TAGS: erotica, m/m WARNINGS: contains adult male/male scenes.
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Even though Moonbase was fully alert and operational and the vigilance was no less, SHADO was being run by a skeleton staff. Overnight, the secret world beneath Harlington Straker studios had been deserted for love and warmth and families.
The ordered hustle and bustle had been exchanged for an eerie silence as though, when empty, the corridors were waiting for wandering spirits to enter and for a short while make the place their own, for at Christmas, especially at Christmas, SHADO was not without its ghosts.
He was dressed in the purest white, perfect and crisp, and on that night he prowled his corridors, his territory, for the simple reason that it hurt him in some subtle way for this place to be so deserted.
Christmas? Who cared about that? He had no one. Here was where he belonged, beneath the ground in a world of machines, defying the creatures from a dying planet who so craved the Earth. Long ago, he had convinced himself that Christmas meant nothing to him. He could live without presents and warmth and laughter. He could easily leave that to Alec and Paul. Let them do his celebrating for him while he walked his empty corridors, becoming one with the shadows.
The sound of his solitary footsteps softly echoed and for a moment Straker wondered where he was going. It did not concern him that he had no intended destination and he found himself surprised therefore when his feet carried him to the Medical Section. The corridor stretched before him, the rooms leading from it were dark and silent except for one. It was the furthest door, Jackson’s small analysis lab, and from it issued the faint sounds of someone working within.
His curiosity piqued, Straker went to see. Looking through the half open door he saw Jackson, his back to him, bending studiously over something.
“Doctor Jackson, what are you doing here?”
Somehow he had expected to make the man jump or at the very least startle him a little but there was no surprise at all as Jackson turned around, just a pair of mocking grey eyes accompanied by an amused half smile.
“Commander,” the man acknowledged, in his soft mysterious voice. “I had some experiments to finish so I thought I would take advantage of the peace and quiet.”
“But it’s Christmas Eve,” Straker said quietly as his curiosity drew him closer. “Haven’t you got…?”
His voice trailed off as he realised that it was really none of his business. There were no rules that made someone go home at Christmas time.
“It’s all right, Commander, you are not intruding,” Jackson answered, peering distractedly into a test tube. “We are alike in many ways, you and I. I too am here because I have nowhere better to go tonight, and as I said I have work to do. This is… important.”
Straker frowned slightly at Jackson’s misinterpretation of his presence there. There were places he could be if he wished it but he was exactly where he wanted to be. Still, he tried to recall what urgent projects the Doctor was working on but nothing sprang to mind.
“Do you mind if I stay a while?” he asked, curious to see what was so important. Or maybe it was because he suddenly did not wish to be alone on this particular night. He wasn’t really sure why he felt the urge to stay but the thought of returning to the depleted control centre did not immediately appeal. Besides, there was no need for him to; he would be found quickly enough if there was an emergency.
“Be my guest,” Jackson murmured, as he poured the contents of the tube into a small dish and then placed it under the microscope, grunting to himself as he surveyed the results. “Be careful please, Commander, everything is vital.”
About to investigate one of the waiting test tubes, Straker quickly moved his hand away, wondering if Jackson had eyes in the back of his head. Somehow, it would not have surprised him.
“I’ve always wondered about your accent,” he said casually, as he looked around the littered benches. “Am I right in thinking Eastern-European?”
There was the faint clink of glass. Removing the dish from the microscope, Jackson set it down on the worktop and studied him thoughtfully. His heavy eyes narrowed, glittering strangely. “You haven’t checked my file?”
“It barely contains your name and address. Your secrets are well guarded, Doctor.”
“But you are curious.”
“Yes,” Straker admitted with a smile. How could he not be?
He was scrutinised for a moment longer and then Jackson grinned wolfishly. “You are honest, at least. I like that. I am by birth Romanian although I left a long time ago.”
Strange images of a haunted and dreadful place, dark crags and crumbling towers lost in time and forsaken by humanity crept over his mind and Straker voiced the picture as he sat down on an available stool. “Transylvania?”
“No,” Jackson replied dryly, not looking up, “the other side of the Carpathians.”
“You’re not a vampire then?”
Jackson gave a snort as he reached for another test tube then passed it slowly over a lit gas burner. “Really, Commander, I did not take you for a man with that much imagination.”
Not sure whether he should be stung by the remark, Straker let it go. Jackson was probably right anyway and tonight was not the night to pull rank, besides he was aware that it has been a stupid thing to say.
“What’s that you’re working on?” he asked instead, as silence descended upon them.
With the gleam of interest returning to his eyes, Jackson held up the test tube. “What would you say that was?”
“I don’t know, it looks like jam but I’m sure you’re going to tell me that it’s not.”
There was a faint chuckle. “And you would be right. This is not jam although it is something of a mixture. It is actually an attempt at reproducing plasma. I am trying to create synthetic plasma that can be absorbed and accepted into a human body.”
“Plasma?” Straker echoed, surprise in his voice. “Artificial blood?”
“Of course. Think of the advantages. Certain types of blood are rare and hard to find donors for but if we could duplicate them in a laboratory it would save many lives.”
“I’m impressed. Is it working?”
Shaking his head, Jackson stared moodily at the tube. “No, not so far. I get about half way before it de-oxygenates and the individual components break down and separate. Something is missing, some factor that I have not yet been able to isolate.”
Impressive though it was, Straker was still not sure why it was so urgent. It was certainly not an officially sanctioned SHADO project.
“Have you been working on it long?”
