Author: shirogiku, Shaitanah
Timeline: post-vampire revolution
Summary: Hal Yorke took three things from Rook: his job, his integrity and his faith. To get them back, Rook gambles everything he's got left. [Hal/Rook, Hal/Cutler]
Disclaimer: Being Human belongs to Toby Whithouse and the BBC. Quotes from The Lord’s Prayer; Rookileaks 4; Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde.
A/N: We regret nothing.
“The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole world fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald, "The Great Gatsby"
Not a speck of lint on his immaculate grey suit, Rook walked past a row of empty cells and fastidiously washed his hands on his way out of the block. He had released all the Type 3s and disposed of the Type 2s. No more loose ends.
The government had collapsed but, for a year and a half, the Department of Domestic Defence had stood strong. Rook’s men eluded the newly assembled “police force”, utilising every resource that remained at their disposal. They collaborated with the budding resistance, arranged escapes of refugees and generally made themselves a thorn in the new regime's side.
And yet, they were hunted down one by one, smoked out of their underground shelters, brutally tortured, interrogated, killed and sometimes recruited.
Rook sat down at his desk, straightened out the stationery and placed his stopwatch where he could see it. Then he took a deep breath and opened the drawer, taking out his revolver.
He had watched the flood wash over the world, powerless to stop it. His lifetime’s work had been reduced to nil. There would be no place for a man like him on a hypothetical Noah’s Ark; death was the only logical conclusion and he would meet it on his own terms.
He did always believe his job would be the end of him.
There were footsteps drawing near and his hand swerved without firing the shot
“You won't be needing this.” The vampire wrenched the revolver out of Rook’s hand.
He had made Rook miss the sixty-seconds mark and the subsequent scheduled appointment.
Rook flashed him an irritated look as he jolted to his feet and took a wooden cross out of his breast pocket. He pressed it to the creature’s face, raising his voice over the sound of his heartbeat and driving every word home:
Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.
A slow, hungry smile spread over the vampire’s face, even as the other ones hissed and shielded their eyes. “Rook. You're the leader of this merry band of rogues, aren't you? I suppose I'm lucky then.” He pulled away from the cross slightly and pressed a playful kiss to it.
Rook mouthed, “An Old One...” His composure slipped. “Yorke.” The name spoke for itself.
The henchmen recovered and moved to cut off his escape routes.
Rook darted away, looking around frantically. The stake and the revolver were out of reach. He rammed his hand into his pocket, producing... his favourite pen.
Yorke watched him with amused air.
“Pleasant as this tête-à-tête has been...” Rook angled his hand to stab himself in the neck.
Yorke snapped his fingers and his men restrained Rook mid-motion. He thrashed against them, to no avail. The cross hadn’t kept them at bay. It lay on the floor, useless.
Yorke sighed and took the pen away. “Oh, a quality writing utensil. Are there any more of you, or are you the last man standing?”
Rook met Yorke's eyes. “The last one. You’ve won.” His voice faltered. “I implore you, end this quickly.”
“Well, since you're asking so nicely.” Yorke sauntered up to him and stared at him for a moment, making him shiver.
He touched Rook's lips with the tip of the pen and trailed it down his chin and down his neck. He stopped to the left, at the pulse point. “No, I think I've changed my mind.” He gestured at his men to take Rook away.
Rook’s eyes widened. “No! Please, don't do this! You have nothing more to gain!”
He didn't have to imagine what they did to their prisoners - he knew it - and it was losing his dignity and his integrity that frightened him most.
Yorke drawled, “There's always something to gain. You of all people should know that, Mr Rook.”
He ordered one of his men to confiscate the remaining archive materials, then seal off the place, and left the room ahead of them.
Rook hung his head low until Yorke was gone and they were outside, and resumed shouting the prayer, breaking free. He ran for the trees but caught a blow to the head before he reached them.
He went down, dimly hearing someone say, “Spry little partisan.” He felt a kick in the ribs as he passed out.
* * *
He came to on a cell bench, his palms dirty and his throat sandpaper dry, the residual ache rooted seemingly in every nerve. They had clearly mistaken him for a punching bag.
He sat up groggily and noticed Yorke waiting just outside the cell. Yorke smiled. “Good evening, Mr Rook. How are you feeling?”
He had been stripped of all personal items, as though he was the criminal. He schooled his expression into a mask of politeness. “Good evening, Mr Yorke. Quite well, given the circumstances.”
“Would you like anything? A glass of water perhaps?” Yorke’s tone was pleasant. ”You sound... raspy.”
“My revolver, of course.” He coughed. “Water would be marvellous, though.”
Yorke gestured at the guard, then took out Rook’s revolver. “Beautiful weapon. Where did you get it?”
Rook answered circumspectly, “I served in the Army.”
“Oh? In what rank if you don't mind me asking?” The guard brought water and Yorke held it out to him. It was in a paper cup - for safety.
“Lieutenant.” He stood up slowly and approached the cell bars, reaching out for the cup, but Yorke didn't relinquish the hold immediately. As a result, he had to bend his neck at an awkward angle. Their fingers brushed - Yorke’s were colder.
“Tell me, Lieutenant.” Yorke put the gun to Rook's forehead. “Why are you so eager to die?”
