[Fanfic] Why Won’t You Die? (5)

Disclaimer : Characters belong to their respectful owners

Fandoms : Dracula (2013), Penny Dreadful (2014)

Rating : M

Pairing : Dracula/Alexander Grayson x Dorian Gray

Genres : fanfiction, crossover, humor, probably a little OOC

Characters : Dracula/Alexander Grayson, Dorian Gray, Renfield, original character

Warnings: gore

Summary : It was pretty simple: Dracula’s habitual feeding was seen by a mortal young man (a very handsome one but it was not the matter!), so in order to protect his secrets, naturally the monarch of vampires had to kill him. Then, for some mysterious reason, the same young man showed up at his demonstration ball, alive, well and would very much like to remind the vampire how he had mercilessly ‘broken’ his heart only nights before.

V.   The World Is a Stage

Alexander was on time, Dorian Gray was early and Lady Weatherby was late as most women should be; a woman would be deemed immodest if she showed up early or on time – as if she was too eager to see the gentleman, or in this case, gentlemen. So Alexander found himself in the company of an ever-beaming Dorian Gray who might or might not know he was tempting a vampire with the melody singing in his veins. He probably knew his effect on his blood-drinking companion because tonight, he had once again left a few top buttons of his wine-colored shirt undone, baring his neck and throat to the chilling bites of the night winds. Alexander briefly wondered if anyone had ever criticized his insensible fashion style.

“It was very rude of me to not say a proper farewell to you the night before,” said Dorian some minutes after Alexander had stepped down his coach. “But judging from your condition, it was probably out of the question.”

Alexander studied Dorian’s youthful face and no matter how he tried, he was unable to decipher the hidden meaning behind this seemingly harmless attempt to start a conversation. Dorian’s facial expressions gave nothing but a courteous politeness, all lips curving and eyes shining. It would be much convenient, he thought, if he were to possess the mind-control ability those dreaded penny dreadful novels so loved to bestow his kind. Never trust a starving pen for anything remotely close to the truth.

Since he was able to read neither the man’s expressions nor mind, he decided to play along.

“It shames me to think how terrible a host I was. I take some pride in my tolerance but that night I obviously underestimated what I took.”

“You shouldn’t have blamed yourself. Some said wine was the greatest gift of God and I believe whoever said it had to be a wise man. What is the meaning of parties and celebrations if we cannot allow ourselves to abandon our normal restraints and get a little carried away?”

“The wisdom of a drunkard is sometimes the greatest of all… yet not the most trusted,” Alexander said with a thin smile. “However, Mr. Gray, the abandonment of restraints can be rather lethal… leads us astray, as I trust you have already had bountiful knowledge.”

“There is a tribe at the edge of the world I once had the pleasure to meet. The people there have a sort of drink they call ‘Demon Kiss’ – roughly translated. It is made from the rarest, most toxic herbs, yet it’s finest champagne to them and they wouldn’t trade it for all the gold of the world. The first time one drinks, it leaves him in bed one day straight, but in the second, the third there will be an improvement. The pleasure it brings is insurmountable, they claim, but only when he can abandon his restraints.”

“Have you tried?”

“I considered myself a fortunate man. Their witch offered me a deal: I gave her what she wanted and she allowed me a taste of their treasured drink. I dare say no wine made from white hands can stand as its equal. It was everything they said and much more; thus I learned from those people that complete abandonment is the key to pleasure.”

“Such an intriguing story. However, I’d like to think both you and I are not discussing wine, but another liquid, much thicker and more intoxicating.”

Realization dawned on Dorian Gray’s face. His smile got wider, sort of like a child discovering a new toy, and the pink on his cheeks was visible even in the gas light. But it was, of course, only possible when you possessed vampire eyes, and were watching attentively… which happened to be exactly what Alexander was doing.

There seemed to be a magnetic field around Dorian Gray which always gravitated his eyes to him wherever they wandered. Alexander found it both fascinating and disturbing at the same time.

“Is it true that blood is like finest wine to your kind – what is the exact term for it? Popular literature tends to call you ‘vampire’ so I wonder if it is the proper name. Do correct me if I am wrong.”

That was certain a question (or two questions, technically) Alexander did not expect coming from Dorian Gray. One moment he was acting as if they were two normal men entirely ignorant of the supernatural activities occurring in this city and the next he was raising curious questions about the taste of blood and calling Alexander a “vampire”. To analyze his motives was almost an impossible task: Dorian Gray was an open book full of alien characters that he would have to spend the next century studying and still might not be able to grasp their meanings.

“Vampires, bloodsuckers, whatever you feel pleased to use – names do not matter. What does, instead, is the essence, which prompts me to raise a question…”

He managed to catch all of Dorian Gray’s attention with his unvoiced question, as the look on his face was trying to say.

“What should I call you, Dorian Gray? You look a beautiful human but we both know you are much more than just meet the eye.”

“Oh, thank you for your kind words,” said Dorian Gray and there was the blush on his cheeks again. Was he able to feign that, too, Alexander wondered.

“I will be very honest – well, I do not know myself. I am flesh and blood but not human, merely masquerading as one, just as you are, Mr. Grayson. I am not as fortunate as you who knows his essence. To put it short, I have no idea what I am.”

Alexander’s gaze focused on the young man’s eyes. “If that is the case, I wonder if you are truly Dorian Gray, the only grandson of Lord Kelso.”

