The Long Game

The Nightingale and the Rose

"Renfield, I've discovered something extraordinary!" Mina exclaimed in a hushed tone, quickly approaching his bedside.

Renfield could not entirely suppress the amused smile that touched his eyes as she perched on the edge of his bed, removing a sheaf of papers from her medical bag excitedly.

"According to this information, it appears that van Helsing created a serum to immune Alexander from his affliction."

"Yes," Renfield affirmed patiently. "That was the intention of the solar serum."

"No," Mina expounded. "The serum he created was completely effective at rendering Alexander immune to his affliction."

"Yes," Renfield agreed, still not comprehending her intended meaning.

Mina shifted restlessly.

"Renfield, Alexander cannot walk in sunlight for more than a few hours, correct?"

She spoke intensely, appearing intellectually electrified by the astounding information Renfield had gifted to her within the pages she held.

"Yes," Renfield concurred.

"And he craves blood frequently, correct?"

She seemed to have tossed aside her natural revulsion for his demonic hunger in favor of her intriguing scientific discovery.

"Yes," Renfield answered for the fourth time. "What are you saying, Miss Murray?"

Mina took a deep breath. She set her face. Then she spoke slowly, clearly.

"It appears from this information that van Helsing was intentionally giving Alexander an ineffective version of the serum."

Renfield's eyes narrowed. Mina continued on unabated.

"The serum with which he injected Alexander only temporarily affected his aversion to sunlight, and had no affect whatsoever on his bloodlust. But the proper serum would affect his body on a cellular level making him, for all intents and purposes, human for a period of several days."

Renfield's expression was one of stunned realization.

"Why would he not give him this more effective injection, Renfield?"

Mina Murray possessed a quick, intelligent mind and she already suspected the truth of the matter. However, she wished for Renfield to voice it aloud. And so he did. Slowly, quietly, as though speaking to himself.

"Because it was a method of control. To keep Mr. Grayson in check until the revenge on the Order was complete."

Renfield kept his emotions carefully controlled, though they threatened to overwhelm him. This man who called himself Alexander Grayson had suffered so cruelly, so unnecessarily so far at the hands of Abraham van Helsing. While the creature parading as a helpful scientist had preyed on Grayson's desperate desire live as a man of sunlight and humanity.

Who, of the two, was indeed the actual blood and soul sucking monster?

"Also," Mina continued once more, "he based the serum on Alexander's specific blood make up. But he truly only needed one dose of Alexander's blood. Though it states here that he drew blood quite frequently."

All those painful blood withdrawals. The dark pleasure van Helsing had so obviously taken at the invasive procedures.

"Perhaps to keep up appearance of ongoing progressed," Renfield hedged.

Mina nodded, though she darkly suspected otherwise.

"Or," Renfield continued, "more likely, it was another form of control, of exerting power. Drawing blood in painful, copious amounts from one who takes it from others. A forced ritual of righteously ironic penance, so to speak."

Mina's lovely countenance twisted in a savage grimace she could not repress.

"That's completely monstrous! At least Alexander cannot help himself!"

She threw out her words out and away from herself. Those words that tasted like bile in her mouth.

"What of the electrical shocks?" Renfield asked after a moment.

She riffled through the papers absently, struggling to collect herself.

"Yes, I did read about them. It seems that his malfunctioning heart cannot properly pump his blood through his body. Massive electric shocks are required to push his unnaturally thick blood containing the serum through his veins. What do you know of it?"

Renfield hesitated, then spoke factually, keeping his true emotions firmly locked into place.

"van Helsing used a metal contraption to shock Mr. Grayson's heart into workable order for a period of up to four hours. It was a brutally, painful process which took a heavy toll on him. It would have killed a lesser man."

Mina gathered her courage about her as though it was a protective covering.

"Very well then," she took a deep breath. "Where is this machine? I must inspect it."

Renfield exhaled.

"It is housed in his private laboratory adjacent to the Resonator building where he attacked me."

Mina's hope withered, though she refused to let it expire completely.

"Do you believe it still stands?"

Renfield looked at her.

