[Fanfic] Why Won’t You Die? (6)

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.

VI.   Monster of a Skin

The soil beneath his soles was bleeding: such was Dorian’s initial impression.

His first steps sank in the earth and he had thought, with mild frustration, that it had been raining and now the mud would ruin his shoes and dirtied the hems of his trousers – he loathed raining and what came with it: the stickiness of wet clothes to damp skin, the stench of putrefied cadavers inhumed in the earth, the sordid mud. But a sweep of his eyes across the place had proven otherwise: it was parched where it was not soggy and judging by a single skeleton of a tree from afar he could deduce it had not rained for weeks, if not months. He squatted down and inspected the soil with his hand. The smudges of crimson on his fingertips felt so strangely warm that he almost felt the life in it. “Odd,” he voiced his thought with fascination, that what soaked the earth was not water but rather a thicker liquid, one whose vivid color was a perfect match to the carnage around him.

To say it was carnage was an understatement: the scene was an attempt to adapt John Martin’s Pandemonium into reality, with fire raging where blood had not soaked. Dorian considered himself fortunate to be wearing only a thin shirt and light trousers, otherwise the heat would be unbearable. There was an arm near his feet, still clad in gauntlet and clutching a nicked blade. He nudged it with the tip of his shoe – mildly disinterested because it was merely a severed arm, nothing special – before sending it to join a cluttered heap of limbs and heads nearby with a well-aimed kick. His puerility had surfaced again, Dorian smiled to himself as he visualized his stoic-faced butler crossing his arms and shaking his head in a show of disappointment. The carnage did little to faze him; in fact his interest grew as he traced the path of blood and dismembered bodies to the distant noises, having to sidestep now and then due to a pool of blood or a patch of flame. Men screaming, he could make out, horse neighing, and metal clashing. The acrid smell of smoke mixed with the stinks of blood and innards permeated every particle of breathing air. Not a very charming combination. It dawned on him that a war was going on ahead and were he another man, he would know better than to advance. Nonetheless, Dorian Gray was not one to be daunted by the prospect of war and death. Nor was he one to resist the allure of new adventures. Mundane questions as why and how he ended up on this battlefield did not matter to him; the only thing reeling in his mind was the excitement at what he would be able to achieve. His heart raced, his pale cheeks flushed, and his smile widened.

Though he was not an ardent student of history, he was able to tell from the armors and weapon on the corpses paving the path that they were not of the nineteenth century, and much less England. They could have belonged to a much longer period, where men had relied on swords and shields to win the wars instead of guns and bullets. That knowledge should have baffled him, for he had crossed not only the boundaries of lands – from his peaceful bed chamber in the South Bank of London to an unidentified war zone – but also the flow of time; instead he remained calmly thrilled. Not many things could cause harms to him, and even if they did, he was confident there was no flesh wound unfixable. That ‘Dorian Gray’ could never be destroyed was the top point of their contract.

It might not be very sensible to ask a dying man about the location and age but Dorian did not have much choice in the matter. The more he followed the noises to their source, the more cadavers piled up. He mentally thanked his Lady Luck for encountering one soldier that had yet to join his fellows. He was mortally wounded, his innards spilling out of his stomach, and death was only a matter of time. Another man might want to sooth the dying soldier with comfort words, or end his suffering with the tip of a knife; Dorian did neither. In a careful, polite tone he asked the man where they were and possibly what period they were in. Perhaps it was pain or the terror of Death’s approaching scythe that rendered his sight and speech useless, for the only response Dorian got was eyes staring blankly into his face and incoherent groans from the depth of the soldier’s throat. “Silly of me to ask,” Dorian mumbled and stood up, leaving the hopeless soldier to his dying process.

Noises grew louder as he closed the distance to the heart of the battlefield. The earth beneath him gave off low grumbles. His steps faltered then halted, and Dorian stood still, absorbing the tremors that ran along his body through his soles. So this was how an earthquake supposed to feel? The culprits of the tremors soon showed themselves in the forms of riders on thundering hooves, each of them clad in black armor, whose metallic luster had been dulled by the sand and blood. Dorian saw them gallop through the land, annihilating any soldiers they saw breathing. Even the fallen, dying ones were not speared from their swords and lances, polished with the red of blood to shine in the glaring sun. The winds caused by their horses hit Dorian’s face hotly with the distinct reek of gore.

The cruelty of the victors, Dorian thought, unafraid. He stood on his spot, mildly curious as to what the black riders would do to him, who neither wore any armor nor carried any sort of weapon. A defenseless lamb waiting for a pack of predators that he was, they might kill him on the spot, as they seemed to have been slaughtering any living thing standing in their path. Or they could capture him, take him to the higher authority, who would probably have him tortured for suspicion of being a spy, before having him executed. Countless times he had watched this scenario in the plays but never once had he been able to live it – too unwilling to leave his luxurious nest in London to venture in warzones around the world. That would be a very interesting experience indeed.

For all his speculations he managed to brainstorm in a short time, none of them actually happened when the troop of black riders approached him. None of them riders, all wearing helmets that hid away their faces, leaving only a tiny hint of their eyes through the visors, spared a glance at him as they rode past. A soldier was impaled and fell right next to him, courtesy of one of the ubiquitously helmeted men, yet here Dorian stood with his head held high and his back straight, yet ignored and unharmed. The first rider passed him, his ignorance copied in the second, the third, and soon Dorian lost count of how many whose eyes had bestowed invisibility on him. Trying to keep track with this massive number had a similarly distinct effect as contemplating the motion of a disc on the gramophone: you could easily make out every line at first, but soon the disc started spinning around its axis, all you could see was an obscure recurring motion of black.

