"You really can get anything online these days," Rodney thought as he finished the form on MatchYourType.com. Characteristics desired: Strong (never knew when you'd need some furniture moved), proficient with firearms (or your front door defended), not stupid ("smart" being too much to hope for, he thought), good health (duh, but no telling what kind of dud this middleman would try to sneak past him if he wasn't specific). He stayed entirely away from the "cheerful/friendly" section. He was looking for a person, not a Springer spaniel.
Any special requests? was the last item.
"English speaker willing to relocate to Romania."
"So," John – if that was his real name, which Rodney very much doubted – drawled. "This is what you do all night?"
Rodney had forgotten to mention "not mouthy" on his list of desired characteristics. The guy had been full of questions ever since Rodney picked him up from the airport. "Does it always take that long to get through Customs?" and "Where are we going?" and "When did you buy this car, 1973?" and "Got anything to eat? Besides what you eat, of course," and seriously, how was Rodney supposed to get any thinking done if he had to be concerned with such trivialities all the time? He'd even had to make the guy a sandwich before he'd agree to come down to the lab.
"Essentially," Rodney grunted. He carefully swirled the beaker and noted the change in color. "Hand me that tubing. No, no, not that, the – yes, that one."
"Not going to terrorize any villagers?" the guy pressed. "Snatch some young maidens? Hatch an evil plan?"
Rodney rolled his eyes. Were all thralls from MatchYourType this much work, or did he just get a defective one? "I have way too much research to do to worry about terrorizing peasants and whoring around, thanks."
The guy put his elbows on Rodney's worktable and leaned forward, waggling his eyebrows in what was probably supposed to be a seductive fashion. "You sure?"
Good Lord, what a waste of his time. "Look, I don't know what you've heard, but I have wives. Two pretty, blonde wives."
"Sure you do," the thrall – the impudent, non-deferential thrall; Rodney really regretted not having been thorough enough on the form – replied, smirking.
"They just went out for a pint of blood and a pack of cigarettes," Rodney told him. "They'll be back any time now."
"And when did they leave?"
The vampire muttered his answer.
"I didn't catch that," the thrall said, sounding oddly triumphant.
"1946," Rodney snapped.
"So," the guy said again, and Rodney cut him off.
"Look, I don't know what you think you're here for–" Rodney frowned when the thrall lifted an eyebrow. "Okay, I do know what you think you're here for, but what I actually enslaved you for was to assist me with my experiments. And yes, I know, vampire here, very sexy, very mysterious, very dashing–" He ignored a snort – "but I'm not going to hold back the progress of science just so you can get your rocks off with an immortal."
The thrall looked bored, or possibly dispirited. It wasn't particularly easy to tell on this guy's face. Rodney suddenly felt all of his three hundred and forty-two years.
"God knows you'll just want to leave when you're done anyway," Rodney continued, "and then I'll have to kill you, and then I'll have to find somebody else, and I'll get even further behind in my research, so let's just stay focused here."
"But you –"
Oh, seriously! "Focus!" Rodney barked.
The thrall rolled his eyes and his shoulders at the same time, looking disconcertingly like a panther. Puma? The one that lived in the jungles of wherever with the Mowgli kid and the snake and the big stupid bear. That one. Rodney would have to poke around and see if he had something for the guy to wear other than that skin-tight black tee and hip-hugging black jeans.
"All I was saying," the thrall was saying, "was that you put your tubing in upside down."
Rodney startled. "What?"
"The valve should be on the other side. You're going to get backflow this way."
"Oh," Rodney replied. Huh. The guy wasn't going to be useless after all.
They got the rest of the setup done in a reasonable time. Rodney's genius intellect and various vampiric powers were the driving force, of course, but the thrall did manage not to slow things down too much. Rodney only had to stop to berate him twice, and thankfully the mouthiness tapered off once the thrall had been allowed to eat a meal and have an ale.
"There," Rodney said finally. It was set.
"That's it?" the guy asked, sounding distinctly non-thrilled about it.
"Well, the mixture needs to filter overday," Rodney allowed, "but for now, yes. You know, this is why I don't usually bother doing chemistry. It takes an inordinate amount of time, and stinks up the whole castle, but I really think that this experiment –"
A little hint of a sound – not detectible to human ears – caught Rodney's attention, and then the thrall said, "Oh, would you look at that."
What now? Rodney looked over and sighed. "You didn't."
The guy held up his hand, blood welling up on one fingertip. "Must have cut it on all this glassware," he said, a six-foot stubbly wannabe coquet. "Oh well." He lifted his hand to his mouth, smearing the droplet across his lips before sliding his finger between them.
Hadn't he made this clear? Hadn't he spelled it out in an excruciatingly basic enough manner that even a nincompoop could get it?
The thrall's finger made an obscene, wet pop when he pulled it out of his mouth.