Rook looked at him steadily. “The job was my life. There is no place for me in your brave new world.”
“You are a fighter for a cause. We have got a cause. Fight for it.”
“You can't be serious!” He flinched in disgust and then regained his composure. “I'm afraid I must decline your generous offer, Mr Yorke.”
Yorke chuckled at his outburst. “Shall we play a game, Mr Rook? There is one round remaining in this gun. I'm going to pull the trigger now and if it fires, then... well, you'll get your wish granted obviously. But if it doesn't... you will reconsider my proposal.”
Little wonder they had made Yorke their spokesman.
He drew a sharp breath, weighing the pros and cons. One chance in six. “Let it never be said that you play fair, Mr Yorke.” His hands were shaking a little. “I agree to your game.” If only because one chance in six was better than zero.
For a single moment, he dared to hope for swift deliverance. Yorke pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. “Looks like I win.”
He would have liked to take that blow without embarrassing himself any further but his knees buckled and his hands squeezed the bars in silent rage.
Yorke put the revolver away. “I should say there is certain poetic justice about a hunter ending up in a cage. How many of our kind have perished in your holding cells?”
“I could give you the exact figures.” The irony wasn't lost on him. “It was all for the greater good. You spoke of a cause - but what could possibly drive you if not your greed and malevolence?”
“Ah yes, the greater good. It reaps legendary tributes, far greater than a whole army of vampires ever could, and I have led several of those in my time. And yet, I see no particular good in this world.” Yorke smiled icily. “You could say I personally fight for equality. And evolution.”
“There was balance, which you have so gleefully destroyed. There could be no equality between vampires and your food of choice. There never was. That was why men like me existed in the first place. And the word 'evolution' never goes out of style with demagogues.”
Yorke laughed. “Would you blame the Homo Sapiens for evolving from its lesser ancestors? I don't think so. As for the balance, you would know all about that, would you not? Your people were there in the sixteenth century when the clerics tore out our teeth and chopped our heads off. You trailed us with stakes and crucifixes, locked us up in monasteries, drowned us in holy water and trapped us in burning buildings. And remind me, will you: what were those holding cells in your archives for? Experiments?”
He said through gritted teeth, “Containment. You always reap what you sow: mindless chaos and violence. I shall not list your sins against humanity - it would take hours merely to get started.”
“You wouldn't judge a tiger for being a carnivorous beast. I suggest you stop judging us, too.” Yorke opened the cell and came in. “The sooner the better. Trust me, I have lived with intense self-loathing. It's very inconvenient.”
“Vampires don’t require blood to survive - it is merely a highly-addictive recreational drug.” He faced Yorke as though they were on a battlefield. “Old habits die hard.” He would not lose his last shred of self-respect.
Yorke smiled. “But they can be overwritten.” His eyes went black. He pushed him against the wall and tore into his neck.
Rook made a gurgling sound, his focus narrowing down to the sharp pain and the blood being drained out of his system. In spite of having dealt with Type 2s for his entire career, he had never been bitten by one. He monitored himself with clinical detachment, as though preparing to jot down a report.
He murmured, “What big teeth you have got.” Quipping felt altogether better than succumbing to hysteria.
He had locked these creatures away and then fought against them in the open. He had been hunted by them but he had never been their victim. All those children with animal fear in their eyes. The belated insider's perspective.
Alas, Yorke restrained his laughter instead of accidentally killing him. Rook’s heartbeat slowed down. Yorke pulled away, tore his wrist open and pressed it to Rook's mouth.
He could barely see past the dark spots clouding his vision. He had fully intended to refuse and persist until his heart stopped but something primal and treacherous, a lust for life he hadn't known he possessed, rose up in him and made him clamp his mouth over Yorke's wrist instead.
* * *
He returned to the world of the living with the fangs out and black pits for eyes. He was drenched in sweat and his insides burned with hunger - ‘hunger’ being too weak a word to accurately classify it.
Rook closed his fist and prodded at his teeth with his knuckles uneasily. Did those come with an instruction manual? He tried to push them back and cut himself instead. His blood tasted like a foreign substance.
Rook pressed his palm to his chest. God, his suit had been utterly ruined. It made his skin crawl. At least they had mopped up the blood while he was... indisposed.
His hearing had sharpened: he listened to the sluggish, inhuman thing occupying his ribcage.
“Good morning... “ He trailed off, unsure how to refer to Yorke. It was alarming how little this awakening differed from the previous one. He had only lost his humanity in between.
Yorke nodded. “Morning.” He appraised Rook. “Hungry?”
Rook flinched, shaking his head. The very thought made him sick.
“All in good time. I suggest you move into more appropriate quarters.” Yorke's eyes twinkled slyly. “Unless you still maintain that all vampires should remain behind bars.”
Rook wobbled to his feet, feeling dizzy. He straightened his back and glanced at Yorke. “That would be rather redundant, given that the entire world is the cage these days.”
Yorke huffed. “Are you always this pessimistic?” He turned and walked out of the cell, leaving it open for Rook to follow.
“No, it seems to be the effect of your illustrious company.” Rook strode after him without a second glance at the cell.
Outside, it was a fine day, surprisingly sunny. Rook must have slept through the night. They walked down the corridor towards one of the suites that had belonged to the members of the royal family. When he learned that Yorke had moved into the Buckingham Palace, he hadn’t known whether to laugh or weep.