When he gave up on his hope of getting the riders’ attention, one of them, the rider at the end of the troop, halted in front of him. One glance and Dorian was fairly certain this rider was of a higher position than the rest, possibly the general: his helmet was shaped like a two-horned dragon head, whose eyes were two gleaming rubies. Dorian felt himself unintentionally drawn to their smoldering gaze, which was a peculiar contrast to the icy ones behind the visor. Pale blue, he remarked, and they flooded him with an overwhelming sense of uncanny familiarity. He could have seen them recently, and found them enticing, for such eyes would not be forgettable. His lips unconsciously formed a smile to see the rider flicked open his visor.

“Mr. Grayson?” The surprise in Dorian’s query was genuine. He certainly had not foreseen turn of seeing an acquainted face in this stranger land, much less on this battlefield. No wonder he had a feeling that he knew those eyes.

It was hard to read Grayson’s motifs with only his eyes. For a moment Dorian was convinced that the American also recognized him because his eyes squinted with a flash of anger. Grayson was rightfully angry with him though, considering the little ‘gift’ Dorian had prepared for him the last time they met at Divina’s theatre. The tip of his sword touched the bare skin on Dorian’s clavicles, slowing carving a line up his throat, more a tease than a threat. Wetness seeped into his collar. Dorian hissed as a sharp pleasure ran along his spine. He was not ashamed to admit that the cold tongue of a blade never failed to turn him on.

Then his budding pleasure was brutally nipped when Grayson swung his arm.

Dorian was jolted awake. The palm of his hand was slick with sweats when he brought a hand to his neck, the pulses racing beneath the skin. They had been all so real: the feeling of steel colliding with the bone of his neck, the pain… the fear.

The laughter in his ears was most nerve-grazing.

“Finally there is something that could give you a fright,” the voice mocked. “Think of this as a reference the next time you get plagued with the silly idea of trying the guillotine. Trust me, it’s far nastier than a mere sword.”

“Very bloody funny,” Dorian hissed.

“Oh, don’t be so quick to chastise me. It wasn’t my doing at all.”

“Whose then?”

The voice gave a wry laugh. “You had better ask the face you saw in your dream. That vampire of yours, this was entirely his doing, though I doubt he was even aware of it.”

Dorian found his eyebrows knitted. “Blood drinkers have the capability to penetrate and manipulate an individual’s dream?”

“Not this one I can assure you.”

“Aren’t you contradicting yourself?”

“I am not. This dream was his, not yours. Since you were merely sharing it, you were subject to whatever scenario his mind had built.”

“How is it possible?”

“The blood opens a pathway to the soul, Dorian. When you and he exchanged blood, what was shared wasn’t only the fluid in your veins.”

Dorian let out an exasperated huff. “Can’t you do anything about this?”

“Last time you dragged him into your dream, and tormented him I dare add, I didn’t hear you complain–”

Dorian sniggered. “My dream, you say?”

“Ours, then. And yes, I can. It’s relatively easy, with our blood in him. But don’t you like it? It would definitely make you and him… more intimate,” the voice laughed.

“Soon he will learn of you.”

“That’s rather the point, isn’t it? All secrets are made to be exposed.”

“What if he cannot take it?”

“Would you rather he could?” The voice took an amusing tone. “You are very fond of him I can see.”

“Monsters of a skin, you mean?” A smirk graced Dorian’s lips. “Yes, I’m fond of him enough to not want the taste of his flesh in my mouth,” he said, and rose from his bed.

He heard the voice chuckling in his ears, yet decided he had had his last words with it today.

He met Raziel midway on the stairs.

“Sir, the art dealer has arrived,” the butler announced. “He said he has a new painting for you that you would definitely be interested.”

“Oh, what the date is it?”

“The seventeenth of the month, as usual, sir. He is having tea in the gallery.”

“All right, I’ll come and see if he can surprise me this time. He hasn’t procured anything remotely good for the past two months.”

Raziel’s dark eyes did a thorough scan of his master’s state: hair tousled, eyes heavy with sleep, feet bare and wearing nothing except a silk bed robe that did a mediocre job of covering his smooth, milky chest and part of his thighs. “Would you prefer to change first, sir?”

“Is something wrong with the way I dress?”

A master’s attire would be a butler’s top concern, and this held true to the Gray household’s butler: it ranked at the top of Raziel’s list, provided you read it upside down: the man would not bat an eye if one day his master decided to stroll around baring his sculpted body for all to see. Years of cohabitating with this strange master had molded Raziel into a stranger but otherwise ideal butler to cope with Dorian’s unusual behaviors.

“Nothing, sir, nothing at all,” Raziel replied with a smile. And perfect for price negotiation should the need arise if he might add.

Several streets away, the servants of Carfaz Manor had a reason to smile, too: their handsome master had risen early today and remained in an ebullient mood since.

Renfield’s both eyebrows went up his forehead to watch a beaming Grayson in going around the house. When he passed Ella, the young redheaded maid that excelled in the baking of the apple crumbs Renfield so loved, he kissed her lightly on the cheeks and complimented her lovely hairpin, which prompted Renfield to seriously roll his eyes. Combining Grayson’s nocturnal activities and bitter grudge with the sun, it was rare to see him up so early in the morning, and in pleasant mood no less. Was this a foreshadowing of some bad omen to come?

“You are in a jolly mood today, sir.”

