Helen blinked and came around to the murmur of voices, the panels on the ceiling above her bed slowly coming into focus as the dim light of the fireplace flickered around the room. She tried to push herself up onto her elbows but when she did her head swam, a dull ache in her cranium like the hangover from a migraine.
"Helen, goodness don't try to sit up," James' voice uttered in an anxious tone and she turned to see him crossing the floor towards her with a concerned look painted across his face. He was at her side a moment later, his hand pushing gently on her shoulder and she found herself pressed back into the pillow behind her. Her father moved to stand on the other side of the bed and the two men exchanged concerned looks as she peered up at them.
"How do you feel?" her father asked gently, stroking away a curl of hair that had stuck to her brow.
"I feel..." she croaked, pausing to consider for a moment that although she felt a bit dizzy there was a not entirely unpleasant ache buzzing through her limbs, the kind of ache that she would normally associate with... "Where's John?" she asked, pushing herself up and leaning back against the head of the bed.
"I'm here," a familiar baritone rumbled and she turned to see a harried looking John appear in the doorway of her bedroom. "Helen, darling..." he gasped and was at her side in an instant, pushing past James to sit on the bed beside her and clasping her hand tightly between his own. James averted his eyes although if he was embarrassed by the impropriety of the situation he made no comment.
"As much as I enjoy the attention, I would be much obliged if someone would tell me what has happened that might warrant my having three gentleman in my bedroom at..." Helen paused to glance at the carriage clock on the mantelpiece, squinting as she tried to focus on the tiny hands and feeling unaccountably dizzy as a result. "Oh my," she breathed, slouching back a way.
John dropped his gaze to her hands and James coughed slightly. An awkward moment passed before her father began to speak.
"Do you have any memory of last night?" he asked gently although there was an odd undercurrent of something in his tone that she could not quite place. Helen stared at the hearth as she considered it.
"I...the five of us were in the salon after dinner," she recalled.
"Yes," John said gently, rubbing the pad of his thumb across the back of her hand.
"We had guinea fowl, for Nigel's birthday and afterwards we went into the salon and James, you played the piano. We were teasing Nikola because he wouldn't sing and you and he spent a good deal of the evening arguing over the wine," she told John who licked his lips and nodded. "Then you took Nigel home and Nikola and I went to get more wine from the cellar and..."
She fell silent when she noticed the clench of John's jaw. James and Gregory exchanged a dark look and then Helen remembered. The cool air of the wine cellar, the musty smell of damp and Nikola's eyes black in the light from the gas lamp outside.
"Oh my, Nikola..." Helen gasped and her head swam.
"He can't hurt you now, my love" John told her and she met his eyes, the glimmer of bitterness in them unmistakeable even as his voice was gentle.
"What happened? Where is he?" she gasped, her mind swirling with shame and something else she did not want to acknowledge.
"We have secured him in one of the cells under the house," Gregory told her, moving closer and pushing John aside. Reluctantly John relinquished his hold on her hand as her father took her wrist and felt for a pulse.
"The cells? What on earth?" Helen cried in horror at the mere thought.
"Your friend Mr Griffin is keeping watch on him for now," Gregory continued, pressing the back of his hand to her forehead. Helen stared at her Father agog but when he did not elaborate turned instead to John. John clenched his jaw and would not meet her eyes so she glared intently at James.
"What happened? James, tell me!" she said in commanding tone that brooked no argument.
"Ah," James began a moment later with a cough. "You were unconscious when we found you," he told her after an awkward pause. "When you did not come back from the cellar John and I came to look for you and..."
"And?" Helen demanded, glancing between the two men as they would not meet her eyes.
"I want you to know Helen, you were in no way responsible for the actions of that...villainous, despicable monster!" John rasped through gritted teeth, moving to sit beside her and cup her face in his hand.
"I should never have left you alone with him, the damnable fiend!" James uttered, pressing his hand to his forehead and rubbing his temples anxiously.
Helen stared at him aghast, unable to form a coherent sentence as the memory of what happened began to surface. "Dear Lord," she breathed.