He was answered with an unusually defeated sigh. “Many years, Commander, and this is the closest I have ever come yet still it eludes me.”
Somewhere along the line, Straker had the feeling that he had missed something. OK, so he might have come close to making his discovery but why tonight in particular? Why did he have to work on Christmas Eve?
“Well, if you’ve been at it for that long why are you working on it tonight?” he asked, deciding that there was nothing wrong with being nosy. “Surely it could wait a couple of days.”
He was favoured with an unfathomable grey stare. “It will not.”
Straker frowned. “Now I really don’t understand.”
“You don’t need to.”
“But I would like to,” Straker replied softly. With a new and startling intuition he realised that this man was a lost soul, perhaps as lost as he was, and for this one brief night they could perhaps share enough to understand each other better. “Maybe I could help.”
Jackson gave him a look that spoke volumes about what he thought about that idea. “No one can help, Commander. There is nothing you can do.”
“Well you won’t know until you tell me about it, will you,” Straker persisted stubbornly.
There was a long heavy pause and Straker began to feel uncomfortable beneath the gaze that studied him and he got the impression that Jackson was trying to decide if he could be trusted. Yet it seemed that he must have passed the test for the man put down his work and drifted closer.
“I will trade you,” he said, eyes narrowing almost in challenge as though he expected Straker to back down. “My secret for one of yours.”
Had he not been sitting down, Straker would have edged away. “I don’t have any,” he said defensively.
Jackson merely smiled. “Everyone has secrets, Commander. Even you. You want to know about me and what I am and I will tell you if you give me something in return. It is the way of my people.”
What I am? Straker did not miss Jackson’s odd slip although the other man did not seem to have noticed what he had said. Considering the strange direction in which their conversation had turned Straker wondered if he should be feeling uneasy yet found that he did not. Of course he could just go. Leave this enigmatic little man to his own devices and continue his lonely wandering. Was Jackson’s secret so important to him that he bare a piece of his own soul to learn it? But if he left he would never know. Something told him that this moment was the only chance he would ever get and that once this night had passed the opportunity would never come again.
“What kind of secret?” he asked, stepping from the stool and closing the door behind them. SHADO might be quiet but he was not taking the chance of anyone overhearing.
“The kind that no one else knows, of course,” Jackson said simply, his head cocked a little to one side. “I will trust you, if you will trust me.”
It all boiled down to trust and Straker found that on this strangest of Christmas Eve’s he did indeed trust this enigmatic man. Yet what could he tell him? Something from his childhood? From his time in the military? Nothing came to mind. There was always his brief affair with Alec Freeman but he knew instinctively that would not be enough. Besides it was not a secret that no one knew, he thought ironically. Alec knew too.
There was only one thing but did he have the strength? Did he have the courage to give to the air what he had kept for so long in his heart? Yet there was nothing else and he had the strange feeling that Jackson was trusting him with a lot more than he could possibly offer.
Picking up a test tube containing one of Jackson’s failed plasma experiments yet hardly seeing it, Straker wondered how to put it into words.
“I have a secret, of sorts,” he said softly, “if you could call it that. You probably know that I once had a son. I loved him so much but I wasn’t a good father to him. His mother and I divorced shortly after he was born.” Jackson would be aware of that, of course. He had no doubt that Henderson would have filled his tame spy in on all their backgrounds before he had defected to SHADO. “He died because of something I did, something I had to do and all the time I was grieving a tiny unspoken part of me was glad because he would never be able to make me choose between him and my work again.” He paused, for a moment lost in the memories. “I have never stopped hating myself for that.”
Carefully, he put the test tube back. His hands were steady and his voice did not shake. The shame he felt was a constant ache but he had come to terms with it long ago. He had moved on but had never once forgiven himself. Why he had suddenly told a relative stranger his most shameful secret he did not know yet now that it was out in the open he found that he did not regret it.
Defiantly he met Jackson’s gaze. Was that good enough for you?
The smaller man was watching him closely but no disgust showed on his face. His eyes offered no absolution, no judgement, just the acceptance of something shared and perhaps too a trace of gratitude.
Straker nodded at the soft acknowledgement but found himself tongue tied, unsure of what to say next. He had bared his soul in a bargain that he did not truly understand. For the first time in a long time he was truly out of his depth yet he had no desire to end this strangest of encounters.
“You wanted to know why I am here,” Jackson sighed, as if reading his thoughts. “You wanted to understand and you shall although you might not like what you hear. Still… maybe it is time to share this burden with another.”
“Burden?” Straker echoed, curiosity for a moment eclipsing the painful memories he had resurrected.
Jackson smiled bleakly. “I am dying, Commander, slowly and painfully and it is completely of my own making. What I was making here, or trying to,” he added wryly, “would perhaps have saved my life.”
It was said so calmly, so resignedly, that for a moment Straker was not sure he had heard right. “What?” he exclaimed. “I don’t understand. Good God, man, what’s wrong? If you’re ill surely we can…”
Rather than the reaction Straker would have expected, Jackson seemed to find a strange amusement in the situation and smiled although it was without warmth.
“No, I am not ill, Commander, or if I am it is nothing that modern medicine can cure. I’m afraid that at the moment I am quite without hope.”
“But why?” Straker pressed, unable to process what he was being told. “You don’t just die like that for no reason.”
Jackson nodded calmly. “That is true but I have a very good reason. I will die of starvation.”
“What! But there’s no shortage of food…”
“Your kind of food perhaps,” Jackson cut in, with a touch of impatience. “Think, Commander, have you ever seen me eat? I have told you all you need to know. Is it not obvious? I need blood to survive. Human blood.”