So, obviously not.
"You seriously," Rodney said sternly, "don't want to fuck with me."
"That's where you're wrong."
And feeble puns on top of it all. This was not turning out as Rodney had expected. "You're completely insane, aren't you?"
The guy lifted an eyebrow at him. "I volunteered to be enslaved to a vampire. It kind of goes with the territory."
Point to the crazy man, Rodney had to admit.
"Okay, okay," the thrall sighed. "I may have come into this with certain expectations about, y'know, how hot you'd make being totally at your mercy, but if you really want me to spend the rest of my natural life doing nothing but moving Erlenmeyer flasks around for you and nothing else, then –"
"That's the spirit!" Rodney crowed. Finally, his words had sunk in, and the thrall was getting it. With that attitude, tomorrow night could even be more productive than tonight.
The bored look was back, but no matter. A good day's sleep, and all would be right as rain.
Rain sucked. Rodney couldn't believe he'd forgotten that.
The thrall kept being Flirty McFlirterstein, thrusting a hip or a smile or that ridiculous hair in Rodney's direction when he was supposed to be fetching and washing and paying attention and not getting in the ever-loving (no pun intended) way.
"Look, Thrall," Rodney said, for what had to be the thousandth time, "I'm not interested in carnal whatsahoosits with you; I need someone who can help with the very important work I'm doing instead of slinking around acting the vamp. 'Vamp,' huh, interesting. Anyway. Help. That's what I need from you. You're my assistant, or you're supposed to be, and that's it. I'm not even requiring you to be intelligent, Thrall; I would've got a monkey to do the job if I'd been able to find one that could use the toilet."
"John," the thrall said.
Was the guy paying any attention whatsoever? "You'd prefer I call it the john? Is it really that important to you, what the place you put your poo is called?"
"My name is John." The guy brought his gaze up to meet Rodney's, and wow, he was angry. Rodney hadn't realized the guy's face could show that much affect.
"Whatever," Rodney said.
That was apparently not the right thing to say, because a very fragile beaker containing a very dangerous acid was suddenly high in the air, dangling between two of the guy's fingers.
"Um, dangerous," Rodney pointed out. "Put it down."
"What's my name?" the guy said, beaker going even higher.
"Put it down," Rodney repeated. He wasn't concerned about himself, and really, if the thrall got hurt he'd only have himself to blame, but there was some very important and expensive machinery in here, and oh, the beaker was tilting –
"Want me to put it down?"
Rodney nodded. He had the money, courtesy of compound interest and the boom in antiquing, but it would take time to replace the contraption that was about to be destroyed by a vindictive little impudent – "Yes!" Rodney yelled; the beaker tilted slightly back toward true plumb. "Yes, I want you to put it down."
"What's my name?" Persistent little bugger, this guy was.
The beaker tilted again; the acid sloshed; "John! Your name's John; fine, I promise to use your name if you'll just put that beaker down and not drop it."
The smile on the thrall's – John's – face was more grim than triumphant.
John passed over the soldering iron. "Why didn't you ask for a woman?"
Rodney looked up from the lab bench. "Because the soldering iron would be more useful for getting these wires together?"
With one of the ever-more frequent lip-quirk-smirk things he liked to do, John said, "When you signed up with MatchYourType. If you're straight, why didn't you ask for a woman?"
Precise work on component parts and intrusive personal questions didn't particularly mix, but Rodney decided after last week's fiasco of an argument that ended with John up a tree (literally) and Rodney's blood pressure going through the roof (figuratively), he maybe owed John a tiny modicum of patience. Maybe. It might depend on how well the soldering went.
"I wouldn't say I'm straight. If I had to pick something to call myself, although I don't see what it has to do with the gender of my assistant at all, I guess I'd go with bisexual."
"Really?" Surprise saturated John's voice, which would have been annoying had the wires not joined together perfectly. Mm.
Straightening up (not a pun, really), Rodney stretched out his back. He probably should have asked MatchYourType for someone with a chiropractic degree. "Why couldn't I be bisexual?" he asked as he reached around John to the screwdriver kit.
"Two blonde wives who left in 1946."
He couldn't find the point-eight millimeter screwdriver he was looking for, until he caught a glint of it in John's hair, and pulled it from behind John's ear (his surprisingly pointy, elf-like ear; Rodney hadn't noticed that before).
"That's it?" he asked, turning back to the component. "You hear about two wives over three hundred years and assume I'm straight? Or is it that you're so used to being a lothario that anyone who doesn't jump you in the first week must have an aversion to your entire gender?" Ah ha! The pieces were together; all the solders looked solid; this component was absolutely ready to go. Rodney couldn't be happier. He beamed down at the piece in his hands. "Besides, more than bisexual or whatever-sexual, I prefer to be known as a person who knows how to prioritize."
