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.
A/N: Never underestimate the power of tea, cards and memories. Happy Holidays - and yay, we've finished Part I!
Part I. Chapter 1 | Part I. Chapter 2 | Part I. Chapter 3 | Part I. Chapter 4
In Newquay, they stopped at a B&B that was completely empty save for the owner, a middle-aged woman who stared at the two of them with poorly concealed fear but let them in nonetheless. Hal was delighted that they could have a choice of rooms, and spent hours testing every room and finding flaws with it.
Rook simply took the first clean room but he did accompany Hal on his tour, seemingly amused by his antics. He left a generous tip to the owner, even though there was little she would be able to do with the money these days, and refused the famous Cornish pasty. With fatigued acceptance, he watched Hal tossing and turning and rolling all over the bed. He clearly thought Hal to be childish. Hal saw nothing wrong with that once in a while. Rook could use a bit of child in him, too. Perhaps he should eat one.
“It is a very important task,” Hal said, with authority. “You have got to take many factors into account. The relief,” he patted the mattress firmly, “because they’re often lumpy in public accommodations. The elasticity, the hardness, the position of the bed depending on the location of the window.”
Rook’s small, indulgent smile told Hal that if he started talking feng shui, Rook would set the bed on fire.
“Are you sulking because of the absent cream?” The innkeeper had told them she had run out. Hal saw no reason to take her words at face value. “How do you know there is no cream?”
Rook leaned against the wall and disturbed the curtains, revealing moth-eaten holes.
“There is only one way to find out. Care to join me on my quest for a perfect cup of tea?”
Within the next hour, Hal reaffirmed his conviction that, as far as doctrinaires went, Rook could be almost worse than Hal himself. He discarded breakfast teas on account of it being past noon and grumbled about having to make do with scones instead of splits. The innkeeper brought him a pitcher of milk. Hal half-expected Rook to ask for a dropper to measure out the required quantity.
“The archivist at my department always made a perfect cup of tea,” said Rook nostalgically. Hal failed to suppress another snicker. “I cannot fathom why you are so blasé about tea, given all your… quirks.”
Quirks. Look who’s talking. Hal snatched his cup away and took a sip.
“Because I'm too busy watching you being a tea snob.”
Rook's calm exterior slipped in a flash of irritation.
“You've got your own cup, Hal.”
“So that's what it takes to really annoy you, Mr Home Secretary.” Hal put the cup down and nudged it daintily towards Rook with his fingertips. Rook recomposed himself, but continued watching Hal icily, eyeing the buttered scone in Hal’s hand like it was a grenade.
The jam was too sweet and had seeds in it and the elusive clotted cream was frozen to the point of making a solid block, of which Hal still managed to shave off a slice, albeit having had to apply force. Who knew that cream tea could be that great an adventure?
After a few minutes of silence interrupted only by occasional rustling, which indicated the innkeeper’s presence in the kitchen, Hal got bored. He trailed his foot up Rook’s leg under the table nonchalantly, watching the man nearly choke on his tea. It looked promising. Hal continued, parting Rook's legs, reached his groin and pressed teasingly.
“By all means, do not let me interrupt anything you're doing.”
“Oh, of course.” Rook sat back in his chair, seemingly enjoying it, his fingers drumming over the armrests. He refilled his empty cup with steaming tea. His hand moved to draw back Hal's sock, teasing the skin. He was still wearing the stony expression that could be considered classic if there was a fashion market for these things.
A small smile tugged at Hal's lips. He loved it when Rook played along. He pressed harder, moving his foot up and down. Rook's equanimity was all the more admirable now that Hal knew what turbulence was hiding behind it.
Rook removed Hal's sock, fingernails digging into the heel. He picked up the kettle – and doused Hal's foot with tea, careful not to splash any onto himself.
“I do not appreciate people drinking from my cup.” He flashed Hal an amiable smile.
Hal jerked and hissed. He swayed backwards and the chair collapsed along with him.
“Fuck!” he moaned, rolling away from it. “You broke the head of state. I hope you're satisfied, you terrorist.”
The scoundrel didn’t even deign to burst into villainous laughter at that. Having relocated into another chair, he saluted at Hal with his tea cup, a tight smile tugging at his lips. Hal flashed him a sour look and closed his eyes in confirmation of his words. He could hear the sound of quiet, measured movement as Rook leisurely finished his tea, savouring every sip. Only then did he put down the cup and walk over to Hal's prone body. He straddled Hal's lap and pressed his ear to Hal's chest.
“No vital signs.”
He took Hal's pulse both with his fingers and with his lips. Hal fought back a smile, but strove to keep up the illusion. He felt Rook lean closer, nudging his lips apart and breathing air into Hal's mouth. Hal bit at his lips in retaliation and murmured:
“Your resuscitation skills are marvelous.”
“Why, thank you.”
A smile made him look younger.
“Did you ever have a girlfriend?” Hal asked. He was nowhere near done with personal questions. Oddly, this one didn’t seem to affect Rook as much as expected. His mirth didn’t vanish.
“As much as an average person. I don't remember them that well.”
“Them?” Hal grinned slowly. “Tell me what you remember.”
“Well, I only meant there'd been more than one. At school, for instance...” He frowned. “I remember a Janice and the back seat of somebody's car. Then there was Molly, she was supposed to wait for me. I think she got married. Clara was a colleague.”
Hal sat up, gliding his palms over Rook's hips.
“Nothing serious then? Why is that?”
Rook narrowed his eyes, which gave him a half-cautious, half-disapproving look. Like a schoolmaster. He put on a sardonic smile.
“I should think I am not a romance material.”
Hal placed his hand on Rook's belt buckle.
“What about the army? Anything noteworthy there?”
Rook tensed for a split-second. “Not as such. Nothing worth mentioning.”
“You're lying to me, Dominic,” Hal chided playfully. “If you want your pen back, you might want to work harder.”
Rook's eyes narrowed even as he leaned into Hal, evidently weighing the pen against the dirty laundry.
