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give me one good honest kiss

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1.

The train leaves in three minutes. Mina and Jonathan are standing at the very entrance into the carriage, and the people dashing about – bringing in the luggage or seeing off their friends or relations – keep pushing them. Mina almost doesn’t notice that – all her thoughts are focused on the journey that awaits her beloved. This is the first task of such great responsibility, the first trip so far away. He shall handle everything, beyond any doubt – he’s smart, her Jonathan, and she shall handle everything without him – thankfully, there’s plenty of work, so she won’t have the time to miss him. Still, deep down, she cannot help worrying.       

“Just write to me often, will you?” Mina asks him for what must be the tenth time, and Jonathan clasps her hands in his.

“Every day,” he promises.

Before entering the carriage, he kisses her in front of the entire station, which is against all rules of decorum that Mina tries to impart to her students, but she is utterly, catastrophically unable to care less. When he pulls away, his eyes are alight, and her heart aches with the knowledge that she won’t be able to kiss him again anytime soon. Out of the corner of her eye, Mina notices some elderly lady standing nearby and giving them a look of disapproval, and she can narrowly keep herself from sticking out her tongue at her.

She keeps waving goodbye until the window that he’s waving back from drops out of sight.  

 

  1.  

“Miss Westenra,” speaks Arthur Holmwood, holding her hand gently. “Lucy… Will you marry me?”

Lucy wants to cry – with happiness, with bashfulness, with a thousand of other overwhelming feelings. How can she keep her sanity with so much excitement all in the span of one day, when she has already had to break two hearts and torture her own? Yet the moment when the one she’s been dreaming of, the one whom she’s hoped so fiercely to return her affection is holding her and vowing to make her happy is worth it, worth the embarrassment and the shed tears and the bitten lips. Lucy wants to cry – so she doesn’t find the strength to answer at once, afraid to burst into sobs before she can utter a single word.    

“Yes,” she breathes out. “Yes, Arthur, I will marry you.”

She has to stand on her tiptoes to kiss him. He is tall – tall and handsome, a true fairytale prince. If she’s in a fairytale, then somewhere might exist a version of this tale in which she accepts the proposal of poor, dear Dr. Seward, or lets Mr. Morris take her away to the wild free lands. But in this version specifically, she stays with Arthur, and this is the happiest of all possible happy endings because she loves, loves, loves him. 

Maybe even as much as she loves Mina.

 

3.

“No, you don’t understand,” Arthur says hotly, and grabs Jack by the shoulder – by the look of it, not just to emphasise the importance of his words, but also not to fall down by accident. Jack reckons that if they are able to explain their destinations to the cabman when it’s time to call it a night, that will be quite a miracle. How have they even managed to drink so much? And Quincey, the madman, has gone to get another bottle. “I need to know: you do not hate me, do you? Both of you – do not hate me? Because I would never forgive myself if…”      

“Enough, Art,” Jack winces, tired. What would it change if he never forgives himself? Why does he even go on talking about it? Then again, it might be strange to expect a man whose hand in marriage was accepted by the loveliest of girls to be capable of talking of any other matters. “It seems to me it is you who do not understand anything.”  

Arthur frowns, and Jack thinks absently: what wonderful children he and Lucy shall have one day. Proper angels with golden curls, with his noble soul and her sunny disposition. When Jack leans forward and presses his lips to Arthur’s, he feels like he’s kissing Lucy – as well as the memory of the times when none of them had met her yet, when there used to be just the three of them and their endless wanderings, and no need for anything, or anyone, else.

Art doesn’t understand anything, and Jack isn’t sure it is in his power to explain. 

“No one hates you,” he tells him stiffly. And in his mind, swears not to drink ever again – look what he has already come to. The only comfort is that Arthur does not look offended; what is more, when the kiss breaks off, he looks calmer, at peace, and does not attempt to talk nonsense anymore. “You must know both of us very badly to have made such an assumption.”

Arthur doesn’t manage to reply in any way, for precisely at that point Quincey returns. All he does manage is to look Jack in the eye, and something in his stare makes Jack think that it is possible that he was wrong.

It is possible that Art understands everything perfectly well. 

 

4.

“Do you know what would be just marvellous?” whispers Lucy. Nights in Whitby remind Mina of school days, the part when she was still a student and not a teacher. Back then, she and Lucy often used to climb into one bed too, and converse in confidential tones far into the night, and at times, fall asleep together just like that, especially in winter when it was cold in the dormitory. “If Arthur and I and Jonathan and you lived next door from each other. Just imagine – we could see each other as often as every day!”   

