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 "Giovanni's Room" by James Baldwin.
A/N: How to make friends, now with a bonus blasphemy overload.
Part I. Chapter 1 | Part I. Chapter 2 | Part I. Chapter 3
Hal’s entertainment plans had to be put on hold: they were snowed under a dispute that resulted from Hetty having ostensibly ordered a hit on one of the recently recruited former DoDD members. However, it was the maker who perished in his place. He had been a copper in Fergus's force.
Fergus did not take that well. Hetty justified herself by simultaneously denying everything and accusing Rook’s former department of general contrivance. Hal gave off the impression of being dangerously close to having them both staked but, of course, it wasn’t that simple.
For Rook, Fergus's behaviour was a surprise: he stood by the recruit. He pulled Rook into the conflict as though they were allies.
Rook made a suggestion that Fergus and Hetty's champion of choice resolved it in a duel, in the old-fashioned fists-and-fangs spirit. Hal approved the idea but Hetty declared it insulting. She was an Old One and Fergus was a nobody. Fergus flared up at that and said that he was the fucking police and if she had a problem with that, she could piss off back to her lawless Bolivian hole.
On top of everything, Rook’s laptop started acting up. It went from innocuous glitches to inexplicable system errors to disappearing files and entire folders. The virus scan revealed nothing.
It became a pressing matter that not a single computer professional could be found within the palace grounds. The HR department, the ‘H’ apparently standing for ‘Hal’ now, helpfully informed him that it hadn’t been a priority.
Having exhausted his options, he contacted Cutler and inquired what the latter knew about laptop problems.
“How about ringing up a specialist?” Cutler asked sarcastically. “Oh, wait, someone ate them all! So IT support’s bollocksed now, Detoo-Artoo.”
Rook eventually procured himself a new laptop. It was actually an older model and he couldn’t seem to get used to it.
He sent Fergus a memo where he detailed that Hetty was neither a citizen nor had she filled in any papers. Technically, nothing exempted the Old Ones from immigration laws and for all they knew, Hetty most certainly didn't have any visa at all. It was a stretch but Hal decided it would make a marvelous joke, so he ordered it done.
There was a small celebration afterwards; Fergus was buying the rounds and even Cutler showed up, with a disgruntled air. The majority of the police force changed their opinion of Rook: he was no longer a “grey rat” but a fellow vampire.
The newly gained cooperation made Rook’s work significantly easier. Hetty’s removal even broke the ice between him and Regus, who stopped glaring at him whenever he borrowed books from the library.
On an evening when Rook had more free time than he knew how to allocate, he took a stroll through the palace garden, wondering idly about the vegetable patch the Queen had installed a few years ago. Arthur must have mentioned it over tea. Had it already withered from neglect? Had the turnips gone wild? He smiled to himself wryly. He had never been much for gardening.
“Fancy all that barbed wire. Just like prison, isn’t it? Does it make you feel at home, Crook?”
“Good evening, Cutler.” Rook regarded him cautiously. “I would advise you against making a habit of mangling my name.”
One would have thought their last vis-a-vis had discouraged Cutler from further attempts at “family” interactions.
He chuckled nonsensically as he came closer, making Rook take a step back and say preemptively, “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe I’ve got elsewhere to be at the moment.”
“Hang on, not so fast, mate.” Cutler’s gaze was intent, feverish. “I’ve got to tell you something.”
He smelled strongly of alcohol and looked like a miserable drunk.
“I’m sure it could wait,” Rook replied levelly. He was fairly certain he didn’t want to hear it.
Cutler had been married - until Hal stuck a tube into his wife’s neck and made him drink her blood without knowing. The story seemed genuine. Plausible. As did Cutler’s anger.
His suite was smaller than Rook's, the previous decor completely stripped off in favour of a stab at high-tech. He seemed to hoard every electronic trinket imaginable, from a stereo system to a plasma screen. Curiously enough, his accommodations were at a noticeable distance from Hal's quarters.
Rook looked out of the window that begged cleaning - the view at the garden was excellent, though - while Cutler downed a glass of water.
In his former line of work, Rook had seen it all: rage and grief and self-pity and crocodile tears, and Cutler's current state was in the intersection of those four.
“The Old Ones, they don’t recruit lightly,” Cutler said, as much to himself as to Rook. “They just don’t. An Old One can’t walk out into the streets and grab the first mook he comes across.”
Cutler seemed to be a loner for a reason both like and unlike Rook’s: his existence revolved around a single gravity centre that allowed no extraneous influences. Hal Yorke was certainly Cutler’s God. Was he furious because his sacrifice hadn’t lasted him forever, hadn’t made him unique like he must have believed himself to be at some point? Or because he was incapable of crawling out of Hal’s shadow?
Rook found himself asking, “What if you recruited someone?”
Cutler gaped at him. Rook was equally surprised at his own suggestion. It implied viewing the propagation of their race as something potentially desirable, as opposed to a curse.
"Look who’s changed his tune," Cutler muttered darkly.
Rook took a seat. “It would take your mind off... other things.”
"You should have just told me to get a dog. A normal dog, I mean." Cutler’s smile was brittle.
Rook glanced at him sharply but not entirely unkindly, without saying anything.
