A Soul's Worth

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Chapter Twenty-Eight

Ben paced the parlor floor, Cam peeping in at him from the doorway to the dining room. Ben caught sight of him and came to a stop, sighing and urging him inside.

“I wasn’t able to keep the secret, was I?” the golem said in its quiet, tinny voice as it stepped into the room. “The cellar door has been opened.”

“It’s not your fault, Cam. Warren shouldn’t ‘ave asked you to keep this secret from me. He shouldn’t ‘ave ‘ad cause to keep it himself.” He dropped down onto the sofa, glancing up at the golem as it approached him. “Tell me plain. Has Warren been killing people to make his golems?”

The machine hesitated, its aperture eyes shifting halfway closed as though it was weighing its loyalties. “Yes,” it said at last. “The twin men find them and bring them here, and Warren Hayward does the magic.”

Ben laughed, but it was a hollow sound, and he ran his good hand over his face and shook his head. “Of course they ‘ave been. Bloody bodyguards—I knew better than that. I’ve been a damn fool, Cam.”

The golem stood beside him and reached out to touch his shoulder, two brass limbs separated only by the fabric of Ben’s shirt. “I don’t think you have been a fool.” Ben paused at being addressed as ‘you’ rather than by name, but he stayed silent. “I see you,” the golem said. “You and Warren Hayward both. You disagree, and you argue, but you stay. You are sad, and you are angry, but you stay. I will never know love, but I understand what it means because I know you.”

Ben watched the machine with a furrowed brow. “When you open that set of ‘inges, you’ve a lot to say, ‘aven’t you?”

“Warren Hayward does not ask me for my opinions, but I have them.”

“You know it’s wrong, don’t you? What he’s been doing? Do you understand that killing people is wrong?”

“He is not killing them,” the golem said easily. “He is putting them in a new body.”

Ben shook his head. “You aren’t Sir Bennett. You’re you. You said so yourself. There’s no excuse for what ‘e’s done. I know you don’t understand, but Warren’s been asking you to help ‘im keep an awful, awful secret.”

The front door opened, and Ben got to his feet, taking a shaky breath as three sets of footsteps sounded in the hall. Warren didn’t smile at him as they entered, but Ben was used to that by now.

“Leave us be, Cam. And you boys get out of it,” Ben said to the twins, gesturing down the hall. When they hesitated, he snapped, “Get out of it or I’ll put you out.” They didn’t move until Warren waved them away, and Ben watched the hall until he heard their bedroom door click shut. Cam lingered a moment before disappearing into the kitchen.

“You’re awfully sour for someone who’s about to get everything he wants,” Warren said as he approached, but Ben snatched the redhead’s wrist tightly in his brass hand before he could touch his chest.

“I’m going to give you one chance to tell me the truth, Warren,” he said softly, looking down into the other man’s questioning face. A pit formed in his stomach as he noticed a bloodstain on Warren’s shirt collar. He was on an errand, Cam had said. He felt sick thinking of what sort of errand it had been. “Tell me how you’ve been making your golems,” he said at last. Warren glanced at Cam with an accusing scowl, but Ben touched his chin to force him to hold his gaze. “Don’t look at ‘im; it’s not ‘is fault. Tell me.”

“You don’t want to hear it, Ben. Not really.”

“I suspect I don’t,” he murmured. “But I ‘ave to.”

Warren sighed, but it wasn’t regret. He seemed almost as though he was being made to answer the questions of an irritating child. “It’s a life for a life. It always has been. You must have known.”

Ben released him, taking a small step back. “I think I decided not to know it. Not lettin’ me into the workshop, hiring the Travers—all the disappearances—”

“You can keep pretending,” Warren suggested. “I’m going to quit, remember? I only have two or three more orders—”

“Two or three more murders, Warren! For God’s sake! Listen to yourself!"

“You can forgive the blood magic, Callaway, your inspector—and this is where you draw your line? You have profited endlessly from what I’ve done,” Warren said in a voice much too calm for Ben’s liking. “And you will continue to do so. Everything that I’ve done has been for you.”

“You never should’ve started this,” Ben answered, shaking his head. “You should’ve sent Wakefield away, told ‘im you didn’t know anything about Sir Bennett’s experiments.”

