Author's Note: Thank you everyone, for all your lovely reviews on the last chapter. I read each one of them. This story only has two more chapters left...
DAUGHTER OF TIME
The linen smelled strongly of alcohol. Silver-plated instruments were laid out on black velvet, glistening eerily in the firelight which stroked every corner of the room, warming it.
A soft click was lost on the air as Gregory locked the study door then roamed awkwardly back to his desk. He canted dangerously to the side, a predicament that worsened as the hours dragged on through the night. A deep wound on his calf from the vampire city had not healed properly, tearing afresh this morning. Despite some hasty stitching it pained sharply whenever he moved.
He took another half glass of scotch before returning to the mysterious blond woman laying unconscious on his table. There was nothing to identify her by. The little clothing she wore had only a few pockets – their sad contents of bullet casings and an unknown item about the size of his palm had been emptied into a tray.
"Quite the paradox, aren't you..." Gregory brushed the woman's hair off her face. He had no idea that she was a true paradox; the very embodiment of a philosophical question future scientists would spend lifetimes lamenting.
Gregory pealed away a layer of smooth fabric which covered her thigh, following the shredded edges until he came to a puncture mark ringed by dark bruising. Gregory decided to start with this, mopping up a fresh river of blood as it oozed over her thigh.
He eyed the cartridge.
It was longer than he was used to, surprisingly heavy and did not come from any gun he recognised. Gregory didn't claim to be an expert but there was something inherently foreign about it. His attention shifted to the deep claw marks. They were inflamed, possibly on the verge of infection. The tip of his needle brushed her skin and she stirred.
Morning light came and went, giving way to another evening.
The roses drooped, heavy with vibrant petals and perfume. Gregory twisted the porcelain vase toward the candlelight. Coals tumbled into dust as the fire died leaving another line of smoke lingering on the air. Cradling her head, Gregory exchanged the ruined pillow with one of Helen's old coats. The woman exhaled softly, gripping at the bedding. It would be some time before she woke.
Helen ran her hands over the dress, straightening layers of lace. Next, they darted up to her golden curls of hair, deftly running through each ringlet before settling back in her lap. Her gaze cruised over the restaurant, searching for his tall, slender figure.
Each booth hid couples or parties, their tables high with candles and bottles of wine. The night was young and the smell of food made her stomach twist. She was ill.
Helen rested one hand on her abdomen while the other reached for her glass, sipping the wine as a gentleman swept down into the seat opposite.
"Nikola!" Helen nearly dropped the glass. "What are you doing here?" Helen was flustered, flushing a shade of pink which matched the lace-work around her sleeves. This was not the gentleman she was waiting for.
Nikola was particularly aloof tonight, tilting his head curiously at the bottle of wine. He stroked it with long fingers, not quite bold enough to drink without a glass.
"I've not had the pleasure of your company in days..." he replied, his tone even – distant. Nikola's eyes remained vulnerable, looking everywhere but upon the glare levelled at him. "Rumour has it that Doctor Magnus has taken another class."
Helen, defiant, took another sip of wine. "And where did you hear such nonsense?"
He was unfazed by her cold reception. "Leaning by the library window, looking down over the lawn. The hallways – lecture rooms, by the gates and on the air."
"You watch too closely, Mr Tesla," Helen set her glass upon the table, averting her eyes to the room to avoid his as they darted up. Tesla's attention settled on her for some time. She could feel his gaze burning through her. Why was he even here – to torment her further? "The world awaits you," Helen breathed, her cheeks warm.
Perhaps it did but he was still here.
"Do you know what the most significant mathematical text is?"
Her lips curled in confusion. Helen turned back to him with nothing short of a scowl.
"Six and a half feet of papyrus. A school book – of sorts. A soul survivor of from our twilight," Nikola quickly added, before she could reply. "If you could keep one fragment from our world, what would it be?"
"Nikola..." she leaned forward, her voice harsh. "I am waiting for someone." Though she paused for his answer, Tesla offered nothing. "My father's diary..." Helen eventually replied.
He laughed unkindly. "Your father's book is but a map to humanity's treasure."
"You asked what I would keep," Helen fell back against her chair. Waiters brushed by, silver trays held aloft. It amused her slightly to notice Nikola's eyes divert fearfully to the glistening disks. "That is my answer. Honestly, is this what you came all this way to discuss?"
Nikola was holding the bottle of wine now, reading its label. Helen hated it when he got like this. His eyes had gone so black they were inhuman and unreadable, drawing suspicious glances from around the room. He was growing reckless as if his soul were unravelling.
"What would you keep, Nikola?" Helen folded her serviette and laid it on the table, pandering to his games. "A relic of your precious vampires – the thickest encyclopaedia ever bound? A barrel of wine, perhaps."
The bottle clunked unceremoniously back in place. He leaned forward, arching halfway across the table. All Helen could see were his black eyes and defined features that were taking on ever-more vampiric qualities.