Dorian Gray closed the distance between them, his perpetual smile snubbed out and his face wore a foreign grim look. It seemed as though he wanted to whisper into Alexander’s ears some terrible dark secrets the sharing of which could equate life and death. Nevertheless, stepping closer was the only thing he did. “Have you already the answer?”

Alexander arched an eyebrow.

“The blood opens a pathway to the soul, does it not? You who have penetrated thousands of souls should know it better than I.”

Human souls,” Alexander corrected.

Dorian Gray chuckled. “Nothing but humans?”

“Nothing but humans.”

And some rodents in desperate times but Alexander did not think it was the point Dorian Gray was aiming for.

“Never your own kind?”

“Try eating the flesh on your arm or leg and you’ll understand.”

Laughter was Dorian Gray’s only reply. After a short while, he said, “Oh, I do believe in certain extreme circumstances people have to eat their own flesh to survive. Have you ever had to, Mr. Grayson?”

Not catching Dorian Gray’s flow, Alexander lightly shook his head.

“Anyway, to answer your earlier query, ‘Dorian Gray’ is a name, the same as ‘Alexander Grayson’, simply a role we have to play in order to exist in this world. ‘The world is a stage,’ is it not?”

“Some play their role for a purpose,” said Alexander, his sharp eyes narrowing.

“Some play for convenience,” replied Dorian Gray. His eyes met the vampire’s.

It was as if Alexander was reliving the moment just before his fangs pierced the jasmine-scented skin of Dorian Gray. The fearless defiance. The subtle challenge. The alluring invitation. The temptation. All were rushing in through the amber irises that seemed to be blazing, almost like molten gold. Alexander thought of his dream creature with the same enchanting countenance, the same mesmerizing eyes. A mere flash of image fueled the subdued thirst in his throat, and it burnt. Dorian Gray’s visage was blurry behind a transparent red veil.

“Are you all right, Mr. Grayson?”

Dorian Gray’s voice sounded distant, echoic. The beatings of a nearby heart were thunders in his ears.

“Good Lord, Mr. Grayson, your mask is slipping,” Dorian Gray chuckled to himself as he unfastened his cufflinks and rolled up his sleeve.

“Help yourself, Mr. Grayson.”

It seemed at that moment it was not Dorian Gray but rather the pulse beneath a layer of silky skin that was speaking to him. A free gift offered, seducing Alexander’s nature. But was it really free after all, or a much greater prize was always lurking beneath?

He seized Dorian Gray’s wrist and bought it to his mouth. Out of the corner of his eyes, Dorian Gray’s eyes lit up and the smile hanging on his lips bordered on smugness. So the bait had been caught…

Alexander tongued the skin that covered the pulse, avidly feeling it pacing up with excitement. Eager to be torn open, releasing the warm red juice. He could imagine its screaming for his fangs like a needy whore. He could imagine himself giving in, biting and suckling until the hungry beast inside was satiated. He could also visualize Dorian Gray soft and pliant in his arms like the pretty woman he had preyed. Nevertheless, he sought to make none of them a reality. His teeth grazed the flesh, enough to feel pain but not yet breaking skin. And then still holding the wrist in his hand, he yanked it far from his mouth.

“Don’t try to tempt me,” Alexander spoke to the younger man in a less-than-human voice, with a less-than-human visage.

“Like you’ve said, Mr. Grayson, I do not even try.”

To Alexander’s surprise, Dorian Gray’s free hand crept to his cheek. A thumb pressed to the point of his fangs, nicking itself. He smeared the budding beads on the vampire’s lips.

Alexander instantly let go of Dorian Gray’s hand and pushed him back with such force that the younger man almost toppled over. He willed his teeth back to their normal shape and tore his eyes away from the creamy white skin with a touch of cherry, which was licked clean by Dorian Gray’s tongue.

“I find your self-control prowess truly admirable, Mr. Grayson.”

Alexander fixed his immaculate coat and tie as an act of composing himself. “It would be a shame to ruin such a pretty shirt, don’t you think Mr. Gray?” said Alexander with a sarcastic tone.

Au contraire, Mr. Grayson. This is precisely why I have chosen this particular color to be the trusted confidant of our clandestine affair,” replied Dorian as he was brushing imaginary dust off his outfit. “So that it would not reveal our true colors. And speaking of garments, I believe you do own me a silk scarf and a shirt.”

Alexander did not have a mirror with him to check, but he believed the word to describe his facial expression at the moment would be ‘dumbfounded’. Once again he was needlessly reminded that reading Dorian Gray’s motives was as futile as trying to catch the tail of the wind. His logical patterns were elusive at best and seemed to be zigzagging on a winded path leading nowhere near his true intentions.

“Pardon me, Mr. Gray, but could you elucidate on your newly shifted subject?”

“Oh.” Dorian Gray feigned a surprised look with his large eyes, which, if Alexander did not know better, might have him fooled. “Mr. Renfield must have forgotten my little message. Considering how busy he is, it is entirely understandable.”

Yes, Renfield must have let it slipped his mind; he made a mental note to ask his right-hand man first thing when he returned. “Would you please enlighten me on that subject as to why I own you some pieces of clothing?”

“And I as well,” spoke a third voice that turned both their heads. The flower of the evening had finally appeared, clad in a flowing dress as red as blood and just as revealing as her previous outfit. She regarded the two men with cool, piercing eyes and her painted lips curved into a satisfied smile. She liked the effect she had on men, the looks on their faces when they laid eyes on her as if she were the only woman worth looking in the world. But she felt the greatest pride in their lusts, in the dark lights in their eyes that promised only the darkest thoughts; anything less would only terribly bore her.