“And still live in that house, with Mrs. Burnham watching our every move, waiting to ruin us? Scrape by on your earnings, hoping no one realized Sir Bennett had died? I’ve suffered too, Ben; I’ve done things I never thought I would. Don’t you understand what I’ve sacrificed to give you what you want?”

“Human lives,” Ben said with desperation in his voice. “People, Warren. People who never did no wrong by you, who died because you were too greedy to be grateful for what you ‘ad.”

“Greedy?” Warren closed the space between them, looking up into the inspector’s face. “Every step of the way I have been met with trials. Everywhere I turned there were threats to our safety—threats to our freedom. Threats to you. What I’ve done is made it safe for us. If I am to be accused of greed, then I am greedy, but it is for your sake that these things have been done. They had to be done.”

“How can you say that?” Ben shook his head, almost laughing out a sigh. “I would rather be in prison than ‘ave this on my ‘ead. Don’t tell me all these people died for me. It was your doin’. I never would’ve stood for it if I’d known.” He frowned, searching Warren’s face for any sign of regret or remorse and finding nothing but blank, dark eyes staring back at him. “Why couldn’t you ‘ave just been happy? Why couldn’t you be happy with what you ‘ad?”

“What did I have, Ben? What did I have besides a master who treated me poorly and a life of servitude ahead of me?”

“You ‘ad me!” Ben snapped, his voice breaking. He took a deep breath, putting his hands to the sides of his head as he turned away and moved to the far end of the room. When he composed himself, he let his arms drop and looked back to Warren with resignation on his face. “Do you know that you ‘aven’t said you loved me since this started? Not since before Sir Bennett. You say you’ve done all of this for me, but do you even care for me anymore?”

Warren hesitated, but he tried not to let his uncertainty show on his face. “Of course I do,” he said after too long a pause, and Ben shook his head and dropped his gaze to the floor. “Ben, all of this will have been for nothing if you give up now. We’re at the end! We’ve done it! Don’t you see that?”

“We are at the end,” Ben whispered, looking back up to Warren’s face with his jaw set. “You know what I ‘ave to do. I can’t let this go on.”

“What are you suggesting, pet?” Warren tilted his head as he watched the inspector clench his brass fist. “Are you going to take me in?”

“You know I ‘ave to.” He reached his hand out to the other man, but his heart was barely in it when he spoke the word, “Heald.” Warren stood still as the light sparked from the other man’s brass palm, and Ben faltered before twisting his hand in an attempt to bring his former lover to his knees. Warren remained standing, watching the inspector with an almost pitying look.

“You’ll have to do better than that,” he said gently, and he held out a hand, pulling Ben to him in an instant and letting him drop to his feet in front of him. Ben panted, his limbs aching as though Warren had moved him by the blood in his veins.

“Have any other tricks up your sleeve, Inspector?” When Ben opened his mouth to speak again, Warren pushed him away without touching him, sending him tumbling back over the coffee table with a crash. “We really could forget all this, you know,” he offered as Ben pulled himself to his feet. “We could live peacefully in the country, just like you wanted.”

“Not with you,” Ben growled, watching the other man warily. The Travers appeared in the doorway, drawn by the noise, but Ben kept his eyes on Warren. “Look at what you’ve become. What’s the blood in the cellar for, Warren? You’ve taken to the unnatural.”

“I’ve taken the steps necessary to give you the life you asked for.”

“The life you asked for.” Ben stretched his hand out again and snapped, “Claene,” the corresponding mark on his hand giving off a bright light for just an instant.

Warren swayed on the spot, half doubling over and putting a hand to his stomach as he retched. Blood spilled out of his mouth and onto the floor, causing the twins to rush to his side, but Ben silenced them with a quick word and dropped them to the floor. Warren looked up at him with bloodstained fingers covering his mouth, and he pulled his hand away slowly, a panicked look crossing his face as he drew the bloody fingers back into his mouth in an attempt to regain the lost blood.

Ben stood frozen to the spot, horror thudding through him almost as quickly as revulsion. The cupboard full of blood made sense to him now. Warren had been drinking it. He felt sick thinking of all the times Warren must have kissed him with the taste of some poor soul's blood barely gone from his mouth. “Look at yourself,” he whispered, his heart in his stomach. "The man you were is completely gone, isn't he?"