He passed through a patch of sunlight, momentarily squeezing his eyes shut. He should probably start considering a change of clothes but the notion was painful on a visceral level.
Yorke opened the door and stepped aside, letting him in. Rook walked past Yorke and scanned his new accommodations indifferently. Not a piece of wood to be procured. Otherwise, he preferred plain, utilitarian environments.
First of all, he went to wash his hands, avoiding the mirror. Then he returned to open the wardrobe and gave Yorke a startled look. “How very... thoughtful of you.” Inside, a number of grey suits identical to his own, a few expensive black suits and even some casual clothes could be found. Rook's manners fought with his disdain and the manners won. “What should I call you?”
“‘My lord' would be the protocol.” Yorke smiled crookedly.
Rook relished the impulse to run the smug bastard through the experiments #B33 to #B99. He echoed, “My lord.” Ranks and protocol, he could do that.
Yorke raised his eyebrows as though he hadn't actually expected Rook to comply. “Very good.” He paused. “I shall leave you to it.” He didn't specify what the "it" was. “By the way, a few of your colleagues happen to be stationed here. If you ever want to have a chat, be my guest.”
Rook intercepted him. “In what capacity exactly, if I may ask? Recruits or... blood source?” He wasn't prepared to handle either possibility but he would be, after he had rearranged the tatters of what he considered himself.
“In the same capacity as you. Fergus in particular was breaking in a rather interesting young lady.”
Rook nodded grimly. As soon as Yorke left, he peeled off his clothes and stepped back into the bathroom. He took a scalding shower, as if it were possible to wash away the filth and the cold that had seeped into his bones. He turned up the spray and shouted on top of his lungs, pounding his fists against the tiles.
Do your job right, and clean, and well, because it is the most important job in the world, was what his father used to say. But then, when you loosen your tie at the end of the day, leave it all behind. It can’t touch you.
The latter, in Rook’s opinion, called for debate.
After everything that had happened it was little wonder he couldn’t sleep at night. Why would a dead body require sleep anyway?
He listened to the silence around him and within him, searching for proof of life. His heart gave him one every minute, just one, and it wasn’t enough. He held his breath and counted down the seconds, saw them turn into minutes, and nothing happened. He was breathing, but it wasn’t vital.
He sat on the bed, cataloguing every sensation. All those aches and pains that had seemed so insignificant were gone, and it was their absence that he noticed, not their presence. The loose filling in one of the upper left molars used to give him a sort of a pulsing discomfort; he had been meaning to replace it for ages, but never got around to doing it. It was gone now. He couldn’t even check if the tooth had healed or the filling had stopped coming out. It was a small thing, but it was human. Just like the bruises he had received upon detention or slight heartburn resulting from bad diet over the last year and a half. His body didn’t look brand new, but it seemed altered enough for him to find it strange. Superficial familiarity only made it worse.
And then the fangs of course. They came out whenever he found himself drifting off, whenever every object in his field of vision would acquire a red tint. He slid the tip of his tongue over them, again and again. He could bite it off and die from blood loss or choke on his own blood; it appeared that Yorke hadn’t considered this scenario. And yet, along came morning, and Rook was still alive.
He got up and put on a grey suit. It made him feel more like himself.
That morning he was being summoned to a session. Rook had no idea what that entailed. Yorke’s so-called administration was a ludicrous parody of the old government. From what Rook understood, they convened whenever Yorke felt like it and wherever he felt like holding those meetings; he imagined they mostly discussed how to crush the resistance.
The overwhelming luxury of the palace that in the old days might have served to demonstrate the rich historical heritage of the country now seemed garish and out of place, not to mention unprofessional. Rook took a seat at the end of a long table and looked around discreetly. He recognized a few faces here and there. A brutish man with sharp features, wearing the black police coat, was Fergus; Rook vaguely remembered seeing him in the archives, but more importantly, the DoDD used to have a file on him. The atrocities he committed against the captive members of the resistance were legendary. A younger man next to him – Cutler, if Rook remembered correctly, – looked profoundly bored. On Fergus’ right, there sat a woman in her early thirties, light brown hair brushed back from her angular face. Rook nodded at her. She nodded back curtly and fumbled with the sleeve of her black uniform coat self-consciously. She looked guilty. He should do too. He remembered her in grey, Cora Glendale from Glasgow, one of the few women on active duty in the DoDD. Later, a few more of his former colleagues arrived, and he struggled to ignore pangs of hunger and the smell of blood rolling off them all in waves. He didn’t acknowledge them, unwilling to face any more guilt.
Rook hadn’t had a drop of blood since his transformation. His Department used to run a government-sponsored programme of blood distribution among registered vampires. They made it look so easy. A small dose of blood every day, just to keep oneself going. He could do that too. There was no shortage of blood here.
The image and the phantom aftertaste of Yorke’s blood in his mouth made Rook’s stomach churn. He steepled his fingers and contemplated taking up smoking again.
Reports started coming in. Yorke listened to them, the air of majestic world-weariness around him. Rook couldn’t help wondering if it was an act or not. One could not be truly so unconcerned with his own state, could he?