Both Alexander Grayson and Dorian Gray had enough experience to give her what she wanted.

“You sure have very light footsteps, my lady,” said Alexander after kissing her hand. “I could barely hear you coming at all.”

Lady Weatherby lifted her other hand for Dorian Gray to kiss. “Oh, Mr. Grayson, you must be accustomed to women stomping in America. No, a true lady would rather hang herself than to hear a gentleman’s complaints about the heaviness of her feet.”

“Then I would rather bite my tongue than voice my complaints about a lady,” replied Dorian Gray.

“Pardon my overhearing but I think I have heard Mr. Grayson say something about ‘owning some pieces of clothing’. Would you please enlighten me on that subject, too, Mr. Gray?” Her eyes gaze swept over Alexander. “Mr. Grayson appears rather serious about it.”

Dorian Gray broke into a peal of laughter.

“I was hoping my lady has not heard it. I am really embarrassed. You see, we were having a conversation and suddenly I was hit with this desire to tease Mr. Grayson, to test if I could deceive him. You did not take my little spontaneous folly too serious, did you, Mr. Grayson?”

Alexander smirked. “I must say you took great effort in delivering it as truthful as possible. I was truly convinced.”

“You see, I have always this bizarre fixation to coax Mr. Grayson into abandoning his gentlemanly manners and giving into…” Dorian Gray made a dramatic gesture with his hand. “… his more primal side, which I happen to adore.”

Alexander tried not to visibly cringe at the last word. “In doing so you also reveal yours,” he replied.

“Isn’t it what the ladies love about us?”

Lady Weatherby broke into hearty chuckles. “My my, aren’t you gentlemen making quite a fascinatingly queer pair? I cannot speak for all the ladies but personally I find your idea very… enticing.”

Alexander’s eyebrows shot up momentarily. Dorian Gray laughed.

“Such an exquisite lexical choice, my lady. A ‘queer’ pair we are indeed, aren’t we, Mr. Grayson?”

If Jayne Weatherby were not here, swear to Lucifer, Alexander would snap Dorian Gray’s neck in half. To hell with his freaky immortality.

Lady Weatherby bit her coral lips, revealing a hint of her pearly white teeth. She stepped up and linked her arms with Dorian Gray and Alexander’s. “Though I love to prolong this discussion, I do believe it is high time we went. The theatre awaits.”

If there was one thing that Renfield hated more than having to drag a slumbering Grayson out of bed, it would be welcoming him home in a state of mess. It took him almost a decade to realize one of his lifetime hobbies was to dress Grayson up, so he was rightfully frustrated when once again he had to incinerate his boss’s blood-soaked clothes in the fireplace. Just to add salt to the injury, Grayson was a bloodsucker with little to none etiquette when indulging in his unvaried diet. What was the point in accumulating wealth if you could not afford one-time outfit, said one careless vampire, to his assistant’s dismay. Much as he hated Grayson’s careless attitude, there was one thing that grated Renfield’s nerve more than welcoming a blood-soaked Grayson: that was welcoming a blood-soaked Grayson with a thunderous black cloud hovering above his head.

Sometimes, Alexander Grayson’s temperament could be worse than London’s weather.

But there was one silver lining in every cloud after all, and that was Grayson not being drunk as a skunk.

Oops, touché.

Grayson stomped into the living room, with the stench of blood violently pervading the air and Renfield secretly crossed himself while counting.

And yet the man never considered himself a devout Christian.

One, the chair flew out of the window. A loud noise that would surely disturb the neighborhood had Grayson not already paid handsomely for their ‘sympathy’.

Two, flied the small table with the flower vase on it. More nerve-wracking noises.

God bless those poor unfortunate souls. Amen.

Grayson strode to the sofa and for once second Renfield almost believed that he would grab it and fling it out of the door. Good thing his boss, though furious, still possessed rather decent sense. He flopped down on the sofa, grabbed the nearer bottle within arm reach – his usual whiskey – uncapped, did not bother with a glass, and continuously poured the liquid down his throat.

Apparently alcohol had a calming effect on the vampire because half-a-bottle later, Grayson’s breathing was even and the murderous light had been subdued in his eyes.

“That old fool Sir Clive’s,” all of sudden Grayson said. The abrupt abortion of silence nearly made Renfield jump out of his skin.

“You mean the blood?”

“Caught him right in front of his home, ripped his head clean off,” spoke Grayson in a serene tone that was usually achieved after an ample amount of whiskey.

“So that was your ‘give him a piece of my mind’?’

“The old pig did insult me under my own roof. That–” Grayson raised his forefinger, “–alone deserved death sentence.”

“Perhaps we should mount a warning sign over the front door,” said Renfield in a mildly sarcastic tone to which Grayson only snorted.

Were Renfield another man he might suffer the same fate as Sir Clive. Yet as they both knew, the vampire monarch was extremely tolerant with his assistant’s sarcasm. He even fancied such a sharp wit and a bold tongue.

“Spare the likes of him no sympathy, dear Renfield, for once you cross them, they won’t hesitate to strike you down like vipers in a pit.”

“Well, the same could be said about you, sir.”

“And that leaves me perfectly fitted to destroy them.” Alexander said. “I would have put down his insults to senile foolishness if he weren’t a high-ranking member of the Order of the Dragon.”

“Pardon me, sir, but shouldn’t his death alert the others?”

