Ghosts in the Shadows
Mina leaned to kiss him and he gladly acquiesced, enveloping her in his strong arms. The moment seemed too peaceful and happy to be real. Her warm body, her light breath on his lips. It made him smile, a thing he had not been prone to do in over four hundred years.
She entranced him. A glamour had not been cast over her as might be suspected. No. In fact, it was he who had been spelled by her. By her movements, her eyes, her voice, her laugh. By the simple fact that she was alive. Living and breathing. And not burning.
There was much work to be done. His enemies and his allies must all be accounted for and put in order. But he brushed those insignificant tasks aside for another few moments just to bask in her glowing light.
For months he had watched her with Jonathan Harker. Knowing that Harker did not deserve to be with her. He had tried to give her what he thought she needed with Harker. He had watched her exhaustively. Desired her. Needed her. Refrained from her.
He had tried to let her go so many times. Knowing it was for her own good. Knowing that the existence of the parasite Dracula residing within him would only cause her hurt. But at the same time, he had also drawn her closer. Hiring that foolish Harker so that he may keep a relative proximity to her. To watch over her, provide what she needed. As a benefactor, so to speak. But he had only succeeded in wrapping her closer to him.
And now, by some miracle, he had her. And he feared this situation of his own creation would destroy her if she stayed near him. But he could not bring himself to let her go.
Master strategist though he was, he could not devise a plan for this new development. He finally had what he had desired for over four hundred years. Ilona returned to him, in the form of Mina Murray, a modern, intelligent, and entrancing woman.
And yet. He was trapped. Every move he made with Mina at his side would risk bringing about her demise. He could not bear to see the woman he loved destroyed twice. Not for him. But neither could he bear to let her go. Not just yet.
Gently disengaging from their embrace, she rose from their repose. He rolled over onto his side, facing her, bracing up his head with a crook'd arm. The fingers of his other hand absently stroking the soft fabric on the bed, where her warmth still lingered. He smiled again, watching her supple form move in the dim light. Standing before him, fully unadorned and unashamed, she smiled openly at him.
He wanted to be like that. He wanted to be fully exposed and accepted by her. Would she? He needed her to know, wanted her to know.
"I'm famished," she whispered. "I'd like a bite to eat before we . . ."
She bit her lip in suggestion, making his smile broaden, and finished her statement.
" . . . do anything else."
He withheld his answer, enjoying the pure sight of her for just a moment longer. Then he nodded.
"Of course. Anything you like."
Mina dressed swiftly and easily. She had no extra clothes so she donned and straightened the garments she had worn last night as best she could. She brushed her hair and tied it back. She felt slight embarrassment at her still disheveled appearance until her mind cruelly gifted her with the screams of the terrified people running from the Resonator building only hours ago. And the still bodies of the victims crumpled in the aftermath.
She hugged herself tightly at the horrid memory. She needed to go home, change clothes, and return to the hospital to aid her father and the other doctors in tending to the many wounded and dying that would surely be filling the hospitals. But first she needed to calm herself in the presence of Alexander Grayson.
Ever the gentleman, he had clothed himself a few minutes earlier and left the room to allow her to attend to her toiletries in private. It had clearly been difficult for him to leave her alone given her state of complete disrobement. She had laughed sweetly at him as he had slowly drunk her in with his eyes before closing the door.
Now she left the room, looking for him, seeking him out once more.
She found him in the foyer, lost in his thoughts, gazing into empty space. As though tracking the unseen ghosts move in the shadows.
As she spoke his name, he seemed to pull himself back to reality. He looked up with an expression she could not quite place. It both excited her and filled her heart with quiet dread.
"Mina, there's something I need to tell you."
He paused, clearly battling some inner turmoil. She took a step toward him.
He opened his mouth.
"Mina . . ."
A heavy object thudded heavily outside the door and she jumped at the sudden sound. Alexander turned and warily approached the door. He opened it cautiously and she beheld a large shape just across the threshold.
"Renfield!" he exclaimed.
She ran to the door and saw Alexander's man Renfield laying in a crumpled heap. The morning sun had not yet touched his frame, but she could see that he was unconscious. She reached down and felt for the man's pulse at his neck.