"Hal will be royally pissed, you know."
Rook noted that the suggestion was taking root nevertheless. “Even if you ask for his permission?”
Cutler snorted. "He wouldn't grant it. He's a contrary bastard like that. Anyhow..." He stood up and walked over to his stereo. "What’s your music? Apart from God Save the Queen."
Rook didn't listen to anything in particular. Classical music, perhaps - it helped him think. Or jazz.
Cutler’s eyes widened. "How can you not listen to music? What planet are you from, spaceman?"
He smiled at him indulgently. Cutler shook his head in disbelief. "Alright, let's resuscitate your taste in music before it shrivels up and dies and you end up like Fergus, or, god forbid, start singing show tunes!"
He glanced at Cutler's video consoles warily. He drew the line at video consoles. The chalk line.
* * *
The last thing to hold Hal’s attention at the moment was a camp inspection, but it was on the agenda. Leo always did say routine was important. The camp had taken up all of East London (there was something poetic about keeping werewolves in, say, Barking); the relocation process was due to begin shortly. Curfew would be imposed and the territory would be surrounded with electrified barbed wire – for safety reasons. There were a hospital, a school, a kindergarten. Next year a new system of personal identification was going to be introduced. Hal wanted humans and werewolves distinguished from vampires as well as from each other.
He returned to the palace to find a message from Snow on his desk. Snow wanted to meet him at the flat. Hal walked in warily to find Snow already there helping himself to Hal's alcohol.
“This is not about Hetty, is it?”
Snow smiled. "Oh, Hal. If it had been, I would not have warned you." Hal couldn’t argue with that. "I want a progress report on the War Child."
Hal wrinkled his forehead. Snow hadn't brought her up for almost two years. Why now? He said cautiously:
“She is still underground. The last we heard of her was about seven months ago. She was still with her werewolf guardian and the ghost woman.”
"But she is alive. You are certain of it?"
Hal nodded. If she had been located, she would have been brought directly to him.
Snow sipped his whiskey.
“Is there anything that you find particularly troubling? I could order a–.”
"No. No need." Snow rose. "Inform me if she is found. We do not want any incidents." He left before Hal could stop him. Hal thought it was all very bizarre, but then, Mr Snow rather enjoyed leaving things open to interpretation.
In the aftermath of the conversation, Hal summoned Fergus and demanded a report. Just as he had expected, there was no sign of the War Child. The brief meeting with Snow had left Hal restless. As a rule, he avoided discussing the War Child with anyone but Fergus since it was his job to look for her. Rook, to his knowledge, had no idea she existed. Hal deemed it prudent to keep it that way.
He stopped by library and requested Regus to bring him the scrolls. Regus watched him peruse the relics, and his stare made Hal jittery.
“Have you got something to say?” Hal asked, looking up indulgently. If Regus wondered why Hal was suddenly interested in the prophecies again, Hal might consider throwing him out of the window. Regus shuffled his feet and mumbled something. “What?”
"I said: may I recruit someone?"
Hal stared at him. Curiouser and curiouser.
“You want to... recruit someone,” he repeated in case he had misheard. Regus nodded. “Why are you asking me? You are four hundred years old and I'm not you maker.”
Regus made a face.
"Because you'd bite my head off if I didn't ask you."
“Go to the recruitment centre and pick whomever you like. I don't give two fucks about it.”
Regus gleefully retreated. Hal did his best to curb his imagination and not theorize on the matter of who the Vampire Recorder could possibly want to recruit and for what purpose.
* * *
There was a soothing regularity to rows of bookshelves, Rook had always thought, even if this particular library was more of an artistic mess. He cleared his throat to announce his presence to Hal, who seemed to be immersed in going over Regus’s scrolls. That was new. Rook hadn’t searched for his answers in the vampire lore yet but the DoDD had never acquired access to it or functional knowledge of the vampire script.
“Dominic.” Hal flashed him a smile. “Regus is out, so I'm manning the circulation desk today. How may I help you?”
A matching smiled tugged at Rook's lips, despite his heavy thoughts from before.
“In that case, in your professional opinion, what should I read?”
Hal put the scroll away, out of sight, and stood up.
“Good question. You never told me about your taste in literature. Aside from a certain fairy tale penned by the followers of one arguably immortal carpenter.”
“I’ve been fairly conservative in my tastes. I thought I might expand my literary horizons.” He watched Hal expectantly.
In his maker’s hands, even books grew teeth, so when Hal handed him a slim paperback volume displaying clear signs of aging on its cover, Rook accepted it with a familiar flutter of thrill mingling with trepidation. He carefully opened the book and read the first lines: the writing seemed to agree with him; that was something. He wondered what surprise lurked on those pages. Surely there must be a catch. He turned the page, just skimming over the lines, and ground to a halt at:
“This is the lie which I told to Giovanni, but never succeeded in making him believe, that I had never slept with a boy before…”
Hal was back at the desk, pretending to ignore Rook as if he had just given him a book of children's stories.
“And I realized that my heart was beating in an awful way and that Joey was trembling against me and the light in the room was very bright and hot... Joey raised his head as I lowered mine and we kissed, as it were, by accident. Then, for the first time in my life, I was really aware of another person’s body, of another person’s smell. We had our arms around each other.”