Sudden fear contracted Straker’s stomach but he did not for one moment doubt what he was hearing. Somehow he knew it was true. There had always been something different about the enigmatic little doctor and now he knew what it was. He was not human.
And yet. And yet…
I will trust you, if you will trust me.
Jackson had trusted him with something so profound, so remarkable, that Straker felt his fear diminish somewhat. Did he truly have anything to fear from the man with whom he had shared his most shameful secret? No, he was absolutely certain that he did not. There had been no need for Jackson to tell him. Straker was not a scientist, he could do little to help. All he could do was listen.
Watching him closely, Jackson smiled wryly. “It’s all right, you can say it. You said it before.”
“I was joking then.”
“And now you are not.”
“Vampire,” Straker murmured.
Jackson gave a small shrug and a half bow. It was old fashioned and elegant and Straker got the impression that the action was natural for Jackson and had come from another age entirely. “Such a small word to encompass everything that we are. Do you think me a monster?”
“Do you kill to eat?” he countered quickly, unwilling to answer that question yet. Somehow though he knew that Jackson was telling the truth. If anyone else had told him they were a vampire he would have laughed in their face, but there was something about the mysterious Doctor that made it remarkably easy to accept.
“No!” Jackson exclaimed as though the idea was abhorrent to him, then he sighed. “Once,” he admitted, looking down at his hands, “when I was young and had no choice.” The soft voice paused, pain shadowed. “The change came upon me suddenly. I was alone. There was no one to help me, to teach me what to do.” With a touch of defiance, Jackson looked up, met his eyes. “Despite what you may think of me, I have never fed with the intention of killing. I have taken blood, yes, but no one else has died by my hands. You forget perhaps, that I am a Doctor.”
Straker almost laughed at the prim comment. A vampire with professional ethics?
“And when was the last time you… ate?” he asked, unsure which was stronger, his curiosity or his unease at the thought.
“Three weeks ago,” Jackson replied, matter of factly. “I took enough to feed me for a week. Now I burn for it but I am used to the hunger. I can go on for a little while longer.”
“You shouldn’t have to,” Straker exclaimed. Jackson’s resigned acceptance of his fate was wrong. “If you’ve never intentionally killed anyone taking blood, why can’t you do it again?”
“Because as ridiculous as it may sound I have something of a conscience.” The vampire sighed, his grey eyes still and deep. “Oh, Commander, you cannot guess how ruthless I have been, how many people I have picked up in bars; male, female, it has never mattered, and used them shamelessly. I have spent the night with people just for their blood, bedded them and stole from them in their sleep, in alleyways, back rooms and more dark places than I can count. I have lived my life as a thief, taking what did not belong to me. One day I simply decided no more. For the last two years I have lived on the edge of starvation, taking only when I could last no longer.”
Despite what he was saying there was a profound dignity to the man that Straker immediately recognised. Jackson had done what he needed in order to survive. The fact that that obviously involved sex was something that Straker fully intended to think about later. Think about quite a lot.
“Then what about a blood bank? We have blood supplies. Won’t they do, at least for now?”
“There you have discovered the true curse of our kind,” Jackson said, the irony heavy in his voice. “Blood must be from a living source to contain any nourishment. We have studied it of course but if there is a scientific reason then it eludes us which is why I will probably never be able to replicate it.”
“Yet you keep trying.”
“What else can I do?”
You can fight, Straker thought. Take your blood. Who will know? Take what you need and survive because we need you here. And then the thought came unbidden, I need you.
“Why did you tell me?” he asked, unsurprised at the sudden certainty that he was not prepared to allow this man to die. “If you are so determined to starve to death why involve me?”
Jackson winced minutely at his tone. Suddenly he looked drawn and pale. “I decided that if I was going to die I wanted someone to know what I was,” he replied, not looking up. “I wanted to trust someone. Just once.”
And you chose me, Straker realised. On this night Jackson had chosen him and he would never forget that.
“There must be other ways.”
Jackson waved a hand at him in dismissal. “I have tried animal blood and it will not work. It does not sustain or nourish. Do you think that I would not have tried?”
That was not what he had meant but Straker let it lie. “All right then, assuming you had a regular food source, how much would you need?”
Jackson shrugged. “I am not greedy, I do not require that much. Half a pint is usually sufficient to feed me for several days.”
“So little? But what about garlic and mirrors? And I thought daylight was supposed to kill vampires but I’ve seen you outside.”
The Doctor showed his even white teeth. “Garlic and mirrors are myths put about by overly dramatic authors and Hollywood movies. Yes, you have seen me outside but only on the most clouded of days. The sun that people worship with so much reverence would burn me terribly, destroy me in hours. The night is our world, Commander, the time when we are safe.”
“But to live with such danger,” Straker murmured, suddenly wondering if the hours of darkness were different to the vampire’s preternatural senses.
“I have lived with danger for more years than you can ever imagine and have learned to make the most of whatever protection I can find. SHADO suits me well and never forget that humans are not the only ones who are in danger from our alien friends up there.”
Strangely that thought had not yet occurred to Straker. Being part of SHADO Jackson was fighting for his own kind’s survival no less than the rest of them were.
“How will you die?” he asked abruptly, his mind unable to let go of the thought. Jackson was his and he had no intention of letting him go.
“How does anyone starve to death? Horribly and in great pain I should imagine. I am prepared.”
It was the note of resignation in the soft voice that made Straker’s decision for him. Jackson expected to die and was trying to prepare for it. Strangely, deep within, that made Straker angry.