“Ah, that is entirely the point, Renfield. I never plan a peaceful demise for them. In the time they await their death they shall suffer from anxieties, paranoia and fears that their enemy is next to them but cannot be seen.”

“In the time they await their death they can also prepare to fight you, sir. Learn and exploit your weaknesses.”

“I hope they do. It would be a bore if they didn’t.”

“Then why were you infuriating, sir? Weren’t you with Dorian Gray tonight?”

Oops. Renfield did not fail to notice the dark fury that crossed Grayson’s countenance upon the mention of the name. So Dorian Gray was the cause of this beastly mood, eh?

“He said that I owned him some pieces of clothing. Do you happen to have any idea about this, Renfield?”

An awkward silence stretched as Renfield raked his memory of a few brief words exchanged between him and Dorian Gray. “… I believe he did leave you a message regarding that matter, sir. Perhaps he was talking about the, you know, bloodstained… Anyway, did you find out anything about this mysterious man?”

“Did and did not,” Grayson gritted through clenched teeth. “Renfield, have you ever had the misfortune of taking a seat on a crate of explosives?”

Renfield was not sure he was following Grayson’s logic here. “… No, sir.”

“Such,” stressed Grayson, a finger raised in the air for dramatic effect, again, “is exactly how sitting next to Dorian Gray is like.”

It dawned on Alexander that Dorian Gray must have orchestrated tonight’s event. He felt that particular hunch even stronger once they stepped into the so-called ‘avant-garde’ theater house Dorian Gray had suggested. The brown-skinned boy in a decent tux bowed deeply to them upon entering, paying much regard to Dorian Gray, who was without doubt a regular patron. The entrance gave an impression that it was a small, crowded place choked with loud noises and penny-worth tobacco – typical of a common theater house; however, inside it was a much larger space, which was divided into the ‘common’ section below and a circular row of private boxes above to serve the more affluent audience. The boy in tux led them up a winded semi-staircase up into one of those boxes, each of which separated from its neighbors by thick velvet curtains that served double purpose as to muffle the noises from below and maintain privacy. The seats were plush and softly perfumed, not one of the costly eau de perfume but still much preferable than the long-withstanding sweat odor Alexander had expected from a theater in this corner of the city; one of the perks of being a vampire was that his sense of smell was extremely keen – a stink that was unpleasant to a human would be agonizing to him. The scent somehow reminded him of his delicious little prey a few nights before, only a few blocks from here. Her blood was a rare type amongst humans, and made a delectable dinner.

The boy showed them their respective seat, with Dorian Gray’s between Lady Weatherby’s and Alexander’s. This further cemented the vampire’s suspicion that Dorian Gray had had a hand in the arrangements, although his motives remained perplexingly vague.

Sitting close, Alexander could hear the blood in Dorian Gray’s veins. It was a steady current, like the ocean waves gently lapping the vessel’s hull on a peaceful day, a rhythm that was both soothing and arousing to a hungry bloodsucker, though more of the latter than the former. It reminded him the ugly truth that he was indeed a hungry bloodsucker – had not have a taste of blood save a few of Renfield’s drops to cure his sunburn the other day. The thirst was always in him, ever restless, yet he had not felt the crave for it, which was usually what motivated him to lurk around the dark shadows of London in search of a fitting prey that could last him until the next one came. Young women were first choice on his menu, followed by young men; the youth in their veins was the finest nourishment to his strength, though their taste was quite unripe. On the other hand, older people might not provide as much strength for him yet they tasted richer, refined like old wines, especially those of ‘blue blood’. He supposed that should he go on a hunt tonight, that Sir Clive who had arrogantly insulted him might prove to be a worthy meal. Or alternatively he could…

He glanced at Dorian Gray’s bare throat, weighing his chance to get a few sips of that sweet toxic nectar. Dorian Gray did not seem to mind, considering that he had obviously offered himself to Alexander.

Oh, the word choice. Lady Weatherby’s earlier remark resurfaced and Alexander mentally grimaced.

On second thought, there was Dorian Gray’s confession that he was not human and the bizarre dream with the bizarre creature and its puzzling riddle. He wondered if all of these had any connection to the frustrating effect he suffered every time he succumbed to the dark invitation of this non-human’s blood.

“Would you care for a drink, my lady, Mr. Grayson?”

Dorian Gray’s soft-spoken voice kindly reminded him that he was not alone in his study chamber, deep in reverie, but in the company of human, and that keeping his own disguise was a crucial matter.

“Brandy for me,” said Lady Weatherby.

“A whiskey, please.”

“Sebastian,” Dorian called the boy waiting docilely in the corner, “be a dear and bring the lady and gentleman their drinks.”

“And you, sir? Absinthe?”

“Ah, not tonight, dear boy. Tonight I’m not intended for the flaming fairy. A Whiskey also, if you will.”

“The first time I saw you, you were drinking absinthe. Where was it, a few blocks from here?”

Alexander threw in a seemingly casual remark, playing along with Dorian Gray’s lies. Up till now he had had many chances to expose Alexander’s unholy nature, yet he had chosen not to. On one hand Alexander could not deny he was grateful; on the other, it only increased the doubt in Alexander – what was Dorian Gray’s reason in covering up a vampire’s secret? Did he intend to use it later? Still, he possessed only one piece of evidence and that one piece had been ruined before it was put to any use. His accusations, if he intended to make any, were only words, and words were winds, easily bought off with money, which Alexander had plenty. He supposed he and Dorian Gray were on equal footing, with each of them knowing the other’s secret; if Dorian Gray wanted to fool around, he did not see why he should not oblige him.