For his part, Rook found himself fascinated with the inner workings of this new “government”. This species lived forever and seemed to believe it had all the time in the world, hence their attitude to the most pressing problems appeared to be alarmingly light-hearted. Then again, what else was there to be expected from the people whose leader had killed the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during a live transmission on national television and afterwards claimed the man had tasted like buttered toast? However, there were a few exceptions. Fergus’ report was in particular quite interesting, since it concerned internal security. They had slaughtered most of the employees of the Home Office, and now it was in dire need of reorganization. In Rook’s opinion, that went for the whole country, but nobody seemed to be interested in his opinion.
At least until Yorke rose from his seat and declared magnanimously:
“With regards to what we have just discussed, allow me to present our new Home Secretary.” He turned towards Rook. “Mr Dominic Rook.”
Unsurprisingly, he hadn't breathed a word of it to Rook in advance. Rook’s eyes widened. He heard Cutler mutter: “Who the hell is that?” Fergus' eyes were bright with malice. "His lordship's new chew-toy."
Rook’s former colleagues avoided looking at him, while Yorke’s men stared openly, not without hostility. A wry smile tugged at his mouth. This felt like a bad April Fools’ joke.
“It's an honour, my lord,” he said in a tight voice.
Cutler commented in an undertone, but not low enough not to be heard, "Apple-polisher."
Fergus nudged Cutler with his elbow. "Somebody's jealous."
Rook could hardly believe it was happening to him. Utterly surreal. He used to envy Alistair for going out so swiftly. Oh, good old Alistair would have gone chalk-pale if he had seen this. The thought of Rook of all people running the Home Office would have been like a bone caught in his throat.
When the session was over, Rook borrowed a cigarette from someone and went ahead to take over his new duties. As he talked to his assistant, declining a decanter, and went over the paperwork, he found himself looking for loopholes he could exploit to aid humanity, even in his precarious, compromised position. Perhaps the deal he had made with the devil was worth it after all.
* * *
After a two-day respite from Yorke, Rook stepped into his office and found it invaded by the fearless leader. Yorke was reclining in his chair, a decanter waiting on the desk.
Rook blinked, his eyes flickering to black. He balled up his fists and slowly got it under control, closing the door behind himself.
Yorke drawled, “Mr Rook. What a pleasure it is to see you in good health.”
Rook took it as a dig both at the fact that he had compliantly accepted the position and the fact that he looked far from healthy, shaking at the sight of blood.
He inclined his head. “My lord.” It would have been a waste to stake himself before at least trying to do some good. “The home affairs are a right mess, if I may be so blunt.” He remained by the door. The blood seemed to pulsate at him enticingly.
“I know. That is why I appointed you as the head of it. You are just the man for the job.” Yorke twirled a pen in his hand - Rook's pen.
Rook took a deep breath, out of habit. “In that case you have chosen wisely.” There was no room for false modesty. “May I smoke?”
“You may do whatever you want. The opposite would rather negate the point of giving you this office, don’t you think?” Yorke bit thoughtfully at the tip of the pen and Rook fought down a stab of anger, almost possessiveness at the violation.
He looked away and lit his cigarette, then finally took a seat in one of the visitor chairs, offering Yorke the pack as an afterthought.
“I wouldn't have pegged you for a smoker.” Yorke accepted, looking at Rook appraisingly.
He buttoned up under the scrutiny, smiling. “I don't have to worry about my lungs anymore, do I?” There were certain tricks to being invisible, reflecting nothing of oneself. He did not want to supply Yorke with any more ammunition.
“Good point. How are you finding your new... conditions?” Yorke demonstratively took a sip of blood from the glass.
Rook glanced at Yorke's lips and at his Adam's Apple, and looked up again. “I marvel at your hospitality.”
Yorke wore his mask like second skin but Rook saw the monster peeking out through the cracks.
“Oh, it's the least we could do after such... turbulent reintegration of your department into the official government.” Yorke toasted with the glass.
Vampires and their mind games. Rook still balked at the thought that they were indeed the official government now. “I must admit I haven't expected to see so many familiar faces.” He inhaled from his cigarette.
“You'd be surprised how many people do not want to die after all. Give them a viable alternative - and opposite death, virtually anything goes - and they latch on to it with their bare teeth.” Yorke put the glass down and continued twiddling the pen between his fingers. “A hero's death is easy. A hero's life - now that's a real feat.”
And Rook himself would be a shining example of the latching on part, quite literally. His mouth formed a tiny, insincere smile. “There is a reason a ‘hero’ is so oft a posthumous status, I suppose. What would be your definition of a hero's life?”
“To continue living no matter how much it hurts. And no matter how much you hate yourself for it. I suppose I am a silver lining kind of a man at heart.” Yorke’s voice almost didn’t modulate, as though he truly believed what he was saying.
Those words didn't contradict Rook's convictions, surprisingly. He added, “And take pride in a job well done.”
Yorke never did fully answer his question back in the cell. Everyone clung to their justifications, as Rook had discovered in his line of work. Even remorseless bloodsuckers.
“Still, work is work, but what about days-off? You do need to unwind occasionally, don't you?” Yorke took a post-it note and jotted down the address with Rook's pen. He moved the note across the table towards Rook. “There's going to be a party tomorrow night. Nothing fancy, just a small gathering.”