"His mania seems to have subsided for now," Gregory told her sagely, although he would not look at her as he spoke. "It would seem that exposure to the source blood has revealed some aspects of Mr Tesla's physiology that have hitherto lain dormant..."
Helen paled as he spoke, the realisation that their little experiment had been discovered by the one person she had least wanted to know. "Father," she began but Gregory cut her off.
"Indeed the mania, while severe was not quite as intense as I would have expected from..." Gregory turned away and leaned heavily on his cane as he spoke.
"A vampire," she murmured, staring at the pattern on the bedspread, guilt and shame washing over her at the tone of disappointment in her father's voice.
"Drink this," James urged, leaning across the bed and proffering a glass. "It's full of iron." John took it from him and held it to her lips.
"Huh...mmm," she mumbled, swallowing a little of it and grimacing at the sour taste of stout. "Father..." she continued, batting John's hand away.
"No not quite Helen," Gregory told her. "I believe he possesses some vampiric heritage and that when exposed to the source blood, it triggered some kind of...awakening but as you well know, Helen, true Sanguine Vampiris has been extinct for generations."
"Father," Helen said again but Gregory would not meet her eyes.
"Now is not the time Helen," he told her, stepping back and gesturing towards the door. "It has been an...eventful night and you need rest. We can discuss this later. Gentlemen, if you please," he said, looking at James and John. John gazed at her for a long moment before pressing a kiss to her hand and rising from the bed.
"Rest now, my darling," he told her and Helen slouched down amid the pillows as she watched them shuffle out of the room. When she was alone she became aware of an ache in her shoulder and slid her fingers under the collar of her nightgown. The skin felt raised and when she touched it, it twinged painfully. Screwing her face up, she shoved the fabric aside. In the dim light she could see the beginnings of a rather spectacular bruise forming on her pale skin and as she peered more closely her mouth went dry when the imprint of teeth became suddenly, sickeningly clear.
Earlier that evening...
"..a stick in me hand and a tear in me eeeeeeeyyyye" John screeched, his big hands banging the keys on the piano dissonantly as he sang. Helen chewed her fist in an attempt to stifle the laughter that threatened to overwhelm her. "And a doleful daaamsel I had cried..."
Nikola scowled and shared a pained look with James and as John broke into a particularly tuneless chorus, unceremoniously slammed the lid of the piano down on his hands.
"OUCH! Bloody hell, you miserable old fart! What was that for?" John groused, rubbing his knuckles.
"I could not bear for the neighbourhood cats to go on thinking that one of their number was being murdered," Nikola told him sourly. James sidled up beside him and with a smirk, shoved John off the stool and planted himself in front of the piano instead.
"Oh dear John," Helen said, a tear escaping her eye and he moved to seat himself on the couch beside her. "Well I thought it was a valiant effort, although perhaps the world is not quite ready for your... singular talent" she told him. He smiled at her fondly as they pressed close together on the seat.
"Remind me never to refuse a lady's demands, won't you Tesla," James told Nikola who was leaning against the mantelpiece sipping the contents of his wine glass.
"If it will spare us Johnny's unbearable caterwauling," Nikola drawled, regarding the couple on the couch with some measure of distaste as James began to play.
"I am gratified to hear you say that James," Helen told them, batting John's hands away and sitting forward to reach for her drink.
"We're out of wine," Nigel drawled from his spot slouched low in an armchair across the room. His cheeks were bright red and his expression stupefied from an excess of drink, the boys having taken him to a tavern before they had arrived for dinner and the effect being that he was now steaming, half cut, three sheets to the wind drunk. Nikola sloped across the room and set his glass down on the table before pouring his friend a glass of soda water from a seltzogene on the sideboard.
"Soda!" Nigel protested when Nikola presented him with the glass.
"I put vodka in it, I assure you," Nikola lied giving Helen a sly wink as Nigel happily took the glass from him and began to drink.
"Bloody liar," he muttered a moment later, thrusting his arm out and slopping the contents on the carpet.