“That sounds marvellous indeed,” Mina whispers back. Lucy props herself up on one elbow.

“So you agree!” she exclaims in triumph. “I am sure this can be arranged, I…”

“Lucy, I am afraid that would be much more difficult to arrange that it seems,” Mina says patiently. It is not easy to explain certain things to the people who had spent their whole lives rich, the more so if these people are dear to you.

“Silence!” Lucy interrupts her merrily. All light in the bedroom is from the moon peering between the curtains, so Mina cannot discern her face, but she can picture precisely the exuberant look characteristic of her friend in the moments when she gets another idea that seems the best ever. In the moonlight she looks like a cheerful ghost, and the sight of her overflows Mina with familiar tenderness. Please God, she thinks, do not cause her to lose this light, this childish ease, do not let her taste hardship and injustice. I can be serious for the two of us if necessary. “I’ll talk to Arthur; I am certain he will not be able to refuse me, not after he gets to know you better. Oh, Mina…” She throws her head back, and laughs quietly. “I still cannot believe it sometimes, so happy I am.”

Then she pulls Mina closer impulsively, and showers her face in kisses – cheeks, nose, lips.

Please God, Mina thinks as she closes her eyes, let Mr. Holmwood be exactly the kind of honest and trustworthy man he seems to be, let him take care of her and never cause her any pain. Let her be lucky to have him as I am to have Jonathan. 

Let him love her at least half as much as I do.

 

5.

“You need to sleep,” Quincey tells him, and Arthur cannot suppress nervous laughter.

“To sleep?” he echoes. The hysterical notes in his own voice disgust him, especially since his friend does not deserve to be talked to in such tone. Over and over again he tries to get a hold of himself – yet over and over again he remembers how Lucy, with that lascivious smile, beckoned him to join her on the other side of death. “What would I see in my dreams, Quincey, if I can see her even now? If I know that as soon as I close my eyes, Lucy would come for me?”     

“For heaven’s sake, Art, that wasn’t Lucy!” Quincey cuts him short and slams his fist down on the armrest. Arthur flinches. “Could our Lucy,” and Arthur notices that ‘our’ but doesn’t say anything, for he knows that it wasn’t just him whose feelings were strong and whose heart is breaking now, “be capable of doing such thing?”    

‘Such thing’ means hunting little children and sucking their blood, and a single thought of it makes Arthur shudder again.

“Shhh, calm down,” Quincey whispers soothingly, and strokes his shoulder. “I’m with you, Jack’s with you, and we’re going to figure it all out, all right?” 

“Stop talking to me like I’m a frightened horse,” murmurs Arthur. 

“Stop acting like a frightened horse,” Quincey takes Arthur’s face in his hands. He looks downright exhausted, and Arthur marvels once again at his ability to cheer others up while obviously being sick at heart himself. “That Professor has a plan, Art. If we don’t falter, tomorrow it all shall end.”   

Arthur casts his eyes down.

“Well,” he speaks, “if sleep comes, tomorrow will seem to arrive sooner.”

“Good lad,” Quincey says with relief, rises in his armchair a little, and plants a kiss on the top of Arthur’s head. “Now, off you go to bed.”  

But Arthur is sure – for he wakes up repeatedly and sees the light flowing from under the door opposite his room – that Quincey himself doesn’t sleep that night at all.                                                                                                                                                                     

 

6.

Not a soul will see her again, so it could seem like it shouldn’t matter, and yet Jack feels relieved as he looks at Lucy’s face – finally Lucy’s, and not of that vile creature that dared to assume her visage and voice. Her chest is stained with blood with the strands of her beautiful fair hair stuck to it in places; her face is paler than pale – but she still looks like herself. How well he knows that tender smile, even though he was not usually the one to receive it! How peacefully her eyelashes lie on her white cheeks! God, give her peace after all the endured suffering! Nobody deserves two deaths – all the more such terrible ones, all the more at nineteen.  

Not a soul will see her again – him included, which is why he cannot take his eyes off her.

“Friend John,” Van Helsing speaks softly, looking at him with compassion. “My child, we must finish what we started.”

Jack bends over Lucy – not the ‘body’, in his head he can afford the weakness not to describe her in such way – and presses his lips to her cold forehead. 

“I am so sorry,” he whispers, and his tear rolls down her cheek.

