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On an ordinary sort of Wednesday, it's 9:03 am, and Arthur has just arrived at work. Don't worry, he isn't late; he doesn't have set hours, and aside from swiping his identity card at the security gates, which gets logged somewhere, he doesn't punch in. Arthur works in the same building as MI:5, but he's not a spy. He'd be an awful field agent, and he bores too readily to work behind the scenes of espionage, which can be dreary. Unfortunately, Arthur's department must be a closely-guarded secret, and thus is MI:5 involved, if a bit loosely.

None of the people he sees on his way in - all spies, most MI:5, although some MI:6 - give him much of a second glance on a day-to-day basis. They see what they like to see: an ordinary man, well-dressed though poncy and old-fashioned. He wears a charcoal waistcoat, tailored to make his slight figure seem slightly thicker, which the agents probably think is because he is vain. He sports a crisp white shirt, which is wrinkled, which the agents probably think is because he lives on his own and cannot be arsed to do his own ironing like most men his age (whatever it is they think his age is; he looks young, mid-twenties in appearance, but in order to work at a place like this, they likely estimate it closer to mid-thirties and suppose that we can't all be so lucky to have won the genetic lottery the way Arthur has). He sports a bowtie today. This is uncharacteristic of him - it's usually a dark-coloured tie, full Windsor knot. The bowtie is a shocking bright red. This perplexes the agents thoroughly. Perhaps Arthur has a date? They look on and see short hair, closer to brown than blond but not easily fit into either category. It is artfully tousled and layered. Arthur's hair has begun to look better and better. It must be a date. The loser of the current office football pool (probably Ronald; who in their right mind picks Crystal Palace to win the Premier League) has to tell Arthur that if he wants to impress this date, that waistcoat has got to go, unless his date is a Doctor Who fan; in which case, he should opt for pin-stripes.

In actual fact, it is this: Arthur likes the look of waistcoats but has forgotten that tailoring is a thing he can pay someone to do for garments that aren't a substantially different size. Charcoal was the colour that was on sale - well, actually, it was between charcoal and powder blue, and eugh, no. (Alright, Arthur is a little vain.) This is the same shirt he wore yesterday, and he forgot to change out of it before he fell asleep in it. Ordinarily Arthur would wear another shirt, but it is his last clean shirt and he won't have the time to bother with a laundromat until Saturday. He has instead come to the conclusion that since he only owns white shirts, nobody will notice if this is the same one as yesterday's white shirt. That also explains the bowtie - classic misdirection, which works on most people who are not MI:5 agents. (Arthur has not had a date in years. They always ask 'so what do you do for a living?' and Arthur is so poor a liar that his obvious deception has a tendency to end dates prematurely.) Barbers ask him the same (there must be something on his face that screams 'please, talk to me!' when none of Arthur ever wants anything remotely like that) and so Arthur had grown accustomed to cutting his hair himself, but has recently found one that doesn't pry. This barber doesn't speak any English. Arthur is very happy with him. Today, the wind has styled his hair. Boreas is not very good, but lucky for Arthur, that's the style of the times these days and so he is accidentally chic. And also accidentally looking a bit like the Tenth Doctor. Arthur doesn't watch TV.

Arthur and the other MI:5 agents don't talk. Occasionally he'll make eye contact and give a brusque nod, and in response to "Wotcher, Arthur?" he dutifully replies, "Hullo, Len, cheerio." Now, if one of the MI:5 agents has wondered idly to themselves, where does this man with the rather aggressive eyebrows work, because it isn't my department, then either they have never bothered with any legwork upon the matter, or it was shut down very abruptly by the people who hired Arthur as consultant. They are much better liars than Arthur is. It's their job to be.

Arthur continues along until he reaches the lift. He presses the button, waits a cursory moment, and when the lift arrives, he steps in. As the doors close, he adjusts his waistcoat, tugging the material down, and squares his shoulders. This is the last that MI:5 will see of him until quite late at night.

Even this, is not the beginning. But it perhaps gives us a good approximation of just what Arthur's line of work is. We can't tell you, or we'd have to kill you.

At 9:10, Arthur has reached the third sub-level. He walks to the end of the hall where he opens a fire-escape door and descends one level. At this level there is a door with no handles and another card-reader. He swipes a second identity card, and the door opens to admit him, then shuts firmly behind him once again.

We would love to tell you that this is where Arthur's day truly begins, that upon stepping through the threshold of this door, this secret club, he finds friendly faces. We could say that he has friends here and they make merry and sometimes they go out after hours to the pubs and drink a pint or three in the easy cameraderie of collaborative workplace suffering that replaces friend-making after one has left school. We could say that he is on decent terms with the people who drew up his contract and now sign his paycheques; or that if he isn't, then at least he has compatriots with which to commiserate and make snide remarks to around a water cooler. People he eats his homemade lunch with. Friends. Acquaintances. Other human beings who have recognisable faces and names that he knows.

But he has none of these things.

Don't feel too sorry for Arthur. He has never had a regular job. He doesn't know these things are missing.

His banality is nevertheless lonely. This is so by construction.

The way it works is, Arthur is given a neat brown folder. Sometimes they are small, sometimes they are large. The size of the folder does not correlate to the work that needs to be done. He performs the work required of him, then he writes a report about it, places it within the folder, returns the folder and never sees it again, and then he receives something new. Another folder. One after another.

Occasionally, as the case calls for it, he is partnered. He knows of a Norwegian, and a Romanian, and at the moment there is also a girl from Belarus interning with them.

Perhaps now you know what kind of story this might be.

Arthur has worked with these people, and naturally they get along for the sake of the work, but they are not friends. They are given folders, just as Arthur is given folders, and they work on the cases within, just as he does. They have this in common. But seeking commonalities is pointless. They also all breathe air and drink water. They have that in common, too, and these traits are about as relevant to their connection. They submit their joint report, sign off on it, return the file, and their paths cross thereafter only if they are partnered again. If - not when.

At precisely 2:31 in the afternoon, Arthur finishes the work on his current case. He goes to the kitchen to begin making himself a cup of tea - it's about that time. In the time between when he fills up the scale-lined electric kettle with London's notoriously hard water and the time that the water boils and the kettle shuts off automatically, he has finished his report for the case. He prints this off, staples it, punches holes in the sides to thread it onto the filing prongs, and closes the folder. He returns the folder to the usual place, which is a book return box that may have once belonged to a library. He retrieves his tea, dresses it as he likes (no sugar, splash of milk - if there is any still alive in the refrigerator) and returns to his desk. He's idly checking his email when another folder presents itself in his inbox.

Nobody has dropped it off. There's no pneumatic tube. It was not electronically delivered. Arthur looked away from his letter tray, to his tea, and then back again, and the physical folder had simply appeared there. This is a regular occurrence.

This folder is very thin, which is not a regular occurrence.

The time is now 2:49. Arthur's mouth twists. This could be quite long, and Arthur's not sure he's ready for that. But a job's a job.

He takes a sip of tea, and then he opens the folder.

Chapter Text

Inside the folder are three pages. The first is a death certificate dated last week. Arthur can't read the signature of the medical examiner but that's par for the course for doctors. L-something. Arthur doesn't recognise the name of the deceased either. His name looks German, but his place of residence is listed as somewhere in South Wales. His trade is classified. He has no next of kin. He is listed as single. The cause of death says 'automobile accident'.

This certificate is stamped 'AS FILED WITH AUTHORITIES'.

What's curious is the second copy of the death certificate, listing different details. For example, Arthur's slain German is here listed as widowed, and he is an independent researcher. The cause of death is bloodloss following complications from a gunshot wound to the chest. He still lives in Wales, though.

It's not surprising. It's not the first time in Arthur's employ that he's received word of two different stories. It's how we keep these things quiet.

The curious part is always the details. The approximate age on the as-filed is 24, with the date of birth corresponding. The approximate age on the second copy is over two hundred years old, with the date of birth corresponding. Mr Beilschmidt, it seems, was born 18 January 1803, in a city that doesn't exist anymore, in a country that doesn't exist anymore. And this is why we give such files to people like Arthur, because of annoying Prussians who don't know how to die properly.

The signature of the informant is spelled out clearly: Feliks Łukasiewicz, whose relationship to the deceased was employer. Arthur recognises Łukasiewicz's address, which is the Van Helsing Institute for Occult Sciences at Kingston upon Thames. A quick internet search verifies that Łukasiewicz is the current director of this unit.

Arthur's mouth twists again. First they take the crap jobs, he thinks, now they're taking the good jobs.

Another reason you shouldn't feel too sorry for Arthur about his crap life.

The last page is a short typed letter, dated last Friday, printed under the Van Helsing Institute's official letterhead.

Dear Mr Kirkland, it reads.

I had the privilege of meeting you once in a conference, a few years past. We spoke briefly about the alignment of our professional interests. I have reason to believe that they may in fact now intersect. As such I request your service for high-security private research that I am currently trying to conduct.

I urge you to please call me at the following number at your earliest convenience. If you are not available, perhaps you may know of someone who is. Time may be of the essence.

I remain, yours,

Dr T. Laurinitis

The letter is signed. Its signature matches that of the chief medical examiner's on the death certificate.

Arthur sighs. If time is truly of the essence then this ought to have arrived yesterday. Perhaps his supervisors were waiting for him to finish his current case. He picks up the phone and dials the number.

As it rings, he thinks. Arthur knows he doesn't remember any T. Laurinitis. He feels certain he would because what a surprise, not a janitor, except that there have been so very many immigrants recently and to him they all have the same names, all similar enough.

Oh, certainly, because there's such variety between Smith, Brown and Jones. Why, only one of each in all of London. If you ask us, Arthur should stop pretending that his job is the reason that he's all alone.

Someone picks up. "Hello?"

"Yes," says Arthur, "my name is Arthur Kirkland, and I've here a letter from a Dr -"

"Laurinitis. Yes. That's me." The syllables are clipped and icy as well as accented. "Are you available?"

"Well, I would need to know what for," says Arthur curtly.

"That can be discussed at our institute. Are you able to make it here today?"

From where he is to Kingston upon Thames? Arthur supposes, if he leaves now, the tube would put him there in an hour, at the outside. "I can be there in an hour."

"No sooner?"

Arthur grimaces. "I can be there in five minutes."

"Please hurry," says Dr Laurinitis.

An appointment off-site is not an unusual occurrance. Arthur using the means that he has to get to it is.

There is a fold in the curtain at the end of the hall, by the kitchenette where Arthur makes his tea, upon the wall. It is invisible to everybody, including him, but he doesn't need eyes to direct himself to it. No one who works here does. He doesn't tell anybody he's leaving. His supervisors (that's us, by the way) know where he is at all times, should they require him more than this Dr Laurinitis does, and if they gave him this file, they not only don't mind, they already know.

He peels the invisible curtain back from the wall, and steps through the window into a void.

From here, the way is lit only on either side. Arthur is behind the stages at the moment, as the dramatis personæ of life continue in their tableaux on the lit parts, either side of him. If he reaches out with his hand, he could touch them, graze them, finger their hair as he softly brushes past.

If he moves too quickly he'll cause a wind. If he moves too slowly or stays and watches, someone will sense his presence - even if they're alone in an empty room with still air.

Arthur remains on the path, eked out narrow and winding between the stages. From here it is only a few hundred metres to Kingston upon Thames.

Ordinarily Arthur would stop in any public space and walk from there, but it's the Van Helsing Institute, so he expects they've an exit of their own. He reaches the place he wants, pushes past the curtain, and presents himself on scene once more, the same character in the same act on a different stage.

"You're a minute late," says a voice to his left. Standing there is a man, perhaps two inches taller than he is, with dark brown hair long enough to be pulled back into a short ponytail. He wears glasses and gloves and a labcoat. The labcoat is stained brownish-red in many places.

"I wouldn't be if you'd taken the time to change," replies Arthur.

Laurinitis - it must be he, though he sounds different, even icier in real life than on the telephone - doesn't react. "Please follow me," he says.

They walk and talk. "So. Your patient, this - Mr Beilschmidt," Arthur begins.

"Former colleague. I didn't work with him very closely until last week, when he perished. He was sent out on orders from Dr Łukasiewicz. I don't know the details about the case. I was told it was something of an anomaly for his examination. When he didn't return in an hour and didn't check in in three, as is required of his contract when he's in the field, we began our investigation as usual."

"As usual?"

Laurinitis raises an eyebrow. "Mr Beilschmidt has a history of truancy and insubordination," he explains. "In that regard, it's his own fault I got to him too late to save him. The boy cries wolf."

"You knew of his ... condition?"

They reach a door through which there is a set of stairs. As Laurinitis descends, he continues. "He disclosed it to Dr Łukasiewicz when he applied for the position. I believe it was one of the only reasons he was hired, because it certainly wasn't the interview. Unfortunately, his work record has been consistently good enough to evade dismissal over the years. And they know each other from some previous coordinated work. Dr Łukasiewicz would be very sorry to lose such a worker."

"Would be? Hasn't he already?"

At the next landing, Laurinitis stops in front of a door. He turns to Arthur.

"There's not one but two certificates affirming that he's dead," Arthur protests.

"Beilschmidt did not stay dead," says Laurinitis tightly.

Ah. Hm. This complicates things.

Arthur had been prepared for body disposal of a partial-immortal, not... one of these cases.

On this sub-level is a large laboratory. The walls are lined with fumehoods and countertops stacked with machines blinking lights to say nothing of the desks in the room, upon which there more machines and an assortment of equipment in various stages of use. All Arthur recognises is the computers and what appears to be an MRI scanner to one side. Something chirps every thirty seconds. Arthur is certain that would drive him insane. Perhaps that is what has happened to Dr Laurinitis, who maintains business-calm despite the evident urgency of his situation.

"Beilschmidt was bitten in his 24th year, nearly two hundred years ago," Laurinitis explains. "Aside from some minor physical changes, it didn't turn him until he died." Arthur isn't sure he would consider living for an extra two centuries a 'minor' physical change. "And now," continues Laurinitis, growing louder though no less cold in his tone of voice as he leads Arthur through another door off the main laboratory room to a hallway, "even though he boasted of being two-time champion czernina eater, my one-time colleague, turned patient, has chosen now of all times to decide that he no longer likes the taste of blood, when it's all he can eat, and is running something of a hunger strike."

At the end of the hallway is an observation room, and within is a desk and chair set in front of a giant glass-walled tank of a room, heavily reinforced on all sides. Inside is a figure, curled up in the fetal position in the corner.

"Because he's a brat," Laurinitis concludes loudly. The figure flips over, nose to the wall, presenting his back. Laurinitis tuts and shakes his head.

"What do you want me to do?" asks Arthur.

"This is the first time we've been able to have a living specimen under our control," explains Laurinitis. "The research that needs to be done is of paramount, critical importance."

"He's a human being," Arthur argues.

"No, he isn't. Not anymore. And what's more, it's in his best interests that we find out as much as possible about him. Did you know he can't digest animal blood? We nearly lost him last week because I couldn't risk giving him drugs to flush it out of his system. Stomach pumping doesn't appear to work because he no longer has a stomach. I don't know what reacts with him and what doesn't. If he doesn't comply, then like every turned specimen I have ever read about in the journals, he too is not long for this world."

Laurinitis turns to the tank. "Did you hear that, Gilbert?" he shouts. The figure doesn't move.

It can't possibly be that complicated. Vampires go about in regular life all the time. Although, rarely, it's true, and most don't make it to five years post-mortem, but there are nevertheless instincts. "Alright," says Arthur. "How can I help?"

"He hasn't eaten in nearly five days. Water appears to be neutral, albeit necessary, but he stopped drinking that two days ago. I'm very concerned he'll starve himself." Laurinitis pulls out a blood-filled pouch from his labcoat pocket and a Swiss army knife from the pocket of his trousers. "I can't go in there without him restrained. He almost certainly will attack me. And I don't know what drugs could sedate him without killing him. But you can hold him still for feeding."

"Very well." Arthur watches as Laurinitis worries a hole into the top of the pouch and then sticks a straw through like it's a fucking Capri-Sun fruit punch, and then he follows him through two secure doors that open like a submarine or vault.

Upon the opening of the second, Arthur casts his hands up and throws up a net to immobilise anything in the room. Basic telekinetics 101. Laurinitis is unperturbed. Only after Arthur does this does Laurinitis enter the glass tank.

"You're being foolish, Gilbert," warns Laurinitis. Gilbert - the small figure in the corner - doesn't move, although he is shaking. Arthur too is shaking with the effort to keep him steady, because he can feel it through their connection, through the air. Arthur's 'mental net' keeping Gilbert in the corner. He can feel the press and heave of Gilbert's chest as he breathes, frantic and terrified, nigh to hyperventilation. He smells blood. He smells the blood in the pouch, and he smells them.

Laurinitis turns to Arthur. "Can you turn him over?"

Arthur nods, and rearranges the invisible strings he has attached to Gilbert's body to pull him this way and that. As one, the body turns to them.

Gilbert's flesh is marble underneath his hospital gown, the kind of pale that comes of never going outside. Not as white as Arthur would have thought, but what does he know about vampires besides the single glimpses he's seen years ago. Gilbert's hair is a whitish grey, like it had been ash blond in life and desaturated upon death, and it's jagged and asymmetric - Arthur recognises a self-cut style when he sees it. His eyes, wide open, are the kind of unnatural bright red you see on fruit. His pupils have dilated, and his pulse is racing. His lips curl, revealing the long, white, sharp spears that are his incisors.

Arthur has no doubt that if he were not here to stop him, Gilbert would have pounced by now, both because he is starving and outside control and Laurinitis is literally walking food, and because he loathes Laurinitis openly with every fibre of his non-human being.

Please note that as Arthur's thinking this, Morgan herself is murmuring in his ear the addition that it would be karmically fitting to let him up. Lucky for Laurinitis, Arthur knows by now what a terrible influence Morgan is, for all that she's sponsored his unnatural gifts. He waves the fairy away.

Laurinitis leans closer - as far as he dares - and sticks the straw of the pouch in Gilbert's face. Gilbert pinches his thin lips shut tight and shakes his head.

"You have to eat something," says Laurinitis. "This is from a blood bank. It was donated. Look, there's nothing wrong with it."

Gilbert shakes his head again.

So Laurinitis turns to Arthur once more. "Force his mouth open," he says.

Gilbert's eyes already wide open draw wider still, and his glance shifts to Arthur. "Please, no," he rasps, and in that time Laurinitis has inserted the straw inside Gilbert's mouth, keeping it there with a firm grip on the back of Gilbert's head.

Yet Gilbert still does not drink. Arthur has never heard of this amount of willpower, but then again, Arthur has never been a vampire bent on starving himself.

"Force it into him," says Laurinitis. "Make him swallow."

Gilbert whimpers and his eyes beg Arthur as he shakes his head softly, the movement only perceptible through Arthur's telekinetic contact.

Arthur isn't paid enough for this. He does as he's told.

After the first swallow, where Arthur has to push the liquid to the back of Gilbert's throat and manually manipulate his epiglottis to force it down, Gilbert breaks. The contents of the pouch are gone in ten seconds. Somewhere in Gilbert's eyes between the obvious tension and relief is abject misery as he gasps around the straw.

"There's a good leech," says Laurinitis mildly. He stands. Gilbert remains on the floor, and shoves his fingers down his throat and coughs, trying to expectorate as much as he can, movements that Arthur allows out of pity, but it's no use.

Now that Arthur thinks of it... there is something much stronger where he would expect the cardiac sphincter to be. No wonder Gilbert can't cough or retch it up, this valve only really goes one way. Arthur can feel some strain on the muscles. The damage must have occurred when Laurinitis had to remove the animal blood from him. It came out, then, the way it got in.

They would have had to hire someone like Arthur for such a purpose. But the letter Laurinitis sent was dated Friday, too late for this. They must therefore have someone like Arthur on staff. Then why request Arthur here now?

There's more, as Arthur feels along, inside Gilbert's prostrate, hacking body on the floor below Laurinitis preparing a second bag. The stomach is huge. Differently shaped. If it is a stomach. And there's something attached to it, a strange lumpish hard form. Another on the other side, soft and spongey. Is that his liver? The kidneys are larger, and below them -

- below them, half his internal organs are either shrivelled or missing.

"Good god," says Arthur softly, and in that moment his control over Gilbert releases.

This is when Gilbert strikes. In a flash, faster than Arthur is, he's on his feet, his arms wrapped around Laurinitis. One has grabbed Laurinitis' Swiss army knife and holds it at Laurinitis' throat. He bares his teeth. Only then does Arthur reassemble his control over Gilbert to freeze him where he is.

Laurinitis, to his credit, just sighs. "This is what happens when you don't eat," he says. "When you first began doing this a week ago, it took at least half a second less time. You're slipping."

"You really aren't human," exclaims Arthur softly, still in disbelief.

Gilbert's eyes flick to Arthur, the only movement where he hovers, his mouth open, over Laurinitis' shoulder, looking every bit the monster he's become. He begins to tremble again and he looks like he might cry.

My, Arthur's really got a way with words, hasn't he?

Slowly, Arthur rearranges him to allow Laurinitis free. Laurinitis wrenches his Swiss army knife loose and continues with the blood bag. When he's finished and he's put a straw through, he holds it up to Gilbert's mouth.

This time, Gilbert accepts. As he drinks, his eyes brim, and a tear slips free.

"Yes, well, now you can resort to theatrics like that, now you've got spare water to waste," says Laurinitis archly, "after you've parched yourself with two days without drinking, hmm?" Gilbert shuts his eyes and the tears run silently down his cheeks.

Unlike Laurinitis, Arthur still has heartstrings.

But Arthur didn't sign on with the department he did to play therapist to suicidal vampires. This is all for Gilbert's own good, isn't it? They'll make him better. He'll learn to live with his new condition - he's adapted to two hundred years on this planet, he can surely adapt to this. And they'll get a little science out of it. The world will benefit from more information about vampires, both to handle those who are already affected and to be able to treat those who come into contact with them. Isn't that good?

Isn't that worth the life of one insignificant little bloodsucker? Isn't that worth the captivity of this non-human predator?

You can't do this, says Morgan the fairy.

Yes. She's that Morgan. And you might recall that, in the legends, Morgan was King Arthur's nemesis, after a fashion, so whether she has his best interests at heart is something Arthur always has to question. But this time, she's right.

"Look," Arthur says. "Might I speak to him alone?"

Laurinitis is affronted. "We found him first. He was our employee. He's our research," he says.

"Which could go more easily, if I could speak to him alone," Arthur adds.

Laurinitis' eyes narrow, and he gestures with a nod of his head for Arthur to follow him. Once outside, between the two submarine doors which form the airlock to the tank enclosure, he whispers, "Is there really something you can do to make him more obedient?"

Laurinitis must know about as much about people like Arthur as Arthur knows about people like Gilbert; which is to say, not very much. Perhaps it's not Laurinitis' department. Perhaps he thinks that when Arthur has the ability to physically control people's bodies with his powers, he extrapolates to Arthur controlling other people's minds with his powers.

Arthur is going to let him continue thinking this, because Arthur makes poor decisions when people cry at him. And that is exactly what this appears to him to be: an exceedingly poor decision.

He has fulfilled his duties - which couldn't be simpler - a straight cut-and-dry case of holding someone still for an injection, so to speak. Laurinitis would probably call him again because this was very effective for him. Arthur could be there, restrain Gilbert for whatever nefarious purposes Lithuanian Frankenstein wants, and be back in the time that his tea has steeped.

So there's really no need for Arthur to do anything more than that, and Arthur knows this well.

But if there's something that is lacking in Arthur's life, it's self-preservation, because he has allowed the mundanity of his daily routine to grind him so deeply that everything tastes like sawdust and looks like monochrome, except for those red-currant begging eyes.

It's only his first time being a protagonist. He shouldn't expect to be very good at it.

"Let me speak to him," says Arthur. "You've seen I can control him well enough to keep myself safe. If I can talk to him, and get some sort of sense out of him, because if he's been doing this I don't see that more of what you've been doing is really going to work -"

"Excuse me," says Laurinitis hotly.

"He'll find a way eventually," argues Arthur. "It's just a matter of time of slipping past your guard. If he wants to kill himself, he'll do it. And there will be nothing you can do. You can't force him to be alive forever. He knows that."

Laurinitis thinks about it.

"I don't care which is more imporant to you, keeping him alive, or getting good research," says Arthur. "But there's things that have been done on dead vampires. Much less has been done on live ones. Seems to me you only get novel research if you keep him alive. Unless the director has any others like him in his employ?"

"No," admits Laurinitis. "Even if he did - he wants this particular one alive, research or not."

"For how long?"

"For the forseeable future," says Laurinitis.

"Then? You've nothing to lose. Let me talk to him now, and if it goes well, I want you to start the process to liaise with my office for regular meetings."

Laurinitis is not happy about this. "I won't guarantee any authorship for you," he says primly.

"I'd like to see you try your hand at getting him to enthrall without me," says Arthur, which is about the only thing he knows for certain that people like Gilbert can do. "How well do you think that would go? You need my assistance. Because I don't know who you've got here who has talents like mine, but that man has internal bruising from their mistreatment. I don't need to be a doctor to know that's not good. Do you want him well or not?"

Laurinitis is even less happy about this. "Fine," he relents at last. "But I'm keeping the cameras on."

Arthur accepts with a nod. If Laurinitis didn't know about Gilbert's internal bruising, he surely has no idea that people like Arthur have the ability to shut cameras off.

Chapter Text

When Arthur steps back into the room, Gilbert is cowered at the corner again.

Arthur tries for polite. It normally works well on customer service agents and small children. "Hello," he says, with a bland smile, "my name's Arthur. I'm from -"

"Don't come any closer," warns Gilbert in a low, accented rasp, for Arthur has taken a step towards him. "That's quite far enough."

He swallows. "Can you control yourself?"

Gilbert shakes his head.

"I can help with that, if you'd like," Arthur offers. He extends a hand out, palm up, ready to pin Gilbert where he is from across the room if he needs to. "Like before."

Gilbert looks at his hand, then shakes his head again. "Just don't come any closer. Give me a minute."

"Alright," he says. He feels really awkward standing over him so he sits down, cross-legged.

For a moment, they don't speak. Arthur watches him, ready to hold him if he needs it. After awhile, Gilbert relaxes fractionally. "There," he says, slumping against the wall.

"What's happened?"

"Takes about ten minutes before what I eat has some effect. I'm good, I won't crazy rage your throat out."

Arthur glances over at Laurinitis who is busy writing this information down. "Why did you do that? Hold off on eating, for so long?"

Gilbert lifts a shoulder. "Dunno."

"You must have known it would make you uncontrollable."

"Didn't care," says Gilbert.

Didn't care about losing control? "Wanted to take him down with you, did you?" asks Arthur, referring to the doctor.

"I don't give a fuck about him," spits Gilbert. He straightens and says more loudly, turning to Laurinitis, "If I have to rot in hell, so can they!"

Laurinitis says nothing and continues writing.

"Asshole," mutters Gilbert. "You know, he's never liked me."

"The doctor?" Laurinitis said he hadn't worked with Gilbert much when he was alive.

"The director," says Gilbert. "Hates me. He only cares about making me suffer, he doesn't give a shit about research. If his darling doctor should get anything out of it, well! so much's the better! But as for me, he hopes it's painful agony." Gilbert lifts his eyes to Arthur's. "You'll tell them that, in your report, won't you?"

"Who?"

"The government. The people you work for. That's why they've sent someone, isn't it? Someone whistle-blew, someone let it leak that they've got someone like me here, captive. I knew there had to be a trail, because you have to opt-out of organ donation in Wales and they would've seen something when they filed the death certificate, someone would have asked, 'and where's our body?' Hah! Didn't know you bureaucrats cared."

They don't. Arthur is solely here at Laurinitis' behest.

He doesn't say so, but something in his silence makes Gilbert nervous.

"Then again... maybe I don't fall under human rights violations anymore," says Gilbert. "Do I?"

Arthur shakes his head.

"And I guess you can't get a guy like me a lawyer, huh?"

Again, Arthur shakes his head.

Gilbert explodes in rage. "Then what are you good for? Huh??" he snarls. "The fuck kind of bullshit taxpayer money scheisse waste is this? So you can come in, a-and document me, pin me to a table and open me up like a dissection? Don't you give a shit?" Gilbert points to Laurinitis. "That's what he wants to do! And he will! Because I've no fucking rights, I'm nothing to you people, aren't I," he screeches, "just a line on some form in some report to be filed away! You're all the same, all of you!"

"Not all of us," says Arthur, and calmly flicks his fingers Gilbert's way. The net is back, and it holds Gilbert up, pinned against the wall, his head pulled back. From here, Arthur can see the way the tendons of Gilbert's neck strain against the invisible force Arthur controls. Futility.

"Oh, s-sure," hisses Gilbert. "You're different. Like I couldn't smell it on you the second you walked in here, what you are, you're a -"

Arthur flicks his fingers again, and Gilbert's mouth snaps shut so fast he cuts his lip on his own fangs.

"Sorry," says Arthur blandly.

"Mmm mmmnh," says Gilbert. Arthur lets his grip loose and Gilbert slumps forward, rubbing his neck and jaw. "You're not," he says again.

Arthur watches the bead of blood well up at Gilbert's lower lip and grins. "I'm a little sorry," he says. He stands, pulls a tissue from his right trousers pocket and draws nearer to hand it him.

As Gilbert reaches up to accept it, their fingers touch, and their eyes meet, and something happens -

- the chrome sparse cleanliness of the glass tank, harsh lighting, Gilbert's wan body in his hueless hospital gown - everything drops away -

- and is replaced in a flash by an image, a feeling, warm sensual candlelight, Gilbert below him, golden and lively, his eyes like embers, as Arthur leans down and kisses the blood away from the corner of his plush mouth, takes the lower lip between his and sucks, the sharp flavour of iron flooding him, Gilbert's tongue upon his, he sighs, they sigh together -

Arthur gasps. A quick intake of breath, before he's clamped down on his emotions, and has rebuilt his stoicism. But it's long enough that Gilbert has noticed it. He snorts. "What's your problem? Thought you people knew how cold guys like me are." He dabs at his mouth with the tissue. "Don't exactly have a surplus of blood anymore."

That was enthralment. Blood contact with a vampire is one of the more insane things he's ever conceived of, well above and beyond the lunacy of ordinary intrusive thoughts, which Arthur has had before and can recognise. And anyway, he doesn't find Gilbert attractive - especially not now in this fluorescent light where his skin looks washed out and pallid and - well, dead.

Gilbert doesn't even seem to realise what he did.

Did Laurinitis see? But it doesn't seem so. Laurinitis is where he has been for the past ten minutes, scribbling frantically.

Arthur sits down, his back to Laurinitis, and with a flick of his wrist switches the cameras to static. Laurinitis won't find out until later. "Can they hear you? From the outside?"

"Sometimes," says Gilbert. "If you speak loud enough, he can."

Arthur crawls nearer until he is inches from Gilbert, and their knees are touching as they sit cross-legged. No enthralment, this time. Gilbert is too surprised that someone is in close proximity with him.

"Suppose I could do something for you," Arthur begins in a whisper. "Would you comply with what he wants? Even just for now?"

Gilbert's eyes widen in surprise. "Wh-what could you do, could you get me out of here?"

"I don't know," says Arthur honestly. But that enthralment of his absolutely needs to get under control. Or perhaps Arthur needs to find a way to make himself un-enthrallable. It doesn't matter. But he can't be taken advantage like that. "Look, it's pretty obvious you're not suicidal."

"It's pretty obvious I don't want to be experimented on," Gilbert retorts. "I don't care what I have to do to myself to get out of that."

"Even death?"

Gilbert doesn't flinch. "I've already lived so long, when I thought - when I thought I was dying, I was prepared. I've been prepared for decades, I've just been waiting."

"When you say when you thought you were dying, which time do you mean?"

"Last week. The only time I actually died," Gilbert snaps. "I didn't die when I was 24. Things just... changed, for me, that's all. I haven't been drinking blood for two hundred years. Is that what you people think?"

"But surely you thought you would die, when you were bitten."

Gilbert shakes his head. "I knew it didn't want to kill me," he says, and falls silent.

At the moment, Laurinitis is allowing this only because he thinks the feed on the room is recording. He can't see or hear what's being said between them, and he's taking the chance that Arthur is working on his side, to calm Gilbert down, because he hasn't much to lose in that respect. He won't interfere. But Arthur isn't certain how much longer he'll have before Laurinitis' patience runs out and he tries to listen in. It's crucial to keep Gilbert talking. "Well. If you wanted to stick it to the doctor or the director or both, you didn't have to starve yourself to do it. You could have just snapped their necks. You must have realised you're stronger than they are."

Gilbert shrugs. He doesn't look happy about it.

"You're the first person I've ever met who is ambivalent to having supernatural strength," says Arthur.

"You know a lot of those?" Gilbert almost looks hopeful. "Are there others like me?"

"Ah. That is..." Arthur hates to ruin it. "None exactly like you," he replies.

"Damn straight," says Gilbert.

"I mean they aren't vampires," says Arthur. Gilbert winces. Arthur's put his foot in it again and blushes, adding hotly, "What? If you've a better name to suggest, then please! Until then, that's the term for it."

Gilbert looks away entirely. Arthur gets the impression that if he were able to move he would, but he's literally backed himself into a corner. Arthur, sitting so close, isn't helping with that. Arthur isn't helping with a lot of things.

"You know," says Arthur, changing the topic, "the end... doesn't have to be the end. I knew an incubus once. He was never very religious, but - he found someone. And incubuses have the power to grant some very strange dreams. So he married a prophetess. They really worked, they were happy for years, they did pretty well for themselves."

Did we mention Arthur's a terrible liar? Arthur is lying out his fucking teeth.

"Oh, you mean David?" says Gilbert. "He was miserable. Hung himself thirty years ago."

And Gilbert can tell.

"If you're going to be such a ray of sunshine about it!" snaps Arthur, throwing up his hands. "Look. I won't pretend I understand your predicament. This is an upheaval, certainly!" That's an understatement. "But that's all! Just a change. I'm sure you've seen a few of those already. And even if most of you wants nothing more than to put a great big damper in other people's plans, surely you must realise that something needs to be done about who knows what in this field because no one seems to know anything."

"Yeah, sure," retorts Gilbert. "I've already got the eyes and hair of a lab rat, I don't feel like being one, thanks. I'll donate my dead body to science."

"Your body already is dead."

Gilbert's lip curls in his anger. "You know what I mean! If they want to cut me open, I don't want to be here for it!"

"No one's saying you have to get dissected! I'd settle for a quick q-&-a and some bloody therapy! They don't even know what to feed you! Can you go out in the sunlight? Is all your body hair white? Have you got a reflection? Did you even know this would happen to you or was it one helluva nasty surprise when -"

"Yeah, I fucking knew," says Gilbert.

"Oh," says Arthur, deflating. "Well. See, that's. More than I would have known," he finishes awkwardly. "Thought rather that those that got bit but didn't turn lived out normal lives."

"I did live a normal life."

"It lasted over two hundred years."

"That's," Gilbert huffs. "Kind of normal?"

Arthur can't help a small grin.

"I just never thought it'd really happen," Gilbert continues. "Sometimes it was like some strange dream-image I had. Being bitten never felt real. I never had a scar or mark. Even when sixty rolled around and I was still so young and healthy, I thought I just -" He sighs. "I don't know what I thought. Maybe that something would happen. But I knew it was borrowed time."

"Until?"

"Until I died. Something would kill me. Sooner or later."

"I'm surprised it wasn't sooner. How many wars have you lived through?"

"Eh," says Gilbert, "the army took care of me. They knew what I was, they knew how to handle me. They didn't want what I'd become, after death. They made sure I wasn't around the most dangerous spots." He swallows, fidgeting uncomfortably. "It was the bite, that did it," he confesses.

He peers past Arthur's shoulder and spots Laurinitis. "Still there," Gilbert grumbles. "I'll tell him - eventually - but he has to work for it. You still got the cameras off?"

"You could tell?" That's dangerous.

"Mm. Felt it crackle." Gilbert lowers his voice, so Arthur has to lean in to hear. This is yet more dangerous, because they both know the cameras are off, Laurinitis is too far away to be of any assistance, and Gilbert has just revealed he knows when Arthur's using the tricks up his sleeves.

But, lord help him, he's curious.

"When I got bit," Gilbert explains, "it had me in some ... some kinda trance. I didn't understand. It felt like a dream, like it wasn't real. I met others who got bit, they all thought it was a dream too. Lots had that kind of dream - others just woke up one day and noticed the scabs on their neck or wrist. The dreams were just like mine, and I thought, they can't all be just dreams. But I was the only one who changed. They kept their hair, their eyes, their lives. You're right - those that get bit and don't turn live out normal lives. Me too. I didn't turn until after I died."

"What do you remember of the bite?" Arthur asks.

Gilbert's blushing now. Arthur's surprised he has enough blood for that. "Y'know, the details aren't really important," he says, "a-and, uh, I don't really remember, after all this time, but the thing is, when they found me there was no puncture wound, at my throat. The others who had dreams, had scars.

"Not me. Only my throat was clean. Only in my dream was it interrupted from finishing me off. Only in my dream did it slice its own thumb open and smear its blood on my throat, where it bit me, so that it wasn't clear what had happened, and they'd waste time trying to save me, thinking I hadn't been touched. Time that it could use to get away." He narrows his eyes, thinking. "It's what I'd do," he supposes.

"And it wasn't long after that my hair started greying. Well, that's more or less normal. Lots of people go white-haired after traumatic events! The eyes were something else. They weren't as bright as they are now, though. Only in the right light were they actually red, they still looked their normal brown when it was dark out. And my teeth - ehh, I just stopped smiling so much."

"You think the blood contact is what changed you," says Arthur.

"But I wasn't fully changed. The fangs and the hair and the eyes and the never dying is one thing, I was still normal. I ate food, drank beer, didn't need to drink blood. Still human. Just really long-lived. Really good-looking for my age. It's what it said to me. If I stay alive, I can be food, I'm useful; if I die, I'm competition. My wife had heard stories too. Back in the 1800s - people were more superstitious. Less scientific. She heard that after this life, you're damned. That it won't touch you until you die. But after you die... you belong to the night." He grows grim. "If I'd died back then... ah, the things they would've done to my body, to keep me from coming back."

It makes sense. For all that it's a theory based on a single data point, of Gilbert himself.

There must be more people like Gilbert. The number of times Arthur alone has caught someone post-feed, enthraled into an unresponsive state, the perpetrator having up and left. Enough to realise that there had to be some sort of anti-coagulant for the ones still bleeding freely an hour after the attack, which has been just about the only scientific thing they've ever learnt about vampires.

Were all of them still bleeding? Had all of them had puncture wounds? Did any of them partially turn? Have any of those people since died? He can't recall.

If there were any follow-ups on the victims, Arthur has never gotten those folders. Arthur has never asked those questions.

Does this truly make him so terrible a person? He was just doing his job!

Well, perhaps so is Laurinitis.

"If you belong to the night," says Arthur, "then you still belong to this world. The night belongs to this world."

"Hey, never said I didn't," says Gilbert, but the way he worries his lower lip with his teeth belies his reasoning. With those fangs, he can't bite his lip properly like humans do, and settles instead for poking the incisor into the lower bottom lip and toying with this singular pressure point.

"What I mean is, there's nothing ultimately so unnatural about this. Is there anything unnatural about me? If there isn't, then why ought there be anything unnatural about you?"

"I didn't say there was," says Gilbert churlishly.

"Yeah, well," says Arthur. He gets to his feet. "You didn't have to." As he turns to leave he catches Laurinitis' eye, and motions toward the door to be let out. Laurinitis scrambles from his seat at the desk to meet him there.

"A-are you coming back?" asks Gilbert.

Arthur turns. "Oh? Sure it's not - what did you call it? A waste of taxpayer money? Wouldn't want you to feel like you're enjoying state benefits and living on the dole," he says.

Gilbert smirks. "Maybe I could make it worth your while," he says. "You know I'm worth millions in terms of research. Help me get out of here, and I'd work with you."

"Comply with him out there first, and we'll see what we can do," asks Arthur. "Alright?"

For a moment, Gilbert says nothing. He looks at his feet. "You know, David hung himself thirty years ago. You don't look old enough to have known him. Not even close."

It's barely even a try, as far as blackmail attempts go.

Arthur is far too embarrassed to ever tell anybody this, so we will. He once spent an entire afternoon standing in front of a mirror practicing his cryptic smile until he had memorised the way his facial muscles felt. This smile is at once smug, secretive, knowing and delicately flirtatious. This is the smile he's using now.

"Come back," begs Gilbert.

Obviously, it works.

This time Arthur can feel the tickle on the periphery of his senses, tugging him into a daymare of a dream. Something like a thrall, but not as strong as the last one was. It doesn't matter how strong it isn't, Gilbert is alluring enough on his own, desperate and tragic and alone in the corner. He's doing his best to play every dirty trick at his disposal - even the ones he doesn't know about - to win Arthur back to him.

Arthur has to figure out how he's doing that. Reluctantly he breaks eye contact.

"I guess that depends on you, how much you'd like to see of me," says Arthur. "If you act out, he'll call me back to restrain you again. If you do as Laurinitis says, my department will liaise with him for regular meetings. It's your choice."

Laurinitis isn't happy to hear about the deal he's made with Gilbert.

"You can take it up with my superiors," says Arthur, "who won't be excited to learn you've a captive you're experimenting upon."

"That's of no concern of theirs," sniffs Laurinitis, "if they cared so greatly they would have published their research by now instead of withholding it from institutes such as ours. They're the only reason we have to repeat experiments on beings like him."

"Nevertheless," says Arthur primly. It's the first he's heard of such research in his own department or even throughout the whole ministry, but he tries to play it off like he isn't surprised.

If he doesn't receive the file, then he doesn't know about it. That's the way his job works. This has never bothered him before.

What more do his superiors know about people like Gilbert? Did they know he couldn't ingest animal blood? Did they know he would spend his entire prolonged life with an undead afterlife looming ahead, to greet him the moment he died?

"I'd like to see him again, if I can," says Arthur. "If he asks for it, then call me in. Who knows," he adds, "I might have something for you to look at."

All of this is so subjective. If he can get these files. If there are files. If his superiors will tell him what's already been studied. If Gilbert asks for him. If Laurinitis bothers to honour such a request. If.

"I don't see what good you did," snorts Laurinitis.

Arthur claps a hand on his shoulder. Firmer than he was expecting. Laurinitis is stronger than he lets on. Arthur keeps the shoulder squeeze friendly. "He'll behave for you so long as you're not planning on cutting him open and poking at his innards."

"I would never! What sort of scientist do you take me for?" asks Laurinitis. "There are far more effective diagnostic tools."

Arthur raises an eyebrow. "I'm in at nine tomorrow," he says.

Chapter Text

It's 5:30 when Arthur returns to his office. Most people are starting to pack up and head home. Arthur would do the same but he has no life and generally works until 8:30 most nights. He heads back to his desk and writes a preliminary report to be filed in the folder.

It says exactly what it should: that Mr Beilschmidt has a new life, that Arthur recommends he be released any pertinent records of vampirism and first-hand accounts that might help Mr Beilschmidt adjust to this new life without further emotional trauma. Arthur adds that he hopes he can count on the support of his superiors, and that he hopes he will be invited back to the Van Helsing Institute at their earliest convenience in order to assist with their week-old bicentenarian.

He adds the recommendation that VHI and his department begin coordinating efforts - both that his department should release reference materials to VHI, but also that VHI should return the favour. If he doesn't add such a line in, he has no doubts that Laurinitis will keep everything he can from Arthur because he thinks Arthur wants to scoop him in his research.

Allow us to be more generous where Arthur is not - Arthur doesn't know that this kind of paranoia has served Dr Laurinitis well in his career in terms of advancement. Arthur doesn't know his story, nor does he really care. Put simply, rather than hate the player, Arthur should hate the game. It's unclear to us whether Arthur would accept this level of ambition in one of his compatriots, but dislikes it in Laurinitis since he is foreign, because Arthur is never really in the business of making friends. That's just our opinion.

Arthur hits print, and then gets up to go to the printer room to retrieve it. Once that is finished, he returns to his desk, punches holes in the report and threads his report onto the prongs of the folder. He secures the prongs, then closes the file, and then he brings the file folder to the depository, where -

- here he stops.

He can't explain the moment's hesitation.

He looks at the folder. Plain, brown, ordinary.

- he shoves the folder through.

Morgan perches on his shoulder.

Tell me that's not the last I'll see of them, he begs her, in a rare moment of candour.

But before Morgan can reply, Arthur turns around. Another worker is behind him with a folder in hand. Evidently finishing his case. This worker Arthur recognises - for a scant moment there is a flash of recognition between them - this is the Romanian fellow Arthur's worked with before.

His eyes are red. Arthur has never noticed that before. But his hair isn't white - it's something of a mouse brown.

Arthur realises he's standing in front of the deposit box slot, staring at his coworker. "Ah - sorry," he mumbles, and steps aside, so that the Romanian can finish his case.

The Romanian's nostrils flare as he passes Arthur to shove his own folder inside the box. "Mint tea," he says.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Breathe in the steam. It'll help clear your mind. Post-enthralment."

Arthur stares at him. "How - did you -"

"Just a tip," says the Romanian, and gives him an easy smile.

His teeth.

"You are one," says Arthur in an awed hush.

"Not yet," says the Romanian.

"When you die."

"That's the idea."

"How'd - you - but your hair -"

"Garlic hot oil treatment on the scalp. Once a month. Smelly, but it keeps the colour. Wouldn't recommend trying it after death, though, it might make the hair fall out."

Arthur spends a solid ten seconds gawking at his coworker in a completely new light, in what must be a very awkward silence. But he's too shocked. He can hardly believe he has worked an entire case with this fellow and never put it together. We believe it. At last he stutters out, "D-do you, maybe. Might you have any other tips?"

"For your boyfriend?"

If Arthur was stuttering before, he's now rendered apoplectic. "H-he's not, I just -"

The Romanian smirks. "Well, he sure is awfully forward, to be so friendly!"

"He has no idea what he's doing," grits out Arthur. "He didn't - come on to me, or at least, he didn't mean to." Arthur is now red-faced, warm-cheeked and whispering, because this is not the way he wants his work conversations, seldom as they are, to go.

His Romanian coworker stops and thinks a moment. "He's new, then," he realises. He thinks another moment, and then says, "You maybe want some information?"

"Oh, please," exhales Arthur in a rush. "Anything you've got. I feel so completely lost."

The Romanian nods. "Cool. I'll send you something," and leaves.

When Arthur returns to his desk there is a hardcover book in his in-tray, leather bound. It's a quite handsome tome. It's stamped on the cover - Universitatea Babeș-Bolyai, Ph.D - but the title is in English: Interview with a Vampire. His Romanian coworker has an awful sense of humour.

It strikes Arthur however as odd. This is the first time anyone has gone out of their way to do something nice for him, to offer assistance. Arthur has been working here a very long time.

Arthur doesn't count him a friend, but...

It was rather nice of Mircea.

Which is his actual name, which Arthur should probably start using instead of referring to him as 'the Romanian' like the tool Arthur is.

--

Arthur brings Mircea's thesis home and spends practically the entire night reading it. Here is what he finds:

In his first year, Gilbert's system should be able to tolerate tea, if it's made of fresh leaves and doesn't get a lot of sediment in it. Distilled spirits too. So he could have anything as fancy as gin and tonic, if the tonic were properly medicinal and contained no sugar. Minute quantities of sediment are fine, but sugar and oils have to be kept at a strict minimum. No wine. No beer.

This particular vampire that Mircea describes finds fresh blood, sucked from a human wound, far tastier than anything that comes from a bag.

But nothing tastes like it did. And nothing tastes so good as blood, which is the only thing that this vampire thinks tastes like anything not sawdust.

There's more.

Mircea's vampire contact was just over sixty years old when he was hit by a car and turned, which was forty years before Mircea began research on him, which was twenty years ago.

And because there is a documented lack of ethics where beings such as Mircea's research subject are concerned, there are other ... logistic concerns.

Such as, Mircea almost certainly paid him in his own blood. Arthur contemplates offering up his own veins to Gilbert's mouth and isn't sure about the way his stomach twists at the thought. Part of it is alluring. He should go make some more tea. Inhale the fumes, clear his head.

While Mircea was not bitten by the vampire he spent three years interviewing, the relationship that Mircea had with this other vampire was - from the text - likely not platonic.

Perhaps one can't be so close to a vampire without it devolving into a relationship.

A lot of this must have to do with the enthralment, the experience of which - as Arthur had suspected based on how Mircea smelled its result on Arthur - is rooted in sex pheromones. Everything Mircea describes in the thesis alludes to the same. Theoretically, that means there ought to be a mechanism to turn it off, or prevent it. Don't touch him. Wear noseplugs. Bring overbearing cologne. Anything.

Mircea's thesis says little about it, however. Just that the experience of enthralment greatly heightened sexual encounters. A single sentence, but it's more than he wanted to know. No wonder Mircea thought they were boyfriends.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Arthur returns to work to find a case already waiting for him in his inbox.

His heart starts to beat faster and faster and he doesn't realise his fingertips are tingling until they make contact with the folder to open it and -

- And it's not the folder from yesterday. No mention of Gilbert. Laurinitis' letter is not present. This is an entirely different case.

Arthur checks the time. 9:02.

He sinks down into his chair. Work is work, he should accept this, he must accept this, he has no reason not to.

With a heavy heart he hops to it.

