Warren Meriwether loved being drunk - but he hated wine. It was all that was left in the house, and he couldn't step outside the front door without tears springing to his eyes and fear clamping his lungs. The red, oaky liquid burned his throat on the way down and left his stomach feeling as though it were corroding its own walls. He grimaced as he drained his glass once again. His mouth tasted like it was lined with ashes. It had been days since he'd eaten anything, and his head ached from low blood sugar and dehydration.
But all of this was better than the ache between his legs, and the more alcohol in his system, the easier it was to forget. Forget that he'd been left disfigured by the girl with the violet eyes. Forget that he'd been found unconscious by a pair of whores who had laughed until he woke and saw that they had both soiled themselves with gleeful excitement. Forget that he had given almost the rest of his savings to the dodgy, Whitechapel doctor that stitched his bleeding crotch up and prescribed him some pills to prevent infection. It had taken more than Warren had expected to convince the stinking medic to leave the city and never return, even though he was clearly just a few days' work away from sleeping in the streets.
Give these people an inch, and they'll take as many a mile as they think you have.
Warren leaned forward in the armchair, allowing the orange glow of the fireplace to caress his nose and cheeks. The flames flickered slowly, not quite in time as usual, as though the fire itself was sluggish. Warren rubbed his sore eyes and gave a short, wet burp which threatened to spill wine and acid all over the carpet of the study. He clamped a hand over his mouth. No. Alcohol was scarce now, and he'd be damned if he was going to waste any by puking his guts up.
A knock at the door.
Warren staggered to his feet, his pulse quickening and his legs already feeling like strands of wool beneath him. He edged into the hallway. The dark figure through the frosted glass of the front door was swaying. Or was he the one swaying?
"Who is it?" he shrieked. "If you've come back for the other one, I can tell you, my - my people will come for you - they'll -"
A chuckle emitted from the other side of the door, and a deep, silky voice replied, "My dear Warren, I am your people. If you're going to threaten me, don't threaten me with myself."
Warren's breath caught in this throat. "Do you have news about Molly?"
"Then get out of here, Silus."
"Why ever should I do that? I brought a bottle of scotch and some bacon and potatoes from my housekeeper. I figured without Lydia around, you might have been struggling to look after yourself."
"I understand if you're angry with me for bringing the girl here, Warren, but honestly, what possessed you to speak to her like she was a common street whore?"
"Because street whores are the only women I know how to talk to!" Warren shouted, pounding his fist against the patterned wallpaper, causing the mounted salmon overhead to teeter on its hook.
"Let me in. Please."
"No!" Warren stomped his foot, hard, like an indignant child refusing to go to church. The floorboards didn't give a very satisfying thump, which infuriated him even further. "I won't let you see me like this - like a - like half a man."
There was silence on the other side of the door. Silus's silhouette was still swaying. So were the walls. The railing of the staircase veered a little too close to Warren's forehead, and he had to place a hand to the wooden banister to hold it in place. Everything seemed to settle a little then.
"Warren, I'm your friend. I can't remember the last time we had a drink without discussing work. I'm here for you when you need -"
"I don't need friendship! Especially not from you! All I need from you is the work you agreed to do for me, and nothing more."
Silus's shadow edged away from the door, hesitated and turned back. "I'll leave the food and drink out here for you. You might want to get it before the foxes do." And with that, he stooped, stood and vanished from the porch.