After a moment, she exclaimed, "I feel it! He's alive! We need to ring for a doctor."
"No," Alexander stated, stepping out of the doorway and kneeling down. He grasped the large man under the arms and began slowly moving him across the threshold. Mina gasped as she saw blood.
"Alexander, he's bleeding! He may die if we don't ring for a doctor!"
Something in his strained voice bade her listen. She did so, though her mind was rapidly filling with questions. Together, they moved him into the house. Alexander seemed to take an inordinate amount of his weight and Mina wondered how he could be strong enough to lift a man of Renfield's stout size. Her curious thoughts were disrupted by Renfield stirring in pain and groaning quietly. His dark eyes fluttered open briefly and she observed they were unfocused and bloodshot before they fell closed again.
They laid him in a quiet, dim room. After leaving to direct a maid to clean the spilled blood from the front steps, Alexander returned. He briefly considered asking Mina to depart so that he may attend to the damage done to Renfield. Then he realized she would take it as an affront and chose not to suggest it. He simply moved to the large man and unfastened his clothing, revealing his mutilated torso.
Mina gasped when she saw the weeping wounds in his stomach.
"Alexander! These are knife wounds!"
"Yes," he agreed grimly. "It would appear our man Renfield here has been involved in some sort of altercation."
"But who? Why?" She asked, appalled by the implications.
Alexander thought he knew just who.
"Most likely by the same deviants who sabotaged the Resonator," he conceded.
Mina asked no more questions and set her face in determination. Side by side, they worked together to save the life of Renfield. As they worked, they spoke in sharp, clipped tones to each other as medical workfellows. They moved quickly, efficiently. Renfield's blood smeared both their hands.
As they worked, he was dimly aware that his love and adoration for Mina Murray was growing ever stronger. No, she had not shied away from this gruesome task. On the contrary, she worked tirelessly and without compliant. She did not required constant reassurances or attention during this most crucial time. She was strong, competent, capable. She was beautiful. Clothed in dirty, stained garments and covered in the lifeblood of Renfield, she was beautiful.
And R.M. Renfield, Esquire did not die. Yet.
After Renfield appeared stabilized and pursued not to depart his mortal form, Mina excused herself from the room. She was weak and needed nourishment now more than ever. When she had eaten and felt strong again, she returned to Alexander's side.
He sat in a chair, staring into the flames in the hearth. On the mantelpiece above, stood the triptych of Ilona.
"Tell me about her."
Alexander cleared his throat and looked first at the triptych, then at her. Mina stepped forward, knelt, and took his hands in hers. He looked upon her, still feeling a sense of wonder, of disconnect from reality every single time she touched him.
"Please. Even if it is sad. Which it is. I can see that in your eyes. I must know. Please."
He took a deep breath and gazed deep into her compassionate eyes. He spoke slowly, reverently.
"She was beautiful. Inside and out. She loved me as I did not deserve. And I loved her with all my heart."
Mina smiled and nodded for him to continue. He averted his gaze once more to the burning embers of the fire.
"Once upon a time, I held some power in my region and went up against some very influential political men. I interfered their plans. They punished me by forcing me to watch her burn in their fires."
He felt his muscles tensing and reminded himself not to squeeze her slender hands too tightly. She let go of one hand and reached up to brush at his face gently with her fingertips. His skin relished her soothing touch. He forced himself to look into her liquid eyes again.
"Oh, Alexander, that's so terrible!" She whispered, her face full of shared grief. "Were they made to answer for their crimes?"
"Some. But not all. There are too many of them. I used to think that was all that mattered. Wreaking vengeance upon them, making them suffer . . ."
He voice trailed off as he gazed at her, feeling the warmth of her skin.
"And now you are here. You look like her and your spirit is like hers. But you are also more than that. You are Mina. You are different in ways that are intoxicating to me."
Mina smiled and leaned forward, kissing him. He returned it for the moment, gratefully savoring the taste and acceptance. When the kiss ended, he pressed his forehead to hers and spoke in a hushed whisper.
"Now that you are here, I do not know what to do."