“You sound like you’re set on your martyrdom,” Straker snapped but at Jackson’s wince he gentled. “What if blood was freely offered? Would you take it?”
“Freely offered?” Jackson laughed harshly. “Nothing is free, Commander. Besides, I have never trusted anyone enough to tell them what I was.”
“A rare moment of weakness I assure you. It seemed… appropriate.”
Moving closer Straker said, “Then let me be inappropriate. I’m offering what you need. Freely given.”
For the first time since he had known him, Straker saw a look of utter astonishment cross Jackson’s face. It changed to one of hope yet the grey eyes were still wary.
“You? Why would you do such a thing?”
Straker wondered himself. “Because I can.”
“Be sure,” Jackson whispered. “Be sure you know what you are offering.”
Sure? How the hell could he be? Part of Straker was terrified at the prospect but the reasoning side of him said with absolute certainty that this man would not harm him. He had not always trusted Jackson, true, but since then the man had proved time and time again that he was loyal to SHADO and Straker did not willingly part with his own.
Daringly, he reached across and fleetingly brushed the back of his fingers across one fine cheekbone. “You have trusted me,” he said softly, twisting the other’s earlier words. “I will trust you.”
“Commander…” Jackson groaned.
“It’s only half a pint. Not such a big thing to save someone’s life.”
“Some would think so.”
“Let them,” Straker shrugged, marvelling at his own bravado. “You are a strange man, Doctor, and I can’t say that I always understand you but I don’t want you to die. Call it a Christmas present, if you like.”
Jackson frowned, as if he could not quite believe what he was hearing. “And I had thought myself to be forever without friendship because of what I am. It seems that I was wrong. I never expected to be given such a gift.”
Straker shrugged wryly with a lot more nonchalance than he felt. “It seemed appropriate,” he echoed. “So how do we do this? Do you want to do it here?”
Still looking as though he did not believe it, Jackson glanced with distaste at the meagre facilities offered in his small lab. “It is the way of my kind to make feeding an act of pleasure. It does not have to be, of course, but…”
“But,” Straker acknowledged with a wry grin, “when in Romania.”
Jackson’s mouth twisted at his very bad pun and the sheer normality of the gesture settled Straker even more. Suddenly the thought of pleasure with this man did not seem so terrible. It had been a long time since his break up with Alec and perhaps he deserved a gift of his own.
“Commander, really,” the smaller man murmured reprovingly. “The sentiment however is quite correct. We will not do this here, I think.”
“My place or yours?” Straker asked, astonishing himself with how calm his voice sounded.
“You have rooms here, Commander. We will go there.”
He nodded and Jackson turned to the door, murmuring something in a language that he did not understand. When he looked behind to make sure that Straker was following there was for a moment such an aura of hunger about his thin form that Straker felt his body tremble with a depth of longing he had not experienced for a long time.
The walk to his room took moments. They met no one on the way although Straker was sure that they would have looked completely normal. Just two colleagues going to celebrate the compliments of the season with a nightcap after all the work was done. Then they were inside the small suite he kept for the many nights he slept there and Jackson locked the door firmly and irrevocably behind them.
Leaning back against the door Jackson spoke again in that dark, alien tongue. It was velvety and sensual and Straker felt a momentary pang of regret that he did not understand it. He asked for a translation.
“I am sorry,” Jackson apologised, with the merest hint of breathlessness, as without permission he reached out and unfastened Straker’s jacket, “but your language comes harder to me when I am hungry and have such a beautiful distraction. I said that you are afraid.”
The jacket fell to the floor. Beautiful? “A little, yes, but not of you.”
In the dim light the hungry eyes that watched him glittered with admiration. He liked the feeling.
“How strange,” the Doctor reflected, stepping back. “You are not afraid of what I am only of what I may do but even then I can still sense your trust. You honour me.”
The room was warm, but Straker shivered a little. “Honour? How do you mean?”
“Can you imagine what it is like,” Jackson answered question with question, “to be regarded in terror for what you are? We are not evil, simply different, a race apart, yet our needs are enough to fuel the darkest nightmares of your kind. It is so long since anyone has trusted me that I cannot even count the years. How could I be anything but honoured?”
Opening his mouth to speak, intending to say that he really did trust the smaller man, Straker was astonished when what came out instead was, “I want you.”
It was worth it when he saw a faint flush rise on those elegant pale cheeks. Oh yes, you want me too, don’t you, and not just for blood, Straker realised triumphantly. It was more than reassuring to realise that he also had some power in this encounter.
Jackson held out his hand. “Come to me. Let me repay you the only way I can. I will show you what you can never see through human eyes.”
The hunger was still there, the hunger for something more than the mere meeting of their bodies but beneath that Jackson’s eyes were warm and that carried Straker’s feet the last few steps.
He was taller than Jackson by a few inches and broader. The smaller man was thinner and darker. Too thin. Straker realised suddenly that he did indeed look half starved. But not for long, he reflected, feeling suddenly at peace and without fear. Jackson needed something he could give, something he wanted to give.
Without reluctance, he took the offered hand. The flesh was cool to touch but soon warmed beneath his touch. “I’m here,” he said, ready now.
Slowly, experimentally, their mouths touched.
It was an unhurried and unexpectedly gentle exploration, so very different from Alec Freeman’s demanding kisses. When they parted, Jackson gave a satisfied hum and pulled Straker unresisting into the small but well appointed bedroom.