“Fine. There was someone in the military who took a liking to me. I used it for career advancement. It never went far, though.”
Hal worked his hand around Rook’s groin.
“But you enjoyed it, didn't you? Did you ever want to go further? Like... on the beach.”
Rook's eyes widened. “No.” Such certainty. If self-deception was an art, Rook had perfected it. But then, perhaps he was not trying to deceive anyone right now.
“Then what's changed?”
“Apparently the vampire condition really does unscrew some loose bolts.” He steadied himself, clutching at Hal’s shoulders.
Hal took the pen out of his breast pocket and dangled it in front of Rook.
“Why is this so important to you? You’ve got an array of writing utensils at your disposal now.”
Before Hal could so much as blink, Rook lunged forward and snatched the pen with his teeth, effectively unable to reply. Hal retaliated by driving his fangs into his recruit’s neck, making him drop the utensil.
“No playing dirty. I said you’d have to work, so work.”
“I simply like the pen and it is mine.” He sounded mortified. “There are no deeper motives than that.”
Hal picked the pen up, pulled the cap off with his teeth and pressed the tip against Rook's hand. He pushed hard and moved it, leaving a deep mark on his skin.
“It bothers you, doesn't it? Not having anything you could call truly yours?”
Rook stared at the beading up blood in fascination.
“That isn't so different from the department, actually. The problem is that now anything that doesn’t belong to me, automatically belongs to you.”
Hal licked the blood off.
“Would that include you?” he teased. He could feel Rook shiver. Rook’s fangs were out, ready for an attack.
“I would not admit to that.”
Hal moaned as the teeth grazed his skin.
“Why not? You never did belong to yourself, so nothing's changed.”
“There's a difference between not belonging to yourself and being up for the highest bidder,” Rook murmured in his ear. “You too belong to the regime.”
This statement was difficult to argue with. Hal raised his hand and drew a line down Rook's neck, pressing the point of the pen to his skin - not hard enough to draw blood but hard enough for him to feel it. He stopped at the pulse point. Rook couldn’t have missed the derisive symmetry of this gesture with his last suicide attempt.
He looked Hal in the face and admitted:
“I wouldn't want to die now, if that is what you want to hear.” No, of course not. The ultimate desk drudge staked by a pen, a tragicomedy in half an act. "Why should I want it now,” he continued, “when I have already survived my world ending?” He sounded stubborn.
Hal pressed on a bit harder before withdrawing his hand. He supposed little death would have to suffice.
He placed the bloody tip of the pen between Rook’s parted lips and watched him suck reflexively on it, drinking in the metallic taste of ink and his own blood. The sight of it enflamed Hal even more. He bucked up, the friction between them hot and still insufficient.
Sometimes victory looked an awful lot like defeat; at other times, defeat could bring triumph. Hal slipped the pen into the pocket of Rook’s jacket, surrendering it, and whispered:
“Now I wonder what you're prepared to do to get the pistol back.”
* * *
Loud rapping on the door startled Rook. He had dozed off, curled up around a book, and for a moment he was completely disoriented, forgetting where he was.
Hal didn’t bother waiting for a reply. He sauntered in, the very image of a gentleman of leisure, and wondered nonchalantly if Rook cared for a snack. Rook very much doubted Hal cared if he cared. He sat up, shaking off the vestiges of drowsiness. He said, despite his reluctance:
The streets were empty as if the whole town had died out. Identical houses peered at them with black, unlit windows. The larger part of Rook hoped they wouldn't find anyone. Hal kept marching on. Not that Rook had expected anything less from him.
He didn’t know what Yorke was trying to prove, roaming the desolate streets. The whole country belonged to him, most of it quite legally on paper. Even if it hadn’t done, he would not require an invitation anyway. Apparently Hal felt the same after a half-hour of fruitless wanderings. He picked the lock on the door of a small cottage and came in, beckoning Rook to follow.
“Breaking and entering?” That rather was Hal's style once he grew impatient, and yet, somehow Rook had hoped Hal would just get bored and leave. Rook's gaze fell on the family photos. It was a ghost town without ghosts. Now that Rook was able to see them, ghosts eluded his presence.
Hal winked at him. “Are you offering?” He moved quietly, exploring the territory.
It took Rook a while to get the double meaning.
“You are rather like Midas: turn everything you touch into innuendo.”
There were people in this house, he could sense them. Hal must have detected them as soon as they had entered. Under one of those rugs there would be a trapdoor. How eyewateringly predictable.
“These people already live in constant fear and yet you have to grind them down even further. Perks of being a tyrant?”
“Believe it or not, I don't really care about frightening them unless they refuse to cooperate.” Hal kicked the dusty rug aside and threw the trapdoor open. Inside, there was a family of five: the parents, a young girl, a boy of about seventeen, and a grandmother. Hal glanced at Rook like a cat pleased with the catch. “But I am hungry.”
Rook met Hal's eyes. He didn't suggest Hal let the children go because what would they do without the parents and because mercy was generally a seldom used word in Hal Yorke’s vocabulary. A gamble the flighty vampire could potentially accept – and some of the family could survive.
“How about we flip a coin for each of them? Heads for life, tails for death.”
Hal appraised the family.
“Your lucky day, ladies and gentlemen. But I must warn you: if you try anything, like threatening my friend here with crosses or running, I will kill all of you in very creative ways.” He beckoned them to come up and said to Rook: “Who goes first? Take your pick.”
He pointed silently at the mother. The choice was spontaneous, illogical. He flicked the coin up deftly, caught it between his hands and showed it to Hal, his face darkening. Tails. He should have chosen the man. Hal had less interest in them. Death wasn’t the thing to be feared when you were in the hands of Hal Yorke; imagination was.
Hal grinned predatorily. The father made a move in their direction, but the mother stopped him and approached the vampires, her back straightened proudly.
“Bon appetite,” Hal drawled. Slowly, it dawned on Rook the meal was for him.