Rook watched the note like it was a Type 3 on the brink of transformation. “I'm afraid I'm not much of a party person.” His smile turned apologetic, with a dash of affected self-deprecation.
“A prominent position within the government unfortunately has its price, as I'm sure you well know.” Yorke flashed him a faux compassionate smile. “You're new. You must be seen.” The smile turned teasing. “Don't worry. They'll get tired of you soon enough. In a century, perhaps.”
Rook's eyes darted around, looking for wooden furniture. He forced out a chuckle. “A century is such a short time indeed.” He stubbed his cigarette into the ashtray. “I shall attend.”
“Wonderful.” Yorke rose, putting the pen back into his breast pocket, and headed to the door.
Rook had an absurd urge to chase after him and take it back. The decanter, still half-full, remained on the desk.
“Have a nice day, Dominic.”
“Likewise, my lord.” He didn’t at all appreciate Yorke calling him by his Christian name. The man made it sound far too... personal.
With Yorke gone, Rook jolted upright and gripped the decanter, his hands trembling. Careful not to inhale the scent or God forbid spill the contents, he walked out of the office and handed it over to his assistant, disguising it as a nicety.
Rook turned around and found himself facing a new obstacle, someone he had previously seen at the meeting. He raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”
Cutler smirked. "Dominic Rook, right? That's your real name? I thought 'Rook' was an alias. Like 007.”
Rook had been hearing him speak for less than a minute and he already wanted to never converse with him again. He said coolly, “Have you got an appointment, Mr Cutler?”
“Aha, you already know who I am." Cutler snatched Rook's hand and shook it. Now Rook would have to wash his hands again. "Oh, consider it a family visit.”
Rook frowned in confusion and then interpreted it: Yorke was Cutler's maker as well. What sort of implications did it carry?
Cutler pushed the door open and entered first, perching himself in a visitor chair, luckily.
Rook sat down behind his desk. “What can I do for you, Mr Cutler?”
Cutler stared at him. "Tell me, Rook, have you got any family at all? Someone else close to you, perhaps?"
Rook was thrown-off by that non-sequitur. If it was a threat, it was ill-timed and out of place. He said carefully, “There was one person... but not anymore. Why?” Those memories were safely in a box.
"Oh." Cutler paused, something indecipherable passing over his face. Then he brightened again. “Well, then you’re perfect for the job. Congratulations.”
He stood up and patted Rook on the shoulder. Rook tried not to wince at the unwanted physical contact. "I'll leave you to it." Cutler forgot to close the door.
Rook mused to himself, “Am I now?” He imagined Alistair’s shell-shocked mien and let the image linger before archiving it for good. He didn’t need a patron saint.
* * *
Hal left party planning to Jacob, since Jacob wasn't doing anything else, as always. Jacob had recruited half of London already but he staunchly refused to have anything at all to do with the Men in Grey. Hal didn't blame him.
Snow wasn't returning his calls, which was fine by him. Hal had sent him a communique detailing the ultimate downfall of the formidable Men in Grey, but as it often happened, he received no reply. It was Snow’s way of accentuating that he placed himself above the trivia.
Hal confined himself to his room for the rest of the evening. He sat there, reading, when Cutler strode in and launched into a tirade right from the doorway:
“Did you know your Home Secretary’s playing cold turkey instead of croquet? You fed me my own wife, for fuck's sake! But no, the suit gets a pass, like it’s not enough that he's Fergus's boss.”
Hal answered calmly, without looking up, “He's not married.”
“Oh, that explains everything!” Cutler snatched the book out of Hal's hands and hit him with it. “God, you're such a dick! A, priests, I hear he's semi-religious; B, his fellow grey rats. Don't even try telling me you wouldn't get off on that.”
Hal slowly looked up at him. “Careful, Nick. Some boundaries are not meant to be crossed.”
Cutler dragged the book down Hal's chest and placed it on Hal lap. “The party's going to be a riot.” He winked at Hal and went back to where he came from.
Oh, Hal had no doubt about that. Funny that Fergus still hadn't come to express his displeasure at being Rook's underling. All in good time perhaps.
The next night Hal discarded his habit of showing up just before dessert and arrived at the party in the forefront. He wanted to make sure it would go well. Jacob looked pleasantly surprised and a little alarmed.
As for Hal, he was in an explosively good mood. He didn't greet Rook personally and in fact pretended he didn't see him at all, but he made sure to be seen. The circle was rather close-knit: a few Old Ones, some younger aides and a few new recruits. Cutler was making a point of entertaining himself, Hal noted in bemusement.
A human jazz band was playing. In the middle of the party there was a commotion. The music stopped. Hal stepped up to the microphone.
“Ladies and gentlemen, there is nothing to worry about. Someone - let us not point fingers...” He vaguely pointed in Jacob's direction. “Someone ate the pianist.” He added in a lower voice, “Considering he was the only black person in the band, that smacks of racism.”
A few people laughed. Jacob gave Hal the finger. Hal grinned.
“Lucky for all of us, we have got... me.”
He strolled towards the piano. The singer was standing near it, shivering with fear. She was a pretty young thing, her face strangely timeless, just the way he liked them. She might as well have hopped onto the stage straight from the roaring twenties. Jacob knew him so well.