He allowed himself some exultation to see the pair of amber eyes widened.

“So the two of you met in a common pub? I’m intrigued. Would you care to elaborate on it?”

“Yes, my lady,” Alexander replied. “I have an interest in the lives of the common folks, which stems from the time I spent in America, so in my spare time I frequent their places quite often. I myself was rather surprised to find a noble young man such as Mr. Gray share my interest.”

“I’ve always have a fascination in them, much like you Mr. Grayson, though it is because I find their lives exquisitely colorful, a stark contrast to the mundane aristocratic lifestyle that a number of us lead.”

“Even their many a suffering?” Lady Weatherby arched a sharp eyebrow.

“Suffering itself is a beauty.”

“How strange a logic!” exclaimed Lady Weatherby.

“Such can only be said by those who have yet to suffer.”

“So you do not agree with my view, Mr. Grayson? Then you would be so kind to enlighten us?”

“I merely speak from my years of living in The New World. Contrary to common belief, not everything is ‘new’ there. Slavery, for example, is as ancient as mankind. Ask any dark-skinned man if he saw beauty in his sufferings by the hand of his master.”

“Ah, you say ‘if’, Mr. Grayson. The question is, has anyone ever asked him such?”

Dorian Gray locked eyes with him and in a blink Alexander caught the same defiance he had found in those eyes before.

“Gentlemen,” Lady Weatherby called to them once she noticed their tension, “I am afraid suffering, thought-provoking as it is, is not our main subject tonight.”

The boy Sebastian had returned with their respective drinks. Dorian Gray raised his glass. “Indeed, my lady. We have come looking for pleasure, however ephemeral.”

“The world is a stage,” Alexander echoed Dorian Gray’s earlier words, and did not miss the young man’s brief glance at him. He too raised his whiskey, a smile hanging on the corner of his lips.

Lady Weatherby’s eyes moved between the two of them as she took a sip of the burnt gold liquid in her glass.

Alexander’s smile, together with his upbeat mood, did not last long however. They had vanished shortly after the play on the decorated stage began its first act.

The lights were dimmed, the curtains drawn, and the setting of the stage presented to Alexander’s eyes an all-too-familiar sight. It was the scene of a common pub, lamely decorated with numerous risqué pictures of voluptuous women in nothing but their corset, garter belt and lace stockings. Men and women in various fashions filled the space: some were drinking, some shamelessly groping one another and some engaging in a brawl to which nobody cared to put a stop. The indistinguishable chatters on the stage mingled with the noises down the aisles, theatrical smoke with realistic one. The orchestra down the pit was playing some joyous tune. It was merely an everyday scene at any pub in this corner of the street, yet Alexander was struck visibly by it. Had they not just mentioned it only moments ago? He managed well enough to hide the ‘visibly’ part though, with his hands tightly gripping the hardwood arm of his seat. The material groaned as it suffered his supernatural strength but all the sounds easily drowned it out. Beside him, Dorian Gray and Lady Weatherby appeared taken by the scene, paying little attention to him. He preferred them that way.

Still, it was only the beginning.

The orchestra struck a sharp note to attract the audience’s attention to the ‘door’ of the pub being open and from behind the stage stepped out a figure. Loud wolf whistles rose, encouraging even the shyest of men; such was an expected reaction when an actress just made her way to the scene through the back door. Pretty little thing that she was with a foreign pulchritude: honey-colored skin, huge dark eyes and coal-black hair done in an elaborate Parisian fashion – something that required a very deft hand and a generous purse. Although her look went at the opposite end of the Victorian standard spectrum, Alexander found her quite a treat to the eyes, as did the majority of male audience. She would make a very fine woman donning a pretty dress; instead, she waltzed into the pub in a wealthy young man’s clothes, the excessive metal straps on her knee-high leather boots gleaming. Actresses playing men’s roles were quaint yet not non-existence but it did not seem to be what she was doing. She remained a woman still, and reveled in her gender, if her make-up, hairdo and the subtle sway of her hip were any indications, who only had an odd choice of attire many proper ladies would frown deeply upon. Sort of an exotic ‘hybrid’, something between a man and a woman that absorbed the beauties of both. But that alone was not enough to elicit such an excitement from the audience: it was the manner of her dressing that roused the men, sending them into a little frenzy – one-third of the buttons of her white linen shirt were undone, allowing a generous view of her swan neck, her delicately shaped clavicles, and her tantalizing cleavage – wasn’t she blessed to possess a figure many females would kill to have? She appeared unaffected by the lustful gazes and lewd words some of the coarse males were throwing at her, yet the specter of a smile on her full lips gave away a fraction of her otherwise perfect mask – in that particular aspect she so resembled Lady Weatherby, who also took pride in her womanly charms, and a rare breed of women whose company terribly thrilled and made men insecure of their masculinity at the same time. She strode to the furthest table in the corner and settled down to enjoy a glass of the flaming fairy. Green light danced on the silver jewelry adorned her small hands with every gesture.

Something struck Alexander as disturbingly familiar. The way the actress dressed, her silver jewelry, the faintest of smile on her lips, they were all perfect replicas of a certain man he knew. That man who had survived his heart ripping out and was now sitting beside him, courting his hunger with the sweet fragrance of his blood. If someone told him Dorian Gray had had no hand in this, he would not hesitate to tear that fool’s head off his shoulders.

Dorian Gray continued doting on Lady Weatherby, completely oblivious to the dark flame in Alexander’s pale eyes.