Lifting the component, he turned toward John. "Doesn't this look great?"
But John wasn't there. The room was empty.
No matter. It was almost daybreak anyway.
Within a week Flirty McFlirterstein had left the building, but Surly Sullenpants had taken his place, and Rodney was getting pretty damn sick of it. Even John's hair seemed gloomy; it drooped and refused to glisten. Not that it had glistened before. Not that Rodney had noticed. No.
He was just tired of getting snapped at left and right, and his research was falling behind schedule, again. Yelling had so far not solved the problem, so he would have to take a different tack.
"What the hell is your problem?" he yelled at John the next time there was a necessary fallow period built into a process.
"Oh, I don't know," John yelled back, his lab coat (of which he'd ripped out the sleeves, which made it kind of ridiculously unhelpful for protection against spills but on the other hand kind of hot, in a Rebel Without a Cause bad-boy scientist way, because he really did have quite powerful-looking guns) fluttering around him in agitation. "Maybe it's that I am bored out of my mind, and if all I have to look forward to for the rest of eternity is this shit, then I'm contemplating asking you to drain me dry right now!"
"Bored? We're advancing the progress of science!"
Snorting, John leaned back against the nearest lab bench and crossed his arms. "You might be advancing science, or you might be making your way through the Mr. Wizard's Supermarket Science book, for all I know."
"Well!" Rodney had never been so affronted! Not even when Sam – well, actually that had been more infuriating, and quite frankly, humiliating rather than affronting. But that did not contradict the point at the moment, which was: "If you can't see the value of this type of research, then your intelligence is even lower than I had suspected. I should've gotten a monkey!"
"Yeah, you should have!" John was angry, eyes alight. "All you ever give me to do is monkey work! Go here, hold this, pass me that, wash this! I'm losing IQ by the day. Charlie in Flowers for Algernon, on the downhill slide. Just kill me now."
"But you're my assistant," Rodney protested. "Assistants assist, hence the title."
"I'll put aside the fact that I signed up to be your thrall, not your lab tech, and just point out the title is 'Assistant,' not 'Scutwork Grunt Who's Never Told Any Farther Ahead Than the Current Step.'"
Another point to the crazy man. Rodney thought about it for a second. (Nanosecond.)
"The longer version wouldn't fit on the business card."
John's eyes narrowed. "Was that a joke?"
"Um, yes?" He'd thought it'd been a joke. He'd intended it to be a joke. He wasn't the best humorist in the world, but every once in a while he was able to get out a jest that was enjoyed –
John snorted, and the corners of his lips crept up. Good. Humor received. John's face was actually kind of nice when he was amused. Huh.
Rodney realized he hadn't ever explained what they were doing to John, because... Well, he didn't know why. He just hadn't. And now he would.
"So," he said, definitely not being unnerved by John's skeptical look, "the aim for my current line of research is to uncover a new element for the Periodic Table. That's the Periodic Table of the Elements, which is –"
"I have a Bachelor of Science, Rodney. I know what the Periodic Table is."
"Yes! I even knew before I got to high school, amazingly enough."
Waving away the sarcasm, Rodney clarified, "You have a Bachelor of Science? In what?"
John sighed. "Aeronautics. Double minor in math and physics."
"Really?" Wow, asking for "not stupid" on the MatchYourType form had obviously been a brilliant idea.
"I was on my way to the Air Force."
"Canadian Forces?" Rodney had specified firearm proficiency, so that made some sense.
But John was shaking his head. What?
"US Air Force. I'm American. Remember?"
"Oh." Rodney hadn't, but it would explain the slight accent. "Well, not everyone's perfect. So I guess if you at least minored in physics, there's some hope that this won't go entirely over your head, so yes, OK, here's what I'm doing. I'm looking for a new element – it might be naturally occurring or we might have to create it – that, if my theories are correct, and there's no reason they wouldn't be, will be the key to a brand new power source. Cleaner and more efficient than anything seen yet."
Looking down, John covered his eyes with a hand. "A new element?"
"Yes." Totally confused. John had wanted to know, to be let in on the goal, and now... what?
"Like how Marie Curie discovered new elements? Like how Carl Scheele discovered new elements?"
Of course, but with more Nobel Prizes. "Um, yes."
"Um, they died from their work."
"They strongly suspect Scheele tasted the results of his experiments; I promise not to make you taste anything."
After a moment of standoff, Rodney relented. "And you're not immortal, so fine. When we get further along, I'll keep you out of the labs, OK? You can work in the residential wing, writing."
"Oh, I can? Thank you. Are you going to tell me the password to your bank account so when you keel over dead, I can buy a plane ticket back to the States?"
Sarcasm. Wonderful. Lovely. "Vampire," Rodney pointed out again, pointing directly at himself. "Im-mor-tal."