“What's the matter, sweetheart? Why the long face?” He touched her chin playfully. “Go on then. Sing.” He sat down and started playing. The rest of the band joined in. The girl forced herself to keep singing.
The audience cheered and Hal started improvising mid-number, daring the band to keep up. Fear had created more masterpieces than the history of art would have one believe.
He ran his fingers across the keys in the final flourish, then stood up and kissed the singer hard on the mouth before getting off the stage.
Jacob threw his arm around Hal's shoulders.
"Nice one. Accusing me of racism. I am omnivorous, you know that." Hal chuckled. "Besides, he was only person in the band worth looking at. Except for that angel over there but I left her to you." He smiled sarcastically. "Because we're friends."
“I'm touched, Jacob.”
“The new Home Secretary looks famished. What have you been doing to him?"
Hal scanned through the crowd. “Nothing... yet.” A certain someone was playing truant already.
Jacob affected a serious tone for once.
"Be honest with me: was it absolutely necessary? He's only been a vampire for, what, a week? We have got plenty of capable administrators who do not dream of staking us in our sleep."
“What's it to you? You spend half a year in Italy and the other half between somebody's legs.”
Jacob scoffed. "Look who's talking. I couldn't help noticing what pretty eyes your new chew-toy has."
Hal asked coldly, “Jacob, is this going anywhere?”
Jacob let go of him. "Just saying, Hal. Feed him. People might start talking."
Hal snatched two glasses from a waiter’s tray and made for the nearest balcony. As expected, Rook was all by himself in the chilly night air. His eyes were closed and he seemed to be listening to something, his chest expanding and contracting. Hal liked what he saw.
“A minute passes between each heartbeat.” Hal approached him and handed him the whiskey. Rook looked like he needed a drink, and not just blood. “Remarkable, isn't it? Heart is a powerful engine. It refuses to stop even after death.”
“Thank you.” Rook took a sip and nodded at him. “So I’ve noticed. I find it quite fascinating.”
Hal leaned against the rail. “You look... bored. I suppose you're really not a party person. But on the plus side, people now know you exist.”
Rook smiled. “I believe that was the plan for the evening. I admit my first reaction to the pianist incident was to calculate the clean-up time and decide on the cover-up scenario.”
Hal laughed. “And what did you come up with?” That was the beauty of their new world: no cover-ups required. Everything was done in the open.
Rook said in an adorably professional tone, “Scenario 4, hallucinogenic drugs.”
“I'm pretty sure you'd find actual hallucinogenic drugs here. Jacob gets a bit carried away sometimes.” Hal sipped his drink. “I understand your attachment to your job, Dominic. But perhaps it is time to put away your rifles.”
Rook took another sip as well. “The rifles are in the closet, under lock and key.”
What else was there in the closet? “Have you ever been married?”
Rook blinked. “No, I haven't.” He sounded as though the very idea was absurd.
“It's just, in my experience, the most staunchly opposed are the people who have lost someone by us. Usually it's a spouse or a child. Parent, perhaps, in which case you grow into the hate from an early age. More seldom - another family member or a friend.” Hal looked at him. “What is your trauma?”
Rook said in deadpan manner, “My goldfish died because I forgot to feed him. I called him Alistair, after my superior. Anyhow, I believe that not everybody needs a past trauma in order to protect people from the future ones.”
“A pure idealist then.” Hal looked at him with renewed curiosity. “Too bad people seldom appreciate your kind.” He lit up a cigarette. “Nobility, as a quality, has always intrigued me. If I were a scholar, I'd write a thesis on its futility.”
Rook contemplated his empty whiskey glass. “A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing.”
Hal chuckled. “Well said. I'm sure good old Oscar would have had plenty to say about the society as it is today. Do you read, Dominic?”
“Not as much as I'd have liked to.” Rook paused. “Oh, look, we found me a hobby.”
“Indeed we have.” Some loud noise came from the room. Hal rolled his eyes, then winked at Rook. “Truth be told, I'm not a party person either. Do excuse me.” He returned to the room to see what was going on.
It was an exercise in mockery and manipulation, but aside from that Hal found Rook a rather interesting conversation partner. He was a level above all the latest recruits.
In the room, the banquet went on. It smelled like an opium den. Hal could drag Rook in and force-feed him, but he had other plans for him. He made a point of collecting Rook in his own car after the party ended, since they both headed for the palace. He was polite and friendly and wished him good night.
* * *
Rook frowned at the light spilling through the door and entered the suite warily. He had not been issued any weapons... except for his fangs. Of course.
He drew back again, shell-shocked.
"Mr Rook!" Alan’s face lit up as he rose from the chair. "I knew you'd be the one to recruit me!"
His appearance momentarily threw Rook back to his corner at the archive. He was clean-shaven and they had gone as far as to give him a brand new grey suit. But that was where the illusion came apart. Alan went from feverishness to a vacant stare of a recent torture victim trapped in his own world.
Blood accounted for seven percent of the human body weight and Alan’s scrawny form promised less than the average one point three gallons. Rook felt a stab of guilt and then thought that it would be an act of mercy.
He said in a clipped tone, “No, Alan, I'm not here to recruit you.”
His eyes went black and from then on his legs would only carry him forward. He was merely a spectator, separated by a one-way glass from the gruesome scene. He seized Alan by the throat and pushed him up against the wall.