Rook leaned into the bookshelf, absorbed by his guilty, morbid fascination. It brought back the forgotten feeling of stealing apples from someone else's garden.
Do and don’t had always been such clear concepts in Rook’s mind, planted by his father and nourished by his duty. But God forbid Hal was ever that straightforward about anything.
A thudding noise snapped him back to reality. He saw Hal standing over a stack of magazines that had apparently poured down on the floor from one of the shelves. On top of the pile, lay an issue of Marie Claire from a few years back. Hal stared at the magazine in something vaguely akin to distress. Rook closed the book and strolled over to the mess, asking if he could assist Hal with it.
Hal said tersely:
“It's Regus's mess, he'll clean it up.” He took the tome he had been searching for, picked up the scrolls and headed for the door. “Enjoy the book, Dominic.”
* * *
Rook caught the piano music while still in the corridor. The notes tugged at something in him. He hadn't been paying attention at the party with the dead pianist but now he could concede that Hal played quite well.
He knocked on the door.
“Come in.” Hal didn't stop on his account.
He didn’t mind: it would have been a pity to leave the piece unfinished. He stood a step away, watching Hal's hands.
He said, after Hal finished: “It's a beautiful piece.”
“It's Chopin.” Hal turned to him and smiled in greeting. “I don't think you've ever stopped by my room before. Is this a business matter or a social call?”
“Oh.” That gave Rook a pause. “There's a first for everything, I suppose.” He faltered and offered Hal an unpracticed smile. “It's a social call.”
“Then have a seat.” Hal walked over to the liquor cabinet. “Drink?”
“Yes, thank you,” he sat a little stiffly.
Hal chose red wine. He handed the glass to Rook and took a seat opposite him.
The taste agreed with Rook; the colour was deep burgundy. “There is something I would like to ask you, if you don't mind.”
“I can't tell you if I mind or not before you ask me. It would be very unsociable of me to veto any questions at all. How would we have a conversation otherwise?”
“Fair enough.” He cleared his throat. “What I wanted to discuss is the following: it could have been anyone in my room - but you handpicked a colleague of mine. Would I be correct in my assumption that you aimed to make a particular impact? Sever the ties, perhaps?”
“That, and, well, we were short on livestock. Besides, the guards complained that he talked too much.”
“I can imagine that quite well.” And so it was, every man for himself. “Alright, I shall admit that this line of questioning wasn't about me. Why kill your recruit's wife when you could have easily had her recruited as well?” His tone was that of detached curiosity.
“Cutler told you then?” Hal looked surprised. Naturally, it wouldn’t be something Cutler liked to share - or flaunt. “We do not recruit for personal reasons, Dominic. We are a community, so we make acquisitions that would benefit the community. Certainly, there are exceptions. That friend of mine, Ivan, he met a woman that he was fascinated by. He recruited her and eventually married her. By that time, Ivan was not bound by social obligations, but most of us are. I recruited Cutler because I required a new solicitor and he happened to be very good at his job. I daresay he only got better. Mrs Cutler, however pleasant a company she might have provided, would have been a distraction.”
Cutler must have wanted Rook to confront Hal about this - but to what end? He wasn’t fishing for information on Cutler’s behalf. However unsettling the tale might be, realistically speaking, it was hardly the worst atrocity committed by Hal - it could hardly sow more discord between Rook and Hal than there already was.
He drank his wine. “And he really did refuse to kill her himself? Even with the bloodlust?”
“He loved her. Of course he refused. In hindsight, I rather admire him for it.” Hal grinned. “Don't tell him though.”
Rook's eyes widened a little at Hal's admission. He wouldn’t tell - but he should always be mindful that nothing was ever as it seemed. “He's very... damaged.”
“Don't tell me you feel sorry for him.” Hal's smile turned positively predatory.
Rook tilted his head, his eyes following the curve of Hal's smile. “That would be impractical.”
Hal countered, “That would be human. Isn't that what you want?”
He shifted in his seat. “Compassion isn't strictly speaking a human quality. It is a person's. Take this as a logical extension of everyone being potential murderers.”
“Good to know that you agree.” Hal fixed him with an attentive look. “But of course it's not compassion. You're much too pragmatic for that. You look at Cutler and you can't help wondering if I'm playing the same game with you as I have been with him. You want to know if that's your future.”
Although Rook's expression didn't change, he was stricken. “Those two assumptions aren't incorrect.”
Hal leaned closer, without breaking the eye contact. “So ask me.”
“Do you want me to be like you or do you want to break me?”
Hal whispered: “It depends. Do you want to be like me or will you let me break you?”
Rook brushed his fingers over Hal's throat. “The latter is not an option.”
“Then you've got nothing to worry about, do you?” Hal smiled, showing fangs. “Did you enjoy the book?”
He shivered. “It was sublime. And giving me... ideas.” His eyes glinted.
“Really? Would you like to share them?” Hal sounded intrigued.
Rook had decided - for now - that acting on it might at least give him a measure of control over the turbulent attraction. He let the pause stretch and then curled his fingers over the back of Hal's head, kissing him firmly. He seemed to be saturated with fresh blood.
Hal kissed back but did nothing more.
