Hunger is not a foreign notion to Mina Harker. When one has lived with peculiar circumstances such as hers, one adapts and accepts that hunger will be a constant staple of existence.
Still, finding herself collapsed in a corridor—half-blind from pain of varying origins and quite literally starving—is a new experience. One she never asked for.
A life at sea is ill-suited to her needs. The avoidance of people, of humanity, is a relief but equally a curse. People mean blood: food, sustenance, that which she requires to continue living. The sea offers no such assistance. Her companions, nearly brothers by virtue of knowing her secret and entrusting theirs in turn, likewise offer no aid. She would never ask it. What she needs to live will kill them to give.
She attempts self-medication with the captain’s meals. It amounts to nothing: everything tastes of ash.
The hunger grows unbearable. She sees things as they should not be seen. Wine looks too red in its glass. The pulse of one, two, all four comrades, thrumming an enticing beat. Veins highlight bright beneath skin. It goes on for weeks.
Then, at dinner, Sawyer interrupts idle conversation with a low curse. He’s cut himself. The doctor is the first to assist. The captain quietly remarks on American talent: to slice a finger instead of the fish. Skinner offers a drink, to “take the edge off”.
Mina feels herself go white. And nearly lunge for the finger pulsing hot red blood.
She hurls herself out the door instead without proper excuse. The polite mannerisms of a proper English lady are not for her life. Not anymore.
She tries for her quarters but fails. Her skirts barely cushion the fall. The urge to shriek her suffering nearly triumphs, before she sinks teeth into hand and stifles it.
No relief comes. Her veins are dry.
“Mrs. Harker!” and she tenses, prepared to repay the doctor’s concern with a furious warning; his hands set at her shoulders, timidity forgotten and abandoned, and she loses righteous indignation to the sheer volume of how much pain she feels.
“Please…” she’s whimpering, like a terrified animal; she wonders if such behavior is insulting, even demeaning, before deciding it doesn’t matter, “Please, don’t touch me.”
Dr. Jekyll (she wonders if the right is hers to call him Henry) pauses; it reassures, to know he respects her enough to not ignore such pleadings—consider them, even. But ultimately he is a doctor, a man of healing and medicine, so she resigns herself to his defiance. Instead, she accepts his mumbled apology and allows a moment of pleasure amidst pain: to be carried a man’s arms and not fear the embrace.
He lays her on a bed (whose, she does not care). Tells her to not move. She hears rustling. Urgent movements.
Then she falls from consciousness entirely.
Mina awakens to a wet cloth attempting to quell a raging fever. She feels sweat, cold, dampening bedsheets and clothing. (At some point, he undressed her but covered in turn with linen.) In a different moment, suffering a tamer ailment, she might look at him now, in a state of casual informality seen only once before, and appreciate the leanness of his form, long fingers and pale skin; the way light falls pleasantly on the auburn hair and brightens it like a flame.
As it is, all she sees is the steady tick-tock of his pulse.
The doctor turns. He wears a strangely apprehensive look. She wonders if he might be perplexed at her illness; thinks he must be. Even a man of his experience cannot be familiar with circumstances as these.
He clears his throat. Steps forward. “I…” again, he swallows, “I’m not entirely sure how to do this.”
And that’s when she realizes the collar of his shirt is open. Open wide enough to bare the throat.
“No.” Mina shakes her head and the room spins.” No.”
“I’m not afraid, Mrs. Harker.” He insists, and she thinks he might only be lying a little bit. “And you…you need this.”
“No.” she presses; her hunger, the parts of her ravenous need which see every vein and artery in blinding detail, disagree entirely. But she can’t. She won’t. “Not yours. Not like this!”
But really, a cruel voice mocks from her conscience, when would you oblige? If not when you’re starving, little miss Mina, then when?
She whimpers. Tears burn, pooling thick at her eyes. She wants—but she won’t. She won’t! “Leave me be, Doctor.” She growls; bares teeth to emphasize the point. He is a soft-spoken man, and if she can’t frighten him off, maybe the respect, the admiration he has for her, will earn compliance.
He surprises her entirely.
“Listen to me, Mina!” he has hands on her shoulders, gentle but unyielding, and she is unsure which shocks more: the fact he actually gathered courage to touch her or forgo polite formality and address her as an intimate, “You could be dying! I have nothing to help you; no other way to be of use—save this. So, please, just…”
(Let me save you: it follows, unsaid but spoken plain in his silence. I won’t let you die is quick to add itself, in the fiery resolve of pale eyes. Grey eyes, like a stormy dawn.)
She wishes for the presence of mind to call him dramatic, in this assumption of Death. Regrettably, she thinks he may very well understand. Better than herself. And the reality trumps her independent, self-righteous, pride.
Fingertips brush, soft, trembling, over an exposed forearm. She traces paths only seen by wanting bloodlust. His breaths slow: deliberately measured. She feels a pulse tap beneath her touch. Tick-tock. Tick-tock-tock. And blood: hot, red, living, blood.
Mina exhales. She surrenders.
“No matter what it takes,” she speaks not to the doctor, who she genuinely believes would die to let her live, but to the other: the man-beast who looks at her with admiration (and other things: things she cannot dwell on for fear she might come to invite each and every one) but will equally fight to exist, “do not let me kill you.”