"The man I was?" Warren echoed, droplets of blood falling from his chin to the small puddle on the floor. "The man I was never dreamed of the power I have now. You can't know, Ben. This is freedom like we never imagined. I thought it would be the money that saved us, but it's not money at all—it's power. I can teach you. Nothing would ever be able to touch you."

"Teach me to drink blood? To kill innocent people for my own gain? You're sick, Warren. Touched. You ‘ave to come in. I’d prefer you did it willingly.”

“You don’t understand,” Warren said with a cool chuckle that broke Ben’s heart. “You think I did all of this so that you could march me to prison? I would grant any boon you asked of me, Ben, except that.”

“Unwillingly it is,” Ben answered with stern resignation in his voice, and he tried again to bring the other man to heel with a word.

Warren snarled at him, not moving from his place despite Ben’s pull. “You would rather do this than come with me? Rather than get everything you ever wanted.”

Ben took a single, steadying breath. “I would rather die than take another thing from you,” he murmured. He grit his teeth and heaved with all his might, and Warren stumbled forward, glaring across the parlor at him as he balanced himself.

Warren growled and lifted Ben from the ground with a gesture, tugging the inspector back to him and twisting him in the air while he fought the invisible grip. He drew Ben near to him with his back to the floor and his limbs held spread eagle, watching the sweat begin to bead on the other man’s forehead.

“I would have been your slave, Ben,” Warren whispered. Ben caught sight of a glint of metal over Warren’s shoulder, and then the redhead crumpled to the floor, releasing Ben from his hold and causing him to drop suddenly onto his back.

Ben heard the Travers shifting across the room and swore, though he supposed he could forgive himself the disruption in focus. He touched the back of his head and flinched, but he paused when he saw Cam standing over him with an offered hand. He accepted it and pulled to his feet, glancing between the recovering brothers and Warren’s unconscious body.

“Why didn’t I think to just knock him out?” Ben said with an empty smile.

“I have no blood to control,” Cam pointed out. “Also, I believe Warren Hayward was too distracted to hear me approach.”

Ben looked over at the twins as they seemed to clear their heads. “Coming to your master’s defense, lads?” he sneered. “I must say I’m in no mood.” When they only watched him in silence, he returned his attention to Cam. “Will you ‘elp me take ‘im in?”

“No,” the golem said simply. “You must go.”

“Go? I can’t just go,” Ben objected, gesturing to Warren’s limp form. “He’s a killer, Cam.”

“I know. He would have killed you.” The machine tilted its head as it looked up at the inspector. “I do not want this, and neither would Warren Hayward. He has lost himself, but he would regret killing you.” Ben’s face softened slightly, and he looked across at the twins with a questioning lift of his brow.

“He wouldn’t want us after ye, I don’t think,” Owen said after a moment, rubbing at the wide strip of hair on his head. “If you wanted to save it fer another day eh?” Simon nodded his agreement, and Ben sighed and looked back to the golem at his side.

“I can’t let him be.”

“Warren Hayward is stronger than you. He could have changed your mind.”

“Instead he was going to kill me? Don’t do me no favors.”

“You did say you would rather die.”

Ben hesitated. He was exhausted. This afternoon, he had been contemplating the quiet life he would have with Warren in the country. A tense one at first, perhaps, until Warren recovered from the blood magic, but a free one. But there was no recovering from this. Not from drinking blood, from—whatever else he had done to himself to be able to do the things Ben had seen today. Even if he got Warren to the station, who knew what he might do when we woke up? He couldn’t risk anymore lives, and Cam was right. He hadn’t the strength to do the deed himself—neither his magic nor his heart.

“Why not come with me, Cam?” he asked. “You can’t want to stay here with him.”

“Warren Hayward is my master. I must stay. But you are my friend. So you must go now,” the golem pressed. “Perhaps someday he will be better. But not today.”

Ben took a last glance at Warren’s body on the floor, bloodstained and moving only with shallow breath, and he briefly touched Cam’s shoulder and went to the front door. It wasn’t over, but today was not the day.
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