John's eyes narrowed again. The squinty look didn't do anything for his appearance at all. "OK," John said, "you can't die. I'm not a doctor, but I seem to recall that cancer makes a lot of people desperately sick for a good long while whether they end up dying or not. Are you sure that won't happen to you? Lingering illness without the croaking part?"
"Vampires don't get cancer."
"And humans didn't get acute radiation syndrome until they started screwing around with radium."
"It's not –"
"You're looking for a brand new element. You can't be sure what its properties are, so when you're convinced you'll be safe, you're extrapolating beyond the reach of your known dataset."
"You have to extrapolate for science."
"Yes. But you also have to know what's too far a reach. Where it's reasonable to make assumptions and where it's not. You want to make a leap of faith that this won't make you sick, I can't stop you." John glared at him for the length of a heartbeat and then muttered, "Literally."
"You're not as dumb as you look."
"But you smell just as bad."
"What are you, five? Besides, you love how I smell."
"No." Face scrunching, John shook his head. "Really... no."
"Every thrall is attracted to the scent of his or her master. It's part of the, uh, deal."
"Does not mean I love it."
"How does –"
John pushed himself away from the lab bench and upright. "Time for lunch." His stride out the door was steady and sure.
The Spanish guitar refrain booming from under John's bedroom door was exquisitely played, but also exquisitely tinny. Not hesitating, Rodney pushed open the door and then winced as the speaker-distorted harshness assaulted his eardrums. "Turn that noise down!"
John complied immediately, shifting from his seat on the bed and stretching out across the desk to tap his laptop's volume button. Relief flooded through Rodney as the volume grew quieter, marred only by the frown on John's face.
"Can't believe you think Willie Nelson is noise. He's an icon of American country and western. How long have you been hiding in Romania?"
"I'm not hiding." Rodney noticed John also had his room light too bright, but decided not to mention it. He could be nice. Really. He could. "I wasn't commenting on the quality of the music, which, now that you have it a reasonable level, actually sounds rather, you know, proficient. Soothing. But the speakers on that laptop are horrible at transmitting – wait. That's my laptop."
"You gave it to me," John pointed out.
"Well, yes, of course." Ignoring the way John had rudely not made room for him to sit on the comfortable mattress, Rodney took the seat at the desk. "It was an extra, and not really all that powerful, so why not let you have it for the internet and the games, and whatever else you want to do on it. But it came from me, and I know what music was on there, and there wasn't any. Well, maybe a clip or two from the factory that spit it out, but there definitely wasn't any of this Wilson."
Shaking his head, John picked up his book again. War and Peace. Long book. Tolstoy really had been a very disagreeable person. "It's Nelson, Willie Nelson," John said. "And I got it online from this obscure little web site called iTunes. You've probably never heard of it."
Rodney turned around to the laptop. "Stop being silly. I have an iTunes account, which you must know, because you must have used it. I'm just wondering how you got in."
Before his fingertips even got to the keys, John rudely batted his hands away. "I used my account, my money. I did have a life before I got here."
"Oh." Rodney hadn't thought about that, about John even having existed before he debarked into the lobby of the airport, looking long and lean and vital. And it made Rodney uncomfortable, in a very odd sort of way, that John was continuing that other life by using an account that pre-dated his life here. It was...
He wasn't sure how, actually, but...
It needed to stop.
"You," Rodney said, fully intending to Command his thrall to shut down the account, but then he looked at John, and John's eyes were hazel. ("And soft as clouds," said some stupid part of his brain that liked to quote 80s prog-rock.) "You should have bought some better speakers. The ones on that computer are crap."
John's lips did the quirk-smirk thing that was not becoming endearing. Not.
"Shipping to Romania's a little cost-prohibitive, even on my budget," John said. ("What budget?" said the not-80s-music-trivia part of Rodney's brain, but it was quickly shushed by the hey-John's-talking-it-might-be-interesting part.) Amusement in his eyes, he brought his feet to the floor and sat up. "Are there any all-night stereo stores in the area we could go hit?"
"I don't know," Rodney replied as he stood and headed toward the door. "I don't go out much. But we could try, and I've got an apartment in Brasov and another in Bucharest, so we could road-trip tomorrow if –" He suddenly realized John hadn't followed and had to turn in the doorway to find him.
He was in the middle of his room, feet planted and arms crossed. What? Did he not like road trips? Carsickness, maybe? Rodney had had that malady as a child – in horse-drawn carriages, but those were practically the same – with really unfortunate consequences. "If you don't want to go the whole way by car, we could maybe go by train."
"You don't get out much?" John asked.
"Busy, which you know, so no." Rodney was at a loss.
"If you're not going out, and you're not starving, where are you eating?"
Did John have amnesia? "In the kitchen with you, or in the lab when we're too busy to stop, or in the dining room when you get it into your head that the kitchen's too dingy or whatever that word is that you decide the kitchen is too much of."