"You..." he whispered. "We've not spoken in days and we both know why -"
"Tesla – I think you'll find that is my chair." John Druitt loomed above, his shadow spreading over the table like the coming apocalypse.
"He's here at my invitation, Nikola. To apologise."
"Dine with me instead," Nikola ignored John and reached for her hand but she withdrew it.
"Nikola, you should go," Helen murmured. "It's not what you think..."
"Isn't it?" Nikola muttered angrily.
Druitt and Magnus said nothing, the pair of them an impenetrable wall. Nikola shook his head – what hope was there for Helen if she willing fell back to this monster over and over? He didn't understand it.
Tesla made sure his chair screeched over the floorboards. He gained several inches of height from corked shoes, towering above Oxford. Combined with his dramatic manner he easily held the attention of the room. "I leave shortly. You know where to find me if you wish to say goodbye before the week is out."
He left, strutting back through the streets. The world was warm, dripping with a light rain. Nikola closed his eyes and felt the thunder in the air. Distant storms meandered thousands of miles away, tumbling above the waves. They called to him, memories of his childhood and future.
"He is particularly moody this evening..."
"Leave him be," Helen whispered, settling herself again. "What is this?" she breathed, reaching for the yellow rose held between John's fingertips.
"An apology," he replied, pouring them both some wine. Tiny droplets stained the white linen as he sat back, his features warm and calm once more.
"It will take more than a rose, John. You frightened me," she rested the flower on her plate. It lost one of its petals.
"I went to Nigel that night, begged him to help me. He spent the following days creating this." John withdrew a tiny jar from his pocket. Inside the glass was a clear, viscous oil with several purple leaves floated at the bottom, specially grown in one of Nigel's green houses. "You were right, Helen."
She tilted her head, eyeing the jar. "You are taking his treatment?" she whispered.
He nodded. "I don't want to lose you, Helen." John's brown eyes were soft, a tender smile on his lips. His charm came easy, making it nearly impossible for Helen to see anything other than the warm, loving look he gave her. "I was not myself – and I hurt you."
"You hurt a lot of people..." Helen let him rest his hand over hers.
"That is not me," he insisted. "This – this is me..." John lifted her hand to his lips, kissing her soft skin. "You promised that you could free me of this darkness – and I believe you, Helen."
She lifted her free hand to his cheek, brushing his rough skin.
"Let's start with dinner," she whispered, her fingertips lingering on his lips.
A figure pushed off the wall several streets short of the University and into Nikola's path.
"I could help you with that – you know. Women are very tricky, Mr Tesla. They're not logical like your precious universe."
"Are you following me?" Nikola hardly bothered to look over his shoulder. Worth was about as interesting as an ant wandering along a wall. All five of them were well used to his ever-present shadow.
"Thought I might be able to borrow this from you," Adam presented Nikola with a book.
Nikola fought the urge to scowl. Adam had broken into his room again. It was as though he was pushing them all, seeking a breaking point. Needless to say, the one discovery best left alone is the breaking point of a vampire.
"The universe is beautiful, not logical," Nikola tossed Worth the book. "It is infuriatingly simple and impossibly complex. Watch the storms, Mr Worth. The unfathomable chaos in the clouds is matched only by raw energy striking through the air." Preferably onto Mr Worth. "The universe is a storm and we're at its heart, tumbling helplessly."
"Poet," Adam pointed at the scientist, following. "I like it. Adds a little flare to the dry teachings of your profession."
"If you are after my things, they are obviously already at your disposal."
"Actually, Mr Tesla – Nikola? Nikky... I have something I thought you might be curious to see." They waited by the edge of the road as a pair of horse drawn carriages rumbled by, splashing mud over the footpath. Nikola's mood was darkening by the second.
"I am no longer engaged in biological science. If you must share your discoveries, you're better hovering at Dr Magnus's door."
"No doubt, Helen is a talented biologist, though I dare-say not as talented as Doctor Watson – if only he'd show more of an interest in academics. I get the feeling he simply wanders through the world, quietly observing it. Shame." Adam's words were warm and sincere – on the surface. Nikola found something disconcerting about his entire existence. "But I believe ancient texts are more along your line."
That held Nikola's attention long enough for him to turn his head and see his scrap of papyrus vanish back into a fold of silk, stowed away in Worth's pocket. Blackmail – fabulous.
"What do you want, Adam?" Nikola sighed, letting him fall instep as they walked straight past the university, continuing toward the cheap end of town.
"Just a little help," his tone was still as cheerful as ever.
Nikola fought the urge to cough out his lungs as he grazed against the filthy walls, climbing several flights of weary stairs. Adam's apartment sprawled two run down rooms that shared a low ceiling and uneven walls straining to keep the room above from crushing down. The plaster was chipped in large sections exposing the brickwork, black stains formed morbid patterns on what was left and the single rug was so thick with dust that Nikola was fearful of breathing.