His heart sank. He always brought these things upon himself. Yet he felt a stab of relief. He wouldn’t hurt her. She stood before him, straight as a rod, unflinching, a tangle of veins and capillaries, and he couldn’t bring himself to feel sorry. Not for her at least. She got to keep her dignity.
He brushed her hair away from her neck and bit her. The blood tasted as rich as it always did.
Hal took the coin and turned to the family.
“Who wants to go next?”
The father glared at him hatefully.
“Ooh, not a very smart move. What if you die?” Hal grinned, and beckoned the girl closer.
"I said I will go, what more do you want?" the father exclaimed.
“Don't worry, that's not what I need her for.” He squatted in front of the girl and brushed her hair off her face. She looked at him with wide, frightened eyes. “What's your name, princess?”
She glanced at her father who nodded slightly.
"Ruby," she murmured.
“Well, Ruby, here's what you're going to do. You're going to flip this coin,” he put the coin into her hand, “and maybe you will bring your Daddy luck. Go ahead.”
The girl looked at her father hesitantly. The man growled at Hal:
"You're a monster."
“Does Daddy always spell everything out?” Hal smiled at the girl. “Flip the coin, Ruby.”
There was a hard edge in his voice, thinly coated by the honey sweetness. She complied. Hal looked at her open palm when the coin landed.
“What do you know, she is lucky. Go.”
"I'm not leaving my family for you to indulge your perverse fantasies!" the man protested.
Hal's eyes darkened. He placed his hand at the back of Ruby's neck and said:
“Either you go, or I will kill her right now, out of turn.”
"Dad, for fuck's sake, go!" snapped the boy. The man looked at the others, tears in his eyes, and bolted.
Perhaps for the first time since his recruitment, Rook felt like a complete and utter monster. He could find no excuse to hide behind. He took the coin from the girl and handed it to the boy.
“Flip it. For your sister.”
“Why are you doing this?” the boy whispered. “Why not just kill us and be done with it?”
“Wouldn't you rather grapple for a chance to live, slim as it might be?”
“What's the point? You'll kill us anyway. If not you, then someone else. I'm not scared of dying but your mind games make me sick.” He tossed the coin, looking angrily in Rook's eyes. It landed tails. His lips trembled. He whispered: “Please. Not her. Take me. Just let Ruby and grandma go.”
Rook said coolly:
“Everyone is scared of dying.” He grabbed the boy by the elbow and turned to Hal. “This young man here is offering himself in exchange for the girl and the grandmother.”
This raised an instant slew of protests from the old woman. She claimed she had had her time and there was nothing to live for anymore. With her bulging, watery eyes and her sagging cheeks, she reminded Rook of a craggy old frog.
“How noble of you,” Hal snorted. “Unfortunately, I was going to let you off the hook anyway because I don't like you. So go before I snap your neck out of boredom.”
Ruby's chin was trembling and she was crying. The boy implored his grandmother to go and eventually she did. There was a difference between heroism and suicide. Thank god these people understood that.
Hal strode up to the boy.
“Tell me, Kyle, why shouldn't I just take you both? After all, her fate's been decided and yours still hangs in the balance.”
Rook rammed his hands in his pockets, resisting the urge to hit Hal over the head with something heavy.
“The coin flip was sloppy,” he said. “The boy just threw it instead of making it turn over properly.”
Kyle glowered at Hal.
“Blood is blood, what difference does it make? I've got more, I'm bigger.”
Rook sighed. That sounded reasonable. Hal could be contrary purely out of flippancy. But she looked small even for her age, she shivered like a blade of grass in the wind, she wouldn’t put up a proper resistance, not the way Hal liked it.
Hal looked them both over as if making an assessment.
Kyle darted up to his sister and hugged her fiercely.
"Go find Dad, all right? I'll be right behind you."
She hugged back.
"I know, Ruby, but I promise, I'll be right behind you. Go."
She ran out of the house. He turned to Hal, struggling to look brave. Hal circled him like a shark. He brushed his fingers across the boy's chest and looked at Rook over Kyle's shoulder.
“Nice to see the world still has heroes in it.”
Rook folded his arms over his chest, ashamed and humbled.
“Nice to hear you acknowledge that humans can be heroes.”
Hal smirked and suddenly pushed Kyle against the table.
“I don't think I'm hungry anymore. At least not for blood.”
Rook flinched in disgust. He should have known...
“I'm not going to watch that.”
Hal should keep the boy alive afterwards. He would hate that. In hindsight, Rook detested heroes.
Outside, he leaned against the brick wall and lit a cigarette. The smoke scratched at his throat, failing to eliminate the smack of blood. He pretended not to hear any sounds coming from the house. Hal must have felt so gratified, knowing he could still shock his recruit.
“Cigarette?” Rook offered when Hal finally emerged from the house.
“Thank you. And an explanation please.”
It felt like failing an examination.
“I never particularly enjoyed killing people with my own hands,” said Rook. “I tended to make it my last resort as a rule. And now it is to be my lifestyle.”
“Understandable, but I asked you if you wanted to come. I explicitly stated the purpose of this walk.” He reached out and brushed a drop of blood off of Rook's chin. “You still agreed to come and now you're acting like you haven't expected any of this.”
Rook lapsed into a heavy silence. Hal made a valid point. He shouldn't have come if he hadn't been feeling up to it. That was his lesson. He couldn’t be a hero, but he couldn’t be a silent observer either.
Hal looked at him with serious eyes.
“Why do you think I'm doing this?”
Rook said bluntly:
“Because you enjoy it.”
“No, because I'm bored. And because I can. And to make a statement. I'm layered.” Hal pressed his finger to Rook’s chest. “You enjoy my company and you hate yourself for it. You've got another option, but you never use it. Tell me no.”
Rook swatted Hal's hand away. It was rather too late for a “no”, wasn't it? He threw his cigarette away.
“I will be in my room for the rest of the night, but don't take it as an invitation. Oh, and please don't kill the B&B owner.”
He strolled away without looking back.