“I am, Renfield,” said Grayson as he flopped down on the sofa, next to his assistant. One of his arms draped around Renfield’s shoulder while the other extended toward the table for the bottle of whiskey.

“What could bring about this miracle of your getting up early, sir?”

“A good sleep and a better dream did the trick, Renfield. You should try sometimes.”

A dubious look clouded on Renfield’s face. A ‘good’ dream was, in Grayson’s dictionary, reliving his glorious old days, which never failed to involve a copious amount of blood flowing, countless heads spiked, limbs torn and, let us not forget the best part: impaling – he was not nicknamed ‘Vlad The Impaler’ for nothing.

“What was your ‘better’ dream, sir?”

“What I usually dream about,” Grayson replied, shrugging, “plus a small bonus…”

He downed his glass of whiskey, filled it and continued, “…in the form of an annoying, undying pest.”

The decoding process inside Renfield’s brain began to operate. Sometimes his boss just loved speaking in codes. Must have been an old habit.

“You mean Dorian Gray? That half-man, half-snake thing again?”

“He looked human,” Grayson chuckled, “in fact he looked like a lost lamb amidst the battlefield, waiting to be slaughtered. Can you imagine?”

“No, sir,” Renfield replied frankly, “I’ve only met him once. What happened next?”

Grayson laughed. “He seemed to recognize me as I him.”

“And?”

“Made shorter by a head a few seconds later. I have to admit it felt extremely good.”

Renfield mentally sighed. “It’s good that you had your ‘payback’, sir. Since you are in an excellent mood this morning, don’t let me ruin it by a small reminder: Dr. Van Helsing sent a message that he was in need of a few samples of your blood…”

The smile on Grayson’s face disappeared quicker than Renfield’s blink. “Goddamn it!” he muttered. “Did he say he had made any progress on the serum?”

“No sir, he only told me that he had run out of blood samples and he would pay a visit tonight to collect some.”

By the time Renfield finished his sentence, a black cloud had formed at the top of Grayson’s head.

At the age of thirty-eight, Alphonse Beauchene was a flamboyant man who had a questionable fashion style. Who with a decent common sense would wear a garish red jacket with an emerald shirt and a fuchsia cravat, not to mention a thick, white wig that was a century out-of-date? One look at the man and Dorian was struck with watering eyes and a headache. Still, in spite of his horrendous clothing choice and an occasional tendency for drama, the man had a keen eye for paintings – it was fair to say all his artistic sense was on his trade, thus leaving not a tiny bit for his own person. That was the reason which kept Dorian in a long-term business with the art dealer despite all he wanted at times was to have Raziel kicked the man out of his house.

Alphonse Beauchene put down his cup of tea instantly and rose from his chair, from which he strode across the gallery to shake Dorian’s hand when he descended the stairs. “It has been a long time, Monsieur Gray. How I miss this magnificent gallery of yours,” he exclaimed. “Yet certainly not as much as I do your marvelous visage.” His hand prolonged the touch longer than a courteous, normal handshake required, much to Dorian’s distaste.

“It’s been exactly a month, Mr. Beauchene,” Dorian felt the need to remind him. More urgent was his desire to retract his hand from Alphonse’s powdered vice-like grip. For a man whose profession was art trading, the man sure had unusually strong fingers and Dorian’s effort proved to be in vain.

“It feels like a century for me!”

“Oh, really? Seems to me it was just yesterday.”

This was where Raziel’s virtues as a devoted butler shone: he came to his master’s rescue with a tray of full of beautifully decorated sweet treats.

“Sorry to keep you waiting, sir, Mr. Beauchene,” he said, his best butler-smile on display as he subtlety stepped in between Dorian and Alphonse and successfully broke the prolonging handshake that had morphed into something else.

“Please, have a taste at these freshly baked snacks. I don’t mean to boast but my butler Raziel makes the best desserts in the South Bank. My personal favorite is this blueberry tart.”

“Oh, Monsieur  Gray, you shouldn’t indulge my taste buds like this.”

If there was only one thing that could distract Alphonse from his “object of worship” (in his own words), that was the variety of sweet treats Raziel offered. And so Dorian was rescued and retreated to his chair, which was strategically half a gallery away from the pseudo-Frenchman.

While Alphonse was having difficulty picking which to consume first, Raziel discreetly handed his master a handkerchief. Really, did he always have to powder his hands every bloody minute, thought Dorian with annoyance.

“So, Monsieur Gray,” said the art trader after he had happily ingested his necessary sugar intake to last him a day, “shall we begin our business?”

“Of course, Mr. Beauchene.” What else are you here for? “What did you bring this time?”

“I consider myself extremely fortunate to have got my hands on this valuable rare piece. When I unveiled the cover, its sheer magnificence took my breath away and I immediately thought that only you, Monsieur Gray, should be its owner.”

Dorian cocked an eyebrow. “Well, why not bring the precious jewel in? I’m prepared to be dazzled.”

Alphonse Beauchene stood up and clapped his hands, the sounds giving a cue for two young men to carry a huge frame in. It would occupy half a wall if it was to be hung.

“The size is certainly impressive,” Raziel passed a comment. Inside his head calculations of the estimated price were already being made. Alphonse Beauchene was not a man who would charge a feeble sum for something of this scale. Nevertheless, Raziel had a grip of the man’s lethal weakness, having done countless price negotiations with him throughout the years. The manner in which his master dressed today would no doubt play to their advantage – as a matter of fact, he had caught Beauchene stealing glances up and down Dorian’s bare skin.

“Not only is its size awe-inspiring, this painting also has historical values,” explained Alphonse as he sought to take off the thick covering.