John's head was shaking and his lips were tight. "Not food-food. Your food."
It was all Rodney's food. He bought it all, and yes, John usually ordered and prepared it, but still.
Obviously the confusion showed on Rodney's face (or in his hands, which were rolling in the universally understood 'keep going' motion), because John snorted in a frustrated-sounding way and snapped, "Blood."
Oh, that. "I get it from you."
"I take it from you while you sleep. More efficient that way; we get more done while you're awake, and it's not like I need as much sleep as you anyway." Hurriedly trying to assuage John's offended look, Rodney clarified, "Not that you sleep a lot! You don't. Regular, normal human amount of sleep; it's just that I happen to need less. Couple of hours and a cup of coffee, and I'm good to go."
The offended look didn't go away. If anything, it grew stormier, more offended.
"What?" Rodney asked. (He didn't beg. No, he didn't. Vampires didn't beg, and Rodney especially didn't beg.)
"You've been taking my blood."
"Of course. You're my thrall."
Rodney shrugged. "Every other day or so. Depends on what I'm working on."
"Without my knowledge, without my consent."
Still lost. John had signed up to be the thrall of a vampire. Signed up, and was eager, and spent his first weeks in the castle almost begging Rodney to stop working and bite him, so... What was this? "You're my thrall," was all Rodney could think to say. "You want me to use you. You said so."
He could swear that John's hair stood up a little bit taller at that. The grinding sound he identified as John's molars; the rise in temperature was blood rushing to John's face.
"Not when I'm unconscious," John said, voice a half-octave lower than normal. "Not without letting me have a say in it."
'A say in it'? What did that mean? It couldn't mean what Rodney thought it did, could it? Really? "You're mad at me for not giving you an opportunity to display a pretense of free will we both know you don't have?"
John shoved Rodney out of his room; Rodney was too surprised to resist.
"You're an asshole," John snarled, and slammed the door shut.
"But at least I make sense!" Rodney yelled through the closed door, before being driven away by a hundred and ten decibels of shrill dissonance.
He wasn't surprised when John didn't show up for work that night, or the night after. Disappointed, but not surprised.
Two nights without John was bearable. Not, you know, good, but bearable. Rodney left food by John's bedroom door every twilight (wincing at the loud music still emanating) and spent the rest of his time in the lab. John would come down when he was over the snit; Rodney was sure of it.
Three nights without John was not quite as bearable as two. Rodney had a hard time concentrating on his experiments and eventually had to put all chemicals away before he blistered or dissolved something too valuable to replace.
Four nights without John was when Rodney started to get angry. What kind of thrall would try to deny his vampire, his lord and master? A thrall couldn't do that! Literally could not do it, due to either pheromones or mental imprinting, depending on whether you believed biological or psychoanalytical theorists. Rodney didn't particularly believe either of them, but he did believe evidence, and evidence had clearly demonstrated that a thrall had no capacity to deny the wishes of a vampire. None. It was thoroughly bewildering that John, who had previously shown great faculty for rational thought, was attempting to deny reality. Foolish.
Five nights without John.
So tired. Rodney was so tired. Too tired to get up from this stool, too tired to lift his head off the workbench. Tired.
He could still read, though, when the print would settle itself down and pause from dancing across the page, pause from swimming on the paper and in the paper, fleeing from the pitch-black jellyfish that floated here and there...
Fingers were on his face and a thumb pried up his left eyelid.
"Are you drunk?" asked a familiar voice.
Even moving his eyeball was exhausting, but Rodney did it, so he could bring a face into focus and confirm it really was John.
Rodney smiled against the cool metal of the workbench, and answered him. "No. Tired."
"You look drunk," John replied. He had his arms crossed now, and a frown on his face, but his temperature wasn't elevated. Maybe he wasn't so angry at Rodney any more. Maybe.
Rodney shut his eyes again and let gravity press his forehead even harder against the metal. "Hungry," he whimpered.
"When's the last time you ate?"
Asking Rodney to remember dates when he was this tired was kind of mean. But he'd try. For John. "Thursday?" That could be right or could be wrong, so he'd say it in a way he knew for sure. "Five nights ago."
"Five nights ago?"
John smelled good, and suddenly the scent grew stronger. John had moved closer again, had brought over a stool and sat on it.
"Mmm," Rodney said, and then, "Ow!" John had smacked him on the top of the head. It stung but he was too tired to even rub it.
"You're not supposed to go longer than four days. Hypoglycemic; you wrote it in your application. You didn't go out and find a passerby to ravage?"
Why did John always ask such hard questions? "Didn't..." Rodney abandoned that sentence in favor of something simpler. "I wanted you."
Pressure on his forehead, pushing his head up off the table, and then there was the most gorgeous-smelling vein right under his nose, right under his mouth. John's wrist.