This file is uninteresting and unfulfilling. This file is depressing, because it reminds him what people are - like he really needed the reminder. It's the case of a young girl in Scotland who has finally commented to another that she has for months now felt eyes on the back of her head, a soft touch to her hair, someone watching her.

Well, someone is watching her. They have already seen this case once before, because this file keeps a record of its examination. The perpetrator is someone like Arthur, who rather than work for a living has elected to use his gifts to watch young women when they think they are alone.

Someone will have to prepare another reprimand to Mr Jacobson again not to pause off-scene and watch people through the curtains, less because it's impolite and more because it's dangerous - we don't want ordinary folk like Miss MacKenna to find us - and that someone is Arthur. He begins drafting this letter based on his previous letter to Mr Jacobson, which has apparently gone unheeded. He adds a warning that should Mr Jacobson ignore this letter, they will have to interfere.

He'll probably finish this by ten, and be finished with the file entirely by 10:15. And then they will send him a new file that is not Gilbert, and he will work on that one until he has finished. And then he will receive yet another that is not Gilbert, and the one after that not Gilbert, and none of them will be nearly as interesting or as fascinating. And he will never be able to forget Gilbert's eyes welling with tears as he silently begs to let himself be killed before the scientist he hates or fears or both does the job for him, Gilbert curled into the corner, cold and alone in an empty terrarium of a room, Gilbert's fingers on him pulling him into the most vivid erotic dream he's ever had, the most intense sensations he's never felt with another person, all fabricated in his mind - imagine how it could be, how it would feel if it occurred in reality, at once a promise -

And a warning. He should keep his distance. He should keep himself closed off. He should not care so much.

Maybe it's all for the better that he'll never see him again.

He'll go make some mint tea. It must be the enthralment. Clearly the effects still linger on him.

It can't be his latent capacity for obsession. This carefully crafted unfulfilling boring life he has created, to wall himself in and erase how unhealthily infatuated he can get.

He has to keep himself under control.

But then at 9:44 a second file pops into his in-tray. This is uncharacteristic. He has not finished with the first one.

On the heels of the first, two more materialise. It makes Arthur jump in his chair. He scoots backward, like the files are infectious. At last a final file appears on top of the other three. The final file, he knows; he sent it off last night.

This one he picks up first.

There are now eight items in Gilbert's file - four more than he was expecting. Two death certificates. One letter from Laurinitis to Arthur. Arthur's report. These he remembers. Then:

A second letter from Arthur's superiors to the Van Helsing Institute to politely request (it's no request, we outrank the VHI and they know this) that Arthur be granted separate study time at the VHI and that any research he assists in with the VHI will be duly compensated for.

A form declaring the temporary loan of a consultant like Arthur to the VHI for morning research, with his afternoons returned to the office in order to work on supplementary files outside of the VHI case.

A contract from Arthur's superiors to investigate a list of items in vampire psychology and physiology (among them, Arthur notes, is enthralment).

Another letter from the director of the VHI requesting a meeting with Arthur for ten am that morning about the nature of Arthur's research.

The time is now 9:47.

Arthur signs the papers where his signature is required without even reading them. Then he writes the messiest, sloppiest report he has ever written in his employ (which spans a good amount more years than Arthur appears to have under his belt) which is that he accepts, on the condition that Gilbert be treated with the proper ethical considerations as befitting someone of his condition based on Arthur's previous report (physiologically non-human, but psychologically human, if a little depressed), and that such a case, once opened, should be handled by one of Arthur's colleages (he recommends Mircea), as he will be busy enough with research without having to deal the law side of things.

He prints this report off, files it in Gilbert's main file, sends it off to his superiors, packs the other files in his bag and leaves, racing behind the curtains to make his appointment with Łukasiewicz.

--

Arthur steps past the curtain onto the Van Helsing Institute stage at 10:03. He finds the directory in the front hall beside a bulletin board, which tells him where the director's office is, and proceeds to it as quick as possible. This takes him a further four minutes.

The door is open, but Arthur knocks anyway. The smartly-dressed centre-parted jaw-length-sliced head of blond hair is presumably a man with a face but he doesn't look up to show it to Arthur. "You're late," is all he says.

The nameplate says Dr Feliks Łukasiewicz.

Arthur is immediately ticked off.

Don't say anything nasty, says Morgan.

I'm not going to, I'm not an idiot.

"I only received the notice that there would be such a meeting ten minutes ago," is what Arthur says instead.

"Mm. I could care less how your department works." It's couldn't care less, goodness, what are they teaching in ESOL? Arthur, no, you can't say that. Well, he should be delighted, he's making less mistakes than I'd have thought. Arthur, please stop, for all you know he was born in Surrey. "It's not my concern if somewhere along your chain of command, the messages get waylaid. Although I'll admit to finding it pathetic how the tax dollars must be wasted to accommodate the inefficiency. It is my concern when I waste valuable time waiting for an external consultant that I have been mandated to approve." Only now does Łukasiewicz look up. His eyes are jaded in both senses of the word. "I already don't like you," he concludes. "Don't give me reasons."

Arthur throws his hands up. He doesn't know what he's done, but it's clearly something. Maybe the Pole just doesn't like his face, or the fact that he has to deal with Arthur who's interfering in what he considers a domestic issue, but either way, he's unhappy he has to deal with Arthur. Well, the feeling's mutual.

"Alright," he says, trying for appeasing. He doesn't want to fight so early in the morning, though it rankles him to apologise for something he hasn't done to someone he doesn't like. "Look. I - I'm quite sorry. I was late. My mistake. Won't happen again," he says. "Probably," he adds upon reflection, knowing the department.

"It certainly won't happen again," corrects Łukasiewicz, "or I will request a new consultant."

He's a prick, says Arthur.

He's just used to having to fight for everything because people will walk all over him if he doesn't, explains Morgan. It's not your fault that his default setting has been set to combative. Just try not to give him any reasons and show him that you're not an enemy.

"Yeah? Go for it," he says aloud. "Just be certain you file the extra paperwork as you'll need to cite a reason to terminate me in order to licence another consultant. The precedent tells me punctuality won't be enough, since it hasn't been in the past."

You never listen to me, says Morgan.

Look, if he knows how badly I want to meet with Gilbert, he'll have something to hold against me. I won't let someone like him have me by the balls.

A-ha, she crows, so you do like Gilbert!

"I didn't mean it like that!"

"Excuse me?" asks Łukasiewicz coldly.

"Ah," says Arthur. "Nothing. Will we be continuing this meeting, or should I depart?"

Łukasiewicz glares. "You can sit."

Arthur does so. "I take it you received correspondence from my department?" Maybe that's what he's upset about.

Łukasiewicz holds up a folder. On the tab it's labelled 'Kirkland-A-001'. It's plain and brown and looks exactly like the folders they have at Arthur's workplace. Łukasiewicz flips it open.

"It seems your superiors want some time with my research patient," he says.

"Yes, that's so," says Arthur neutrally.

"Well. I have no choice but to comply, so it looks as though that's what I'll do," says Łukasiewicz archly. "However, this institute has its policies and terms as delineated in our strategic framework which you must follow. You'll discuss what projects you have with me beforehand, and they are to be cleared by me before you embark upon them, they will be supervised, and if I deem it necessary I have the right to post one of my people to accompany you in your research."

Absolutely not. "We may have sensitive projects that we don't want to involve VHI in," explains Arthur. "Material that isn't for your concern. This institute is on a need-to-know basis and you may not need to know. It might be better for your own safety and the security of the VHI that you don't know."

"Mr Beilschmidt is an employee of mine, and as such, this workplace is responsible for his well-being. If there's such material that is sensitive enough that you cannot confide in us at a professional level, then we regard it as sensitive enough that it could compromise the health and safety of Mr Beilschmidt. I will not tolerate such projects to go forward."

"Because you want him kept alive for your own benefit," Arthur adds, with no little amount of nastiness in his tone of voice.

"What kind of director do you think I am? Do you think I condone the harm of my employees? I have worked here for seven years now, to the surprise of many and anger of some, especially those aren't exactly excited that a foreign national should be appointed to a position of such accolade - oh, don't look so surprised, Mr Kirkland! You've got to know your fellow Britons aren't the most welcoming bunch when it comes to the Migrant Worker! - and in those seven years this is the first death of an employee that I have had to deal with. I consider myself lucky that it wasn't permanent. Should it have been, I would have been asked to step down."

"Ah. So you keep him alive to save your own arse," Arthur concludes.

Łukasiewicz's lips pinch together tightly. That's not the whole story. But it's clear Łukasiewicz doesn't want to say anything more.

Arthur sighs. "We don't have to like each other to work with one another. We just have to have some trust. My department has no intention of allowing harm to come to your employees - any of them," he says. "As I said to your Dr Laurinitis yesterday, nothing novel would be learnt from him if he were dead.

"You'll sign an affidavit attesting to that," says Łukasiewicz. "Before you begin any research of yours. One hair on his head gets pulled out, I will sic the workplace safety board upon you and that will be reason plenty to request a new consultant."

He's right about that. Arthur nods once, trying to be patient. "I'll do that," he says, "as long as you cooperate with our department with what they might need from you."

"And what might that be?"

This will be the worst part. "I've submitted a recommendation that you comply with ethical considerations pertaining to his treatment as a research subject, and that an inspection be conducted forthwith."

Łukasiewicz has spent the majority of this time looking upset. Now his face morphoses into enraged and offended. He folds his arms over his chest but Arthur stands firm.

"Are you implying I'm abusing his trust?" Łukasiewicz thunders. "He signed the contracts for his service to me! He came to the VHI because I came here!"

And did he sign away his basic rights post-mortem as well? "You'll give a copy of his contract to the consultant we're sending over for ethics, as well as anything else he's signed while in your employ."

"I'll do no such thing," says Łukasiewicz hotly. "That's restricted information. Gilbert was involved in some highly sensitive data collection as described on the contract. We have already complied with regulations governing this - I have the audits to prove it -"

"You can have someone redact what you will," says Arthur. "God knows we've someone who works in access to information who applies the black marker everywhere she likes. Remove what you need in terms of the content of the job, but all legal logistic terms of forms as they were signed are to be sent to our office when they ask, because they will ask."

"If you interrupt me once more, I will throw you out, government oversight or not," says Łukasiewicz, deadly even. "You do not disrespect me."

Arthur swallows. "I apologise," he says through gritted teeth.

"I don't know what you expect to find. Much of the contract will have to be redacted," says Łukasiewicz.

"Don't redact too much," warns Arthur, "or we'll file a warrant for the original."

Łukasiewicz's lips press together once again. "Is there anything else I might so kindly provide?" he snaps, seething. "You know I so love to be considered a useful asset to friendly neighbourhood occult management whenever they come calling. How about some bank statements? Tax accounts? We're totally committed to transparency."

"I really don't care if you embezzle money," Arthur retorts, "I just care for Gilbert's well-being -"

Łukasiewicz slams his clenched fist on the desk. Too far, Arthur. "I knew it," he spits. "He has these ways now, we've already had a few incidents. You've been compromised! I'm filing a request for a different consultant."

He can do no such thing!

Arthur stops Łukasiewicz's hand telekinetically, freezing it mid-air as it reaches for the phone. He flicks his fingers, and Łukasiewicz's arm goes flying in a wide arc, wrenching his shoulder back with the force.

Is it clear yet that Arthur really likes doing this with his gifts? Morgan enables him. If he had chosen Hecate as patron she wouldn't let him get away with this little shit behaviour.

"Incidents, you say?" Arthur asks.

Łukasiewicz grumbles, rolling his shoulder and rubbing the ball of it.

If you want him to trust you, you'll have to tell him about enthralment, says Morgan.

I don't have to tell him a single damn thing about what we plan to investigate!

Then be clearer in what you mean when you say you care for his well-being! Arthur, you can't slip up like that again.

This is why I keep myself under control, he grumbles. I am compromised. I should let him call someone else.

I didn't say that. Go close yourself off again if you absolutely must - although you know I don't support these little idiosyncrasies, this fixation against fixation, it's so unhealthy - but it'll all be easier if Łukasiewicz trusts you. And if he doesn't, Morgan adds nastily, you don't get to see your Gilbert. Is that what you want?

"I would be interested in seeing these incidents for our first research project," Arthur says at last. He grimaces, mostly for show, acting as though he's giving something up unnecessarily instead of as a carefully crafted move. "Are you familiar with the term enthralment, as it applies to vampires?" he asks.

"No," replies Łukasiewicz.

"Vampires have an ability to spell-bind their prey, immobilising them. It lets them feed in relative security and silence and induces some form of trance in the party being feeded from. I have reason to believe it's a chemical signal they release, like a pheromone, although where such a scent gland would exist on the body, I'm not sure - I'd need to speak to Laurinitis."

"Once the project is cleared," reminds Łukasiewicz. "And not before."

"Of course," Arthur says smoothly. "I have reason to believe Gilbert is already capable of this. I would argue it therefore of paramount security for all people working with him - including your doctor Laurinitis - to be advised of this and to take appropriate precautions. If precautions are even possible! Hence the research. Now, I understand that Gilbert is trusted to a level that means people don't think he will use his new skills - such as this - to do something so evil as turn on his handlers in an instant and feed upon them - you've rather trusted or perhaps elsewhere ensured through legalities that he will be cooperative and submit. But at the moment, that is a moot point because I don't think he even knows what he's doing. Does this explain your incidents?"

Łukasiewicz appears uncomfortable. "It might," he replies.

"So when I say I care for his well-being, that's what I mean, and no more," Arthur lies. "I care also for my own. Enthralment is not like my magic. I don't believe -" in fact, he knows it for certain - "that enthralment would be something I could defend myself with using my usual weapons. Laurinitis won't be able to simply call me over and have Gilbert restrained whenever he wants."

Besides, there's another issue. "You trust that Gilbert will cooperate because he was an employee here, because these people know him," Arthur continues. "He is no employee of my department and we have no such trust in him, unless you act with us to forge it. Should anything happen that requires us to intervene at a level greater than the one at which we are already intervening, they would give him no quarter."

Łukasiewicz is quiet. "I misinterpreted the nature of your concern for him," he says, and while it's not an apology, he is sincere about it.

"Thank you," murmurs Arthur. "As you can see, I've nothing to worry about, with a physical attack, no matter how strong. But someone being able to exert some sort of mind-control upon me is worrisome. So I'll admit freely I'm partial to a case like this, for this reason. It would distress me to know that I could be so compromised, while I was waiting for another consultant to do work that I myself could have done."

There, that sounds good. Łukasiewicz relaxes in his chair. "Of course," he says.

"Is there anything else you wanted to discuss with me?"

Łukasiewicz shakes his head. "That's all for now. I look forward to meeting your ethics person, especially if they're not late."

"The pencils get pushed when they get pushed, I make no guarantees," says Arthur.

Łukasiewicz is unsatisfied, but says nothing more about it. "Laurinitis wants to see you. He's in the great lab, on the second sublevel. He'll take you down to see Gilbert."

Arthur narrows his eyes. "I thought I wasn't allowed to begin work."

"Your department wants you here every day from nine until noon effective immediately. Until we finish the paperwork we need, you'll have to find other ways to make yourself useful. For the moment, you can serve in assisting capacity to Dr Laurinitis."

"I'm not an assistant," says Arthur hotly.

"I bet Dr Laurinitis will be about as happy as you are," says Łukasiewicz. "His preferred team of assistants includes medical practitioners, not trick magicians. See my secretary about paperwork for an ID badge. And in the future? Please use the front door." Łukasiewicz looks him over once more. "You're dismissed."

Chapter Text

Łukasiewicz's secretary gets him set up with everything, and in twenty minutes Arthur walks out with an ugly picture stamped on an ID card with accompanying key fob and a little post-it note with all the door codes he'll need. He is told that the lab where Laurinitis practically lives is on the second sub-level but not how to get to the second sub-level, so he wanders around until he finds a fire escape and a way in to the stairwell. The landings are unmarked, but his fob only opens so many doors.

There he comes upon Laurinitis, bent over what appears to be MRI scans of a brain. Nothing appears out of the ordinary to Arthur's untrained eye but they're marked G.B. so he's certain there's something funny at work.

"What are you working on now?" Arthur speaks up at last.

Laurinitis jumps a mile in his seat and hides the MRI scans under other papers. "Th-that's none of your business," he snaps.

"I could perhaps help."

"I highly doubt it," Laurinitis says.

Arthur rolls his eyes. If he is going to play this game all the time... "Look, do you want assistance or not? I've nothing to do here."

"That's not my problem. In the future you should to bring something to work on." Laurinitis returns to the pages that are covering Gilbert's brain scans, and begins to fidget, working covertly and switching computer windows when he thinks Arthur isn't looking.

To be fair, Arthur does have something to work on. He pulls out the three files he brought from his bag and sets to work across from Laurinitis. Laurinitis sits with his back to Gilbert which means Arthur faces him, and steals glances at Gilbert from over Laurinitis' hunched shoulders. Inside the cell, Gilbert is doing stomach crunches. His form is excellent and he doesn't appear to be exerting himself much. Arthur can only imagine what his physique must look like beneath his clothes.

He really should focus on his work.

Łukasiewicz pops by not long later. He and Laurinitis discuss something in what Arthur thinks is a funny, rabbity language with a lot of shushes and weird vowels with a snobby tonality that makes it sound like they're constantly complaining.

For god's sakes, they live in England, they ought to speak English, he says.

Morgan ignores him, and rightly so, because Arthur's only annoyed that he doesn't know what they're talking about, even though he has no reason to be, because she can translate. The blond one is asking why he doesn't want an assistant, she says. The brunette just said he doesn't want some government shill as his assistant, because you don't know a pipette from a petri dish. In case you wanted to stop being a jackass and maybe jump in.

A fine idea. "Actually I did some biology modules at Uni," pipes up Arthur, "so that's not quite true."

Laurinitis sours. Łukasiewicz frowns.

"He just doesn't want me working on whatever nefarious thing he's doing with Mr Beilschmidt's MRI results," Arthur adds. "I might not know the fellow as well as you who've worked with him, but after twenty minutes speaking to him, I can venture a guess as to what's on his mind if you're really that concerned -"

"Toris!" Łukasiewicz scolds.

"Wha- what? I just -"

"You're not supposed to work on that!" Łukasiewicz sounds angry, and Laurinitis is a pouting child. Arthur can't help a grin.

"I - but - come on, Feliks!" Laurinitis is trying reason. "I-it's arguably the most interesting part of this project, the hours between life and death and reanimated life!" Laurinitis pulls out one of the scan pages. "L-look, here, see, there's this structure that appears to have functioned in a blood-storage and regulation capacity with uptake for oxygen - to say nothing of potential plasticity effects if there's neuronal tissue -"

But Łukasiewicz is shaking his head. "I vetoed that on, like, Friday. My answer was non-negociable then and it's non-negociable now."

"I-is it the money? This project alone would make you millions in grants, you could afford ten of me!"

"Which are worth nothing to me if he dies so get to work on his gastrointestinal system because those ultrasound pictures you showed me do not convince me that you totally understand what's going on in there!"

Behind them there is some yelling and pounding on the glass. They look over as one to where Gilbert has stood and shouts at them from within with his hands cupped around his mouth. "Hey, how about you find out whether I have an immune system? So I can maybe stop living in this fishbowl?"

"Actually, that's not a bad idea either," says Laurinitis.

"Don't listen to him," Łukasiewicz snaps. "You'll work on what I tell you to work on. I say it's gastrointestinal so you will fix his goddamn stomach. Is that understood?"

"Yes sir, Dr Łukasiewicz, sir," Laurinitis mumbles.

"Oh for god's sake's, Toris." Łukasiewicz flounces off out of the lab.

"Is he always like that?" asks Arthur.

"Who, Beilschmidt?"

Arthur snorts. "No, the drama queen."

"Beilschmidt is also a drama queen," sighs Laurinitis. "Feliks warms up when you get to know him."

"I have no intention of getting to know him," Arthur replies.

"Then that's something you have to deal with," Laurinitis retorts. A beat. "He is right, though," he says. "We should make sure we can feed Beilschmidt before we do anything else."

"You can return to the other project later, can't you?"

Laurinitis shakes his head. "Death was already a week ago. The longer I leave it, the less scientifically valid the results would be."

Ah. "Well, that's a shame," says Arthur, although Arthur is a lot more loath than Laurinitis to compromise Gilbert's health and nutrition in the spirit of science. Still, he might make an ally if he plays his cards right, and the sooner Laurinitis has solved Gilbert's somewhat disordered eating, the faster he can get back to his neuroanatomy project.

Arthur looks up from his own files. "I have an idea where you might start," he says.

"What?"

"I've a source of sorts. It mentions that animal blood can be tolerated, but only after about fifteen years after death, and it has to be introduced slowly. So I would start my queries there: what is it about animal blood that makes it different from human blood such that his physiology needs to build up to it?" It sounds more foolish aloud than it did in his mind. "I dunno. It might be nothing."

Laurinitis is shaking his head as he thinks it through. "No, that... makes some sense. He isn't digesting the blood - those organs are too atrophied - so the digestive system and circulatory system must be more closely linked - which explains the growth in the spleen, which shows over 300% enlargement in the ultrasounds and appears to have fused with the stomach. I thought it was a case of incompatibility, such as with different blood types, but it might be instead something like an allergen. Where did you find this information?"

"A friend of mine -" ah, look at Arthur lie and pretend like he has friends - "wrote his thesis on a related topic. I can get you a copy."

Laurinitis' eyes grow wide with interest.

"If you'll allow me to spend some time in there with him," Arthur concludes. He omits the fact that Mircea's thesis is more psycho- and sociological than it is physiological. But there are some clue details.

Laurinitis frowns. "I shouldn't. We've already had -"

"Incidents? Yes. I imagine so. That's not why I want to see him." Upon reflection, Arthur corrects himself. "Well, it is, but - my point is, I'd like to see if I can control those."

"Feliks said you can't begin your research until the paperwork goes through," Laurinitis explains.

"It's not research so much as it is... preliminary groundwork. I just want to talk to him. Gain some trust. I imagine he's bored in there, anyway." He looks over Laurinitis' shoulder to find Gilbert doing pushups, the smooth roll of his biceps and shoulders clearly visible beneath the hospital gown.

Laurinitis is clearly unhappy about this.

"You don't get the thesis if I don't get to talk to him," he says. "You can even watch, it's not much I'm asking."

Laurinitis' mouth twists. "Very well."

So Arthur brings out the volume from his bag and prepares to duplicate a copy in front of Laurinitis using his talents. It takes about three minutes' concentration and produces a soft glowing light on the desk. Laurinitis is transfixed in alternate horror and fascination. So, Arthur's pleased to note, is Gilbert. As the sparks fade and die away, a second volume materialises beside the first. "Here you are," says Arthur, pushing this second volume towards Laurinitis.

Laurinitis backs up. His expression is still a little alarmed. "You could have just sent me the pdf," he says.

"Oh, go on. It's not radioactive or anything."

Laurinitis reaches out and accepts it with a serious thought. "Radioactive," he murmurs. His hand settles on the copied volume and he starts to drum his fingers there. "Yes. ... Yes, of course...."

"So can I see him?" he prompts.

Still lost in thought, Laurinitis says, "Yes, of course... "

In a daze, Laurinitis leads him through, mumbling all the while. "Not with FDG, it's a glucose... unless perhaps accompanied by some sort of insulin compound... shrunken pancreas though, can't take the chance the tissue didn't altogether necrotise... perhaps the isotope in a salt, easily blood soluble... or water ..."

Laurinitis doesn't even look up when Arthur steps past him. He returns to the table in front of the chamber, this time sitting to face it. Ostensibly for monitoring, but his head is down and he's writing something frantically in a log book.

He's too busy to watch what happens the moment Arthur steps into the room. Even if Gilbert had much of a poker face (he doesn't, the smile that splits his cheeks is the picture of elation), Arthur can feel the warm prickle on his skin.

It's rather nice to have someone so happy to see you they don't realise they're giving off pheromones.

This is an 'incident' waiting to happen, warns Morgan. He could manipulate you. Be on guard.

I thought you said you don't support my fixation against fixation, he says. Don't worry. I am in control and I know what I'm doing. I can close myself off whenever I like.

Of course. You've had so much practice.

Gilbert runs a hand casually through his hair. "No bowtie today?"

"Laundry day," Arthur shrugs.

"Huh. Y'know on most people's laundry days they wear whatever's least dirty," teases Gilbert.

Arthur is unimpressed. "I'm not most people."

"No, guess not! Guess you go the other way and have to dress up after running out of casual wear. Unless you go both ways," here Gilbert smirks, "'cause here I was thinking that it's not laundry day at all - since if someone doesn't care about looking like he slept in his shirt and distracts people with a loud bowtie also wouldn't do laundry on weeknights - and that deep forest green tie, matching your eyes so nice it's gotta be on purpose, might be on account of the awesome me."

Arthur inhales too quickly with the shock that Gilbert noticed (he noticed!) and it turns into a cough. "Yes, well," he manages to push out between hacking, "again, er. Not most people. Sorry to disappoint."

"Uh-huh," says Gilbert. But he lets it go. "Aw, hell, I just like to tease. I got nothing better to do in here."

"At least they've given you a bed," says Arthur, noticing the cot.

"That rickety old thing, with the springs sticking up into the mattress? It's barely fit for people staying overnight in the lab. Think Feliks picked it out special, just for me." Gilbert snorts.

Gilbert has already once mentioned that Łukasiewicz hates him, but Łukasiewicz didn't seem nearly as overt in his hatred of Gilbert as Arthur would have thought. "What makes you think he dislikes you so?" he asks.

Gilbert fidgets uncomfortably. He takes a seat on the back wall, to be able to see Laurinitis. "Oh, you know," he says at last. "Guys like him. Guys like me."

"I don't know what you mean."

"Well, he's Polish," says Gilbert matter-of-factly.

Ah. "I'm sure you've noticed we don't much like them here," says Arthur.

Gilbert looks yet more uncomfortable. "No, that's... that's not actually what I meant."

"Ah. N-neither did I," says Arthur. "I meant. Most people," he trails off. "It's... just what's in the news."

Smooth.

Oh, hush, you.

"I know," says Gilbert. "I've read your news. I know exactly what it sounds like."

Arthur waits in silence.

"It's funny, you know, having been born in a different era," explains Gilbert. "How different things were, then. The King wanted more Germans in the East. He had his policies. Back in these days people would really say things like 'tainting bloodlines' with intermarriage, because The Pole was this, The German was that. People really thought that way once."

So Łukasiewicz hates Gilbert because he's German, or does he hate him in advance because he expects Gilbert to hate him because he's Polish? "It isn't the 1800s anymore. People have changed," says Arthur.

Surely this isn't why they hate each other? Though it might explain it, if Gilbert hated Łukasiewicz and treated him accordingly, and Łukasiewicz's hatred were in defence.

"Yeah. You kids were supposed to have learnt from us," he says darkly. "'They take all the jobs, they're hooligans and criminals and social leeches, they don't work hard.' Łukasiewicz works harder than anybody I've ever met."

But Gilbert speaks approvingly of Łukasiewicz, so ... that doesn't explain why they're at odds. And if what Łukasiewicz said is true, Gilbert signed contracts to Łukasiewicz himself, not to the VHI. What's missing?

Arthur can't bring himself to be properly apologetic about the racism immigrants face in Britain today to defend it, even when he has before. "Those are just the arguments from television," he echoes dumbly.

"Sure. That's always how they start," says Gilbert. "Anyway! He's got his reasons to hate my guts. You, though. You said you'd do something for me. What did your people say?"

"What makes you think they said anything?" asks Arthur.

"Because I'm research gold," Gilbert replies confidently. "I hope you told them that if they abandon me to the institute, hoping that they'll do the science the government's hasn't got the budget for, I'll just off myself, and then nobody gets a first-author paper."

"You oughtn't joke like that," says Arthur.

"Who says I'm joking?" Gilbert's smile is dangerous.

Gilbert talking like this makes Arthur way more uncomfortable than Gilbert talking about current issues in Britain like racism and immigration. We're not sure what that says about Arthur, so we leave it to you to decide.

"I made something of a recommendation to my department," Arthur confesses, by means of subject change. "They ought to send someone soon to figure out what's going on here, with your position at this company."

"You're being vague," notes Gilbert.

"The person they send almost certainly won't be me," says Arthur. "So I don't know how much they'll listen to me, whether I'll be able to talk to them. But. It's something."

"It's not much. But I'll tell you a secret," says Gilbert with a rakish grin, "I didn't behave for the doctor, after all."

Of course he didn't. "I'm not surprised," says Arthur. "Well, I would have done it regardless. And before you get ahead of yourself -" because Gilbert's smiling, open mouth, ready with a retort, tells Arthur he already has - "it's because it's my job, not because of you."

Gilbert sits back, self-satisfied. "That was some trick you were doing out there, with him," he says.

"You know what I am," says Arthur.

"Can you do other tricks and stuff? Pull a rabbit out of a hat?"

Arthur smiles. "That old trick is easy. That's just sleight of hand. The hard part -" he explains, and waves his right hand in an expansive, fluid gesture - "is making the hat appear in the first place."

He walks up to Gilbert and plucks the newly-appeared bowler hat from his head.

"Jesus!" says Gilbert. "How the fuck did you put that there?"

"Your rabbit, sir," says Arthur triumphantly, kneeling down to Gilbert's level. He reaches inside the hat to scoop up his prize.

Gilbert's shock is utterly forgotten. The rabbit is red-eyed and winter white with lop ears and twitching its whiskers. It is about the size of Arthur's whole hand - old enough that he's been handled enough by the breeder and won't panic, but not so old that this sudden change of scenery and scents terrifies him.

Still, he doesn't belong here. "I should probably put him back where I found him," Arthur admits.

"Where'd you find him?" asks Gilbert in a soft, besotted hush.

"Florida." Gilbert is a little awed and looks from the bunny to Arthur with wide eyes. "Alright, this one's not entirely sleight of hand," he says.

"Please tell me I can hold him," Gilbert begs.

His eyes are too wide and too bright and beautiful and Arthur can deny him nothing. Arthur shoulder checks - Laurinitis has not looked up once, and is now scribbling notes in the copy of Mircea's thesis - "Five minutes," he says.

At the end of five minutes Arthur dutifully magicks the bunny back to his pen in Florida, where the breeder will wake up tomorrow morning without knowing anything was momentarily amiss. Then, with a flick of his wrist, the bowler hat dissolves into thin air. "Thank you," says Gilbert. "Don't suppose you could pull someone's TV out of that hat? It's boring as hell in here."

No, but Arthur keeps his cellphone in his pocket. Somehow, it still has reception here. "What do you like?" he asks.

"Anything," says Gilbert. "Do you watch football?"

"Not a bit. Coronation Street?"

"Ew." Gilbert wrinkles his nose. "Of course you'd watch something like that."

Some half-hearted clicking around finds them a documentary about the ancient Greeks. The screen on his phone isn't very large, so Arthur sits up against the wall, beside Gilbert. But Gilbert's the one who scoots closer until Arthur can feel warmth, all along the side of his body.

He tries to convince himself it only makes sense, it's only logical, Gilbert just wants to see clearly.

Somewhere past the thirtieth minute, Gilbert drops his head to Arthur's shoulder, and Arthur's breath becomes shallow.

Don't move. Don't make this weird. Awkward. Anything. If you move he'll move and - and that's bad? Arthur should want him to move - but then again, there's no enthrallment. And that's strange. Perhaps it's the sort of thing you can get used to?

Makes sense, wouldn't it, if it's a sex pheromone, that olfactory fatigue might happen? Maybe the effects wear off.

Then, it's for Arthur's benefit that he just breathes in as much as he can to try and get used to the scent, so it can't be used against him?

Then, he definitely shouldn't move!

Arthur never does seem to relax into Gilbert the way he relaxes into Arthur, too worried about seeming interested, or uninterested. He isn't sure which concerns him more.

As the documentary is nearing the end and Arthur's battery is nearing thirteen percent, they are alerted to noon - actually noon-ten - by a flutter of movement as Laurinitis realises he's late with lunch. Arthur watches him prepare a tray - a young blonde scientist brings in the blood - and Laurinitis disappears from view as he walks to the room's double-walled entrance to bring it in.

"Another day," murmurs Gilbert, still on Arthur's shoulder, "another sippy cup of water and blood flavoured Capri-Sun."

"Alright, I'll ask, why a sippy cup?"

"He gave it to me in a proper glass once and I threw it at him. A shard hit his cheek, and then he started bleeding, and... uh, well. I pounced." Gilbert coughs. "I-in my defence I was four days old and very hungry. The only plastic cup he could find was the sippy cup."

Interesting. A shard thrown from such a height, such a distance, couldn't have cut him very deeply. "Even though there was a whole bag of blood prepared, you went for him? The few drops that might have fallen?"

"Smells better," says Gilbert, shrugging. "I can't explain it. Felt like I wasn't even in control. Didn't like that."

That's what Mircea's source said - that it would taste better, incredible from the source, sucked from a wound. Again Arthur contemplates it...

He lifts the slender inside of his wrist to Gilbert's mouth, Gilbert's pupils dilate - the faintest pinch as he pierces the skin with his teeth, then a wet swipe of his tongue as he licks the blood off Arthur's skin, a hot vacuum as he seals his lips around the wound at Arthur's wrist and sucks it hard and closes his eyes in exaltation. Arthur feels his heart pound, his groin throb. He kneels up, beside Gilbert, then as Gilbert shifts to move his legs Arthur straddles his lap, above him, draws his head down to take Gilbert's mouth. It tastes like iron - his own - he is still bleeding, a trail burning as it slides liquid down the inside of his forearm - but he can barely spare a thought to magically stop the wound - and what's the point, maybe Gilbert will have another taste -

Then it changes, and Gilbert's back - nude - is pressed to him - also nude - a solid warmth along his chest, a tight heat around his prick, as Gilbert tilts his head and lies it on Arthur's shoulder and Arthur brings the hand, the one that isn't clutching him close as he fucks him, to Gilbert's lips, and Gilbert whines as he drinks anew from Arthur's wrist, pushing back against his thrusts. With the advent of extra blood, even if it takes ten minutes to be processed, Gilbert's body anticipates enough to twist regulation in his arteries and veins, for his cock - mostly quiescent until now - at last begins to engorge, possibly the first erection Gilbert's had since death, and Arthur slides his other hand down Gilbert's torso to touch -

"Hey, you okay? You're spacing out there."

Arthur blinks.

That felt so real. He wonders, does it always feel so real?

"Late night," mumbles Arthur.

"'Cause of me?" Gilbert smirks. It's now that Arthur realises how close their faces are. Gilbert seems to realise it too, and his gaze drops to Arthur's lips for a fraction of a second before it flits back up to his eyes.

See, now, he's trying to manipulate, Arthur can see through this bit quite clearly. "Don't flatter yourself," he replies.

The door opens, and Laurinitis is above them with Gilbert's tray. "That time already," murmurs Arthur, and stands. His entire right side is bereft of Gilbert's heat, feeble and un-dead though it was. "I'll take my leave."

"See you tomorrow?" asks Gilbert.

"Depends on him," Arthur says, eyeing Laurinitis.

"I'll have something for you to do by then, I'm sure," replies Laurintis, resigned. He hands Gilbert his baggie of blood, straw poked through. "Drink up," he adds to Gilbert.

"Yummy," Gilbert drawls.

We know that the wink Gilbert throws him, as he exits, is real, but Arthur doesn't, and the possibility that it isn't unnerves him on the tube ride back to his office.

--

Arthur is not back three minutes into his cease-and-desist to Mr Jacobson before Mircea has appeared at his desk. "Good god, you reek. Can you maybe take a shower next time?"

He sniffs himself. He doesn't smell anything out of the ordinary, only deodorant. It doesn't trigger another enthralment.

"This is a scent-sensitive workplace and I can smell you from across the floor. What, did he plaster his naked body all over you?" It reminds Arthur of the vision he had mid-trance and he sputters through the shock for lack of air. Mircea talks louder to be heard over Arthur's partial conniption fit. "Never thought the VHI would let something like that happen. This some new fancy research method?"

"Oh my god NO," Arthur wheezes, "of course not! He, he was just, sitting next to me. Normally! We watched a film. A documentary! It was informative! We didn't do anything!"

"Didn't do anything? It's like a fucking skunk misted you. Christ! Anyway. That's actually not what I came to talk to you about." Mircea drops a folder on Arthur's desk. It lands atop Jacobson's with a loud splat. "He has an ethics case now? I'm not a lawyer! Who the hell said I was any good at human rights?"

Arthur beams. "Oh, are you working on that? What luck!"

Mircea opens the file and points to Arthur's report (signed by Arthur) where it name-drops Mircea as an excellent candidate for this position.

"The luck is that they actually listened to me," says Arthur sheepishly.

Mircea slams the report shut and whisks it back. "Thanks for a load of extra work," he snaps, before he turns on his heel and walks off.

Chapter Text

Arthur takes the tube in to the VHI. The tube alternately disgusts him and fascinates him. He loathes the other people that he sees; they are as meat in his eyes, these faceless masked lamb-like creatures, being led around by the neck to be senselessly ground up into bits by the machine that is London. Sometimes he stops and thinks about how sociopathic that is of him, but in our opinion not often enough. At any rate, he doesn't really mean it; he is only talking a big edgy game because he thinks it will make you more sympathetic to him. Don't be fooled.

Rather, we would remind you that Arthur is the kind of person that thinks himself superior for all of this, but at the same time, you ought to pity him, because for all of his perceived non-humanity of the Tube hoi-polloi, Arthur is desperately, needily envious and this craving gnaws at him, feeding itself upon hunger and pretending satiation upon the void. He wishes he could fit in so badly that he has constructed this level of lordliness to assure his frail haughty ego that it's okay that he doesn't fit in.

He's an Essex boy, sweaty and heavy-breathing and intense who breakfasted on a protein shake made with Red Bull. She's trying too hard. Him over there smokes rollies and that's secondhand Adidas. She works finance near Liverpool Street and hates this place because it has already trash-compacted her soul and she can't be more than twenty-eight. That one there's just come from a bender boozing with the mates on Oxford Street (even though it's Friday morning). He probably refuses to get an Uber because he's so loyal to black cabs. She works at a tech startup and when she's drinking with her coworkers she has wine while they drink scotch because it's manly even though they hate the taste and everyone pretends not to make a fuss that she's female while secretly eyeing her tits and congratulating themselves on being a better person for knowing such a Smart Girl. There's someone's mad uncle.

That one, the silver fox at two o'clock, suffers the tube because he can't stomach a short walk of a few blocks and likes letting all the plebs know that he's a big deal who owns his own house. He's eyeing Arthur like he could purchase him. Arthur curls his lip. When no one's looking, he makes the metal pole the man's holding onto shock him.

Don't you find Arthur a more disgusting and despicable a creature than any of these guileless crowdgoers? We do.

At last someone pulls his attention for more than a cursory glance. It's less his physical make up - cardiganed forty-something in smart glasses with neatly combed hair and clear blue eyes and wool trousers and a leather messenger bag and smile lines all over his face - and more what he is saying. He's on his cellphone, though it can't be the actual signal because there's no reception. He must have caught the wifi hotspot now that the train has stopped to exchange one crowd of passengers for another. He speaks in a funny, rabbity language with a lot of shushes and weird vowels with a snobby tonality that makes it sound like he's constantly complaining.

Morgan translates, even though Arthur didn't ask her to and Arthur doesn't care.

He says he'll be late tonight, but that he loves her. I think he's talking to his wife. I can't quite make her side out. He has to work until 8 but he says that if she can make sure Ania has a small dinner that he will cook a proper romantic dinner for the two of them later when he arrives home. He says he's very sorry he can't pick Ania up from school today, but that his boss has only just told him that he needs to stay late. Yes, he knows, he says, his boss never gives him a lot of forward notice. No, he says, his boss has children of his own, his boss knows how it should work. He says sarcastically that the rules are always different for the employer than the employee, it doesn't matter the country, that's nothing new under the sun. He knows that she misses the east because it's so much easier to make friends who understand them. He says they're taking off from the station now. He tells her he loves her again. He hangs up.

Four hoodlums have taken note of this conversation. They sit in the row of seats ordinarily reserved for priority seating with their legs spread wide while numerous women and older men are standing. One of the hoodlums gets up. He approaches the man. "Oi, mate, is' fokken En-gla-land, innit? Mebbe speak sum fokken English, ey?"

His friends get up and continue the diatribe. "Go back ter wher yer come from if ya don't like it, ey?" "Yer fokken nasty peepul, yeah?" "Well fuck off!"

The older gentleman - who is tall and broad enough to handle his own against two of these idiot hoodlums, but four is a numbers game they know they win - ignores them, although the four hoodlums crowd around him and corner him as best they can given the space they have to work with in this crowded train. When the train pulls into the next station, the gentleman is the first to exit. But the hoodlums follow him, keeping a few paces away.

Arthur makes a snap decision. He flicks his wrist, and one of the hoodlums' pants fall down as he's walking. (Not hard, they were already hanging off his arse, he didn't even have to split a seam.) He trips over them and one of his friends trips over him and the other two realise quickly that they're a) outnumbered and b) should probably go assist their friends, so they busy themselves and the gentleman, unseen by them, re-boards the train at another door to continue his journey.

Arthur watches him out of the corner of his eye.

Everyone pretends not to have seen. Well, that's the tube for you - have headphones in, play with your phone, above all else ignore other people's existence. And the gentleman assimilates to that well enough - he keeps his head down, he stands in the back corner, unobtrusively. He fiddles with his phone like any other traingoer, but Arthur can't help feeling his unobtrusiveness has a secondary reason. He can't help feeling guilty for it.

Much later, as Arthur gets out by his stop in Kingston-upon-Thames, an elderly fellow sitting nearby murmurs to him, "Saw that, back there."

Arthur scrutinises him. He has the shrewdness of eye of the talented, like Arthur, and Arthur can feel a faint radiation from him. "Don't know what you mean, guv'," Arthur replies.

"Oughtn't be hard on them," the elderly man continues. "Boys will be boys."

Arthur looks back, quietly agog.

He takes in the man's appearance in a flash. He wears an old shirt with elbow patches haphazardly sewn on as though he cut them before realising that in order to place them to cover the holes they would be too small. One button is sewn on with the wrong colour thread. Something is spilled on the cuff and partly cleaned up with a bit of detergent and water; it's still drying. He must have attention to detail because he wears a bowtie, a smear of garish red at the neck, in the hopes people won't notice the smaller details that he can no longer take care of - his vision must be failing. He must have lived alone for quite some time now. It also explains the back of his head where he can't reach, where the self-cut hairstyle is poorer and jagged and hidden by a driver's cap.

He has green eyes and brown-blond hair. But for the signs of age in these, they're Arthur's colours. This is Arthur at sixty, if he aged. This is Arthur, terminally alone. This is Arthur, if he continues to stagnate.

"Just a bit of fun," the man adds.

Arthur says nothing and exits the train.

--

He arrives twenty minutes later at the second sub-level. Gilbert is with Laurinitis, outside the fishbowl, as he has not-so-fondly termed it.

"Ah, good," says Laurinitis, "you're here. How fine is the resolution on your ability to move things remotely?"

"Er," says Arthur. "Not... terribly?"

"Then you likely can't move small particles."

"General rule is, no smaller than a fingernail." Where is Laurinitis going with this? "What, exactly, is this about?"

Laurinitis doesn't answer. "That's what I thought. Hm. Well, luckily it shouldn't be an issue."

"This inspires faith," drawls Gilbert.

"Gilbert, it should be fine." To Arthur, Laurinitis says, "I've already showed him, but I'll show you," and grabs his hardcover logbook. He points to two lines of numbers, and then shows the last cell in the table where they differ only by a fraction. "I ran some assays. This plate here shows a resistance similar to ours with regards to radioactive tracer compounds. So I've I suspended tea leaves in a fluoride salt solution, then brewed a strong tea, so that the trace radioactive tea sediment will travel through the gastrointestinal tract and less through the spleen and circulatory system, though it will also interact there due to the water. His system should tolerate the sediment."

He turns to a beaker containing a small volume dark liquid and dilutes it carefully with a second clear steaming substance - presumably water. "Gilbert will drink this, and then it's off to the PET machine. Don't forget, keep the last mouthful in your mouth and swallow when I say, once you're in the machine."

"Can I maybe drink this out of a mug and not a beaker?" asks Gilbert. Laurinitis rolls his eyes but obliges, dumping out his morning coffee out of his mug which is chipped and imprinted with 'Don't Go Bacon My Heart' and a picture of bacon. Arthur would've stuck with the beaker. Laurinitis does this in the eye-rinse sink.

"You made him radioactive tea," says Arthur.

"Normal medical imaging procedure," says Laurinitis. "The radioactive tracers are normally with a sugar but Popescu's thesis suggests sugars are toxic. Otherwise it's perfectly ordinary." He hands Gilbert his mug of radioactive tea.

It smells perfumed. "Is that Earl Grey?"

Gilbert takes a quick sip and nods. "Not as gross as lemon, not malty like a good Ostfriesen. Just like Toris to be middle of the line, not sympathetic, not outright cruel."

"That presumes I spend any amount of my time thinking about you," replies Laurinitis. "I don't."

"On sale at Tesco's, was it?" guesses Arthur.

"Mm."

The machines are on the other side of the lab in a tiny room. "Tell me when I'm glowing," jokes Gilbert, as he settles himself onto the bench.

"Stop talking or you'll swallow the last of it before I can start the data collection," says Laurinitis. Gilbert drinks the last and hands the mug to Arthur. Their fingertips slide together and Gilbert musters a weak smile. "Alright - hold that -" Laurinitis says. Arthur joins Laurinitis by the computers on the other side of the room. Laurinitis makes a few more keystrokes on the computers. "And swallow."

"How long do I have to stay in here again?" asks Gilbert.

"About thirty-five minutes," Laurinitis explains. "Or until you have to urinate."

"Great," says Gilbert, "that definitely doesn't make me feel like a test subject."

Arthur doesn't recognise any of what Laurinitis is working. Laurinitis seems too riveted for Arthur to ask him to explain. He lets Laurinitis do his work, while he pokes around the other diagnostics. Some things, he recognises. "His pulse and blood pressure are elevated," he says.

"Normal," says Laurinitis.

180 over 130? "These numbers are normal?"

"For him, it appears to be. He's had these figures since he woke up a week ago. Another reason we need to see his circulation. The ultrasounds suggest his heart is ... larger. The chambers of the heart seem better prepared to maintain this heightened activity, relative to our own, as neo-homeostatic." Laurinitis adds, "It makes sense that his heart should pump more forcefully than ours at a higher rate because he has to drink it in, his system has to do more with less."

Laurinitis turns back to the scans on another screen, which is already starting to compose a picture from the data stream on the first machine. "Fascinating," he says.

"What?" says Arthur.

"This bright spot is the stomach-spleen-liver. Like one gigantic organ. It's already going into the bloodstream. Ordinarily water is sent through an empty stomach to our large intestine, should enter the bloodstream within five minutes. It's barely taken him two."

They keep watching as the rest of the screen starts to light up.

"And now back to the heart," Laurinitis says. Then he frowns. "Hm."

"What?"

"That's strange."

"What is?" Arthur is instantly alarmed.

"What's strange," says Gilbert warily from inside the room.

"He's got two of each ..." Laurinitis trails off, murmuring mostly to himself. "And there's two ... second aorta. Fully-formed. More arteries. A lot more veins ... That shouldn't. This doesn't look human. I'm scheduling an MRA. Maybe we can get this in a better resolution."

"Uh, guys?" says Gilbert.

"It's fine, if it keeps you going, it's fine," explains Laurinitis. "It's just... not human."

"Oh, thanks so much," Gilbert replies.

When it's all over, Gilbert joins them outside in front of the machines. Laurinitis is glued to them, scribbling frantically in his logbook. "Stop that," Laurinitis snaps.

Gilbert drops the paper he's holding. Arthur's more surprised Laurinitis was paying enough attention. "What?"

"I have an order for my academic reading. You're messing it up. Go play somewhere."

Gilbert rolls his eyes. "I am bored, Toris. I could at least be useful."

Laurinitis snorts. "Ex-military? What possible use could you have?"

"Hey, I didn't say I knew nothing about the human body!"

"I'm not sure I want the kind of experience the Wehrmacht would have given you," retorts Laurinitis.

This shuts Gilbert up and puts him in a mood. "It wasn't the Wehrmacht," he mumbles, but Laurinitis takes the paper and his logbook and goes off to another desk for some peace and quiet. "This is boring anyway," decides Gilbert, throwing another article aside. "Hey, let's go watch something!"

"What did you like to read?" asks Arthur.

Gilbert leads them into the adjacent room with the tank in which he spends his time. "Anything. Once I was granted occult membership, I read all the legal documents I could find. But for fun... long time ago it was mostly serials, because the maids I knew read 'em and would collect them." He grins. "A lot of them were smutty. Then detective novels took off and those were great. Never been much on fantasy, except Lord of the Rings, but that's 'cause I think it's thinly-veiled allegory."

"You think so?"

"Don't you? I like how race isn't what makes people evil, it's social class and upbringing."

Arthur narrows his eyes. "I don't think we read the same book."

"Schoolboys on an island?"

"That's Lord of the Flies," groans Arthur.

Gilbert shrugs, affable. "There've been so many books in my life," he says.

It's then that Mircea and Łukasiewicz enter the lab, which they can hear from a distance because they're screaming at each other. "This is private property! You can't just go wherever you like!"

"I can and I will and the next door code that gets in my way is getting tasered by my fingers, is that understood? Now, through here -"

Mircea enters the room, Łukasiewicz hot on his heels. Laurinitis, attracted by the noise, has joined them too.