“Oh? Do enlighten me then.”

“It is said to have been a personal possession of a royalty. The Prince of Wallachia around the fifteenth century. He had a whole legend surrounding him. A very intriguing figure, terrifying even, if I’m allowed to speak my voice. Ah, found it. The securing of such a piece has to be very careful, hence quite tricky to unbind.” Alphonse undid a number of knots and finally freed the painting from its velvet coat.

Dorian’s half-lidded eyes brightened up instantly as soon as he caught sight of the canvas. True to what the art dealer said, it was a magnificent piece that was excellently preserved. Time had not faded the pigments and the scene depicted looked as realistic as seen from the window. His eyes not leaving the subject of the painting, Dorian left his chair and erased the distance in a few strides, until he was close enough to appear he could step into the painted scene any minute. He lifted up his hand as if wanting to touch the canvas – to see if it was real or not – and aborted his attempt in fear that he might cause some damage to it with his thoughtless act.

“It’s a little stretching to call this a portrait if a pair of eyes is the only part of the face seeable,” Raziel remarked.

“Surely it was a little odd,” Alphonse agreed. “But judging by the fact that it was the ruler’s favorite item that was rumored to be hung on the wall of his keep, this is probably due to his preference.”

The centre of the painting as well as Dorian’s attention was a black rider on the back of a majestic black horse, with his hand holding a lance whose tip had embedded into a man’s severed head. Gruesome as it might appear to a number of people, to others who were enchanted by and celebrated the unusual like Dorian, it held an undeniable appeal. Particularly captivating were the jewel eyes of the elaborately crafted dragon helmet: the red was done was done with such flawless skills that they possessed the smoldering look of the true inferno, which was portrayed in the background in staggering realism.

“Ah, the dragon’s eyes. It seems you are quite taken by them, Monsieur Gray. I myself was mesmerized by them the first time I saw them, and that says something because I’m quite the hard-hearted man, as you know.”

“I’m taken by both pairs of eyes, actually, man’s and beast’s. Do you happen to know why it is a dragon? Was it a sigil?”

“It wasn’t. Since his father gained the name ‘Dracul’ – meaning ‘Dragon’ – when he joined a sacred order, the monarch himself was alternatively known as ‘Son of Dragon’, or Dracula. Does it ring a familiar bell to you, Monsieur Gray?”

A smile crept up Dorian’s lips. “Yes, I do believe I know a thing or two about this Prince of Wallachia. Though I think I can learn more from your rich resources, Mr. Beauchene.”

“I have to admit that I am no expert when it comes to history,” Alphonse said, taking a sip from his cup. “But he inspired me to conduct some research into Romanian history. Apparently our friend had quite a reputation shrouding him. He had, how to put it, a peculiar fixation of impaling his enemies, hence his morbid nickname ‘Vlad The Impaler’. His enemies, the Turks, feared him as though he was devil-incarnate while the folks rumored that he was plagued with a diabolical taste for human blood–”

Dorian laughed softly. “Perhaps it still holds true today.”

“I don’t quite get what you mean, Monsieur Gray, but yes, historians’ views on him are mixed between positive and negative: was he a revered national hero or was he a mad tyrant?”

“What was his end?”

“That’s another mystery to add to the bulk. Local legends recorded that he was sealed away in an iron tomb so that he could never drink a drop or mortal blood again. Absurd, isn’t it?”

“Did he suffer any sort of facial disfigurement?” Raziel raised a question. “Since he wore a mask in his own portrait.”

“A helmet, actually,” Dorian corrected. “I believe in some occasions people wear masks not due to their… less attractive appearance but because the beauty of their faces would not do well in inspiring fear in their enemies’ hearts.”

“I couldn’t say it better myself. As a matter of fact his was known to be a charming visage.”

“Handsome even,” Dorian concluded. “That goes without saying, this painting is a must-have for me.”

“Excellent, Monsieur Gray,” exclaimed Alphonse with an enthusiastic flair. “Now, about the price, we can have a long discussion about it…”

Dorian stood up, stretched gracefully, and made a handshake with Alphonse Beauchene so brief that the man had not had the time to notice. Putting on his sweetest smile, Dorian said, “Pardon me, Mr. Beauchene, but I have an appointment which is scheduled in an hour and I’m afraid I have to go and prepare. Would you mind if I left the business to my trusted friend Raziel?”

He winked at his butler and headed for the flight of stairs, completely and deliberately ignorant of the man’s pout.

“With pleasure, sir,” replied Raziel, who turned to the art trader wearing his best business face. “I’m inclined to believe if we settle this quickly, there’s still some time for a quick trip to the bank.”

It was not every evening when Dorian went out the streets without a particular destination in mind and literally ran into an acquaintance. Well, his couch did, to be exact. He was allowing his mind to drift along the thoughts about his early dream, his newly acquired painting and its subject, Dracula or Alexander Grayson as he the name he preferred to go by in this land and age, when the coach was forced to an abrupt halt. He heard Gilbert’s voice chastising some man, who was probably the cause of this disturbance. He had been wandering in the street with no regard to traffic and vehicles it appeared.

“Keep going, Gilbert. Never mind him,” he called out to his chauffeur through the opened window. Then he saw the possible culprit’s face and immediately stepped out, motioning Gilbert to pull the coach to the side of the street.

“Jonathan?”

The man reacted to his first name being called and lifted his head. It was a young man, taller than Dorian and looked to be in the same age. Despite his lanky limbs, unkempt hair and beard and sort of shabby clothes, he was quite a good-looking chap.