"Drink before you pass out, you idiot."
Rodney did, and it was good. Delicious. Behind the roar of hunger finally being fulfilled, he could feel John's arousal. Good. Good. His thrall.
Still feeding (but carefully, not taking too much), Rodney stroked his thumb across John's fingers. John couldn't move that hand – his wrist being in Rodney's mouth – but he curled his fingers up, very clearly moving them away from Rodney's touch.
The vampire licked his thrall's wound closed, and let John go.
When Rodney arrived at the lab the next night, John was already there, in his self-modified lab coat, setting up instrumentation.
"So we're good?" Rodney ventured to ask.
"Got bored in my room," was all John would say.
Despite the quiet (the lonely sort of legato rest between them), the night turned out to be quite productive. Rodney felt comfortable stopping an hour earlier than usual.
John looked at him quizzically. "We're done?"
"I have something for you," Rodney said, hopefully. "To help with the boredom."
John seemed dubious, but he did follow Rodney out of the lab and through the kitchen, through the back garden and the orchard to one of the stone outbuildings.
Rodney had spent the past nights thinking about John – missing John – and he'd remembered this little relic he had tucked away years ago.
He threw open the building's door and escorted John in with a flourish. "For you!"
"A cold ink-black room is for me? You shouldn't have."
Oh, yes. Rodney had forgotten how poorly humans saw in the dark. "I think I have a flashlight around here somewhere. Hold on."
As he bent to search for it, he felt John's hands reach out for him. "This isn't funny, Rodney."
"No, no, not meant to be," he replied, and sent warm thoughts in John's direction. "It'll just be a second; hold on; ah, here." He found an electric lantern – with any luck the batteries were good... Yes, they were. He held the lamp up high toward John's present. "This is what's for you."
"That's a helicopter," John said as he snatched the lantern away and held it closer to the vehicle for a better look.
"Yes, it is," said Rodney proudly. "It crashed on the back acres of the estate in '91."
John climbed into the cockpit. "It's Soviet."
"I thought the pilot tasted Russian."
Rodney waited for John to stare at him before smiling. "I'm kidding. Most of the writing on the instrumentation is Cyrillic, although there's some symbology that I've never seen before. I fooled around with the 'copter for a while, trying to get it to fly again, but then I got bored. You said you had the degree in Aeronautics, so I thought you might want to take a shot at it."
With the lantern on the floor of the helicopter, John had run his hands across the instrumentation lightly, the way a musician might get used to the "feel" of piano keys before playing. "No one ever came to get this?"
"It was August of '91. They were busy with the coup." Rodney shrugged and watched John start a second perusal of the cockpit's panels. "Like it?"
"It's all right," John said nonchalantly, but Rodney could hear the pleasure underneath.
Things were better after that, but not so much better as to reach the level of what one might call "good." Even with the side project of fixing up the helicopter to amuse him, John still was brooding and withdrawn. He started locking his bedroom door while he slept, and while that wasn't a physical deterrent to a vampire, it was rather an insult.
In exchange, though, at the end of each night in the lab John would look at Rodney, say "Yeah, whatever," and shove his arm into Rodney's face. The first time Rodney thought about refusing, but then he thought about passing out from low blood sugar, and sucked that sweet little vein into his mouth.
The blood was delicious as always – John had a gorgeously strong heart – but somehow Rodney was never quite satisfied when he was done. He'd feel John's arousal but that arousal never peaked. Didn't even come close to peaking, most nights.
"I don't get it," Rodney said to Elizabeth, when he was finally able to get her on the phone. Cell reception was awful around the castle, and in Elizabeth's neck of the woods, too. So to speak; it wasn't like Armenia had a lot of forests to surround her.
"It seems rather obvious to me, Rodney," she replied.
Well, of course it does, he thought sarcastically, and then pulled back behind his mental shield as she chided him for not being nice.
"Can you just come?" he asked, and was utterly relieved when she agreed to do so.
She arrived three days later, looking as elegant as always. Rodney led her into the library where John was waiting. John was looking good today, hair at its shiniest, jeans at their snuggest. Rodney couldn't help a little frisson of pride as he introduced them.
"This is Elizabeth Weir, my – well, 'sire' I guess you'd say, except she's female, hence the 'she.'" Impatient with himself for not having the right word handy, Rodney tapped his foot. "My 'lady'? No, that makes it sound like we're living together in the seventies. My... 'mother'? No. No no no, not with the sex and the dominating, and now we're going into Freudian territory –"
He looked over to Elizabeth. "Yes?"
"'My sire' works just fine. And this is?" She gestured toward John, who, Rodney was relieved to see, wasn't quite as scowl-y as usual.
"Oh. Yes. That's John. My thrall."
John nodded politely. "Pleased to meet you."
"Same." Elizabeth turned back to Rodney. "Please don't leave me at a disadvantage."