"Mind out, you blithering idiot," John scolded as the glass fell out his hand and dropped to the floor with a thud.
"Oh dear," Helen commented rising from her seat as Nikola tutted and pulled a handkerchief from his pocket.
"Humans," Nikola muttered under his breath. Helen huffed a tiny breath out of her nose and shook her head at him.
"I want wine!" Nigel burbled, sitting forward in the seat and swaying. "It is my birthday!"
"I think you have had enough old man," John scolded rising from his seat and moving to stand behind Helen as she stooped to help Nikola.
"Don't do church work Nikola," Helen told him, stilling his movements by placing her hand atop his. "It is only a drop of water." John glowered down at them, his eyes glued to where their hands were joined and Nikola glared back hatefully as Helen, oblivious, plucked the glass from the floor and rose to her feet.
"Perhaps you ought to put him to bed John," James told them sagely from his position behind the piano and Nigel's face screwed up.
"I am not going to bed," he protested as John hoisted him from his chair.
"Of course not, old man," John assured him. "I thought we might go and get that single malt your Father gave you."
"Oh stellar idea, Johnny," Nigel slurred with a grin, leaning heavily into his friend's arms and John winked conspiratorially at Helen before there was a whoosh of static and the pair disappeared from sight.
Helen placed the now empty glass on the table and turned back to Nikola with a slight smile. "Thank you Nikola," she told him and he smiled back fondly.
"Bitte sehr," he replied and Helen chuckled.
"Sing something Nikola," she asked in a pleading tone. "You have a lovely voice. Doesn't he James?"
"I have heard worse," James replied somewhat disinterestedly, swaying from side to side as he played the piano. "Find me something to smoke would you Helen?" Helen rolled her eyes and Nikola watched as she rummaged around in the corner for a cigar.
"Mmm...sankyoo..." James mumbled as she stuffed the end of the cigar in his mouth and struck a match. James craned his neck and grinned at her and Helen smiled sweetly back. Nikola tried to ignore the affectionate way she squeezed James' arm, deciding to focus on the empty wine bottle on the table instead of how her hand lingered on his shoulder.
"I think I ought to choose next time," he said, eyes the label with distaste. "Whoever chose this filth ought to be strung up by his testes."
"John bought it," James commented idly, the cigar clenched between his teeth and Nikola raised a brow.
"Well that explains a lot," he drawled, setting the empty bottle down and James rolled his eyes.
"If I let you have free reign of the wine cellar Nikola, will you sing?" Helen asked and James grinned.
"Ever the opportunist," Nikola chided mildly as she stepped closer. Helen tilted her head to one side.
"Actually I think it is quite a fair bargain," she replied teasingly. Nikola regarded her through slitted eyes for a minute but as she smiled at him mischievously found himself unable to refuse.
"Very well, Miss Magnus," he said at length. "If you would deign to accompany me?" Helen chuckled.
"We are going to get wine James," she said stepping towards the door, her gaze never leaving Nikola's. James puffed on his cigar and dismissed them with a wave of his hand, not bothering to raise his eyes from the sheet music in front of him.
The music grew ever quieter as Helen and Nikola moved through the house towards the darkened staircase that lead to the wine cellar, the sound of James' playing giving way to the silence under the house. Helen was aware of the vague sound of a pipe dripping but Nikola was rather more preoccupied with the sound of her heart beating inside her chest. He swallowed and kept close behind her as they moved down the steps and into the dank corridors below. Her perfume lingered in the air between them and Nikola took shallow breaths as he became aware of another more compelling scent beneath the violet and lavender.
"Are you alright Nikola?" Helen asked gently as he watched her intently through the racks of bottles that stood between them.
"Quite well, I assure you" he replied although his voice seemed rather odd and distant to her.
"Hmm," Helen coughed. "We can take anything from these here but please don't touch those over there. My father would really not be best pleased," she told him, her skirts shuffling as she disappeared around a corner. "Nikola?" she queried a moment later, straightening up from her perusal of the bottles in front of her.