Mircea spots the great tank immediately. "What the fuck. Is that," he spits.

"Oh, the fishbowl?" Gilbert says. "Yeah. Charming, no?"

"Is that where you've been keeping him?!" Mircea screeches.

Laurinitis says quickly, "No!" at the same time Gilbert says a resigned, "Yep," and adds, "I sleep there, too."

"He-he doesn't mean it like that!" Łukasiewicz says.

"They only gave me a cot after I nearly died," Gilbert says, feigning a sigh. He's clearly seen where this is leading and who Mircea is and is playing up the pathetic act, probably wondering what it'll get him.

"Because you couldn't be trusted not to throw it at us!" Laurinitis shouts.

"Everybody shut the hell up or I will make you!" bellows Mircea. They do, and silence reigns. "You," says Mircea, pointing to Arthur. "Tell me what has been going on. What were you doing here?"

Arthur takes a quick look at Laurinitis, Łukasiewicz, and Gilbert and makes an elective decision as to what's happening. Well, Mircea would've found out the truth anyway, no point in hiding - as much as Łukasiewicz would love that. "Medical imaging on his internal organs. Found some neat stuff."

Mircea growls, "And did he agree to this?"

Gilbert says, "No," at the same time that Laurinitis says an adamant, "Yes!"

"What do you mean, yes?" Gilbert exclaims. "I never signed shit!"

"You signed permission for the collection and documentation of your tissues until your death," explains Laurinitis.

"Well, I did die!"

"Not that death, and you know it. I'm sorry, is there something you find reprehensible about knowing what parts of you do what?" Laurinitis shoves a printout from their earlier testing in his face. "This is not human!"

Gilbert takes a moment to study it. "Jesus," he says quietly, and touches his belly uncomfortably, as though trying to feel whether that strange lumpy mass that doesn't resemble his stomach is in fact his stomach. "That's... some pretty messed up shit."

Mircea snatches it out of Laurinitis' hand. "How was this taken? Did you have something to do with it?" He's glaring at Arthur.

"Not me!" Arthur puts his hands up. "I-it was a tea, with some sort of radioactive thing -"

Mircea goes agape. "What the fuck kind of human trials is this?!" he hollers.

"It's not what you think!" Laurinitis says. "It's a perfectly normal medical imaging method!" Laurinitis must be resolute about this because he keeps saying it.

"On a human, maybe! How can you know for certain if it's safe for a week old vampire?!"

"I ran some tests!"

"On?!"

"His tissues! I did a comparison of his and other humans', they behave similarly. Nothing happened!"

"And did you give consent for your tissues to be so used?"

"Hah!" says Gilbert with unnecessary levity, "'course not!" To Arthur he says under his breath, "I think I like this guy!"

A lurch in his belly tells Arthur that he's somewhat uncertain about hearing it. Jealousy, supplies Morgan.

"He's in more danger every day in here from the naturally occurring radioactive materials at this level underground, as are we all. I would do nothing so dangerous, a-as radiolabel his own blood cells! This was purely for imaging purposes, as non-invasive as we can get! Should I have done an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy instead and shoved a camera down his throat?"

"You're trying to gaslight me with jargon," says Mircea, "it won't work!"

"Look," begins Laurinitis - who's starting to get ticked off, "you don't know anything about whether or not this is acceptable and I take great offence to the implication that I am running unethical experiments, especially when the pool of existing data is so small. This is for his own benefit that we be able to study him, because what should happen if he takes ill and requires surgery? And we have no clue what pipes go where?"

"Oh, he takes great offence, does he!" Mircea says. "You're not the one being experimented upon!"

"That's what I've been saying since day one!" crows Gilbert.

Łukasiewicz pinches the bridge of his nose as he frowns. "For god's sakes, you don't give a shit about any of that, I know you don't."

Laurinitis puffs up like a pigeon. "Might I see your credentials, sir!" he demands hotly.

But Mircea steamrolls right along. "I'm pretty sure I don't need to know any biology to know you should have had about ten billion more steps and not just 'oh! well it worked on the few skin cells I scraped off of him so that must mean that we're off to the races!'"

"Well, you're not the biologist! And besides, I had Mr Kirkland here to assist me should something have gone wrong!"

The lab goes silent and they all turn to Arthur.

"I was present for emergency assistance, that's true," Arthur says, "but I clarified to Dr Laurinitis beforehand that if something happened there would only be so much I could do, because I don't have the skills to filter someone's blood."

"Of course you don't," snaps Mircea, "no one does."

"I had a full supply of his blood should he have required an emergency transfusion!" Laurinitis and Mircea continue their altercation to the point of virtually ignoring the rest of the room.

Meanwhile, Łukasiewicz says to Arthur, "Oh, thanks. Thanks for that. You government agents are totally such a big help!"

"I'm not your employee," Arthur declares, "I owe you nothing and certainly not my loyalty."

"So you give it to him after so little time?" Łukasiewicz gestures to Gilbert, who looks plenty pleased with himself. "You two should definitely be separated and I am filing for another consultant."

This wipes the grin off Gilbert's face. "No!" he cries. A beat as he realises he said that aloud and tries to save face. "Y-you can't do that. He's, y'know. He's good. He's good at his job. And I like him, so. Keep him."

"More the reason I should take him away," glares Łukasiewicz.

"You can't do that, Feliks! You already shut me up in a glass tank and strap me to a cot in the name of science because you hate my guts, you can't -" Gilbert's breathing heavily, his voice high and panicked. Then he appears to remember something useful. "H-hey, I'm still your employee, aren't I? He leaves, I quit!"

Łukasiewicz shakes his head. "That's not how your contract works. We provide for you as a special employee, given your condition, and in return you granted us certain liberties, that contract was signed ten years ago! Your contract is up for renewal in five years and we can discuss your resignation then."

"Then I'm revoking my participation!"

"Tell that to my relatives who tried to revoke their participation in your death camps," Łukasiewicz hisses.

Arthur, who feels like he's heard something that he shouldn't have, says nothing and doesn't move a muscle. Neither does Gilbert, who remains there, panting heavily and fuming. "You're an asshole," he growls. "And I hate you."

"We can hate each other and still cooperate," Łukasiewicz reminds, "and that's what this is -"

Gilbert lunges for him but before he can attack Arthur freezes everyone where they stand and throws up a quick charm that begins in a loud bang and cascades white sparks everywhere to draw the attention.

"That's quite enough," says Arthur. "On all sides."

"I am going to ask three questions," says Mircea. "And then Arthur and I are going back to the department where we will further discuss this case."

"But-"

"No buts. Question one: did he consent to this?" Arthur relinquishes his control over the other bodies in the room. They all look at Gilbert, whose enraged outburst has deflated him.

"In a roundabout way. Yeah," he says.

"Roundabout is not what I mean. Being harangued isn't what I mean. Do you want them to do this to you?"

"I don't see that I have a choice," Gilbert snaps.

"Then that's a no."

"It's not a no!"

"It's not a yes. Because I hear not three days ago you were trying to kill yourself to get out of being experimented on!"

"We've had our discussions about that," says Łukasiewicz softly. "It won't happen again."

"Or what? Or he's fired? Which brings me to my next point, compensation! Is he being compensated?"

"He's still getting paycheques," says Łukasiewicz.

"Wait, really?" This is news to Gilbert.

Łukasiewicz glares. "Uh, yeah? Like obviously. What, you thought I just wasn't gonna pay you?"

Gilbert shrugs. "Figured the taxman might not like it if money's going into a dead guy's accounts."

"Eh," Łukasiewicz shrugs. "There's ways."

"Last question?" asks Laurinitis, impatient to see Mircea out of his lab.

"Is anyone doing anything about his access to decent housing? When was the last time he had a shower? A private shower!"

There's an idea, thinks Arthur. How do they even know he needs one? Do vampires sweat?

"He knows he has the right to use the facilities, he has only but to ask, should it be something he requires," says Laurinitis. "For anything, I might add!"

Mircea isn't mollified. "Isn't it rather patronising to escort him to the washroom like a child? And did you provide him with a towel? Because between his death and his reanimation I don't think there was much time for him to pack a suitcase! All of this falls under basic dignity, which given the circumstances? I don't see being provided!"

"Listen to you talking like we've gone against the Geneva convention," mutters Łukasiewicz. "You don't know him, but I do. He is not shy. He's loud enough that if he had wanted anything, he would have spoken up by now!"

"He shouldn't have to!" Mircea throws up his hands. "I've heard enough. Arthur, we're leaving."

"What do we do about the science in the meantime?" asks Laurinitis.

"You don't do any science until you have the go-ahead from our Ethics Board," snaps Mircea. "We are prepared to take action and confiscate Mr Beilschmidt if you violate that as per the Korus Protocol, Section 8 Subsection 2!"

"This is bullshit!" Laurinitis spits.

"Whoa," says Gilbert, "you can swear?"

"Yes I can fucking swear! Feliks, I told you, they just want to have first dibs on the science rights, this has nothing to do with the Korus Protocol, all this ethics nonsense is one of the ways they're trying to stick their dirty fingers into the pot so that they can steal our science!"

"Yeah, I'll have to veto that," says Gilbert.

"You can't veto our department!" says Mircea. "That's in Section 1 of this institute's mandated occult licence!"

"As the guy being experimented on, I think I do," he retorts, "as per the Sooth-Brown Agreement, Section 3, as ratified in 1999!" Then he calms. "Look, I do want to know what's happened to me. And ... they're not looking to kill me. Or harm me. Quite the opposite. And if I ever thought they would, I could break out of here. I'm strong enough now. I could do it. I know this - they know this!"

"So why don't you?"

"Because I don't use might to push people around to get what I want!"

Arthur watches Łukasiewicz's face very carefully as it becomes bitter at these words and then resets itself. He can practically hear him think the words: that's not always been the case, has it, Gilbert?

"So you know what, process what you need to," Gilbert continues, "but I'm staying here so that we can see what I'm made of. And... I will consent to it, under Sooth-Brown, Section 3, subsection 12." He folds his arms over his chest. "There, Toris, happy? Now you can go to town."

"Finally," Laurinitis exclaims.

"I'll want that in writing," adds Łukasiewicz.

"We could do all of the work you want at the department," argues Mircea.

"I don't know the department. I do know him," says Gilbert, pointing to Łukasiewicz. "And I know what he wants."

Mircea glares. "We're not through here. Arthur, let's go."

"But I still have an hour -"

"Now, Arthur!" Mircea's fingers twitch and Arthur's mouth snaps shut, suddenly useless. If he wants to break this curse, he has to get Mircea to do it, so he has no choice but to follow Mircea.

--

They share a cab back to the department, because they're paying for Mircea to cab around London, and Mircea puts up a privacy screen up immediately after he tells the cabbie where to go, so that the cabbie sees two gentlemen, staunchly silent and not in a mood to chat amongst themselves or to him.

"My recommendations are simple," says Mircea. "One, he needs respect as an autonomous agent. Two, that he has the right to end his participation in this research at any time; three, that he be protected from physical, mental, and emotional harm; and four, the protection of his privacy and well-being. The rest..." Mircea's mouth twists. "The rest they're pretty much already doing. I hate to say it. There's nothing I can pin them on there."

"What? Then what was all that fuss about?"

"The department said they want to recruit him! I have to try and make it look like he's hard done by. But really, they have him in an oversized aquarium with only a ragged cot for company, no books, no TV - he's still wearing a hospital gown -"

"He died in his clothing," explains Arthur. "I suppose he could wear that, but it's all covered in blood."

"Well, have they not heard of laundry?"

Arthur concedes the point. "What about the collection of biological specimens?"

Mircea looks glum. "I did get a copy of the contract," he says.

"Excellent. What's it say?"

"It was recognised early on that some research could be done on him. His contract forfeits his right to revoke access to his own biological specimen - did he even read this bullshit, I don't know, but he's initialed in all the right places. That's where the grey area lies. One, the contract is to be renewed every so often but it runs nominally 'until his death', and two, anything that's filed under human rights is subject to scrutiny. Because he's reanimated un-dead. I wouldn't call him biologically a member of the human race anymore."

"We'll want a third party medical opinion on that," says Arthur, even though he knows it's true, because he's seen the scans and he's seen everything and Gilbert looks human on the outside, sweet and simple, but his body just doesn't work like theirs do.

"We'll get one. I'll submit the request. But my point is this. Though he forfeited the right to withdraw access to his biological specimen until death, the research that could be done in that regard, pre-reanimation, wrapped up four years ago. Laurinitis has been working on other stuff ever since, and the papers that could be published, were. Since the contract gives him free access to information regarding the research - including all internal papers and logs - and in those documents it references his death as being only the permanent kind, that is, post-reanimation, such that the death that turned him doesn't qualify as true death, then he had ample forewarning about such a definition. This point is made objectively clear in these documents, even to a layman. And according to the logs he requested access to read them and was duly granted. He reads a lot, he's read everything they've published about him! And in his contract, clause 23 subsection 3 clearly states that if there is any ambiguity therewithin the onus is on him to correct and or clarify - which he initialed next to! He never corrected anything, so that's tacit assent that this is unambiguous."

Arthur frowns. "That can't possibly hold up in court."

"That's what Łukasiewicz's case will comprise of, should we take him to court. And he could win on that, because there's legal precedent."

"How?" asks Arthur, incredulous.

"There was a case in Belgium late last year involving a barende vrouw, it's a kind of wit-wife, and after she passed, she was denied permission to abandon her employ at the town hall. She gets pissed, makes a few whirlwinds, almost a tornado, and the town gets the bright idea to erect a windmill. So now Ghent is one of the greener cities in Flanders and she can't leave for fifty years - or until Ghent finds a solution that is as good as the status quo, whichever comes first. No, if the department wants him, they won't support taking them to court, because they know they'd lose."

They won't find anything as good as the status quo here. They're never going to find another vampire for Laurinitis to examine. They were lucky on the one.

"Do you think he could take fifty years in there?" asks Mircea.

"Is it really up to us to decide?" says Arthur.

"I'm not deciding for him! I'm deciding for me, because he's me after I'm gone! I have to set my own legal precedent! Suppose the department does to me what they're doing to him?"

"Right," says Arthur. "Sorry. I nearly forgot."

"Yeah, I haven't that luxury," snaps Mircea.

There's a beat of awkward silence.

Mircea sighs. "You were right to get me on the case. That's the part that makes me maddest."

"Thank you for taking it," says Arthur.

He wonders if Mircea would have if he knew what Łukasiewicz had said about Gilbert's past.

He wonders if he himself would have taken this case any forward if he knew about Gilbert's past.

"Well, if he's so important to you then you should really put up or shut up where your veins are concerned. Bags of blood, that's fucking gross! That alone is beneath a person's dignity, forget the fishbowl. Wouldn't kill you to offer him a splash now and then."

Arthur shifts in his seat, squirming with discomfort at the thought. "Suppose it ... develops into something more codependent?"

"Would you really mind if it did?" says Mircea coolly.

That shuts Arthur up.

Because Gilbert's potentially objectionable past aside, he wouldn't mind. He knows he wouldn't mind. And what does that say about Arthur?

Chapter Text

The weekend is boring. All of Arthur's weekends are boring. If it were socially acceptable to work every day, he would have begun doing that a long time ago.

He finds himself in the Tesco's nearest his flat on Saturday afternoon. It takes him an hour to go up and down the aisles as his vision slowly starts swimming and he can't tell the difference between a tin of custard powder or a jar of pickles anymore. Bless the supermarkets these days for being so large, he thinks. What a wonderful place to feel at once productive and pointless, part of society and disintegrated in it. He knows full well he's doing it only to kill time. He spends a further absurd amount of time in the bookshop on the way home while the shop owner glares at him for bringing his groceries inside and then just hanging out like a loser, but that is essentially what Arthur is, still alone in o-hell-o.

On the weekends, Arthur is the more honest kind of miserable and instead of cementing a facade in place to hide behind, he adopts rather the mantra: give up and demonstrate your acceptance of reality by wallowing in it. Tesco's is his only trip outside the house and it takes him all day Saturday to work up the nerve to go outside. In the end he is somewhere between guilty and numb at spending money on food that he doesn't even like but unfortunately still requires. When he arrives home and spills out his meagre pile of groceries upon the counter, he thinks, what a worthless effort it's all been.

Amidst these sundries is his usual four beers, which is enough to last him through the weekend - two Saturday, two Sunday. Arthur drinks one before the meal on an empty stomach so that he's buzzed enough that the taste of microwave dinner is nearly palatable, and one after the meal so that he might fall asleep without a proper reflectance upon his gaping loneliness. Hopefully he wakes up Sunday afternoon. The parts of the weekend that he must spend awake last far too long.

He schedules it all - his pre-portioned dinner, the beers - carefully enough that he has full control over how buzzed he gets. This is why he only buys four beers, because by now he knows exactly how and when to self-medicate for optimal results (take two with food, alone, causes drowsiness, do not operate vehicles or heavy machinery) and if he buys any more, that's invitation for a distress call, when he wants that - and fears that - no one will answer.

Even Morgan is complicit in this. She used to fly about his head, poking and prodding and pleading him to do something, anything. It's been a very long time since she bothered. She knows the answers she'll get, and Arthur has to want to change.

--

Monday morning at the VHI. Arthur discovers from Laurinitis that the papers are still in processing and he still can't begin his own work. Laurinitis however adds that he has a few extra things to take care of that require his quiet thought, so he allows Arthur into the fishbowl, primarily so that he might have blessed silence. Arthur gets more Gilbert time, so he isn't complaining. Already Monday is looking up.

There's a large rucksack on the cot, and Gilbert has clothes today. Long brown trousers and a thick jumper striped white black and red, with a design of stags and snowflakes, from which the points of a cream collared shirt stick out at the neck.

He looks like the kind of fellow his sister might invite to the family Christmas party, back in the fifties. Arthur has the image of Gilbert holding a steaming mug full of blood and telling people it's mulled port. In the image, Gilbert winks at Arthur over someone's shoulder as they share this secret. In this image, Gilbert is not his sister's date.

Gilbert nods Laurinitis' way. "He's been like that all weekend," he tells Arthur. "Working hard. If I didn't see him sleep I'd think he never did."

"He was here all weekend?" Maybe Arthur should apply at the VHI, if they condone this.

"He hasn't left before ten pm any day since I died."

Arthur whistles. "That's dedication."

"Tch. Yeah," Gilbert laughs derisively, "dedication to science."

"Even so, I'm glad you've someone with you for company. Such as it is," Arthur adds. "And he brought you clothes!" He dares venturing a hand out to pluck at the waistband of Gilbert's jumper. Soft, but cheap. Acrylic. Simpler to launder.

"No, that must've been Feliks," says Gilbert. "He's the one who has my house keys." He smoothes the jumper back down over his hips. "He's not such a bad sort," Gilbert decides.

Arthur swings his messenger bag around to open it. "Well, I got you something too," he admits.

"For me?" Gilbert is genuinely surprised and his eyes light up.

Arthur hands him the book first. "The only thing I knew you wouldn't've read. It's technically fantasy -" Gilbert frowns - "don't look at me like that - I'd say the point of the book is more to be comedy than fantasy."

"Yeah, I've heard of this guy," he murmurs.

"And it's got vampires in it, so, you know. If nothing else you can laugh at what he thinks vampires are like."

Gilbert smirks. "Well, thanks!"

"And some tea," he announces, pulling out a thermos. "I couldn't find whatever it was you said you wanted so this is just Assam."

Gilbert accepts the little box of tea bags - Arthur has presumed that somewhere in the VHI, there's a kettle - and a filled thermos cup - steaming, which reminds Arthur once again of Christmas Not-Meant-To-Be. He sips it. "Not bad. It'll do. But, you know, when you buy a guy a drink, it's supposed to be alcohol."

"Are you serious," says Arthur.

"What?! Toris let me read that thesis you gave him. Apparently I can tolerate these things! It even gets me drunk!" He says this proudly, but he finishes the tea and pours himself another cup.

"Gilbert, it's half-nine in the morning."

"It's five o'clock somewhere and I am alone and miserable with no human contact besides you."

"There's Laurinitis," he says, feathers ruffled and uncomfortable.

"He's not human," mutters Gilbert.

Point taken. "Do you have a circadian cycle? What happens if you don't sleep?"

Gilbert thinks about it. "I have no idea. Never really thought to try it... I've been sleeping for lack of anything to do, and it sort of corresponds to when he leaves at night and when he's back in in the morning." He drains his tea and helps himself to another and then grins. "Tell you what, you want me to try it, I will, but you need to buy me a proper drink first."

"Not 'til after that paperwork's come through," says Arthur tartly.

They watch another free documentary, this time on climate change. At Gilbert's invitation, they sit on the cot, leaning against the wall. Gilbert cuddles into Arthur's side without hesitation. He keeps his knees drawn up, pressed against Arthur's. It seems more natural this time, friendly and warm.

There's good reason for that, reminds Morgan.

He said it himself, I'm his only human contact. He's lonely, that's all.

"Can you see alright?" he asks.

"Mm-hmm," replies Gilbert. "Although, maybe ..." He reaches out to adjust the angle on the screen, and the tips of their fingers touch. "There. Better."

But he doesn't move his hand, and neither does Arthur.

He smells nice, thinks Arthur. The scent is not easily describable but it has the same fresh-cool quality of pine and the warmth and depth of clove, without smelling properly like either of those two things, only that it tingles the senses in the same way they do. He smells organic, living. Like any ordinary human skin smells without perfumes or scented soaps. Not because Arthur is actively trying to tell but because it's impossible to sit so closely with someone and not tell.

There's nothing Arthur can define that pinpoints to his supernatural enthralment ability, the way epileptics smell burnt toast or rotten eggs prior to a seizure. But at no point does any of this throw him into a trance so Arthur must be getting used to him. Then, this is good - perhaps this is all that's needed in order to neutralise an enthralment ability.

He wonders if it will help creatures he comes across in the field. If they all smell like this - same chemical signature, same pheromones - then building up an immunity to Gilbert amounts to building up an immunity to them all. But how likely is that? He'll have to ask Laurinitis.

Who is looking up at them from the desk with an alarmed look on his face. Gilbert is still watching the movie, or so Arthur thinks, because as Laurinitis continues watching, Gilbert draws nearer, leaning his head on Arthur's shoulder again until the front of his forehead meets the side of Arthur's neck, his bangs tickling Arthur's skin.

Laurinitis frowns and returns to his computer. He types something, and then he leaves the room.

A moment passes.

"Your pulse is racing," murmurs Gilbert. He lifts his head to brush the bridge of his nose across Arthur's skin.

"What," Arthur whispers.

"I can feel it."

Arthur, warns Morgan, this is getting dangerous.

I know, he replies.

"And you're so warm," he continues. "I need all three of these layers but you radiate it."

"Gilbert," he begins.

"Can I," says Gilbert uncertainly. He shifts closer, pressing his face into Arthur's neck, and Arthur's phone falls into Gilbert's lap, forgotten, as Gilbert laces their fingers together atop Arthur's knee.

"Can you what," Arthur pants, but he lifts his jaw to grant Gilbert better access which is tantamount to permission and Gilbert's cool lips press tentatively on his hot skin and Arthur gasps and -

A loud squeal from the door as it opens has them breaking apart. "Mr Kirkland," says Laurinitis neutrally. He has a bag of blood in his hand with a straw poked through. "I require your assistance on a small matter, if you would be so kind." He hands the bag to Gilbert.

"You're early," says Gilbert.

"I think you might need it," says Laurinitis. "You looked hungry."

"Yeah. Thanks," says Gilbert tightly. He snatches the bag from Laurinitis.

Arthur stands and brushes himself off, feeling unsteady on his feet. "Right," he says, "well. Er. Lead the way."

They don't speak until they get to the desk. Arthur gets the impression that Laurinitis is acting as a disappointed father but nothing in his face actually betrays this. It's just because Arthur's done something he knows he shouldn't.

He looks back at the tank. Gilbert is sipping the blood happily and watching the rest of the documentary on Arthur's phone.

Laurinitis slides a folder across the table. "A copy of the files on the incidents," he says. "I've had them all morning but I thought, perhaps it was most appropriate to bring them to you now."

He tries to explain. "Th-that was -"

"I won't insult your intelligence, so don't insult mine," says Laurinitis. "That was foolhardy. Pure and simple."

"Not ... entirely." Then, it actually happened. That actually happened. "That wasn't enthralment. I was not entranced."

"That's not what it looked like from here," snaps Laurinitis. "You weren't moving. You were physically pinned."

"I just don't move much because I'm not used to such occurrences," grits out Arthur, his cheeks irritatingly warm, "I don't exactly get a lot of action so it genuinely alarms me when I do and I pull a deer in headlights! There, are you happy?"

Laurinitis tuts. "Of course not."

"The fact that it didn't induce a trance suggests to me that I'm developing an immunity to his more... chemical charms. I'd be interested to know whether the extrapolation is possible that an immunity to his chemistry implies an immunity to all vampires' trance-related pheromones."

"If in fact it is pheromones," adds Laurinitis.

"What else could it be?" asks Arthur.

Laurinitis' mouth twists as he concedes the point. Neither of them want to believe that it's a form of magic, similar to what Arthur wields - Laurinitis because it's less scientifically understood, and Arthur because he knows that if it were magic then someone at the department should have figured out how to control it by now, and since there lacks such a solution, it means there likely isn't one.

"It's possible," figures Laurinitis. "But it's also not possible. There have been studies done to show interpersonal compatibility between humans via olfaction. There's no unique scent marker like a lock and key, it's more a spectrum of compatibility."

"So then?"

"So then I would venture a guess to say that your developing an immunity to him has no bearing on whether you'd have the same immunity to any new agent you would meet. At best, a certain class of vampires who are most genetically like Gilbert, whatever that might mean. I don't know, I'd have to take a closer look at the MHC proteins."

That's too far into jargon territory for Arthur. "The what?"

"The major histocompatibility complex. It's a set of proteins located on the cell membrane to recognise foreign molecules."

Arthur thinks. "That's the immune system."

"Which is precisely why I wanted to look at it," says Laurinitis acidly, "even though Feliks said gastrointestinal. Generally speaking, studies show that the more opposite the genes are between parents, the stronger their attraction and the stronger the immune system of potential offspring. It might ..."

Laurinitis trails off. Judging by his facial expression he's just realised something. "It has to do with tissue compatibility upon transplantation," he finishes.

"Or perhaps in this case on ingestion of foreign - that is to say animal - blood," supplies Arthur.

Laurinitis smiles. "Yes. Exactly my thinking. Then it may be related to gastrointestinal, and so I can begin work on it now. You read those, give me fifteen minutes' silence."

So Arthur does. In the folder he finds the following: there were two incidents of what appears to be enthralment, both accidentally caused by Gilbert. One is on a lab technician, a Dr Zwingli, and the other as Arthur recalls is on Laurinitis himself. Both events were captured on the security footage, as the folders make reference to video files located in what Arthur presumes is the VHI multimedia archive.

In her statement, Dr Zwingli describes a trance-like state after feeding Gilbert, after his incident over the weekend and his subsequent re-feeding from Toris with Arthur's assistance. This would make it the Wednesday night, the evening they first met. She had brought in water and that evening's blood meal.

A transcript is included from the security footage on the tank.

Beilschmidt: I didn't mean to hurt you. A-and I didn't, 'cause you're fine, right?
Zwingli: Gilbert, you nearly stabbed me.
Beilschmidt: I wouldn't have. Really!
Zwingli: Even so. You're stronger now. You have to be aware of that and keep yourself in control.
Beilschmidt: Look - I-I said I was sorry, okay? Geez!
Zwingli: Well, maybe you can show how sorry you are by remaining in control and eating regularly.
Beilschmidt: Fine. Don't be too mad at me, alright? Please?
Beilschmidt: Doctor?
Beilschmidt: Okay, geez, I'll drink it. No need for the silent treatment.
Beilschmidt: Uh. I'm, uh. Done, now. Doctor?
Beilschmidt: He-ey, anyone home? You in there, doctor? (snaps fingers)
Beilschmidt: Okay can you come back to me please, you're starting to freak me out.
Zwingli: Oh! Ah. Gilbert, you've finished. That was - that was really fast.
Beilschmidt: Nnnot really, I took like five minutes.
Zwingli: What time is- hm. That's. Well. Thank you.
Beilschmidt: Are you okay?
Zwingli: Just fine... just fine... get some rest, Gilbert.
Beilschmidt: Yeah, uh, you too, kiddo.

Dr Zwingli's own statement shows that during the time she was unresponsive she experienced a distortion of her experience of the passage of time as well as heightened physical sensations and experiences - a deafening crack when Gilbert snaps his fingers in her face, goosebumps and tingles where he pressed the empty blood bag back into her hand - adding that while she had never experimented with psychoactive drugs, she would assume it was similar.

Pictures are included of where Laurinitis was bit, after Gilbert attacked, following throwing the water glass. Laurinitis suffered injuries to the left superior thyroid vein - narrowly missing the great auricular nerve - which would not readily close after the attack. That explains the two punctures on the side of his neck still visible although only when he pulls his hair back.

Arthur's heard this side of the story from Gilbert already, but Laurinitis' statement shows a slightly different side of things. Laurinitis describes a hot sensation in his neck where he was bit, a heightened awareness of what Gilbert was doing, the sensual way he moved on top of Laurinitis' frozen body, the unwelcome partial erection Laurinitis suffered (too much information, thinks Arthur, feeling irrationally annoyed). Most of all, Laurinitis describes the way that he felt trapped inside his body, unable to move, and unable to want to move, submissive and pliant in Gilbert's grasp. These are all described in gory scientific detail.

This doesn't sound exactly like what you had, says Morgan.

No, he replies, it doesn't. None of them have full-formed hallucinations.

"Can I talk yet?" asks Arthur.

"Yes," says Laurinitis. "Have you questions?"

"Did you ever investigate what happens with blood contact?

Laurinitis is very quick to reply. "None of those people were contaminated!"

"You were bitten," says Arthur.

"But he only drew blood. He was restrained before it could proceed much further. Do you want to watch the tapes? Your security clearance should allow their procurement -"

"It's fine, I have the statements here," says Arthur, trying to quell Laurinitis' sudden anxiety.

"I ran some tube tests that weekend. It seems that when foreign - human - blood is introduced to Beilschmidt's blood, it quickly becomes entirely like Beilschmidt's. The red blood cells develop nuclei, and after some time all of the blood matches Beilschmidt's profile. Even if a single drop of Beilschmidt's blood is added to a nearly full tube of a foreign agent. It just takes longer."

"So it's as a blood-borne disease," Arthur says.

"Precisely." Laurinitis exhales deeply, relaxing. He seems elated that Arthur is finally showing some competence. "Contamination by other bodily fluids doesn't seem to be an issue, however."

What? "Which... other bodily fluids?" asks Arthur.

"Oh, the usual. Urine, sweat, saliva, semen. We may try cerebrospinal fluid once you're cleared."

Arthur's brain has halted on that specific item. "How -" he coughs. "Er - how ... did you -"

"Spinal tap, obviously," Laurinitis says. "But the pain is typically great so we'll need you to restrain him because I don't think simple straps will keep him still given how strong he is."

"N-no, not that particular one - erm -" He inhales deeply. "Semen?" he croaks out.

Laurinitis nods, unemotional. "That's why we were feeding him two blood packets a day, that he might be able to sustain an erection long enough to ejaculate."

Don't look at the tank, he tells himself. Don't look at it. Don't think about Laurinitis' statement and the details about the way Gilbert's body moves when he's thirsty.

"I'm honestly sorry I asked," says Arthur.

"Really?" says Laurinitis with false interest. "Given how cozy you two were, it suggests to me you're at least half interested."

"Th-that has nothing to do with it!" he protests. "I asked only because - it was purely academic!"

"Mm-hmm," says Laurinitis through pursed lips, unbelieving and icy. "Keep it that way. At any rate, that explains why closing a wound with vampire blood causes healing where normally the act of the bite releases a low-toxicity anti-coagulant dose of venom from his teeth. Locally, the vampire blood begins working immediately to seal a wound and trap at least part of itself inside. It's conceivably possible that it could be altered in order to only patch skin and do no more, but any minute quantity on the wrong side replicates itself in the blood stream. Within time, the entire blood stream is affected, causing Beilschmidt's original condition in which he spent most of his life. Or, as I suspect, that irritable friend of yours Popescu. A simple bite isn't enough, it needs blood-contact to transfer."

"Gilbert told you what happened to him after all?"

"Friday evening," says Laurinitis. "I focused the weekend's work upon it with extremely productive results."

"Did you go home at all?"

"Of course. I stopped in for an hour to feed my cat."

Arthur blinks. "You have a cat."

"I have a cat," replies Laurinitis. "Science shows that taking care of a pet is good for you - humans tend to sleep better - and good for your heart. Since I don't have time to cook, my sodium and cholesterol intake is higher than average, so I have to manage that through alternate means."

That's something Arthur's quite familiar with. He has absolutely no ability to cook food, though he certainly appreciates good food. "Do you just eat takeaway all the time?"

"No," says Laurinitis, "of course not, restaurants use too much partially hydrogenated oils, too many low-fiber carbohydrates. That doesn't promote longevity. Dying early means I get less science done. No, I eat a specially-formulated, nutritionally-complete meal replacement with regular meals once or twice a week to keep oral hygiene consistent."

Oh, of course. Arthur gets the impression that Laurinitis would take pill-food if he could get away with it. "I see," he says.

"A dog might be more expedient for the purposes of studying cognition, but cats are better for the environment, lower carbon footprint. More independent than dogs. And they're aesthetically pleasing."

"As an hypothesis," says Arthur, "consider bringing the cat to work."

"That's ridiculous. Who would take care of it?"

Arthur points to Gilbert's cell.

"I'll think about it," says Laurinitis, in the manner of someone who has already given all the thought he is prepared to give it. He turns back to his work.

And so, after a moment stealing glimpses of Gilbert, does Arthur to his.

--

Tuesday morning he wakes up to over a hundred new email messages.

You forgot your phone, and your thermos, writes Gilbert, who has used his phone to compose messages from Arthur to Arthur. He has evidently assumed Arthur would check his email at some point at home. The rest of the emails are pictures and videos of a black and white cow-spotted cat that Gilbert claims is named Katė, which he is pretty sure just means 'cat' in Lithuanian.

But some of them are of Gilbert and the cat. Gilbert is incredibly non photogenic. His smile is best described as goofy and the angle he shoots at makes his face look disproportioned or out of focus. The light in the tank is harsh and washes him out and against the cat's pitch black fur he looks sickly ill; against the cat's winter white fur he looks yellow. His eyebrows look unequal from most angles, he's most often captured in the middle of blinking and the oily sheen on his skin makes him look unwashed.

Arthur wonders if this is a recent development of the vampire life kind. Gilbert writes that he's only sending the best pictures and for every one that he sends, he has deleted seven failures. Arthur shudders to think.

The most recent email is only from ten minutes ago. Would send more but your phone is running out of battery. Come see me soon.

It seems to have cut short. A quick bit of investigating shows there's one new email in the drafts folder, eclipsed by the hundred in his inbox. Dated that morning shortly after 3am it is a picture of the cat named Cat, sleeping, with the text I tired her out! wish you were here. miss you. Arthur's heart begins to pound.

Chapter Text

The cat is awake Tuesday morning when Arthur arrives at the VHI, and so is Gilbert. The cat is much cuter in person than in the pictures. So is Gilbert playing with it, because he looks so genuinely happy.

"Isn't she adorable?" Gilbert gushes. "Toris brought her in around nine last night! Finally, he's good for something!" He yells this last bit in Laurinitis' direction. Laurinitis, evidently used to this, ignores him.

"Did you sleep at all?" asks Arthur. There had been an awful lot of emails.

"Well, you were curious whether I needed to. And I had some stuff to do for a change, so it wasn't too tough." Gilbert shrugs.

The papers are still in processing, which Gilbert knows, so it wasn't a formal request, Gilbert simply obliged for - for no reason?

"Not just for you! I also was curious," Gilbert admits. "Imagine all the things I could do if I didn't have to sleep."

"Did you make much progress on the book, then?"

"Oh, I didn't touch it."

"You played with the cat all night long?"

Gilbert whips out Arthur's phone from his trousers pocket. Today he wears jeans that are a size too tight and a white hooded sweatshirt over a patterned tee that says something in German on it around a skeleton eagle. His socks are bright yellow. It is evidently Casual Tuesday. "Didn't you get my emails? I'm so glad you left this here," he says. "Next time, can you also forget the charging cable?"

"You're ridiculous," says Arthur, with no small measure of fondness. He pockets the phone to charge it later; there's no outlet inside Gilbert's tank. "I had a cat in the 80's, but it hated my guts and was not nearly this affectionate." The cat grabs Gilbert's fingers in its paws and nips at them. It's having a blast, probably because Laurinitis has never shown it much attention.

The door to the tank squeals open behind them; it's Laurinitis. "Gilbert, tests are back," he says.

"Does that mean what I think it means?" Gilbert looks very excited.

"Maybe." Laurinitis smiles. "If Mr Kirkland can oblige."

Gilbert looks up at him with such a pleading look that Arthur finds it very difficult to say anything other than, "Of course," even though he doesn't yet know what for.

Back at the desk, Laurinitis shows them some numbers. "These prove that I honestly can't find anything that shows detrimental effects of garlic on your biology, topically or internally. Including hair and nails. Are you certain you heard Dr Popescu correctly?"

"Fairly. I wouldn't chance it," adds Arthur.

"Not like I can eat it. Well! Who wants to go around smelling like a pasta shop," says Gilbert.

"Why were you looking so deeply into the effects of garlic anyway?"

Laurinitis flushes, nervously evasive. "Oh, you know," he says, "just in case there's a detrimental effect, s-suppose I use garlic in my cooking or something, I wouldn't want it to harm our patient." Except that Laurinitis told him yesterday he doesn't cook. "A-and some folk theories have a basis in scientific fact, which goes completely unnoticed for centuries! Like willow bark tea being good for pain relief and then we go ahead and make aspirin out of it. In this case, I can't seem to find anything. Same with the sunlight theory."

"Sunlight theory?"

"Yessss," says Gilbert, rubbing his hands together with glee.

"I tried irradiating his skincells with all kinds of light. Ultraviolet, infrared, whatever might pass through the atmosphere - at this latitude and longitude, given the state of the Earth's ozone layer. It passes inspection under a solar-like profile of a combination of wavelengths at an appropriate intensity. But, your Dr Popescu may have a point - it's one thing to do research on cells and cultures I've scraped from him and another thing to do them on the real thing."

"And that's why he borrowed the tanning bed," chirps Gilbert helpfully.

"You didn't," says Arthur, alarmed.

"I told him he could," says Gilbert.

"Just his arm, just for two seconds," says Laurinitis, very serious. "When that passed, then ten, then thirty, then two minutes. Then some post-analysis imaging and tests." Laurinitis shrugs and gestures at the numbers. "It all seems fine. I even checked for mosquitoes and bug bites. Your blood kills them within minutes if they're dumb enough to try biting, so... you're cleared to go outside." Gilbert's face is radiant.

"Provided it's overcast, only for a short while - ten minutes! not one second more! - and take an umbrella -"

"Yeah, yeah," says Gilbert. "We'll be fine, Mutti."

"- and in case anything happens, Arthur goes with you."

"Tch, obviously," says Gilbert. He hooks his left arm around Arthur's right. "C'mon, let's go."

There's a park out back the institution - although park is really a misnomer, it's more like free greenspace with a bench by a footpath. "It's perfect," breathes Gilbert. "God, you don't know how stir-crazy I was going in there! I never thought I was an outdoorsy sort until I couldn't go outside." He inhales in deep. "Air!"

"I see why most vampires don't until nightfall," says Arthur, laughing. "You look legitimately dead. Just because you can do this doesn't mean you should. You'd attract some attention in public."

It's true. Under the sunlight, which is somehow harsher still on Gilbert's image than fluorescent, Gilbert's hair is a flat grey, his skin is sallow and wan and an unhealthy shade of porcelain, his eyes look sunken in at the sockets and his bloodless cream cheekbones seem sharper and gaunt. He looks ill, halfway in the coffin. The shadows are cleverly making him look like a literal skull. His teeth are the only things that don't receive the white treatment - they're offwhite.

"Thought vampires were supposed to be majestically beautiful with the power to entrance anyone," says Gilbert. "You're not doing a guy's ego a very good turn here."

"I've worked with too many to be so easily taken in," says Arthur.

Gilbert smiles to himself. It's a very smug smile that suggests he perceives these words as a challenge. But he says instead, "How many have you worked with? I'm not counting the guy in the red coat."

"Mircea?"

"That's the one. I mean how many who had actually turned. There must be some files in that department of yours."

Arthur thinks. "Only two I know of."

"Pfft! That's it?! And you guys are the experts? No wonder you know nothing about vampires!"

"Neither do you," teases Arthur.

"Were any of them pretty lady vampires?"

Arthur raises an eyebrow. "Why, you want an introduction?"

"N-no! I just thought, if anyone would take you in, it'd be, y'know. A lady vampire," says Gilbert, pretending caution.

Ooh, so it's That Talk, is it, says Morgan. She sounds gleeful.

Hush.

Of course I'll hush! Better to pay attention. I love Those Talks. Now, he's 200, think that makes him closeted all his life or now-that-I'm-immortal-let's-try-everything-I-never-dared? Oh wait, Prussian - I bet he's a 'what happens in the army stays in the army' sort of chap.

Would you kindly cease, I can't concentrate.

"I'm not taken in by anyone," says Arthur. He sighs. "There was Alice - let's see - she would've been about sixty something in her years when I first got her file, and that was in the seventies, though she looked about seventeen as she was when she turned -"

"Oh yeah, that's the one they had the file on. Your department gave them to VHI, Toris let me read them."

"Does Laurinitis actually let you read them or does he just not care enough to stop you?"

Gilbert shrugs with a shit-eating grin. "Can't it be both? Anyway, you guys took a lot of stuff out of those files. Whatever happened to her?"

"Ah," says Arthur. "She left the field. Took early retirement."

Gilbert looks concerned. "Took or was forced out? When you say retirement what exactly do you mean?"

"What? No!" he says. "Nothing like that! That's not what I meant. She was retired for about twenty years, lived back home in Belfast for awhile, came back."

"None of that was in her file," says Gilbert.

"Well, naturally not. She works with us again, somewhere, I don't know where - not my department - so I imagine she's under a certain amount of protection." Alice is a single vampire agent employed in a department of over a thousand people. Vampires older than five years are so rare that Arthur imagines we would want her to be a well-guarded secret. He knows that we know how lucky we were that Alice joined on in the first place and how difficult it can be to get the same level of operation lacking someone of her skill-set. "They redact a good deal from current field agents' files. I imagine they'd do the same for mine."

"Sure." Gilbert remains unconvinced. "Who was the other one?"

"Bloke by the name of Harry Fletcher. None of us knew how old he was. He joked once that he was Fletcher because he used to fletch arrows, and at first I thought, there's no way he's that old, but he was all grey when I met him and he said he was turned at nineteen."

"I thought you said you never met any like me."

"I wouldn't say I had ever really met Harry. He was half senile and never the same person two days in a row. And just meeting you, he wouldn't remember you. He'd remember his own history all wrong."

Gilbert wiggles his eyebrows. "Sure he had it all wrong? He would've been there for it."

"He claimed he spied on Henry the Eighth in the privy once and he was two short men in a doublet."

Gilbert thinks. "Maybe he was being ironic. One a Catholic, one a Protestant. Historical metaphor."

Harry Fletcher was not that smart. "He hoarded acorns and never washed and if you disturbed his office nap instead of letting him wake on his own he wouldn't remember anything but his native Cornish. On Wednesdays he would spend the hour between 9:24 and 10:24 silently frothing at the mouth at his desk. He tried to duel his computer. One day he wore a fishbowl for a hat. He thought cars were the work of the devil. I think he just stopped forming memories after the eighteenth century and the inability to cope with the industrial revolution cracked him."

Gilbert snorts. It pushes into a chuckle, then a laugh, then a cackle and then he's doubled over in a fit of giggles so uncontrollable it's like he hasn't laughed since he died. It turns his cheeks pinkish and healthy and his smile is achingly handsome.

"It's not funny!" says Arthur, although Gilbert's riotous laughter has him cracking a smile. "Sometimes I think that poor man really wanted out of this endless life!"

"Oh, please. He could've taken it if he weren't so stubborn," wheezes Gilbert. "What got him in the end?"

"I don't actually know that he's dead. He transferred not long after the fishbowl incident, likely because he couldn't be allowed on the tube without us having to cover up his episodes and he had no other way to get to work."

"So we do age," says Gilbert, wiping a tear from his eye. "Just much, much, much slower."

"Something like that. Anyway. I know there are others partly associated with the department, because I process their files. So they've registered. But what's said in the files doesn't generally have any scientific bearing, so I don't know whether they've shared them with the VHI. They could have signed access to information clauses. And I've never met anyone long enough to be entranced, and anyway, it's not really done in the workplace, is it, seduce your coworkers to feast on their blood more easily? Hardly water cooler protocol. So much for erotic vampire love."

Gilbert smirks. "I guess that means I have more of an impression to make."

"Good luck trying," teases Arthur. "I'll just picture you dueling the computer with a fishbowl on your head."

"I hear it's a very common magical courtship ritual," says Gilbert with a smile.

He's so obvious about it, says Morgan. He's not even bothering to hide! I've never seen a two hundred year old more adjusted. He acts like he's younger than you!

Hey now.

This is hilarious. You could grab him by his shirt and look deeply into his eyes or something with equally little game and he'd probably swoon. I can't believe I thought he might be closeted.

Whether he wants me is one thing -

He definitely wants you. He wants to ride you like cavalry into sweet glorious battle.

- let me finish! - Have you ever considered the why? What does he know about me, anyway? Nothing! If he's flirting at all, he's probably doing it because he's bored. Do we have anything in common besides the fact that he's locked away in his cell and I'm the only one his keepers will let through? If we met at a pub, would we even talk to one another? And I'm here to do a job, not to think with my prick!

Arthur, the diatribe is great but he's talking again.

Shit. "Sorry?" Arthur asks.

"I said, I've made things awkward, haven't I," replies Gilbert.

"N-no, of course not, how would you have?"

Gilbert lifts a shoulder, his expression wistful. "You were really silent. I thought - maybe you didn't ... which, ah, you know, would be fine, but I should probably know, so -"

Morgan grabs hold of Arthur's temples and shakes his head from side to side for him.

Buzz off!

Just trying to help you get laid once a decade!

"I was talking to my patron," Arthur says, when his vision stops swimming. Gilbert doesn't appear to understand. Arthur flicks his wrists and a shower of golden sparks erupt in streams from his fingertips. "Having the talent is only part of the path to skills like these, you have to apply for, and be granted, the patronage of a legendary creature to assist you with physical realisations and who will intervene if you try to take over the world. Ordinarily a god or a goddess. Mine is a fairy who doesn't shut up." He glares Morgan's way, though he's positive it makes him look even crazier than he is.

Gilbert's careful grin fractures. "'I was talking to my fairy.' Well. I will give you credit. That's a new one," he says bitterly. "In 200 years, that is the first time I have heard that excuse."

"It's no excuse! Everything else I do is by her consent, so I'm not surprised she likes to intrude with us. She has no bloody boundaries. Judging by how she won't shut up when you're around, I think she likes you," Arthur adds.

"'Course she likes me, who doesn't like me," says Gilbert, although he tucks his head down to hide the blush that he can't fight.

"I don't like you!" bellows Laurinitis' voice from behind them. They whirl around to find Laurinitis storming angrily across the green. "I said ten minutes! It has been twenty-one minutes that you wandered off! I've been trying to find you for eleven minutes!"

"Yes. We can also do maths," says Gilbert, slinging an arm around Arthur and pulling him close. He's clever about it, the movement looks like easy camaraderie, but as Arthur bumps physically into Gilbert and Gilbert cups his hand firmly around Arthur's shoulder, there's a squeeze that could be termed as tender before he breaks it and claps him soundly like any exuberant, platonic friend.

Laurinitis drags them back to the lab. Inside, he takes some more readings. He presses into Gilbert's forearm with his thumb and frets over the way in which the flesh springs back. "It's bright red," he remarks. "This is awful."

"That's just the fluorescent lights," says Gilbert.

"It's not," insists Laurinitis.

"I always look weird under these lights. Or any lights. I just plain look weird, because I'm undead. Look, I feel fine."

Laurinitis isn't really listening. He curses softly under his breath in a language that isn't English and is most displeased. He takes a few skin scrapings and buggers off to the microscope.

The phone has charged enough by now, so Gilbert shows him some more cat pictures.

"Toris, I'm adopting your cat," calls out Gilbert.

"She's not up for adoption."

"Well you never play with her!"

"That's why I brought her to you. Now I can keep an eye on her, and do my research, and you have something to do that isn't bothering me. Fixes three problems in one."

"Huh. Guess you do have good ideas once in awhile," says Gilbert.

"It wasn't his idea!" complains Arthur.

Gilbert looks up at him with new eyes, touched. "Thanks," he says, heartfelt, and then he leans in close. Arthur freezes. Laurinitis' back is turned. Time seems to slow as Gilbert draws nearer still and pecks him on the corner of the mouth, like he was aiming for his lips but planted it off-centre. Arthur's skin is on fire where Gilbert touches him and though he can't make himself move, he feels his lips twitch, trying as best he can while frozen to reciprocate, push back, kiss back, when he's helpless to do any of these, before Gilbert retreats and Arthur can move again.

Was that -

Yes. But only briefly, says Morgan, impressed. A very short enthralment.

But did it happen or did I dream it?