Rook moved his chair closer, their knees touching now, and deepened the kiss briefly as his hands roamed over Hal's arms. He rolled Hal's lower lip between his teeth without breaking the skin and then trailed nips down Hal's throat, unbuttoning Hal's shirt.
When Hal's chest was fully exposed, Rook pulled away, staring at Hal breathlessly. Marrow-deep revulsion flared up, mingling with desire.
Hal pulled Rook closer again by the tie and kissed him hard.
Rook tensed but returned the kiss, his knee propped between Hal's and his fingers digging into Hal's shoulder. He bit at Hal's mouth in retaliation for unbalancing him.
Hal slid his hand up Rook's lap towards his groin.
Rook’s mouth was on Hal's neck. With vampire blood, it wasn't the taste but the act itself. His restless mind helpfully conjured up an image of a different union, with Hal on the receiving end.
Hal dragged him out of the chair. They tumbled onto the floor, with Hal pinning him down. Hal's knee pressed between Rook's legs.
Every muscle in Rook's body was poised for fight-or-flight, his fangs out. He mustn't let Hal see his insecurity.
Hal looked at him with impenetrable black eyes and calmly started unfastening Rook's trousers.
Rook's arms strained against Hal's vise-like grip, testing it. He shifted slightly, preparing to throw Hal off.
Hal slid his hand over Rook's crotch and whispered: “Does that constitute a breaking point, Dominic?”
Rook’s answer was a low, guttural growl. He shifted, forcing Hal to lean closer, and head-butted him full force, bringing up his knee and finally throwing Hal to the side.
Hal cried out in surprise, then laughed breathlessly. “Your violent streak will never not be exceptionally arousing.”
Rook said in a pleasant voice, “Blood on your face becomes you. Especially when it’s yours.”
“How far did you think I would go?” Hal didn’t wipe it off.
Rook's eyes widened. It had been a test. He should have known.
He rose to his feet. “I didn't trust you to stop.”
Hal got up too. “If I wanted to take you by force, I would have done it a long time ago. Perhaps back when you were human.”
Rook's expression closed off. “Perhaps I should apologise for doubting you.” He headed for the door, readjusting his clothes on the way. “Have a good night.”
Hal called after him: “I know what you want. And now I know your fears. You should stop giving me so much ammunition, Dominic. I am too tempted to use it, though I don't want any discord between us.”
He gave Hal a long, dark look over his shoulder and said, “Duly noted.” He left without another word, thinking this round lost.
* * *
Being a suicide bombers magnet, the recruitment centre had been on the move ever since the glorious revolution (Sieg Heil!). The latest in the long line of the worst possible ideas was St Bart’s.
The stellar reasoning, as far as Cutler knew, was that there was a morgue. He didn’t even bother. He was merely browsing the wares. Or possibly dramatically throwing someone off the roof - he had a list of candidates.
He had a clear picture of what he wanted, though: someone tech-savvy, reliable, not too daft, baggage-free, and being easy on the eyes couldn’t hurt. He scheduled a handful of interviews: men, women, only the willing ones - but none of them fit the bill.
Not that he had expected any different.
During one of those visits, he overheard the guards going on about some oddball nobody wanted to recruit. he did always wonder what they got up to between wheelchair-racing and getting blown up. His curiosity piqued, he demanded to have a look at the bloke.
In the same vein, no pun intended, the interview room used to be a doctor’s surgery. Cutler came in with a winning smile, alone because he didn’t want anyone looming over his shoulder. The bloke wasn’t supposed to be violent but Cutler still kept his distance.
It was a young man in his twenties, gangly and badly dressed; what stood out was his face. Definitely one of the weirdest (and coolest) combinations out there: ginger, freckled and brown-skinned. The striking image was somewhat ruined by his sour, withdrawn disposition, which might have something to do with being handcuffed to a chair.
“Hello. I’m Nick Cutler, GP,” Cutler said amiably. “What’s your name? The GP bit was a joke.”
Ray Barn-something. Ray-Ban, like the sunglasses, except definitely not premium quality. He didn't possess any useful skills to contribute and didn’t bother denying it. Cutler made a pun about R’n’B. Ray lapsed into tense silence.
Cutler was taken aback, frankly. These days humans usually ran and got killed right off the bat or were overeager to get recruited. But at least Ray wasn’t planning to attack him, so he sat down.
He asked what Ray did for fun. The reply was, after a pause, “I draw.”
Cutler requested to see the portfolio. Ray fished out an old camera phone he had somehow kept and showed him numerous shots of something very Picasso-on-LSD. Cutler personally thought it was fabulous. Besides, Ray’s photo skills were refreshingly... there. Professional even.
Ray was still sceptical. "I thought you didn't need artists."
“That's because you've been dealing with morons.” Cutler took out a pen. “I can sign the papers right now and save you from the wonky thermostat.”
Ray didn’t protest. He didn’t look too happy either but there was no outright hostility underneath his tired look.
The fact that Ray wasn’t much of a talker wouldn’t be a problem: Cutler was perfectly fine with someone listening to him, for a change.
They left the building and headed for Ray’s studio, which miraculously hadn’t been raided, even if the Internet and other benefits of civilization were already a distant dream in this area. Cutler felt a bit paranoid moving around these parts without an armed escort.