On the way to the B&B, he paged through all the terrible things he had done in the past few months. He could no longer blame it on hunger. It truly was no more than he had done for the DoDD but of course it was different. Rook hadn't lied when he’d claimed to want to live and he supposed that meant the point of no return. If only he could conjure up something, anything, to assuage his guilt or... yes, he could take a page out of Hal’s book and knit himself some socks. That would work: a sock for every life ruined. Rook locked the door to his room and knelt by the bed, his prayer aimed to cauterise the raw, bleeding conscience.
* * *
That definitely wasn't a no.
Hal dropped the dog-end and returned to the cottage. Upon entering the living room, he had water splashed in his face. He wrinkled his nose.
“I'm an Old One, boy. Ill luck.”
Kyle lunged at him with a stake. He was clumsy and strung-up; the attack was ridiculously easy to block. Hal pushed Kyle against the wall and gripped the hand clutching the stake. He pried the stake out of the boy’s fingers and tossed it aside.
“You should have joined your family already.”
"Thought I'd try my luck," Kyle growled.
“Oh? A slayer wannabe?”
"Someone will do it. Not me, but someone else. I've heard the rumours. About the saviour."
Hal's eyes widened.
“You really should keep your mouth shut.” He considered killing the boy, but perhaps that was what Kyle wanted. Hal took his index finger and pulled back until it snapped. Kyle screamed. Hal broke the rest of the fingers and let him sag to the floor. “I should very much like to see the world saved by a child.”
Rook should be pleased with himself: only one of the five family members was dead. They had all learnt a valuable lesson tonight. Everything here was Hal’s to do with as he pleased. Every life taken served a purpose; every life spared was Hal’s whim.
He took a stroll through the ghostly town before returning to the B&B. He didn't try to reach Rook and he spared the owner, though he did feel hungry. He thought that he'd chosen Rook, his usefulness for the state notwithstanding, because he was a ruthless but noble man. Hal felt like dancing on the edge of a knife with him. Rook feared he would turn into Hal or, worse, Cutler; Hal feared Rook would turn into Leo.
* * *
Judging by the din and the clatter of dishes downstairs, the B&B owner was still alive. Small blessings.
After the hard night, a bleak, nippy morning arrived. Rook had always prided himself on facing the world undaunted, no matter what. As he buttoned up his shirt in front of the empty mirror, he thought it was just as well he couldn't see his reflection anymore: he wouldn't spot a single redeeming quality.
He found Hal in the dining-room, waiting languidly by the table set for breakfast. There were eggs and bacon, crumpets and tea.
“Good morning, Hal,” said Rook, taking a seat. There was no reason not to be civilized. Nor to skip the small talk. “Why do you suppose the food doesn't taste the same? As far as I know, our taste buds didn't undergo any changes. Is it that the edge of hunger for it was taken away? Does blood simply make it pale in comparison?”
Hal nodded in greeting.
“It's hard to say. Perhaps a little bit of both. But I suppose if you are well-fed, you wouldn't be distracted by thirst for blood and will be able to appreciate the taste of food the same as a human can.”
Rook looked at the plate. He never really could. Food had always been a requirement rather than enjoyment. But then, he understood why vampires made such a fuss over blood, and he could certainly relate to that when it came to tea. He toasted at Hal with his cup and was altogether criminally pleased to see that Hal moved his feet from under the table.
“Do you ever have nightmares?” Rook asked. Hal had the irritating air of someone who had slept through the night like a baby. As for Rook, by the time he finished the prayer, he had been shaking and his cheeks had been damp. He had had a few hours of fitful sleep and considered that a blessing.
“Yes,” Hal answered. It threw Rook off because he hadn't had a particular agenda.
He said carefully: “So do I.”
Hal watched him almost hungrily. “What about?”
“I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours.”
“You go first.”
Fair enough. Rook collected his thoughts.
“I saw that little girl from yesterday, crying.”
“I see no reason for that. She survived. With almost all of her family.”
Hal made it sound so seductively simple.
“She's been through a terrible experience nonetheless,” Rook noted. “And I know there's more to come, for all of them.”
“No, really? I haven't noticed.” Hal sounded sarcastic.
Rook clenched his jaws.
“Your turn. Tell me how your worst nightmare is being buried under piles of paperwork.”
“You're a mind-reader,” Hal laughed. “That's exactly my biggest nightmare. That, and Cutler providing a running commentary on everything.”
Brilliant. Rook had inadvertently given him a way out.
“Doesn't he do that anyway?”
Hal smiled predatorily.
“He does, but in the waking world I know plenty of ways to shut him up.”
Rook had little doubt about that. It made him feel uncomfortable. He busied himself cutting his strips of bacon into smaller slices. The heady smell was fading as the meal was getting cold.
Hal had lived a long life. Five centuries of it. That made for a rich nightmare material, including his exciting backstory possibly featuring the devil. Hal laughed at the suggestion.
“I don't have nightmares about the devil. Because of him I lost a... potentially good fuck.”
“You never did fill in the blanks,” Rook couldn’t help pointing out.
“We summoned him to destroy him,” said Hal offhandedly. “We were naive and foolish. I don't think anyone has since accomplished what we thought we would, but even if he is alive, he is weak.” He took a bite of his crumpet, brushing the crumbs off his lips with the tips of his fingers. The mask of civility was a hard one to maintain. He grew weary of it quickly. “Then again, we stuffed him into a human body, and that was almost one hundred years ago. I dare hope he's passed away.”
Rook's tea cup clattered against the table. He stared at Hal in consternation.
“You summoned the devil. To destroy him.” Who trusted Hal Yorke to run Britain again? “That is just... hmm. I think I shall ring Cutler up because I need double sarcasm right now.”
“It wasn't my idea, I was in it for the sex.” Hal paused. “Not, uh... not with the devil obviously.” He grinned. “And if you breathe a word of this to Cutler, I'll throw you both in prison. Together. In the same cell.”
Rook couldn't hold back any longer. He let out a strained half-hiccup half-chuckle. It got worse and turned into a full-blown laugh. He managed: “I do apologise.” And laughed again.