Alan shouted, "Invisibility spell!" Alan’s fear was intoxicating. He hadn’t known it wasn’t only about the blood. But he could also smell the insanity on him coming off in waves.
He turned away. “Never in my life have I played a computer game, Alan, but I assure you...” He glanced at his former subordinate, who shrunk under his gaze. “...that the monster can see you. And you don’t want to be seen by monsters, Alan.”
"Timestop," Alan whispered pitifully.
Rook froze. An ingratiating voice inside his head suggested that he had always found Alan dim-witted and irritating as fuck.
Alan gave him a hopeful look.
Rook’s lips twitched into a lopsided smirk before he bared his fangs. “Yes, I shall indeed stop your time for you.” Anemic or not, the taste was divine.
Alan’s further pleas and shouts only served to make Rook more vicious. He couldn’t get enough of it. He drained Alan dry before finally releasing him and letting him sink to the floor like a rag-doll.
As he circled the room giddily, his body tingling from the aftershocks of the blood rush, he became aware of a pressing discomfort and lowered his eyes. “My goodness!” He made an undignified noise, retreating into the bathroom.
He sat at the edge of the tub. He knew he should be appalled at what he had done to Alan. He should be burning up with self-loathing. He should break-off a chair leg - how very chivalrous of Yorke to trust him with that now - and end this before he killed more people. Instead he was appalled at the state he was in.
There was a polite knock on the door. “Do I need to have all furniture replaced with the plastic one again or have you finally seen the light?”
At first, Rook couldn't even find his voice. Then he said, “Give me a moment, please.”
He darted towards the sink and made the mistake of looking into the mirror. It was empty, of course. Dominic Rook no longer existed. He was a monster wearing Rook's skin.
He splashed some water into his face. His condition showed no signs of waning.
Yorke equated a "moment" to a minute, and when precisely sixty seconds passed, he pulled the door open and came in. “Console yourself with the fact that he was extremely annoying and you did the world a favour.”
Rook was in the middle of another staring contest with the front of his trousers, the latter winning by a broad margin. He glanced at Yorke like a schoolboy caught in the act. His skin felt too hot.
Yorke came closer, deliberately reducing the space between them until there was little of it left. “It's amazing how much one can get used to, isn't it? Bloodshed included.”
Rook glared at him contemptuously, and snarled: “You brought this upon yourself, Yorke!”
He grabbed the man by the lapels of his jacket and slammed him against the door, biting his neck. It was like drinking dirty water and he would spit it out but it clung to his tongue. He was spiralling out of any semblance of control, as if possessed.
“You staged this for your own amusement,” Rook spat out. “Give me one good reason I shouldn’t rip out your neck.”
“I’ve got two.” Yorke trailed his hand down Rook's abdomen and cupped him through the trousers.
Rook's experiences with other men had never gone further than furtive tossing off that absolutely hadn’t happened. It didn't seem to matter either way to whatever was steering the wheel. He bit at Yorke's lower lip, sucking in the blood, and pushed against that hand.
Yorke bit back and squeezed harder. Rook moaned into Yorke's mouth brokenly, the intensity of his release closer to pain than pleasure. He grew still as the sensations subsided, and eventually pulled away.
He had never known the true depths of disgust before this night. “It's a shame. I really liked this suit.” He climbed into the bathtub and huddled there, drawing up his knees.
Yorke perched himself on the edge and reasoned, “You've got five more in the wardrobe and they're all the identical.”
Rook nodded on autopilot. “Good point.” His gaze was drawn to Yorke's thigh. It was giving him ideas. He did not want any ideas involving Yorke's assorted body parts, except chopping him into tiny pieces.
Yorke tilted up Rook's chin with his fingers, making Rook meet his eyes. “What is it that really bothers you, Dominic? I take it it's not the... what's-his-name in the bedroom.”
He shivered. “This isn't me. I wouldn't... have done any of these things.” There were unshed tears in his eyes. “I used to protect people from the monsters and now I’m one of them!”
Yorke chuckled. “Drop the act, you are not nearly that naive.” He leaned closer to him. “The things you've done, the things you were prepared to do, without a second thought, just because they benefited your cause? Stop deceiving yourself. You have always been a monster.”
Rook flinched away from Yorke and hit his head on the tiles. “It didn't matter what I was, what I had to become, so long as I served the cause!” That was the long and the short of it and the story of his life. “There were no depths I wouldn't sink to, for them. But this?” He gestured around helplessly. “All of this is because I did something for me, because I’ve been a coward, and it's ignoble!”
“Well, if anything, you were not a coward but an honest man. We played for you death, and you lost. Though it's in the eye of the beholder of course. I personally view it as your gain.” Yorke reached out and traced the veins on Rook's wrist with his finger. “Doesn't it feel good just to be alive? Stop thinking. Stop trying to rationalize and repent."
Rook whispered, “It does. Oh, but it does.” He thought they'd been playing mind games before but in truth it had only been a prelude. “Christ.”
He had never been seduced by anything but higher ideals. He had always believed in all things pure and purifying but there was none of that in this new world. Death and decay were hard-wired into his new DNA. “It feels good as long as the blood rush lasts.”