Then he cuts Lucy’s head off.

 

7.

“Are you all right?” Jack asks worriedly when Mrs. Harker springs to her feet and starts scurrying in circles around the room. She turns her head abruptly, making loose strands of hair fall on her face, and it seems like she cannot find him at once with her gaze, so immersed she is in her thoughts.     

“Yes. No. No, no, I’m fine,” she stammers out. Her eyes are sparkling, and Jack can feel, almost physically, the restless, contagious energy coming from her. He, too, forgot about time and weariness while reading her and her husband’s notes, but he is no match for this fragile-looking young woman; they’ve known each for such a short time, but he’s already deeply impressed by her intelligence and dedication. “Oh, Dr. Seward, you as a scientist surely must understand the feeling one gets when a multitude of disjointed fragments are finally coming together. This is precisely what I am observing right now, but the picture won’t be complete until all evidence is at our disposal. Which means we have to wait, and that is unbearable.”       

“I see what you mean,” confirms Jack. “Take a look at the clock, however: we will not have to wait for too long. Soon your husband will arrive, and bring the fragments we’re lacking.”

“You’re right,” she agrees, looking past him absentmindedly. Then she approaches him at a brisk pace, and some letters fall from his table to the carpet when she brushes against them. Before he can bend down and pick them up, she kisses him on the cheek with a quick movement, catching him off guard – and herself as well, or so it appears from her countenance. Jack feels his face burn with the same blush as hers, just like upon their meeting at the station, and a silly laugh escapes his throat – but Mrs. Harker laughs back, and the awkwardness dissipates on the spot.     

“I shall order to make us some tea,” he says, feeling her enthusiasm boil in his veins, and she responds with an animated nod.   

 

  1.  

Thanks to Lucy’s letters and stories, Mina already knows a lot about Arthur Holmwood: that he has a kind heart and excellent manners, that he is a true gentleman, that he carries himself immaculately in society but privately prefers the forest and his dogs to salons and ballrooms. Mina expected to meet him in person at Lucy’s place, or possibly at a reception held by some mutual acquaintances, expected Lucy to lead her to him or him to her and laugh and make them shake hands. Instead, they meet in a lunatic asylum, where neither he nor she fortunately are staying as patients, though sometimes it seems a likely outcome, and half an hour into their first meeting he is weeping on her shoulder. She strokes his hair and thinks: poor boy. He cannot be younger than she, yet these are the words that cross her mind: poor boy.      

“I beg your pardon, Mrs. Harker,” Lord Godalming finally says, his voice choked. “Usually I am not… prone to such outbursts of emotions. Regrettably, far too much has happened lately.”   

“There is nothing for me to pardon you for,” Mina hastens to assure him. She’s holding his hand, and doesn’t notice at once that she is stroking it with her thumb reflexively. “I cannot undertake to imagine what you must be feeling presently – your father, your bride…”    

“Please don’t,” he takes a handkerchief out of his pocket, and offers it to her. She shakes her head, so he uses it to wipe his eyes. “Especially since I am sure that you, of all people, can imagine that. I know how much you loved Lucy.” 

“I did,” says Mina. If she tries to say anything else in this regard, she is likely to break into tears again. “However, you must agree that it is different…” 

“Mrs. Harker, Lucy told me a great deal about you. I know what you meant to her. I fancy that I can guess what she meant to you,” he takes her hand again, and looks her in the eye, and Mina realizes that his guess is correct.  

Lord Godalming – Mr. Holmwood – Arthur brings her hand to his lips, and she bends down to kiss his curly head, and for some endless moments they sit like that, with their shared grief.  

 

9.

Mr. Morris gets her a portable typewriter somewhere, which is exactly what she needs. While at work, Mina almost feels the way she used to feel before. Now, standing by the window in the hotel room and watching the snow fall steadily on the ground only to melt right away, she feels strangely halved, as if able to see herself from without. There is her body, by the window, wrapped in a shawl, and there is her mind – somewhere outside, in the web stretched between two worlds, constantly sliding through that web nearer to that other world, inglorious and cold like this snow. Her mind hopes that the threads of that web will strangle her before she gets there.   

Herself she is as if able to see from without, but Mr. Morris she sees simply in the windowpane; he gives her a side hug, and she nestles up against him, afraid to glance at his neck and feel hunger.    

“Mr. Morris,” she begins. “Since we have to spend some time with just each other for company… I trust you remember what you’ve promised me, don’t you?”  