He would do well with some proper grooming, Dorian mused. As a matter of fact, the last time Dorian saw him, the man had been in a much neater state.

“Well, didn’t you look sharper the last time we met?”

A whiff of alcohol pervaded his scent. “You have been drinking?” he asked.

“Yes, but not enough to achieve my desired result,” Jonathan’s voice was clear when he answered. Though his breath smelled of alcohol, his eyes had yet to lose their focus. “And I’m officially penniless until payday.”

There was no hiding his depression with his untidy condition and downcast eyes, not to mention the yearning to drown himself in spirits. Dorian frowned. To see someone whom he was fond of in misery was not his usual idea of enjoying the evening.

“Wouldn’t Miss Murray approve of your inebriation?”

“She… wouldn’t mind,” he spoke sotto voce.

So she was the problem, eh, nothing new, Dorian concluded. Of all his time knowing Jonathan Harker, he also learnt of the man’s habit: that two-thirds of the times Jonathan got very depressed and started begging for alcohol, it was due to a certain lady named Mina Murray. If he got any more transparent, Dorian was afraid he would not need any clothes.

Lucky for Jonathan (or unlucky, depending on whose perspective), he had run into Dorian Gray. Though they were not exactly the best of friends, Dorian was not the kind to abandon Jonathan to wallow in his sorrow alone and rode off to enjoy his night, say, a jolly little visit to Divina’s jolly little theatre for example. So he grabbed the man by his arm and not-so-subtly nudged him to get into the coach. “Come. If you truly want to get intoxicated, at least do it with better-quality liquor, which I happen to know where to get.”

And judging by how the young reporter was remarkably unhesitant in accepting Dorian’s ambiguous offer, it was easy to tell this was no way their first time.

It was Jonathan that the waiting boy saw first due to his height. Since his clothes were less than impressive to the boy, whose job revolved around judging patrons based on their garments, he would have closed the small iron window right on Jonathan’s face if had he not spotted the other patron, dressed in much costlier fabric than plain cotton, stepping out from behind the reporter’s shadow. The small window was closed, not for the sake of dismissing them but rather for opening the grand door. Head held low in a bow, the waiting boy received both of them to the world inside.

“Not very welcomed here, am I?” asked Jonathan as he was led by Dorian’s arm through a dark cyclical corridor to the brighter world beyond.

“You do realize that you are not in your best shape, don’t you, Jonathan? A few hours’ grooming and newer clothes and you would be their most wanted patron.”

“Like you?” His lips moved just a little, forming a smirk. “I have a feeling that neither this place nor what we are going to do is exactly legal.”

“Pray tell, what are we going to do?” Dorian chuckled.

“Frankly, I don’t know. I merely want to get horribly drunk.”

The corridor led to a vast space filled with music and the decadent scent of expensive cigarette and first-class wine. Men made up the majority of the patrons, forming small groups and whispering to one another in low voices, though occasionally women in revealing gowns could be spotted, swirling their glasses of expensive champagne in their jeweled hands. Jonathan could not help lingering his eyes on the singer: she who was parading around on the elevated stage in the middle of the room in nothing but a skimpy black cloth to cover her lower region and a huge, white snake wrapping around her neck and shoulders. To match her ‘costume’, she was wearing a stylized snake mask that hid most of her face save a pair of sinful rogue lips. Her golden hair cascaded down the length of her back, occasionally revealing a tattoo on her skin. He shuddered with the thought of the pain she had gone through to achieve such an elaborate design.

A turn of his head found him a smiling Dorian. “Your first time seeing that?”

“Ah…yes…”

“Do you fancy a closer look? Exotica doesn’t mind as long as we buy her charmer an expensive drink.”

“I–It’s not necessary,” Jonathan stammered. “What?”

“The python on the singer’s shoulders, is she not what you’re curious about? She’s the brightest star of this place. Many have paid handsomely just to see her.”

“That is not a snake?”

“No, a python from the deep jungle of the African continent. She’s particularly invaluable because her skin is pure white and her eyes red like fire. The rumors say she is one in a million,” Dorian elucidated, patting him on the shoulder. “You don’t have to be shy about your curiosity. Nothing is unpermitted in this place.”

“What is this place?”

Dorian’s reply was a meaningful wink. “Why don’t you see for yourself?”

Light got weaker as they ventured deeper into the heart of the place. They reached a table in a corner, where they were allowed both a decent view of the stage and a certain degree of privacy. A boy appeared by the table, silent as a spectre.

“Which would you like to have?” Dorian asked Jonathan, who had some difficulty adjusting to his plush seat.

“Anything will do, really.”

“My friend isn’t in an upbeat mood tonight, so could you please bring us something that might help him lift it up? Nothing’s sort of the best, if you will.”

The boy seemed to be adequately equipped to deal with abstract demands like Dorian’s, for he noiselessly disappeared to wherever he came out without asking another word.

“I can see you’re a regular patron. The waiter didn’t have to ask for clarification.”

“That is how he, as well as his fellows, is trained to serve here. Furthermore, most of the guests could not care less about what is brought onto their table as long as it isn’t cheap swill. And no, I only come to this place when I’m in special company.”

The deliberate stress heated up Jonathan’s cheeks, chilled by the autumnal winds. He turned his head sideway as a self-conscious act to hide his face from Dorian, even when he doubted his friend could pay attention to his color in this dim light. Fortunately he did not have to maintain his awkward position for long because the boy had brought out their drinks, which were a variety of bottles whose brands Jonathan could barely recognize.

“So this is their idea of catering to their customers’ demands,” he said incredulously.