Still reeling, Straker did not protest as his sweater was quickly removed and he was pushed down to sit on the edge of the bed. His shoes and socks were eased off with quick efficiency and then Jackson was straddling him and nothing in the world prepared him for the hunger of their second kiss and Straker found himself tearing the white lab coat open in his need to feel Jackson’s skin against his.
Then, leaving him breathless, Jackson pulled away, his eyes glittering with banked down hunger. His dark head dipped for a moment and Straker felt a delicate investigating tongue licking his neck. Acting without thought he tensed expecting pain but there was only a warm exhalation of breath against his skin before those intense eyes returned to him.
“Not yet,” the vampire murmured huskily. “You are not ready yet.”
“But I thought you were desperate,” Straker panted as his hands found slender hips and pulled them closer. “You don’t need to wait.”
“For a little while longer,” Jackson breathed, their lips almost touching. “There are things I want to show you first. Wondrous things that you will never forget,” and as Straker listened, Jackson’s voice lulled him soothingly.
The words that came were unknown but beautiful and intense with the serenity of darkness. Yet also they were like fire, burning an elemental path into his brain, calming him, reassuring and exciting in equal measure.
“Close your eyes,” the soft voice urged, “and I will show you the night.”
Obeying without question Straker protested as Jackson’s weight left him, then he was urged higher up the bed and when he was arranged to the vampire’s satisfaction he felt cool lips caress his brow and then… everything changed…
…as he fell into a night beyond his imagining.
Like a cloak it enveloped him, welcoming and warm like being wrapped in the richest black velvet. He saw the night sky overhead, jewelled and glittering with stars, each breathtaking in its beauty and clarity. The air danced around him and he found that he could see the eddies and flow of the breeze as though it were fine silk caught in the wind’s breath.
Beneath that he could feel the weight of the universe, ancient and welcoming, its tangible presence something he could not even begin to understand
So this is what it’s like, his mind sang, as his heart beat in time to the timeless echo of the words that were about him, filling him with a longing that he could not begin to describe. More than that, he yearned for the darkness, yearned to taste the rich stuff of life, the liquid fire that pulsed through his body as rich as heavy wine.
From that moment, he understood everything and knew above all how beautiful and terrible it was to be vampire, to live bathed in the light of darkness and to steal to survive.
To see and feel the night like this was astonishing… arousing… overwhelming. Was this what Jackson saw? And if it was, one would never miss the sun when there was this fabulous night to become lost in.
Somewhere far away he felt cool hands on the fastening of his trousers and then the smooth glide as they were removed. Then as soft lips kissed their way across his chest he realised that it was fading and he was leaving the all too brief glimpse of the vampire’s world behind.
He gasped as he opened his eyes to find himself back in the dimly lit room and Jackson’s pale eyes studying him thoughtfully. Although he knew he had never actually left, Straker felt that a part of him had journeyed further than he could possibly imagine.
“Oh,” he whispered, finding it so difficult to process his thoughts. “Is that how you see the night?”
Jackson inclined his head. “I might regret what I am but I have never once regretted leaving behind the sun.”
“It was so beautiful. Thank you.”
The vampire moved over him and Straker realised almost as an afterthought that they were both naked. “But not as beautiful as you, my love.”
Unable to think of anything to say, Straker could do nothing but gasp as Jackson’s hard body slid alongside his own. It had been far too long since anyone had touched him like this and the vampire’s attention was fixed on him so thoroughly that all Straker’s protests at the compliment went out of his head completely.
Although he enjoyed being on the bottom just as much as he liked to top, Straker had never been passive in his love making but this was a world away from any sexual encounter he had ever had before and nothing in his life so far had prepared for it. He was willingly giving himself to a creature of the night, he was about to allow a vampire to feed from him and all he could think of was how much he wanted it to happen.
Chuckling, Jackson bit him gently on his neck and this time Straker did not flinch. “Lie still,” came the soft whisper. “I want to learn you.”
Learn me? Yet Straker nodded and obeyed, words failing him. Then came hands and lips and the light scrape of teeth as Jackson explored every inch of him, licking and biting places Straker would never have considered as erotic zones until being at the mercy of a hungry, yet amazingly gentle vampire. Beneath the erotic onslaught he felt totally powerless to do anything except enjoy and when long elegant fingers slipped inside him he closed his eyes and gave himself back to the night.
Lost in the pleasure being offered to him, Straker’s world changed again and this time he felt the depth of the vampire’s hunger in full force. How could anyone live like this? How had the man survived?
“Oh God, now,” he demanded. “Do it now.”
There was no pain as Jackson entered him, only the most amazing feeling of fulfilment as though he had just found a lifelong lover whom he had only met that night but had always been waiting for. Then sharp teeth fastened on his neck and even that thought vanished from his mind. He felt the vampire shake his head to make the cuts and there was a sharp sting of pain, but impaled, Straker did not care. The thrill of the vampire feeding from him was absolute coupled with the unutterably perfect hardness of the man’s sex deep within him.
The sucking was rhythmic and deep and beneath it he felt the beating of his heart, thrumming in perfect time with the vampire. Yet there was no loss of himself now, no oblivion of individuality at the strange joining, rather a merging of self, a giving of the essence that he was in return for the strange and disturbingly fascinating memories of the vampire. How to put into words everything that he saw? A moment passed before he understood that he would never be able to. It was all too much, bitterly sad but at the same time joyous as his entire body thrummed with pleasure.
Impaled doubly Straker cried out as his climax hit him like a wave and then felt the familiar beautiful throb as the vampire emptied himself deep within.
