But you came over me like some holy rite,
And although I was burning,
You're the only light
Only if for a night

Only if for a Night – Florence + the Machine


"So they just… disappear back into your head, do they?"

Ileana sighed through her nostrils; the gesture was unnecessary, as she had no requirement to breathe much anymore, but it was a sign of impatience that she knew Stark would pick up on. While they waited for her blood to fill the rather large bowl he had set aside for her, she briefly permitted the man to inspect her teeth. They were where his curiosity went first, claiming that his father had detailed drawings of Dracula's fangs when they were unsheathed, and he was eager to see them for himself. So, there she was, head back, mouth open, and lips curled to show off her incisors. Thus far, Stark had an annoyingly endearing habit of asking her questions when she lacked the capability to actually respond, but somehow they managed.

She nudged him away with her free hand, and he stepped aside willingly, staring down at her through a pair of half-moon glasses.

"I haven't ever given them much thought, actually," Ileana remarked casually. "It's something that comes naturally now… Like breathing or blinking."

"May I see them one last time?" Stark inquired, his heart racing as he leaned in. "I think this is probably one of the highlights of my career…"

"That's a sorry career then, Mr. Stark," she chuckled. However, despite her annoyance with it, Ileana still leaned back and thought of feeding, and moments later her fangs made themselves noticeable. She flinched slightly when he poked one with the tip of his finger, and she hastily shut her mouth when a tiny dot of blood appeared as a result.

"Marvelous," Stark muttered. He settled back on his stool and put himself at a safe distance from her, his eyes fixated on his finger, "The legends are true then."

"Legends?"

"Of vampires, werewolves… All the creatures that make the bumps at night," he mused as he looked up at her sharply. "I know your stay must be shortened, but perhaps you could ask your husband-"

"He isn't-"

"Dracula," he offered quickly in an attempt to make up for his repeated mistake. "Perhaps you could ask Dracula if you could come visit me back home… I think you'd really like America."

"Perhaps."

Although the offer was innocent, she knew Dracula would never give her permission to cross the oceans without him. After all, the only reason she was allowed to cross Europe by herself – a continent that seemed so small when one hand wings – was because he needed something from Stark.

"Or perhaps I could come for a visit?" he finished pleasantly. Ileana's eyebrows shot up as he fiddled with the plastic tube, turning it upward and forcing a kink into it. "I would love to really understand your kind… What works and how it does…" She wrinkled her nose as he tugged the other end of the tube from her arm, and then placed his thumb over the open wound. "I have always been interested in seeing where Dracula lives."

"Do not come to the castle," Ileana told him, placing her gloved hand atop his and gently prying it from her bare arm, "for I fear you will not be permitted to leave should you see how we truly live."

He frowned, and for a moment she saw a flicker of fear in his eye. However, he was quickly distracted by the sight of Ileana's skin sewing back together, and before she could cover it with her sleeve again, Stark let out a brilliant little chuckle and clapped his hands together.

"You truly are a marvelous being, Ileana Frankenstein," he told her. She would have blushed had she the capacity to do so, and instead offered a demure smile as she rolled her sleeve back down and slipped her hand into her discarded glove. "I wish we had more time together."

She smiled up at him, her hands resting comfortably now on her lap, and she realized that she was pleased he hadn't said any of this as a foolish romantic attempt. There was no sexual charisma firing back between them, nor did he brush up against her unnecessarily as he worked. Instead, he remained friendly yet clinical, never once leaning forward in an attempt to touch or kiss her inappropriately. It was actually refreshing; Dracula kept her for her intelligence, but it seemed Stark simply appreciated her.

Her eyes followed him as he picked up the bowl, moving with such precision as to not spill any of the contents, and then sauntered after him toward a cluttered desk across the room.

"What will you do with the blood?" she inquired. She knew what he wanted it for intellectual purposes, but she couldn't imagine what might spark such a curiosity.

"I'd like to compare it to other blood samples," he explained as he gestured for her to join him. "I'll have a look at them under the microscope to see if there are any abnormalities associated with yours."

"But it isn't my blood," Ileana told him. She placed her hands on the metallic surface, eyebrows knitting together as she watched him produce a syringe from the clutter of items and then poke it in the blood bowl. "Won't it be pointless?"

"Well, no," he said frankly as he withdrew a small sample slowly. "You see, it was in your system, and therefore I think I will see differences… I'd like to compare it to a human sample and an animal sample."

"Animal?"