“You can’t begrudge them for trying to boost their business. Like I said, most of the patrons do not mind what their money will bring to their tables.”

“Not a place for those who mind, isn’t it?”

Dorian tilted his head and laughed. “Whiskey?” He poured two glasses, giving Jonathan one.

“I recall whiskey wasn’t to your liking before. You prefer the flaming taste of absinthe.”

“If it is absinthe, I have plenty at home, and of finer quality. But whiskey happens to be a friend of mine’s favorite, so I guess I can get accustomed to it.”

“Interestingly, the last man I interviewed happens to be a potential alcoholic whose favorite is whiskey.”

“Perhaps they are one person, who knows. Now, let’s raise a toast for our possible mutual acquaintance.”

Their glasses clinked and a moment of silence spread between the men, each attending to their drink.

The first sip was bitter and burning in Jonathan’s mouth, since strong whiskey was not something his meager budget could afford very often and the cheap alcohols at the pub were often too diluted that he could barely notice that he was not drinking plain water. His eyebrows knitted together and tears pricked at his eyes. Even after he had swallowed it down – a ball of flame rolling down his throat – the inside of his mouth still felt on fire with the taste. He cast a discreet glance at Dorian, who also had his first sip and maintained his normal, relaxed expression; in fact he looked as though he was merely sipping tea. Jonathan grabbed his glass and tried to quench fire with fire. The second nearly made him choke but he managed not to spill it. The third was an improvement and he was able to taste its other flavors besides bitterness. He reached for the bottle, poured himself a glass and had his fourth and his fifth. He began to enjoy it more and more and before long, Jonathan had finished half the bottle while his friend had barely half way through his second glass.

He reclined in his seat, feeling his strained muscles relax. The whiskey in his bloodstream started to take effect and he had a distinct sensation that his weight became less and less and he was floating, his body supported by water. He had had only the chance to swim in the ocean once, when he was a small boy in primary school, yet that tiny memory stayed within him till today. The singer’s voice sounded distant, and only now did he pay attention to what she was singing. It was a mellow song and the lyrics entered his ears like the waves gentle crashing upon the shore.

“I fantasize that I

Am covered by another skin, living another life

To be someone else

Someone better, who suffers not this plight

Of meaningless existence, and dreaded subsistence

Someone like you

Beautiful, wise , and free

Envy me not, you say, look me over closely

Soon you’ll see

That I’m not your sage

Trapped I too am

In my soul cage…”

Something stirred in Jonathan, a tingling in his heart as if the song had brushed its hand on a secret part that even he himself was unaware. Whatever it was, it was magnified when he looked to his left and saw that Dorian had also reclined on his seat. The glass stayed half-full in his right hand while the other hand pillowed his head. There was a distant look in his drooped amber eyes – drunk he did not appear, but rather vacant, his soul having disengaged from his body, attracted by an otherworldly realm beyond this reality. Perhaps it was the song, perhaps it was the whiskey, but Jonathan found himself unable to take his eyes off his friend’s face and the more he looked, the stronger the heat built in his stomach.

He was not sure whether it was in his favor.

“Trapped we all are,” Dorian’s whisper penetrated his hazed mind, starling him. The amber-colored eyes’ sudden focus on him caused Jonathan to blush furiously with the embarrassing thought that he had been caught in his improper act.

Dorian did not let it show in his expression whether he was aware of Jonathan’s staring at his face. “Aren’t we?” he asked.

“Yes,” Jonathan agreed. “Nevertheless, some cages happen to offer more freedom than others.”

He steered his gaze away from Dorian’s lips, which had regained its ever-knowing, mysterious phantom of a smile. Such was one characteristic of Dorian that Jonathan was not fanciful of. It seemed to hold a grievous implication that he always knew what stream of thought was going on in people’s heads and exulted as no one could do the same to his own, impeccably veiled behind his mild manners and charms. None would find comfort in the knowledge that theirs barest secrets were unwrapped and read like a book. Jonathan wondered, with mild disturbance, how much Dorian had learned of his inner turmoil. He tried to turn his attention to the stage.

The singer had begun another song, one which was complimented by her serpentine twists of her body. Her audience was enthralled, and the wad of bills tucked at the thin cord around her hip thickened. Jonathan, on the other hand, found it distasteful. This song, though lacked the sophistication that touched beyond the listeners’ senses of its predecessor, was sensual and provocative in the way that aroused male desires. The hour was getting late and more and more restrictions had been lifted. As a matter of fact, Jonathan’s eyes caught sights of a few couples who had already engaged in intimacy regardless of their publicly. The heat in his stomach grew, and spread to his facial skin, for the couples he was staring at were invariably made up of two males. To his shock, there were familiar faces amongst them, who Jonathan happened to know due to his line of profession. He could not imagine their upper-class families would endure their scandalous affairs.

“You are staring again, Jonathan.” Dorian’s calm voice brought his eyes away from the couples. “I can see you are quite confused. Does this display of male affection make you uncomfortable?”

Jonathan understood what his friend was hinting at. “It’s not necessarily so. I am merely surprised… to see some of the well-known figures from prestigious families.”

And truth be told, Jonathan was not disgusted by what he saw. His career as a reporter allowed him the knowledge that this sort of relationship between men, and sometimes women, existed persistently despise how the churches and social moralists tried to imbue people with a belief that it was immoral. The one sin that had invoked God’s wrath on Sodom and Gomorrah. A Catholic by his parents’ will rather than his own, Jonathan never truly absorbed the religious doctrine preached by the priests throughout his childhood to adulthood. He considered it a small miracle that he himself was generally godless considering his father and mother were devoted worshippers. In fact, he had developed a recent grudge for those sermons, as they forced the men and women involved to tuck away their true nature, which had consequently led to his current depression.