Dream what?

The kiss!

What kiss? Did I miss something?

Is she joking? Did it happen? Only Morgan really knows. Arthur doesn't. Laurinitis doesn't. We don't.

Somewhere around the hundreth cat picture, Arthur realises that Gilbert - who had fallen silent a few moments prior and stopped commenting on every cat picture, allowing Arthur to shift through them himself - is dozing on his forearms. It's just as well; looking at cat pictures is getting boring.

"That excursion took far too much out of him. He needs rest," says Laurinitis anxiously.

"Because he was up all night, not because of the sunlight," adds Arthur. "New data point, vampires do need sleep." Although it worries him too. What if it was the sunlight? He brushes Gilbert's soft bangs back from his forehead before he remembers that he should check that Laurinitis isn't watching.

Laurinitis is. But he doesn't say anything about it. "Well. Come bring him into the observation room. He can sleep it off there and the diagnostics can keep an eye on him."

The observation room is off the main lab and looks very like a doctor's office. There's a surgery table in the middle surrounded by machines on wheels, and a further monitoring station through the next room.

"'M fine, really," Gilbert keeps saying, but he also keeps rubbing his eyes and yawning and he's leaning very heavily on Arthur. He lets Arthur lead him to the surgery table where he lies down and curls up underneath a thin blanket. "This is dumb," he murmurs.

"What is?"

"You only come for three hours and now I'm going to spend one of those hours sleeping." He yawns again. "What a waste. Shouldn't have stayed up all night. Could've done that on the weekend..." And he falls asleep mid-sentence.

Arthur waits until he is quite asleep and softly snoring before he leans over and kisses him on the forehead, against his better judgement.

If Laurinitis sees it, he doesn't let on. Perhaps he doesn't care, thinks Arthur. After all, no enthralment is possible when Gilbert's asleep.

--

Mircea confronts him later that day in the kitchen, while Arthur is making tea. Less because it's tea time, and more because he's trying (and failing) to concentrate on the paperwork for boring cases like filing acceptances between young talented folk and their new patrons or getting the Seelie and Unseelie Courts to the negotiating table on the use of false morels or legitimising the adoptions of maltreated children by an Erlking daughter (who despite her heritage has shown a singular track record for exceptional social work in child protection). The work is slow going.

Ruling's come down from the top: Gilbert is to be granted basic respect as an autonomous agent - which he mostly already has - he is to be protected from emotional, physical, and mental harm - but Laurinitis already sees to that for the most part, since Gilbert explicitly gives consent until all that ethics paperwork is pushed through the pipeline, and anything Gilbert doesn't like (Arthur assumes) Gilbert doesn't acquiesce to - and his privacy and well-being are to be protected - and since Mircea says Gilbert is to get his own unmonitored room at the VHI, he will have all the privacy he needs during the hours he isn't being paid for his work.

However, we only adopted three of the recommendations made by Mircea. Gilbert is not permitted to revoke his participation in his research.

You see, late last year a new set of mandates was decreed, urging better co-operation between public-private partnerships, and we cited such reasoning in our ruling. It means that the VHI can do essentially just about anything they want (within reason) with little interference from us. In fact, Arthur and Mircea themselves are the only interference that we are ready to provide.

If we play nice with the VHI, they might play nice with us. And they have something we might like.

"This is fucking bullshit," Mircea says to Arthur. "I'll find a loophole, just you wait."

We are confident that he will.

Chapter Text

Gilbert's not in the tank when Arthur arrives Wednesday morning. The rucksack's missing too.

Laurinitis notices it immediately, of course, and grumbles something under his breath. Then he takes his phone out calmly and dials a number. "Yes, it's Toris, can you get - exactly. Yes. Thank you Dr Zwingli."

"Everything alright?" asks Arthur.

"Yes, no thanks to Dr Popescu who seems to have taken on an advocacy role, Gilbert has his own room now. That's fine." Laurinitis' tone of voice tells Arthur it is less than fine. "But he has to be here during regular business hours for testing purposes and I would really have rather kept him overnight for treatment yesterday. "

"Treatment?"

"Two hours after you left, I noticed he had begun to darken and his skin changed several shades and had begun to peel."

The anxiety feels like it launches Arthur's heart into his throat. "Sunburn? How dangerous?"

"Yes, and first degree. In the places exposed to the air, second degree. It was very alarming and didn't seem to respond to any treatment."

"Was he in pain? Is he alright now? Where is he?"

"As I understand it he experienced some intense discomfort -"

"Aw, it wasn't so bad." Gilbert enters the observation room with the tank from a door opposite Laurinitis' lab. He looks normal. It soothes Arthur more than he can admit to see him looking so normal.

"Is there something wrong perhaps with the alarm clock that the institute provided you?" asks Laurinitis.

"No, nothing at all," says Gilbert with glee, "in fact it scattered exceedingly well into a billion little pieces where I threw it against the wall after it tried to wake me up. Honestly, Toris, seven AM? I'm not in the army anymore, so that's not happening. By the way, you're gonna want to get someone in there to clean that up."

"I'll call Dr Zwingli," growls Laurinitis. "After your behaviour yesterday -"

Gilbert waves a hand dismissively. "It wasn't that bad," he says.

"What happened," says Arthur.

"You were screaming and you sloughed off your skin like a serpent and you couldn't see!" erupts Laurinitis.

Arthur gapes. "Good lord!"

"No! It really wasn't that bad. Stop saying that or nobody's ever going to let me out of the house again and that is Not On."

Arthur studies him closely. That black cardigan he's wearing isn't doing him any favours and makes him look twice as pale and thin as he ever does. "You look fine," decides Arthur.

"Yeah, it seems I don't tan, I just burn, and then return to my former lack of colour. Ghost-tomato-ghost in the space of about four hours. Freaked out the cat," he adds.

"Freaked out me!" blurts Laurinitis. "The photokeratitis was the worst part."

"The what?"

"Like snowblindness," Gilbert explains. "Except also with the feeling of having sand in your eyes."

"You cried so hard you suffered mild dehydration!" Laurinitis says.

"H-hey I didn't - I did not cry, okay?!" Gilbert is adamant.

With an evil grin, Arthur says, "We could just check the video footage."

"Oh don't you dare," says Gilbert.

"The next time you leave before sundown you're wearing better clothes," says Laurinitis, "and I mean head to toe covering -"

"Okay, well," begins Gilbert defensively, "there are some ladies who wear those -"

"This hardly the time for levity!" Laurinitis' accent is stronger when he's angry. He has trouble with v's.

"I think so too!" says Gilbert. "It's not funny to think of me locked away for the rest of my life inside! Look, I look fine now, and I am fine, aren't I? And you had a field day with science, so, I don't see why you're complaining."

Laurinitis grumbles his grudging agreement.

"What did the tests say?" asks Arthur.

"Somehow his skin regenerates fast enough that his sunburn was gone in about an hour. There are applications to this in so many domains. Longevity implications, cell death and rebirth is so fast and essentially perfect ... that's science for years." Laurinitis doesn't look happy about admitting it.

"See? No harm done!" Gilbert laughs awkwardly before turning to Arthur. "I was not crying," he states.

Arthur snorts.

"So, uh, Toris," he adds, "you're gonna be busy with that science, right? You don't mind if I steal our friendly neighbourhood government overseer?"

"Knock yourself out. But this time, not literally." To Arthur, Laurinitis warns, "Stay where I can see you."

"One more thing," Arthur adds. "You go on ahead." Gilbert raises an eyebrow but doesn't say anything about it. He heads for the door.

"What?" Laurinitis asks.

"You said you'd tried everything with a skin sample," says Arthur, under his breath.

"Not with a living tissue!"

"But then you tried it with him, didn't you?"

"Of course! Are you accusing me of malpractice? I did my due diligence! And he accepted, I'll note!"

Arthur shakes his head. "Bring that up with Mircea, if he asks - not me. Although, what would possibly have been different with outside versus in here, I'm not sure - a project for another time. What I'm curious about is, the presence of vampire blood upon a human wound causes it to close immediately, correct?"

"But the epidermis doesn't contain blood vessels," explains Laurinitis. "The cells are supplied with blood from capillaries only at the deepest layer. The damage must have penetrated that far. In twenty minutes. It would have been deep enough to affect other portions such as sebaceous glands or sweat glands. That's why I said second degree."

Sweat glands... But Gilbert had still been able, after going outside, to inflict a trance - small as it was, and unconsciously. Perhaps enthralment was facilitated because the sweat glands had been damaged? Or perhaps because the skin layers atop had been damaged. Then, enthralment could occur at either level of burn.

When are you going to address the fact that his unconscious use of enthralment directed at you speaks volumes about how he feels about you, asks Morgan.

Not today, says Arthur. But he does file that piece of information away.

"Interesting," says Arthur. "And you say he's fine now?"

"I saw no changes from his state before you went outside. If there is damage, it's very hard to find." From Laurinitis' face, this is not the way he'd prefer to put it. "I'm ... not ruling it out," he decides, "but I would bet there isn't any. Every time I draw blood, the needlemark is gone within minutes." He notices Arthur's concentration. "What are you thinking?"

"Turn up the heat in there. After I leave, get swabs of his sweat. Wherever the pheromones that produce enthralment are generated, I suspect that's where they're being released."

Laurinitis is suspicious. "You're not yet authorised -"

"Turning the heat up isn't exactly at my request. He's already once before complained that he needs to wear layers because he's cold. Which is one of the reasons he likes to cuddle so close."

"And the other reasons?" asks Laurinitis with an arch look.

"Well, you can ask him," says Arthur haughtily.

Laurinitis isn't pleased. "Fine," he says.

--

"He's just in a bad mood 'cause they had to give me my own room and I'm not here the moment he gets in," explains Gilbert, about Laurinitis.

Arthur raises his eyebrows.

"Yeah, I've my own room now!" Gilbert seems proud. "Small. And I can't keep the cat with me, but it's kind of nice! And it doesn't have a damn video camera trained on it all the time, so hey, that's a plus. Nice to have some privacy at last." He grins. "Though I still have to be in here during daylight hours. It's probably all due to Mircea."

"He was here?"

Gilbert nods. "Dropped by not long after you left but before Toris discovered the sunburn. I probably would have slept through if it weren't for their screaming match."

"Shame it woke you up," says Arthur.

"Not a shame. It's hilarious! But it helped that I was in a bad state and growing worse so Mircea made Toris feel really bad for it so they gave me a room. Mircea says it's normal. This sensitivity to the sun. So I guess I'll have to be careful. No more beach days for me."

"He didn't mention anything about it in the thesis."

"The point of his thesis wasn't on physiological changes."

That's true enough. "Did he... tell you anything else?" asks Arthur.

"Oh. You mean the results of the ruling? Yeah." Gilbert looks unhappy. "I love how this government was very careful not to give up anything that wasn't already being given, thus giving the appearance of doing something while doing in fact nothing at all."

"Hah, that's government for you," says Arthur, "they're good at that."

Gilbert draws closer to him and looks pointedly at the corner of the cell, where there's a camera. Arthur looks back, his eyebrows raised. At Gilbert's nod, he kills the feed.

Then Gilbert says very quietly, so that only Arthur can hear. "Listen. It's maybe just a feeling, but - I don't trust them."

"Who? Laurinitis and Łukasiewicz?"

"Your department," says Gilbert. "I don't trust them."

"Good lord," says Arthur, "if this is some sort of conspiracy theory -"

"I'm not paranoid," says Gilbert. "But you have to appreciate that I have seen a lot of governments in my day do a lot of very different things, yeah?"

Arthur swallows. "I've been meaning to ask you about that," he murmurs.

Gilbert darkens immediately. That topic is clearly not what he wanted to talk about at all, but Arthur figures, he's the one who brought it up. "Oh, go ask Feliks, if you care so much," snaps Gilbert, "he's far happier to tell you of the awful things he thinks I've done."

"I didn't mean -"

"Doch, you did mean! Because you're probably thinking to yourself the same old things, this kraut can't be trusted, because of the war, because of what they did in it, because of who they invaded and what happened when they did, because of the camps. Go on and say what you like, I've heard it all before. I can't find it in me to be angry or hurt anymore, not even when it comes from you - it was always just a matter of time!"

"Did you expect me never to ask?" exclaims Arthur. "You don't act like a N-"

"No one I knew ever did! So many of us never acted like it and then you'd turn around and someone would -" Gilbert cuts himself off. He sighs, trying to recoup his composure. "It wasn't the first time I'd seen war. Alright? It wasn't even the first time I'd seen atrocities. So Arthur, when I say that I think something's up with the department, please understand that I am not saying it lightly."

"You know I work for them," says Arthur.

"Yeah, well, maybe you don't know what they're capable of. I'm just - saying, to keep your mind and your eyes open. for my sake." He sniffs. "If you care at all about me."

"You know I care!" But maybe he doesn't. Arthur thinks back to some of the files he's had to process. "You don't know what I know." Quietly, he adds, "You don't know me."

Gilbert looks at him for a very long time. "Maybe that's true," he murmurs.

For awhile they simply look at one another. Gilbert's folded his arms over his chest and though he still looks undead-thin in that black cardigan, it's easy to see the kind of man he might have once been - his forearms still bulged with corded muscle, his chest still broad. That famous Prussian bearing, as they liked to say, especially haughty in his vexation. His face is too angular and pointed - could have been aristocratic, even, although Arthur doubts it. (But how would he know? He knows nothing of Gilbert.)

Still, somehow Arthur senses a softness in him. Surely he didn't do such terrible things?

And what does Gilbert represent to him, anyway? An out, a ray of light in his otherwise bleak existence. Arthur would be using him.

Is it really so bad, offers Morgan, if that's what gets you out of that nasty rut that I've been dying for you to get out of? I've told you for years, you've untapped potential yet. You would be a far stronger practitioner if you didn't conceal yourself the way you do. You don't just hold yourself back. You hold me back.

I can't expect him to be my healer in this. I have my own personal problems and it's unfair to expect other people to save me from them.

He's not a healer. He's just a catalyst. You would do the rest.

Then maybe I ought find another catalyst that didn't commit war crimes, says Arthur.

You don't know that he did.

I don't know that he didn't.

If it bothers you so much then you know what you have to do. You have to ask.

But Arthur doesn't. Arthur remains silent. Arthur wants so very badly to know him, but he fears to know the truth of it. Doesn't that make him a little culpable, if he wants this man badly enough that he doesn't care what he's done?

"What is it you think the department wants?" asks Arthur at last.

Gilbert is shaking his head. "I'm not telling you if I can't even trust you." He starts to pick at his sleeves. "Verdammt, is it hot in here or is it just me?"

"I feel fine." Because he cast a spell on himself before entering this sauna of a tank.

"Huh," says Gilbert. "Really?" He moves closer and takes Arthur's hand. "How - you're practically freezing!" He places his other hand on Arthur's cheek. "Are you sure I'm the one who's dead? How can you keep yourself so cool?"

And Gilbert's warmer than Arthur would have thought. Gilbert's hand slips down to his neck and it's becoming incredibly difficult not to lean into the touch or care about the things he should be caring about. All his lovely arguments slip away. "Are you okay?" Arthur pretends concern. "Is it something bad - should I go get the doc-"

"No!" interrupts Gilbert. "God no, please no. I'll just - here." He takes off the cardigan. Underneath he wears a simple shirt, light blue and somewhat translucent as Arthur can see underneath he wears an undershirt. "There. That's better."

"If you're certain," Arthur adds.

"Yeah, it's fine."

"Do you want me to turn the cameras back on?"

"What I want is someone I could trust," says Gilbert pointedly.

That stings. Arthur leaves his side to sit on the cot and curl up against the wall. Gilbert doesn't follow him and remains standing, his posture stiff. "Mircea's working on a loophole," says Arthur. "So - so will I. There has to be - something, anything."

"The tallest blade of grass is the first cut by the scythe, isn't that it? And I can't even blame anyone - VHI, department - it's not even an authoritarian thing, it's just simply practical. Avoids problems."

"I know," Arthur says.

"From their standpoint," continues Gilbert, "they have an asset who could be well of use with their particular skill set, so perhaps they might like to keep something of a watch on him. Which they do by hiring him."

He's hitting a bit close to home, says Morgan.

I know.

"I wonder what would happen if I didn't go willingly. If I tried to move against them. I could do it, couldn't I?" He flexes his arms experimentally. "I have this incredible strength I never use."

"Against the VHI?"

"Against everyone," warns Gilbert.

Arthur sighs. What would likely happen? "VHI would contact us, and we'd find you. There's people we have. There's places where we put people."

"Like a magical prison?"

"Precisely."

"Really?" Gilbert has begin to pluck at his blue shirt, using the looseness of the fabric to fan himself on the throat. Arthur can smell him from paces away and his mouth begins to water. "Well. I don't intend to break any rules. I just don't like being boxed in," he decides.

"I can't blame you," says Arthur, watching for the expanse of Gilbert's throat as he pulls at his shirt. "It's a miserable existence. I wouldn't recommend it."

Gilbert's eyes narrow. He seems to have come upon something all at once. "Have you ever done something, just because you wanted to?" he asks.

"Of course I have - ?"

"I don't mean something small, or something that was a good idea after all, or something that you told yourself you wanted it enough times that it became true, I mean something that was ill-advised, completely stupid, and changed a good part of the course of your life."

"Ah - well -" In that case, not really. All of Arthur's life is precise and measured by construction.

"It's the easiest thing in the world, to react without consequences, without thinking," says Gilbert dreamily. "Impulsive, even if you are well-intentioned. When I was bitten, I was in the army at the time. We were - something of a special operations group. The king was of course interested in such creatures, there had been rumours of plagues of them throughout East Prussia in the 18th century, so they put us on the case. We had no knowledge of what we were up against. Did they want to collect a bunch of them to make a regiment out of? Did they want us all bitten to form a regiment?"

"You think he wanted to control them?" asks Arthur.

"Honestly, I don't think they even thought that far ahead," Gilbert replies. "I hadn't thought too far ahead in joining the army. I hadn't thought too far ahead in signing up for special forces. I hadn't thought strategically enough in trying to evade his capture, and I definitely didn't think when I let him drink from me."

"You were enthralled," says Arthur, "I shouldn't imagine you had much choice -"

"Mm," says Gilbert. "The first time, I was."

This is a surprise. "There were others?"

"I let him feed from me for a little over three years," says Gilbert. He doesn't sound all the way to guilty but he acts like he knows that this is something he shouldn't've done. "I - somehow managed to regain my strength more readily after he would drink. I think because I wasn't quite human any longer. It's the only way I could satisfy him. A pint every day - sometimes two - that's a lot."

Arthur dares to ask. He remembers Mircea's thesis describing such bonds between donor and vampire. "Were you ... very close?"

Gilbert nods. "That's why it ended, because my wife found out about it." That kind of bond. "And when she asked me about it I could only say... that I didn't want him to die, which is the same thing I told the army - that it was something of a donation - but in actual fact it was one of the most stupid things I've ever done. And I kept doing it because - because I wanted to." He thinks. "I want to trust you, because I want to. Not because I should."

Arthur says nothing.

"God, this is -" Gilbert fusses with the buttons on his shirt. "I know I told him I wanted it warmer in here but he didn't have to make a point out of it."

"You're right," Arthur blurts.

"Yeah, it's like thirty degrees in here -"

Not about that. "I'm on your side. You can trust me."

Don't lie to him, warns Morgan. He'll figure it out. Arthur ignores her.

Gilbert sits down next to him, side-by-side on the cot, against the wall. He pats Arthur's knee - friendly - but the last pat he leaves it there.

Arthur stares at it. He looks up at Gilbert.

Gilbert moves his hand up to Arthur's thigh and Arthur feels his pulse pick up speed. "Is this okay?" Gilbert asks.

"Do whatever you want," Arthur whispers. "But... you do want, right?"

"I only ever do what I want," he scoffs.

"Why are you doing this?" Arthur says.

"Because I want to."

"Oh? And why's that - because it feels good? Because you're bored and you want a distraction? Because I'm the only one around who isn't the scientist or the director?" He doesn't bother keeping the hurt out of his voice.

"Maybe all of those. Maybe none of those. Maybe something else," Gilbert says, cavalier. He adds, throatier, more serious, "Maybe I like you. Maybe I just like the way you taste."

The way he says these words has Arthur's nerves aflame, but his temper flares too. "Could I please get a straight answer out of you for once?" he asks.

"Oh, I don't think a straight answer's anything what you want, in any senses of the word," retorts Gilbert, "and besides, it's not like you've been all that forthcoming with me."

"I've not once been dishonest -"

"But you never tell the whole truth about what you want, do you?" A beat of silence passes as they stare angrily at one another, Gilbert's hand firebrand warm on his leg through his trousers. "I don't want to fight with you," says Gilbert at last.

"Well, what do you want?" asks Arthur.

"I want you to kiss me," says Gilbert. Another silence passes. Gilbert's finally put words to it, and their presence lingers uneasily between them, but he can't take them back.

He could. He could just do it. Gilbert's lips are near enough. He could lean in and do it. He wants to. Laurinitis is possibly watching but Arthur doesn't know because Arthur doesn't dare to take his eyes off Gilbert's.

"Do it," urges Gilbert. "Kiss -"

He does. He thrusts himself forward, grabs Gilbert's face, cradles it in his hands, and kisses him soundly and strong, and at once his reaction seems so natural, so helpless, that it's like he's hardly made the decision so much as it was made for him. Gilbert coaxes him into it, instantly on board, immediately gratified, and twists and squirms in Arthur's embrace to better fit them together, moaning against him.

Arthur gets his hands on Gilbert's undershirt and tugs it free from the waistband of his trousers. He sneaks his hands upwards, pressing into Gilbert's hot skin, thumbing his nipples. Gilbert whines into his mouth. He moves his hand further down Arthur's thigh until he reaches his groin and cups it with his hand.

Arthur breaks off the kiss, panting, "Oh christ -" but he doesn't stop Gilbert, and he doesn't close his legs or anything, in fact his treacherous cock practically throbs in Gilbert's grasp. Gilbert takes this as invitation to climb into his lap, his fucking lap, with their groins in contact. He pushes against Arthur as he reaches back and strips his blue shirt - this he tosses heedless on the floor - then one-handed he rips the undershirt off. Arthur is presented with Gilbert's sculpted marble nude chest at eye-level as Gilbert writhes in his lap.

Almost magnetised, he leans forward to take one of the nipples in his mouth and Gilbert shouts, panicked, "Fuck -!"

"Alright?" asks Arthur.

"Don't stop," begs Gilbert. He bends to take Arthur's mouth - in a dirty, filthy wet action that needs its own word not to sully the simple meaning of 'kiss' - as he swivels his hips to frot himself against him.

Arthur gets his hands around him, embracing him, holding him close, one hand roughly caressing his side before it moves to the front to pinch a nipple because it's so clear Gilbert fucking loves this from the way that he shivers and sighs and undulates. His cries are beginning to drive Arthur a little mad.

So it's really simpler just to shove Gilbert off him, throw him down upon the cot and get on top of him. Gilbert looks up at him from the cot with swollen lips, mussed hair, breathing hard, finally a flush of colour in his face - it's hardly volition so much as it is necessity that has Arthur between Gilbert's spread legs, pressing him into the cot with his body as he descends, to kiss him again -

And then it breaks out.

Arthur blinks. The tank is as it was, the air still and humid. Laurinitis as he was, working on his computer. Gilbert is seated beside him, his hand on Arthur's knee, watching him very intently. Dangerously so. Arthur feels he's being scrutinised.

"Are you okay?" Gilbert asks softly.

Arthur shakes his head to free himself from the thrall, but it's no use, these images have burned themselves into his mind. He checks - he is hard. The ice shock of embarrassment that shakes him from shoulderblades to back quells it a little but not enough. Arthur runs his hands through his hair and pinches his eyes shut. He breathes deep a few moments to steady his heartbeat. "The heat was getting to me," he says. He loosens his tie, knotted at the neck, and his skin feels instantly better for it.

Gilbert's lips twist in an unhappy smirk. "Uh-huh," he says. Both of them know Arthur's lying. Both of them say nothing about it.

"Do you -" he coughs - "do you know what that was?"

Gilbert nods.

"Did you cause it?"

Gilbert shrugs. "And if I did?"

"W-why would you?" Arthur asks, bewildered.

"Don't really know what it does. I don't really know what I'm doing. I don't - it's just something that happens sometimes. Right?"

Just something that happens sometimes! "You have to get that under control!" exclaims Arthur. "That's dangerous."

"It's not my fault!" Gilbert says. "I don't -"

"I know. You don't mean to. I'm sorry," Arthur sighs. He is still too unsettled to have this conversation and lacks the wherewithal to handle his words right now. He runs his fingers through his hair again. "The second that bloody paperwork can come in, we have to start working on it, to manage it. If it even can be managed. But if skunks direct their spray -"

"Oh thanks," snaps Gilbert, "that's real nice -"

"I didn't mean it like that! I mean if it's something that can be controlled. Perhaps it's the same way in which it can be controlled. That would make it easiest for you to live with."

"And something the department should be very interested in, huh?" Gilbert says. "Weaponise the ability to leave people frozen, motionless, that's a pretty great tool."

"Christ, Gilbert!" explodes Arthur. "Do you think my abilities aren't under control? Do you think I could just up and decide I want to rob a bank so I magic myself a way into their safes undetected and grab what I like? You think I can't turn myself invisible and peep on whoever or touch people while they're sleeping? I know how those spells are done!"

"So what stops you?" Gilbert is shouting because Arthur is shouting.

"My patron. And if she doesn't stop me, then the department will take note. It's what they're for! There's protocol to maintain! If you're part of this community, you're no different. Do what you want within a certain tolerance but if one uses skills like that to endanger others, what do you think should happen to them? They go off scot-free with a slap on the wrist, do they?" Arthur snorts. "Weaponise them. That's just -"

But actually.

Isn't that why they hired Alice Cochrane and other vampires as field agents? To do certain jobs that need doing with their specific skill set? So he can't blame Gilbert for leaping to such a conclusion when that's what's implied in the files.

"Look here, I don't work in recruitment," says Arthur. "If I did, I don't think Łukasiewicz would want me around you as often as I am. No one at the department is looking to poach you for some - bloody paramilitary organisation!"

"Don't be so sure," says Gilbert darkly, "with the right training I could offer them much with my experience. I've been hired once before, by people for dirty work. I have no desire to do that again." His lip curls. "That's why I signed that contract with Feliks. 'Cause it's not because I like the guy. But they can't touch me if I'm in here."

"But the ruling -! They ruled more or less in VHI's favour!"

"So far. They'll get what they want in the end." Gilbert smiles thinly. "They already have a copy of the contract I signed to Feliks. It's just a matter of time before they find the loopholes."

Arthur is apoplectic. "You're insane - this - conspiracy nonsense is - it's just a stupid department full of pencil pushers like me! Boring and regular!"

"Show me the files and I'll believe you," says Gilbert.

"Oh, certainly, show you a million and you'll think I'm withholding the million-and-first. No, thank you," he spits.

They hardly hear the screech of the door over their yelling. "Is everything alright in there?" asks Laurinitis, popping his head in. "It's nearly noon anyway."

"Good," says Arthur. He gets to his feet. "Perhaps it's about time I showed myself out."

Gilbert is quick to follow. "Arthur - no, wait! - Look, I'm sorry, okay!?"

"For what?"

"For - the trance," he admits.

"See, you do know what you did. And I don't understand why you're doing it, because honestly why would you bother - what, what is it you want from me that I wouldn't already give you if you just asked!"

"I-it's not because," Gilbert begs, "I didn't want anything from you!"

"But you must have because that's the way the instinct goes!" Arthur shouts.

That's why Gilbert keeps thralling him, isn't it. Leverage. "I can't believe you," whispers Arthur. He spins sharply on his heel, angrier than he's felt in years.

"Arthur -" Gilbert's voice is cracking - "please, no - don't -"

And Arthur feels a warm prickle on his skin, the back of his neck, between his shoulderblades, like an arm looping around him to embrace him. He knows that feeling, and Gilbert's helpless 'please' has cemented it - he's trying to enthrall him to keep him back.

Arthur lashes out first. He whirls around and pins Gilbert where he stands. They must make a funny scene, yearning for each other like this - Gilbert with an arm outstretched, pushing in vain against Arthur's invisible telekinetic hold - Arthur with his arm outstretched to better direct his powers, keeping Gilbert stationary.

Gilbert's eyes are the same pathetic ones he gave Arthur days ago, pleading, begging, watery and large.

And Arthur, damn himself, is not unaffected. I'm so weak, he thinks.

"I'll see you tomorrow," Arthur says gruffly, and shows himself out.

Laurinitis, waiting on the outside, evidently isn't upset that there's trouble in paradise, but Gilbert lost and forlorn in a tank that he can't leave until the end of the work day while Arthur storms out enraged probably doesn't make his heart sing either. "Well. Good day," he says stiffly, a pouch of blood in one hand and a set of swabs in the other.

"Certainly," grunts Arthur.

--

The problem is, Arthur is well aware that if Gilbert cannot control these enthralment powers on his own, that the standard recommendation is to send the file to someone else in the department who is better capable of handling these cases. Arthur doesn't want to do that. Arthur wants no one but himself to handle Gilbert so closely.

The other standard recommendation is to bring him in to the department. That is the entire point of the Korus Protocol, which is to do with secure containment. Luckily for Łukasiewicz, there is a clause present in Gilbert's contract which protects him against such a recommendation. Almost as though Łukasiewicz - or Gilbert - or both of them, perhaps - had predicted this.

"They already have a copy of the contract I signed to Feliks," had said Gilbert. "It's just a matter of time before they find the loopholes." And what is Mircea doing now but precisely that.

But doesn't Gilbert want out of the VHI? Unless he hates it less than he fears the department. As he said to Mircea - he knows Łukasiewicz, he doesn't know the department. But why would he fear them?

Indeed. He has nothing to fear from us!

Arthur washes up in the bathroom before he leaves the VHI, but it seems it's not good enough. "You fucking reek," says Mircea, not five minutes after Arthur has sat down at his desk at work. "I can smell him all over you from my cubicle."

"I washed every place he touched!" Arthur insists.

"Touched is one thing, rubbed up against is quite another."

Arthur blushes. "He didn't do anything of the sort." Although it felt like he had. And Arthur still can't tell the difference between thrall and reality.

"You're a terrible liar. Anyway, next time scrub harder with a lot more soap. You can't just wipe skin oil away with water."

Skin oil - it must be there. Arthur makes a note of it to tell Laurinitis, should he find nothing in Gilbert's sweat.

But later that evening something very special appears in his work inbox. Just in time.

Chapter Text

The paperwork that came through Wednesday evening, shortly before Arthur left for the day, declares permission granted to him to work on an investigative project on the experience of enthralment. (Arthur presumes other projects will have to be cleared first and filed separately. Always paperwork. He'll start it when he returns later today from the VHI, because no doubt Łukasiewicz will take his sweet time signing off on it once again.) The ministry recognises Laurinitis specifically as a valuable assistant - part of Arthur smirks that finally Laurinitis is the assistant - and has cc'd the copy to him as well. Then, likely, Łukasiewicz has seen the final permission form with its granted status.

Indeed, Łukasiewicz meets him bright and early at the entrance of the Van Helsing Institute Thursday morning at 9 am sharp. "Before you get started, I want a word," he says.

"Very well," says Arthur, cocksure. He has his forms, nothing can touch him now.

Arthur follows him up to Łukasiewicz's office where Łukasiewicz closes the door behind them.

"I have heard some very distressing rumours about you and Mr Beilschmidt from Dr Laurinitis," begins Łukasiewicz coldly. "So you are on the thinnest of ice."

"Those rumours are unsubstantiated," says Arthur.

"Not when there's security footage to back them up, as there is in Laurinitis' entire lab, in the observation room, in the tank -"

Arthur glares. "Like to keep tabs on him, do you?" he sneers.

Łukasiewicz glares back. "Toris frequently forgets to take breaks. But we're not talking about Toris. We're talking about your relationship with Beilschmidt - don't interrupt me!" for Arthur's open mouth tells them both that he was about to do precisely this - "this is not a shotgun talk. Because nothing of the sort is going to happen, is that understood?" Arthur shuts his mouth so hard his teeth clack. "The workplace is not an appropriate place for such behaviour and I will not have you harassing my employee or egging him on that he might do the harassing so that you and your department can push for more time with him under the Korus Protocol!"

Arthur tries once again to speak but Łukasiewicz heads him off at the pass. "No," he says firmly, "I have seen the footage. This is not the first time that this has happened. Incidents have happened. And you were briefed about them. There is accurate record that those files were released to you and Dr Laurinitis can provide additional testimony that you did in fact read them. If an incident happens under this project then Korus Protocol, Section 12, states that the department has the lawful authority to step in."

"Look, this project is by its nature riddled with potential incidents," explains Arthur, "there's no getting around it."

"Which is why I have brought an affidavit attesting to that." Łukasiewicz whips out a form from the top-most folder on the pile of folders on his desk and slams the piece of paper on the desk in front of Arthur. "You will sign this before you embark on this project. I will not allow you to deem him uncontrollable through conventional means simply because you lack foresight where he is concerned and have him whisked away to the ministry for secure handling and containment."

Arthur reads it over. The paper says precisely that, that any recommendations for ministry action must go through Łukasiewicz, implying that there's an extra step requiring his signature that Arthur knows Łukasiewicz won't give.

Are you sure you should sign this? warns Morgan.

I don't get to begin this project without it, says Arthur.

But that's not true, she argues. You've already got the forms from the ministry that say you can proceed. This affidavit isn't necessary.

Arthur weighs his options. Łukasiewicz on his side might be useful. This will put Łukasiewicz at ease, and isn't that what Arthur wants? Moreover, he sees no need for anything that might require his action under the Korus Protocol. It's like they think the department has never seen a vampire before! It's only used for things that are actually dangerous, not a poor little bloodsucker that just wants to be left alone. They can't just pick up whoever they like. That's honestly not how the Protocol works.

And what if Gilbert can't be controlled? Morgan says. You know they couldn't control Alice when they took her offline. That's why we were involved. Arthur doesn't answer her. He refuses to consider that an option. Besides, Alice was an employee who had signed a contract and had given consent to different terms. It's a whole other scenario. He signs the affidavit.

We understand Arthur's logic completely. Besides, if we really, truly want to circumvene, we'll find a way, affidavit or no. As soon as we find that loophole. All that paper says is that Arthur won't snitch. But even if he did, he would keep his job - he's far too useful to us to sever all contact.

Łukasiewicz, on the other hand, might not be so lucky. Łukasiewicz knows that what he's making Arthur sign is a mild violation of section 3 on the Van Helsing Institute's mandated occult licence.

Arthur hands the signed form to Łukasiewicz, who hands him back a second copy for his own records. "I would never do something like that," says Arthur, referring to secure containment. "I don't want Gilbert deemed uncontrollable."

Łukasiewicz scrutinises him. He seems surprised Arthur signed so readily. "Maybe you don't," he says at last. "Maybe others would."

"Can I just - ask," begins Arthur. "Why is he so faithful to you? When you hate each other?"

"We're of similar opinions where your department is concerned," says Łukasiewicz with a shrewd expression, purposefully vague.

"If he wants to stay here for the rest of his life, in your employ, under your scrutiny, then ..." Arthur sighs. "I don't imagine there's really much we can do about that."

"You'd be surprised," Łukasiewicz retorts. "The department wants a member of the community, and with his skills he would be quite valued."

Good lord. "Not you too! He isn't a particularly tasty cut of meat to be purchased."

Łukasiewicz looks Arthur up and down. "On that, we agree," he says tightly, and gives Arthur a not-quite smile. Arthur suspects these are rare. "I recommended Dr Laurinitis to post upon this project. He will be my eyes and ears."

So, business as usual as per the last few days? But Arthur wisely holds his tongue.

Laurinitis, when Arthur finds him in the lab after being released by Łukasiewicz, is a lot less anxious. It helps that he's actually seen Arthur every day for the past week and has more or less acclimatised to him.

It might also be the case that he's seen things Arthur didn't want shown between him and Gilbert. Maybe Laurinitis has a heart after all. Laurinitis doesn't seem to hate Gilbert the way Łukasiewicz does. The only thing Laurinitis is put out about is the fact that the mornings are no longer devoted to his own science goals, but rather Arthur's.

"Skin oils, I think," says Arthur, once the spectre of Łukasiewicz has left. "It might have been sweat, but it might also be skin oils. Mircea says he keeps smelling them on me."

"Alright," says Laurinitis. Arthur watches him enter the tank - where Gilbert is already, reading a copy of the paperwork from the department that was sent to the institute - and dutifully takes swabs and plucks a few hairs from Gilbert's scalp until he's satisfied. He leaves with these samples in test tubes and specimen jars. "What am I looking for?" he says, when he returns to Arthur at the desk.

Arthur thinks. "I should think some sort of compound - maybe multiple compounds - present in here that aren't present in an ordinary human sweat and skin oil composition," he decides. "If it's scent-based, as it seems to be, then perhaps an ester, or a steroid. Some organic molecule. More importantly, I would want to determine if there were anything that could be produced to counteract or inhibit the scent once inhaled."

"Noseplugs would do it," says Laurinitis. "If olfaction is its only means. I'll have to find a compound first and then I can test other bodily fluids for the presence."

"But noseplugs would work?"

"Your chemosensory organ is located at the base of the septum. Though, whether it's functional in this way in the way it is in animals is unclear. From there, signals are sent to the brain." Laurinitis taps his chin with his finger thoughtfully. "That would be my guess."

"That's what I think too," says Arthur.

"If that's the case, you'd have to inhibit it ..." Laurinitis thinks a little longer before he replies. "You'd have to inhibit it in the brain. That is going to be difficult. We would need to know exactly the chemical pathway it takes and what structures in the brain it affects. Honestly, it'd just be easier to wear noseplugs."

"And if it gets aspired orally?"

"It might have effects. Too early to say. Anything else?"

"Not right now," says Arthur. "I'm going to go see him."

Laurinitis doesn't blink an eye. "Alright. I'll get started on these." He checks his wristwatch. "The compounds from yesterday should be almost complete."

A table and two chairs has been provided in the tank in the observation room. Laurinitis waits outside, but now and again he dips into one of the other rooms, presumably to start work.

Gilbert is already seated, with a copy of the paperwork in front of him. He looks upset.

"First of all, do you consent?" asks Arthur, taking a seat in the other chair, across the table from Gilbert.

Gilbert nods grimly.

"Do you know what you're consenting to?" asks Arthur.

"Hey, it's all here," he replies soberly, tapping the document on the table. "Pretty clear."

"You don't seem to be happy about this."

Gilbert snorts. "Doesn't matter. Department does what it wants."

"If you don't get this under control, then yes," explains Arthur. "That's my concern. Gilbert, I don't want that to happen."

"How can I trust you?" he sneers.

Because I'm pretty sure I'm falling for you hard enough that I'd damn my own career if it ever came up, not that that's difficult because it's so far brought me a very unfulfilling life and the most alive I have felt in the past fifty years were in the past week with you, watching your face light up while you play with cats and rabbits or sitting beside you with an uninteresting documentary that took me five minutes to find on my phone, not that I think my career is in fact in any jeopardy, because you and Łukasiewicz have this shared paranoia that I simply do not understand, but the moment you asked I would hurl it from a bridge.

"Because I signed a permission slip with Łukasiewicz saying so," says Arthur. He hands over his own copy for Gilbert to read.

Gilbert reads it over. "This is pretty limiting for you," he says.

"He trusts me," says Arthur. "And you trust him, so. By extension ...?"

With a heavy sigh, Gilbert hands him the form back. He puts his head in his hands and rubs his eyes for a moment before he smoothes his hair back. "I know it's the only way. But I have a bad feeling about this."

"You think you won't be able to control yourself?"

"I think you won't be able to control me," says Gilbert darkly.

I think he's right, warns Morgan. Arthur ignores them both. "I'm confident I'll be able to stop you if that happens," he says.

"I'm not," says Gilbert. "But I'd rather be put down like a rabid animal than tucked away for special government uses."

"Look," says Arthur. "The cameras are rolling. There's the emergency button on the wall. And Laurinitis will be in and out of the room to watch. Probably he'll be riveted because science is the only thing that gets him off."

Gilbert grins, despite himself.

There's that pretty smile. "If Alice could do this, you can." Arthur should probably tell him at some point that Alice couldn't do this and that he has no idea whether any of the other vampires - all two of them - that the ministry hired after her found a way and in fact that there is legal precedent to, assuming that vampires have not yet in fact figured out a way, bring them down and control them through alternate means. "We'll start out slow. Do you remember what you did yesterday?"

"I was angry at you yesterday," mutters Gilbert.

"I know," says Arthur. "You don't have to talk about your history if you don't want to. You don't have to disclose anything you don't want to."

Gilbert lifts an eyebrow. "And are you okay with that?"

Yes. No. Yes. Absolutely not. Arthur thinks a moment before he nods.

"You're lying," says Gilbert.

Arthur gives up and folds his arms across his chest.

"I'd rather you'd be lying," Gilbert decides. "I wouldn't want you to be okay with it. It's not the kind of thing that should just get forgotten."

Arthur has to move on, or Gilbert will talk about this more and they'll have themselves another row. And Arthur doesn't want to talk about it anymore, just like how Arthur doesn't want to talk about how he's a xenophobe. "How did you do - what you did yesterday?"

Gilbert fidgets with the cuff of his jumper. Today it's cartoonish red and makes him look transparent but for the unattractive dark circles purpling his undereyes. "I don't ... really remember," he says.

"Now who's lying?" retorts Arthur.

Gilbert replies with an upset grunt.

"Just take it slow, yeah?" Maybe there's something Arthur can do to assist. "Does - would touch help?" He extends his hand across the table.

"No," says Gilbert, pouting. But he takes it gratefully anyway, fitting his smooth, cool palm against Arthur's. Taking his hand feels so natural; it slides into place. Gilbert has callouses from where he has probably spent many lifetimes holding guns. He looks up into Arthur's eyes. They wait.

"Nothing's happening," says Arthur.

"I'm trying!" he exclaims. "I'm - whatever I was doing yesterday, I am trying to do it today."

"I believe you."

Another moment passes. Arthur waits patiently. He then decides, "Perhaps try something -"

There's a prickle that dances up his forearms.

"Hey - there!" Arthur says. "That's it."

It stops immediately.

"Don't stop! You nearly had it!"

"The hell I did," says Gilbert mulishly. "When I can do it, you can't tell when it begins."

That's true. But the prickling feeling is so very like it, it seems as though it should prelude an episode.

They try for a few more minutes. Laurinitis returns to watch them. Gilbert huffs and breaks eye contact and runs his fingers through his hair again, groaning. Laurinitis and Arthur share a glance from across the thick glass walls of the tank. Arthur shrugs, and Laurinitis shrugs back. He leaves the room again.

"I can't get it when you ask me to!" Gilbert complains.

"Alright, so then. I won't ask you to," decides Arthur. "Just do what comes naturally." A thought occurs to him. What comes naturally... Well, it is instinct, isn't it?

"I can't do that! I still know what you want, that you're sitting there waiting for it!"

"Yes..." says Arthur, thinking that he also knows what Gilbert wants, doesn't he? He recalls Laurinitis' experience. "There is one way to force the behaviour out of you."

Arthur waves his hands over the table and a kitchen paring knife appears. Not what I had in mind, says Arthur. Something dull, says Morgan pointedly, so you don't go crazy. I'm not worried about me going crazy, says Arthur. Well, I am, she says. Arthur picks it up in his right hand and holds the blade's edge to the pad of his left thumb.

Gilbert goes whiter than Arthur's ever seen him. "No," he says, "you can't. You absolutely can't. Don't." His fingers are shaking as he flips frantically through the paperwork again. "Did Feliks sign off on this?" He doesn't get the answer he's looking for, because he throws the package down again and folds his arms stubbornly across his chest.

Arthur feels the effervescent prickle on his skin. Gilbert's trying anything to make him stop, but Gilbert's correct - the prickling feeling is related to enthralment but not the same thing, because Arthur can still move. He could fix Gilbert there where he sits, if Arthur liked.

"It's alright," says Arthur. "Look -" and he uses his left hand to throw up another invisible telekinetic net to bind Gilbert to the chair. "See? I've got you. Try and move for me."

Gilbert fidgets and tries to move an arm experimentally. It stays glued to his side.

"Now try with all your strength," adds Arthur. Gilbert does. The exertion is remarkable, but Arthur's gifts are stronger still. Gilbert settles, and when he does his expression is torn, but grudging. "Do you trust me?" says Arthur.

"Well, when you put it that way," says Gilbert.

So Arthur slices the pad of his thumb with the blade.

Gilbert's pupils dilate immediately and his nostrils flare and his lips part. It looks comical in that pointed face. He sits ramrod straight. He can smell it.

"You're still with me?" says Arthur. The cut, perhaps a centimetre long and brimming, wells up into a droplet that falls onto the table, where it remains, shiny and glossy, splattered radially with the force of its fall. Gilbert looks from him to the blood on the table to his thumb, welling another drop, to him again, but mostly focuses on the blood.

"Yes," he hisses. His fangs look elongated.

"Very well," says Arthur. "Then try it now that I've got something you want right here in front of your face. You could take it from me, couldn't you? You could take it from me very easily, all you have to do is make me let you, and I'm all yours."

Gilbert inhales deeply and clenches his eyes shut. He shakes his head abruptly, then moves his neck from side to side, which cracks it. After this moment spent trying to throw off his distraction, he opens his eyes and holds eye contact with Arthur. It's not easy for him, he clearly wants to look at the blood. He can hardly focus.

"It's not working, is it," says Arthur sadly.

"I'm trying," he whines.

"I don't know," says Arthur. "Well. Let's work on something else for now. Here." He stands to lean across the table, offering his thumb, where the blood has snaked its way down to the meat of Arthur's palm and the wound adds more.

Gilbert's eyes beg. "You'd really?" he whispers. Gilbert asks like Arthur's offering him the moon.

"Well, I'm not going to use it," Arthur figures.

You could spell it away. You could clean it up. Arthur, this is a terrible idea, says Morgan. We've been paired for nearly seventy years now and this is the dumbest thing you've ever done.

But in front of him is Gilbert, consumed by desire and need so strong that Arthur can't ignore it. So Arthur ignores her.

He looks over. Laurinitis isn't around. Even if he were. "Seems cruel to dangle it in front of you, not when you want it so badly."

"I do," moans Gilbert. "I do want it so badly."

Arthur loosens his hold on Gilbert about the shoulders, only enough for him to lean forward. He watches in slow motion shock as Gilbert's parted lips near his skin. At last Gilbert takes Arthur's thumb into his mouth. His eyes close in bliss, and he moans and sucks hard. He opens wider, swallowing his thumb to the root; Arthur can feel his tongue move over his palm, scooping up what dribbled forward, laving it off Arthur's skin, before it returns to the wound and aggravates it, coaxing his skin open that it might lure out more for him to suck up. Arthur watches Gilbert's throat as he swallows it down.

Arthur is helpless, not enthralled but spellbound by his own lust, as Gilbert waits for more from the wound by leaving a trail of kisses along his palm. "Thank you," Gilbert murmurs. They aren't bloody, he's cleaned his mouth too well for that. He must want every last drop.

Without thinking, Arthur puts down the knife next to the blood on the table before he gets any dumb(er) ideas. He sweeps up what fell on the fingers of his right hand and offers them up as well. Both he and Gilbert are leaning over the table, Gilbert seated as Arthur stands, Gilbert's hands cradled around Arthur's as his mouth wraps around alternately his fingertips and thumb, his tongue working furiously to lap it all up.

"Do you want more," says Arthur. He hasn't the presence of mind to note how low his voice has become.

"Yes," Gilbert begs.

"I'll give it you," Arthur says, "take it." He watches Gilbert bare his teeth - his fangs. "Yes," he moans. Gilbert rakes them lightly across the back of Arthur's hand, their sharpness so volatile that even this cuts. The red spurts forth across Gilbert's chin and cheeks and into his open mouth before he latches on, in a bloody, sucking kiss. He drinks as he watches Arthur carefully over his hand. Gilbert's eyes are fire.

It doesn't make any sense that Arthur should be so hard when his blood is literally leaving him, but his trousers are tighter than they've ever felt and he's never been the fashionable sort of person to purchase them ill-fitting.

Gilbert leans back in his seat, dragging Arthur with him by the hands, and Arthur sees little choice in it, he climbs up to kneel on the table, unthinking. Gilbert stands and closing his eyes as he leans in, Arthur's hand in his, he touches his lips to Arthur's.

(We interrupt this portion of the narrative to remind you that Arthur does know he shouldn't do these things at the office, because he just signed a piece of paper saying that he wouldn't. Also, it's incredibly inappropriate. But right now he isn't thinking very clearly, and he's in luck that Laurinitis is having some trouble with the skin oil samples in the other room, which will tie him up for a few minutes yet.

That presumes this is even happening. Is it? We note we haven't heard from Morgan in awhile.)

It must be happening. It must, because it feels too real. He can taste the blood off Gilbert's tongue. Arthur finds himself whimpering against him, and the sound echoes loud and bright in the tank. The puff of air that skates across Arthur's cheek as Gilbert gasps can't possibly be a product of his imagination. All of these have his spine tingling and his knees weak and Arthur knows he hasn't this kind of creativity.

There's a weird lurch in his chest as the world tips sideways and he falls onto his back. He opens his eyes to look at the ceiling - he's on the table. Gilbert appears on hands and knees above him in view, and as Arthur straightens his legs out, Gilbert tangles his own with Arthur's, leaning heavily upon him. There's no way he can't feel Arthur's erection as they're pressed groin to groin. Arthur doesn't even have it within him to be embarrassed.