With her cheek, she can feel him sigh.

“It is not time yet,” he tells her stubbornly. “Don’t bury yourself too soon, Mrs. Harker.”

“I hope it is not time yet. But I’m not certain. And I need certainty, you see?”

For an instant, his lips press to her temple, fleeting and hot, and it must be absolutely unacceptable for a married lady but at the same time it’s innocent, innocent and right.

“Little girl,” he says, “I would love to forget. But I can’t”.

She feels safe in his arms because she knows that if – when – the time comes, he’ll be able to kill her.

 

10.

“Take a rest, Lord Godalming,” says Jonathan. “It’s my turn to keep watch.”

“Could’ve slept for a bit longer, Jonathan,” Holmwood throws more coal into the furnace. “And for the hundredth time I am asking you: just Arthur.” 

“Arthur,” repeats Jonathan. Indeed, formalities seem ridiculous in the middle of the river, when all society available is just the two of them, both continuously tired and with soot stains on their sleeves. “I can start earlier; I can’t sleep anyway. I keep wondering how Mina is doing now.”

“Your wife is a remarkable woman, Jonathan. Most men I know could do with taking a page out of her book in terms of composure and bravery. Besides, Van Helsing is with her,” Arthur gets up from the bench by the furnace, and Jonathan takes his place. “I won’t try to persuade you that she is definitely going to be all right. Still, you should not focus on the worst outcome possible.”       

“I could do with learning bravery from her myself,” Jonathan observes. The loneliness, the heavy heart, the indifferent river around them – for some reason, all of this provokes sincerity. There is no one to pretend for, and no strength to do that. “Every time I remember what she made us all promise her… You are a fearless man, Arthur. You could save the one you loved. Meanwhile I cannot stop thinking that if there is no way back, I would rather let her…”      

“Turn you?” Arthur finishes. He’s unfolding a blanket and getting ready for sleep; his pale face looks altogether white against the upturned black collar, and its expression is unclear, unreadable. “Well, which one of us is fearless is an open question. You see, I, too, cannot stop thinking of some things.”  

Jonathan’s face must be reflecting clearly how guilty he feels about bringing this up, because Arthur laughs joylessly, approaches him, and pats him on the shoulder.

Jonathan grabs his hand and presses it to his lips.    

“You did the right thing,” he says firmly, and doesn’t know whom he wants to convince more: Arthur or himself.  

 

11.

“Why aren’t you asleep?” Jack asks quietly. There is no one for them to disturb save for horses, but he doesn’t raise his voice because day after day he cannot shake off the feeling that they are being watched. That is hardly the case, but then they’ve gone to war against the devil himself; how could they divine what awaits them in his country?     

“Thought I heard the wolves howl,” Quincey answers in the same hushed voice. “Didn’t hear them again, though. Just a dream, maybe.”

“Maybe,” agrees Jack. He does not need to finish: or maybe not. Maybe the wolves are nearby – just waiting for a command.

“Why aren’t you asleep yourself?”

“I don’t know. I woke up and couldn’t fall asleep again,” Jack turns over to lie on his side, facing his friend. Late autumn is harsh in these lands, so for the third night in a row they sleep side by side, under the same pile of blankets and coats. It is warmer that way, warmer even than one could expect. As he watches his friend’s face in the grey of dawn, Jack thinks about how both Arthur and Lucy have always looked like the sun, all gold and clear, pure light, but Quincey has always been the sun, his heart as warm as his arm around Jack’s waist at night. At night – and now, too, even though neither of them is asleep.  

Jack thinks about how he won’t see Lucy ever again, and perhaps – who knows – he won’t see Arthur either.

“I must tell you something,” he begins, afraid that this boldness will subside any minute now. “If I don’t survive this…”   

“You will,” interrupts him Quincey. “Did you hear me, Doc? And then you’ll tell me everything, and not because you’re wondering if this is the last time we talk. You will survive this.”  

When Jack tries to object, Quincey shuts him up by putting a hand theatrically on his mouth. On the spur of the moment, Jack kisses his palm and sees his friend’s expression change and cannot recall the last time he’s seen him look so vulnerable.

“How do you know?” Jack mumbles when Quincey takes his hand away.

Quincey kisses his cheek then; it tickles.

“Because I am not letting any of you die,” he says seriously. “Got it, pal? You have my word.”

He keeps his promise.

He doesn’t promise anything in regard to himself.