"I don't mean it as any offense," he said quickly, shooting her a look as he dragged a large microscope toward him, "but I'd like a broad range of comparisons. I currently have samples of the three blood types, and then some from sheep and lizard that I'd like to use."

"Ah."

It seemed there was so much more in the scientific community that Ileana had to learn, and although she had usually considered herself quite intelligent, she felt small in front of Stark. He radiated brilliance with his every move, and clearly made use of all the equipment lying around his underground laboratory. If Ileana tried really hard, there were a number of machines that she knew how to use on a very surface-level basis, but she felt embarrassed as he slid the microscope over to her that she hadn't the slightest idea how to work it. She had read about them, naturally, as they were hardly a new invention, but she had never needed one in any of her experiments before.

"Would you like to have a look?" he asked cheerily, eyes narrowed as he deposited a droplet of blood on a small piece of glass, and then slid it into the appropriate holster on the microscope.

"I… Yes," she admitted with a nod, "but I'm not entirely sure how to… use it."

"Oh, dead simple," Stark remarked, which earned him a bit of a smirk. "Turn this knob to bring it into focus… Go on, tell me what you see."

Ileana lifted the lace overlay out of her face, placing it on her hat before she leaned down to the device. It required her to close one eye in order to properly see it, and once she could, she fiddled with the little knob on the side as per Stark's instruction. Moments later, she stared down at a strange sight: red little dots. She had never thought blood was anything more than a liquid base, but it made sense that even a liquid would consist of smaller particles.

"Anything out of the ordinary?"

"Not to my eye," Ileana replied as she straightened and readjusted her hat. "However, I cannot say I have much experience in blood… outside of mealtimes, naturally."

He grinned uncomfortably and ran a hand through his hair, "Speaking of which, do you need to… you know, have supper?"

"Already taken care of, not to worry," she assured him, trying to keep her tone as casual as possible in regards to the slightly off-putting subject manner. She smoothed her hands down the front of her dress, and then clasped them together behind her back. "Now, I don't mean to be too bold, but now that you have my blood, I thought-"

"Yes, the recipe!" Stark beamed, tapping a finger on the metal table before darting off across the lab, Ileana in tow, "It's still in the very early stages, but I think it will only need a few modifications before you use it on larger beasts."

The notion was daunting, that both he and Dracula assumed Ileana had the capabilities to alter such a recipe, but she appreciated the challenge. However, it would require a great deal more research before she could even attempt to add or detract from the recipe, and she briefly wondered if Dracula might be able to provide her with more books.

It seemed the lab was never-ending, and just as Claudine had disappeared out of a door in a dark corner, she and Stark moved through another one at the opposite end of the room. She left a world of bright light and clutter for one that was dark and sparsely furnished. At the far corner, Ileana could hear something snuffing about, and she quickly deduced it was an animal of some kind. In fact, when she took a moment to study the room, pausing in the candlelight, she realized that there were several animals scattered around in cages, their little heartbeats going so incredibly fast that it was almost a distraction.

"It counteracts the rabid nature of infected animals," Stark explained, his voice cutting through all the other noise in the room sharply enough to make her flinch. "From what I've deduced of Dracula's writing on werewolves, and my own research, they are essentially in a rabid state."

"Have you ever seen a werewolf?" Ileana inquired, eyes traveling along the walls of the room until they landed on a thin shelf lined with red test tubes. "I think that is a fairly accurate description of them…"

"I saw one once while I was in New York City," he commented absently. "They're… enormous."

"Dracula likes to let his pets wander the forest around village," Ileana told him as he grabbed one of the vials of red liquid and beckoned for her to join him at one of the cages. "They can be quite the nuisance…"

"I suppose that's why he wants a cure, huh?"

"I…" She trailed off when she realized she hadn't the slightest idea why Dracula might require a cure for lycanthropy. After all, he has supreme control over them, and most of the men turned were people he wanted turned or drifters. It was a curious sentiment. However, Ileana merely nodded when Stark glanced at her, and then forced a small smile, "Yes, that's why."

"Well, it's not really my place to care," he remarked. "Here, hold this."

She frowned as he stuffed the vial in her hand, and then disappeared somewhere behind her, rustling about beneath one of the cages for a moment. Ileana held the tube up and examined the contents, and then arched an eyebrow at Stark when he returned with a rather obnoxiously large brown glove on his left hand.

"What-"

"Best to take precautions," he muttered. "I'm not sure how susceptible I am to the rabid condition, but it's not something I'd like to test."