"I could take care of that for you," Gilbert whispers. He strokes the backs of his fingers across Arthur's cheek. "Make it up to you."

"Please do," sighs Arthur.

Gilbert kisses down his chest - Arthur's shirt has opened and his tie is askew, Gilbert must be nimbler than he thought, whenever did that happen - and his trousers are missing -

Then it can't be real, he doesn't remember that happening, and softly he hears an echo of someone distantly calling him. "What," he whispers.

- but then Gilbert mouths at his nipple, tonguing it thoroughly, watching with glee as Arthur squirms in his arms. Arthur forgets his protestation entirely. Arthur becomes harder still, if it's possible, his cock digging into Gilbert's nude breastbone as Gilbert passes, seasoning his belly with kisses that pinch.

"You don't get to enjoy many of these, I think," says Gilbert, and it's true, Arthur doesn't, because he's so tired of being so fucking alone all the time, this workplace immorality be damned.

Gilbert evidently agrees. "Be a shame to waste it," he adds. Gilbert's voice echoes. He sounds - English? Where's his German accent gone? But then he descends further and takes the head of Arthur's cock in his mouth and Arthur abandons the train of thought at the station.

He moans all the way that Gilbert progresses down, sucking hot and hard. One hand grips the sheets as the other is buried in Gilbert's hair, woven between his thick locks and curled around his scalp. Gilbert pins his hips down to the mattress and Arthur grunts with the frustration, pulling hard enough to be arousing, but not enough to be painful. "Please," Arthur begs, "please, please, do it, please -"

So Gilbert does, expediently sucking him hard, just as - there's a feeling of a pinch somewhere, it's probably just the way he's lying on something - papercut? Arthur looks up and the paperwork is everywhere, scattered white and blurry on the table. Nevertheless this is a very soft table? The paper feels like cotton, waves of it clouded around him. There's a loud sound of airport or waterfall in his ears. Nothing makes sense anymore. Gilbert has Arthur's cock in his mouth and a healthy flush in his cheeks that Arthur's never seen.

Now, he looks human. Now, he looks alive. This is the precise moment, thinks Arthur, where he falls in love, where he knows he'd give him anything.

"Fuck, yes," he sighs, "oh - that's - don't stop." Gilbert doesn't. He smiles around Arthur and sucks harder still and the expression on his face says he's enjoying this nearly as much as Arthur is. "Please don't stop, take whatever you want of me, just don't stop."

Something trembles and breaks inside of him, less like orgasm and more like epiphany, but he can't make himself dwell on it, too distracted by Gilbert's soft lips and velvet tongue and those sharp eyes, shifting between red and green, watching him as he climaxes. His hips are pinned to the mattress with a frustrating strength and his head is too heavy to keep eye contact. He spends in Gilbert's mouth with his hand buried in Gilbert's hair, euphorically besotted, his heart bursting with fervour, leaking it out his body.

As the storm of his upheaval lessens, it leaves him chilled, though Gilbert has gone nowhere. Arthur's hand clings to Gilbert's hair but its grip is useless, powerless to stop him roaming over Arthur's body. His heart is racing, he can barely breathe. They should really get dressed for both their sakes. Has it always been so cold here? No wonder Gilbert's always wearing jumpers.

His vision swims, and the sound fades, and everything is becoming quiet... dim ... dark. Someone's yelling for him before all Arthur hears is a soft ringing in his ears that tinntinabulates and recedes. Everything is very hazy, and he's so tired... he'll just sleep a spell...

Chapter Text

When Arthur next opens his eyes, he sees a white ceiling. He looks around, though, and it appears to be some sort of tiny doctor's office. Worryingly, Arthur himself is hooked up to many of the machines flanking the bed. The files strewn on the bedcovers tell him he's still at the institute, because as he flips through the top-most, he sees it's the one about Alice that the department had sent over. They're all photocopies. Arthur has access to the originals. The copied file is missing a few pages. He sets it down.

What's the last thing he remembers? Falling asleep, in Gilbert's arms. Gilbert's mouth. His heart picks up the pace because the machine monitoring it begins to beep faster. Arthur hates the machines for how transparent they make him.

But it doesn't quite add up. How he got from there to here, why he's covered in bruises and stitches and bandages.

Enthralment would explain that, snaps Morgan. She sounds like Arthur's nan, the one on his mum's side who was always angry at him. Glad to see you're back with us.

Don't be too mad at me, Arthur says.

You do something that dumb again, she says, I'll apply for partner termination.

That won't look very good for you.

I don't care. I won't have that happen again, do you understand me?

What happened? From your point of view?

Every time you go in that trance, I can't access you. You know that. I sat there screaming at you for your attention and you were gone, floating away on that table, chasing your own high.

Arthur begins to suspect it. What did I do?

What do you think you did? Morgan shrieks. You let him have a taste of you and then you sat there and let him feast and swooned away! You'd be dead if it wasn't for a lucky chance!

A chance?

He pushed himself out of it. Hit the emergency button, pressed on the worst of your wounds so you didn't lose quite so much. If he hadn't, you'd be dead.

The thought of nearly dying doesn't frighten Arthur as much as it probably should. Arthur hasn't exactly got a lot to live for which likely helps. But as he looks down at his left hand and wrist, where many of the bandages are, and where the bruising carries up to his forearm, he thinks - Gilbert did that? Arthur has a very difficult time reconciling the evidence on his skin with the expression on Gilbert's face, with the way he kisses. None of that happened, did it, he thinks sadly.

Get the footage and see for yourself if you care to know what really happened. I'm too disgusted with you to talk further, says Morgan, and no amount of Arthur's cajoling makes her pipe up again.

Laurinitis comes in on the hour to check on him, as - from what it seems judging by the look on his face - he has been doing for many hours prior. "Oh, finally," he says, and his anxiety melts off him. He whips out his phone and sends a text.

"Are you so worried that I'd die on you?" Arthur is rather touched.

"No one wants to do that kind of paperwork," says Laurinitis flatly. "It was enough as it was, with your haemorrhaging all over the place. You've been here all morning. It's now six pm. You woke up once but you were somewhat... incoherent." He studies Arthur carefully. "Well, you look back to your usual self. You were lucky."

Arthur sighs. "So I'm told."

"If Gilbert hadn't pressed the emergency button when he did, you likely would have gone into acidosis and the complications from that are much worse. As it was, you lost nearly thirty percent of your blood and needed six units." Laurinitis glares. "Six units that should have gone to Gilbert."

That makes it even worse. "I'm very sorry," says Arthur, and he genuinely is, but Laurinitis isn't forgiving him yet.

"You're lucky you're a common blood type and we had enough in stock. At least we have the time to request and acquire more since Gilbert won't need feeding for the next two days. When you're better, I might ask you to consider blood donation."

Arthur snorts. "Isn't that exactly what I did?"

Laurinitis doesn't appreciate his sense of humour. He folds his arms across his chest. It's surprising how menacing he can look for a slender scientist. "What you did, Mister Kirkland, is nearly compromised this entire project. The only favourable outcome is that Gilbert is now much more subdued and compliant. Because he's terrified. And you miraculously avoided contact with his blood so you won't turn. I managed to isolate the toxin in his saliva that causes coagulopathy so there's some relevant science goals pursued but until that point we had required Feliks to keep the wounds closed by whatever means necessary!"

Arthur has only met Feliks Łukasiewicz a few times now. He's never exactly arm-wrestled the bloke and he's certain that Łukasiewicz must have some muscle, but he's also whipcord thin as well as being Arthur's height (so it's easy to think of him as having Arthur's strength, which is to say, paltry.) Arthur has bruises all over his arms. How is he that strong?

Laurinitis answers the question that his perplexed expression asks. "He has gifts, not as strong as yours but strong enough to do something. That's why we outsourced that portion of labour to you in the first place, as you'll recall. It sure wasn't so that Gilbert could flirt his way into your veins."

But that's impossible, he thinks. Łukasiewicz, then, must have been the one who caused the internal bruising in Gilbert as well, over a week ago. With that level of skill, he should have qualified at the ministry. "How's Gilbert taking it?"

"I don't think you have the right to ask," says Laurinitis.

"Can't you tell him I'm alright?" What makes you think he's even worried, Morgan sneers. "Look," Arthur argues, "everything went - well, surprisingly better than expected. You've even got science out of it!"

"I really don't think that you can say such a thing!"

Laurinitis is really good at taking a moral high ground he doesn't quite occupy. "Is it at least possible," asks Arthur, "to obtain the security footage of the tank when we lost control? You must understand, there's science to be done."

"I'll do no such thing," says Laurinitis. "You'll use it as evidence to cart him away to your ministry and there goes my Biochemical Society Award."

"I wouldn't! I just want to understand what happened!"

Arthur doesn't tell Laurinitis that he keeps seeing things, experiencing things, that aren't happening. To Laurinitis, Arthur suspects, the thrall is just an altered state experience, but not an outright hallucination. From a different viewpoint. "Come on, I recall the experience just as well," Arthur lies. "If I wanted to use it as evidence, I could requisition it on the basis of justifying my own recollection." Instead of filling in his own recollection. "I'm not doing that. I don't want to bring him into the ministry."

Laurinitis glares but says nothing. It's just as well because in pops Łukasiewicz. "You took your time!" says Laurinitis to Łukasiewicz.

Łukasiewicz looks harried. His normally sleek appearance is frazzled; his hair is out of place and he's short of breath with exertion. "I was in a meeting when you texted. Toris, I need a word with our government agent, please."

Laurinitis nods and leaves the room. Łukasiewicz closes it behind him.

"You," thunders Łukasiewicz. He's enraged. "You have some nerve!"

It's not possible to back up because Arthur is pinned to the bed by needles and tubes but he makes a good effort at it. "What?"

"You did this on purpose! The tapes show it! You offer himself up, and you knew what would happen because you had the files and you read the files and you know what happened to Toris with just one fucking scratch!"

"W-why would I do this on purpose?!" Arthur is shouting because Feliks is shouting.

"To take him into the ministry! This has Korus Protocol manipulation all over it which is why your involvement with this institute ends and furthermore has already ended the moment you let him drink from you - the second you are able to walk you are walking out this door and you're not coming back! I would rather deal with Popescu or anyone else -"

"Stop, please, stop! Can you not listen to yourself?" The machine is beeping furiously, reflecting Arthur's elevated pulse. "Why would I put myself in danger?"

"Because you know he can control himself," says Łukasiewicz.

"But I didn't," says Arthur, shaking his head and begging and pleading with every facet of his facial expression that Łukasiewicz will believe him. "I didn't know any of that. I had no idea whether he could, I just - I thought I could handle him, I wasn't thinking, and I wanted -"

"Oh we all know what you wanted, it's all over the footage. And now you want him even though he is under the protection of this institute -"

"I'm a consultant, for the department. I'm not a ministry employee. My contract is up for renewal every year and every year it's true that it gets extended but I'm not permanent and I never have been. I don't care whether he's employed with them or with you, alright?! I only care about him! Look, you already had me sign that affidavit! Which, by the way, would be reason enough to involve my department more thoroughly because I shouldn't've been made to sign something like that and I could probably have you lose your directorship over it!"

Arthur began that tirade in the begging and pleading phase, and somewhere along the line it morphed into a helpless anger. If Łukasiewicz really does give him the boot, what will he do? Go back to his sleepy life? And yet, he can't keep relying on Gilbert to provide him with thrills.

"You bled all over your own copy," points out Łukasiewicz, entirely unfazed, "so now you've nothing to show them!"

"But I know it exists because I signed it, and because I signed it I could make the department requisition a copy."

"Under what authority? You have none here! I bet you won't have much back there unless your advice is to bring him in on counts of endangering a life. But this institute's occult license allows no such intervention unless a life is endangered, which yours no longer is, because you knew he could control himself -! And if you claim that you didn't know he could control himself and that your life was therefore in danger then you forfeit your right to be here under your original contract as outsourced by the department! So what do you propose to do?"

Arthur is desperate. He can't leave, not without seeing Gilbert again. He decides quickly. "Send Laurinitis in," he says. "If he can find a use for me then you keep me on. One more week."

Łukasiewicz is unimpressed. "Little man, Toris is on my side; don't bother trying to snag him."

"I have information he may want. I'll only tell him. If he really is on your side, you find out sooner or later. So what have you got to worry about?"

Łukasiewicz glares but leaves, which tells Arthur that Łukasiewicz must be starved for information. "You have fifteen minutes," he says, when he returns with Laurinitis.

"It takes a special sort of person to get him that angry," says Laurinitis neutrally. "I don't know whether to be impressed or sickened. You said you had information for me."

"Horse tranquiliser works," says Arthur. "It'll take him down at a distance. And you should be able to use it for a spinal tap as well."

Laurinitis shakes his head. "I've already tried experimenting with tranquilisers - they don't react well with the blood, I suspect it would cause nausea -"

"It isn't a fun way to take him down, that's for certain," adds Arthur, "but it will work until you can get him restrained to a level where he can't break free."

Laurinitis narrows his eyes. "How exactly do you know this?"

Because it was used on Alice when nothing else worked, thinks Arthur. But before he can say anything Laurinitis answers his own question. "They used it on another, didn't they," he guesses.

"The department did nothing that wasn't ministry-mandated," Arthur is careful to say. "Whatever was done was signed off on beforehand by the agent in question. She knew there were these possibilities."

"Sure, and she signed those forms under what levels of duress?" asks Laurinitis.

"It ought to be in the files if you really care to know." He nudges them Laurinitis' way. "Although... is it? Maybe the department isn't giving you all of what you need. Maybe there's a discrepancy in my copy versus yours. Maybe you should see what else is missing. Maybe I could help with that."

"They're not permitted omissions," says Laurinitis. "They can black whole pages out, but they can't remove part of the file. The terms of our occult licence says so."

Arthur thinks. It would be worthwhile to have Laurinitis trust him. "I was the one who took Agent Cochrane down," he says. "They told me to use darts, they supplied me with them, and nobody could get close enough to her without her knowing but I managed to do it with my gifts." And if it weren't for Morgan's added assistance he wouldn't have even hit the mark, most probably. "And before you ask, no, I didn't ask what was in the darts at the time."

In fact, it was only years later when he received the file as part of the set of files when he took on Gilbert's case as part time work that he rediscovered what had been added to the information about Alice. You must understand, we don't keep these things from him necessarily, but he never received the file for quotidian work between the time he shot a dart at Alice and filed a report about it, and the time he made Gilbert's acquaintance and filed a report about that, and in the interim he never worked with any vampires - besides Agent Fletcher, who doesn't generally require tranquilising - so why would Arthur have ever known? Arthur and his colleagues operate on a need to know basis. Arthur didn't need to know until now.

And, let us be honest with ourselves, would Arthur have even cared to know if it weren't for Gilbert?

"What other things might you know," says Laurinitis, suspiciously.

"Convince the director not to let me go and I'll tell you what you need," says Arthur. "Convince him that you need me. And you'll get my copies of the files."

Laurinitis frowns. "And if I don't, you'll yank Gilbert off to the ministry and we never get to do any science again, is that it?"

"I didn't say any of that," says Arthur, "you did. Not me." He's quiet a moment. "Anyway, that kind of manipulation would be pointless. They know how to take me down too, if you were curious. You couldn't do it, but Mircea could."

It'd be only a single form. We expedite the process. We do it often.

Laurinitis rolls his eyes. "I've no desire to see Dr Popescu back here anytime soon," he adds.

"Well, if you let me go, I would argue he'd be the department's second choice. So it's up to you. Him, or me? Or, take your chances on someone new."

"What do you get out of this?" asks Laurinitis, exasperated. "Why do you care so much, you're not even a scientist."

Isn't he? "Gilbert can succeed where others have failed," says Arthur, "I'm certain of it."

You didn't answer his first question, says Morgan. What are you getting out of this?

No one's ever described having hallucinations before, he replies. That's strange. I need to figure that out.

Hmm, says Morgan, and do you need to figure it out, more or less than you need to be near him? He doesn't answer. You can't lie to me, Arthur, says Morgan. It's as effective as lying to yourself.

I can damn well try, he says.

Laurinitis leaves, and though he never comes back to tell Arthur his decision, Dr Zwingli appears instead, and hands him a laptop. On the screen is footage of the tank. "Can I have a copy of this?" asks Arthur.

"Hah! For your department? You most certainly can't," says Dr Zwingli. She sounds vaguely German, but Arthur can't place the accent. "You can view the material once, and you're lucky to."

"And supposing I need it for research?"

"Then you can file the proper requisition forms, and I will be amazed if they are processed before you are dismissed here at the institute, so you'll have to file all new paperwork as an external." She glares and says something in German. Morgan translates grudgingly: take our Gilbert from us, will you? oh, we'll see about that.

Arthur presses play. He watches.

Gilbert and he sit down to the table. They begin their work - staring into each other's eyes - Arthur is shocked at how intimate it looks, and that's before he even offers his hand - then they are staring into each other's eyes, and holding hands. No wonder Łukasiewicz keeps thinking things.

Because things exist, says Morgan snottily. Thought you weren't talking to me, says Arthur. Only when I've something appropriately biting to say, she snaps. That's how the dialogue in this story works.

Gilbert breaks the contact to bend backwards in the chair, stretching as he runs his fingers through his hair in his frustration. His shirt rides up his belly. The machine Arthur's hooked up to starts beeping faster. Dr Zwingli moves towards it. "Malfunction," says Arthur. The look Dr Zwingli gives him is probably the one Morgan would give him, if he could see her.

Arthur watches as he makes a knife appear, and holds it to his thumb. Gilbert looks panicked but after a moment talking he freezes in an unnatural pose. He tries to break free and can't. Arthur remembers this part. Not long after, then -

Arthur slices the pad of his thumb open, and Gilbert's posture and demeanour change instantly.

His focus is - rapt. Horrifying. Single-minded. This is why some people like to say that they're monsters, wearing a human mask, are creatures like Gilbert, non-human, ruled by non-human desires.

But how is it a non-human desire to crave sustenance? If only Arthur were sure that Gilbert could curb his urges. Then again, take a human and starve him half into the grave and is he really in possession of his full faculties? Then, why should anyone hold Gilbert to the same standards?

Arthur should leave the philosophical questions for later. The tape is still running.

He can't easily spot the point where he is bespelled, which would have been the most interesting portion for him. He remembers talking to Morgan before he climbed upon the table, and he thinks he remembers the part where Gilbert dragged his teeth across the back of his hand to split the veins there - but nothing in his demeanour or composure shows that he is enthralled. Arthur on tape simply goes from his chair, to the table, kneeling upon it as Gilbert - stands.

He was pinned, wasn't he?

Gilbert receives the hand Arthur presents him, blooded and dripping, cradles it in his two, and kisses and sucks the blood away with an expression of reverent tenderness.

No monster does that, surely?

And then he moves closer, and -

I knew it, says Arthur softly to himself, and the machine he's hooked up to is beeping much faster now. Dr Zwingli is fussing with it. Arthur lets her do what she wants, too transfixed on the screen - where Gilbert is fully leaned in, his lips upon Arthur's, the movement of their tongues clearly visible. Gilbert laces their fingers together, as Arthur's hand continues to bleed in Gilbert's grasp.

A kiss like that, and Arthur doesn't even remember it. Not like it was.

They kiss for what seems like minutes, as Gilbert climbs up as well, better to connect them, one knee upon the table, one foot on the ground.

No wonder Gilbert didn't do anything! Arthur onscreen reacts in a way that makes it ambiguous. It's natural to think that he wasn't entranced because people who are entranced just don't move. Gilbert could conceivably have no idea how far gone Arthur is.

Which is why, as Arthur leans back and falls to the table, supported by Gilbert's careful arms - Gilbert takes the time to lick his fingers clean and says as he does so, "May I?"

"Please do," Arthur says clearly.

"Feels like I've hungered for days," mutters Gilbert. His hands are shaking as he opens Arthur's shirt and loosens the tie enough to toss it over Arthur's shoulder. He kisses the centre of Arthur's chest, over his heart, then brushes his nose against it. It looks like he's inhaling. "I promise I'll be careful," says Gilbert. But then he moves over to the lower curve of his pectoral - what little pectoral muscle Arthur has - and bites down gently.

Arthur on screen moans - Arthur in reality is shocked at how red his blood is, dribbling forth, caught by Gilbert's unnaturally long pink tongue, curling around the wound to catch it, sucking away what remains.

"What?" he then whispers.

"Didn't say anything," says Gilbert. He kisses down Arthur's belly - little nips of kisses, capillary-deep, leaving a trail here and there of spilt blood, but he never goes too far and it looks like lipstick marks in lurid red - until he gets to Arthur's waist, an inch above his trousers. Here Gilbert definitely pauses to inhale. "You smell divine," he moans, "I can't even describe it."

"Please," Arthur is begging, "please, please, do it, please -"

Gilbert's mouth opens and his fangs dig in to what looks to be Arthur's hipbone.

And here's where it gets really worrisome, because they don't just nip this time, he sinks his teeth in deep, burying himself, his pointed nose poking into Arthur's skin. He looks like - well, he looks like Arthur expects he would if he were fellating someone. That's probably how Arthur got them confused in his high mind. It makes sense.

What doesn't make sense is why Arthur's brain perverts and distorts the reality into a different narrative, when no other enthralment experience is ever described as such.

Gilbert continues to drink, and grows more fervent. Arthur assumes he would be ejecting blood inches into the air if Gilbert weren't latched on like a barnacle to the wound he's made.

"Fuck, yes," Arthur sighs, "oh - that's - don't stop -" Gilbert sucks harder still and the expression on his face says he's enjoying this nearly as much as Arthur is. "Please don't stop, take whatever you want of me, just don't stop."

And so Gilbert does, pinning Arthur's hips to the table, with a frustrating hold that Arthur on screen tries and fails to squirm out of. More than once, Gilbert's hands drift across the crotch of Arthur's pants, pressing with the heel of his hand, caressing, fondling. Arthur watches as his cries grow slowly fainter, as his grip in Gilbert's hair loosens and then falls. Gilbert keeps drinking.

Only full minutes later, very suddenly, does Gilbert retreat. The wound spurts blood from Arthur's hip, without Gilbert there to drink from it. "Arthur?" says Gilbert. He shakes Arthur by the shoulders. "Arthur - oh god!" A moment is spent panicking, Gilbert's mouth still dripping red and Arthur's body still spurting it, until Gilbert finally remembers that there's something he can do about the situation. He clambers off the table, rushes at the emergency button, slams it with his fist, leaving a bloody print, and then returns to Arthur.

The only thing he seems to be saying is "shit, fuck, Arthur, shit!" again and again, before he rips his sweater and shirt off in one fell swoop and holds them tightly to Arthur's hip. The sweater is quickly drenched.

Someone appears off-screen because Gilbert screams at them, "Get help! Get someone - call an ambulance!" Presumably they do so, but it isn't Laurinitis, who enters. Laurinitis' eyes go wide and his jaw drops. "Help him!" shrieks Gilbert.

Laurinitis fishes out his phone from his labcoat pocket. He says something in a language Arthur assumes is Polish and all Arthur recognises is 'Feliks'. The conversation doesn't last long. "What the hell happened here?" says Laurinitis. "Gilbert, what did you do?!"

"I'm sorry," Gilbert swears, tearful and terrified, "I didn't mean to - he said I could - so I - I'm so sorry!"

"This is bad," says Laurinitis. He takes over from Gilbert, pressing the sweater to Arthur's side, and Gilbert claps his shaking hands over his mouth and backs up, staring in shock. Dr Zwingli enters with a roll of bandage. She peeks underneath - receives a splash of blood in the face for her troubles - and begins binding Gilbert's sweater to Arthur's hip. Then Łukasiewicz enters, and this part is interesting. He rolls up his shirtsleeves to his elbows and keeps his hands level above Arthur's body, above where Dr Zwingli grips tightly, and begins to mutter away inaudibly. It's not visible on the camera but Arthur knows what he's doing - he's holding the wounds closed with an incantation. But then others enter and Arthur is quickly swarmed by a SWAT team of medical personnel.

Unnoticed by them all, Gilbert lowers his hands from his face, breathing hard.

His lips and hands are licked clean. He swallows, and then he licks his lips again.

"I've seen enough," says Arthur. He hands the laptop back, which Dr Zwingli takes. Without another word - Arthur is well enough versed in passive aggression to know that this is on purpose - she leaves, and Arthur is alone to think about everything he's seen.

Chapter Text

Late in the night, or early in the morning, Arthur wakes. He feels eyes on him, and not in the off-scene way. All the laboratory lights outside his hospital-like room are dimmed, which means Laurinitis must have gone home.

"Well, you might as well come a bit closer," he tells Gilbert, who's the only other possible candidate.

There's a shocked cough from the shadows before Gilbert emerges from them. "How did you know I was there?" he asks. "Did your fairy tell you?"

"She didn't have to. You're not nearly as sleek and noiseless as you think you are," says Arthur.

Gilbert grimaces. "I know. Some predator, right? I make a pretty shitty vampire."

Maybe. Maybe he just makes too good a human. Maybe, and this is the important part, maybe there's no need to label his condition so exclusively, like he can't still be human but just slightly different, instead of writing it up as though untouchable evil simmers underneath an affable flesh disguise.

And anyway, it's hard to swallow. For god's sake, it's only Gilbert. The worst part about him is not his fangs but his history, what he's done, and we've clearly seen that Arthur doesn't care enough about that.

"What are you doing up?" asks Arthur.

"Couldn't sleep," he replies.

Oh, so he decided to come and watch you, then? adds Morgan. "You should try," says Arthur, "it's back to work day after tomorrow."

"So soon?" Gilbert looks horrified. "Y-you're not going to maybe stay in bed another day?"

"Gilbert, you can withdraw your consent any time you like," he explains. "If you want to stop, then we stop."

Gilbert fidgets in that way that Arthur has come to recognise as intense discomfort. "That's the problem," he says, guilty. "I never wanted to stop."

"How do you mean?"

"I regained control. Twice!" he blurts. His voice becomes distraught. "But each time I just, I threw it aside, I didn't care. You just tasted so good, a-and you said I could, and I thought it was you saying it, and nothing's tasted like that since I died, maybe earlier, I couldn't get enough. I'm sorry -" he looks really sorry - "I know you're not food, I just. I can't stop thinking about it!"

Arthur's silent a moment. Is that why Gilbert's come to see him, then? A midnight snack? "Have you seen the tape?" he asks instead.

Gilbert nods. "It's awful," he moans. "You should have let me starve myself a week ago, I'm a monster."

"Oh, stop the self-pity," says Arthur, "it ill-suits you."

"This isn't nothing! You almost died!" This is the part that Gilbert cares most about, isn't it? Arthur wonders whether he would be upset if Arthur died because of Arthur, or because it meant Gilbert wouldn't get any more blood. Arthur wonders which line of thinking would help Gilbert better keep himself in check.

"But I didn't, because you reined yourself in the end." Arthur smiles gently. "I count that a victory."

"A victory?!"

"You showed restraint!"

"You don't know the meaning of restraint!" wails Gilbert, wild-eyed and apoplectic. "Between following a superior officer's orders and the protestant work ethic, I spent my life restrained! That? That was me giving in! I didn't think clearly enough, or I would have known that you - you were talking to me, and that's strange, because normally people who are entranced can't say anything, yeah? But you weren't really saying anything, a-and, and I should have put that together, and asked you something that needed your thought. But I didn't care, because I liked how you tasted and I wanted more!" Gilbert thinks a moment. "If you can talk even when you're entranced, how can I ever know that you're actually talking to me?"

"Because you know when you're entrancing me," says Arthur. "Don't you?"

"Sometimes," says Gilbert. "Not always."

"Another reason why we need to get this under control," he replies softly.

"Who's the hell's 'we'?"

"It's my problem too," says Arthur. He checks - there's a video feed that he can make out, but no audio. Rather than kill it completely and arouse suspicion... "Come closer?" Gilbert does, but not close enough. "Closer still," he says. "Keep coming." He keeps beckoning until Gilbert has his face next to Arthur's and his broad shoulders are in the line of sight of Arthur's head and the camera, blocking out a view of his mouth.

"Why aren't you afraid of me?" whispers Gilbert. "What's wrong with you?"

"Oh, go on, you're talking like you're the scariest thing I've seen. Now look," Arthur whispers, "don't tell Laurinitis. Or Łukasiewicz. But when you put me under, I get these - strange - dreams, visions."

"What?" Gilbert frowns, not understanding.

"I mean I see things," says Arthur.

"That's not -"

"I know. I lose sight of reality. I've never read of anyone else who this happens to - I thought, maybe it had to do with my gifts but Mircea never mentioned it. And you know, that thesis of his goes into quite a lot of detail."

"We can't do this," says Gilbert. "Y-you don't even want to stop me."

"No, we keep doing this, until I can stop you," Arthur insists. "Or you stop yourself. I don't really care which one it is."

"I'd rather it's you," he replies. "I can't be trusted with a kill switch. You need to be able to bring me down."

"There's a way to do that. I've done it before." Just not to someone he knew. Not to someone he -

- cared for.

There, see? asks Morgan. Now was that really so hard to say?

Gilbert looks sad. "I'm sorry," he says.

"Don't be," says Arthur. Because Gilbert isn't sorry. What has he got to be sorry for? He got what he wanted. What he needed. It was instinct.

A second thought occurs to Arthur. "Suppose ... suppose we tried it again after you've been fed." So far, all the times he's met Gilbert were before Gilbert had eaten. If he's only fed once a day at noon, then scheduling Arthur's sessions immediately before noon puts them at an obvious disadvantage.

"How will it work if I don't need anything? Isn't it supposed to be something I do because I need blood?"

"That's not a question I'm able to answer," says Arthur, "but you can. Do you think you could do it after you've eaten?"

"I don't want to do it any time at all, if I'm not even talking to you because you're high as a kite," says Gilbert sourly.

"I'd need Morgan's help," Arthur adds. "When I'm entranced, I can't hear her." Would you be able to make a constant level of noise while we try it? he asks.

I told you my mouthiness would come in handy one day, says Morgan. The only remaining factor would be you. Are you able to speak up the moment you can't hear me?

Arthur isn't sure. Do you see a better way? he asks.

At the moment... no.

"She'll do it," says Arthur.

"Then I'll do it," says Gilbert. "I'll see if Toris won't mind giving me breakfasts instead of lunch."

"I don't see why you can't have something mid-morning as well."

"What do you think this is, the Red Cross? We don't have that many units on hand!"

"I meant me," says Arthur.

Gilbert's face falls. "You can't be serious."

"Laurinitis seems to have figured out what's in your saliva that stops the blood from clotting." Even better if you didn't use it, adds Morgan, if your efforts on keeping a wound held closed suddenly stop because you slip into one of his trances. He could know when you're no longer with us. And you know he'll keep a careful eye on the wound. "If a baggie of donated material tastes like dirt in your mouth how much more will you want the real thing? It works like we do with food, doesn't it? If you eat too much, you feel sick?"

"I haven't gotten to that point yet," says Gilbert.

Why not? "I thought Laurinitis was told to work on gastrointestinal before he did anything else!"

"That doesn't include stuffing me like a Christmas goose!"

"Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and elevensies," says Arthur. "That's my recommendation before we take this project any further. We'll tell Laurinitis in the morning. Now go get some sleep." Gilbert pouts. "Don't argue," says Arthur. "You know I've got a point."

"My own experience aside, there's at least a full chapter in Mircea's thesis as to why this is a bad idea," says Gilbert.

For a moment, Arthur says nothing.

What, is he scared of a little codependence? A little bond? Afraid of commitment? "You'd think someone who says he spent his life restrained and is now having problems with control would be up for a little tying down," says Arthur darkly. "Are you backing out of that now?"

Besides, Mircea isn't certain when his own connection formed. If all it takes to form a connection is one bite, then they've damned themselves to it already. If it requires some sort of emotional investment... well, the same could be said.

"It's not that," says Gilbert.

"Then what?"

"I just don't see the benefit to anything stronger than a working relationship if it isn't even going to be long-lasting - I mean you don't drop anchor into a puddle! And I've done that before and it's fucking painful so if you think I'll put myself through it again so you and Laurinitis can do your science then you have another thing coming!"

"I - what? Am I dreaming this? Are you thralling me right now?"

Nope, says Morgan.

"Look, mate," growls Arthur, "if that's your thinking, then you've got your signals twisted because you've been sending me the wrong ones for a week now, loud and clear -"

"How old are you? Really?"

Excuse you, thinks Arthur. "You ask everyone that question?"

"No, just the people I could love," he replies simply. And of a sudden it strikes Arthur that Gilbert looks very sad and alone.

It hits Arthur then. A regular life is nothing to Gilbert's. Twenty years from now he'll still look the same, which might've annoyed or enraged the regular folk he had known. Or Gilbert. Or both parties.

That's assuming he lives twenty years. Most vampires don't see five post-mortem. If anything, Arthur should be asking this question.

"I was born in '37," says Arthur. "And I've looked like this since I graduated university and was paired up officially."

Gilbert's eyes narrow. "Are all of you guys like that? Is it the pairing?"

He nods. "Beings like Morgan feel the same as you do. A human lifespan is an eyeblink in hers. But a little longer and she can justify getting some work done. Mircea would be the same, though whoever licences his powers probably doesn't worry about it as much because Mircea's already long-lived through his condition. It's no less Faustian a deal he's made, though." Arthur sighs. "So, look, I know what that feels like, when you're watching your family and friends grow old and die around you. I've two grand-nieces left and I've never met them because they aren't talented like I am, so there's contact laws. Is that what you were on about?"

Gilbert is silent. "Sorry," he says finally. "That was insensitive." He rubs his toe against the floor. "I'm insensitive a lot of the time, actually."

"Yeah, hadn't noticed," says Arthur sarcastically. "Go on. Get some sleep."

But Gilbert pauses. He breathes in once, deeply, and says in a rush, "Can I sleep here with you?"

"Whuh," is what Arthur says first. Then he processes it again. "What?" In addition to insensitive, he is also, apparently, really blunt. "How can you - just - ask that?" Arthur stammers.

Gilbert shrugs. "I don't see the point in being vague. If I want something, I'll ask for it." He seems to realise that the possibility Arthur might say no is on the horizon. "Y-you, uh, you don't have to say yes."

"This is our workplace," says Arthur. "What would Laurinitis and Łukasiewicz think?"

They're both already thinking it, says Morgan drily.

"Actually, it's a hospital room inside a workplace, and people do that in hospital rooms. Don't they?" he argues.

"They're not supposed to. I suppose they do it, if they've no propriety," says Arthur stiffly.

"I'd be gone before morning," he promises.

"Wouldn't matter, there's cameras everywhere."

"Well." Gilbert grins, mirthless. "It was just a dumb idea, anyway." He turns to leave.

"You can stay," Arthur blurts.

Gilbert turns back. As he approaches the bed, smiling, and climbs in, he doesn't say anything teasing about Arthur's protestations. He's smart enough to know not to press his luck. Or he wants it badly enough. Or both.

But they don't do anything, anyway, in the shared space under the blanket as Gilbert (with his awful cold toes and cold fingers and the rest of him not much better) curls up beside him. In fact his sole moment of brattiness is when he lays his head on Arthur's shoulder and whispers with a smirk, "Sweet dreams," as though he isn't the one who's been providing Arthur with them for a week now.

Arthur flicks his nose.

When he wakes, Gilbert is gone, as he'd promised, and him being what he is means there isn't even much of a warm spot left behind.

--

Laurinitis isn't pleased. Well, when is he ever.

"That's an awful lot of requisition forms for more units of blood," he says. "The NHS is going to think we're up to something. We won't be able to remain as covert as we have been."

"I'll tell the department to liaise with them. Make things a bit easier," says Arthur. "They never ask us too many questions. While we're on the topic, why haven't you been feeding him more?"

"He got two units a day earlier on. It seemed to satiate him. He never asked for any more and showed no disorder in his eating - not until he started starving himself. But I admit we were only giving him two units a day in order to stimulate an erection to test his seminal fluid. Of course, it's not necessary to have an erection to extract seminal fluid but I thought it most dignified given that Gilbert has always been annoyingly masculine about things, probably because of the army -"

"That's a lot more information than I wanted," he interrupts. This line of discussion is making Arthur very awkward. "Did you ask him whether he was hungry?"

"Of course I asked him! What kind of scientist do you think I am? He always shrugged, said 'not really'. It's why his little hunger strike took us by surprise. He kept saying he wasn't in the mood, and we believed him - I thought - he's got no reason to lie, he knows we've enough to keep him fed, and it wasn't until he attacked me that we realised something was wrong."

"I thought Zwingli's experience occurred first," says Arthur.

"But she didn't say anything about it until after I was attacked."

Then it's possible that enthralment isn't possible if one is too satiated. That makes it less likely it's volitional and more likely subconscious or hormone-based. Possible. Arthur won't rule it out until it fails.

"I do have some good news," says Laurinitis. He flips open to his logbook and spins it round to show Arthur. It's three lines of C's and H's with some other letters and numbers interspersed for good measure. Molecules. "One of these three is the compound that's causing enthralment."

"How did you find that out so quickly?"

"I had already run some solid-phase micro extraction and solvent extraction on the organic compounds from his skin last week as potential mosquito attractant - that's how I knew that he could go outside safely without worrying about low-level toxins from bug bites. Desorption and analysis by gas chromatography and mass spectrometry shows what sorts of things the compounds I'm interested in are made of. Working on the assumption it's an ester or steroid - which is a good guess - organic chemistry suggests these are the forms such molecules would have to have. These three are the only ones that are not cross-listed anywhere on known human subjects from publicised research." Laurinitis looks at the page, thinking. "Shouldn't be too hard to synthesise them," he decides.

The jargon mostly eludes Arthur, but the take-home message is clear. "This is incredible," he says.

"Now, this is apocrine secretion, so I would venture to bet it's a possibility that it's an odorant carried by a protein, which binds odorous compounds and liberates them by interaction with something else. The something else -"

"Would be the catalyst for when he tries to thrall someone?"

"It could," supposes Laurinitis. "Or it could be done in the presence of certain cutaneous bacteria. Which - I also found evidence for, on the skin oils samples. At the moment I'm running composition and classification of the contents on those. It's too early to tell. Anyway, I have to get back to work."

"Very well," says Arthur. "I'll go and see him, if you don't mind?"

"Ah," says Laurinitis. "About that. Look."

"We'll both be right there, you can keep an eye on us," says Arthur. "And everything is healed about as good as it gets, anyway, I've no open wounds anymore."

"It's just that," explains Laurinitis, "I found these compounds in his saliva, too."

Arthur coughs. "W-what are you saying? I'm not planning on ingesting it!"

Laurinitis raises an eyebrow. "Nevertheless it's not necessary to ingest it in the way the security cameras show us that you already have." Arthur frowns but Laurinitis speeds onward. "It would be enough to speak face-to-face. To completely eliminate the possibility of contamination, you would need to be on the opposite side of the tank."

"Alright," says Arthur, unhappily. "And after it's inhaled, it goes immediately to the brain, right? Does it do so when -" he grimaces - "when ingested?"

"It can't have, without being activated, because we have all been talking to Beilschmidt for some time now - god knows he doesn't ever shut up - and there are fewer incidents than you would expect."

That's a good point. Arthur's been talking simply to Gilbert for some time now. Could this be the source? "And if it's ingested, it'll do the same thing as being inhaled?"

"Don't know," says Laurinitis. "Ingestion bypasses that centre of the brain. It might hit another one where it's just as effective. It would be hard to extricate one factor from another. But I would expect it does the same thing. A drug can be swallowed or snorted. It might intensify the reaction, or speed it up."

"But it would be different?"

"It might," figures Laurinitis, "instead of mild temporary paralysis, maybe just a slight tingling sensation. At most it'd be a temporary synesthesia."

"Nothing ... more drastic?" asks Arthur. "No hallucinations?"

Laurinitis narrows his eyes. "I don't think so," he says, and the way he says it suggests the unlikelihood of hallucinations during enthralment is high enough that Arthur's question baffles him completely.

--

Arthur isn't able to have another meeting to work with Gilbert just yet - it's already been too soon, Łukasiewicz has vetoed him until Monday (at that, Łukasiewicz has said that's a kindness and Arthur had to agree, even with such a splendid and speedy recovery, helped along by the transfusions). But he can go and talk to him, at any rate. Laurinitis, at least, seems to have realised that letting Arthur talk to Gilbert helps Gilbert behave better when Arthur isn't around.

He tells Gilbert about what Laurinitis is working on, because Laurinitis is flitting about the labs, too excited to stop or pause and involve Gilbert in any way, and Gilbert is mostly content to be left alone. All the chemistry jargon makes Gilbert's eyes glaze. In all justice Arthur can't say he cares much either. He hopes he didn't deliver the message wrong.

But Gilbert does pick up on the subtler meanings. "I might as well try to control the scent of sweat with my mind. If it's in the presence of bacteria, then I wouldn't be able to exert any control over it, would I," he says.

"Well - you might stand a chance," says Arthur, "but perhaps not."

"And you would be obliged to report that."

"That doesn't mean that I would do so," says Arthur. But it's true that he would be obliged to.

"But if it releases the smelly chemical because there's another protein telling it to, or some enzyme or something, then... maybe it could be controlled?"

"I don't follow."

"Well, maybe it's like insulin, released as the body needs. And if I want to suppress it, I could just take, like, an anti-insulin. Or something that inhibits it, removes the component that causes the molecule's formation. Some kind of vampire deodorant, maybe, so I could suppress the enthralment."

"Are you sure that's what you want to do?"

Gilbert shrugs. "If it means not being forcibly taken into the department, then yes," he says. He grimaces. "Don't get me wrong, I'm sure they want their grubby hands on me whether I can enthrall on command or not, it's just harder to do if I can control it. If I can't control it, then they have an excuse. But I don't see how I could show that it happens on demand if it's entirely chemical. Toris would have to demonstrate that the release of an enzyme is tagged with something else. Maybe something I do. At most - they could pair it with a hormone spike, the way eating something sweet triggers insulin, the way diabetics manage their own blood sugars."

Which might be tied into his digestive system because isn't that why certain people smell like off milk, because they eat a lot of dairy?

"It would honestly just be easier to show that you could switch the behaviour on and off," adds Arthur.

Gilbert is quiet for a moment. "Arthur," he says softly, "answer me honestly, would you?"

"I've never been dishonest with you," says Arthur.

"Has anybody been able to control enthralment before?"

"We've studied all of one vampire," Arthur says, "and by studied I mean it sure as hell wasn't in an institution like this."

"Hm," says Gilbert. "That wasn't the question I asked."

Arthur is quiet. "Just because Alice couldn't do it doesn't mean you can't," he says at last.

"But it doesn't mean it's possible, either," says Gilbert. And it doesn't bode well.

--

When Arthur returns to work there is a woman in a dark pantsuit waiting for him at his desk. He can't see her face. He tries to look up but never can, he remembers there's more important things to look at on the ground, or perhaps he forgets why he wanted to look up, or perhaps it's simply more comfortable for his neck. He doesn't question any of this until much, much later.

"There you are, god, you reek," says Mircea's voice behind him, "you never showed yester- ah ..." he trails off.

"Dr Popescu," says the woman.

"Another time," says Mircea to the ground, and walks off hastily.

"Mister Kirkland," adds the woman, "would you come with me please."

Arthur follows her feet - red patent leather stiletto heels, shiny and sharp - through the labyrinth of the cubicle farm that is their office at the department until she pauses at a conference room. "In here, please," she says, holding the door open. She closes the door behind him, leaving him alone.

The conference room is small, perhaps twice the size of his cubicle, with no windows. There is a presentation screen on one wall but Arthur can't see a projector on the ceiling or the desk or in fact anywhere. A single chair waits for him at the desk. He sits, not because it's what he wants to do, or that he was explicitly invited, but because he knows it's what's expected of him. How he knows, he can't say.

The screen goes dark, and then a man appears. It's one of us. His face feels familiar, although Arthur can't place it. Maybe it's the fellow who interviewed him? That was so long ago.

In actual fact, he isn't a particular agent of ours. Arthur's own mind is constructing the image of a person on the screen because we're provoking it to. It's the healthiest way to have these conversations. This is someone Arthur respects, but fears, concocted out of the aggregate information in his own memories of similar figures - politicians he's seen, schoolteachers he's had, his own father - and patched together.

Good morning, Arthur. You're wondering why we've called you in.

"Ah, well, a little, yes," says Arthur modestly, growing more anxious.

Not a little. It is. This is a courtesy message that you're to continue on the project. Looking forward, we estimate that you won't have to sign anything else. If Dr Łukasiewicz attempts to make you, you are to refuse. If he gives you attitude about your refusal, you know what you have to do. Simply file the report you need to, and hand him over, and we'll do the rest.

"That would hand over Gilbert, too," says Arthur.

Naturally. His contract will have to be absorbed and transferred to us if we need to speak with Dr Łukasiewicz due to his interference. It's just the way it works. We don't make the rules.

"Would I still be able to work with Gilbert?"

We will do the best we can. We see no reason to separate the two of you. You appear to be progressing extremely well in your ... teamwork.

(We say this without emotion, but the pacing of our toneless words colours them a distinctive mood. Arthur is left unsure whether we approve or disapprove.)

"Right," says Arthur. He worries his lower lip with his teeth, fighting a blush. "So ... so you're not upset with me?" he asks meekly.

Why would we be?

"Because I screwed up," he says. "I let him nearly drain me. I wasn't careful enough, I- I wasn't careful at all!"

It's your life, we explain patiently. If you had died it would have been your own choices, your own free will.

Arthur concedes the point. "You would have lost an employee," he supposes.

You're not an employee, you're a consultant. And there are always more of those.

"Well, thanks," Arthur replies acidly. "Look - if ... if that's all you wanted to say - you could have put this in Gilbert's file. Couldn't you? Was all the cloak and dagger really necessary?"

But then we would have had to put it in writing, we reply.

"Right," says Arthur once again. "Am I free to leave?"

The door clicks opens behind him. As he approaches the threshold we have one final parting sentiment for him, and he hears from the blank screen: Are you certain that what you did was 'screwing up'?

Arthur doesn't deign to answer us, but it was mostly rhetorical anyway. We're not offended. We can't take something personally if we're not a person.

He returns to his desk, having already forgotten the man on the screen and the sound of his voice. Mircea is there waiting for him. Mircea's former mood has completely evaporated, and he is quiet. He can smell Arthur - he must be able to, because his face pinches and his nostrils flare and he bristles - but he doesn't say anything about it yet. "Let's go grab a coffee," he says gently.

"Alright," says Arthur, even though this has never happened before in all his decades of working here.

--

They wind up at the busy Nando's by the Thames, instead of the two cafes that are nearest the MI:5 headquarters where their work is based. "It's quieter here!" yells Mircea.

"What?" shouts Arthur. "I can't hear you over this noise!"

Mircea rolls his eyes and waves his hand. A hush falls over them with a radius of about two metres. "I have my suspicions about the coffeeshops," he says. "Nando's, though. They wouldn't bother eavesdropping in a Nando's, would they?"

(Certainly we would.)

"Anyway. Arthur - what happened?" Mircea looks worried. "You haven't called in sick in years and then you show up at work in rumpled clothes with every last inch of you stinking of thrall? You know, every time I think you can't possibly smell any stronger of him, you prove me wrong."

"They didn't tell you?"

"They don't tell me anything I don't need to know, and I assume I didn't need to know."

Arthur heaves a sigh and launches into the explanation, from his experience on the table being fed upon while locked in a hallucination to waking up in a hospital bed, Zwingli's security video, Gilbert's ashen face, Laurinitis' discovery, Łukasiewicz's ire. He tries to leave out the really racy bits - not like clever Mircea can't guess at their omission - but even so, it sounds tawdrier than he'd like.

By the end of it Mircea has his arms folded across his chest. "I told you you should be feeding him on a regular basis," he says. "If you had, this wouldn't've happened."

"That would've made it personal between us," says Arthur.

"Which is exactly what you wanted. No - don't lie."

"I wasn't sure if it was what he wanted," says Arthur. He still isn't certain. After all, he's never gotten a clear answer one way or another. Arthur is Gilbert's only human contact who isn't Laurinitis and his life is miserable. It doesn't mean Gilbert likes him for any other reason than distraction. Even Arthur has to admit, sex would make a great distraction.

And he's never addressed the sneaking suspicion he has that Gilbert is merely using him as leverage. He's got something on Łukasiewicz, or Łukasiewicz has something on him - or both - and in order to have another piece to play against Łukasiewicz, he needs Arthur. Łukasiewicz isn't dumb, he's figured this out, why else would he get so upset that Arthur and Gilbert get all cosy together? Similarly, pitting Mircea against Laurinitis leaves Gilbert loose enough to slip free of the web while others are too busy bickering amongst themselves.

Using Arthur would make perfect sense.

Mircea doesn't seem convinced. But he concedes, saying, "Well, I don't know him like you do."

Arthur's heart sinks. "I don't know him at all," he sighs helplessly. "And you - so you don't know anything about -"

"I never had hallucinations," says Mircea. "I've never even heard of something like that. If it wasn't happening so regularly, I'd say it's just a weird fluke."

"Yeah," says Arthur. "But it can't be." He notices the time. "Well, had we better head back?"

"For an hour's work?"

It's only an hour for Mircea, who must have something to do tonight. Arthur of course has nothing but sitting at home thinking about Gilbert and so probably won't head home until 8:30, 9pm after a good while working on other files to distract himself from his pathetic, lonely life. He also ought to make up for the half-day he lost yesterday after Gilbert drained him.