The candles were put out and a single pillar of light was focused on the door. Other instruments went mute, allowing only the violin’s shriek to be heard when it was open. On first glance it was a tall, lean man in immaculate dark grey suit that just made his way to the scene. The light followed him as he took off his hat and coat and passed them to the waiter. Below noises rose and once again the vampire monarch had to grip the arm of his chair. Soon as the actor’s hat was off, the actor was revealed to be yet another female dressed in men’s clothes. White as the winter snow was her wavy hair, groomed in the latest men’s style. The curls framed her delicate face, almost as white as her hair and adorned with two amethyst jewels that made her eyes. Hers was a peculiar and rare condition that Alexander had had encountered once or twice during his long life as a vampire. In some places, it was held as an ethereal blessing, a gift from the Almighty while in others, an abomination, a curse that condemned any baby afflicted to a horrid purification ritual that ended in death’s embrace.

Though her visage was new to him, her costume, on the other hand, was well known. Perhaps Renfield even knew better, since it was he that had picked the garments for Alexander, and probably fed them to the flame once they were ruined beyond help.

“I have heard of this bizarre condition but I have never seen it in a person.”

He heard Lady Weatherby talk to Dorian Gray in low voice.

“A uniqueness that only few were blessed with I believe.”

“You sound as if you are envious, Mr. Gray,” she laughed.

“I am.”

“Yes, even a woman such as I am must admit she’s rare gem. Both of them would make fine actresses in gowns, wouldn’t they?”

“Then the peculiarity that formed part of their charm would be lost, don’t you agree, Mr. Grayson?”

He turned to Alexander and winked at him, then promptly returned his attention to the stage, not demanding an answer.

The white girl had settled down at a table near the entrance and was instantly fawned over by the young waiter. Golden-haired, tall and muscular, he charmed the eyes pretty well at first glance. The Adonis in worn white shirt, waistcoat and spotted apron. He appeared to win the white girl’s attention with his easy smiles as they began exchanging meaningful glances while being watched by the dark girl at the opposite corner. She swirled her glass in idle motion, the light radiating from her black eyes rivaling the green liquid. The curves of her lips grew with each minute spent watching the pair.

So, that was how it had begun, Alexander thought with ire. It was not an accident that Dorian Gray had caught him in that alleyway; he had spied on him and followed him – for whatever purpose unclear. The notion fanned his rage, already fueled by the manner with which Dorian Gray had been taunting him, and he struggled with all his self-control forged by centuries of being a ruler to suppress the urge to go on a killing spree.

“Sir, you’re saying that Dorian Gray replicated the event of the night you supposedly ‘killed’ him?” Renfield asked, his black eyes widening with disbelief. “What sort of man in the right mind would go that far to… I can’t fathom his intention.”

“I doubt that whether he is ‘man’ or ‘in the right mind’. Yet he has shown persistent consistency in his effort to aggravate my bloodlust.”

Renfield’s eyes swept over Grayson’s bloody clothes. He could tell Dorian Gray’s attempt had not been unsuccessful.

Alexander, Dorian Gray and Lady Weatherby all had different reactions to the scene on the stage. While Dorian Gray’s expression showed relatively little in change – only his eyes sparkling with a quiet amusement, Lady Weatherby brought her gloved hand to cover her silent, surprised gasp… which might very well be feigned; like Dorian Gray and Alexander, the woman also wore her mask well enough to appear convincing. Contrastingly the vampire monarch regarded the pair on stage with cool eyes. His wrath had gone past the point of exploding, his bloodlust the same; at the moment they were simmering inside, patiently awaiting the right time to be unleashed onto an unfortunate victim. His thought briefly directed to Sir Clive, with his haughty attitude shared among the Order and his insults. In that moment, the old man’s fate was sealed.

The scene changed from the pub to a dark alleyway, where the handsome waiter, apparently seduced by the white-haired girl, allowed his patron to lead him. The dark-haired one, with the curves of her lips evolving to a mischievous smile, followed suit. Some snickers were heard among the audience. Even Lady Weatherby could not fight a few giggles of her own. The next twist of the play had half the crowd gasping while the other half broke into a roar. Under the ghastly light of the lamp the white-haired girl had her handsome companion writhing against the moldy brick wall with a swift, brutal assault of her lips in his own. The accompanying music faded from quick, joyous tune to slow and sensual, and light focused on the couple. Whether she kissed like a bite or she bit like a kiss, there was no way to tell with her predatory viciousness sewing to the seam of her lips as they ran over his mouth, his stubbly chin, the sharp line of his jaw, and then his supple lips once more. She did not kiss the way a gentleman did, if such was her role in this tableau, and much less a woman that she was; she kissed him as though she wanted to devour him whole, as though she was starving for his youthful, succulent flesh. A rivulet of ruby leaked from where they mouths conjoined, rolling along his chin, down his neck and got absorbed into his lapel. He had his arms around her narrow shoulders at first; then his knees went weak and he surrendered himself entirely to her mercy, clinging onto her so that he could maintain the illusion of standing on his own legs, his eyes half-closed. The white-haired girl, despite her physique, supported his weight with ease. Her wandering hands roamed about his form, his back first, and then quickly descending until they rested on his behind. She palmed him through his trousers, eliciting a moan which was quickly swallowed by her. She ground her body flat against him, further cutting off his any chance of escape. Behind a nearby wall the dark-haired girl spied on them.