With a sharp pang of disappointment he realised that Jackson had finished and uttered a soft protest as the sharp points left his neck. “Don’t,” he begged, knowing at the same time that it was over. The sense of loss was total but the incredible danger of this forbidden act excited him still and it did not shock him when he realised that he had to feel it again.
“I had to, my love,” he heard the husky sated murmur, like the purring of a well fed cat. “Any more and it would not have been good for you. Besides, you have given me more than enough.” There was a pause and then, “Open your eyes. Look at me.”
It was a soft command but one that he could not refuse. The thought of those eyes was enough to make him comply. The light was soft but harsh now to his still altered vision, although he felt it returning to normal by the second and for the first time since his discovery in the lab, he looked upon the creature before him truly as what he was, a child of the night, stronger and more sensual, driven by needs that for one timeless moment he too had shared and understood.
The vampire looked different, he recognised at once, sleek and satisfied. The grey eyes had lost their hunger, they were sated and replete as they watched him, their expression unreadable.
“Why didn’t you tell me it would be like that?” he whispered at last, all the questions he had been about to ask dying in his mind.
“Like what? Tell me,” the vampire asked almost lazily, licking the skin of Straker’s neck where it had been so carefully broken before settling down next to him.
“I don’t think I’d know how to begin to describe it. It was incredible… beautiful.”
“Yes,” Jackson agreed simply. “I have shown you my world, the only world I and my kind can see.”
“Tell me about them,” Straker breathed, his blood still alive and intoxicated by the night. Turning on to his side to face the other man, Straker wound their legs together and pulled the vampire closer. After what they had done, he saw no point in maintaining distance now. “I saw so much I don’t understand.”
“I showed you too much perhaps.”
“You don’t really believe that.”
The vampire laughed suddenly, a soft husky sound filled with delight and approval. “How could I, my friend, you are so different from the others. You hunger too, ah, how you hunger. I could feel it in your blood, the fight that is in your soul. Always there is the thirst for time to finish what you have started.”
A little disturbed that so much of himself had been revealed, Straker tried to sit up but groaned as the room spun dizzily around him. Easily, Jackson leaned up and pushed him back down to the bed. “Careful. You must make allowances, Ed, and accept your mortality. You will be weak for a little while.”
Muttering his thanks as cool hands continued to caress him, lightly distracting, Straker waited until the room righted itself, Jackson’s words treading a small delicate path across his mind.
Accept your mortality.
“What year were you born?” he asked abruptly, looking directly into the grey eyes. “You’ve hinted that you’re a lot older than you look.”
“Does time haunt you so?” the vampire murmured thoughtfully.
“I have no secrets left. You know it does. Already I’ve given ten years to SHADO but there’s no end to the aliens’ fight for this planet and no sign of one. I’ve given my life to this cause. SHADO is mine, I know it inside out, better than anyone ever can or will, but what will they do when I get old? Retire me and replace me with someone who won’t understand? It needs me as much as I need it.”
The bitterness in his own voice startled him as the words tumbled out.
“Do not desire what is so dearly bought, without first understanding exactly what it is that you desire. If it is immortality that you seek then I cannot give it to you. I am long lived, yes, but not ageless. Eventually I will grow old and die.”
Knowing that disappointment had flickered across his face, but somehow unable to hide it, Straker persisted. “When were you born?”
With a small sigh, Jackson gave him a lopsided smile, acknowledging his determination. “I was born human, as you are, in the autumn of 1778,” he paused, letting it sink in, waiting for the expected gasp of shock but none came.
Straker studied him closely for a moment and then said softly, “You’re looking damn well for two hundred and two, Doctor.”
“I was not born vampire, I was made, and such as I am I became when I was sixteen. It was a young age to give up such humanity,” he reflected, a faraway look in his eyes that was neither sad nor angry, just thoughtful.
“Yet you aged.”
“For a while, yes, until I am as you see me now, but older ones who made the change did not. For a while this puzzled me until I realised that the body grew only until it was at its prime for feeding. If the body was large and healthy enough there would be little change.”
“You make it sound like a disease.”
“Maybe it is,” Jackson shrugged. “The years I spent studying my own nature ended in failure so I no longer try. Accepting what I am was a little harder.”
Straker nodded slowly. “I saw… no, I felt so much in that vision. I saw so many questions.”
A wistful smile touched the vampire’s lips. “I know. Night eyes can see hunger such as yours. It burns the air around you. You want only time yet blood would be the price you must pay for such a gift. And even then do you think that no one notices a man who does not age? There is only so long we can remain in one place before the questions become too difficult and it is time to move on.”
“How many times has that happened to you?” Straker asked, recognising the undertone of regret in the other’s voice.
“More times than I can count and many more times to come. How long will it be, do you think, before those in SHADO start looking at me strangely? Ten more years perhaps, maybe less, and then I will have to leave and start again somewhere else. Believe me, Ed, this is not the gift that you think it is.”
Suddenly Straker wondered which was worse, leaving SHADO in the hands of someone else or having to leave because he was not aging and drawing the very worst kind of attention to himself. Knowing that he was quite capable of running SHADO but could not because of his apparent ageless state would be a torture in itself.
For a moment he had been dazzled by it all, overwhelmed by the possibilities yet he knew only too well, perhaps more than anyone, that very little in this life came without a price tag of some sort.
“You’re right, I’m sorry. There is just so much to think about, so much to learn.”
“And I will help you,” the vampire said and kissed him slowly, then murmured, “Sange prieten, prietos draga.”
“What does that mean?”
“In my world there are those few who feed us willingly, knowing exactly what we are. It translates as ‘blood friend’.”