Her teeth sink easily into his flesh. The blood surges to her greedy tongue. His pained gasp is ignored. She can be bothered with nothing beyond taking her fill.
His taste surprises her. It lacks the bitterness of most men: polluted by liquor and tobacco. It is not light, like the young innocent she took once and has carried in guilt ever since. He is light on the tongue, almost sweet, like an indulgence of chocolate; something clings to the aftertaste. Dark. Smoky. Addictive. It beckons to primal urges; carnal desires she denies in a vain attempt to remain a proper lady.
She forgets why, why she ever despaired of such things, as this glorious taste glides down her throat, churns life in her veins, and settles deep in her core: a place left barren and cold for so long, now heated and aching with want.
Images filter across the inner eye: visions which are not hers. They are inconsistent, and equally contrasting. She sees herself, hair a shimmering drape of red silk and skin flawless: a Madonna, a figure worthy of adoration. Nearly celestial; every detail highlighted with the kind of devoted-longing kept at a distance but burning undimmed. Angel—but also a demon. A creature of eyes too dark and teeth too white, too sharp: in these portraits, she is a vision in red, red blood stained and dripping. The surge of lust is not hers, but she welcomes it.
(In both, no matter her countenance, she wears the scarf: the wall behind which secrets are kept and ugliness is hidden. Neither strips her of it, nor do they contradict its purpose. Her flaws remain. She is wanted in spite of it. Because of it.)
Henry (she officially declares him an intimate) leans into her. He grows tired but not frail; not to his last heartbeat. She slows her greed and lets calm settle over sated desire. Her fangs retract. She takes one last lap at the bleeding punctures. Sweet. Heady. Intoxicating.
She draws her own blood next: a small bite to her palm. It is a balm, an ointment no medicine can match. With it, she sews his wounds closed as if never existent. His quiet sigh is of relief. Then she lingers a kiss over his arm, pale skin and blue veins. His next sigh carries something deeper in pitch.
“Shhh…” fingertips play lightly along unseen paths. His pulse stutters. She thinks of the gentle flow across her tongue; can still taste it. Taste him. She kisses again: deeper, insistent.
His breath flutters over clothed skin. Her chemise is thin, but still a barrier. She nearly growls. Flesh bare, pressed to flesh, is the wanting of urges no longer cast aside and repelled.
(She does not growl, but she doesn’t lay idle about it.)
Henry starts at the first touch to his shirtfront. “I—” he quivers, “Mina—Mrs. Harker, w-we…that is—” now he falters, even for a moment, and she wonders if it is Edward in his head or the slow ascent of lips along his throat, “…we cannot. It…it would be wrong…”
She laughs: a low breathless sound. “You, Henry, are thought dead by those you once called friends. I am out-casted by society: the widow ravished by a foreigner, deceased by her husband, and now among a host of men not my relation. Could anything possibly make us right?”
Her palm drags warm and heavy down his chest. The poor man must be warring frantically with his second-self—and losing, for the sounds made are not protesting. Mina elects to not allow a chance for such to change.
“But this is right.” She murmurs; it might be the most honest thing she’s believed in a long time. “I want this, Henry. I want you.”
(It startles her, how sincerely she means these words. She has not wanted anyone for years. Cared for, yes. Believed she loved, yes. But never , not with such ferocity. She wants to bathe him in her scent. Smother him. Consume all of him, this man-divided who suits her and compliments all she is with terrifying precision. She wants to desire, be desired, and not care about propriety and stifling confines of femininity. For once, let her be selfish and not fear repercussions.)
The kiss is an accident made when he tilts his head down at the exact moment she leans upward; still, he doesn’t withdraw. He tests her carefully, presses more deliberately, and she delves a hand into his hair. (Soft, thick; cool within her grasp.) The other resumes work on starched white cotton until it lies open and she finally finds bare skin.
He whispers her name, again. It sounds like a prayer.
As a doctor, exploration is his way. She breathes slow, at peace, and basks in every fascinated touch. Here, in this suspended moment, she feels virgin. His are the first hands to roam across bare skin, adore curves, and lips to kiss at random.
While he is preoccupied with the gentle roll of hips, rocking without haste, she takes the scarf and pulls. Pulls until it is a conquered enemy dead in her hands. Pale eyes dart upward. He sees the secret unveiled, but does not allow for explanations.
“My God,” he breathes, raptured gaze and ghosting fingertips; terror seizes her at the first touch, where no other has dared or desired, and then— “You are beautiful.”
Such raw displays make this more than a game of wanting—but did she not invite as much, to bring her greatest shame, her only vulnerability, into this? Perhaps, terrible thought it is, she wants more. Wants something—needs something to which she has no right. Wants—Needs—
Her breath catches around his name. He kisses them, these beastly scars which earned a dead husband’s disgust and stole her right to be desired as a wife, and tears coat her eyelids.
—Love. She longs for love when it is not hers to have. Society has forsaken her. Jonathan rejected her. Dorian betrayed her. She is a monster and monsters do not deserve love.
(But can a monster be loved by a monster?)
She thinks it just might be so.