"There is something else I wanted to discuss," Mircea adds, and his fingers twitch. The radius of hearing around them solidifies. This is a more secure version. Arthur frowns. "I found the loophole," says Mircea.

Arthur's eyes widen.

"There's two conditions. The first, he needs another job offer. And," Mircea adds, "the department is already preparing a contract. It has to have more money, or better benefits, or both." And Mircea naturally has access to the contract that Gilbert signed with Łukasiewicz, so it's an easy job to compare. "Then he can apply for special dispensation under Sooth-Brown, Section 12 to break his contract with Łukasiewicz between terms instead of waiting for the end of the term."

"But he is permitted to break it at the end of the term?"

"Of course," says Mircea, "it's just like us. We get renewed but it's conditional on our acceptance too. What's more, this would be pretty easy to do, because the contract doesn't specify anything for post-dead status, which means the benefits it includes don't factor in a post-dead status. We could give him a contract with the same salary, same vacation time, same healthcare, and his choice of vein at his leisure, and our offer would immediately outweigh Łukasiewicz's offer."

Arthur isn't sure how he feels about Gilbert feeding off of anybody who isn't him. But he sets aside for the moment his inane jealousy, which makes no rational sense. "What's the other condition?" he asks.

"In regards to his case, VHI applied for and was granted special privileges under scientific advisory statements to the Ben Nevis Pact, which means that they cannot be legally required to surrender Gilbert to the ministry - unless Gilbert does something illegal and/or dangerous and is tried and found guilty, or requires secure containment under Korus, then we could cart him away - or if the VHI obtains a new specimen as his replacement, which they can't keep secret, they are obliged to report that under the Fourth Amendment, section 1, subsection 3 to the Occult Act. Violation of that would immediately result in the VHI's occult licence's removal."

"Łukasiewicz would be fired," muses Arthur.

"No, he'd be jailed, declarations are mandatory! So a memo came into the file yesterday, says they've been making preparations for a new specimen, though it didn't say anything else. I assume I'm not working on that," Mircea says. "I think I'd feel better knowing less about it."

'Preparations for a new specimen'. Sounds ominous. How exactly are they planning that? Did someone volunteer? Under duress? "My thoughts exactly," says Arthur. "Who's the one doing the preparing?" Even though he knows who the likely culprit is.

"That's the thing," says Mircea. "The way the memo was written was clear, the department isn't the one doing the preparation, it's the VHI, but who at the VHI, they didn't say. There's no signature, which is suspect."

"They already have Gilbert!" says Arthur. "How could -" He thinks. "You said they already did all the science they possibly could on someone who had turned but hadn't yet died, before Gilbert's death."

"Exactly," says Mircea. "So simply infecting someone with blood in order to turn them gives them nothing new."

Arthur comes upon the conclusion readily, but the shock leaves him reeling and he speaks slowly and foggily. "You're not seriously... you can't be saying... Laurinitis is planning a murder of someone who's turned?"

"He might not see it as really murder if they come back hours later. Besides, I think he'd do anything for science," says Mircea darkly.

"That's a bit far!" says Arthur. "Look, he's not - he's not that bad. I know he doesn't exactly have a lot of social graces but let's be honest, neither do I -"

"But he wasn't happy about having to give up the project about what happened at the moment of Gilbert's death, was he? You even said so yourself."

"No, this is ludicrous. Laurinitis is weirdly devoted to science, certainly -"

"To the point that he doesn't exactly hold a firm grasp on the ethics of these things," adds Mircea. "That form should have had a signature. Shouldn't be surprised if someone was paid to look the other way about it. Look, I get it - I financed my PhD thesis in my own blood - if it weren't for the fact that he's not the vampire and it sets a nasty pattern for my future, I wouldn't judge Laurinitis at all. Take it from me, that's classic Eastern Europe."

Well, you said it, not me, thinks Arthur, as the Romanian throws the Lithuanian under the bus. But even though Arthur might have agreed at one point - in the hateful xenophobia that clings to him like ivy on a rural thatched cottage, entrenched deep into the foundations and not as innocently quaint as one would like - it still seems completely insane. Thus does Arthur find himself leaping to the defence of the character of a man he hardly likes. "I just don't think he would do this," he says, adamant.

"You don't know him at all. You don't even know Gilbert, and you're in love with him."

"I'm not in love with him!" says Arthur, his heart pounding, his cheeks warm. His mind grapples frantically for a return to the previous topic. "Is this what the department thinks? That Laurinitis is a lunatic, running illegal experiments in his laboratory?"

"I don't know," says Mircea coolly, "are you going to go run and tell him that?"

"I -" Arthur splutters.

"Wherever your allegiance lies," he continues, "you were hired by the department. Laurinitis has been performing some unethical experiments since I met him, which I say as a scientist -"

"Social scientist," argues Arthur. "It might be different for him?"

"Doesn't change the rights of the experimentee! And I can tell when those are violated, and if it becomes normal to treat people like Gilbert for the purposes of science then that's not a world I can live in, do you understand me? Moreover, as far as I can tell, Łukasiewicz lets him do whatever he wants -"

"If Laurinitis faces malpractice, Łukasiewicz would be responsible as director. He'd lose his job, certainly. I know Łukasiewicz the least well, because I don't care for him and the feeling's mutual but know ye this - he wouldn't give up that job. If he thinks Laurinitis is doing something illicit, he'd put a stop to it."

"If he knew," says Mircea.

"That Łukasiewicz is a micro-manager if I've ever met one," says Arthur. "He makes Laurinitis meet with him daily. He's got his hands deep into this case with Gilbert making sure we don't overstep our bounds. You think he'd miss it if Laurinitis overstepped his?"

Mircea considers it. "Good point," he says.

"Look," says Arthur, "I know you don't like him -"

Mircea snorts. "I really don't," he says.

"- but Gilbert has strength and reflexes on his side, and I've even seen him use them against Laurinitis. Gilbert's fast and strong, and if he wanted, well, there's nothing Laurinitis could do to defend himself. I might not trust Laurinitis, or Łukasiewicz, but I trust if Gilbert doesn't like what's happening, that he'll do something about it."

Mircea sits back in his seat in the booth and watches Arthur carefully for a slow moment. Something seems to have occurred to him and Arthur waits as Mircea works it through. "How do you know he isn't doing that already?" he asks at last. "Not with his strength or reflexes, but with you?"

"That's exactly what I'm afraid of," says Arthur, as one long, heavy, exhale of a sigh. His shoulders sink, and his spirits fall. But it's almost a relief to admit this at last: that he doesn't trust Gilbert. And yet his heart is torn, it feels like betrayal to admit it, because how can he feel this pull so strongly to this man, how can it be anything other than love, and how can he have that without trust? This isn't how it's supposed to work!

"Oh, Arthur," says Mircea, deeply concerned.

"I don't know what to do," Arthur whispers.

Mircea thinks, tapping his index finger on his lips. "Based on my research," he says finally, "if he did anything so fancy as trying to manipulate you, he would only be hoodwinking himself."

"How do you mean?"

"The way connections between donor and vampire form seems to pull the donor in, no matter how tepid their feelings are, but once formed - even during the process - I've never heard of a single one where the vampire doesn't end up harbouring feelings. Strong ones, too. Twenty cases that I know of that were studied, and they all wound up with the vampire head over heels. These people would put their lives down for the donor."

"Sure, because the donor's a food source," retorts Arthur.

"No, it's more than that," he replies. "It's still not that well understood. But it's the only reason I still believe. It's some form of justice, some karmic higher power, that a being so violent who can ensnare others the way vampires do, can be controlled so easily by someone they can't live without. If this is what he's trying to do to you - manipulate you, use you - then he's putting his life literally in your hands. And I've worked with you, so I've seen the damage those hands can wreak. If this is what he's doing, it's the dumbest thing in the world, and you don't have to be an expert like me to know it."

"He's read enough research about his condition," says Arthur.

"Then there's no way he wouldn't have put this together," says Mircea.

But that's not really an answer. Just because it's imprudent doesn't mean Gilbert wouldn't still do it. Didn't he himself tell Arthur all about the impulsive, stupid things he'd done, simply because he wanted to?

--

Arthur returns to work alone - Mircea takes off for the tube - and works by himself as one by one the other occupants of the cubicles on the floor filter out for home. By the time he looks up again it's 10 pm and his stomach is growling. It has been awhile since that peri-peri chicken sandwich.

Do you notice how Arthur barely describes the other parts of his day that are not-Gilbert? He knows that there's nothing that would interest you that happens in the hours of his day that aren't Gilbert. Perhaps he even believes these hours simply don't exist, that the flow of time is discontinuous once he leaves the VHI until he returns the next morning. It isn't, but all Arthur ever seems to do besides his job and his boring life is to let his mind wander and when it wanders too far into thinking about Gilbert he hits himself for being so pathetic, so we're not sorry that he isn't describing these parts to you because you're really not missing much.

Sometimes, it's almost like he isn't awake in the times he isn't with Gilbert. Maybe he isn't even alive.

Arthur heads home, where he microwaves a ready-made rogan josh and rice, which tastes like dirt in his mouth, and thinks about doing impulsive, stupid things for the sole reason that he wants to. He does this for about an hour before Morgan reminds him that he should try and get some sleep. It's good advice. So he lays down in his bed and stares at the ceiling.

He gives in at quarter to two, after he's been tossing and turning with no luck at getting to sleep. He's even tried, for god's sakes, his eyes shut tight, the covers are warm and his pillow is comfortable. There's no reason he shouldn't be drifting off.

He knows a spell for this. It's quick, efficient, practical.

Instead, he does something else, an impulsive, stupid thing, because he wants to, and night has made him daring, and slips his hand beneath the waistband of his pants.

He's hard within seconds, like his body has been waiting for this chance, waiting for him to acknowledge it, this simmering energy lurking beneath his skin, this fire Gilbert's been quietly stoking for days now.

Gilbert. Ah, Gilbert - the reason he's doing any of this, the reason his world has been turned upside down, the reason the past few days he's felt like a member of the human species again. Effortlessly Arthur draws up in his mind the way he smells, the way he looks - the way Arthur's mind made him taste when he dreamt they kissed - and Arthur's prick throbs harder in his hand. It likes this line of thought, dangerous as it is, and it feels so newly thrilling to do something so stupid so Arthur plunges forward headlong into his own destruction, heedless and carefree, to think of Gilbert. And why shouldn't he indulge, when everything hinges on Gilbert, when Gilbert has - unconsciously or not - given him so very much to think about?

His heart will not thank him for this. This is how you get it broken.

He casts his mind out for a fantasy, and what bites is Gilbert's mouth at Arthur's neck, following up what Laurinitis interrupted, Gilbert glued to Arthur's side as they sit together in the tank, the whatever-it-was they were watching off Arthur's phone wholly forgotten. Gilbert's fangs extend and hover uncertainly over Arthur's skin, glistening, waiting until Arthur nods before they pierce him decisively, and penetrate deeper as Gilbert bites down until he's seated to the tips of his front teeth. Arthur is shallow-breathed and panting, his head tilted back, Gilbert's hand around the back of his neck simultaneously to support it and thrust it forward that he might more easily drink. Gilbert's fingertips are gentle, caressing, but Arthur's fantasy is carefully grounded in a little reality and the middle finger at Arthur's nape, where his hair begins, feels calloused from years of handling weapons. Arthur doesn't bother lying or pretending anymore: the danger turns him on.

Gilbert's lips remain at his neck, sealed over the wound which Arthur is certain must be gaping, would be difficult even for him to heal from, but it doesn't matter, this is just a silly fantasy, and the rules are different here -

- when it changes, subtly. The scene warms, shimmers at the edges as it settles. This is most of the reason Arthur can't sleep tonight, because his mind is so active it's running away on him. In this new image, Gilbert's red mouth - Arthur's eyes are magnetised to it - is above him as he pushes Arthur to a bed below. Arthur can practically feel Gilbert's grip on his shoulders, pinning him to his own mattress. How this could have come to pass, Arthur doesn't know. Maybe he invited Gilbert over for dinner. Maybe it was a romantic date. Arthur's heart pounds. Gilbert's nude, somehow - Arthur won't question it - and he straddles Arthur's hips as though he'll -

Gilbert sinks himself down onto Arthur's prick to fuck himself with a low moan.

"You weren't fast enough," Gilbert teases, with a flirty smirk.

"Fuck," Arthur dreams himself replying, "you might have warned me!" It nearly burns. Gilbert lifts his hips and brings them down again and Arthur finds himself awestruck at the beauty of the expression of rapture on Gilbert's face. "You're a bloody glutton for punishment," Arthur gasps. "I could've given you more slick -"

"This is what I wanted, this - this is all I want," vows Gilbert, lifting himself up and pushing down, setting a mad frantic pace, riding Arthur like there's a hurry. The intimacy of the former scene gives way to an erotic bloodrush. Being this deep inside Gilbert feels like a magic Arthur doesn't recognise.

"Please," begs Arthur, because it's so much, how tight he is, how hot he is, how uncontrollable he is, Arthur can do nothing but let him take what he will and allow him to do what he wants. "Please, Gilbert -"

Gilbert above him is lost in his own pleasure. "Fuck," he chants softly, moaning, "fuck, ha-ah, oh - that's good - like that," he says, undulating his hips, twisting as he fucks himself on Arthur's cock. Arthur gives up the control willingly. Gilbert seems to find something he likes because his grip on Arthur's hand grows tighter and his breath grows shallow. "Yeah, that - ngh," and his eyes clench shut and he tightens further around Arthur as he comes -

Arthur lets slip a quiet moan, just the one, before he spills into his fist, thinking of the image his mind conjures up of Gilbert's face at the moment of orgasm, his body arched and his thighs spread. His pretty mouth in a cry, unselfconsciously displaying his long fangs, dripping with Arthur's blood. Arthur licks his own lips thinking of them.

What the hell was that?! Morgan shrieks.

Oh, come on! he says. You've never interrupted me before. I thought we had a nice deal, you and I: you don't watch me when I'm getting off, and I pretend you can't see me doing these embarrassing human things.

That's not what I meant! says Morgan. You slipped from me, just now!

I can't have, says Arthur, the clothes I was wearing are in the hamper - behind my wardrobe door, no less - and I took a nice long shower with plenty of soap, after all Mircea's needling. I can't even smell them.

He has to be here somewhere!

He can't be here, says Arthur. He's not allowed to leave VHI premises. And anyway, he'd make a crap burglar, we could hear him earlier today skulking around the VHI. It was just me fantasising, he mutters. Nothing more.

No - you're right, I can't feel anybody else here. Morgan checks backstage. Nobody's watching, she says. I can't see anybody with his abilities around for at least twenty klicks. I don't understand! I couldn't access you. It felt like a thrall. I've had enough of those recently to know the difference.

Then if it's not just the chemistry ... because it can't be, because there's at least one component that is independent of even having Gilbert physically there ...

It's magical, thinks Arthur. I don't understand how, but enthralment must be some sort of magic process.

And if that's so, then Arthur can control it. It's just a matter of practice.

Sad, lonely masturbation has never felt so victorious.

Chapter Text

Monday morning, Arthur is on an early tube to the VHI, convinced he has a few ideas of where to begin his work. It can't be telekinetic, he reasons, because if there were some sort of airborne chemical Arthur shouldn't be able to resolve it to push it around. There's nothing special about his house either, the location nor the building. So it couldn't have been a leyline interaction or something geographical. At any rate, Arthur's never had a very close relationship with the earth, water was always his element of choice -

Water... perhaps water! But what water might there have been last night? Besides the ordinary content in his sweat, or other bodily fluids. And none of those had been tampered with by Gilbert, not in a significant way besides ordinary conversation, or that time he crawled into bed beside Arthur, but those clothes were in the hamper, far enough out of sight or scent. Then again, given the miniscule water content in skin oil - that time the tank was heated, Gilbert watched him come out of the enthrallment, almost like he knew what he was doing. That time that Gilbert kissed him - open-mouthed, with tongue, even if Arthur can't remember it, perhaps his body did. This might explain why Arthur is so sensitive to it and why it produces a different reaction in him? Might it explain the hallucinations?

But no, it doesn't causally line up, because Arthur was already in the thrall before Gilbert kissed him... Arthur is so deep in thought he nearly misses his stop. This must be what Laurinitis feels like all the time.

Łukasiewicz greets him at the door to the VHI. Arthur sours, meaning to tell him that he doesn't need this nonsense today, that he has a full halfday of work that he needs to get done, that he's so close he can taste it, that no ordinary human has been this close to unlocking these secrets before. If Łukasiewicz is going to stall him yet again, Arthur is prepared to return to the department for reinforcements. He knows we will back him up.

"There's been an incident," says Łukasiewicz, and the wind is kicked out of Arthur's lungs. "I understand that you have your project, but it's going to have to take a back-seat to this matter today, so if you don't like that you may simply march back to the department and file a 95-A claim form -"

In this moment's time, Arthur is no longer thinking about the project and all his ideas have fled his senses. His heart lurched into his throat, he asks, "What's happened? Something's happened in the lab. What's wrong?" Is Gilbert okay?

It mollifies Łukasiewicz some to see Arthur worried more than uptight. "I need this contained," he says. "Toris has... done something, I don't know what."

"I understand," says Arthur, and he does, in a way. He knows Łukasiewicz wants to keep his job. What could Laurinitis have done? If it were anything very drastic, if someone had died, Łukasiewicz would have been a lot more upset. But from Łukasiewicz's demeanour, neither can it be anything simple. "What can I do to help?"

Łukasiewicz thinks about it, hesitating. He decides against the hesitation. "We could use your assistance," he admits.

They walk around to the back warehouse of the VHI where deliveries are trucked in, where there is an airlock to the secure facility and a set of six white rubber suits with hoods and masks. "I don't need one," says Arthur, "there's a simple spell for this." He snaps his fingers and the air around his head in a 30 cm radius becomes tinged a bright blue.

"Lucky you," mutters Łukasiewicz, stepping into a suit himself. "Make sure you touch nothing, and don't breathe the air."

He explains as they enter the institute and walk through the halls. A lockdown siren blares around them. "Drs Laurinitis and Zwingli were working early. Toris didn't leave all weekend. They began with Gilbert today around 7. Something seemed to have leaked out - Dr Hassan is the one who reported a strange occurrence in the lab adjoining Dr Laurinitis' and set the lockdown alarm."

"What sort of strange occurrence? Was it an emergency?"

"No. Just that one of the other doctors, Chernenko, stopped responding. Her desk sits closest to the door to Dr Laurinitis' lab. She couldn't be roused... Dr Hassan acted quickly, held his breath, removed Dr Chernenko from the situation, and it seems to have work off. Her symptoms are ... very similar to enthrallment."

Look at that, Arthur doesn't even comment about the last names. This is progress. We're almost proud of him, except that we're not convinced only reason he isn't playing the blame a foreigner game is because he has a pleasant distraction from his terrible life and poor choices. Speaking of the distraction: "Gilbert," Arthur says breathlessly instead, "is Gilbert alright?"

"It couldn't be his doing. The tank where he was has its own oxygen supply and is sealed off from the rest of the lab. It couldn't be him."

"But he's alright?" This is important.

"Oh, he'll be fine, he always comes out of problems smelling like a rose," says Łukasiewicz darkly. "It's Toris and Elise I'm worried about."

They enter the lab. Laurinitis and Zwingli are both seated at a paper-strewn table, doing nothing, staring off into space. Beyond, from within the tank, Gilbert is pressed up against the glass, looking very concerned.

Arthur waves his hands in front of Dr Zwingli's eyes. Nothing. She doesn't even react, her eyes remain fixed forward in their unfocussed, unblinking stare, her pupils dilated. At least they're equally dilated.

"If you can help walk Dr Zwingli," instructs Łukasiewicz, slinging Laurinitis' arm around his shoulder and hoisting him upright - Laurinitis hardly reacts except for a gasp of a sigh - "we'll get them out into the locked down lab down the hall."

Arthur follows Łukasiewicz, Zwingli's arm around his shoulder and his hand about her waist. Zwingli is distressingly easy to persuade to move, and moans faintly whenever he touches her. Arthur has half a mind to walk her out using his telekinesis, he's so uncomfortable with the downright sexual way she sounds. He catches Gilbert's eyes over Zwingli's blond head. Gilbert looks horrified.

Well, if enthrallment is something magical, perhaps he can do something for her now? He tries a few things. Concentrates on the water content of the air. He encourages a mist of cloud around her head not unlike his own, hoping the water content can better draw out whatever is in the air that she breathes that has entranced her so fully, but it doesn't appear to work. She continues to not respond, or when she does, it's in the style of more of the same, collapsing bonelessly against Arthur, her small chest heaving beneath her lab coat as she pants for breath. Arthur gives up after the third try. It's just as well, he's not keen on trying anything experimental when she's in such a state that she couldn't tell him off if she didn't want him to. Maybe it's not quite enthrallment?

This is definitely enthrallment, confirms Morgan. This is how I look when I'm with him, you mean? asks Arthur. Well, it's how you're supposed to look, she says, but you don't, because you keep talking and interacting. You look like this, like you're enjoying yourself, but are somehow still present. She looks and acts like there's nobody home.

Once they get to the locked-down lab, Łukasiewicz seals the doors and turns up a dial on the room. "I'm raising the oxygen," he explains. "I'm hoping it fishes out whatever's in them."

It won't be in their lungs. If it's the same compound that Gilbert creates, it's already in their head, and the only way to clear that out is to continue their breathing in the absence of the compound. Laurinitis would tell them this if he were conscious. As it is, Laurinitis and Zwingli lie on their backs atop two lab tables, their chins lifted to better open the airway.

They wait. At last, Laurinitis blinks, and his breathing very quickly becomes laboured. He coughs once or twice. In the breathy manner of someone who has emphysema, or a recent and particularly good orgasm, he pants, "Ah. Good, I'm back. What's the time? I have to log it."

"What do you mean, what's the time, you have to log it!?" cries Łukasiewicz. "Toris, what the hell did you do?"

"How do you know it was me!?" says Laurinitis, defensive and guilty.

"Because I know you," warns Łukasiewicz. Arthur too knows it then: if there is something that someone has done here, those preparations for a new specimen that Mircea mentioned, there's no way it isn't Laurinitis behind it. And there's no way Łukasiewicz doesn't suspect. But does he know? And if so, how much?

Laurinitis is nevertheless helped to a sitting position and given a piece of paper and a pen to jot down some notes. Arthur reads over his shoulder - he logs the time, a volume, and jots a few notes about what he must have experienced, because it says things like high skin sensitivity, warm flush - rise in body temperature? and dreamlike fully-relaxed trance - what brainwaves? and erection - likely partial, could not confirm measurement but approximately 70% tumesced, no ejaculation achieved. Don't look, thinks Arthur, don't look. He looks anyway. Laurinitis is still hard but completely ignoring it in favour of the science to be done. Arthur shouldn't be surprised. Why did I look, he thinks.

Łukasiewicz is all things considered pretty patient as Laurinitis eventually muddles through his explanation. He used the chemical signature isolated from Gilbert's skin oil, mass produced it until there was enough for an entire test tube, which still isn't very much, and then tested it on himself, applying a few drops to the pulse points of his inside wrists and just below his ears, where one would ordinarily wear cologne. Dr Zwingli, he reported, became unresponsive nearly immediately, which made Laurinitis panic, which made him spill the chemical, which even though it was only a test tube's worth, still affected him. So the two of them sat there in deep trances as the compound slowly diffused through the air and permeated the entire lab.

"I think it's interesting that it didn't affect me until I spilled it," says Laurinitis. "Which means it's not just the chemical itself, it must be the reaction with some epidermal protein. I could have controlled it, I just - forgot to cap the tube. That was really foolish. I won't do it again."

"You're right that you won't," says Łukasiewicz. "You're destroying the compound and your notes on it."

"Feliks!" says Laurinitis, aghast. "It's science!"

"In the wrong hands, it's the perfect date rape drug, as far as I understand," says Łukasiewicz.

"If we study it further we could gain control over it - we could patent it to secure protection -"

"If we patent it then we're telling the world about it. It's a no, and that's final. Don't look at me like that!"

Laurinitis looks very cross. "We'd be patenting it with Kirkland's department as a restricted class substance. Obviously! Nobody would know who shouldn't have to. But without that protection, we run the risk of someone less moral replicating the work. And if I don't study it further, I won't ever find a way to inhibit it," he says.

"You haven't totally convinced me that there would be such a way," says Łukasiewicz. "Like, it's one thing to try things out on yourself, and completely another to involve Dr Zwingli." Who, they all look over, is still spellbound on the other lab table. "This is well and beyond the ethics basics of human trials, Toris. You know where I stand on that."

Laurinitis looks ashamed. "I-it was just an accident, really," he says.

Arthur recalls the malpractice discussion he and Mircea had yesterday. This is a conversation they shouldn't be having in front of a government operative. "Listen," says Arthur, "shall I go and get Gilbert?"

"Why? He's safe where he is," says Łukasiewicz.

"I don't think the proper hazmat people, when they come, will like seeing a man in a cage. Meanwhile, you can discuss what you need to with your people."

"Hm. Alright," decides Łukasiewicz. He seems happier to have Arthur leave. Laurinitis does not and looks mildly distressed at his impending discipline, now that his last defence system against Angry Mummy is walking away. "Take him back to his room, he'll show you where it is."

--

So Arthur returns to the lab with his filter-cloud in place and fetches Gilbert. "What the hell happened?" says Gilbert when Arthur enters the tank. "I saw Toris do some sort of thing with a test tube and then they both just froze, like they were ... you know."

"They were you know," replies Arthur. "Laurinitis found a way to mass market the chemical you use to bespell people."

"Well, great, awesome. Can't he use that to undo whatever it is it does?"

"Łukasiewicz doesn't think so. But it's a bit early to say."

From his expression, Gilbert's concern remains great. "Is Dr Zwingli okay?" he asks. And that's how Arthur knows Gilbert is well and truly nervous, because he doesn't call anybody by their last name.

"She ought to be fine," Arthur says. "Laurinitis is already woken up. As long as she just keeps breathing good air. Anyway, they're getting a hazmat crew in to vent the place, so we'd best get going."

They leave the security of the tank, and Gilbert directs Arthur through the halls to his room. It's worthwhile to note that Gilbert doesn't seem at all affected by the amount of chemical in the air. Maybe it's like Laurinitis spritzing it on himself and having no reaction. It's Gilbert's own signature natively, why should it affect him? Maybe his system builds his own proteins to keep any such chemical in the air from affecting him. That's a question Laurinitis can answer, presuming he keeps working on it.

"So," says Gilbert. "This is me."

"Alright," says Arthur. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Assuming they clean up in time," adds Gilbert. "Wouldn't surprise me for Feliks to use that to keep you out."

"He wouldn't really," says Arthur in disbelief. Gilbert lifts a shoulder, an evasive shrug, and shuts the door.

--

Around two, Arthur finishes with one of his other files, a case of a young girl and her poltergeist friend the department has been keeping tabs on for some time. After he files this one away, and before a new one appears in his in-tray, he returns to Gilbert's. He rereads the papers in the folder so far and thinks.

He could, if he wanted to, file the form under the Korus protocol. He considers it, as he reads through Gilbert's death certificate once more.

What would be the advantages and disadvantages of doing such a thing? If he filed it, it would involve Arthur's department more deeply in Gilbert's case. Gilbert wouldn't be very pleased with that. He doesn't appear to trust the department and the bigger problem is that it wouldn't be an invitation. He would be placed under custody, and no way of ensuring it would be Arthur's. It'd be that much harder to trust them. To trust Arthur. Even if he were under Arthur's custody and oversight, would he really be happy? Would it chafe him? Would he grow to hate Arthur as he has grown to hate Łukasiewicz? Probably Gilbert knows exactly how much freedom he has. It would come as no surprise to him to be confronted with how very little. But taking this one semblance of control away from him seems so unjust.

But if Arthur should have filed such a form, and he doesn't, then the department will know the proper form was not filed on time, and they will ask questions, should they open an investigation.

It's so easy. This is the only advantage to bureaucracy. You file a form and it washes you of all responsibility. An inquest comes up and they ask you why you did what you did and you say immediately I was following protocol, it wasn't my fault, I had no choice. And that's true enough. And that's the end of it.

You follow the rules, you keep your job, nobody asks any more questions. You don't follow the rules, you have to explain yourself, justify your thinking and your judgement, and even though Arthur in his capacity at this department does possess the authority to exercise such judgement, there's no guarantee that anybody need agree with him. An inquest could snowball into a whole affair. The legal team could be involved.

Gilbert has already shown that he can't control enthrallment through his own means. If enthralment could be engaged by magical means, and knowing that Gilbert has no magic of his own, then it means Gilbert himself cannot control his own ability and presents a clear danger to others when he grows too hungry.

Then Arthur is supposed to file the Korus form. It is so simple, so cut and dry.

But if there's a component to enthrallment that is affected by magic, then Arthur himself should be able to control it, and he can file another form, 19903-A, under the Sooth-Brown Agreement, Section 13, to confirm this. Such a filing would allow the VHI to increase their oversight over Gilbert by filing their own, separate motions under the Ben Nevis Pact for the department to back the hell off. It would also, thinks Arthur, set precedence for Łukasiewicz to petition for restrictions on the time that government agents spend with Gilbert - all government agents, including possibly Arthur himself.

But Arthur can only reasonably file 19903-A if he can confirm practiced control. And he wasn't able to do anything for Dr Zwingli earlier, when she and Laurinitis were in their trances. Doing it once is not enough, he has to be able to replicate it. Maybe he just needs more time? A stronger ability?

I don't think it's that, says Morgan.

Well, thank you, says Arthur, but he's too distracted by this dilemma to feel chuffed at praise. What do I do?

Don't ask me, she replies. I'm not the one pushing the pencil.

Arthur sighs and stares at the form for another hour, until a new case folder pops into his inbox and Arthur can put Gilbert's issues away on the shelf.

Chapter Text

When Arthur arrives at the VHI on Tuesday morning, he isn't quite sure what to expect, whether the mess in the lab is cleaned up and he can resume work, or whether it's still a toxic lock-down situation, but he is prepared to complain about the situation either way, so he simply arrives there, expecting that Laurinitis or Łukasiewicz will be there at the front door to greet him and receive an earful.

Both Laurinitis and Łukasiewicz meet him. It turns out the mess in the lab is harder to vent and clean up than they thought, and the hazmat team only arrived much later yesterday, after lunch. Arthur feels a little annoyed that he could have spent more time with Gilbert but doesn't say anything. Gilbert, speaking of, remains cooped up in his quarters - Łukasiewicz's decision. He doesn't want to take any chances, or so he claims, but it looks more like he wants one less thing to worry about and having Gilbert stay put is easiest. Łukasiewicz is running ragged and doesn't look like he's slept. If Arthur had been paying attention yesterday to Łukasiewicz's outfit, he might confirm that it was indeed the same as today's and that Łukasiewicz likely did not go home. Laurinitis is his usual self, dressed in a rumpled, stained labcoat.

"Good, you're here," says Łukasiewicz. "I have like a billion other things to do and no time. You two put something together for today."

"Is there anything I can do to help?" asks Arthur.

"Yeah," says Łukasiewicz, "keep out of my way."

"But what about the lab?" protests Laurinitis.

"Still under construction," confirms Łukasiewicz. "So I'm hereby giving permission for sessions to be held elsewhere. Toris, you're witness to that. I'll find our government operative a place he can use and I'll be expecting you to check in, like every half hour or so."

"Where's he going to be, then?" asks Arthur.

"Toris is in a spare lab for the moment with not much extra room. There's a conference room you could use," though Łukasiewicz doesn't look thrilled. "It would be big enough for three."

"Well, let's see about Gilbert's quarters," says Laurinitis. Łukasiewicz glares, what is this challenge of his authority? "Look, we need to go get him anyway," Laurinitis adds, pretending innocence. "Don't you have things to do? How's the paperwork on the hazmat team coming along? if you finish it, we can send it back with Mr Kirkland when he leaves, because one copy will have to be filed with the department, saves you finding a courier."

"Damn," says Łukasiewicz. "Right. I totally forgot about that. I still have to - kurwa," he mutters, as he is interrupted by a buzzing in his pocket - his cellphone.

"You go take care of what you need," says Laurinitis, assuringly. "We'll just be in Gilbert's room. That's fine?"

Łukasiewicz is already answering the call, waving them off. "Yeah, fine, that's. Whatever." He leaves them, quickly walking away.

"Let me bring you up to speed," says Laurinitis. Laurinitis has done some calculations and run some tests and figured out that the compound can be vented to the outside world with little worry. He claims that, relatively speaking, there wasn't all that much of it and it diffuses readily. Given the weight of it, it should carry up to the atmosphere. But it doesn't seem to breakdown in the presence of anything atmospheric. Łukasiewicz is very concerned about this last.

They reach Gilbert's room. "Well, I'll leave you here," says Laurinitis outside Gilbert's closed door.

Arthur is poised to knock but stops. "Hang on, you're not coming in?" he asks. Doesn't Łukasiewicz want a chaperone? He usually insists.

"Hardly room enough for two in there, let alone three. Besides, Gilbert knows where he can come find me if he absolutely needs to, but I think I'll leave him in your capable hands." Laurinitis smiles. It doesn't reach the eyes.

"I suppose there's always the security cameras," says Arthur.

"Not in his room," says Laurinitis. "That wouldn't be ethical. Your Dr Popescu saw to that."

"There's no way Łukasiewicz would have allowed such a thing," says Arthur.

"He said yes earlier," replies Laurinitis.

Because Łukasiewicz was busy and has no doubt forgotten all about the lack of cameras. Which suddenly explains Laurinitis' entire demeanour earlier. Quick and furtive before Łukasiewicz noticed anything amiss.

"You've about-faced," says Arthur. Why so kind and nice now? He doesn't trust Laurinitis. What's this for?

"I don't know what you're talking about," says Laurinitis.

Arthur narrows his eyes in suspicion. "They didn't teach you how to lie in your PhD," he says. "You're absolute pants at it."

"You did say you'd give me those files," adds Laurinitis.

Is that his game? "The files for what you're really thinking," Arthur replies.

"Deal." Arthur makes a quick copy of the folders in his briefcase and hands them over, and as Laurinitis accepts, he leans in close. Arthur smells garlic, from whatever cheap microwave pasta Laurinitis must have eaten earlier. "Listen. Feliks is very close to shutting this phase of the project down," Laurinitis explains. "It's honestly not that big a deal, and he's blowing it out of proportion. It's my fault, I didn't mean to endanger Dr Zwingli. If I hadn't, I don't think he would have noticed. So congratulations, you get some time alone with him, what you've always wanted."

"Excuse me!" begins Arthur hotly.

"Look, just get to the point where you can control Gilbert, or get him to control himself. Then Feliks could be more easily convinced that this project is viable and not in fact a chemical weapon waiting in the wings."

"I'll do what I can," Arthur says, and adds, "That reminds me. You mentioned you weren't affected by the scent of the chemical, as it was on your own skin. Some sort of protein interaction, maybe. Well, when I led Gilbert out of the chamber he wasn't affected by the drug at all, so however it's produced by him, his system is automatically able to process it without adverse effect."

"Yes, there's a mechanism in the tissues." says Laurinitis. "Minimises the depth of the trance for compatible-form compounds. This mechanism was present before he died, but of course he didn't produce this chemical then, that's why he was then still susceptible. I imagine now he has some sort of coding for it in his olfactory sense."

"Only I thought it might be useful," says Arthur. "Since you're fully human, and yet it still didn't affect you until you spilled it. So it can't be skin-dependent since you've not got such a mechanism -"

"A-ah, yes, well, it's a good place to start," Laurinitis adds quickly. "I'll go check it. Right now, in fact. You call if you need me."

Arthur knocks. When Gilbert answers - very quickly, as though he was pressed up against the door - Laurinitis has already left. "Where's Toris?" he asks.

"Busy," says Arthur. "Just zipped off. So it's just me today."

Gilbert smiles wide and opens the door wider. "That, I don't mind," he says.

Arthur explains to Gilbert what's going on, that Łukasiewicz allowed their discussion to take place here, noting that Laurinitis has something to do with it, seeming to be concentrating on the chemical portion, curious for someone who had been formerly far more interested in neurological structures. "But I've never been that adept at biology beyond the few modules I took," Arthur says. "Maybe it's related in some way I can't make out."

Gilbert paces to and fro in the small room. It's louder than the corridor, there's a fan going, some sort of heating is running as ambient noise. There's a tear in the curtain behind the lamp by the desk. This surprises Arthur, that Łukasiewicz would keep Gilbert here. It might be some other way to keep tabs on him, except that being non-talented, neither Łukasiewicz nor Gilbert can access the curtain and disappear off-stage, behind Life. "No, that is strange," he agrees, "that he should now be pushing us together when Feliks tries to keep us apart." So Łukasiewicz is actively trying to keep Arthur away. "What's Toris planning?"

"More science, I think," replies Arthur, "it seems he's changed his tune since the incident yesterday."

"Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about that," says Gilbert. He fiddles with the cuff of his longsleeved charcoal shirt, atop which is a black shirt from some musical group with a green compass lit blue-green by the northern lights. This outfit makes him look twenty-five. "Look, I've been thinking. Reading and thinking. All that work about the relationship with a donor... it's always sexual, isn't it?"

"Seems so by construction."

"Suppose the donor doesn't want it," says Gilbert. "Well, they don't have a choice, do they? The vampire wants it badly enough, the thrall kicks in, the donor hasn't got a choice."

"You want to debate whether or not a vampire engaging in sexual congress to use it as a means in order to get blood is in fact consensual sex?"

"Oh, there's no debate," says Gilbert coolly. "Not from what I saw yesterday." He takes a seat on the edge of the bed and crosses his legs.

It's not hard to piece together what Gilbert is really saying. Arthur leans against the back of the pushed-in chair at the tiny desk and folds his arms, defensive, protective. "If you're asking if I want you," says Arthur, and he stalls for a moment, until the pause has been long enough and awkward enough to pull the rest from him, "the answer's yes."

There, he's said it. That wasn't so hard, was it?

Gilbert is quiet for a bit. "I'll never know," he says. "Whether you really do, or if you do only because it's what I want. And all this just because of -" He stops himself short. "Never mind."

"Because you're playing the VHI and the department against each other?" Arthur finishes.

Gilbert pales and looks as though Arthur has slapped him across the face.

"Yes, I figured that much out," he mutters. "I suppose we're all an amusing farce to you, is that it?"

"I told you, I don't want to be a lab rat," says Gilbert. "And I don't want to be a mercenary. Neither side looks like they want to let me go easily!"

"The department would if they know you can control it," he argues.

"But it's not controllable!"

"It's controllable through magic," insists Arthur, "because I can enthrall myself when you're not even there!"

This shuts Gilbert up. "That - okay, that," he stammers, "that's a little weird." He thinks. "Really?" His entire demeanour suddenly changes, becoming in an instant fascinated. "Can you do it now?"

"That's what I'm here for," says Arthur, "not for bickering and squabbling with you."

But Arthur tries again like he did with Dr Zwingli and it works about as well as it did with her, which is to say not at all. No amount of focus on any amount of anything liquid helps. He thinks he feels a slight prickle when he thinks about the sweat sheen on Gilbert's skin but he can't be sure that isn't regular ordinary arousal. That realisation kicks him out of any focus he might've had.

"Well, just do what you did then, when you made it work," says Gilbert, "replicate whatever conditions."

It's an innocent comment but Arthur can't fight the blush. "It was," he says, "different, I was - a bit, you know -"

"Oh, I see," says Gilbert slyly. He does catch on quick. But his smile quickly fades.

"Suppose you tried it again on me?" asks Arthur. It doesn't work. Arthur draws closer and takes a seat next to Gilbert on the bed. They're inches apart. Gilbert claims to be trying but he doesn't seem too excited about it either. "Are you hungry?" Arthur asks.

"I don't think so," Gilbert replies. "Maybe it is the blood intake. I haven't been drinking too much."

"I thought I told them to feed you more regularly!"

"Yeah, well, Feliks has been busy," Gilbert says.

"Fine, eat first, then thrall," Arthur decides. He begins undoing his shirtsleeves.

"What if the same thing happens as it did last time?"

"I hope it does!" says Arthur hotly, "I want a fair chance at trying to stop it this time."

"And if you can't?"

"Then you have to pay attention to if I'm still bleeding freely, because I'm too distracted to keep a wound closed. You have control over that."

"You're presuming I'd be feeding from you again," says Gilbert.

Arthur's shirtsleeves are unbuttoned and rolled to the forearm, and Gilbert is only just realising this? "When was the last time you ate?"

"Yesterday, before bed."

"No breakfast?" Gilbert shakes his head. "And where's the blood kept?"

"In the lab that's locked down," he says.

Ah. "Do you not want to?" Arthur asks, remembering Gilbert's desperation the first time they met. His anxiety. "If you don't want to feed from me, I wouldn't force you. You must know that."

Gilbert looks at him. "Some part of me still can't believe this is who I am now," he says. "It's only been a little more than a week! If it's just a baggie of blood, it's so much easier to think it isn't really true. It's just grape juice in novelty packaging. It tastes gross and plastic and it's what I deserve. But if I take it directly from your body, I can't deny what I am. I can't deny liking it."

Arthur rolls his eyes. "You didn't strike me as the sort to lie to himself," he says.

"I don't think one can be in the German army, given the history, as long as I have," says Gilbert darkly, "without a few lies."

"Do you want the blood or not, because either you take it now, or we try and find a bag, and you keep talking like that, I won't want to give you anything," Arthur huffs.

"We should be more honest with each other," Gilbert protests, "if we're going to do something like this." He looks guilty. "Arthur, I'm sick of lying, I'm sick of covering it all up -"

"Look, I am supposed to be here for my job, to work on this problem of yours," snarls Arthur, "and I can't do that if you're not fed!" And that's that. Arthur's had quite enough of this.

So you'd rather he simply shut up? Rather not think about it? Yes, thinks Arthur. I'd rather not think about it. That's exactly it.

Gilbert's mouth snaps shut. "Fine," he says tersely.

"Fine what, fine you want me to go find a bag or -"

"Fine, I'll take it from you," he spits. "Since it's all about your job."

"Well, don't jump for joy," says Arthur mulishly. He shouldn't have said that. That was harsh. "Sorry," he says. It's a bitter pill to swallow saying it. "I didn't mean -"

"You did mean," says Gilbert. "Be cruel to me all you want, god knows I deserve it. But don't you lie to me."

Arthur is entirely unwilling to deal with Gilbert's self-flagellation about Schrödinger's war crimes. Not now. Maybe not ever. Arthur is weak. "Here." He thrusts his wrist forward. "Go on, then. I trust you."

"You shouldn't," says Gilbert.

Arthur softens. "You're the one who has to live like this, not me. I trust that that you want this controlled even more than I do." He looks into Gilbert's eyes. "So prove to me that you can."

Gilbert still looks fretful, but he moves in closer. He lifts Arthur's wrist to his mouth, holding it in a gentle grasp, the tender inside facing him. Time seems to slow. You're still here? asks Arthur. If he'd spoken aloud he knows his voice would have quavered. Haven't gone anywhere, says Morgan. Gilbert's thin lips part; Arthur moistens his own with his tongue in anticipation. He bares the two incisor fangs and Arthur is certain his heartbeat can be heard across the institute and any moment Łukasiewicz will come running. His pulse thunders in his head. Nearer... nearer still... Arthur gasps at the quick flash of pain, the faintest pinch, as Gilbert pierces the skin with his teeth, more shock than pain. The blood wells up from the pinprick cut he's made. Then a wet, warm swipe of Gilbert's tongue as he licks the blood off Arthur's skin, smearing it in a bright stripe. A hot vacuum as he seals his lips around the wound at Arthur's wrist and sucks it hard and closes his eyes in exaltation. Arthur cannot breathe.

Watching him do this makes Arthur's heart pound. Makes him hard. It's irrational, his body is stupid - blood is leaving it, so why is it concentrating in his groin to harden him - but surely Gilbert is hardly drinking much. Arthur kneels up on the bed, beside him. Gilbert releases his wrist.

"God," Gilbert murmurs, "I forgot how - delicious that is."

"Much better than a damn bag, I take it," Arthur whispers hoarsely.

"You're okay?" Gilbert looks up.

"I'm wonderful," he says, and practically outside himself with lust.

"Still with me?"

"Still here." Arthur looks from Gilbert's red eyes to his red mouth. He wants to kiss him so badly he can taste it already. "Can I kiss you," he blurts.

The moment he's said it he already feels he should take it back. What is he doing? It's nearly ten am on a workday and he is effectively at work!

Gilbert's expression says he doesn't trust himself to speak but he nods fervently.

So Arthur straddles Gilbert's lap above him, as Gilbert shifts to move his legs. Arthur can hardly think, or he would realise he did not quite ask for this, but Gilbert grants it anyway. He could've stopped you any time, reminds Morgan who is a terrible enabler, I say go for it. Arthur draws his head down to kiss him. It tastes like iron - his own - he is still bleeding, a trail burning as it slides hot and wet down the inside of his forearm - but he can barely spare a thought to magically stop the wound. And there's no point, because Gilbert has hardly drunk anything. He'll leave it bleeding freely for now, maybe Gilbert will have another taste.

"I should have done this days ago," he breathes against Gilbert's lips.

"Why?"

Because he's beautiful, because he's a treasure and I crave him, he thinks. Because he looks more alive with my blood running through him than he has for days. Because I made us both hunger for too long for no reason. Because simply having him as a case has been the most serendipitous accident and falling for him is hands down the best decision I ever made in my failure of a life full of poor choices I blame others for without ever taking the required personal responsibility.

"Because you did show restraint days ago. And I could have filed that paperwork about it, and you needn't have worried so long," Arthur says instead. He looks down at Gilbert from above - the single lamp in the room painting him a bright colour, golden and lively, his eyes like embers, a speck of blood at the corner of Gilbert's mouth, which Arthur kisses away. He presses his lips against Gilbert's, that his tongue might lave up the last traces of it from Arthur directly - waste not, want not. Gilbert's tongue strokes his softly, and it floods his mouth with the sharp flavour of his own blood. It's a strange metallic taste, blood, and Arthur cannot understand what form Gilbert's tastebuds must have to want it, but he won't object. He sighs, they sigh together.

"You're still showing restraint now, aren't you," says Arthur, speaking for the simple excuse of moving their lips together in the seconds between kisses. "This time, I have no hold upon you. You could take what you wanted. You even know what it tastes like. I am right here for you, ready for you, in your lap, I'd give you anything you wanted -" The shock is ice down his spine that Arthur realises it's true, he really would. What is he doing? Has he lost all his senses? He backs up. "But if I said stop right here, you would do it, no thralls or anything."

"How do we know you're not in one right now?" says Gilbert.

Arthur snaps his fingers, and the light burns blue for three seconds.

"Is all that you can do, party tricks?" murmurs Gilbert, fey and flirtatious. He leans in closer. "You said you'd give me anything I wanted."

Arthur's gaze is on his lips. "We shouldn't be doing this, at work." They shouldn't be doing this, at all. They shouldn't be doing this because Gilbert is work, for Arthur. Arthur shouldn't sleep with the cases he manages before the folder is even filed.

"You're not at work, you're in my quarters," Gilbert argues. "What I do in here is my private business. There's a reason there aren't any cameras."

There's also a reason Łukasiewicz would be enraged if he knew this were happening. This isn't what Arthur was sent here from the department to do!

(Or is it?)

Arthur is in over his head, and not thinking clearly, but he knows himself, he knows what he wants, he knows what he can't stop himself having anymore, and so he spells the room for them to be alone, truly alone. The door locks, and nobody will be able to hear from outside, no matter how loud they might be, no matter what they might do.

Gilbert can see, over Arthur's shoulder, as the lock engages by itself. He lifts an eyebrow. "M-merely a precaution," Arthur replies, "that we won't be bothered. During this... session." He continues to hide to himself that the expectation is not sex but science. But Gilbert is so handsome and Arthur is so smitten and we've pushed him so much. Arthur is too weak.

"Then, is this okay?" asks Gilbert, sounding surprised that he's gotten this far, that it could really go further, that it's not a dream. Arthur shudders to think of Gilbert dreaming about these things, the way Arthur himself has been dreaming about them for days. "Ah, please let it be okay."

It shouldn't be. Arthur shouldn't do this.

But because Arthur has secured the room so well, we couldn't stop this, not even if we wanted to. And we don't.

"Yes," Arthur whispers.

Gilbert pulls him down by the tie to take his mouth. His fingers busy with the knot of the tie, not succeeding, then with the buttons, as they kiss. Arthur can muster no resistance. He had none to begin with. He gives in at last, returning the kiss, returning the action of stripping him by tugging Gilbert's shirts free. He gets his hands beneath, smoothing them along Gilbert's torso. Gilbert's physique is as impressive as Arthur has imagined, but it feels so much better underneath his fingertips. He rakes his thumb over a nipple, pinching it between the nail and the finger pad. Gilbert whines into his mouth, finishes with Arthur's shirt and reaches for the waistband on Arthur's trousers. He slides his hand further down until he's got his hand at the bulge between Arthur's legs, needy and begging for attention, and cups it firmly.

Arthur breaks off the kiss, panting, "Oh christ -" but he doesn't stop Gilbert, and he doesn't close his legs. In fact his treacherous cock practically throbs in Gilbert's grasp.