“I like the sound of that.”
“Blood friends are rare but treasured. Just by showing you what I am I have given you the power to destroy me.”
“Do you think I would, after this?” he asked, unable to keep the hurt from his voice. “You’ve given me so much.”
“Yet it is nothing compared to what you have given me.”
“Not so much.”
“Never say that,” Jackson admonished, his accent suddenly thick with the merest hint of rebuke. “You have given me life. There is nothing so precious.”
“No, you’re forgetting something,” Straker countered. “There’s trust. You have trusted me with the knowledge of what you are. I could never destroy you and you know it. I don’t quite know why you’ve trusted me with so much but it honours me more than you would believe.”
“I trusted you, my friend, because you trusted me. You shared something truly secret, something that you have never told anyone before.”
“How could I,” Straker replied bleakly, looking away. He had hoped that the subject of his painful secret would not come up again but he should have known better. “I’ve spent my life since then being totally ashamed of myself for thinking it.”
Still so close, Jackson found his hand and twined their fingers together then pressed it to his heart. “What you shared with me does not define you. You did not wish death of your son. I felt what you went through in your blood; you did everything in your power to save him.”
“If it had come down to a choice of your life for his would you have given it?” the soothing voice cut in, giving him no chance to protest.
“Yes,” Straker whispered. Without question or hesitation.
“Because he was my son.”
“Is that all?” Jackson pressed.
Straker squeezed his eyes shut, knowing that he could run away from the memories but not from the vampire’s knowing gaze. “Because I loved him. Because he was more precious to me than anything in the world, including SHADO.”
“Then is that not enough?” Jackson chided, stroking his hair. “Let it go, Ed. It’s time to stop torturing yourself for just being human. Let it go.”
“I can’t. Not without…” Without what? He had absolutely no idea. Was there anything that would truly take away the feeling of guilt?
“Forgiveness,” the vampire stated bluntly. “That is what you seek.”
Opening his eyes Straker stifled the harsh laugh that bubbled in his chest. Suddenly he realised that this man, this scientist, had stolen blood to survive, had killed when he had not known how to control the blood thirst that was upon him. Of all the people Straker knew who would know more about forgiveness than him. “How do you seek forgiveness for the unforgivable?” he asked plaintively.
Jackson smiled and the certainty in his eyes was absolute. “You forgive yourself.”
Taken aback, Straker felt his mouth drop open. Could it really be that simple? It seemed impossible and yet suddenly Straker felt that a weight had been lifted from him. Maybe on this night of nights anything was possible after all. Perhaps just talking about it after bottling it up for so long was enough or perhaps the vampire was right and it really was time to let go of those memories.
Through their joined hands he could feel the steady beat of the vampire’s heart, comforting and steady and he leaned down and kissed one of the pale knuckles. “Thank you.”
“You are very welcome. Doctor Jackson, psychiatrist, at your service.”
Straker chuckled, feeling a serenity that he had not felt for a very long time, a lightness of spirit that he had never expected to feel again. “Is that really your name?” he asked curiously. “Douglas Jackson doesn’t sound very Romanian.”
“I have had many names but the one I was born with is something I have never shared. I cannot tell you all my secrets, yet maybe one day you will learn them without me having to. Maybe that is why I trust you. Despite what I am, we are alike, you and I.”
“Perhaps we’re both a little mad.”
“Perhaps you’re right,” Jackson chuckled darkly, his mouth twitching with quirky humour. “It would offer an easy solution, would it not.”
Laughing easily, suddenly finding himself at peace with the vampire creature, a familiarity and ease he had never felt before with anyone, Straker nodded. “A more believable explanation perhaps.”
“Perhaps, but I could not care. We have fought and killed enough demons tonight, I think. It is time for something more joyous. For the rest of this night you are mine and I intend to make the most of it.”
“But you’ve… fed,” he said, feeling as though he was still catching up. “I thought it was over.”
Somehow, in the back of his mind, he had believed that for the vampire making love to him had just been part of the feeding and that once it was done they would go their separate ways.
Jackson studied him with a dreamy affection. “You are sangre prieten now, a blood friend. How can it be over? Now it is begun it will never be finished. You want me, I can feel it.”
“Yes, I want you.”
“Then it is not finished. This is just the beginning.”
It was quiet, serious, and Straker knew it for the truth. The beginning of what he was not sure but he was absolutely certain that it was going to be glorious.
The thought of Jackson making love to him again made Straker almost breathless with longing. This time he wanted to see Jackson not just feel him and maybe take a turn at a little learning of his own but there was something he had sort out first.
“I want to remember this,” he stated, not sure if the vampire had the power to make him forget but not wanting to take the chance.
“Oh you will.” It was a dark dusky promise, hungry but not for blood this time, and with a deep feeling of joy Straker realised that it was for him.
“When you need blood again, will you come to me?” he asked, needing to know before the fire in his blood carried him beyond the capability of questions.
The vampire nodded slowly. “If you would have me.”
“I would have you whether you needed blood or not,” Straker replied, teasing his lover’s lips apart with his tongue to make sure there was absolutely misunderstanding between them.
The kiss deepened and when he pulled away at last, Jackson’s eyes were smoky and darkened with desire. “There are certain dangers. Safeguards would need to be taken.”
The warning was unmistakable but Straker found he had had quite enough conversation for one night. It could wait.
“Tell me about them tomorrow,” he muttered.
And then the time for words was past.