The place was small, dingy and candlelit in the absence of electricity. The cupboards were eerily empty; Cutler found a paint tube, some instant noodles and a pack of stale biscuits but no tea.
He caught glimpses of the originals of those eye-damaging masterpieces and more restrained works, sketches, projects, all sorts of things.
He could employ Ray in design. He knew someone driven when he saw him.
“There’s one thing.” Cutler came closer. “Consider it a personal quirk. I’d like to hear you say that, yes, you want me to recruit you. Out loud.”
Ray looked at him apprehensively. “And if you don’t like the way I say it, what, you’ll return me to the shop?”
Cutler flushed with anger. “I’m giving you everything someone like you could hope for under the circumstances - you’ll live, you’ll continue painting - which is more than I can say for the upcoming camps - and all I’m asking in return is some bleeding gratitude! Is that too much to ask, Ray?”
Ray replied disdainfully, “Someone like me. Cattle, right?” He paused. “Just how much bleeding do you expect from me?”
Cutler blinked. “Well, duh... did you think vampirification came without a pint? Also, you’re too skinny to be a cow.”
Ray snorted. “Not what I meant.”
“You’d be surprised but I’m all in favour of not brutally murdering people.” Cutler smiled. “So, let’s call it minimum bleeding. Deal?” He extended his hand.
When Ray didn’t immediately shake it, Cutler added, “I didn’t want this revamped nazism any more than you, Ray. We were just... swept up by it. I want us to be friends.”
“You’re from Hal Yorke’s clique,” Ray pointed out.
Cutler raised his eyebrows. “So? You do what you’ve got to do to survive. I’m better off than most, I admit, but I never really had a choice. This is why it’s so important for me to give you one. If you go back now, it’s because you decided that, not because I changed my mind.”
Cutler brushed his fingers over an unframed painting. “Think about it, Ray.” He left and waited outside, checking his messages.
Ray made up his mind in less than an hour. “I want you to recruit me.”
Cutler clapped him on the back. “There, wasn’t so hard, was it?”
Ray didn’t reply.
* * *
Cutler didn't remember how he’d thought it would go but the wait was torturous. Someone had been playing Xs and Os on the whiteboard. He half feared that Ray wouldn't actually wake up because he had botched it somehow. He picked up a marker to finish the game but it had dried out. God, he was going as mental as Hal.
He paced around, bumping into dusty paraphernalia. He wasn't ready for any of this. Whose brilliant idea had it been to put the freshly recruited on morgue tables anyway? He was starting to feel like a coroner and he had dealt with enough coroners to last him a lifetime.
He accidentally dislodged a tray and his recruit stirred, regaining consciousness in tiny, painful convulsions. Cutler could sympathise. He cleared his throat. He was going to be smooth and impressive.
Ray opened his eyes and Cutler grabbed his hand. “Welcome back! I'm so glad you've made it. This might look like a horror film set but we’re already leaving.” In hindsight, he should have worked on his first words more.
He pulled Ray to his feet, not meeting any resistance. But then Ray’s knees wobbled and he sank back onto the table, staring blankly ahead. His eyes still hadn’t turned black.
“I know, I know, it’s awfully disorienting. It gets better, I promise.” Cutler hugged him awkwardly with one arm. “How’re your new teeth?”
Ray hugged back tentatively. At the last question, he raised his head and demonstrated his fangs. Well, that was a relief.
"That's it, then?" Ray asked quietly.
Cutler chuckled. “Not even nearly.” He opened a bottle of fresh blood. “Hungry?”
* * *
To clear his head, Hal accepted Jacob's invitation for a week-end in Portofino. Jacob had found himself a new mistress, human, but very agreeable. She seemed to expect being recruited in the future, but Hal doubted Jacob would go for it. Admittedly, his number of recruits had always been remarkably high for an Old One (and they all died like mayflies), but even he had standards. He did not recruit whores.
Hal returned from Italy on Tuesday. That had been one hell of a binge. There was a letter from Hetty on his desk, announcing that his joke wasn't remotely funny but lucky for him, she was "getting too old for this shit." Hal laughed. He thought it was just the opposite.
It was Fergus who informed Hal that Cutler had got himself a pet. The very idea seemed preposterous, but apparently Fergus wasn’t joking. Hal ordered Cutler to stop by his rooms. He didn't mention the recruit.
Cutler walked in like a man headed to the execution that had already been postponed half a dozen times. His face was taut and grim, a mask Hal could see through only too well.
“You summoned me?”
“You speak like a genie. Are you here to grant me my three wishes?”
Cutler chuckled nervously.
“To the best of my ability, of course.”
“Did you miss me?” Hal beckoned him closer.
Cutler walked towards him and leaned against the desk's edge.
“I always miss you,” he admitted.
Hal stroked the side of Cutler's neck where, many decades ago, he had bitten him.
“You have a funny way of showing it. Are you really that desperate for attention?”
Cutler shivered. His eyes displayed a vague mix of awareness and defiance: he had come in expecting a punishment, but he wasn’t consenting to it.
“I didn't think it’d be a problem,” he said in a steady voice. “What with the recent wave of recruitments and all.”