Gilbert twists and pushes him backwards to the bed. Arthur flops upon it, letting himself be thrown, but Gilbert doesn't follow with his weight so Arthur sits back up. Gilbert is busy, ripping off his own shirts two in one, tossing them aside. Arthur tries to catch up to him but his fingers aren't cooperating on that tie to do anything more than loosen it and the few buttons at the end still attached are going to get forgotten. "Watch the sleeves, you'll get that everywhere," says Gilbert, in reference to Arthur's wrist. He already has, there's streaks of it painting Gilbert's chest where Arthur's hands have been, marking him in blood.

"Then clean me up," says Arthur, lifting his bleeding wrist out to Gilbert. Arthur is presented with Gilbert's shirtless chest at eye level as Gilbert enthusiastically straddles him, frotting against his cock through two pairs of trousers with his lips at Arthur's wrists, moaning as he laps it up. It is very difficult to undo buttons one-handed when that is taking place in a writhing needy mess in one's lap.

Almost magnetised, he leans forward, and swipes his thumb across Gilbert's skin. It comes away red, the blood smeared over Gilbert's chest. Arthur drags the rest of his hands in it, gets as much as he can, and then lifts a hand to Gilbert's mouth. He leans back to watch as Gilbert, above him, licks his hand clean. His fangs look unnaturally large and dangerous and Arthur is well aware he is a monster in many senses of the word - especially his history, which Arthur is trying not to think about - but something about him seems so sweet and wholesome and harmless. Arthur shouldn't let him do any of this - Arthur's not entirely convinced he isn't being enthralled right now, because it's never felt like there's a distinction between real and dream and now is no different - but Gilbert watches Arthur through his long white eyelashes with heavy-lidded eyes, black and red. None of him looks dangerous because he's so wanting that he can be controlled through it alone, and Gilbert has exposed all of this hand willingly.

He may have done unthinkably horrible things in his armies. Arthur can't care, and we find that pretty disgusting. Arthur has a chance to let us take care of Gilbert and put him to good use with work that's well within his abilities. Depending on what sort of things he's done - Łukasiewicz still refuses to release us the files - it might even be community service penance. Instead Arthur is doing this. This is what it is to think with one's prick.

He leans forward instead to take one of the nipples in his mouth, smeared red on white, and Gilbert shouts, "Fuck -!" and arches forward.

"Alright?" asks Arthur.

"Don't stop," begs Gilbert, and bends to take his mouth to lick the blood from Arthur's tongue, in a dirty, filthy wet action that needs its own word not to sully the simple meaning of 'kiss', as he swivels his hips to frot himself harder. He spreads his thighs and grunts, frustrated, like he can't spread them as far as he'd like.

Arthur gets his hands around him, embracing him, holding him close, one hand roughly caressing his side, moving to the front to pinch a nipple. Gilbert seems to love this, from the way he shivers and sighs and undulates, and his cries are driving Arthur a little mad so it's really simpler just to shove him down to the cot and get on top of him. Gilbert looks up at him with swollen lips, mussed hair, breathing hard - it's hardly volition so much as it is demand that has Arthur between Gilbert's legs, pressing him into the cot with his body as he descends, to kiss him again.

His shirt opened but still on (they never did succeed in getting the shirt off given his wrist, the wound at which is still bleeding, dripping onto Gilbert's stomach), his trousers tented, Arthur kisses his way down Gilbert's chest to the nipples as he busies himself with the fastening on Gilbert's jeans at his waist. He notices something. "You're not hard," he says.

"I don't have the blood for it," says Gilbert helplessly. He wriggles himself free of jeans and pants and lies naked under Arthur, who is still mostly clothed.

Gilbert's cock is pale like the rest of him. What little hair there is on his chest is equally bright white as on his head so Arthur shouldn't be surprised to find more of the same between his legs, but for some reason it does give him pause. Arthur keeps forgetting that Gilbert's not human. He can't decide whether he would prefer him human or not. Only humans say the kinds of things Arthur reads about in the papers, do the kinds of things Łukasiewicz alludes to in Gilbert's past.

"It doesn't mean I don't want it, believe me," Gilbert says desperately. "But, uh. I probably can't get it up, so you'd better fuck me."

"Do you enjoy that sort of thing, then," asks Arthur.

Gilbert, sheepish, turns his face. He looks like he'd blush if he could. "Works out pretty well, doesn't it," he says.

There's some silence for a moment.

"Unless you don't want to," says Gilbert.

"I do want to," Arthur says, so quickly he isn't certain Morgan didn't say it for him. Wasn't me, she retorts, only you're that thirsty. "Though, I should - these trousers -" Arthur gestures ineffectually with his wrist, and as he waves it another drop drips off and hits Gilbert an inch left of his navel.

"Here," breathes Gilbert. He reaches down first and swipes the droplet off himself with his thumb, before he sticks it in his mouth. The expression on his face is rapturous and doesn't look like he meant it to be there, like he continues to be genuinely surprised with the taste.

"Still like it?" Arthur asks.

"I'm sorry," says Gilbert, with a bashful smile. He doesn't look sorry. "It's the best thing I've had in my mouth since I died."

"Hah, we'll see about that." Arthur lets a few more drops fall onto his chest before he cleans them away with his fingers and puts his fingers in Gilbert's mouth.

Meanwhile Gilbert gets Arthur's trousers undone, the button and then the zip. He tugs them down enough to expose Arthur but can't do anymore from this angle, given Arthur's spread legs, keeping Gilbert's wide open. He curls his hand around Arthur's erection, partially confined as it is. "I want this," he says, mumbling it around Arthur's fingers.

"Have you anything?"

"Uh," says Gilbert. He pauses to think. "Well, there's soap in the washroom, it's decently slick. Might make a few strange noises. Also, lather. But then I will definitely be clean."

"Soap?!" Arthur holds back a laugh. "What kind of sex have you had, exactly?"

"L-look, it was the army, alright? I didn't care too much about your fancy massage oils or something and I'm pretty sure I don't care about them now?" Gilbert's expression darkens. "Arthur, just - just stick your cock in me before I leap on it myself and take some goddamn charge."

"I know a few spells for this," says Arthur.

What the spell actually does is produce a thin sheen of slick on a flat surface, so he points it on his hand and puts two fingers at Gilbert's hole.

"Oh, fuck, yes," sighs Gilbert, at the simple touch of his fingertips.

"I haven't even done anything yet," Arthur teases. He pushes in. He knows Gilbert is colder than an ordinary human but he's warm enough here that Arthur really can't tell the difference.

"But you will, a-ah, because you'd better -" Arthur sinks in to the second knuckle and he moans - "because if you don't you know I'll use that strength of mine," Gilbert warns.

"Hm," says Arthur. He spreads his fingers wide and Gilbert grunts, canting his hips desperately against him, sinking himself down as far as he can go. "Is that a threat? I bet I could keep you from doing it. I bet I could hold you down."

A whirlwind in front of Arthur's vision and he finds himself suddenly on his back, both hands pinned at the wrist by Gilbert above him. His eyes are dancing, the bright vivid alive red. He licks off a drop of blood from his lips, and further inside are the sharp white fangs. Predator. "And I bet you couldn't, because you're not fast enough," Gilbert growls. Then he mounts him and sinks down with a low moan.

"Fuck," says Arthur. It nearly burns. "You ought to have warned me -" Gilbert lifts his hips and brings them down again. "You're a bloody glutton for punishment, you know that? I could've given you more slick -"

"This is what I wanted," says Gilbert, "this is all I want," and he sets a mad frantic pace, riding Arthur like there's a hurry.

"Please," begs Arthur, because it's so much, how tight he is, how hot he is, how uncontrollable he is, Arthur can do nothing but let him take what he will and allow him to do what he wants. "Please, Gilbert -"

Gilbert hardly pays him attention. "Fuck," he chants, "fuck, fuck, that's, oh - that's good - ha-ah - like that -" he undulates his hips, twisting as he fucks himself on Arthur's cock, and he seems to have found something he likes because his grip grows tighter and his breath grows shallow. "Yeah, that - oh -" and his face scrunches up and he tightens further around Arthur as Gilbert inexplicably but truly comes without having been hard.

"Fu-uck - aah!" Gilbert's still fucking himself, arching his back to grind himself deeper.

"Are you not done?!" Arthur exclaims.

"It's not enough!" Gilbert whines, "it's too much!" He looks frazzled. "I think that was more mental than anything else," he offers breathlessly.

Arthur will take it as a good sign.

"That," he says, but doesn't finish his thought. He lifts himself off Arthur and collapses onto elbows and knees, his arse in the air and his thighs twitching. He makes an incredibly lovely picture and Arthur wants badly to keep going. "Moment," says Gilbert.

"Certainly," says Arthur.

"I didn't say stop touching me," says Gilbert, after a minute's pause. He's still panting heavily.

"Demanding little brat," says Arthur, and swats him on the arse. Gilbert gasps and his cock twitches.

He spells his hand slick again before he enters his fingers into Gilbert, loose, but not as wet as he'd like. Gilbert makes a noise somewhere between strangled groan and whimper but it isn't pain because he pushes back on Arthur's hand, greedy for fingers. "Yeah," he breathes, "yeah, like that, that's good."

Arthur wonders whether this is how his other lovers - human and non - would fuck him, whether they ever made him come without being hard, whether it's common with a vampire for lack of blood. "Sit up a bit," he says. Gilbert follows instruction blindly, too gone to argue such a minute point.

He gets Gilbert on his knees, his thighs spread, Arthur's fingers penetrating up into him as he half heartedly rides them. Arthur behind him traces the drying blood on his chest, matting what scant hair he has there, before he lifts his wrist to Gilbert's mouth.

"You're still bleeding," Gilbert notices. "You should - ungh! Yeah, fuck -" Arthur likes waiting until Gilbert's talking to crook his fingers over his prostate - "you should do something about that."

"Like what?" Arthur removes his fingers slowly, then inserts them again in a slow wet slide. Gilbert's hole accepts them and his face - which Arthur watches - shows bliss.

"You can - oh - y-you can stop the wound us-aanh, using your gifts."

"Hm," says Arthur. "You might want some more."

Gilbert licks the excess off Arthur's wrist but doesn't suck. "Fuck me," he says instead, "like this."

So he does. Arthur pulls out. He spells his hand a third time with the slick - it's honestly much better than soap would have been, what in the hell was Gilbert thinking - and wraps it around his cock, before he pushes himself inside.

It's less intimate than it was before, until Gilbert sits up slowly, to lean his back against Arthur's chest. Arthur drives himself in the rest of the way and like that they are connected from shoulder to thigh. Arthur really can't help himself when he wraps his arms around Gilbert, one with his fingers splayed across his lower belly, and the other - he realises, as it leaves a trail up Gilbert's chest when Arthur moves it to better hold him - still bleeding.

He pulls out and pushes in again, and Gilbert gets the hang of it and twists and squirms in his grasp. Most of it however is Arthur's work, as he fucks into Gilbert from behind. The rest of it is all natural, as his cock sings for more and his heart is full to bursting and he clutches Gilbert close, he can't help himself.

Nor can he help the way it feels to watch Gilbert take another drop, bled from Arthur's wrist, dripped onto his own chest, licked off his own fingers like a delicacy, and then tilt his head backwards to prop it on Arthur's shoulder. He tries to kiss the side of Arthur's neck - or bite it, Arthur doesn't really care - but he can't get the purchase to do so in Arthur's grasp. Gilbert moans in frustration, his mouth open, his fangs bared.

"Here," gasps Arthur. He brings his wrist to Gilbert's lips. Gilbert doesn't deny it or think, he just wraps his lips around Arthur's wrist and sucks, and sucks, and sucks, and Arthur doesn't know how much time passes with Gilbert's solid warmth along Arthur's chest, his tight heat around his prick, pushing back against his thrusts, but what should he find at the end of it but Gilbert's cock, finally hardening.

Arthur slides his other hand further down Gilbert's torso to hold him, twisting a nipple as he goes - this makes Gilbert start and out of nerves he bites down once again on Arthur's wrist. Now it's really bleeding.

"Shit, sorry," says Gilbert.

"Don't be," says Arthur. "I'll tell you when I start losing consciousness." He's certain he hasn't lost more than a fraction of a pint so far, although the way it's flooding into Gilbert's mouth - nearly more than he can take in, dribbling out the sides which Arthur has to catch with a finger for Gilbert to lick at - he could hurry a bit.

Luckily the way that Gilbert twists against him, fucking himself on Arthur's cock, hard at last in Arthur's hand, has Arthur on edge. He tries to speed things up, working the shaft - Gilbert's a nice weight in his hands, smooth and warm, and from the sounds of it and the way he fucks Arthur's grasp, Gilbert's certainly enjoying himself. The more he drinks the harder he gets, the more frantic his cries, like he can't believe it feels this good. Arthur's never had a lover this vocal. He's so glad he spelled the room quiet, or everybody would know what they were doing. He thrusts twice more but can't hold on long enough to make Gilbert come first, and spends himself deep inside him with a sharp cry. A moment passes where he tries to keep going, but can't, oversensitive and wrung out inside Gilbert.

"'M sorry," he mumbles, and pulls out, resting his forehead on the back of Gilbert's shoulder.

Gilbert slumps against him. Between licking Arthur's wrist clean of the blood that spurts therefrom, he says, "Nothing to be sorry for."

"I could take care of this for you," pants Arthur. He strokes the backs of his fingers along the underside of Gilbert's shaft and watches Gilbert shiver in his arms. "Make it up to you."

"Please do," moans Gilbert.

It seems... he's heard those words before, hasn't he?

He pushes Gilbert to the bed, and Gilbert lets himself be passively arranged, his arms by his head, one hand loosely fisted in the bedding in anticipation, watching Arthur kiss down his chest - his shirt was opened the last time they did this, wasn't it? Arthur sees a faint echo image of his shirt -

Last time?

The last time Arthur was the one in Gilbert's position, they're reversed.

Lord, it's another thrall, isn't it.

Still here though, says Morgan. So it can't be a thrall.

You might have said something! says Arthur.

You didn't need my input to handle this situation, she retorts. But if he isn't going to have anymore from you, I'll hold that wrist closed, if you don't mind.

Arthur reaches Gilbert's nipple and tongues it thoroughly, watching Gilbert squirm in his arms. He becomes harder still, his cock digging into Arthur's breastbone. "You don't get many of these," Arthur observes. "Be a shame to waste it." He descends further and takes the head of Gilbert's cock in his mouth.

Now, let it never be known that Arthur is good at this - he may have the benefit of a long life but to our knowledge he has rarely used its gifts or advantages and indeed Gilbert is his first dalliance in years, which is one of the reasons we don't begrudge it him. (The other is that, we hope they will have a positive effect on each other, to our advantage.) But you don't have to be very good at a blow job for it to be enjoyable, which Arthur finds as Gilbert arches helplessly, spreading his thighs and pushing himself further into Arthur's mouth.

Gilbert moans all the way that Arthur progresses down his cock, and one hand gets buried in the sheets as the other is buried in Arthur's hair, woven between his thick locks and curled around his scalp. Arthur pins his hips down to the mattress and Gilbert grunts with the frustration, pulling hard enough to be arousing, but not enough to be painful. "Please," Gilbert begs, "please, please, do it, please -"

So Arthur does, expediently sucking him hard, just as -

Just as Gilbert had sucked him -

Which didn't happen - because that was a thrall, and Arthur's seen the videotape from the security, and Gilbert was nowhere near Arthur's cock and Arthur's trousers remained on and fastened the entire time -

But that's what had happened in Arthur's mind, Gilbert where he is now, Arthur's cock in his mouth - as Arthur begged - which means just about now he ought to -

"Fuck, yes," Gilbert cries, "oh - that's - don't stop, please don't stop, take whatever you want of me just don't stop -"

That's exactly what Arthur remembers saying - shortly before he lost consciousness.

He doesn't stop. But - there's a pattern -

This has happened before, says Morgan. All of this. You've seen it.

I have no abilities in divination! I never have! says Arthur. Neither do you! To his credit, holding a conversation about this while sucking off someone he is incredibly attracted to is very difficult and Arthur should get a medal.

It's ... clearer somehow ... Morgan says, thinking, there's a resonance, I can see the way it all ripples outward, I can control it coming back - there's something else - Arthur, there's someone else - they're here -

Gilbert clenches his fingers in Arthur's hair and groans, as oblivious as Arthur was, lost in his dreams when he lay on a table in a tank losing an awful lot of blood completely unbeknownst. He moans, his hips thrust once more and Arthur tastes come at the back of his mouth - not as salty, more watery - and swallows without thinking.

And then it all falls into place.

It's all happened before. Every time Gilbert has thralled him, these episodes weren't mere hallucinations, they were echoes and shadows of things to transpire. Disjointed previews of this very morning. Not always exactly the way he predicts - not always the same order - and only flashes - but this is the divination skill they describe that he's never had. And Arthur sees exactly how it works.

He pulls off and looks Gilbert in the eye over top his softening cock. Gilbert props himself up on his elbows - still breathing heavily but just as shocked.

He did this on purpose, hisses Morgan.

How can you tell?

Because he can see me, and since he can see me, I can see him.

"She's right," whispers Gilbert.

"How - how could you have -"

"I knew how this connection should work, at least in theory," Gilbert explains. "Feliks found out that I was talking to people, collecting data. The idea was to find a donor who was magical, who could get me out from under Feliks' thumb. I thought - I thought the donor would be able to use it to control me, I wasn't expecting anything myself -"

But there has to be, says Morgan, there has to be some exchange of power because he can hear me and see me.

"Exactly," replies Gilbert. "I hadn't heard of anything like this. All the people I'd talked to - vampires who had had connections with donors who had some talent - it was never this deep, or maybe they weren't that talented. Or both. And I couldn't tell anybody - I didn't want them to know about it, or how it was used, just look at Toris and Elise! There had to be a romantic, or sexual nature. I couldn't use Feliks himself. I didn't want to, because he was married - Hungarian or Ukrainian, I forget, I-I never actually met her, just seen pictures - and he's never gotten over her death. And I didn't like the idea of fucking him, alright?! Sure, I needed to get out but I've already done enough to him! I couldn't do it."

"Would it even work with Łukasiewicz?"

"Once there's a connection, it doesn't matter what the vampire thinks of the donor," says Gilbert darkly, "they love them anyway. They can't help it. I thought, maybe he wasn't strong enough. But then I found out that you're like him, that you're alive longer than you should be. Whatever strength you have, he has."

Łukasiewicz couldn't have strong enough powers without applying for and succeeding to be in the patron program, and if he were, he would have to have been registered - if Łukasiewicz had registered they wouldn't have needed Arthur. But Łukasiewicz couldn't possibly have avoided registry without it being illegal. If Łukasiewicz is old enough to have outlived a wife then -

"That's what you've got on him, isn't it?" realises Arthur. "He's got a patron, somehow. He's stronger than he lets on. More talented. But he never registered and has been pretending to be the type with too little magic for the program." Careful, always careful, never to show any in front of Arthur the government operative, Arthur who would know to recognise it, unless it's dire. Łukasiewicz, the one who held Arthur's wounds closed, who opened Gilbert's throat that first time he drank animal blood and nearly died. The ability to do that cannot be done without the latent skill of someone who has been practicing a very long time. A very long time. "How old must he be," wonders Arthur.

Gilbert sighs. "Old enough to know what I did during the second world war, because he was there," he says. "But you don't want to hear about that, you've made that clear."

Arthur's blood runs cold. This is as close as it gets to the ugly confirmation. Łukasiewicz knows what Gilbert's done. And Łukasiewicz seems to hate him so. Łukasiewicz uses the knowledge to pin Gilbert down. It must be that bad. And I've slept with him, he thinks. And I fell in love with him. Because he manipulated me!

"Feliks knows," continues Gilbert. "That's why he didn't want us together. He must know. What I've been planning with you."

"What were you planning?" asks Arthur, suspicious.

Gilbert looks at Arthur, judging, and says, softly, "This."

And inexorably, Arthur slips into a trance.

----- ---- -- -- -

Mircea knocks on his apartment door. It's later that night, roundabout eight. What's Mircea doing here? How did he find Arthur's home address? Who let him into the building? "Have you got a little time?" Arthur is asking.


"All evening," says Mircea, looking troubled, "if you need a friend."


Arthur sees himself soften before he invites Mircea in. "You'd better come in, let me put on some tea..."

----- ---- -- -- -

Mircea's mug of tea remains untouched in front of him. "Ho-ly shit," he's saying. Arthur must have explained everything.


Arthur looks miserable. "And now I don't know what to do! He manipulated me, depending on what Łukasiewicz is hiding he's possibly a war criminal, and now I can't stop thinking about him."


"Well, but that's not how it works between donor and vampire," reasons Mircea.


"I know," says Arthur, "and that's why I feel worse. He can't help what he feels. But I can, and I still do! And now - it doesn't even matter what he may have done, I'll never see him again! I got this bloody file two weeks ago and - it's changed my entire life."


Mircea is thinking. "We all knew these things could happen, when we signed on with the department. Alright. You're going to need some sort of protection for him."


"Against the VHI?"


Mircea nods. "We could just hire him on at the department," he suggests, "he'd be well-received ..."

----- ---- -- -- -

They sit at the kitchen with a pot of tea between the two of them, Arthur reading from a gigantic law book, as Mircea explains, "Here - Ben Nevis pact, we could use that ..."

----- ---- -- -- -

"Hey ... by the way, what you said earlier in the office, did you really ...?"


"Yes I did, really." Arthur is beet red. "My God. I can't believe."


"In the tank?"


"No! In his room. Which reminds me, I'm not convinced that it's entirely private. There's a break in the curtain there."


"But nobody could get in there except for you," adds Mircea.


Almost nobody. "Łukasiewicz could," he says.


"Oh, really," says Mircea. He narrows his eyes.


"He's got abilities," Arthur says.


"Strong enough to be behind the curtain?"


Arthur thinks before speaking. But speak he does. "I think he's unregistered."


"This changes things," Mircea says.


"How so?" asks Arthur.


"Well, unregistered patron aside, the VHI has violated what we just ruled them not to do - they were instructed to provide a secure location for Gilbert, which they failed to do. This isn't how you treat your employees. This isn't how you treat your human trials, even one that consented like Gilbert did. No, this is treating him like an animal, a research specimen. Like a lab rat."


"Surely it's not that bad?" says Arthur.


"Remember, that's me after I've turned," says Mircea hotly. "I'd be mortified if I thought I had privacy and I knew they could look in on me at any moment. At this point, we don't need even Korus, and their Ben Nevis pact won't stop us at all." He pulls out a piece of paper from his briefcase. "Fill this out. If you agree with it. It's a form recommending him for employment with us."


Arthur reads it over. "I don't know," he says. "This sounds exactly like what he said he didn't want."


But Gilbert betrayed him to get what he wanted. What he might have wanted. Oh, who knows what Gilbert wants. Not even Gilbert himself, likely.


"But check the benefits," Mircea adds. Arthur does. It has everything Gilbert could want. More than enough blood. Option to work with Arthur if they both agree; there's a form they'd both have to fill out in that case, Arthur is very familiar with it. He continues to read through the fine print. The only thing it says is that Gilbert would allow routine testing on his person, with a possible opt-out clause. All information provided. Everything the VHI currently has in their contract, and Gilbert signed that with no complaints.


There's nothing that says anything about mercenary whatever - Gilbert would have the selection of whatever he wanted to do. In fact, he'd have more freedom in the selection of cases than Arthur does. It's a fantastic offer. It's an offer the department doesn't give out lightly. Arthur knows that because he's never been given it, though he's applied several times.


They really do want him, if they'd give him this sort of offer. It's all the freedom any member of the vampiric community could ever hope for - it's more freedom than any vampire living in the UK has likely ever had.


"In any case, that's just a recommendation. He'd still have to sit an interview. But he'd probably pass with minimal effort. Do you think you could sell him on that?" Mircea asks.


Routine testing on his person...


... but he could opt-out ...

----- ---- -- -- -

"But it's very difficult to have this vampire-donor bond and continue to dislike someone. You have to really try."


Arthur thinks, judging. "You look like you're speaking from experience," he says.


Mircea pauses for thought. Silence reigns a moment. "Of course I am," he replies smoothly. "I've done more than enough research on the subject."


"Right," says Arthur.


"Anyway," says Mircea. He puts the papers in order and taps them on the table to straighten the pile, then paperclips them together. "I'm going to go back to the office and file these. Meet me at eight tomorrow at work, and we'll see what we can do, yeah? Shouldn't take more than a half hour to get him out, if you know the way through to his room through the curtain."


"We'll break him out?" Arthur says. "That doesn't seem legal."


"But we have ultimate authority over the Institute through their occult licence. It's more legal than what they've already done," adds Mircea. "If the VHI isn't happy, maybe it should have played by the rules."

----- ---- -- -- -

When he comes out of it, Morgan is batting Gilbert around the head. He waves her off. "She really doesn't like that," says Gilbert, "does she."

"Part of her assignment to me is to ensure that I can't be taken advantage of, that my powers can't be coopted and used by another," says Arthur. "That's exactly what you've done. Exactly what you continue to do. I can't fault her for her ire."

"Neither can I," says Gilbert. "But I'm not sorry."

"No," Arthur snaps. "I can't imagine you are. You're never sorry if you benefit."

"I didn't do it for a benefit!"

"Then why did you?"

"I don't know!" Gilbert yells. "I just knew I had to get out from under Feliks' thumb, it's been so long, I can't live like this anymore."

"So you off yourself -"

"That was an accident! That wasn't part of the plan! Do you think I want to be like this? I feed off humans! The only upside was the chance that there was something about this connection I might be able to exploit once I'd turned. Just enough influence to get away. But there was so little research done, nobody I asked had much idea, so I thought, I had to be vague, had to remain flexible, I couldn't be finicky about what came my way -"

"Not a whit, were you," snaps Arthur. "I'm sure you didn't care."

"I care if you're going to take me into that department of yours," Gilbert retorts. "Is that what you're going to do?"

"No, I don't want a leech like you anywhere near me," he says.

It's clear to him now. How this happened: a bond formed, less soul mates and more a sacred alliance, between two like they. This could be studied! Though the configuration of their precise talents and abilities make it unique, they could make a protocol out of it. This could be replicated! He sees what has to be done by Gilbert to weaponise his own ability, how he taps into Arthur's abilities to do it, how Morgan's licence and power has already extended to Gilbert. To turn enthrallment on and off like a switch.

In many ways, it's already done. There are no take backs. Or if there are, it's unclear how thoroughly they would be able to decouple themselves. Arthur hasn't got access to Gilbert's mind, and neither has he given his own to Gilbert, but their abilities grow woven. Arthur wonders if that means he gets some of Gilbert's strength.

Yes, but not in the physical sense, says Morgan, who is still very cross. A wave of power washes over him, sudden and strong. He knows that he wouldn't have this control and level of his abilities without centuries of training. Maybe not even then. This is the kind of thing you're either born with or not, she explains.

He could stop bullets. He could remove the air from someone's lungs. He could make a tear in the curtain wherever he liked. He could stop Gilbert thralling just about anybody, except perhaps himself.

The department cannot find out about this, thinks Arthur. Or they'll make more of me. Make more of us. Arthur thought the department knew how magic works. But this is like a twelfth century crusader stumbling over an atom bomb! And Arthur did not ask for this, and did not sign up for this. In a moment he feels keenly every piece of what Mircea has been saying about human trials and is stricken with betrayal.

One part of him has always expected it from us, because we are the ones who set this up, who gave him Gilbert's file, who assigned Arthur to the case. Arthur was our selection. But for Gilbert to have done this, he must have planned this for years. Years of research, years of planning to come to fruition now. And Arthur is nothing but a patsy! And who he is matters very little at all. Anyone the department would have sent, would have done just as well.

Is that really so, though?

Arthur's not able to process whether it is or isn't, too appalled and betrayed. He pulls up his trousers, rights his shirt, and makes for the break in the curtain at the end of Gilbert's room, behind the lamp. "I can't do this," he growls. Unkempt and unhappy, he disappears off-scene.

"Wait!" Gilbert cries after him. Arthur doesn't, and the curtain falls back as he makes for the department, using the offstage routes.

A glimmer of light behind him. "I said wait!" yells Gilbert, struggling into his jeans.

Arthur whirls around. "Shut up, you fool!" he hisses. "You're not to yell back here! You'll draw attention! You're not even to speak!" But how would Gilbert know, since without any magical ability before, he's never been? It is only due to this connection of theirs that he is even able to be here.

Gilbert spares no attention for the foreign surroundings. He only looks at Arthur, the only part that matters, with regret. "Then make it quiet," he says. "I know you can do that. I've seen Feliks do it before, and he hasn't got your control."

"Not now that you've given me yours, I imagine," says Arthur. But it's a good point. He waves his hands, and produces a radius of silence around them, that no prying ears might catch a few snippets of words. That's the last that we can hear of what they discuss.

"Did you know what you were doing?" asks Arthur. "Just answer me that. How long did you plan this for? How long did you sit there, and fabricate this- this, between us, pretending your misery, so that you might use me?"

"None of that was pretending," says Gilbert. "You think I don't feel miserable after over half a century tagging around Feliks because we have something on each other? Because I feel guilty for what I did?!" His voice begins to crack under the intensity. "I-I thought, I knew what I was doing, I knew this would happen, I thought I was prepared for this, but I wasn't, and now, you could destroy me if you wanted to - look, do you want me to beg? I will beg you, Arthur! I have no pride left. I have nothing. I've had nothing for years! Nothing to give you but this, I've gambled it all away on you, hoping, praying, that you would -"

"That I would do exactly what I did," Arthur hisses, "that I would fall square into your trap. You've engineered this all for your own survival. For your own ends. You've used me."

"I know, and I'm sorry! I had no choice!" Gilbert cries. "Please - listen, stay, wait, anything! I'll do anything!"

"I wonder what else you engineer for your own survival," Arthur says spitefully.

"Oh, are we finally having that conversation now?!" They should have it - because Arthur has no idea what Gilbert may or may not have done except for hearsay and allusion and now he feels he needs to know. But why now? He doesn't ask himself.

"Wait," begs Gilbert, "please, don't go," but Arthur doesn't listen and storms away.

Only after, when he is partway to the department does he remember that Gilbert could have thralled him into staying at any time, but did not. Rather than comfort him, it makes him that much angrier.

How dare Gilbert occupy the high road.

Chapter Text

It's a simple five minute walk to the department which means there's no time to cool off. Rather, Arthur grows angrier.

How could he have been so stupid? So blind? He curses himself. Worse still because he had his suspicions, had discussed them with Mircea, and still some part of him refused to believe it.

How foolish of him. It was one thing, to know he was being seduced for his own self, to think it was because Gilbert might have wanted him, for his own sake. The thought that maybe Gilbert saw some benefit where there was none, because there was nothing of Arthur that was worthy of attention. Which is Arthur's own fault for never having worked on himself and still expecting the world to take him seriously. No, Arthur was merely the most convenient choice, the one who happened to be who the department sent! That Gilbert met him is chance! That he might be attracted to him is chance, nothing more!

(It's not quite chance, but we don't have much ability to get to Arthur right now. He'll settle down and take it quite reasonably soon, we're certain of this. He always has before. And then we have what we want.)

Of course Gilbert used him. Who wouldn't!? He's a fool, is what Arthur is, foolish to think anything would ever come of him, of his life, of his wretched existence. Foolish to think anybody could grow attached to something like him. Why, Gilbert's only done it because it's his very last recourse and he has no choice!

That's right! Arthur can't even be properly mad at Gilbert because he knows given the druthers he'd've done the same thing! How can you fault a poor wild animal for obeying an instinct in the hopes that you'll let your guard down long enough for it to escape its cage? Gilbert's no animal - no, he's a living breathing thinking plotting human being. (Well, he isn't human. But Arthur isn't listening to us.) And now Gilbert's gone and done - this. And Arthur has no clue where to go from here, do they continue to meet? Will it harm Gilbert greatly if they never meet again? Arthur's heart pangs at the idea in the worst way. He doesn't know what he would rather. Gilbert's latched on to him, forced to remain there by his own biology.

And all Arthur can think about is the fact that he would have latched on to anybody in such a situation, and Arthur isn't special.

Arthur's a miserable, awful, prick of an old man, hiding in a young person's body, and he knows this, has always superficially known it, but it's one thing to know it and another thing to confront it head on. Oh, how he'd love to blame something or someone else, for this wreck he calls a life. But it's all his fault, it's always been his fault, and the ugly truth cannot right now be denied. He likes to tell himself it'd be different if he weren't also reeling with the shock of the betrayal of a lover (a lover, he hasn't had one of those in years, and how to jump back on the wagon now and for this! He wishes he had been thralled into submission, he wishes it hadn't been his volition) but we know the truth. Arthur never likes admitting being wrong, even when he's spent much of his life in that state.

No, the only choice anybody made here was -

The shock is ice cold down his spine.

- was the department, who gave the folder to Arthur. Nobody name-dropped him for it except Laurinitis, and they didn't have to take his advice seeing as they so rarely do when Arthur name-drops that he's surprised it worked when he recently suggested Mircea.

Mircea - given his background, the research Mircea had already done for his doctorate - this file should've been given to him. It wasn't. They did that deliberately. They chose him for this. They must have known what would happen - everybody knew, it's so obvious what recourse was left for Gilbert - and from there on in it was only a matter of time. Controlling Arthur. Controlling Gilbert. The donor gets thralled, the vampire gets hoodwinked.

They've both been suckers and the department's been having them both on.

Arthur is nearly back at work.

Arthur, are you quite sure? Morgan asks gently. We could take another walk around the block -

Don't tell me how to feel, he yells at Morgan.

I'm not doing anything of the sort, she replies, her voice serious.

In any case, coming out the curtain, it is pouring buckets of rain. This isn't my doing, Arthur mutters.

No, but you're not helping, Morgan says.

--

He gets to his desk, his shirt soaked, his feet squelching in his shoes, and there's already a folder there waiting for him. He looks at it, and opens it up to the first page with a rough motion. It's Mr Jacobson again, still watching people offstage. Still reaching out to finger girls' hair when they think they're alone.

Arthur sees him in his mind's eye: soft sandy blonde hair, thick eyebrows, green eyes, a smattering of freckles, Arthur's dimples, Arthur's clothing, Arthur's posture, Arthur himself - pathetic, achingly lonely, desperate -

No! This can't be his life! This can't be it for him! Filing these cases and day-in day-out grudgery!

He grabs Gilbert's folder, lying nearby, and rips it open so fast he nearly takes the top off. He hastily jots a memo on the back of the Nando's napkin from last Friday with Mircea - file unfinished due to personnel change, he writes - then he stabs it through the folder prongs to keep it bound in. He slams the folder shut, and on his way past the cupboard for folder filing, he shoves both folders - Jacobson's and Gilbert's - inside. This'll be the last time he sees either of them.

Mircea's head pops out of the kitchen. "Hey, you sme-"

"I smell like him because I've just come from shagging him!" Arthur snarls, loud and angrily, as he whirls around to stare down Mircea. His voice carries throughout the cubicle farm. "So his stink's allll over me, like I was all over him!" Mircea's jaw drops. The Norwegian and Belarusian coworkers now take this time to poke their heads above the cubicles, like startled little moles. "And I don't sodding care who knows!" Arthur yells at them. He wheels back around and beelines for the office at the end of the hall.

The office at the end of the hall is meant for our liaison purposes when we need to, with our staff. We are not ordinarily present in it. Today is the same - the desk is empty.

This only infuriates Arthur more, as he storms in.

"I quit!" he thunders. "D'you hear me? I sodding quit! I've had enough of this place, I've had enough of these cases, I can't take it any more! I'm done! You say you can find another to do my job, well, I invite you to! Free seat - go on and give it away to any Łukasiewicz o-or Laurinitis or any Beilschmidt you like - if they can stand your bloody meddling - they're most welcome to it!"

Arthur begins to pull out his ID cards and fobs from his pocket, struggling with the damp material. "I don't -" he throws the ID cards down - "give -" he chucks the fobs at the wall - "a damn!" he screams. "I only hope you don't fuck with them the way you did me!"

He slams the door on his way out and is walking rage on the warpath until well out of the building. Nobody comes near him, and nobody tries to stop him, including Morgan.

Including us. We're too shocked. This is ... not what we foresaw. This is not what we'd had in mind.

--

On his way home, Arthur passes by his local Tesco's and purchases a six pack of beer, a four-pack of cider, a bottle each of gin and spiced rum and nothing else.

"Ooh, a party, is it?" asks the young cashier.

A murderous look from Arthur stops him asking a second question.

"Don't drink it all in one go, mate," he says by way of parting.

Arthur very nearly does out of the sheer spite alone.

In actual fact, Arthur can only stomach the one beer before he heads for the rum. Too much time not being drunk. In his lonely apartment, when he's at last passed the healthy buzz state and is headlong into tipsy, his thoughts begin to fray.

What has he done?!

More to the point, what has he done with his life?! What has he ever done that has been worthwhile besides perhaps entering the patron program, commissioning Morgan and unbelievably getting his first choice? He must've peaked then. It's all been downhill from there!

He'll find other work. He'll have to. Now that he's as powerful as he is, he could find a lot of work.

Why, he could work anywhere. Anywhere in England, anywhere at all. He could leave England if he chose, he could travel. He could be the immigrant. Nothing binds him here anymore, there's no work, there's no family, there's no friends and there's no one -

- quite like Gilbert anywhere else in the world.

Through the sheer empty throbbing ache of his loneliness, Arthur begins to well up, and not wanting to let the tears spill like some lovelorn schoolgirl he pours himself another healthy dram of rum.

He'll worry about work tomorrow. That is tomorrow's job. Tonight's job is to indulge in the catharsis of setting every shred of his life to flames and watching it all burn, everything he's ever done. His life is in pieces, ruined, his own doing - Gilbert's doing - the blasted department's doing - his heart is broken, what more can one expect from Arthur?

But he can't let Gilbert go, he doesn't want to let Gilbert go. Gilbert means so much to him, even despite this betrayal. Arthur can't and mustn't place all the blame on Gilbert anyway. Oh, he must have planned this for ages. And it didn't matter in the end who Arthur was, just that he was someone the department sent. If they'd sent Mircea - well, Gilbert would be in with him, then, maybe. Or the Norwegian fellow. Or the Belarusian intern. Bet Gilbert would've liked her, she's got spunk where Arthur's none. It wouldn't have mattered!

And Gilbert can't be blamed for what he's done, this poor innocent vampire who's done only the most logical thing possible.

- not truly innocent, if Feliks Łukasiewicz is to be believed. Ah, Feliks. Arthur can find no hate for him on a day like today. Out of them all, Łukasiewicz and Laurinitis really are the most trustworthy, certainly the hardest working, and the least likely to betray him. At least Arthur has always known where he stood. Łukasiewicz never seems to go home early, Arthur wonders about that wife Gilbert mentioned, she must have been understanding when he spends all night cleaning up after a dangerous spill that isn't his fault but that he'll take the blame for if it isn't summarily dealt with. Arthur remembers the Polish bloke on the subway, what was it he was saying to his wife, how he loved her? A hard life, but that they'd make it work together?

And Laurinitis and his prestigious academics, his careful painstaking research - doesn't he deserve what he has, with all the work he's done, he doesn't stop from nine in the morning 'til nine at night, weekends too, a rewarding job, a fulfilling life - and maybe even he hasn't got that either? If Arthur were in his shoes, he wouldn't find it very rewarding. But Arthur isn't in his shoes, and it seems to satisfy Laurinitis. Laurinitis seems eminently happy.

Then can Arthur be anything more than happy for two fellow men, two fellow human beings, who have toiled and laboured for what they wanted and achieved it in a land that never gave them much of a second glance and made their dreams that much harder to realise? Of course he can't! But someone else's happiness has ever been sand in Arthur's eyes.

He wonders, though, what did Gilbert want out of this? What was his goal? He said he didn't even know if it would work. Wouldn't know if he would get anything like he has done - only suspected - a chance! - that the donor could control him. And for what? To jump out a frying pan and hope for the best? Hope that the agent the department sent wouldn't file on the spot and hire Gilbert for the department's use, the very way they hired Alice? Why, one might say he's lucky to have gotten someone as benign as Arthur!

Hah - Arthur can't call himself benign - he's no prize and he knows it. It's not something to write home about, when he's not an evil human being who would control Gilbert, keep him under his fingers.

What has he done? What will he do?

I don't know, says Morgan, speaking up for the first time since this morning, but if you'll note the time, you're about to have company.

It's five minutes to 8. Arthur has been drinking himself into a stupor since he arrived home at 2.

I'm in no state, he says helplessly.

You can fix that, Morgan says.

I can't filter blood, he replies. Nobody has the resolution for such a thing.

You would if you used your new connection. That vampire has incredible strength.

Arthur thinks about it, for about thirty seconds, and it becomes clear what he has to do. Concentrate, think of the connection, and the strength it gives you. Not your strength. Use your magic to flex the muscles that aren't yours. And his mind clears. Not perfectly, but enough that when he walks to the door, he isn't a staggering mess.

He waits three minutes, and then, when it feels right, he opens the door.

Mircea is on the other side, his fist raised to knock. The visions don't always come exactly to pass. Well, that's good news for free will. He holds a heavy briefcase. That must be where the law book he's brought is. "Someone let you into the house?" Arthur asks.

"Neighbour," Mircea replies. "Did - you hear me coming? Were you expecting me? How did you know? Your hearing can't be that good."

Too many questions. "It's a long story," Arthur replies.

He lets Mircea ask the question he's already heard him ask. "So, uh. I heard you - quit, this afternoon."

That office of ours is supposed to be quiet enough that sounds can't leak out of it. "How did you hear about that?

"I finished with my folders and they sent me the rest of Gilbert's files as new liaison and - I saw your statement. I could only think of one reason why it would be filed in Gilbert's file, and not in - well, not in your own file."

Arthur leans against the doorframe. "Have you got a little time?" he asks.

Mircea looks troubled. "Yeah, all evening," he says. "If you need a friend."

Being prepared for that word doesn't make it any easier to take. Arthur's never had one of those before. He could cry.

"You'd better come in," he says instead, to clear the knot from his throat. "I'll - I'll put on some tea."

--

During the time it takes for the kettle to go from tepid to boiling and the tea to steep, Arthur explains what happened. He leaves nothing out.

Mircea's mug of tea remains untouched in front of him. "Ho-ly shit," he says, once Arthur has at last finished.

"And now I don't know what to do," groans Arthur. "He manipulated me, depending on what Łukasiewicz is hiding he's possibly a war criminal, and now I can't stop thinking about him."

"This isn't how it works between donor and vampire," says Mircea.

"I know," says Arthur, "that's why I feel worse. Because he can't help what he feels but I can, and I still do. I still feel everything. For him. And now - it doesn't even matter what he may have done, I'll never see him again! I got this bloody file two weeks ago and - it's changed everything."

"Well, we all knew these things could happen, when we signed on with the department," says Mircea. He breathes in, a long slow inhale, then exhales. "Alright. First things first, you need some sort of protection."

"Against the department?" Mircea nods. "Why? I just up and quit, they can't possibly want me back."

"If you say you can do the kinds of things that you can do -"

"I can show you, if you like," offers Arthur.

"No, don't! Not yet," says Mircea. This seems to stress him. "If you do, then I know about it. If I know about it, then they'll know about it. They already do, but the extent to which isn't clear. Keep it unclear. And they'll want to keep more of an eye on you. You're a loose cannon, now."

"But I have more control than I've ever had in my life over my talents," protests Arthur.

"And they'll do anything to drag you back into the department to hire you on, kicking and screaming. Probably offer you that permanent contract you always wanted. Off the record, I wouldn't sign anything with them, ever again, if I were you."

Arthur peers across the table, his eyes narrowed, thinking. "Why are you doing this, Mircea? Why are you here?" Even before Mircea replies, Arthur knows the answer. How else did he get Arthur's home address?

Mircea is grim. "I've ... been given your casefile, Arthur," he explains.

"You're on the clock," Arthur says. "You've been on the clock all this time." So much for a friend. This was all just work.

"Yes, and no," Mircea says cautiously. "My instructions are... I'm supposed to steer this to where we can make use of you. Both of you. And I know what they meant by that, and I think you do too."

"Then they do want him," Arthur says.

"Of course they want him! Badly! Someone with his skill set? Someone with yours? They could keep as close a watch as they liked if they hired him on."

"They wanted me to fetch him for them," Arthur says.

"That was the idea. Ideally, they'd have you both. But we could still make use of you if you do the following."

Now Mircea turns to his briefcase and opens it with a click. Inside is a large leather-bound book; printed on the spine is something Latin. Arthur hardly remembers any of his schoolboy Latin, but he knows what's inside anyway. "The Ben Nevis pact," he says.

"Ye-es," says Mircea. "You know, that's freaky. I was just going to say that. Is that something else you saw?" Arthur nods.

Mircea flips to the right page. "You'd have to start your own firm," he says.

"Doing what?" Arthur thinks. "I'd have to be an agency of some sort." It becomes clear: his own experience in handling cases and social work. Take cases to do anything.

"Your new-found skills could probably be put to good use somehow," Mircea figures, "maybe helping others?"

"Didn't take you for such a philanthropist," Arthur says.

"Well, you're bright boys, you'll figure something out," he says.

"Boys," repeats Arthur.

"Boys," insists Mircea. "I assumed you'd have him with you?"

Arthur sighs. "I don't know that I ever want to talk to him again."

"Sure you do," says Mircea wryly. "You smell like you do."

"That - look, Mircea. He's -"

"He's yours now," Mircea continues. "What, you're just going to leave him there? You can't."

"Better if I know where he is, isn't it?" says Arthur. "Under lock and key, and away from me."

"You have a connection to him," he replies. "That's not nothing. He could break his contract with the VHI if he had a new job offer. You know this."

"Sure, and I'm certain the department would be thrilled if he did."

"Well, yes," says Mircea. "And the file already says that there's a new specimen in progress. All that's left is you."

"But that form is unsigned," recalls Arthur.

"And that's the thing about the contract Gilbert signed, it doesn't specify that the specimen replacing him has to be post-dead. After all, the contract was drawn up and signed before he was dead. Doesn't give post-dead benefits. That might be enough to pursue counter-litigation should the VHI attempt to sue you. All you'd have to do is offer him money or better benefits. You yourself are benefit enough, for him." Arthur blushes, embarrassed that he should be such a catch, but Mircea ploughs on. "If he could have a vein whenever he pleased - and I'm sure he'd be pleased, you certainly smell like he'd be pleased." Mircea grins. Only now he notices Arthur's discomfort. "Hey ... by the way, what you said earlier in the office, did you really ...?"

"Yes I did, really," says Arthur. His face feels like it's on fire. "God. I can't believe."

"In the tank?"

"No! In his room. Which reminds me, I'm not convinced that it's entirely private. There's a break in the curtain in the room."

"But nobody could get in there except for you," adds Mircea.

Arthur is quiet. He thinks about what he's seen.

- No, this is treating him like an animal, a research specimen. Like a lab rat - Routine testing on his person... but he could opt-out... -

"Well, I don't think I'll be back," is all he says.

Nothing about Łukasiewicz.

"Not really?" Mircea asks. Arthur shrugs, half-hearted. "I thought you and he..."

"I am," says Arthur, defeated. "Ah, christ, Mircea. I feel manipulated all over again, every time I think about it."

Mircea softens. "You'd have a chance when you're working with him to come to your conclusions, to trust each other," he says, coaxing. "It's very difficult to have this vampire-donor bond and continue to dislike someone. You have to really try."

Arthur thinks. "Are you speaking from experience?"

A pause for thought. Silence reigns. Then Mircea takes a deep breath. "I am, actually," he replies, in a moment of extraordinary but genuine candour. "Can you - make this private?"

This is different. Arthur feels like he's discovered a secret passage.

Privacy is easy. He casts impenetrability to the radius of the size of the apartment.

Mircea tests it out with a few sparks. "Can you make it more private?" he wonders.

Arthur concentrates for a few seconds, trying to think of a way that would really eliminate leaks. He thinks about Gilbert. Then he snaps his fingers, and --

-- Well, everything after this point is deaf to us. Our diviners have no access to this conversation. This didn't go how we planned.

We weren't counting on the fact that Arthur could make a friend.

--

Mircea explains.

"You've probably worked out by now that it was an exchange, between the guy I did my PhD on, and me. He gave me the information that I needed, he was my main source, and in return, I kept him fed. I had already been turned by that point, and had been for some time, so we didn't have to be careful, and I could give him nearly arbitrary amounts without much danger to myself. It was more than enough to keep him alive and fed. And I'm sure you've guessed then, that if he's the vampire and I was the donor, what must have transpired between us."

"You were in love with him," supplies Arthur.

"Not even a bit," snarls Mircea. His lips curl nastily, exposing his fangs. "You have to understand. I had a little brother. Not so much younger, maybe two years. So when I was ten he was eight, and at eight he was bitten."

Arthur's starting to understand. "By this fellow, wasn't it," he supplies.

"Exactly so," says Mircea. "My brother was careless. Well, he was perennially eight, what can you say? There should be laws against turning anybody underage. Just before my twenty-third birthday, he died, and in so doing, turned. I began supplying him with blood."

"But then, being donor, and he vampire - surely you didn't -"

"I didn't ask those questions," says Mircea, "not when you're donor to your own bratty little brother. And we all knew very little about it. That relationship has never been solidly proven beyond anecdotal evidence and case studies, either. I just knew I would have done anything to keep him alive, and if that meant giving me blood, then fine. But it didn't last long. He wasn't very good at being a vampire - he turned me within the year, an accident. And he didn't live long after that." Mircea shrugs sadly, "Most vampires don't. I was hoping he'd be different. Now, with the form of an eight year old - he had very little thrall ability. Maybe that's correlated to his ability to form the particular relationship that exists between donor and vampire. Nobody tell Laurinitis this, by the way, or he'll start experimenting on kids."