"I believe John must have a last name."
"Oh." Well, yes, John had a last name, but damned if Rodney could remember what it was. "Um... Steuben?" According to the disparaging look on John's face, that wasn't it. "Or Wolfe?" It'd been on the paperwork from MatchYourType, and Rodney had a photographic memory, so if he could just recall the time he'd looked at the paperwork. He had looked at the paperwork, hadn't he?
"It's Sheppard," John said, and offered his hand for Elizabeth to shake. "John Sheppard."
Elizabeth beamed as if she'd been handed two virgins and a pair of Silly Straws. "A lovely name," she said, as both her hands enveloped his, and – Was the thrall blushing? Seriously?
"Rodney's a lucky man," she continued, and yes, John was definitely blushing, and his eyes were smiling, and Elizabeth wasn't letting go of his hands.
"Yes, well," Rodney insisted.
The two of them slowly (slowly!) turned toward Rodney, their hands falling to their sides. They didn't move away from each other, though, which was disgruntling. He needed to get them out of here before they fell into each other's arms. "How about dinner?" he said, and the spell was – thankfully – broken. "John's not that bad a cook."
Elizabeth reached out toward John, clearly wanting to be escorted to the dining room, but Rodney was quick (vampire powers had their benefits) and managed to get Elizabeth on his arm instead of John's. He ignored John's sarcastic little snort and showed Elizabeth the way. Not that she didn't know. Not that she hadn't been here a hundred times. But Elizabeth was a fan of protocol, things just so, and Rodney had to admit that at least that was easier, knowing in detail exactly what she wanted.
Dinner was quite good. A root vegetable thing that Rodney pushed around his plate without eating, wonderful bread from the local bakery, and thick, freshly butchered steak. John had charred his helping beyond recognition, but had left the beef for Rodney's and Elizabeth's portions in its juicy natural state.
"Mmm," Rodney commented. "You used a great sauce on this."
Elizabeth gestured gently with her fork. "There's no sauce on the meat, Rodney."
"He means 'marinade,'" John put in. "He can't seem to remember the difference between the two."
"Well, why should I have to remember?" Rodney was a firm believer in efficient use of mental resources. "You're the expert on cooking, and the results are so exemplary there's no need for me to get involved. It might even be counterproductive."
He couldn't figure out why Elizabeth was smiling at him, so he went back to eating. John'd made chocolate cake for dessert, and he wanted to get to that as soon as possible.
"Oh, John," Elizabeth moaned as John looked at her with (what Rodney would secretly admit was utterly sexy) smug satisfaction.
"This cake is perfection."
John shrugged an aw-shucks shoulder, and Rodney would have rolled his eyes if he'd had the energy to rouse out of his blissful satiation.
Collecting the dessert plates from the coffee table, John murmured something about doing the dishes and left Elizabeth and Rodney to loll in the lounge room.
"He's marvelous," Elizabeth said out loud when they could hear John had made it to the kitchen. "A true keeper."
"I know." John was a keeper, only Rodney didn't seem to be doing a very good job of keeping him, and he couldn't figure out why. "It's... I can't explain it."
"So let me in," Elizabeth murmured.
Rodney punched in the password to his thoughts and opened his mental arms. His sire slid in, her presence a soothing sea-blue, and Rodney relaxed. She could see – feel – every snarl and knot, every rough patch, every thought and feeling Rodney had thrown into the bin marked 'Deal with Later.'
When she retreated, Rodney looked over at her. There was fondness on her face, and he didn't feel worthy of it.
"It seems quite obvious to me," she said.
"I hate it when you say that," he muttered.
"Call John," she directed. "Call him to you."
Rodney hadn't done this before. He'd talked to him out loud, of course, yelled across the lab, and snapped his fingers, and even IMed him a few times, but he'd never reached out along their connection. It felt awkward. Maybe a little bit right, but also awkward.
"'So, OK, yeah, get in here'? You really think that's an appropriate summon?" Elizabeth asked.
"It did the job," Rodney pointed out as John walked in the room.
Stopping a few feet away from the settees on which Rodney and Elizabeth were sitting, John looked at each of them in turn. "You wanted something?"
Say, "You," Elizabeth thought to Rodney. Had his sire always been such a goopster? Sheesh.
"I was thinking," Rodney started. But because that was a lie, he didn't have anything right at hand to finish the sentence with. Um, um; Elizabeth could stop whispering to him at any point now because he wasn't going to say that, and – "How's it going with the helicopter?"
John blinked. "Fine," he replied, the syllable drawn out in clear surprise.
"I thought maybe you might want to show it to Elizabeth, since you've been working so hard on it. She likes flying things as much as the next person."