“Fergus says the boy is completely useless but drinks a lot. Reminds me of someone.”
Cutler's eyes narrowed.
“Fergus would say that of anyone I recruited.”
Hal snorted. Cheeky. He pulled a cross out of his pocket and hit Cutler with it hard across the face. He appreciated some backbone in his underlings, but there was a time and a place for everything.
“Everybody who is not registered on the recruitment team must ask for my permission. Which part of that statement is not clear to you, Nick?”
Cutler staggered from the blow, hissing in pain.
“I know you! You wouldn’t have given it!”
Hal gripped him by the shoulders and forced him down on the desk.
“Why were you so eager to recruit someone? You never showed any interest before.”
He trailed the cross down Cutler’s chest lightly. Aversion to religious items was largely an individual matter and Cutler had never been much of a believer. His faith lay in the man who held the cross and not the cross itself. That was good enough for Hal.
“I wanted something that for once didn't revolve around you.” Cutler glared at him, his eyes bright, sickly. “God, sometimes I wish you’d never returned!”
Hal unfastened Nick's trousers and stroked him through the underwear with the wooden edge of the crucifix. He leaned into him and kissed his throat gently.
“If you wish it, then make me go away.”
“You're bored with me,” Cutler said, and shuddered. “There is no challenge in any of this.” The cross pressed harder against him. “Fuck!” Cutler hissed in pain. “What do you even care what I do in my spare time?”
Because we're friends, to quote Jacob. Hal tugged at Cutler's underwear so that the cross now touched his bare skin. Cutler jerked, hardening with undeniable arousal, his breathing rapid and laboured.
“If I didn't care, I wouldn't be here,” Hal said vaguely.
He moved the chair so that he could sit down, and dipped his head between Cutler's legs. The cross glided up and down the shaft, an excruciating contrast to Hal’s caressing lips and tongue. Cutler spread his thighs wider, searing pleasure making him quiver.
Hal pushed the cross in, without preparation, without anything to make an already painful sensation less nightmarish. Cutler cried out and jerked against the cross, impaling himself further. His face was contorted with pain but his eyes were dark with lust. He clenched his hand around a fistful of Hal's hair and pulled.
No matter what Hal did to him, Cutler enjoyed it. Rook's words came to mind. Damaged. Was this really Hal's doing or had Cutler always been like that, only too deep inside to let it rise? Hal moved the cross at a steady, quick rhythm. He wanted to impress the point: Cutler was his. Everything he did reflected on him.
Cutler clenched his teeth and kept quiet. Another desperate bid to hold Hal's attention, no less.
Hal tossed the cross aside, walked around the desk and leaned to whisper in Cutler's ear:
“Keep your plaything, but remember who you really belong to.”
“My lord is very generous,” Cutler said venomously. He slid off the desk, tugging on his trousers. “May I go?”
Hal grinned playfully.
“You may. You'll still owe me three wishes.”
* * *
Rook hadn’t truly expected Cutler to heed his advice. Fergus told him, with a side order of snide remarks. Rook disavowed what he had set in motion, all the while following the events with keen interest.
Even so, he learned nothing of the punishment Hal might or might not have administered. He must have done it in private, between the two of them - unless he was still biding his time. Rook wouldn’t ask directly and Cutler had been unusually disinclined to pay him another visit.
It was Hal who broke the radio silence in the end. He sauntered into Rook’s quarters on a Friday evening without knocking, as he was prone to:
“Please tell me you haven't recruited anyone while I was gone.”
Rook looked up from the paperwork, saying: “No, I haven't.”
“See? I knew I liked you for a reason.” Hal sat down on the desk in front of Rook, dislodging a Richardson paperweight. Rook suppressed a wince.
“Have you made plans for the week-end?” Hal asked.
“Not as such.”
It hadn’t been Rook’s intention to win any favours and Hal’s habit of running the country from weekend to weekend was appallingly colonial. Although, Rook couldn’t in all honestly claim that the legion of Alistairs had had their priorities straight.
“What do you have in mind?”
“The Bedruthan Steps. A nice patch of rock and sand in Cornwall. Ever been there?” Hal picked up a file and skimmed through it. “You might like it. It's got character. Not unlike yours.”
“I recall some clean-ups around Padstow.” Rook wished Hal would stop snatching his things to fuel his illusions of productivity. “I’ll be looking forward to deciphering your last statement.”
“I'm all up for deciphering starting tomorrow.” Hal smiled playfully, got off the desk and walked
to the door.
Rook restored the paperweight to its place, glancing at the pine tree inside. He would always be second-guessing himself, and Hal as well, but Hal’s invitation wasn’t entirely unwelcome. It also bore a suspicious resemblance to something akin to a personal life.
* * *
They set out early in the morning and arrived at their destination in under four and a half hours, Rook idling next to Hal, who had threatened to toss the reports out of the window if Rook took any with him. He remembered his Lexus with fleeting fondness.
Serene countryside was a mild shock after London. Hal ignored the unkempt parking lot by a hotel that no longer admitted guests, leaving the car directly in front of the steps. There wasn’t a single soul in the vicinity who would steal it.
The cliffs had quite a dramatic flair: massive rocks jutted out of the sand like fangs. They said once upon a time a mythical giant used them as stepping stones on his way for a swim.