Hal tried to maintain a huffish façade, but ended up laughing too. It must be funny a century later. It seemed positively idiotic.
Rook's chest hurt from all that exercise. He calmed down eventually and leaned back in his seat, sighing. He couldn't remember the last time he had laughed like that. It was bizarre.
Hal was looking at him with a boyish grin.
“Glad you find my misery amusing, Mr Rook. At the risk of destroying my reputation completely, I shall tell you that I just stood there and looked irresistible like I always do. A ghost did the actual summoning.” Hal winked at him, his eyes sparkling. “I really do not recommend taking anyone on dates involving magic. It tends to ruin the prospects.”
Dear Lord, how had they gone from Rook’s nightmares to mutual admission of Hal’s idiocy to flirting? Like bloody teenagers! Rook wasn’t quite sure he wanted to know the answer to this question. Hal mercifully did not push him any further.
After breakfast – an odd affair by any standards – Rook went out for a stroll. Not abhorring Hal was off-putting to say the least, but having days like this, unmarred by government work, mornings that contained a fine breakfast and engaging conversation, swimming in the sea in winter and cutting loose – that terrifyingly self-indulgent lifestyle made his skin crawl. He had never let personal feelings cloud his judgement so badly.
He wondered if the constant distractions were specifically aimed to keep him from contacting the resistance. Rook would be a hypocrite to criticise extremism but now that their victory was a distant prospect, they did more damage than good, including to Rook's projects. He saw more promise in working inside the established system than in playing at terrorism.
He twirled his pen in his hands, thinking and thinking. He was too damn curious for his own good.
* * *
Rook lit the fireplace, experimenting with tinder and bits of paper until the fire burnt nearly perfectly. He settled himself into an armchair comfortably and the room seemed grainy around him, as though caught on old film. There was something captivating about looking at the flames.
Hal came downstairs a short while later and made tea. “Here's your perfect cup, Dominic. Tell me otherwise and I shall know you for the liar that you are.”
“Let us put that to test, shall we?” He accepted the cup and inhaled the aroma before taking a sip. “Close enough.”
Hal pouted. “It is perfect.”
For somebody who was habitually less than generous with his praise, Hal certainly demanded exorbitant amounts of compliments.
Hal claimed the other armchair and stretched out his legs, his feet together. “Isn't it nice to have the whole place to ourselves?”
“It is.” He was still in the mood for silent contemplation.
He scanned the room for anything of interest that wasn't Hal, giving the picture frames on the walls altogether more attention than they merited.
“Do you play cards, Dominic?” Shall we play a game, Mr Rook?
He frowned. “Hmm, yes, I would say. Why?”
“How about a game of poker? I haven't played for ages.” Hal looked at him with the most innocent expression.
“What kind of poker? Five-card, Texas Hold’em? What are the stakes?” In all things Hal, terms not set were terms exploited.
Hal said impatiently: “Just poker, Dominic. We’re not at the Ritz, in case you haven’t noticed.”
Rook might consent to a friendly game of poker. So far he’d had the worst luck when it came to playing against Hal, but he knew how to count the cards. He wouldn’t be above cheating - and neither would Hal, for that matter.
Hal claimed that the deck had come from one of the rooms, submitting it for Rook’s thorough inspection. They sat down at the table.
“I’m afraid I haven’t got any money on me,” Rook announced.
“We're not playing for money, Dominic, that's vulgar.”
Hal smiled indulgently as he started dealing - before they had so much as placed the token bets. Rook watched Hal’s hands unblinkingly.
“What are we betting?”
“Clothes.” Hal was obviously enjoying the look on Rook’s face.
He pulled back. “Well, that's... scandalous.” He wondered how that would even work.
Hal laughed. “Honestly, you've known me for how long? And you find this idea scandalous?”
It was self-evident that Hal’s strategy would be to make him undress as quickly as possible. He took a hasty inventory: he had a tie and a vest over on Hal.
“One game, and the ante is a shoe.” That should suffice for humouring Hal without losing all of his garments.
“Two games. Don't pretend, you're not always this boring. That's not your natural state.”
“Hmm. Fine.” This time, he would win. “Each sock also counts as a separate item.”
They put the shoes on the table - metaphorically speaking - until it wasn’t metaphorical anymore: Hal decided that they should strip as they went instead of afterwards. Rook’s left shoe stood by the armchair in vague disapproval and Hal sent his ante crashing into it. He chose to ignore Hal’s childish antics, not rising to the provocation.
They looked at their cards, which was, if nothing else, an exercise in well-practiced opacity. Hal put Rook in the mind of the famous Caravaggio painting.
Hal commented idly that they needed some whiskey to go with the game. And, naturally, he couldn’t have said that beforehand.
Hal had dealt the cards so it was Rook who opened, removing his other shoe.
“I raise you two socks.” Hal gave him a smile spelling: ‘See how extreme I can be.’
He didn’t take them off, Rook noted and saw no reason to put what Hal hadn’t on the table.
Rook fetched that bottle to stall for time, taking his cards with him and keeping an eye on Hal. He returned, filled their glasses and saw Hal’s bet.
Hal toasted at Rook with his drink. “Close enough… to good whiskey.”
He got rid of one card and Hal didn’t replace anything, his smile inscrutably superior. If he was practicing any sleight-of-hand, Rook hadn’t caught him at it. A frisson of excitement broke through Rook’s apprehension, but Hal didn’t need to know about that.
The second round of betting commenced and Rook removed his tie, folding it carefully.
“Why are you even wearing a tie, you're on holiday!” Hal made a sly face. “I raise you... the pants.”
Rook's eyes widened. It was definitely his cue to fold but he had a very strong hand.
He saw Hal’s bet. “Cards on the table, shall we?” He lay his cards out one by one, revealing a full house.
Hal revealed a three. “Looks like you're lucky.”
Rook smiled - not without a hint of triumph. “Your, ahem, pants, please.” He sipped his whiskey expectantly.