"He wouldn't," says Arthur, scandalised. Mircea stares coolly, unsure.

"Anyway. There were complications, and you know what they say of Romania. We weren't in a location where he was the only vampire, which means -"

He remembers how Gilbert put it: if I stay alive, I can be food, I'm useful; if I die, I'm competition. "He found trouble," Arthur supplies.

"Trouble found him, more like," says Mircea. "To say I was upset wasn't enough. I'll admit it. More out of grief than anything else, I tried to find the guy who killed him. Same guy who turned him. He didn't even remember. So I did find him, and once I was old enough to start my studies and obtain a patron, it seemed obvious to me, what I had become, and who he was, and what he'd done to my life, and those I loved he took from me, that I should use him, lie to him about why I needed his help for research, and lock him into a relationship with me, where I held all the power and wasn't shy about using it."

"I see," says Arthur, "But you, and he -"

"The fucking was mechanical," Mircea spits. "I hated him. That hate mutated to pity, somewhere along the line, but in the beginning... and eventually I made sure he knew. Who he was, what he'd done to my family. He was upset, certainly - he hated me, because he had to love me. But I didn't care what he felt. And that was petty. I hated him for what he did to my little brother." Mircea folds his arms across his chest and looks away, downcast. "I kept telling myself it was just for the science, and it was, I got my doctorate. But I shouldn't've kept him around as long as I did. It just dragged it out. And it didn't bring back my brother." He swills his cup of tea, then drains it. "Anyway. So when I say you have to really try to hate them, I mean it. And you're not there, you don't hate Gilbert. You don't even wish you could."

Mircea is very tactful not to mention the word for how Arthur really feels, when it's obvious to them both.

"You can't now still be on the clock," says Arthur.

"No," replies Mircea. "I stopped being on the clock after the second cup of tea. Arthur, I want you to remember that the department will always want to know something more about - this. About this connection of yours. In an ideal case, you'd both work for them, and they'd make some use of it. But I'm not sure that it's possible to do so besides hiring you on and using your skills directly."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that it's not ... it's rarer than you think." Mircea struggles to explain. "Do you think that I, with my magic, could control the enthrallment of the fellow who I was donor for? No. I disliked him, even when I understood him, and he hated me, even when he had to love me. We didn't fit like you two fit. When you walked into that cage of his," says Mircea. "I think - I think that might've been the luckiest he's ever gotten in two hundred years. I want you to keep that in mind, alright? I hate to say it, but it's true. You two are different."

"I'm so glad that you support us," says Arthur dryly, uncomfortable.

"Not just saying it for you," says Mircea. "I think it's a one-off. No, I'm convinced of it! And the department needs to be convinced this is a one-off. That it's not replicable. Because you know otherwise, it's what they'll do." Try and find more.

"I thought they'd known -"

"They didn't know about this," says Mircea. "They hoped you'd recruit him, they wanted that, useful to have the skills of a turned man on their side. But they had no inkling that something like this would happen, not one. If they knew what could come of this, there might be more." They'd try it again, Arthur wouldn't've been the first one.

Arthur asked for all information to be released to him and there wasn't anything else like this, nothing at all, nothing whatsoever. Then they're the first. What a horrifying idea. The first such pair, and this - resonance, causes his hallucinations. His visions.

It intensifies his powers. Morgan said it best, he's never been a diviner. But he can bet that the department has diviners on staff, that they've foreseen what has come of their partnership.

"They don't know that it's not a happy accident," argues Mircea. "I think that's what it is. What it must be. Yes, that's it. That's my spin for the file. For your file."

"Then why not have others working on this same thing? A dearth of vampires?" It can't be.

"Partly," says Mircea. "But it's more than that. There must be something unique to the way you and Gilbert fit together. They can't have worked out exactly how or there would be more of you."

The way they fit together... the way his power is amplified, the way it spills over to Gilbert for Gilbert's own use. He wonders how much Gilbert is able to do, which he never could before. Can Gilbert cast spells, could Gilbert perform minor acts of telekinesis?

And Gilbert's strength too passes backwards. That's how Arthur can do what he can do now. Finally, Morgan adds, glowing with pride. This is what I knew you were capable of.

Arthur can't ever go back to the department. If he goes back to the department, they'll ask about it. They'll keep him there until he tells them everything. Until he tells them how to replicate it, how to make another. Otherwise they can't control Arthur and Gilbert, jointly. And proving a lack of control means they could file for custody of the pair under Korus, unless -

"Unless they couldn't access us," Arthur realises, "because we'd be an independent agency with its own occult licence and its own oversight."

Mircea opens his briefcase and pulls out another folder. Arthur's heart begins to pound before he realises he doesn't recognise it from the one he saw.

"You came prepared," he says, impressed.

"This has been a very trying exercise in double-think," Mircea notes. "This is too unlikely and strange that it's anything more than chance. It can't be, I've never heard of anything like this, and I've studied people like us so long, there's not even been rumours. I have to keep telling myself this. Anyway - fill these out. We'll set you up with a business number and I'll file them tonight. But this has to be done quickly."

"Why so soon?"

"Because I want my patron to wipe my short-term memory. Don't want to take a chance that I remember, and they file to access that information."

"Take the rum when you go," says Arthur. "Or the gin if you prefer. Give yourself an excuse."

"You know, I might just," says Mircea. He clicks a pen and extends it to Arthur. "Now, the forms, if you would."

--

In the morning, Mircea and the briefcase and the gin are gone. It's time to get to work.

Arthur heads to the VHI in the hopes that the department hasn't yet sent them the confirmation that they have a new liaison because their old one quit.

Laurinitis meets him alone. "Listen," he says. "Can we talk in private? I have some bad news."

"Oh?" asks Arthur. This is it, this must be it. He prepares himself to try and coax his way into the VHI, try and butter Laurinitis up as much as possible to get just five scant minutes to see Gilbert.

"Based on what was in the files you gave me, what the department left out in the copies they sent us - I ran a few more assays yesterday," Laurinitis says, leaning in close enough not to be overheard. He looks regretful. Once more Arthur smells garlic on his breath. His eyes look a bit different. He's wearing contacts, says Morgan. Arthur must not have bothered noticing this. "And given the compound's size and the fact that you say - if you recall our experiments with the radiation tracer - that you only have so large a resolution that you can manipulate, then I ... I don't think the nullification of this compound is chemically possible. And given the results from the tests I did yesterday I ... well, I'd be willing to testify to such a statement. I'd stake my doctorate and scientific reputation on it. He can't... Beilschmidt won't be able to control it. Probably ever."

"I see," says Arthur. "Have you been to see Łukasiewicz yet?"

"No," says Laurinitis, "and that's the thing. I know that when I tell him he'll be very concerned about your interference because of the Korus Protocol. This is it, isn't it? This is why the department left out those forms when they sent us the files. This is what they feared we'd find, and now we know what they want. You could bring Gilbert in on this alone. I've just been over the protocol myself and," he sighs. "Well, it's doable. I'll grant you that."

"I don't plan on bringing Gilbert into the department," says Arthur.

"Speaking as someone scientifically minded, I wouldn't blame you for wanting to do so," Laurinitis admits, shaking his head. "They have access to much better facilities."

"Speaking as someone who cares for him, I wouldn't do it in a million years, science be damned," says Arthur. "I don't think it's a very good place for him. And he wouldn't be happy."

Laurinitis softens. "I'll try and tell Feliks that," he says. "But just in case... maybe you'd better go see Gilbert. Because if Feliks wants him kept here - and God knows Feliks only trusts you so far - I can't guarantee if or when you'll see him again."

"Thank you, Doctor," says Arthur.

Gilbert is in his usual place, inside the tank. "I'll - I have to go see Feliks," says Laurinitis. "You've got maybe ten minutes." Gilbert is on his feet in an instant at the sound of that. He looks grim.

"Can I go in and see him?" asks Arthur.

"Better if you don't," says Laurinitis. He leaves.

So Arthur is left outside the tank, Gilbert within, separated by a thick wall of glass. He waits for the door to shut behind Laurinitis, and then he draws closer.

"What're you doing back here?" says Gilbert. "Thought you were mad at me."

"I still am," says Arthur.

"So. What's this? Saying your goodbyes?" Arthur says nothing. Gilbert looks defeated, dead. "Well," he whispers. "Then get it over with. Don't drag this out."

"You must've figured Łukasiewicz out," reasons Arthur. "You must have put this together not long after I told you about Morgan, and how long I've lived. And you know how long Łukasiewicz has lived, and you read too much about everything - you know your laws from your agreements from your amendments and mandates - you must have known it was illegal not to have a sponsor past a certain power point. What I don't know is why you didn't already use it as leverage against him."

"I told you," says Gilbert, "because he had something to use against me."

"Do you like working with him? Is that it?"

Gilbert lifts a shoulder in an uneasy shrug. "He's alright, in the end," he says. "I don't hate him like I used to. I don't know. I feel bad for him, I guess." He sighs. "It's all my fault, the way he is. That's my fault."

"You can't blame yourself for everything," says Arthur. "He's had long enough on this earth to make his own choices. But I don't want to talk about him."

"Yeah? Then why'd you bring him up?"

"I came to ask if you wanted to work here part-time. Whyever you would want to stick around, I don't know, it doesn't matter. And I won't ask. You could work here part-time, and you'd work part-time, or maybe even full-time with me." If Arthur dares hope. "You can break your contract with Łukasiewicz if you find the pay and the benefits satisfactory."

"I don't want anything to do with your department," says Gilbert.

"I didn't mean my department, I meant me," says Arthur. "I quit yesterday. I'm freelancing now. And you'd be partner in this new occult firm, if you wanted."

"You what?" Gilbert looks genuinely surprised. "You quit?!"

"I walked into the office and screamed at them and threw the keys on the desk," Arthur says. "You'd've liked it, I think."

Gilbert almost grins. "Holy shit," he breathes.

"Don't tell me you've never done something impulsive for the sheer sake of it," says Arthur, "because I won't believe you."

"And what if I don't want to work with you," says Gilbert, playing devil's advocate.

"Your options are becoming limited," says Arthur. "Maybe part of why so few vampires make it to five years is because they can't easily get jobs, blood. What they need. Fuels desperation, which fuels mistakes, which calls attention to hunters when they slip up. There's no social infrastructure for vampires, not the way there is for the talented, because you're not classified as humans."

"Yeah, I know the theory," says Gilbert. "So why bother wasting your time on a bloodsucker that will barely make it to five years?"

"Because I need you," says Arthur.

Gilbert scoffs. "You," he says. "Need me. It's the other way around with vampires and donors. Didn't anyone ever tell you?"

"I need you because -" he can't say it - he has to say it - it's not a lie - it's just embarrassing - "I need you because I love you," he mumbles at last, his eyes on the ground. And how could he not when Gilbert in his life has so drastically improved his life in so short a time?

"You don't," says Gilbert. "You made that clear yesterday. I manipulated you into it, that's all. You love me because you have to," he finishes, in disbelief and shock, though the flush on his cheeks - the faintest pink, only possible through their actions of the last few days - tells Arthur he's happy to hear it and desperately wants to believe.

The manipulation makes Arthur want to fuck him. It doesn't make him love him. "I don't have to admit it," says Arthur, "I don't have to do any of this. There's an easier, more direct way I could have you all to myself, and my department was counting on that. It's why they sent me in the first place. They knew I'd be easy for you. And I was, wasn't I? They knew about - about my life, about my loneliness. They wanted this. They engineered it."

It's what he's seen.

Arthur approaches the glass walls of the tank, where Gilbert is already standing, pressed against them, his hand palm side to the tank's inside walls. Arthur presses his hand to the outline of Gilbert's. This close, yet separated by this thick glass, Arthur can feel nothing from him.

"They want you to do this, and I want you to do this," says Gilbert, "I can't lie to myself enough to make me believe that you want to do this."

"If it were only because of them, I'd do what they wanted. I'd bring you in. Then they could have you," says Arthur. "And you'd have your freedom, you'd be out of here like you wanted. Not how you wanted, maybe, but it'd be enough time and freedom to allow you to regroup and plan anew. And if it were only because of them, or only because of you, I'd do it. But I want more. I don't want you as a prize for my good behaviour when my department feels like rewarding me."

"But they know now," says Gilbert. "They must know that I can control -"

Arthur stops him. He puts a finger to his lips in the mime of 'shh'. Then, slowly, he shakes his head. "They don't know everything. They'd need us one of us hired on full-time for that. If they have one of us, then they have the other. If they have neither of us - and that's why I quit yesterday."

"Then how did you manage to do what you did?"

"I had help," he says.

"Mircea," Gilbert guesses.

Arthur nods. "He'll be keeping watch on us in a way. He's been given your file - and mine. We won't even be on the run. We'll follow their laws, because occult beings like us, we both have to, but playing by the rules doesn't dictate what we do. And if all the papers are filed in order, they can't refuse. Gilbert, darling, all you have to do is say yes."

Gilbert sucks in a breath and his lips part to speak -

And that, naturally, is when Łukasiewicz enters the lab, throwing the door open hard enough to slam it on the wall. Laurinitis is hot on his heels.

"YOU!" he thunders. "Get out of my institute! I'm not letting you take him!"

"I wouldn't!" says Arthur.

"You will too, you know because Toris totally told you that he can't be controlled and that you're going to take him in for the safety of others. Get out of here before I call security to escort you out! You can come back with a lawyer. That affidavit you signed -"

"- Was illegal," finishes Arthur, "and you shouldn't've made me sign it, and I can prove that." He puts his hands on his hips. "And I can also prove that you haven't been exactly forthcoming with your own abilities, have you?" Łukasiewicz pales. "I quit the department yesterday," says Arthur. "I have no vested interest in bringing Gilbert in, you have to believe me."

But Łukasiewicz narrows his eyes. "Then, if you quit, you've revoked your right to be here at all, and you're trespassing in this laboratory." Now he wants you gone because you know his secret, whispers Morgan, you have to tread more carefully! "You're on private property with no cause to be here! You can't take him, you don't even have any idea what he's done -"

"Feliks, no, you can't!" shrieks Gilbert. "You can't do that!" He pounds on the glass in the tank with what looks like a significant portion of his strength. He tears the sleeves on his shirt and his fists grow white, but the tank is stronger than it looks and it looks like a fortress.

"You can't tell me what to do, Szkop," says Łukasiewicz. "Maybe I'll tell your little friend everything you did! Let's see how much time he wants to spend around you now." Gilbert launches himself shoulder first at the tank wall, his expression an ugly grimace of outrage. The tremors can be seen throughout the full pane but it holds.

Tell him I won't listen if it means that much to him, Arthur says to Morgan. She relays the message. He says he doesn't want you to think he's a monster, she replies, even though he is one.

Then Gilbert glares. His gaze drops and his eyes narrow, as his posture grows sinister. Arthur can feel the moment where Gilbert moves through him, searching for the power, and as he finds what he's looking for, Łukasiewicz stops moving, and his eyes unfocus. He remains standing there, immobile, enthralled.

Arthur lets him have about ten seconds. Tell him I'll probably find out eventually anyway, he says to Morgan. I don't think it's going to change how I feel.

He says you don't know any of it, she replies. He thinks Feliks wants to ruin this. He says you're the first nice thing he's had in years, maybe ever, and Feliks wants to ruin it because he's angry.

Then he should tell me why he's angry, argues Arthur. That's what's right. Please, Gilbert.

Looking broken-hearted, Gilbert lifts the thrall. Łukasiewicz regains his senses - and his emotions, particularly anger - almost immediately. "How very dare you," he says, low and dangerous.

"See?" says Arthur. "Even if I were still with the department, even if I wanted to, I couldn't file Korus, because he can control himself."

"But my tests," protests Laurinitis.

"Your tests were chemical, you didn't include the magic factor," Arthur says. "It's - it's a long story. And I'm not sure it's one we should share."

"Because your department -"

"- shouldn't know how this is done, ever, or they'll try and make more. And I can't support a governmental organisation influencing people to try and fabricate a race of beings who have this ability. It's too close to eugenics."

"On that," says Łukasiewicz, "we agree."

"Do you?" says Arthur. "Do you truly?"

Łukasiewicz narrows his eyes. Briefly he exchanges a glance to the tank. "You might as well tell him," says Gilbert, desolate.

"I'm sure he'd rather hear it from your lips," sneers Łukasiewicz. "And I'd rather you own up to what you did in words."

"Because I haven't owned up to it during my years of service to you? No, Feliks. It's your story to tell. Don't let me take that from you, too."

"Well, what do you think," begins Łukasiewicz. "You're not that dumb, Kirkland. We were all of us in a camp and they had him and his friends watching over us. At first I was surprised it took them so long to realise what could be made of people like him. It wasn't until later I found he sold that secret to work with them, to conspire with them, to save his own skin, because he didn't want to be experimented on himself."

"They would have killed me," says Gilbert, "if they knew the kind of strength it would have given me. I couldn't let them know that that's what would happen."

"Not even! A Germanic? Way too great a risk! When there's a sea of subhumans they could experiment on, I'm so sure! I bet the generals and gauleiters were tickled pink to find an original Prussian, living embodiment as proof of their genetic dominance or whatever -"

"They didn't know a thing about Prussia," mutters Gilbert. "They wanted power, that's all, and if an idea or a symbol could give them that, they were happy to take it."

"And that's what you gave them, lest they do their experiments on you. No, they did experiments with you, and you helped them do experiments on others. You gave them your blood, and they used it to infect half the camp in any way they wanted."

"You said you never met his wife," says Arthur, coming to realise.

"I lied," says Gilbert quietly. "I only wish I never had."

"He didn't even remember her," adds Łukasiewicz, indignant, "not until he met me years later, because she wasn't even the only one they infected, and experimented on, daubing his blood and whatever else all over them, to try and figure out who would turn, how it would work, what would make them so long-lived, what would give them the strength that you now have."

"Strength that I never asked for," says Gilbert.

"Funny, but you don't seem so sad about it," sneers Feliks.

"I've had two hundred years to accept what I would become."

"And my wife had a month," thunders Feliks. "A month before they butchered her to see if she'd come back. And she didn't!"

"I didn't think they were going to -"

"How couldn't you? You knew what they were capable of! You saw it first-hand!"

"We've been at this for years, Feliks," says Gilbert. "I don't know how to convince you I was just ignorant, short-sighted. That I never thought they'd do what they did."

"You should have realised," yells Łukasiewicz. "You should have thought a little. Just a bit of planning. Just a tiny tidge! And people like Erzsébet would still be here, would at least have had half a chance. But no, you were too busy conspiring with them!"

"I know I failed. I don't have any excuses for my stupidity," says Gilbert.

"Well, by the time that wore off, it was a little late, wasn't it," finishes Łukasiewicz.

An uncomfortable silence falls. Łukasiewicz's hostility seems to have depleted to a level of quiet snappish ire. Gilbert is white-faced and looking at the floor. "That's it?" says Arthur. "That's all you did in the second world war?"

"No, that's not it," says Gilbert.

"Oh, I remember you being so totally cheerful to obey orders, too," says Łukasiewicz.

"Not cheerful," says Gilbert bitterly. "It was a different time, Feliks."

You shouldn't've said anything, says Morgan. I should not have said anything, says Arthur.

"That has never absolved you!" Łukasiewicz rages.

"I never claimed it did!" Gilbert shouts back. "I know it won't. I know it's no excuse. But what else do you want me to say when no amount of sorry or guilt is ever going to satisfy you? No amount of sorry or guilt is ever going to bring Erzs-"

"Don't you dare say her name," hisses Łukasiewicz.

"It won't bring her back," pleads Gilbert. "I'm sure that's why you've been working on longevity so long. Oh, sure, Feliks, I figured it out, I'm not as dumb as you think. Just not smart where you'd want me to be, I guess. You want a cure for what my condition was before I died. You want something that will take someone infected and release them from it. But it doesn't make sense why you keep me around, when as I am I'm useless to you now. Are you gonna cure HIV by studying AIDS? No, no. I'm too far gone. There's no cure for my condition. Because there's no cure for death. Once, I was a cheap and easy source of product to you - just like I was to them - and I didn't mind you exploiting me when I deserved worse - I don't even deny it, Feliks! -"

"After what you did, your service to me was the very least you could do," says Łukasiewicz, resentful. "I never bothered hiding from you what I'd intended the research direction of this institute to be."

"No, not from him," says Arthur. "But you weren't so open with everybody, were you?"

"Excuse me?" Łukasiewicz's gaze is withering.

"You ought to ask your latest specimen. Isn't that right, Dr Laurinitis?"

Łukasiewicz's face falls immediately. "Toris, you didn't." Laurinitis says nothing. Inside the tank, Gilbert's jaw drops. "Tell me you didn't!"

"You said no unethical experiments," says Laurinitis softly, "and of course, I agree, but you can't tell me what to do with my own body." He turns to Arthur. "How did you find out?"

"The file said the VHI was preparing a new specimen but offered no details, and no signatures," Arthur replies. "Both Mircea and I agreed it wouldn't be your doing, Łukasiewicz. You, though, Doctor... You're wearing contacts. You might've been wearing them all along, and I never noticed. But then I smelled garlic on you, not once but twice. You said it was because you'd been cooking, but you said you don't cook, you only eat microwave foods, as it's quicker to get back to work. No microwave food is that garlicky or it won't sell - I should know, I've probably tried them all ten times apiece because I can't cook. Stands to reason you were soaking your hair with the oil to preserve the colour, just like Mircea said, and I'd hedge my bets those are colour contacts." Arthur draws closer. "Green, to cover up something that isn't green anymore. So that nobody knows that the specimen - you - is being prepared. And that's why you didn't sign the form you filed. But you didn't do this by accident. You're extremely careful and very particular about your research, and I think you'd do anything for it. This is what 'anything' looks like. I think you infected your own blood with Gilbert's on purpose."

Horror and shock has utterly distracted Łukasiewicz from his previous anger. "Toris, why would you do this?" he asks. "You've given yourself a terrible disease!"

"I told you I wanted to work on the moments between life and death," Laurinitis says. "You've had me working on Gilbert for years trying to unlock the secret of the disease that causes his condition. As it was in his pre-death state, we did all we could, and you signed off on that and agreed on that. We were finished. He was of no more use to you, but the moment he died, he became of use to me - and then the moment that happens, you swoop in and dictate what research needs to be done where?"

"I'm the director of this institute!" protests Łukasiewicz. "And you went behind my back -"

"You hired me to do science! You didn't hire me to be your research lapdog. This is what I have credentials and experience for: for you to rely on me to take the project in a scientifically lucrative way, so that you could at last take a step back from the science yourself and begin the management and oversight of multiple projects! And instead, you have been undercutting me since he woke up!" Laurinitis is enraged. "You've known for years what I want to study, Feliks. You've known me for years. Now I have bided my time! I have been patient. I did what you wanted me to do. I did what you hired me to do. We took it as far as we could. We can't take it any farther! And when he finally was at the state where I could do something interesting, where I could do something that would have a decent likelihood of solving your own personal research goals, you say no, Toris, I won't allow it, not with him." Laurinitis folds his arms over his chest. He looks less scrawny like this and his no-nonsense expression helps. "Well, I'd really like to see you allow it with me."

"Erzsébet died of this," says Łukasiewicz. "Toris, I can't lose you too."

Laurinitis seems to soften a fraction, but he persists. "It isn't your decision," he says.

There's some silence. Then there's a small knock from inside the tank that draws their attention. Gilbert is pressed to the walls, straining to hear. "Why would you ever want this, Toris?" he asks. "This is awful."

"I don't care what happens to me," he replies. "It's a problem, and I want to solve it."

"You'll never eat anything again," argues Gilbert.

"I never eat anything anyway," Laurinitis says.

"You'll never be able to go outside in the sun -"

"- I never do that either."

Gilbert thinks about it, considering. "I don't know how to convince you out of this," he says. "If I could choose not to be like this, I would."

"But I wouldn't," vows Laurinitis. His eyes are hungry and convicted. The ambition in his face is disquieting.

"At any rate," says Arthur, desperate to break the unease, "with another specimen for study, and with a further job offer with me, Mr Beilschmidt is no longer under obligation to maintain his current contract with you, and can break it if he pleases."

"If you please, you mean," says Łukasiewicz.

"No, he does what he wants, I mean that truly. But if you don't have any more use for him here -"

"Any use for him!" Łukasiewicz throws up his arms. "What use for him would we have when we have apparently a new specimen! Honestly. The director at this institute and nobody tells me anything."

"Then you wouldn't mind?" pipes up Gilbert, shy and hopeful.

"Oh, I mind a lot about this entire day," says Łukasiewicz. "I can't believe the least of the problems is you, because my best friend betrays my trust and makes himself, like, his own science experiment - but that's done, and there's nothing anyone can do about anything. Well, alright. So you win, and I'm ruined. Is that what you wanted?"

"He didn't win," says Gilbert. "I still need to eat."

"You've got me," says Arthur.

"I can't feed only from you," says Gilbert. "You don't produce enough. I only produced enough for the fellow I was donor for because I was partially turned at the time. Same as the case for Mircea, if you pay close enough attention to his thesis where he makes mention of feeding. But an ordinary human - and that's what you're remaining, by the way - that won't be enough. I can't take a pint from you every day. Can't we agree on that? I come back part-time, and nobody ever has to know how you can do what you do, Feliks. In exchange for our silence on it, I get to eat. You still have me by the balls, don't you? Which you like. And you can keep doing what you want."

"I don't like it at all! I don't see that I have a choice," says Łukasiewicz.

You only dislike it because Gilbert has someone and you don't, thinks Arthur. But he doesn't say this. Finally, you're listening to me, says Morgan.

"But you don't have to like it to accept it," Arthur replies. "We'll meet in a week, alright? To renegotiate contracts. You can bring a lawyer, I'll bring Mircea. We'll discuss it rationally."

"What do I do in the meantime?" asks Gilbert.

"You can do whatever the fuck you want," says Łukasiewicz, "like you always do." He turns on his heel and storms out, flinging the lab door wide open as he leaves and letting it slam shut behind him.

Is that a yes? Is that a no? We don't even know. Does Gilbert remain at the institute? Is he permitted to return to his apartment yet? Does he still have one? It would be quite the trek from South Wales, after all. Does he move in with Arthur? Perhaps he should.

Laurinitis looks like he's going to leave, to press on after Łukasiewicz, but then he stills - immobile - his eyes widen, his lips part, and his cheeks flush. Arthur follows the trail of magic back to its source, where Gilbert is pressed against the glass.

"I need to talk to him," says Gilbert. "He's the only one who's ever been able to talk sense into Feliks. If we convince him to convince Feliks, we'll get that meeting." He adds darkly, "Also, I have information he wants, that he needs to hear."

Chapter Text

"It takes more than a month to grow the structure in the brain," reveals Gilbert, after Laurinitis and Arthur have moved inside the tank. "I don't remember when the pain stopped," he adds. "This was all... so long ago now. It was headaches and dizziness, and back then I thought it was because the guy who turned me was draining blood from me all the time. All I know is that if that structure is preserved, given time to grow, then you wake up after you die, because that's what provides your brain with blood while your body reorganises itself, after death. So you'll want to be giving yourself a lot of MRIs over the next few weeks, to see how that structure behaves and interacts."

"I knew it," says Laurinitis. His eyes are shining with promise.

"Yeah, well, you don't want to know how I know it," says Gilbert. "Feliks is right. He's right about everything. A-and, he could have told you a lot more, you know. I don't know why he didn't."

"I could conjecture," says Laurinitis.

"So that he's always got something left to hang over me, I'll bet," Gilbert says bitterly.

But Laurinitis is shaking his head. "In his own way, he doesn't disapprove. I don't know if he's exactly forgiven you, because I don't think he'll ever tell you this himself, because he doesn't trust easily and not at all once it's broken. I'm sure I'll be hearing about today for years to come. But there's no heat in the coals for the bellows anymore. I told him to move on years ago, and not only because there's a much more interesting and lucrative research goal to pursue. I never thought he'd listen to me." Laurinitis shrugs. "He can be stubborn, and though I didn't think it was good for him, to carry that much contempt, it's still his choice to decide when it's time to move on. I'm glad for him, that he decided it too."

Gilbert deflates. "Well, I wish he would've let me know," he says. "You can take all the MRIs you need to on me."

"It's been a week since you woke up," Laurinitis argues, "whatever changes there were, were made."

"Something different might have happened recently," Arthur says.

"Right," Gilbert adds. "Something Feliks doesn't disapprove of, I guess. Something we should thank you for." Arthur feels his cheeks warm.

"I'm not following," says Laurinitis. Arthur kills the cameras, binds a radius of silence to the tank, and then explains. At the end of it, Laurinitis is looking between them both, with a critical eye. "But that can't have produced any physiological changes," he says. "Can it?"

"I can enthrall you like I'm flexing a muscle," says Gilbert, "control I shouldn't have. You tell me."

"Just... don't go too far," says Arthur. "Don't seek out a way to replicate this. If you find it, you'd want to publish it."

"You won't have a choice," says Laurinitis. "This needs to be written up. In a case study, and we'll need to move fast, and everything will have to be perfect."

They speak at the same time. "Toris, no," says Gilbert firmly, "you can't do that," as Arthur says, "If you publish it then it's known about!"

"This is different," insists Laurinitis.

"How is this any different from that time you enthralled yourself?" asks Gilbert.

"Because a case study," says Laurinitis, flushing with embarrassment, "sets a precedent. That declares Gilbert as Knowledgeable in the Art."

"You wanna use the Sooth-Brown Agreement?"

"We'll have to, to establish you as more than just a subject! Because you're non-human, we need other sentience workarounds for legality. If we do that, then anybody who wants to try to replicate the results has to go through a lot more legal loopholes."

"They'd have to go through a third-party ethics board," realises Gilbert.

"They already know about this, I'm sure they have diviners. And if you told what happened to Dr Popescu last night -"

"- Who said it was an exercise in double-think," clarifies Arthur, "that he had to wipe his own memory."

"He's still an employee of the department," Laurinitis points out. "Is he a consultant like you?"

"Of c -" Come to think of it, Arthur actually doesn't know. "He may not be," he realises. Mircea's double-think was to ward against information retrieval. They shouldn't be able to file for information retrieval in the memory of a simple consultant. That's something you only do with someone who's engaged much longer term.

"Then it won't be long before they know about it. I'm sure they already do."

(We do. We know all about it. We know as much about it as we could possibly find out. We've had to study it, we've been through the paper that they will come to write together - over and over, upside down, backwards, frontwards - every which way - trying desperately to find the loopholes that would let us begin work, trying to create more pairs like Kirkland and Beilschmidt before another country's department or institute gets there first. To isolate what it is that causes that resonance, what it is that boosts the latent ability of the talented member, and assures the control of the vampiric member. To frantically peel apart what makes this union so worthwhile. But Dr Popescu has unfortunately covered all of their tracks and used our laws against us.

We were so very upset when we learnt of this. You've no idea, dear reader! How much a benefit it would be to us to have teams like Arthur and Gilbert on staff. How lucrative! How much easier it would be than to have to outsource our labour to them and hire them out all the time, filing requests for proposals, because they're an independent agency! Having to submit to their desires in contracts because they possess a monopoly on this particular skill-set, which nobody has been able to replicate because we constantly have to check it for ethics and it consistently fails. It would be so much easier to take turned individuals and pair them up! They'd have all the blood they need! What more does a leech want for, anyway? It's not like they're human.

Blast that Dr Popescu for saying what he did, for encouraging Arthur to go the way he did. How dare Arthur have managed to make a friend. We're angry, and we're stymied.

This is why we don't hire doctors anymore. They're a little too clever. People too clever don't submit.)

"Mircea said he was convinced it was nothing more than a crazy happenstance," says Arthur.

"More the reason to write up a case study about it. That way it's clear it's not meant to set a precedent for replicability. This will be a revolutionary paper regardless," says Laurinitis.

"Mircea will have to be there," warns Arthur.

Laurinitis frowns. "Must he really," he says unhappily.

"I insist," replies Arthur. "Part of the way we'll prove knowledgeability in the art, which will apply to you - and him - post-death. He'll want to know about it. There's more, however. It could set a badly-needed precedent for post-death care and infrastructure."

"That's true," says Laurinitis. "Can you show me how it works?"

Gilbert smirks. "You haven't had enough of it yet?"

"Not on me!" says Laurinitis. "On him! The one it produces visions on! And, Mr Kirkland, I'm going to need a similar demonstration."

Arthur shows him. Laurinitis' mug of coffee - gone cold, which he'd begun to drink around 8 am and then abandoned to talk to Arthur and then Łukasiewicz in turn. A skin has formed on the top. With a wave of his hand and little concentration, Arthur pulls the milk compound aside, to reveal the liquid underneath. And then, with a little more concentration, pulling from Gilbert, he draws the milk from the coffee. In thirty seconds, the mug shows two heterogeneous liquids - impossible to do without a great amount of energy. Arthur isn't even breaking a sweat.

"This is so useful," remarks Laurinitis. "And you say you shouldn't have these abilities? The talent isn't my research specialty, though, of course I took a few modules in university."

"No one has been able to demonstrate quite this resolution," says Arthur. "And I think this is about as far fine-grained as I can get. I don't want to try splitting atoms. If I were simply to heat it up, that's one thing, you can do that with a generic spell that acts on the whole. But this requires careful access and manipulation at the molecular level, on many agents at a single time." Arthur lets his hold go, and the milk and coffee swirl forward into each other again, recreating equilibrium. Laurinitis watches this all, spell-bound. "I don't know of anybody who's been able to do this," says Arthur.

"There's so much to do, so much to test for," Laurinitis says, in an awed hush. "Between this and the MRIs on the structure that's growing -"

"At least twenty years before you can off yourself," reminds Arthur sternly. Mircea's brother had between the years of 8 and 21 to grow it. "Be sure that structure has finished growing before you do anything you can't undo. So that project's going to have to be stalled."

"Between you two, I have more than enough to work on in the meantime. Now, Gilbert, if you wouldn't mind?"

This time Arthur is ready for it, the feathery softness at the edge of reality as Gilbert sinks him into the trance. He's getting better at this. Less of a shock. It feels more like Gilbert is supporting him as he slowly sinks him underwater. Arthur feels the care and the emotion in it. He doesn't just love you because he has to, says Morgan, as she slips away. I know, says Arthur. Focus, both of you, says Gilbert, and Arthur can hear him clearly like it's without Morgan's direct intervention, but his words are tinged with amusement ...

----- ---- -- -- -

Arthur wakes up. His eyes open to the ceiling, he's in bed, nude. It's not his bed, not his apartment. That alone is a surprise, he's lived in that flat in that tenement house for decades. But now he's moved. The quilt, on top of the duvet, is familiar. That's his quilt, on someone else's bed - a large bed, a bed for two.


He realises he can hear the sound of something sizzling, then the rushing of water as the tap is turned on, then off again. Someone's in the kitchen. Someone's making food, and it smells fantastic.


I never used to wake so late, he thinks. He realises: we have to keep the blinds closed now, everything's dark until someone hits the light switch, because the someone else who lives here, the someone else who shares this bed, can't tolerate long periods of sunlight. Arthur's heart starts to beat faster. He should get out of bed, though the lethargy persists and he does it in gradual steps, pulling himself to sitting, stretching his muscles slowly, then finally swinging his legs over the side of the bed to find some trousers and pad out of the bedroom.


Gilbert is standing over the stove. It's a gas range, and he's cooking with a loose t-shirt on, but no trousers himself, just in his pants, skintight and black and really leaving nothing hidden. It's a pleasant view. "Hey," he says. "There's coffee, if you want some."


"You're a blessing," Arthur finds himself saying. Gilbert grins privately to himself, ducking his head as he shifts what he's cooking around with a spatula. Mushrooms in butter with something green, maybe parsley. It smells divine. There's something already plated, covered in aluminium foil. Arthur peeks underneath as he passes to the coffeepot - a single poached egg, waiting on a thick slice of toast, beside a cubed apple and two thick slices of sharp cheddar. He licks his lips, he hasn't eaten like this since he left home. Mum was the last person who fed him this well. That was over fifty years ago. A blessing isn't half of what Gilbert is, really. Gilbert, who can actually cook.


The coffeepot isn't full. "Did you make a half pot?"


"No, I had a cup," Gilbert admits. "Without cream, obviously."


"Shouldn't do that without me up," says Arthur. He pours himself a mug and dresses it how he likes. "Just in case something goes wrong."


"Aw, I was fine," Gilbert replies.


"How's the taste?"


"Well, not like it was," he admits. "But I never liked it much. I don't miss the taste. And I only need a few sips now to really kick me awake."


Right. Greater heart strength, pumping a lesser amount of blood volume harder throughout the same body. Everything works faster on him. Alcohol they'd tried a few nights ago, and Gilbert was well past tipsy within minutes, a buzz that wore off twice as fast. "And you don't miss any of this?"


Gilbert shrugs. He takes the frying pan from the stove and cuts the flame, then tips it to spill the mushrooms on top of the egg. He adds cracked black pepper and a sprinkle of something else, maybe more parsley. He's not only good at cooking, he has a flair for it. Then he presents the plate to Arthur, and sits down across from him at the table. "I don't know," he says. "I can still smell everything just fine. But I don't feel hungry smelling it. If I did, maybe that'd change things." He tilts his head, cracking his neck. There's a lurid purple love-bite the size of a pound sterling on the side of his neck by the collar of his shirt. Arthur must have left that there yesterday, Gilbert heals too quickly otherwise. That explains his lethargy waking up.


Arthur looks down at his own wrists. Not bandaged. The wounds have closed up, which means they must've gone in to see Feliks and Toris yesterday morning, which means today is the day Arthur feeds him. That would explain the lovely breakfast he wakes up to. He grins, anticipating, and tucks in.


After he finishes eating, there's a pile of occult journals still waiting for their attention, and they take one each to pore over. This is what the work day looks like now, Arthur realises. How long have they done this? It feels natural. He glances at the dates on the journals: four months from now.


Arthur comes across something in the Journal of Occult Medicine. "Might've found something useful for the Chiswick couple," he finds himself saying.


Gilbert leaves his seat to Arthur's side of the table, and bends low, reading over his shoulder where Arthur points to the passage. "That's perfect," he says. "Then her uncle would've had a much harder time of it. Exoneration, or maybe just fancy insurance fraud."


"That'll be the job of the lawyers to figure out," Arthur reasons. Gilbert leans down and kisses his temple, then his cheek. Then his neck. Then his lips. Arthur leans back and pulls his chair out to allow room for it, and one kiss quickly leads to more. "I should brush my teeth," Arthur says, between kisses.


"You taste like egg and mushroom, it's fine," Gilbert murmurs.


"I don't really," he laughs.


"Well, no," is the sarcastic reply, "you taste like mouth, but how is that romantic."


Arthur is laughing as they kiss. "You're a prat," he says.


"You love me," says Gilbert, and he hoists Arthur up out of his chair and onto the kitchen counter with that fantastic strength of his. Arthur spreads his legs and Gilbert steps between them, and they resume their kissing with more passion. Gilbert's fangs, sharp and ever present, accidentally swipe past the tip of Arthur's tongue and his mouth floods sudden with the sharp taste of blood. Gilbert moans as he presses himself closer, sucking what he can out of him. Arthur swings his arms around to pull him in by the shoulders.


"You know, we've nowhere to be today," pants Arthur, between breathless kisses. Gilbert kisses the corner of his mouth, his cheek, his chin, his jaw. "If you're thirsty," he adds. He leans back, shifting his groin forward to press against Gilbert's flat belly, needy for contact, and cranes his neck upwards to give Gilbert plenty of room, as Gilbert exhales a hot breath that curls against his collarbone.


The doorbell rings. They freeze.


"You're joking," groans Gilbert.


"You expecting someone?" Arthur asks.


"No. You?"


"No!"


The doorbell rings again. "Shit," Arthur realises, "that could be a case."


"Do we have to?" Gilbert whines.


"We should, better to have other clients beside the ministry."


Gilbert grimaces. "Fine, well, you take it."


"You take it!" Arthur says.


"I'm indecent," he argues. "You have jeans on."


"And in them is the hard-on that ate London!"


Gilbert is about to reply but the bell rings a third time. "Fuck, fine," he grumbles, and then yells out, "One second, just one second!" He tears off for the bedroom to find his trousers, wherever he left them last night. Arthur slips off the counter and tries to calm himself down.


Once Arthur returns from the bedroom, having put on a shirt and made himself a little more presentable, he finds a young girl, dressed all in white, in their sitting room. She looks dead. She was probably quite pretty in life - she still is. From the shadows her hair was light-coloured, wavy and thick, cut jaw-length.


"This is Margot," says Gilbert. "From Belgium. She says she's a - what was it?"


"Witte wief," she replies. Her voice is tinny and gravelly, like most ghosts'. "It's like a kind of ghost. I don't have a lot of abilities except for fog and rain and some serious wind." She explains that her passing was last year, and now that her brother has finally shown some talent, local laws allow that she can visit him. "But now I can't leave my job in the town hall until they have someone to take my place, because of the windmill they put in. They say you're powerful, though - so I thought, perhaps? I could pay, and handsomely! It wouldn't be for very long, maybe two weeks, just long enough to visit."


They agree to look into her case more seriously and promise to return her call tomorrow. She leaves them a number where her lawyer can be reached and hurries back to the station, to make the train back to Brussels and get back to her post.


Gilbert doesn't like it. "Didn't they make you study Greek myths? This has Atlas and Heracles all over it."


"Well, that's why you'll be accompanying her," suggests Arthur, "to make sure she returns." They spend more time on research, Arthur for the current ministry project and Gilbert for whether enthrallment affects ghosts at all. He is successful setting up an appointment with a lingering spirit in the rectory in Borley, Essex, so that eats up the afternoon.


Borley is a lovely place, and when they make contact with the spirit, the outline of the former rectory becomes visible - it's stately despite the charring from where it was burned in the 30s and demolished in 1944. It turns out that Gilbert is not able to enthrall the spirit, whose name is Harry, but Harry mentions too some research of his on different varieties of spirits, and that there's a spectrum of varying connection. They describe the Belgian. Harry has a hypothesis: that her ability to connect to and manipulate the weather might root her enough to reality to necessarily make her enthrallable. In any case, he's an excellent contact to make, and he seems a nice chap, although he takes to Gilbert like a house on fire. Gilbert positively preens, basking in the attention.


"If I didn't know better, I'd think you were jealous," says Gilbert on the drive home.


"If he weren't so dead, I might be," adds Arthur.


Gilbert is quiet. "You know who I want more than anything," he says simply.


"I do," he replies, confident.


By the time they return, it's nearly half seven, and Arthur hasn't had much to eat besides breakfast and a quick snack on the road. Gilbert hasn't had anything at all since yesterday at the VHI. "What's for dinner?" Arthur asks.


For Gilbert, Arthur. But for Arthur ... "I'll think up something," says Gilbert.


It takes longer than Gilbert promises (it always does, Arthur finds himself thinking) but the food is delicious. "My aunt's recipe," he says, smiling, presenting a plate of meatballs in a cream-caper sauce, with rice and asparagus, lightly fried, drizzled in brown butter, and still crisp, served with a dark beer. It's simple, it's peasant food, nothing so rich or fancy, but it's so good Arthur could cry. It fills his mouth with flavour and the way his tastebuds awaken, he wonders if it has been years since he last used them.


They have to wait an hour until Arthur's insulin levels have spiked and fallen - not willing to put too much sugar in Gilbert's system, just in case. Meanwhile they settle in to watch a movie. Arthur sits up straight, and Gilbert reclines, leaning on him.


"Comfy?" Arthur asks dryly.


"Yeah," says Gilbert, his head in Arthur's lap, "I'm pretty cozy."


Arthur hardly pays attention to the movie. It's not uninteresting. Arthur hasn't heard of it because the commercials are currently on going, but in a strange way he has, because in the future he pays more attention to media and the real world than he does now, so his knowledge base overlaps. It's a thriller. He sees the end coming about halfway through. He's mostly paying attention to the pleasant weight that is Gilbert's head in his lap, the cool strands of his hair as Arthur runs his fingers through it absent-mindedly, the way Gilbert's marble flesh feels as he strokes his cheek softly.


"Hm," says Gilbert, as the credits roll. "I thought it'd be better."


"I've some ideas," says Arthur lasciviously, "for something better." Gilbert grins.


They move to the bedroom, in bed, finally in bed. It's not slow, because they have an easy familiarity by now and do away with the coy shy strip-tease of one-article-per-room, and because Gilbert must be hungry for this and Arthur doesn't want to wait any longer. Within minutes he is nude once again, entangled together. Gilbert rubs himself along Arthur's body in a filthy grind, frotting himself on Arthur; Arthur feels like he's been hard for hours now.


Even Gilbert is halfway there. They have been feeding a lot at the institute lately. Toris pays in blood and he pays well. But there's no substitute for a fresh source.


"Go on," whispers Arthur. He's been thinking of this since ten in the morning.


Gilbert bites down, in the angle between Arthur's neck and his shoulder, where there's not as many dangerous veins or arteries to tear open, and latches on firm. He moans around it; Arthur can feel the vibration from his lips on his skin. Gilbert thrusts his hips forward, helplessly, shoving his cock against Arthur's. Arthur gets his hand below and presses them together - Gilbert goes from partly to fully hard in the space of a few trembling breaths.


"Would you want to fuck me?" asks Arthur.


Gilbert retreats. The blood pools hot on Arthur's skin, Gilbert licks his lips. "Really?" he says.


"If you're up for it," Arthur replies. "You know I like it no matter what, but ..." He trails off. He doesn't know how to say it - that the exchange feels hotter when Gilbert takes something and gives something else. That it feels more profound.


A quick but efficient job of preparation later - Gilbert's slick fingers in his arse, it's such a strange feeling - and Gilbert is pressing against him, the head of his cock kissed to his hole. "I'll let you know if you're too fast," says Arthur.


"Oh, I can control myself," Gilbert teases.


He presses inside, in a slow burn that has Arthur split, flayed open and wonderfully exposed, and when he is finally as far deep as he'll go with this position, Arthur exhales. He can't find the strength to keep the moan from his voice. "S'pose that makes one of us," he whispers shakily.


"You're okay," says Gilbert, part question, part fact.


"Take me," breathes Arthur.


Gilbert bends down, withdrawing, and as he thrusts in again, he sinks his teeth into what he can reach, which in this case is the fleshier part of Arthur's pectoral muscle, inches from his nipple. He begins relentlessly; Arthur cries out, broken. It doesn't take long before he is lightheaded and dizzy, pushing back against Gilbert, shifting his hips to fuck himself on Gilbert as Gilbert's hand jerks him off. He can certainly see why Gilbert likes this.


Gilbert drives himself in deep and his eyes clench, his expression rapturous. Something's happening - Arthur feels himself fracture and infinity becomes the edges of his existence as he is pulled by the brainstem backwards out of his body - he senses the resonance machine that is their connection as a tangible thing he can touch, in warm loving harmony with the universe, screaming pleasure through the stars, his existence the edge of the galaxy - he is everywhere, he bathes in eternity - he extends a hand outward and feels lightning euphoria spread through his mind -


- ah - it's a thrall within a thrall - Gilbert's lost control again -


Arthur pushes himself out of it and returns, finding that somewhere in the trance, he's come and spilled all over his stomach. Gilbert drags his fingertips through it and gathers his come there, then lifts off Arthur's chest to lick it off his fingers.


Then Arthur is wiping the side of Gilbert's mouth, the corner of his lips where the blood has smeared. He pushes the fingers past his lips. Gilbert sucks them clean, a sharp desperate vacuum. His teeth get too close to the fingerpad and Gilbert is moaning loud, sucking hard, and thrusting deep, impossibly lost in this. He has no control, he forfeits it all; only Arthur's abilities keep them at all grounded. Arthur can feel it as a dull throb when he comes at last, deep inside him, Arthur's blood in his mouth, circular and even, possessing and possessed. Gilbert in his arms struggles for air, panting and shaking. Arthur has never loved anyone like this.


They spend the next few minutes like that, close, as Gilbert slowly softens and slips out of him, pressed close together. Arthur traces Gilbert's lips once again, with his thumb. Gilbert sweeps off the blood from his wounds as it wells and licks it off his fingers. They say nothing. They think much, and that alone passes between them in bursts of instant understanding.


In the end, Toris' serum is needed to properly close the wounds, because they won't stay put otherwise. Gilbert applies it with care, smoothing it gently over the places where Arthur's skin has broken and won't seal back up. They're running out, they should have gotten more yesterday, but then they would have to admit to Toris how much they've used. They'll be back in two days; they'll have to see how much they can get away with.


Gilbert settles on his chest, over his heart, and Arthur falls asleep to the scent of his hair.

----- ---- -- -- -

... slowly, reality returns to him, so slowly that he struggles to wake into it. "How long was that?" says Arthur, slurring his words. His tongue is leaden in his mouth Nothing feels real. He presses his hand to Gilbert's skin, to try and ground himself. Gilbert is soft, smooth, and stone-cold.

"Only two minutes," says Gilbert. Two minutes! A full day in two minutes. "What did you see?"

What can he say with Laurinitis right there, pen poised for notes? I saw myself happy for the first time possibly ever? For once in my life I feel like I'm making the right decision? We worked on a case together and it felt like achievement instead of filing something away to oblivion only to resurface weeks later? You cook like a dream come true? Sex with enthrallment is so good it should probably be illegal? I didn't think I could love anyone that deeply?

"Life," is what Arthur decides to reply, "but in colour."