"Helen." She startled at the sound of his voice so close behind her and turned to meet his intense gaze.
"Have you decided which one you'd like?" she asked quietly, a strange feeling taking up residence in her stomach as he moved closer.
"What would you recommend?" Nikola asked, a slight smile playing on his lips and causing his moustache to quirk amusingly. Helen chuffed a breath of laughter and smiled.
"I thought you were our resident sommelier?" she replied and his smile grew wider.
"I am gratified that you at least, recognise this one of my many talents," Nikola told her, reaching past her shoulder to pluck a bottle from the rack behind her. "Hmm, this looks interesting," he commented, examining the label.
"Can you read it? It is very dark in here," Helen stated, peering up at the grate of a small window in the wall above them, the only light among the racks the weak glow from a gas lamp in the street outside. Nikola chuckled.
"Vampire senses," he told her with a grin. "I can see as clearly in this room as though it were the middle of a summer's day." Helen smiled and became suddenly very aware of the sound of blood rushing in her ears. Nikola's nostrils flared and her mouth went dry as the realisation dawned on her that he could probably hear it too. She swallowed hard and Nikola swayed imperceptibly closer.
"People give off a certain...scent when they are afraid Helen," he told her and she opened her mouth to reply but no sound came out. He smiled. "You are being perfectly ridiculous, I would never hurt you," he said, looking her right in the eye.
"I...I think you seem to be handling it all rather well Nikola," she said, her lips quirking up in a nervous smile. "Well, aside from those first few...misadventures."
"Hmmm," Nikola answered, his expression thoughtful. "Yes I confess, it was rather...overwhelming at first." He stared at the bottle in his hand and fell silent. Helen chewed her lip and waited for him to continue.
"But now?" she asked, genuinely curious. Nikola took a deep breath in through his nose and stared past her shoulder.
"Now...well I would be lying if I said it does not torment me," he murmured, his eyes unfocussed. Helen said nothing, waiting for him to elaborate. "Your heartbeat, for instance," he continued. "I can hear it, loud as a ticking clock." His voice was breathy and when he looked at her, Helen shivered at the black orbs of his eyes.
"Nuh...Nikola," she stammered in a quiet, trembling voice. He smiled and stared at her mouth.
"Don't be afraid Helen," he told her, stroking the back of his knuckles across her cheek.
Helen stood stone still and did not flinch even when she saw the long black claws that protruded from his fingertips as he stroked across her jaw and down her neck. She saw his Adam's Apple bob in his throat.
"I...I think perhaps we ought to go back upstairs, Nikola," Helen managed eventually, her stomach churning. She felt giddy, disoriented even but then Nikola smiled and stepped back a little way.
"But we haven't chosen the wine yet!" he said. His voice was light, playful even if the look in his eyes was a little more intense than is tone suggested.
"Won't that do?" she said, gesturing with her chin to the bottle in his hand.
"Tsk tsk Helen, you know me better than that surely?" he teased, dumping the bottle unceremoniously back on the rack and gliding elegantly across the floor towards the forbidden wines on the other side of the room.
"Nikola," she warned and he turned to give her a wicked grin over his shoulder.
"Oh but Helen, oh my," he sighed, easing a bottle from the rack and pressing it to his cheek as though it were his beloved. "Your father, in spite of his incurable Englishness, does keep a fine cellar," he told her, tapping his claw on the glass. Helen could not help but smile as she moved closer and peered through the dim light at the dusty label.
"That was a gift from the Royal Society, he'd have my hide if we drank it," she chastised mildly but this had the effect of making Nikola grin all the more broadly.
"Oh Helen," he told her with a chuckle. "I think we can consider stealing wine from your father among the least of our sins."
Helen gaped at his cheekiness but she could not fault his argument. He waggled his brows at her suggestively.
"Oh very well, take it then! But I shall deny all knowledge of it and lay the blame entirely on you!" She could not resist his infectious laughter as he placed his hand on her hip and twirled her around in the narrow space between the stacks.