“I'm afraid I can't take them off without going a little bit further than intended, so…” Hal rose and slowly unbuckled his belt. He unfastened the trousers and slid them to pool around his ankles. Then he stepped out of them and slowly glided his underwear down, never taking his eyes off of Rook's face.
Rook would have looked elsewhere if he hadn’t suspected this to be a ploy to distract him and meddle with the deck. Hal was... nicely-shaped, if that was even applicable. He chastised himself but continued watching as Hal put his trousers back on. He left the underwear on Rook’s chair and sat back down.
Rook pointed out deliberately calmly: “You forgot the socks.”
Hal laughed. “Only if you promise not to pour any more tea on my feet.” He took them off.
“I promise.” He didn’t have any scalding tea within his immediate reach.
He attempted to put his tie and shoes back on and use the clothing he had won for betting purposes but it turned out that Hal’s poker didn’t work that way. Rook insisted that they hardly had enough items for another two rounds of betting. Hal reminded him that he had agreed to play.
He ought to have scalding tea on his person at all times.
Rook took his time shuffling before dealing and Hal called him a cardsharp teasingly. The tone was belied by a pointed look.
The ante were their belts. Rook’s hand wasn’t as promising as he would have liked, but it didn’t scream: fold me!
He hadn’t learnt from his past mistakes in the slightest, it seemed.
Hal went in with the heavy artillery again, betting his shirt. He must be expecting Rook to drop the cards and jump out of the window already. He raised Hal his vest vindictively and Hal took off his jacket together with the shirt.
Rook was perfectly fine with undressing before bed or shower or when changing. Without Hal watching any of that. He put his jacket back on and replaced three cards. Hal once again didn’t replace anything.
Rook took a long swig of whiskey. He planned to hold onto his jacket and, while the pants were a more intimate item, for the lack of a better term, the trousers covered more ground. He would almost have the suit on, after brief undressing
He bet his pants.
“All-In,” purred Hal, causing a sharp intake of breath in Rook. The innuendo had never left. Hal added sweetly, sweetly that, since it was the last game, folding would be unsportsmanlike and therefore unacceptable.
Hal slowly laid the cards on the table and gave Rook a playful look.
Rook's jaw flexed. Hal’s cards weren’t brilliant but he had... absolutely nothing. “I keep the jacket, the trousers and the socks - you didn't have them on when you went All-In.”
Hal nodded and eyed him expectantly.
Rook downed his glass and stood up, straight-backed. He removed his trousers and his pants swiftly, without any of Hal’s exhibitionism, then put the trousers back on and returned to his seat immediately. The pants remained on the floor.
He buttoned up the jacket.
“Another game?” Hal smiled lazily.
Rook's skin heated. “You’re down to your trousers, for god’s sake!”
“Do you think he’s also after my trousers?” Hal flashed him a look of mock concern.
Rook had nothing to gain but he hated losing.
He lost his trousers in the next game.
“You do know it's ridiculous to keep the jacket on when you've already taken off everything else?” Hal’s voice was full of mirth.
“I didn’t lose it,” he retorted.
Hal walked around the table and turned Rook’s chair around with him in it. “Of course you didn't.”
Rook gripped the armrests, staring at Hal as though he were a particularly poisonous snake. He kept his legs crossed. “What are you doing?”
Hal pulled away. “Looking at you. I thought that was obvious.”
Rook’s skin prickled with goosebumps, his body tense, almost rigid.
“Why does it make you feel uncomfortable?” Hal looked like he was fighting the urge to slam him against the wall and fuck him senseless, and Rook really shouldn’t find it so easy to read between those lines. “Or is it the other way round? Perhaps you're actually enjoying it.”
He glared at Hal. “Oh, clearly I have been waiting for this unforgettable experience my entire life.” He refilled his glass.
“This is exactly what your life has lacked, Dominic.” Hal slowly lowered himself on his knees. “By now you should already admit that.”
Rook breathed out: “Perhaps.” Seeing Hal in that position never failed to excite him. “Or perhaps not.”
Hal shifted a bit closer, but made no move to touch Rook in any way. “For someone whose job it has been to maintain the balance between worlds, your life has remarkably lacked that same balance.”
He fought to stay completely still, holding the eye contact. “It was never a priority. And if the circumstances were different, it wouldn't be an issue at all.”
Hal's look slid all over him before returning to his eyes. “How different?”
“If I hadn't spent a length of time in your marvellous company,” Rook confessed, with great reluctance.
Hal drawled: “Would you say this has been a good turn of events or a bad one?”
Rook's answering smile was sardonic. “It has certainly been very illuminating, beyond good and bad.”
Hal leaned closer, his breath ghosting over Rook's skin. “I shall take that as a well-deserved compliment.”
He had only himself to blame for playing Hal's twisted games. The problem was that on some level he did enjoy them. The constant exercises in willpower, the never-ending tug of war.
While his face stayed somewhat composed, he knew that his body language was betraying the extent of his frustration.
Hal finally pulled away and refilled his whiskey glass, making no attempts whatsoever to get decent. Rook hadn't spilled any whiskey on Hal yet. He glanced at the fireplace. Yes, he would drench Hal in whiskey, set him on fire and then print the devil summoning story in the only paper that was still being published.
“Are you thinking of a way to kill me?” Hal folded his arms over his chest. “You're wearing your ‘Kill Hal’ face.”
Rook snorted. “No, it's merely the default of anyone who's met you.”
“Why haven't you gone up to your room to pray for your sins yet?” Hal asked irritably.
“Repenting is such a lonely business.”
Rook collected his clothes. He felt Hal’s eyes on him as he marched upstairs.
He took a long shower, just letting the water run. He couldn't concentrate on his book so he opened his organiser and wrote down the list of things they had been up to, including but not limited to murder and strip poker. Then he stared at it in disbelief.
If he let this gleeful corruption continue, one day he would indeed stop recognising himself at all and it would have nothing to do with drinking blood. His fingers tightened around the pen. Perhaps he held onto it because it was the only piece of his human life he had reclaimed.
