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...