“I myself have never seen it as a shameful act which must be hidden at all cost,” Dorian opined. “Whoever a man takes as his lover should be his own concern, not anyone else’s, and certainly neither the authority’s nor the church’s.”

“All the time we’ve been acquainted, I’ve known you to be godless.”

“Christianity fascinates me with its many illustrious rituals and ceremonies, but to let my existence be dictated by some priests’ preaching…”

Jonathan nodded.

“However, there’re always people who have immense need for discretion – too many things to lose – and places such as this club gives them a chance to be true to who they are.”

“Or be someone else,” Jonathan said, smiling his first smile in the evening. “And you, Dorian, don’t have many to lose?”

“There’s a slight difference between myself and my ‘fellows’: what I deem essential I will certainly acquire it and keep it…”

“Until you get bored with it, that is.”

“My dear Jonathan, that’s how we became friends.”

“Was it the reason why you brought me here?”

For a moment Dorian’s widened eyes expressed genuine surprise. It did not last very long and he soon regained his usual relaxed state. “I brought you here because you said you wanted to drink.”

“Not because you wanted me to be someone else for the night?”

Dorian smiled. “You surprise me, Jonathan, as you prove to be extremely sharp for someone who has already downed a bottle of whiskey. And to answer you, yes, if that is what you want.”

Jonathan shook his head ruefully. “You’re wrong. I’m already drunk, very drunk and achingly curious about… that.”

Dorian followed his gaze to a far corner, where two men in expensive suits were lost in their own world of each other and of affectionate gestures that bordered between obscene and desperation. The curve of his lips evolved into something darker than his usual suave smile. He put a hand on Jonathan’s shoulder, his fingers gleefully playing with a few long strands of the man’s hair. “If you are certain about what you want, of course I’m happy to oblige.”

“Do I look like someone who has something to lose?”

Then his lips were on Dorian, leaving him no time to decipher what the reporter meant. The scent of whiskey lingered in their breaths, the taste of whiskey was strong on their lips as they simply pressed their mouths together, giving each other time to adjust to the feelings of another being. Unlike Dorian, who had abundant experience with a same-sex partner, Jonathan was an absolute fledging in this field. All of his experience was with Mina, and even in their most yearning moment, their passion had never crossed the sacred line of ‘chaste’. It did not help that it was a male Jonathan was kissing at the moment. Unsure of how to proceed from the touching of lips, he remained passive, waiting for his experienced partner to pick up from there.

It was outright disrespect to laugh during a kiss so Dorian tried his best to limit his laugh to giggles as his hand at Jonathan’s shoulder traveled to his neck, messaging the nape of his head while his tongue ran leisurely along the seams of Jonathan’s lips. Jonathan reacted with a shudder, being caught off-guard by the sinuous wetness, but he soon learned the rules of the game. In his own, sort of clumsy way he sought to catch Dorian’s tongue with his own and when he failed, obviously, he tried to mimic Dorian’s technique with rhythmless swipes on Dorian’s lips. That Jonathan was a quick learner was the thought in Dorian’s mind and as a reward for his bright ‘pupil’, he opened his mouth, allowing Jonathan entrance. His tongue also ceased its half-teasing, half-taunting patterns and became heuristic, encouraging Jonathan to discover what served to his pleasure while subtly providing guidance.

It seemed to take forever until they broke the kiss. Even then, a silvery string of saliva still connected their lips, glistening with the excessive amount of moisture. With one last peck on Jonathan’s lips, Dorian severed their string before reaching for his glass of whiskey and downed the content in one gulp.

“It… it isn’t so bad…”

“… as you imagined?” Dorian took the liberty to fill in his unfinished sentence. “Male on female, male on male or female on female, when you bring them all down to the most basic principal of pleasure-seeking, you’ll soon find that the lover’s gender matters very little in achieving your climax, as long as you truly put your mind into the process.”

“It’s very… enlightening, is all I can say,” Jonathan admitted. “Before, I wasn’t very convincing that it could pleasurable between, you know, same-sex lovers. I thought it would be painful.”

“Sometimes there is pain, as pain is inevitable in every aspect of human life. Still, I can assure you that pleasure outweighs pain. If it had not been gratifying, they would not have continued it to present time. One simply has to dig into history to learn that this kind of affair is not yesterday-born.”

Jonathan’s lips moved but no word came out. He was hesitant – like he was battling with himself for an important decision – before he finally spoke, “May I ask you another favor?”

“I am listening.”

“The pleasure that you talked about, I want to… achieve it.”

Dorian’s eyebrows raised up and he scrutinized the other man with part-disbelief, part-curiosity. Jonathan seemed certainly odd tonight: first he had expressed his desire to drown himself in alcohol and now he was asking for copulation. It was even more bizarre since the last time Dorian had made subtle flirtations at him, he had been met with avoidance, not outright rejection – such had never happened to him – but the smallest degree of uncertainty and hesitance had been more than enough for Dorian to abort his attempt. He had long come to accept that a majority of human were not very open to new experiences and sensations when it came to the bedding art, especially with the churches preaching about the false accusations that being liberated in their sexuality and desires equated to siding with the devil. Dorian bet that not one of them truly understood what it meant to side with the devil.

“You know very well that I never say ‘no’,” Dorian said. “Though I’m concerned about Miss Murray. It is not in my habit to destroy a well-established relationship.”