"Fair enough."

She watched him pry open the top of the cage, and as soon as his gloved hand was close to the bottom, a mouse launched from the dark corner and latched onto him. It was nearly twice the size of any of the mice she had seen scurrying around the palace, and Ileana actually took a disgusted step back when the man pulled it out and gripped it between his fingers.

"Do me a favour," he grunted. "Fetch the syringe from my pocket and fill it halfway with the cure…"

Ileana arched an eyebrow when he gestured down to the deep pocket in his trousers, but he seemed more interested in the rabid mouse than anything, and she was actually able to fish it out without any hint of innuendo. Then, doing as she was told, she stuck the tip of it into the tube, and watched the red liquid shoot up quickly.

"Excellent," Stark praised. "Now put it in our little friend here…"

"Anywhere?" Ileana inquired, wrinkling her nose as the tiny creature thrashed this way and that.

"Aim for the neck," he instructed, pointing at the mouse from a safe distance, "but really I don't think you can go wrong."

She pursed her lips as she brought the needle closer; this was the first time she had actually ever done any sort of experimenting on a live creature, and she wanted to get it right. The sharp point of it wedged into the beast's neck, and it let out a shrill squeal as she injected it with the contents. However, moments later it had finally stilled, and Stark set it down gently in its cage before removing his glove and bending over. Ileana mimicked his stance, eyes fixated on the creature. Then, as if by magic, it decreased in size, and if she focused in on its heart, she noticed that the pace slowed considerably.

"That's… incredible," Ileana breathed as she inched closer, watching the mouse display normal behaviour now rather than aggression. "It even shrunk in size…"

"I made that one of my aims, you see?" Stark mused, snatching the tube from her hand and holding it up in the light. "It will not only reduce the size of the creature, but cure whatever ails the brain of its sickness. It's… genius."

If he didn't say so himself. Ileana smirked, but said nothing to stab at his lack of modesty. After all, this was pure genius work, and he had every right to be proud of it.

"Why are you giving it to us for so little a cost?" she inquired as she gestured back to the other vials, "Are those all for me?"

"The medical market doesn't bode well for me back home," he admitted with a shrug. "If you can get the formula perfect, perhaps you could start to sell it? If you can cure the werewolf, slight alterations may be what's necessary for human sicknesses."

"I suppose…"

She fell silent as she looked around the room, and then wandered back to the other vials, each filled with the cure.

"I have all my old journals on the development stages of it," Stark informed her, to which she nodded. "You'll have my full recipe, plus anything else you may need. You can pick my brains tonight, if you'd like?"

"Pick your… brains?" Ileana chuckled, shooting him a look over her shoulder as he filled the remainder of the vial they had just used on the mouse into the needle. "What does that mean?"

"Questions," he offered as he slid the empty tube into his pocket, and then held out the syringe for her to take. "Anything you like."

She gripped the needle in her gloved hand, and then nibbled on her lower lip, "Would you… Would you ever consider finding a cure for vampirism?"

"Vampirism?" he repeated, scratching at his cheek stubble before giving a sigh. "That would be… difficult. You'd need to bring someone back from the dead, wouldn't you?"

"Yes, yes, you would," Ileana muttered, shaking her head and turning away. "It was only a thought."

But perhaps a thought that might be worth further exploration should Dracula ever be successful again with her uncle's work…

"I can look into it, if you like?" Stark said softly, "I won't tell him."

"No, it's quite alright," Ileana insisted as she turned on the balls of her feet and gestured back toward the main workroom. "I do have questions, if you have the time?"

"Of course."

"I'd like you to show me how it works…"

"What works?"

Ileana grinned, her eyes alight as she studied the cluttered lab through the doorway, "Everything."


AUTHOR'S NOTES:

MERRY CHRISTMAS/HAPPY HOLIDAYS/ARBITRARY WINTER BREAK! This chapter was supposed to be part of my Fanfiction Winter Package, in which I would update every single story (with chapter lengths just between 2500-3000 words). Unfortunately, I only got around to three, but the other two will have to be written sometime before the New Year.

Now, I know the updates continue to be long with this story, but I can't really offer much else up. I do have the muse for it, but it's fleeting, and I tend to work on it when I really have the inspiration. I have noticed it's been added to a lot of favourite/alert lists lately, so I thank you all for that!

MUCH LOVE, DARLINGS! ENJOY THE HOLIDAYS!