The audience went temporary mute as if holding their breath when they witnessed the white girl’s hand roughly tipping his head back, exposing his pale throat. Her lips left his, and traveled to their newfound treasure, where her tongue flicked out to caress his Adam’s apple, bobbing frantically with anticipation. She smirked against his sweat-glistened skin before opening her mouth, teasing the audience with a gleam of fangs, and bit down. There were loud gasps down the aisles, mostly female. The young man’s glazed eyes shot open and his body jolted with an abrupt introduction of pain. Sense flooded him and he battled to get rid of her embrace. Her mouth latching on his neck, her amethyst eyes shut; however, she subdued his struggle with little effort, as she had been doing so from the very beginning. Blood from where her lips ravaged his flesh coiled around his throat like necklaces. His limbs’ movements became stagnant, and then ceased altogether, leaving an unresponsive cadaver in her arms. She let go of her victim shortly afterward and stood with her back against the wall, chest heaving heavily as savored the aftertaste of the sanguinary bliss lingering in her mouth. Red drenched her jaw, fastening a freshly picked rose on her breast pocket. A macabre adornment to match her macabre act. Slowly, a smile etched onto her lips; so devious was it that it drew a few sharp intakes of breath from the audience. Some women hid their sight into their companion’s jacket, sobbing, trembling.

It all felt so surreal to Alexander to watch the sequence of actions unfold in front of his eyes. He had never witnessed one of his kind during their feeding – it was a matter of privacy he himself had imposed on his bloody kin and subjects. When in the act, often he was so lost in his ecstasy that the whole world around seemed to fall into a momentary stillness, and the cursed mechanism within his body, fueled with the vigor of new blood, was the only thing that functioned with mad rapidity. Reality was soon reduced to a heightened perception of sounds, scents and motions – to cast aside humanity and experience the world like a pure beast. Hunger, of course, also sensitized his senses but it did so with a pain so great that it rendered everything insignificant save the cries in his veins.

Alexander’s throat constricted, his vision distorted and he was having the strangest hallucination of slipping into somebody else’s skin. It might not be the white girl that had the dark-haired one caged in her arms, it might be him. Similarly, the honey-skinned petit beauty who was staring at her captor with defiant eyes might not be herself either, replaced by Dorian Gray, and the two of them were reenacting their fateful encounter through the two actresses.

A warm hand gently placed on his own pulled Alexander back to his own skin and mind. He stared into the large, pretty eyes of Dorian Gray and his mouth that whispered low to him: “What’s the matter, Mr. Grayson? You seem a little… out of yourself.” His smile, ever amiable, suddenly felt like a thorn pricking Alexander’s flesh. “Nothing,” he replied, sort of grunting.

“What a relief! I was afraid you might miss the upcoming twist.”

Alexander let out an exasperated huff and retracted his hand from Dorian Gray’s when the latter obstinately refused to do so.

Loud cries echoed through the room below him. As Alexander had expected, once the white girl came to a disturbing realization that she was unable to drain this peculiar mortal, she resorted to a more direct extreme means. The prosthetic heart in her blood-soaked hand was still pumping when she ripped it clean from the dark girl’s bosom. Even Alexander, who frequently came into contact with human organs, was amazed at the authenticity of this theatrical trick. It was further proven by the gagging noises and the foul smells of half-digested dinners pervading the air. Not for the weak of stomach, he was amused by the thought of the warning sight upon entrance. Overestimating one’s own ability was a grievous mortal flaw, one he was glad he did not often fall for.

The heart fell on the body on the stage and the white girl, satiated from her double kill, turned on her heels and disappeared from sight. The audience held their breath, waiting for the thick curtain to be drawn. Moments of silence had passed. The curtain stayed still and so did the pair of corpses. Whispers began to rise, louder and louder. “Draw the curtain,” some man yelled, and he was met with agreements. Even Lady Weatherby voiced her curiosity.

“I plead you to be patient, my lady,” said Dorian Gray, putting his hand on her in the shadows, where they probably hoped was out of others’ sight. Watching them somehow proved to be more interesting than a tableau he had already learnt the ending.

Perhaps not the ending.

As soon as a few impatient men and women stood from their seats, the bodies on the stage stirred, drawing their attention. Bizarre was her movement as the dark-haired girl rose, a corpse returning from the dead to deliver one last shock: her kohl-rimmed eyes pierced through the audience while she was holding her heart in her hand. The curtain was drawn and the last glance at the girl showed her heart bumping with fresh blood.

“May I present Miss Divina?”

Dorian Gray had the dark-haired actress by her arm once the play was over, and they gathered in the parlor for a drink. Her coal-black hair was let down in lazy ringlets that fell around her shoulders, laid bare by the magenta dress she was wearing. Around her wrists, her silver bracelet jingled.

“Lady Weatherby, Mr. Grayson, a pleasure to have you here tonight.”

“Charmed,” said Lady Weatherby.

“The pleasure is all mine.” Alexander kissed her hand. “That was quite an extraordinary play. I have to admit I was rather doubtful to receive Mr. Gray’s invitation.”

“Oh, thank you, Mr. Grayson, you are most kind. I was quite sure I would earn the full of Dorian’s wrath should it turn out a flop.”

“Mr. Gray indeed spoke highly of this theater and its plays, and I just saw that he wasn’t exaggerating. I’m mostly impressed by the realistic of the gore.”

“We are fortunate to have an expert in that field, is all.”

“Your accent is rather… exotic. Were you not always here, in London?” asked Lady Weatherby.