The most devastating thing about the new world order wasn't collapsing the previous one like a stack of dominoes. It was rendering all of Rook's past efforts null and void. Futile. Useless. Damaging. The things he had told himself when having people removed from the equation no longer excused his actions because the truth had come into light regardless.
He had started questioning what should have been absolute. Had his past efforts truly done more good than harm? Had he been protecting humanity or keeping it corralled like cattle ready for slaughter? He could no longer be certain. He had lost his convictions, whether he wanted it or not.
The terrible admission that through upholding the status quo Rook had prevented humanity from ever being prepared to defend itself made him jolt from his chair and pace around the room.
He felt profoundly lost.
* * *
Hal had gone hungry long enough. He had taken a sip from the boy’s wrist the night before, but it wasn’t enough. He went out and drained the first person he met – a non-descript middle-aged man. He was in no mood for any particular games. Playing with Rook was both exhausting and fulfilling. Blood warmed him up and pushed back the strange thoughts that he was having. He wasn't ruining Rook per se, only contributing to the downfall that had started many years before they even met.
Hal thought back to Rook's question about nightmares. He never did answer it. His nightmares were varied but he seldom remembered them in detail. There was one, though. He would find himself locked in a cage during a dogfight, but instead of transforming into a monster, the dog transformed back into a human. Back into Leo who looked at Hal with angry, judgmental eyes. Hal would attack and Leo would dodge. They danced around each other until Hal finally sank his teeth into Leo's throat and ripped it out. He drank greedily, letting the blood hollow him out and burn, burn his insides, grind him to dust. He would wake up with a silent scream tearing itself out of his mouth and he would forcibly push the dream away, drink until he couldn't drink anymore, execute somebody, fuck and curse like it was his new routine.
He returned to the hotel late at night. The owner must have run off for fear that he wouldn't let her go. The whole town felt like a snapshot of a dystopia. Hal rummaged through the fridge, found some food and started cooking it. He ended up making some mutant cross between Shepherd's pie and lasagna. The other frying pan had pancakes in it. The quantity of food in the pantry was surprising, especially considering the woman’s claims that she was out of this and that. Perhaps she was hoarding supplies for the resistance. Normally it merited an investigation, but Hal just couldn’t be bothered this time.
Rook peeked into the kitchen curiously. He glanced at the pots and pans, then at Hal.
“I didn't know you cooked.”
“I do a lot of things when I'm bored, and not all of them are despicably evil.” Hal gestured at him to take a seat.
Rook pressed his fork to the pie. It sagged a bit, and the stuffing oozed out. Rook cut off a slice and chewed thoughtfully. He praised it guardedly, looking oddly subdued. For Christ’s sake! Hal could smell the guilt on him. He must have been beating himself up again while Hal had been away.
“Dominic.” Hal sat down and interlaced his fingers, eyeing Rook intently. “I don't usually do this without any ulterior motive – but do you want to talk?”
Rook's eyes focused on Hal.
“Yes, but...” He let out a tiny sigh. “Yes, I do want to talk.” He crossed his arms defensively. “If, if the DoDD and the likes of us hadn't been so busy with the smoke and mirrors, humanity could have been prepared. Could have been ready to defend itself. We weren't protecting them, we were locking them in the same dark closet with the boogeymen.”
And you've only just realised it? Hal tried not to let the question show on his face. “Do you believe in prophecies?”
Rook must have read that question anyway. He flinched. “Not particularly, why?”
“Well, suppose you were told in advance what was coming. Suppose you knew from the start, from the day your agency was founded. Would that have changed anything?”
“Of course, it would have!” Rook said vehemently. “Appropriate... measures would have been taken.”
“No. You would have dismissed it because the future cannot be foretold.”
Rook grimaced and massaged his temples. “For a moment I thought you were going to mention that child... the supposed saviour.”
Hal blinked, genuinely taken aback.
“You know about...” He cleared his throat. “Of course you do. There are rumours in the resistance.”
“Do you believe in prophecies?” Rook's gaze was sharp, almost demanding.
“Are you asking me if I believe that she will save the world?” Hal chuckled. He enjoyed the naïveté of the miracle child’s ever-growing flock. “No. But she may try.” She would remain their new symbol. People needed symbols. People needed to believe someone else would come and save them. Only this child never would because they would find her and kill her. “Anyway, my original point was that it was nowhere near your bloody fault, Dominic.” Hal popped a small slice of the pie into his mouth. “You did what you thought was the right thing. Just as they... we did what we thought was best for us.”
Rook lapsed into silence. Perhaps he wanted Hal to convince him and to have that weight lifted off his shoulders. He whispered:
“I wish I had done some good. Something I wouldn't doubt now.”
Hal had no idea what to say to that, but his lips moved before he could review what he was saying. “Get in a line.” His voice was quiet, barely perceptible. His eyes widened a bit. He sat still as if the world would collapse if he moved. Rook met Hal's eyes, equally frozen in shock. His hands moved across the table as if by their own volition, grasping Hal's.
For a moment, Hal was back in Southend, sitting at the table, while Pearl was fussing in the kitchen, making that same pie. Leo was reading a paper across from him and commenting on the headlines. Maybe it was 1957 when the Russians sent a dog into space. Or 1981 when the Fourth Doctor left the series. Or 1997 when Princess Diana died in a carcrash and Pearl cried. The date didn't matter. The decades that he'd spent with them were rolled into a single endless moment that he struggled so hard to erase. He wished there was some medicine that he could take to make himself forget all that. He pulled away all of a sudden and walked out of the kitchen. He sat down on the stairs and leaned against the wall. He had no business losing control like this. It was too close to admitting that he was not living the life he had chosen for himself.
Hal took a deep breath. No, he was not going to let this happen now. Two years since they left him. Why would he dwell on it? He got up and returned to the kitchen.
“I'm going to get that promised clifftop view of the beach. Hunt down some moonlight if I'm lucky.” He flashed Rook his usual charming smile. “Care to join me?”