Fee-fi-fo-fum, Rook counted as they descended the steep, slippery stairs. I smell the blood of an Englishman. All the time.
The beach was deserted and postcard pristine, as if it had returned to its original state from before humans first set foot here.
It was a cold, windy day but Hal would not be deterred. They walked around the beach briefly - it was grey and unwelcoming and there wasn’t much of it - until Hal climbed a rock and refused to be moved.
Rook watched the choppy waves foam as they crashed against the shore. Did the sea swallow the beach whole at high tide?
“You remind me of these waters,” he said.
“Am I that unfriendly?” Hal asked.
Rook caught it in Hal's eyes that he found the comparison rather flattering.
He chuckled. “That was my line.”
The sea rumbled on, if not drowning them, then their conversation.
“I take it you have forgiven me?” Hal stretched himself over the rock, trying to find a more comfortable position. The wind had done a number on his hair.
Rook leaned towards Hal. “In a manner of speaking.”
“Why is that?” Hal watched him, not without mild sarcasm.
He pulled away. “I’d rather not hold onto grudges for the grudges's sake.”
“That's wise... probably. But I haven't got your patience, I suppose. Besides, good old-fashioned revenge often alleviates boredom.”
He asked curiously, “Why, did you want revenge?”
Hal chuckled. “Now that it wouldn't be a surprise, I don't think I want it.”
“It would have been something in the paperwork.” Rook's smile was sharp-edged.
“Oh, the dull kind, not the X-rated kind. I should have known.” Hal snorted.
Rook paused, then reached forward, curling his hands over Hal's wrists in a not-quite-hold. He whispered into Hal’s ear as he tightened the grip, his voice slow and pervasive: “I do want it - to pin you to the nearest vertical or horizontal surface.”
Hal whispered back, a little hoarsely: “What's stopping you?”
“Apart from the rock being neither horizontal nor vertical? Nothing much.” He dragged Hal off the rock and pressed his knee to Hal’s chest, smiling darkly, uncompromisingly. With control came absolute certainty. If this was what Hal wanted to see, he would get the front-seat view.
They shared a kiss in the aftermath, slow and at the same time possessive. Hal had started it.
A wave snuck up on them and showered them with cold spray. Rook snapped his teeth at it.
Hal laughed. “I think... we should go for a swim.”
If they were still human, it would be downright suicidal. “Why not?”
Rook kicked off his shoes with the socks inside. Hal walked towards the water and jumped right in, as if daring the sea to do something about it. The water was biting, turbulent and murky. It had been some, what, fifteen years since Rook had a swim?
He followed an undertow, the adrenaline firing up through his system. He caught glimpses of Hal trying to ride the waves and risking getting crashed against those toothy steps.
For all that he was careful, the current pulled him under. He lost sight of Hal and then the wave threw him onto the rocks. He turned around at the last moment, scraping his hands and feet, only barely protecting his head. The water foamed red.
Hal dove out very close to him, smiling at the blood. “Careful. I suppose you have conducted experiments by keeping a vampire submerged for a prolonged period of time?”
Rook put up his usual unruffled facade. “We've been unable to determine the depth at which the change in pressure destroys the body.”
“If you like, I could arrange a laboratory for you. In case you get bored with all the paperwork.” Hal drifted closer, almost pressing against him.
Rook said icily, “I didn't do that for entertainment.” He paused. “It could be beneficial...” He considered the funding. “You know how to tempt.”
It would make for some sinister reputation: a dictator and his pet mad scientist.
Hal drawled: “I just want to keep all my recruits happy.”
And distracted, Rook added to himself.
“A noble intent,” he said wryly.
“Come on, let's move this conversation somewhere warmer.” Hal returned to the shore, barely avoiding another collision with a rock.
Getting out of the water wasn’t a pleasant affair: the chill seemed to have seeped into his very bones. His gashes closed quickly but stung from the sea salt. He was barely able to track down his shoes. Worst of all, Hal appeared to have no such difficulties.
In an attempt to warm himself, Rook raced back to the car, jumping over steps. He quickly dried himself with a towel and put on the change of clothes. The shirt was blue.
Hal was sipping brandy in the car. Rook got into his seat, appropriating the bottle. Hal looked him over appreciatively.
“Sometimes I envy fictional vampires with their superpowers,” Hal said.
Rook raised an eyebrow. “Why, would you like to turn into mist and slip out of the palace unnoticed? Hypnotising you've already got down pat.”
Hal smiled dreamily. “Turning into mist would be a perk, definitely. Also, surviving major blood loss and various traumas incompatible with life could come in handy.”
“I’m immensely relieved those myths have been largely proven false.” Rook paused and whispered, “I would rather be an actual magician. Don't tell anyone.”
Hal laughed. “You and Regus have got more in common than I thought. Should I be advised?”
Rook pointed out: “I don't read women's magazines though.” He still didn’t have any explanation for Hal’s reaction to those Marie Claire issues.
Hal's jaw flexed, but it was only for a second. “You don't draw superhero comics either. Or am I mistaken?”
“I can't believe he actually publishes them, albeit under a pen name.”
“He thinks no one knows.” Hal shrugged and started the car. “I don't mind.”