“No, my lady, where I came from is far, far away,” said Divina. “As Dorian always says, no matter how many years I live in London, my accent will never go away.”

“I suppose it suits you more than a British accent.”

“As does yours, Mr. Grayson. American isn’t it?”

“As American as God, guns and bourbon, or so they say. Had I had the privilege to meet you a few days earlier, I would have invited you to my demonstration ball. Mr. Gray was very discreet about you. I see he’s the protective kind… or jealous, whichever is entirely justified.”

Divina raised her hand to cover her mouth in a gasp. She turned to Dorian Gray with hurtful, watery eyes. “Did I embarrass you, father? So much that you never mention my name to your friends?”

Both Alexander and Lady Weather could not help raising an eyebrow.

“You see, Miss Divina grew up with me,” Dorian Gray explained, chuckling. “A sweet little sister she is, she never lets down a chance to tease me about our age gap.”

“From what I observe, that gap is not very wide.”

Alexander sniggered at the lady’s comment.

“Appearance can be rather… deceptive, my lady,” Dorian Gray said. “Anyway, it is getting late. I was hoping to introduce Alicia too, where is she?”

“She won’t come out if she hasn’t done cleaning – you know she’s a cleanliness freak. After all she was the one who had blood all over her face while I only got it on my costume.”

“Such an innovative idea to be put on stage. I wonder where you have found the inspiration.”

“Those penny dreadful novels can be a real gold mine, my lady,” Divina replied.

“Perhaps I may try one too. Much as I love to compliment Miss Alicia’s performance, I am afraid it’s high time I returned home.”

“Shall I have the honor to escort you to your manor?” Alexander held out his hand.

“That’s very kind of you, Mr. Grayson, but I have already accepted Mr. Gray’s offer. Shall we depart, Mr. Gray?”

Dorian left Divina to extended his arm for Lady Weatherby. “I hope you won’t find my sweet sister’s company too much of a bore, Mr. Grayson.”

Alexander smirked. “A lovely lady’s company can never be a bore to me. Goodnight my lady, Mr. Gray.”

“The lady Dorian Gray called ‘sister’, is she anything like her brother?”

“So far she appears only a mortal. Charming yes, but nothing more. I left the theater shortly after.”

“And then you caught Sir Clive?”

A look of dubious crossed Renfield’s face. He tried very hard to think otherwise of the blatant truth, and failed: that Sir Clive had met his maker tonight not due to his status in the Order of the Dragon; he had died simply because a certain vampire had been in need of a punching bag.

Blame your luck, old pal.

Thankfully mind reading was not on Grayson’s list of super powers. Renfield was not ready to suffer a decline in salary only because of a thought.

“I can almost imagine Doctor Helsing throwing a tantrum once he pays a visit.”

“To hell with his tantrum,” Grayson grunted. “Actually, Renfield, can I ask you to speak to someone tomorrow?”

“Who, sir?”

“That reporter who wrote down that I was a ‘potential alcoholic’, what’s his name?”

“Jonathan Harker, sir.”

“Yes, I need you to speak to Jonathan Harker on my behalf, that I have an offer for him.”

“Was the play well, sir? Did Divina embarrass you?”

Raziel welcomed him at the door into his mansion, ready to serve.

“You know your little sister, Razz. What could she ever do to go wrong? Though the real gem is Alicia, as always. I wish you could have seen our gentleman vampire’s face when she stepped on the stage.”

“Seems you were having a good time, sir. I am glad to hear that.”

“Anything happened in my absence?”

“You are mostly absent in the evening, sir,” Raziel corrected him. “But indeed there’s one thing: our newly hired servant Jackson has gone missing for a few hours. I’m afraid he has accidentally found…”

The butler gestured to the huge portrait, which they both knew was not a mere picture.

“I’ll check,” said Dorian with a sigh.

Dorian strode past the myriad of mirrors to reach the huge canvass in the oval chamber. He did not fail to notice a few dark spots on the floor, much less a severed arm.

“Curiosity kills a man,” he murmured, undressing the canvass. The hideous creature glared at him with his own eyes, albeit veiny and clouded. A drop of red hung at the corner of wrinkled gray lips.

Dorian touched his own lips and found the same red on his fingers. He withdrawn a handkerchief and hastily wiped away the blood on his mouth as well as the creature’s, huffing with exasperation upon hearing laughter in his ears. “I left a quaint souvenir for you,” it cooed. “Tastes good, doesn’t it?”

The sudden assault of the taste of raw flesh in his mouth almost made him gag.

“But not as good as your bloodsucker.”

He tried his best to ignore the voice and covered the canvass. He all but fled out of the hidden passage once done, the poor victim’s remains dangling from his hand.

“Found poor Jackson,” he told Raziel, casually tossing the dead limb on the dining table and flopping down on the nearest chair.

Raziel’s dark gaze lingered on the ragged bone peaking from the chewed muscles as if finding the whole thing a piece of art to be examined. “Perhaps, sir, the idea of a secret room is that it should be locked.”

Dorian poured himself a glass of champagne, and took a sip. He moved the fine liquid in his mouth, trying to wash away the nauseous aftertaste. “It isn’t locked for a reason, Razz.”

He reached for the limb with his free hand, fingering the gray skin. “If I don’t feed him once in a while, he’ll feed on me.”

Then he flung it into the fireplace.

Cont

Note: Dorian Gray’s painting in this fic has little resemblance to the one just revealed in Penny Dreadful 2×08: Memento Mori; it is entirely my idea.

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