He awoke alone, slowly rising through layers of sleep one at a time, becoming aware almost incidentally as his eyes flickered open that it was Christmas Day. At some point early in the morning the vampire had slipped out of bed not exactly waking Straker but rousing him enough to feel a pang of disappointment that the man would not be there when he woke up.
Still, he had drifted back into a deep untroubled sleep and suspected that if not from the pressure from his bladder he would have been asleep for considerably longer time yet. There had been no point setting the alarm and deep beneath the ground there was no daylight to wake him. Fumbling for the light he was astounded to see that it had gone 9.00 am, unheard of for him to have slept for so long, despite the lack of sleep the night before. Still, there was no hurry and it was not like he was on active duty in the control centre.
Languidly, he stretched, feeling stiff in all the right places. It was a couple of years now since he had spent the night with anyone and longer still with anyone quite so… energetic. Vampires, it seemed, were more than adept when it came to sex and definitely lacked nothing in the way of stamina. Straker had been very glad indeed that his private suite was soundproofed.
With a murmur of protest he slid out of bed and padded into the bathroom. Once he had taken care of business he found himself suddenly reluctant to look in the mirror. Despite the fact that he knew it had been real, one part of his anatomy in particular could confirm that, the rational part of his brain was making him question.
Telling himself not to be so stupid he stepped up to the sink and there they were at the base of his neck, two small cuts, neat and reddened, caused by the teeth of a hungry vampire.
He smiled at his image and reflected that if anyone had told him a mere twenty four hours earlier than he would very shortly be someone’s dinner he would have considered calling for the men in white coats. Yet here he was the morning after feeling remarkably smug about what had taken place.
Something had changed, he had changed and by finally facing his darkness head on he felt its weight lifted from his shoulder. Thanks to Jackson’s special brand of healing he was no longer haunted by the past and for the first time in a very long time Straker realised that he could allow himself to feel content.
It was only after he had showered and shaved that he returned to the bedroom and noticed the small box placed carefully on his pillow. It was plain and unwrapped, about two inches square. It had not been there when he woke up and he realised that Jackson must have briefly returned although he had not heard him. Carefully, he opened it.
On top was a piece of paper, folded to fit the box exactly. Removing it he placed it to one side, more curious to know what the paper hid. When the contents revealed themselves he gasped in astonishment.
It was a bat, a tiny thing no more than an inch across made out of something hard and black and cold to the touch. Delicate wings outstretched, it hung upside down and its miniature claws were the loops through which was threaded a chain so fine it could almost have been made of spider’s silk.
It was a beautiful thing and as Straker studied it he felt it suddenly blaze with heat, startling but not enough to burn. Still, he almost dropped it but even before his alarm faded it had cooled once again. Despite that, he did not want to let it go. No one had ever given him anything so beautiful. Thoughtfully Straker picked up the note and took a moment to decipher Jackson’s untidy scrawl.
This is old, made with a theatricality that this age has abandoned, but it is much more than an object of decoration. You saved my life with your gift. One day this will do the same for you. Happy Christmas, Commander.
That was all it said. Puzzled, Straker read the note again. It hinted that this unexpected gift was more than it seemed, but then that would hardly be surprising considering it had come from Doug Jackson. How could it be anything else?
Studying the little creature again Straker tried to work out what it was made of but had to give up. It was not cold like metal yet it seemed far too strong to have been carved. One thing was certain, Jackson was right, it was very old. But what did it mean?
Knowing that the vampire would have his reasons and that he would just have to learn to be patient, Straker was nevertheless deeply honoured that such a precious thing had been given to him because he had no doubt that this was very valuable indeed.
He wore no jewellery, never had, but somehow this was different. Despite its delicacy the chain was surprisingly strong and the little creature lay flat against his skin, warm and oddly familiar.
There are certain dangers.
Yes, he remembered that too but felt no fear. There was more danger in loneliness, in becoming so weighed down by the past that you forgot how to live. There were dangers in everything. Some were worth the cost and others were not. If he had learned nothing else his life had taught him that. The challenge was having the courage to accept that those dangers were sometimes absolutely worth the risk.
Once Jackson’s gift was securely fastened into place Straker dressed, carefully selecting his favourite midnight blue suit with a silky cream sweater to hide the marks on his neck. He was not ashamed of them but he was aware that they would raise more than a few eyebrows.
Already decided upon his itinerary, he left his room this time knowing exactly where his feet were taking him. As he walked, he didn’t notice that his corridors felt less eerie. His footsteps were no different and the place was no less lonely but the ghosts had suddenly gone. There was no need for them anymore.
Everything had changed.
Next to his skin, Straker could feel the tiny claws of his bat as it moved against him but already he was used to it. It felt right somehow, like it had been there all his life.
Smiling at the thought he called into the control centre and even there the happiness that only Christmas could bring had subtly changed the atmosphere and it warmed him. His people welcomed him, they shared handshakes and kisses on the cheeks and then after he had passed round celebratory cigars and chocolates he left for the one place he really wanted to be. And the one person he could suddenly and unexpectedly share this special day with.
It was Christmas Day and the world above was happy. Gifts had been exchanged and everywhere there was the warm glow of people at peace. Just for one day, there was joy.
Yet there were those who expected no gifts at all and had no belief in the possibility of happiness. Somehow it just didn’t seem right that they should go away with nothing but the Universe prefers symmetry and has a way of handing out gifts where none are expected.
The past is weighed and deeds are measured and for some there is no redemption but for others there is the gift of hope for if there is one thing the Universe knows it is how to seek forgiveness for the unforgivable.
You forgive yourself.
Ed Bishop with Spyder