not feigned. I did not entirely understand his fascination but I knew the power of being named correctly.

We were both things that were neither male nor female, neither holy nor profane, only others thinking made us so. We were not the same, but we were closer than I had expected to ever find. I would flatter myself if I claimed to know Crow better than any other, but at that time in my life, no one knew me--no one saw me half so well.

When I had gathered myself, I raised my hand. Crow placed a handkerchief into it with unerring ease.

"Good night, Crow."

"Good night, Doyle," he replied. His voice was already closer to the door than to my bed. "Sleep well."