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Influence

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I.

“For science, John,” Van Helsing says. “Think of it that way – for the betterment of mankind, indeed.”

John Seward looks up at him from the armchair, suddenly feeling at a disadvantage. “You say science, but surely this is more the province of charlatans – stage acts – not medical men?”

“But if it is nonsense, then there can be no harm at all in the experiment.” Van Helsing has him either way, as ever. “And if it does not work, then it is ruled out as a possibility and I will trouble you no longer on the subject.”

John can’t help a smile at his mentor’s indefatigability, although much as he admires him for it he rather wishes he wouldn’t, at least not at this hour in the evening. And, he thinks somewhat stubbornly, a failure of the experiment cannot, strictly speaking, rule out mesmerism. All it can do is prove that Van Helsing was on this occasion, unable to practice it on him. Of course, it cannot work, it is ludicrous, but nevertheless the idea makes John uncomfortable in ways he is at a loss to explain.

“Or perhaps,” says Van Helsing more softly, stepping back, slightly deflated, “perhaps it is that you do not trust me. That would be understandable, very much so, although of course, I assure you –”

John is instantly embarrassed at his mentor’s shift towards apology. “No, no, Professor,” he says at once. “It’s not that – only that it is such an absurdity.”

“Then you will,” says Van Helsing, his face brightening and he puts a hand to John’s shoulder. “Good, good. I knew I was not mistaken in you.”

And so John agrees without agreeing; he never has been able to hold out against Van Helsing.

As to the experiment: inevitably, it works.

 

II.

There is no fear in the Count’s saving him, Jonathan finds. It’s a wonderful thing. The castle is no longer a cage and he is spellbound. The women have gone, like shadows, or maybe it’s only that Jonathan can no longer see them, transfixed as he is on the Count. He feels suddenly that he is a clumsy, English idiot; the Count in contrast stands on the stairs with the age old right of power and blood written in him; there’s a sense of blood and death that mocks the idea that one brief insignificant life might have meaning or worth.

“Calm yourself, my friend,” says the Count, as if nothing has happened, as if all this is the most ordinary thing in the world. Yet he can hear every pounding beat of Jonathan’s poor heart, Jonathan feels suddenly certain of it, as if he hears the echo back through him, and he sags back against the closest carved stone pillar. “Come here to me.”

For the first time, Jonathan obeys his Master without thought or question, and the whole world shifts around him and something inside shatters like glass in the moonlight.

“Yes,” says Dracula with the slightest of smiles. “Yes, that is right. You understand now, I think.”

Jonathan does. He understands everything.

 

III.

There is a demon in his cell with him – a cold, implacable man made of ice and steel who will not let him alone. Jonathan, wreck that he is, so cruelly abandoned here, cannot fight, though he wishes the old man would go. Nothing must keep him from his Master.

Jonathan hates him, as he hates everything that divides him from the Master, and if he cannot be with the Master, why can’t they leave him alone? A few pulsating, live, warm-blooded creatures, that is all he asks for else. (Why is that too much to ask?)

They won’t go, however, and this one can draw him in and calm him, but even when he does, when Jonathan, the old Jonathan drifts upwards from somewhere in the drowning depths, he is bound to another’s will and cannot say what he wants. (He wants Mina, she was here, they must bring her back, let him speak to her, but they don’t, or he can’t).

He is caught: one way, his Master, another this devilish Professor, and in between only a stormy ocean of madness.

 

IV.

Seeing Lucy too much impressed by the Count hurts, but there’s something else nagging at John’s mind afterwards. Unaccountably, it reminds him of those long-ago odd sessions in the Professor’s study. It’s irrational, he knows, and he’s embarrassed by the idea – is he so consumed by jealousy that he thinks the answer to Lucy’s behaviour could lie in something as outlandish as mesmeric influence?

And yet, when he finds her again, he wants to say something, but has no idea where even to begin. Lucy would laugh and rightly. He glances down, abashed, and hesitates before he speaks.

“Oh, John,” she says, though she barely turns from the window. She’s been standing there, staring out although it must be too dark to see anything with the lamps lit in the room. John itches to draw the curtain across, as if by that he could shield her from something as yet unnamed. “What do you want?” She sounds almost tired, unlike her usual lively self. “Is it to scold me again? Well, I shall not listen – I shall find Mina. She will not be so unkind!”

He gathers his dignity; it’s fast becoming a threadbare disguise. “Only to say – goodnight, Lucy.”

She nods with a smile, but she’s looking back out of the window again before he’s even left. She could ask anything she likes of him, and he believes he would do it, whatever it might be, but she won’t ask, and that’s the worst of all.

 

V.

Mina passes from agony to ecstasy in barely more than a minute – but who can measure a dream? She is lost in it, this vision, and will not do anything to break it. Lucy is here with her again; flesh and blood and so much more. Mina cannot be deceived. She knows well these fingers; these fingers that have laced her in and buttoned her up, now loosening more invisible ties: stroking her face, her neck, and cold as winter against her skin, yet drawing out fires from within. Mina has never looked inside herself before, has never understood. Now, she feels, she does, and she is free at last.

“Lucy,” she murmurs again, her heart giving an erratic beat at the sound of that dear name, dizzying her a little more each time she dares, as she returns every kiss, every touch. “Oh, Lucy.”

She will go to Lucy any way she can, she knows. Nothing else matters. The truth of her heart is that nothing else has ever mattered.

 

VI.

Jonathan is now two people. One, in daylight, wants to be free while the other, at night, pines and aches for his lost Master. Both of them are fixed on one other soul: Mina, his wife, his love, his great rival.

She holds his Master’s ring; the one last spark of his Master – she, who is so unworthy of it that she cries out at night for Lucy, always for Lucy, who was nothing but a toy in the Master’s hands. Jonathan is not so deceived: he dreams wild dreams only of the Count, and wakes shaking in terror and rage.

When he does, sometimes she’s standing over him, her hand closed around that signet ring, a thing so familiar to him it cuts at his heart; it maddens him over again.

“You want it, don’t you?” she says, a strange dark light in her eyes as she mocks him. “Perhaps I’ll let you – perhaps if you beg, this time I will.”

He knows she won’t, but he still must bow to his Master, and he begs and howls, all to no avail.

In the morning, Mina is thoughtful and grave again as she walks in sunlight (his poor, brave, sensible Mina), while the night again becomes hazy in his mind, a dim, half-remembered nightmare like too much of this past year. And at dusk and dawn, somewhere between the two, both Jonathans are in agreement: that ring should be his. It’s not her burden to bear. It’s his.