John's face lit up. "Well, it's not flying yet, because I've had so much to re-build and repair. And some of the technology is very strange Soviet stuff that we had no clue existed when I was in the Air Force. But," he said cheerfully, "I think she's ready to welcome a lady aboard."
"Aircraft are female," John said, implying but not verbalizing a duh.
"And you know this by... their XX chromosomes?"
Elizabeth laughed and rose from her seat. "Ignore him," she said as she took John's arm.
"I frequently take that advice," John replied, with a formal, almost courtly gesture toward the doorway.
Rodney rolled his eyes as he followed them out to the helicopter.
Elizabeth seemed duly impressed with the aircraft, hm-ing and ooh-ing at all the right places during John's spiel, and even asking an intelligent question or two.
"But even when I get it ready," John concluded, "I still won't be taking it up." He let out a short, light sigh, barely audible unless you happened to be a vampire.
Concern suffusing her face, Elizabeth asked, "Why not?"
"Don't want to attract attention. A twenty-year-old Soviet helicopter is kind of out of the ordinary, even for this area, and it could get uncomfortable if people start asking questions."
"I'm sure Rodney has a story to address any inquiries from nosy neighbors," responded Elizabeth.
Actually, Rodney didn't. Even before he'd been turned into a vampire, "grumpy and reclusive" had been a sufficient barrier to keep people away.
Barrier. Barrier. Why was that word provoking something in him? He turned back to the diagrams he'd been perusing before while John had been showing off the 'copter.
"Wait, wait. Look at these schematics." Rodney drew them out triumphantly. "What does that look like to you?"
"Arabic?" John asked.
"Not the lettering, the pictures. What do the pictures look like?"
John brought the lamp closer and peered down. "It's a shield," he said. "This baby has a shield."
"Yes, it does," Rodney confirmed. "And I think, based on what I know about the properties of light, which is a lot, that I should with a little bit of time be able to reverse the polarity and turn the shield into a cloak."
"A cloak. Like to keep it off radar."
"Like to make it invisible," Rodney clarified. He pointed to the relevant specs. "Here and here, with the proper adjustment, we should be able to make it bend light so that not only would radar and sonar not pick the 'copter up, the human eye wouldn't either. Certain species of bat might be able to sense it, but then again bats can't call the local police force and convince them to knock on our door."
John looked seconds away from levitating on his own power. "Invisible. We could go fly without anyone seeing us."
"That is what invisible means, yes."
Elizabeth whispered a mild rebuke for the sarcasm, but John let it slide.
"We could fly."
"Well, you could fly," pointed out Rodney.
John's lips twisted. "You wouldn't come with me?"
"Of course I would, if you wanted me to. I just mean that you're the pilot, not me, so it'd be your show."
John looked at Rodney again and held eye contact for longer than he had in weeks, and their connection began to... hum. Glow. Softly at first, and then louder. It was honey, thick and succulent. The breeze of a restful twilight.
That's love, Elizabeth whispered to Rodney.
Butt out, he whispered back, and she did, retreating from his mind with a dignified chuckle and walking out of the building after a cordial wave to John.
"So," John said.
"So," Rodney replied, captivated and hungry. "If you want to do this anywhere but here, you should let me know now, because I don't know how much longer I can hold off."
"Here's good," John said, and they fell on each other. Lips and tongues and fingertips – Rodney wanted to learn the scent of every inch of John's skin, and John seem similarly inclined to explore, even finding the ticklish spots below his left ear and next to his ribcage.
It was a good ten minutes before Rodney was ready to settle in on a vein. By that time John was almost begging; please – please was coming out of him in steady rolling waves.
Of course, Rodney reassured him. Anything for you.
Biting down was like heaven. Each drop of blood was a bubble of ecstasy, exploding in on itself and then out, and Rodney wondered if it was possible to pass out from pleasure.
If he fell, he'd fall into John's arms, so it was certainly worth trying to find out. He clinched John closer, breathing the scent of his hair, feeling the sing of his nerves. John was his, John was aroused, John was happy.
Rodney sunk his teeth in a little deeper; John moaned and scrabbled against Rodney's lower back.
The stimulation from John's erection was getting urgent. It had to be assuaged; they needed the relief of the peak. Cupping John's sensuous, delectable, perfect-for-his-palms ass, Rodney brought John's body closer to his. Against me; against me, he urged. I've got you; I'm here; come get what you need.
Groaning, John began to move against him, against his hip, against his groin. The friction was delicious, and satisfying, and John was in his arms, and he was in John's, moving together until orgasm shuddered through them both.
"Oh," Rodney said when next he could breathe. "We are so doing that again."
"Too sleepy," John said from against Rodney's shoulder. He was resting limply in Rodney's embrace, exhausted and full at the same time. "But soon."
"Sure," Rodney replied, as he stroked a hand down the side of John's face. "Whenever you want."
John's smile was one of the most gorgeous things Rodney had ever seen.