He did not foresee the pain that suddenly surfaced from the depth of Jonathan’s eyes. He had been hiding it rather well, only having slipped a tiny hint of it when Dorian raised the name ‘Mina Murray’. “Miss Murray and I, we… were already the past. I happened to overhear Miss Westenra confess her affection to her…”

Dorian needed not him to tell the rest of the tragic story. With this revelation Jonathan’s bizarre behaviors tonight had vastly made sense.

To offer consolidation in empty clichés like “I’m sorry” or “She shouldn’t have done that to you” was beyond Dorian’s ability; he could be many things but never a hypocrite who spoke what he did not believe to be true – whatever between those two ladies was none of his concern. Instead, he stood up and took Jonathan’s hand in his.

“It has been a lovely evening,” he commented, “though I believe it’s high time we went home…”

The reporter’s red-rimmed eyes projected a crestfallen look.

“… your home or mine, it’s up to you.”

A cocked eyebrow and an incredulous look were Raziel’s respond upon seeing Dorian step through the door, closely followed by a timid and quiet Jonathan Harker. Truthfully, he was accustomed to his master’s bringing men and women home (and what proceeded thereafter); however, it never occurred to him that one day Jonathan Harker’s would be included in the faces Dorian had invited to spend the night at his manor. He knew the young man to be loving and faithful to the beautiful and virtuous Miss Murray – right on track to engagement and marriage – so the least he expected was for that same man to fall to his master’s seduction. On the contrary, he had not the slightest doubt upon Dorian’s skills: when he wanted to seriously pursue someone, he never failed, and he had shown recurring interest in the reporter from the day they met. The matter was, how long would it be before Dorian became bored with his shiny new toy? He hated to think of this promising young man as a ‘toy’ though that was the way with his master: he could not help but become bored with a partner over the course of time – it was in his nature, and when he did, a broken heart ensued.

Raziel nevertheless did not voice his thought; all he did was a slight bow upon receiving Dorian’s request for a change of clothes and a breakfast the morning after. One swift glance at Harker’s outfit was all the butler needed to tell for whom his master’s order was intended: Dorian was nothing sort of a gracious host, even for his one-night passions.

“He doesn’t approve, does he, of my being here?” Jonathan asked once he sat down on the massive four-poster bed that might be larger than his own room at his flat. His hands clasped tightly together and settled on his thighs, a habit he often unconsciously performed when nervous. His heart was tattooing on his rib cage and he felt very much like a virgin on her first night with her lawfully wedded husband, pathetic and ridiculous as it sounded. This was not far from the truth: Jonathan Harker, in his twenty-three years of life, had never truly tasted the forbidden fruit. Now he was about to have his first bite, albeit with a young, attractive male, a notion which had crossed his mind only once and once only, more than six years ago when said young male gave subtle hints that he had been keen not only on Jonathan’s bright mind but also his body. The lanky-limbed, awkward adolescent Jonathan of that time who had literally run away from Dorian probably could never have thought that one day he himself would be the one to initiate sexual advance.

“Razz doesn’t approve most of the things I do. Perhaps he is thinking that I’ve seduced you for my vile desire…”

The color found its way back on Jonathan’s cheeks again, thanks to Dorian’s words.

“… which may not necessarily be untrue.”

Standing, Dorian’s figure was a looming shadow over Jonathan. He rested his hand on his soon-to-be lover’s shoulder and started messaging his taut muscles through the layers of clothes.

“Try to relax,” Dorian reminded him. “If you are too tense, I’m afraid it won’t do us any good, especially when…”

“When?”

“Oh, I’m terribly sorry. There is something we need to discuss before we start–”

Jonathan’s shoulders instantly tensed.

“Would you prefer to lead or would you allow me to offer you what I am capable of giving? Either is fine by me.”

Jonathan blinked, trying to decipher Dorian’s questions. When he grasped an understanding of his offer, his face looked as if it could drip blood.

“You do know a thing or two about this, I suppose?”

“I do,” he mumbled, causing Dorian to strain his ears in order to listen to him. He did, via a lewd book with crude illustrations he had picked up out of silly curiosity. “But it… isn’t much, so I’d rather you….”

Dorian could not help a frown looking at his face. “There is nothing guilty about exploring one’s desires, Jonathan. Still, if you had even the slightest regret, I would stop here and call it a night.”

“No,” Jonathan hastily protested, “please… proceed.”

Dorian’s smile pronounced his satisfaction as he leaned in for a quick brush of his lips against on Jonathan’s, promising but not giving. Not yet. “Perhaps it is a silly habit, but I really need to hear your consent. Now, tell me, what do you want, Jonathan?”

Jonathan might not know whether Dorian truly cared about consent or he was deliberately being a cruel tease; he was only certain that Dorian would not take a step further if all he could do was mumbling. Thus he gathered his courage and spoke in a clear, audible voice, “I would very much like your assistance in this… affair, please.”

“You and your reporter’s love for euphemism,” Dorian laughed. “A simple ‘fuck me’ would do, you know.”

Jonathan looked baffled by his out-of-the-blue vulgarity. More hearty laughter followed and Dorian was straddling Jonathan’s thighs, his deft hands undoing the buttons of Jonathan’s old shirt.

“Since you ask so nicely,” he said, and kissed Jonathan.

Cont

Much tease and no smut, sorry, since this is not the main pairing, I think I’ll leave the smut to your imagination.

The chapter’s title is derived from the proverb “Birds of a feather flock together”.

Next chapter will get back to dear Drakie (Dracula), I promise.

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