“All in good fun, I suppose,” Rook said before taking another sip of brandy.
They made their way towards Newquay, where Hal was planning to stay for the weekend. He drove with one hand and with an air of exaggerated carelessness that had to have been cultivated.
The clouds were so heavy that Rook could practically feel their weight. As the beach disappeared from sight, the grass grew taller, the single-track road cutting through green fields. Alas, it was too late in the year for the daffodils.
“You have to admit, there is something about the stillness of the world as it is now,” Hal said.
Outside, abandoned cottages with tiled roofs and no fences to speak of emerged - a different sort of monotony. There were miniature palm trees on one of the lawns. Someone must have dreamt of retiring here.
“A sort of a stop all the clocks feeling,” Rook mused.
Hal glanced at him. “Yes. I suppose.”
“And you didn't need any superpowers.”
Know thy enemy, Hal had quoted at him. He thought it had been his downfall. Back when he didn't understand vampires, they had been easier to despise unequivocally.
Hal snorted. “You'd be surprised.”
Rook would have none of that. “All the superpowers in this word are taken from someone or given willingly.”
“You still find it hard to distinguish between science and magic, don't you?” Hal fiddled with the radio but there was nothing on. “What would you say are we? Are we born from science or magic?”
Rook steepled his fingers, considering his answer. He said finally, “We may be born from 'magic' - for lack of a better term - but we live in a world that operates under the rules of science. Human science, such as psychology. It would not do us any good to discard them.”
Hal burst out laughing. “Oh, you've just given me an idea. Why don't you psychoanalyse a vampire? Starting with me.”
Rook was unimpressed. “There's a difference between psychology and psychoanalysis, as you well know. And the latter isn't my field of expertise. But have it your way, Mr Yorke. Let me toss some cliches at you.” His tone was coolly professional. “A person's development is determined by his early childhood. In your case, my conjecture would be a lack of a father figure and some confusion regarding the mother. You must have looked to find the former and punish the latter.”
Hal laughed again. “Is that it? Are you blaming all my supposed character flaws on Daddy issues? For your information, I had valid grounds for "confusion": I had six mothers.”
Rook smiled. “No, I'm not. My recent experiences have taught me that character flaws should be blamed on the character. But science strives to explain and predict, not blame.”
“Keep explaining then. I'm sure I'm more complex than that. You could try looking for redeeming qualities and whatnot.” Hal winked at him.
Rook said, “I find your OCD rather charming. Does it intensify during your... 'quiet' cycles?”
“More or less. I suppose your next question would be: what exactly am I up to when I go off the radar like that?”
Rook hummed. “Well, I would speculate that keeping yourself in check is a full-time occupation. But do enlighten me.”
Hal looked like he was about to divulge the most terrible secret of the universe. He drew out the pause and then said enigmatically: “I sit in and self-harm.”
Rook frowned. “Self-harm how? Reading bad comics and listening to pop music you could have here.”
Hal chuckled and then said with sudden earnesty, “I allow myself to feel guilty.”
Rook studied him intently. Hal made it sound like yet another hobby. “And what do you seek refuge in, if you're not religious?”
Hal looked like he was beginning to regret starting this conversation. It was oddly pleasing to catch him at these little slips. “Routines mostly.” Hal kept his voice carefully flippant. “You know, cleaning the house, sorting the crockery, playing the lute.” He grinned. “Knitting.”
Rook discovered that knitting mass-murderers made him uncomfortable. Or at least this specimen. “I see.”
He had been putting off the inevitable: Hal's round of asking personal questions. He was as curious about Hal as he was reluctant to divulge.
They passed another beach at the delta of a small river. It had probably been a popular site once.
Hal recomposed himself and addressed him another enchanting smile. Not that he was enchanted. “Anything else about me that you happen to find charming?”
“Your taste in... literature, of course.”
“Of course.” Hal nodded. “Which reminds me that I'm still not sure what your taste in anything is like.”
Rook replied, after a pause, “I suppose that’s because lately my tastes have constantly been under revision.”
Hal looked at him attentively. “Did you enjoy the army service?”
“Some parts of it more than others.” And it hadn’t been a part of his father’s design.
Hal was zeroing in on something, like a vulture circling down from overhead.
“It agreed with my character, I suppose: the order and the сompartmentalisation. Oh, and I liked my pistol.” He gave Hal a pointed look.
Hal said innocently: “I like your pistol too. Have you actually seen war or was it just...” He waved his hand, dismissing the service for service's sake.
“Bosnia,” Rook said simply, not volunteering any further information.
“You don't strike me as someone who enjoys that kind of action.” Hal's voice was so thick with innuendo that it was hard to say what kind of action he meant.
Rook’s legs shifted to cross themselves but he stopped mid-action. “You do strike me as the type to take trophies.”
Hal glanced down at Rook's legs. “You still begrudge me those little souvenirs? I admit that I took them back when you gave me reasons for concern.”
“Perhaps.” He made himself relax, despite that look. “I had few personal belongings to collect, as you may have noticed.”
Hal drawled: “Do you want them back then?”
He was tempted - yet again. “The pen, perhaps?”
Hal considered it. “Perhaps later.” He met Rook’s eyes. “If you ask nicely.”