Yorke stroked the veins on the back of Rook's hand and murmured suggestively, “Then don't stop drinking.” He pulled away. “You're a believer, I take it? You said a prayer back when we came to detain you, but I wasn't sure if you meant it. Most people don't.”
Rook let out a jagged laugh, then murmured, “I never had the time to go to church. Not even on Sundays.”
“What do you think I did to you, Dominic? I can't create people from scratch. Who you are now is who you've always been.”
Rook admitted, “I do not know what exactly separates a human and a vampire from an existential point of view - except for a death and their maker's blood, of course.” It felt like another defeat. “We never succeeded in isolating the preternatural element from the purely biological metamorphosis. I know I have a soul - or used to. I don't know what is in my blood and what is in my mind and where the line between the two lies.”
“You will remember in time everything that made you what you were. Feelings, thoughts, decisions. Everything will be as natural to you as it always was. But if you deny yourself blood, then you will suffer. Then you will be a monster unable to control yourself.”
He stared at Yorke in shock. “Oh.”
He’d seen it all before: vampire blood banks turned slaughterhouses. What had made him think he was any different?
He sighed. “You have tried, I take it. Going dry, that is.”
Yorke said curtly, “I am five hundred and twenty years old. What do you think?”
Rook's attention already latched onto something else. “We were developing various means of acquiring the blood consensually. Without turning humans into cattle, which is what’s happening right now.” He glanced at Yorke sharply. “The vampire society, even now, is by no means a self-sustaining mechanism. How long before the precarious equilibrium shatters? How long before the humankind goes extinct under such extreme conditions? I could calculate that for you and you wouldn’t like the results.”
Yorke frowned. “If you did that, then surely you must understand the dangers of abstinence in general. Tell me: how do you distinguish between those who are worthy of your help and those who merit immediate staking?” His voice was laced with sarcasm.
“We'd never staked anyone on sight before the war broke out.” Rook leaned forward, grasping Yorke's hand. “I realise now that I’ve committed a grave error. Please consider what I said in the light of the current situation. There has been too much chaos already.”
Yorke offered him a small smile. “I will.”
He squeezed Yorke’s hand. “Thank you. You must be thinking that the rest of the Old Ones wouldn't be swayed into anything they hadn't personally sanctioned - but your hands are free in the home territories and over the years the difference would become staggering. I shall concentrate on the damage control.”
Yorke’s eyes glinted with amusement. “I don't give a damn about the Old Ones, Dominic, I am second to none, especially here.” He rose. “Do what you think you have to do.”
He was taken aback by the calm dismissal. How deep exactly did Yorke’s disinterest in the matters of the state run? Oh, but they were having that conversation in a bathroom, right after... “I apologise. I got carried away.”
Yorke’s smile grew wider. “I understand. It's always good to hear fresh ideas. Creative thinking is one of the reasons I wanted you for this job.” He stroked the tender patch of skin between Rook's thumb and index finger lightly.
Rook's skin prickled with goosebumps. He said carefully, “I think I should change my clothes. And then I should do something about... the body.”
Yorke gave him an innocent look. “What body?”
He flinched. “Alan's body. In the room.” His wits were deserting him again.
Yorke pulled his hand free, opened the door and looked out. “I don't see any body.” He smiled at Rook. “Except yours and mine obviously.”
“Um.” He blinked. “Very impressive. Scratch out the body part, then.” He shook his head and strode towards the wardrobe like it held all the answers in the universe.
“I'm glad we've worked out all the ethical problems here. And I hope Alan didn't taste too bad.” Yorke winked at him and headed to the door.
“Have a good night.” He felt sick. He wanted to scream, to expel that blood out of his system, to wash it off his hands. But he couldn't indulge in yet another meltdown in front of Yorke.
“It's actually noon, Dominic. Have a nice week-end.”
To him it seemed more like the world's end at its finest. He removed his suit and took his customary screaming shower. Afterwards, he climbed into the bed and slept in fits and starts, plagued by nightmares.
He was in the dining room. His father’s chair at the head of the table was vacant and the food was untouched. His mother wore her favourite polka dot apron - she would always ask him to tie it for her. She stood in the kitchen doorway, holding spotlessly clean plates, like a postcard image. The guests were the people he had killed, in the precise states he’d left them: shot, stabbed, burned, bitten. They raised their glasses to his health. Alan’s was filled with the blood dribbling from his neck.
The pillow and the bed sheets were drenched in sweat. He didn’t know if he was suffering from the physiological effects following heavy blood consumption or a psychosomatic response to it. He thought back to his hangover experiences and made himself get up and search for aspirin. He’d usually taken two pills with a full glass of water.
He opened the medicine cabinet: sterile and empty, save for the bandages. He soaked one in cold water and pressed it to his temples, the back of his neck and then to his forehead, bringing a slight relief to the dull headache.
He faced the mirror. Without light, there would be no sight. Everything that could be seen was seen only when the light from that object traveled to the eye, whether it was a luminous object (that generated light of its own) or an illuminated object (that reflected the light that was incident upon it).
From the physics point of view, the absence of his reflection could be attributed to something in him somehow affecting the light - changing the type of the wave, the wavelength or other parametres - or faulted on his eyes. But if the latter were the case, other creatures might have potentially been able to see vampire reflections. Thus, the question the mirror posed to him was: what quality in him distorted the light?