"That's the spirit, my dear Helen," he crooned, leaning very close with a mischievous glint in his eye. Helen felt her heart flutter inside her chest as he held her close and that odd, giddy feeling returned.
"Oh..." she breathed, resting her hands on his chest in a feeble attempt to steady herself. She blinked hard and when she met his eyes, found him looking at her again with that strange, dark stare of his.
"Helen," he uttered once more, breathing hard.
As she took in his black eyes and long claws, his familiar face contorted by that foreign, vampiric mask Helen could not suppress the shudder that rippled through her. Nikola blinked slowly, his nostrils flared and he smiled at her lazily.
"Fear?" Helen asked in a low voice that was not her own. Nikola's eyes never left her face as he shook his head slowly from side to side. "I...Nikola I feel...unusual..." she stammered, feeling somehow as though she was not quite in control of her own voice.
He leaned forward and his breath tickled her ear as he whispered to her.
"Curiosity," he breathed. Helen sighed as his hand stroked gently across her shoulder. A voice in her head screamed at her to flee but her limbs felt like lead and she could not move. When his hand moved down across her chest to wrap around her waist, she gasped loudly and the bottle of wine in his hand tumbled forgotten to the floor and smashed into pieces. Helen staggered slightly and the heel of her boot dragged through the dark puddle of wine on the stone, a shard of glass crunching loudly under her foot .
"Nikola," she gasped, her head spinning as an overwhelming sensation washed through her and he wrapped his arms tightly about her to pull her close against him. "Nikola...I..."
"Helen..." he uttered in that strange grating voice, pressing his nose into her hair as her head lolled to one side. She felt suddenly tired beyond reason and she feebly attempted to clutch at his coat, slumping in his arms. Burying her face in his collar she held on for dear life, her knees seeming unwilling to support her. Her head swam and then Nikola was kissing her intently, his lips at the corner of her mouth and dragging softly over her cheek. He held her firmly and she let out a moan as her head fell back hard against the wooden shelf behind her, Nikola's lips fastening immediately on the long white column of her throat.
"Helen, Helen, Helen," he chanted, clawed fingers scraping against the back of her neck. She gasped with pleasure as his mouth slipped across the skin exposed by the low cut neckline of her evening gown. Nikola let out a strange growl that sent a hot bolt of arousal through her body and her legs parted as if of their own volition.
Nikola hoisted her up against the wine rack behind and she buried her fingers in his hair as he fumbled with the mass of crepe that was her skirt and petticoat. The fabric of her corset was scratchy and rough against her nipple and Helen released her grip on Nikola's scalp to tug the offending material aside. Nikola growled again and immediately fastened his lips around the exposed nub and Helen moaned loudly at the pleasure of it. Drowsily she let her head fall forward and peered through her lashes to watch as Nikola's mouth moved wetly across her skin from one round breast to the other, the ache between her legs growing more and more intense as clawed fingers scraped agonisingly across the soft skin of her inner thigh.
She shuddered and cried out as his hand slipped beneath the fabric of her underwear to slide into the dark recesses between her legs, one finger seeking out that aching spot and circling over and over until she thought she might go out of her mind. She could feel his arousal hard against her hip as he kissed way slowly back up her chest until his lips fastened on her shoulder and when his teeth sank into her skin, Helen cried out at the unbearable pleasure of it all.
Gasping for air, she was aware of Nikola's breath loud in her ear and the odd sensation of his tongue against her collarbone. Her shoulder ached, feeling at once both very cold and very hot and a feeling like the tide receeding on the shore seemed to spread through her whole body. Her eyelids fluttered and Helen felt irredeemably sleepy and then there were loud voices and a bright light and then nothing.
Helen clutched the teacup tightly in her fingers and worried the edge of the porcelain with her teeth in a manner that would have provoked the displeasure of her governess in days gone by. She was a grown woman by now and the miserable old dowager had long since been dispatched but at that moment Helen felt she would rather face the ire of that dour old matron rather than the look of disappointment painted across her father's face.