Rook acted as though nothing had happened.
“Moonlight hunting - how could I refuse that?”
Hal didn’t fail to notice that he snatched a bottle of brandy from the bar to take for the ride. Marvellous idea, it was.
* * *
Moonlight charted paths on the water. Night painted everything black: the rolling sea, the smooth, glassy sand, sharp rocks jutting out of it; only the light was sharp and white and conveniently stripped of poetry. Rook had never had time to watch the scenery but he'd had more than enough shadows and silence.
“Why is it so important to you? To do good?” It appeared Hal was back to his favourite tune. “You're not that selfless a person, Dominic. If you think you are, you're deceiving yourself.”
“Why is it so important to you to convince everyone there is no good left in the world?” Rook parried.
“Because there isn't! I'm not trying to convince everyone. I just don't want my recruits' minds to be clouded by illusions.”
Rook stood on a cliff's edge, looking down, the wind stirring his coat. Even vampires needed hope. A drink wasn’t always enough.
“Hope is for those uncertain of their future,” Hal said. “We have already won. Our future is set.” He stepped closer. “What do you want, Dominic?”
Rook loathed that future with a burning in his chest he couldn't extinguish. There was no noble purpose to lull him into complacency. He looked ahead and saw no end to the people he would kill directly or indirectly and other, subtler monstrosities he would no doubt commit. The humans, whom he'd sworn to protect, would perish, and with them the last tatters of his own humanity.
Hal gripped the collar of his shirt and moved him closer to the cliff's edge as though intending to throw him off. Even a vampire couldn't survive that.
“That is a lie. And if it's not, then you're a fool. You think you've lost something? You've got no idea what real loss feels like. And you won't, not until you rebuild yourself from scratch and get shattered again and again. Would you like me to kill you now, Dominic? So that you could die like most of your colleagues, a coward? They begged, you know. They swore to leave their childish ideals behind and serve the new regime. See how much your greater good meant to them? We killed them all. We recruited those who showed teeth even before they became vampires. Like you. Like that girl Fergus had his eyes set on. She staked two of his men before he even got to her jugular.” Hal chuckled darkly. “I made you. I can just as easily destroy you. I can destroy the very memory of you. Do you want that? Is that enough of nothing for you?”
“It is a shame that my colleagues had to act in that fashion, although it is only human. But you're mistaken if you think I ever aspired to be remembered by anyone.”
Rook narrowed his eyes. There was a third option – to take Hal with him. It would be a setback to the regime. However, no one was irreplaceable and the next ruler would only be hungrier.
“I want to keep my dignity.”
Hal knew what he was thinking of course. It was clear as day and it must have occurred to him as well. He took Rook's hand and placed it on his chest, curling Rook's fingers so that Rook was holding a fistful of Hal's shirt.
“Go on then. If you think this could be your one good deed. Perhaps Mr Snow would have some difficulty finding a replacement.”
Rook's fist clenched convulsively. His practical side whispered that they were going to hell, both of them. Why take the express route?
“I do not believe it a good deed to kill my own maker.” There, he said it.
The beach below was wreathed in pale, misty spray of the sea. The fall looked long and the landing hard.
Hal's breath hitched. He moved back, pulling them both away from the cliff.
“You'd be surprised.”
Rook exhaled loudly. “Hal.” He didn't actually know where he was going with that. The whole affair was shaping up to be a pretty ugly mess. He picked up the brandy bottle from the car, took a swig and offered it to Hal silently. Hal accepted. There were no problems that couldn't be cured by a drink. At least that was the official vampire ideology. Well, at least the moonlight seemed pretty.
* * *
Surviving the first two days-off had arguably prepared Rook for the third one. As always, he was amazed to observe how easily Hal transitioned back to his suave, relaxed self, the eternal child looking for entertainment. Today’s idea of fun was tame by Hal’s standards: driving around and visiting what few museums were open in town. Rook realised soon enough that visiting historical sites and pointing out inaccuracies was yet another way of asserting Hal’s superiority. Still, he enjoyed Hal’s commentary, including saucy anecdotes, and the day passed in a leisurely, innocuous fashion. As the evening drew closer and the time to return to the capital along with it, Rook discovered he was almost reluctant to see this end. He shouldn’t be. His peculiar attachment to the man was starting to get the better of him and he found it momentously alarming.
“You should accompany me next time I go to France,” Hal said. He was at the wheel. The radio played some classical music. Dark landscape whizzed by in a blur, not a single flicker of light in sight, not even the oncoming traffic. “We would have proper dessert.” It was hard to tell by the look on Hal's face whether he meant pastries or women. Most likely both.
Rook was going to bring up his workload and the state affairs. He found himself saying instead: “I should like to.”
He started when he felt Hal’s fingers curl around his wrist.
“Careful driving,” he pointed out.
Hal flashed him a carefree smile.
“I don’t need both hands to drive.” He rubbed the tattered wristlet of Rook’s watch. So that was what had caught the magpie’s attention. “How old is this thing?” He was still holding Rook's hand with no intention of letting go. “And how much did it cost?”
“I... don't seem to recall.” Rook frowned. “It feels as though I've always had it.”
Hal unfastened it. “You are in dire need of a new one.”
Rook turned to look at Hal properly.
“Be that as it may, I like my watch well enough.” He caught it before Hal could steal it.
Hal intercepted his hand.
“I had better keep my eyes on the road, Dominic. And my hand on the wheel.”
The watch fell and rolled under the seat. Rook tried to imagine Hal wasn't there at all. It was easy if he looked in the mirror. It almost felt like he’d gone mad enough to have a chat with an imaginary friend.
“Is it a gift?” Hal asked.
Rook picked the watch up, placing it back on his wrist.
“Not from me to you.”
It was heartwarming to see he could really say no and Hal would go along with it. For the time being, he supposed.
The rest of the way went by in silence.
As did the following months of another drab, lingering London winter leading up to the second anniversary of the glorious revolution.