"Of that I have no idea. But it is where he kept all his materials for the serum. And those I do know he was destroying when I happened upon him. I believe my discovery of his actions induced his abrupt attack on me."

Mina sat still, gnawing on her lower lip thoughtfully.

"If you would be so kind as to step outside the room, Miss Murray, I shall make myself more presentable and we will go in search of van Helsing's device."

Mina shook her head adamantly.

"No, absolutely not. You are still recuperating. We shall go in a few days. But if what you say is true, it will remain undisturbed until then. And I will study these notes more thoroughly in the meantime."

Her professional, absolute tone brooked no room for argument and so Renfield bowed to her adamant appeal for his restful rehabilitation.

Upon their request, the maid brought in a flavorful soup and small wedges of bread and cheese for their supper. They dined together and engaged in further discussion on the matters at hand.

The day brought yet another surprise for Mina Murray. Roses. One red and one white. Brought to her by her freshly laundered, freshly cleaned, freshly blooded, Alexander Grayson.

He took her hand and pressed it reverently to his lips. Then he raised himself fully up and presented first the white rose to her. She smiled, blushing, and inhaled the sweet smell appreciatively.

"There is an old Arabic legend about roses," he spoke, in his true voice. The rich resonations sent shivers down her spine almost as much as his flat Mid-Western one. The one she had first heard in this life.

Mina raised a playful eyebrow.

"Ah, there is, is there? And here I thought they were simply a symbol for love."

Alexander returned her expression, basking in the glow of her. Here. Once more. Choosing to be here.

"Oh, they are," he conceded lightly. "That is why I brought you one every night you were in the hospital. Even when you wished I wouldn't."

Mina's smile faded and she softly caressed his skin with her fingertips.

"Yes, you did. You said you couldn't help yourself."

He nodded, his blue-green eyes searching hers.

"I was telling the truth."

Refusing to shed tears on such a beautiful memory, she responded in her soft, melodic tones.

"I know. And through all my confusion and emotional pain, I was glad you did."

He shifted his head to lightly kiss her hand on his cheek.

"I know."

They remained thus for a brief moment of time, drifting together in their hope and love. Then Alexander spoke.

"Would you like to hear the tale?"

Mina removed her hand from his face and settled herself comfortably into a nearby chair.

"Yes, I would. Please."

She smiled at him, delighted for a story.

"The legend tells that, originally, all roses grew only velvety white petals."

Her enchantment was evident, much as it once had when he had shown her the simplicity of the card trick. And Jonathan, poor, jealous Jonathan, had disdained his efforts. As did Lucy. Well, no matter. Sometimes it was refreshing to simply take joy in the world as it was. For it could change so quickly and without warning.

Alexander continued spinning his tale for her enjoyment.

"And so the roses remained white and unblemished for years upon end. Until one dark night, a nightingale happened upon a particularly exquisite white rose and fell deeply in love with its beauty. Now at this time, nightingales could not sing as they do today."

Alexander kept one hand coyly behind his back, almost appearing as a child keen to withhold the precious token until the most opportune moment.

"The nightingale's love was so intense that he opened his mouth and sung for the first time in the presence of the beautiful rose."

She could almost hear the lovely song of the nightingale in Alexander's tale.

"As he sang his charming melody, his love for the rose filled him so much that he pressed himself to it. The sharp thorns of the rose pierced his heart. He bled upon it, coloring the velvety petals forever crimson red."

Alexander drew his hand from behind his back and presented her with the lovely red rose, a fragrant symbol of his enduring love for her. She took it, cradling its precious petals to her lips along with the white one. It was then that she realized each stem had been sheared smooth of its piercing thorns. She stood and stepping into his arms, kissed him softly upon the lips. Then, sobering, she gazed lovingly in his handsome face.

"Alexander, I do not wish for either of us to be the nightingale or the flower," she whispered solemnly.

They locked eyes, locked souls, tightly for a moment in time. Both considering the haunting tale. The dead nightingale and the rose bathed in blood, both transformed by all-consuming love.

"Nor do I, my love," he whispered gently.

Taking the rose from her and stroking her face with its soft petals, he murmured to her, his breath light upon her face.

"But I do so enjoy their lovely aroma."

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