"How is he?" Helen asked in a quiet voice and the old doctor chewed his lip, the floorboards creaking as he stepped into the room. Gregory did not answer straight away, moving instead to stand in front of the fading embers in the hearth. There was a loud snapping sound and a shuffle of ash as the cinders shifted in the grate and collapsed in on themselves.
"I do not believe he poses any danger...for now," he replied in a sombre tone. Helen nodded and dropped her gaze to his shoes as he moved closer. The pendulum of the grandfather clock thudded ominously down the passage and the house was so still Helen was sure she could hear the mechanism inside tick tick ticking vaguely in the silent hall. John lay sprawled in an armchair outside, his vow to keep vigil by her door having given way to exhaustion.
"But how is he in himself?" Helen asked again, idly rubbing the inside of her wrist. Gregory turned to her with an odd look on his face and pursed his lips.
"Chastened...but not particularly repentant. I think he rather enjoyed himself, although he insists that he is deeply remorseful for his actions."
"Ah, Nikola," she murmured, a ghost of a smile playing on her lips.
"You look better," he uttered tiredly running his gaze over her face before stepping forward to examine the contents of the teapot on the table with disinterest. Helen moved to stand beside him and Gregory looked at her out of the corner of his eye as he poured himself a cup.
"Yes I feel fine," she stated passively.
"You were very lucky I would say," Gregory replied, his eyes fixed to the tea as it arced from the end of the spout and into the tiny cup on the table below.
"I...I've been thinking about it actually," she continued, running her fingers across the carved corner of the table before them. "I'm not sure he intended me any harm." Gregory raised a brow but said nothing. "I mean...he could have gone for the jugular but he didn't."
Gregory raised the teacup to his lips and drank, watching her over the rim. He swallowed, grimacing as the tea went down.
"Hmm," he uttered, looking down into the cup. "Cold." Helen said nothing as he set down the teacup and stared at some unknown spot on the wall behind her.
"Father," she began in a doleful voice and Gregory regarded her with cool eyes. "I think I should like to speak to him," she continued.
"Helen," the old doctor breathed. "I do not think that is a particularly wise idea."
"But Father..." Gregory screwed his face up and raised his eyes to the ceiling as she spoke.
"Helen please," he interrupted. "Just this once, would you heed my counsel?"
She pursed her lips and turned her head to stare at nothing in particular, the grim set of her jaw unmistakeable. Gregory sighed and stepped back towards her. "What you have done, Helen, do you have any idea of the magnitude of your stupidity?" Helen would not meet his eyes and dropped her gaze to her hands, rubbing them together anxiously.
Her lip trembled and Helen clenched her jaw against the regret that welled up within in her. "I...I never wanted to disappoint you Father," she breathed, a hard lump having taken up residence in her throat and making it hard for her to speak. When she finally found the courage to meet his eyes, her heart constricted at the sorrow she saw there.
"Helen," he breathed. "How could you? How could you bring strangers into this house and share with them things that were meant only for you and I?"
"Father...I..." she stammered, unable to find her voice. "You must know," she managed after a minute. "What I did, I did out of a desire for pure scientific enquiry. I never meant to betray your trust."
Gregory sighed. "Helen, do you have any idea the danger you have put yourself in? Least of your sins is that you betrayed my trust but you may well have also resurrected the most dangerous species of Abnormal ever to exist?"
"But you said Nikola was only part vampire!" she countered, indignant.
"Oh Helen!" he muttered shaking his head and turning to pace in front of the hearth. He took a few deep breaths before he spoke again. "I fear we have yet to see the true consequences of all this," Gregory said eventually and her mouth went inexplicably dry at the look of fear in his eyes.
When her father had gone, Helen stood staring at the doorway for a long time. After a while she turned slowly and made her way to a seat under the window, propping her chin in her hand and peering through the gap in the curtains at nothing in particular. It would be light soon, she surmised through the dim haze outside, the ever present London smog hanging in the air like a shroud even at this late hour. Idly she rubbed the mark on her shoulder and when she thought of Nikola, locked away on the other side of the house, she ached.