"My, my..." Nikola was distinctly unimpressed.
"It's not much I know," Adam wove his way through the room, stopping at a desk rising above the ocean of discarded objects and general mess.
"Is that quartz?" Nikola asked, curious enough to edge further into the room. There was an egg-shaped rock sitting in the middle of the desk. A white glow emanated from it, one that reminded him distinctly of the pillars from the vampire underworld.
"Thought that might interest you," Adam offered Nikola the stolen Papyrus back. He was skilled in manipulating people's trust. "You've seen this before?"
"No," Nikola replied honestly. "Not this specifically, where did you find it?"
"Good fortune, Tesla."
Nikola rolled his eyes. "You stole it..." Adam shrugged. "What do you need me for?"
"It emits light, Mr Tesla. It does not matter how long I leave it in the dark, it continues to glow." Adam pressed his hand the cool surface of the stone. Immediately it lit up, humming.
At first, Nikola was drawn to it but when he got within touching distance, he backed away. There was something wrong with it. "It's not just emitting light," Nikola whispered, taking another step back.
"I know – heat as well. It's brilliant."
Nikola looked genuinely worried.
"If I were you, Mr Worth, I'd put this back where you found it. It's emitting something a lot more damaging than heat."
"Come now, Nikky. In all your years, when have you ever been known to scurry from danger? You seem to be resilient to its effects."
Nikola straightened his jacket, glancing out the tiny, cracked window. "I am no fool," he replied, turning. Nikola picked his way back, reaching the door before Worth spoke again.
"Tell me what you've seen..." he murmured, voice sliding under the air. "You know things about this world that no one else does. This relic is but a fragment. Together, we could unravel all its secrets."
There was a time when such a plea might have moved him. "I have secrets of my own to spin – a world to build. Good evening, Mr Worth..." Nikola nodded his head and left the other man to his work.
"May I?" John offered Helen his gloved-hand to assist her into the carriage.
It was starting to rain, the first drops striking the horses as they shifted, clicking their hooves on the cobblestones. Helen's skirts brushed against him as she vanished inside, laughing softly at his manner. He followed, sitting close by her side. The door was closed, lanterns unlit, leaving them alone in the dark.
"I take it you're feeling much better?" Helen smiled up at him, her eyes bright and hair a collection of wild, damp ringlets.
"There's nothing like the attentions of a capable physician to cure the chronically ill," John replied, tilting his head in amusement. That is the illusion he sought to create – that this was a sickness, not a truth of his soul.
Wine was heavy on her lips, rendering her eyes brighter and lips a darker shade of pink. Her smile widened of its own accord at the compliment. "You were never ill. It was simply -"
"An element of my physiology as yet undiscovered by medicine?" he interrupted, almost a question. Its answer was left unheard as the driver turned around and asked for directions.
John placed his hands over Helen's. "You've done so much for me..." he started, his tone quite different. It made Helen nervous, stumbling over her words.
"John I hardly -"
"I don't speak of you as a doctor... I've spent my entire life lost in a void afraid of who I am – of what I am. If it were not for you I fear I would have remained lost. Instead I can now see that I am neither a freak of nature nor a devil." John watched her look down shyly, gaze lingering on their hands. He waited until her eyes met his. Then, he took her hand, sliding off her glove and lifting it to his lips. "Very much in love. And someone who wishes to spend the rest of his life repaying his saviour for all she's done."
John reached into his coat and presented a velvet red box, blushing as dark as the curtains tied to the wall of the carriage. He opened it. Helen gasped softly at the ring nestled on the tiny silken pillow. "I promise to make you happy, Helen, for all eternity."
The ring slid onto her finger all too easily, cold like the vampire blood that swept swiftly through her veins and died.
"You look different," Helen brushed the back of her hand against his face, feeling him warm through her glove. "Like you used to – do you still remember when we met?" He nodded. "The edge of the library," she continued, "I think I nearly died of fright when I knocked you over."
John glanced down, laughing softly. "That was quite unladylike of you, Miss Magnus."
"Doctor..." she lofted her eyebrow challengingly.
"A doctor with no interest in patients."
"That is not quite true," Helen's lip curled. "After all, I have at least one to my name so far," she looked pointedly at him.
They toured the city for hours, ducking in and out of lane ways. Leaves brushed over the windows, the rains came and went. The steady stream of people abated until they saw only lonely dogs stalking beneath the lanterns. Helen felt the ring warm against her finger, catching every flicker of flame.
She never said yes.
John returned Helen to her doorstep. His parting kisses were tender and full of promise, leaving her leaning back against the tortured wood for many minutes after he left. She lifted her hand, looking at the gold band and its embedded precious stones.
He was a man of means, of respect and society. A lawyer with a promising career. A killer. She saw him as both a gentleman and patient, hers to fix and yet -
- yet her heart was beating too fast for joy alone.
She clutched her chest, a sob coming from deep in her soul.