By Ana Miruko (婀汝 美琉子)
I don’t remember the first time I was born.
I don’t suppose that’s so strange, but for the fact that I remember the second time I was born with much more clarity.
A man was standing over me as I blinked, the dull roar in my ears giving way to the hum of equipment all around me. I knew I was prone and was likely naked; the cold steel of the table beneath me felt different everywhere it touched, but it wasn’t until I sat up and looked at the man by my side that I realized why.
Raising my hands to look at them, it was clear that they couldn’t be from the same person – the one on the left was familiar, its piebald pattern somehow comforting in that familiarity, but the one on the right matched neither skin tone. Not to mention it was larger.
“I…I tried to match them as best I could.” The voice to the left of me was deeper than I would have expected from such a slender frame, but it seemed I couldn’t judge the man beside me by his hunched shoulders or downcast look, not if he was responsible for my being here as I was now. As I placed my hands together, it was immediately clear that if one was mine, the other couldn’t be – while the general size was similar, the length, thickness, and shape of the fingers pressed against each other were too different to ever pass. And that was before even taking into account the skin tones – one mottled and one dark – but both of them responded and moved as if they were my own. I turned them both over and over, trying to see if I could feel any difference or dredge up any memory of whether I had been right-handed or not.
“Take your time,” the man said, stepping back as I continued to look.
Eventually, inspection of my hands led to inspection of the rest of the body I’d woken up in, an assortment of colors and stitches although the general physiques seemed to match. Each limb twitched when I asked it to, flexed and relaxed and curled regardless of the skin wrapped around it. Not quite half seemed to be mine, the vitiligo my only clue, and that was assuming a rather unexplained definition of “mine” to begin with.
But for this moment, I was alive and seemed to be myself. Perhaps missing a few memories – more than a few, once I started to probe; I could understand words, could form thoughts, but every time I tried for a concrete memory, namely how I came to be here, who I was, and who the man next to me was, it slipped from me.
“Who?” was all I ended up getting out, my throat embarrassingly hoarse. I wondered how long it had been in disuse, how long I had lain upon that steel table. Or elsewhere.
The man I assumed responsible for all of this had been stepping continuously further away, giving me space, but now he hurried back over to me. He still wouldn’t meet my eyes. I wondered even more if I’d known him before all of this.
“Don’t try to speak.” He handed me a glass of water, keeping his hands busy so that he didn’t have to look at me directly. “Let your body adjust to being awake and used again – there will be enough time to talk later. For now, I am Francesco, Francesco Silva, and you are a miracle. Or at least, depending on the state of your memories or if you have a name.” He glanced sideways at me for a moment and I saw that his eyes were a bright green, fresh as the trees that grew in our complex’s courtyard.
The strength of that memory startled me, and I laughed at his question. Surely if I could remember with such clarity the tree and its leaves outside of the complex I entered and exited daily, if I could remember something like where I had lived, I could remember something as simple as my name!
And yet, as I thought about it, even as I could feel my brow starting to crease, as I blinked more quickly as my eyes darted for an answer, nothing came to me.
Francesco patted my knee. “On many levels, it’s for the best that you don’t remember.”
I didn’t like anything about this. “But why can’t I remember something as simple as my own name?”
“Death is traumatic, much less multiple of them. No one was meant to go through what you have and it is only natural that you have blocked it out.”
I sat there, glancing from my hands to the side of his face and back again. “What do you mean multiple?”
“Isn’t it obvious? I’m sure you’ve already noticed that your body isn’t entirely your own but that you can still move without much difficulty. Or did you think that only your brain dies?”
“So I’m…” A hundred or so names flashed through my brain, but I couldn’t tell if they meant anything or if given the prompt ‘think of a name’, my mind had overcompensated and produced any name with any relevance to me. Or, I guessed, the people I now was. I sat there, frustration building as I sifted through names, but none of them seemed ‘right’. Though how did I know that my previous name had been the right one? “I need a name,” I growled, the roughness of my voice surprising even me.
Francesco shrugged, though he sat forward in interest, giving me a better look at his profile and those green eyes again. “It wouldn’t feel right to give you one, but I won’t hold you to one, either.” He glanced to the side, again not meeting my eyes and I wondered why. Had we been something to each other? But if we were, wouldn’t he know my name and be eager to go back to that familiarity? Was this a test?
I sat there another moment, swinging my legs off the table and unconsciously letting them drum against the side. Running through the names, I tried each one out until I came up with one that while it didn’t quite fit, felt familiar enough to give. “Lucas. Let’s try Lucas.”
He looked at me then, hesitation still in his eyes but finally looking at me, and I felt something click within me. He stretched his hand out, so I did with mine, my left rising instinctually and even as I recognized that, I realized that his left was out as well.
“Welcome back, Lucas.”
The days and months passed swiftly past that, a blur of boring physical tests and even more boring errands. It turned out that Francesco abhorred running any sort of small errands and would let them all pile up until it was inevitable that he have to step foot outside of his house if he wanted to continue living. If you could call eating crackers and drinking water because the crackers meant that the cupboards weren’t “empty” yet and washing with dish soap after the actual soap had dwindled “living”. And so I started running errands into the city.
Francesco lived in a house on the outskirts of what we called the city, which itself was the outskirts of a much larger city, accessible by winding mountain roads or magical means if you had the money. But for our purposes, the mountains held plenty – a community large enough no one asked questions about Francesco and took his reclusion as part and parcel of a mountain retreat.
Going into town, I took care to keep covered – even though it meant drawing attention given the temperature, at least they just thought me strange, rather than the stares and likely screams that the different limbs and obvious stitchwork would draw.
Either beginner’s luck or innate skills in some body had given me charm and the knowledge of when a mango was ripe, how to chat with people just enough to be personable but not intimate, and soon I found myself someone people waved to on the streets. When it was just Francesco and I in the house, I’d taken to switching names, going from Lucas to Virgil to Joao, and all the way to Sven, sometimes in the span of hours, but once I had to introduce myself to someone outside, I found myself falling back on Lucas. And of course most people didn’t introduce themselves with a new name every other day, so Lucas I became. I still didn’t know if it was ‘right’ or worse, if I was likely to run into someone who had known me before, had visited the same complex where the banyan tree grew and knew that shade of green, but Francesco seemed too careful in everything else he did. He wouldn’t simply resurrect me in the same town I’d died in.
But was it the same? Was anyone I remembered still alive? Most of what I remembered was flashes: corridors and branches, patterns of sunlight or the pleasure in tasting a meal, the thrill of dancing at a club and the burn of alcohol down my throat. But where that sunlight was, what the music was, or who had been with me were shadowed.
What was clear was that Francesco was the linchpin in all of this. Whenever I felt myself drifting too far, whenever I found myself staring out the window for too long, a piece of yaro root to be cut or shirt to be folded forgotten in my hand, he would touch my shoulder and steer me down to the lab. I rarely went down there aside from the examinations and these incidents, long since having given up on keeping it any sort of organized. Francesco would find what he needed to or not, and I certainly would never find anything.
I’d sit there, staring at him intently because I knew if I left my eyes wander, I’d shudder clean off the table from the sheer mess of it. This meant I spent a lot of time staring at his profile as he mixed whatever was in the IV he gave me. And what a profile it was – as he pulled from a number of bottles – always unlabeled, but what damage could he do? I was already dead – and throwing sterility to the wind, he would sit me back on the table and I would watch. I watched him move, hands more sure than I ever saw him perform any other task, watched his face in concentration. I got to know the furrow between his brow as he concentrated, his dark curls falling over his forehead, the way his mouth, more full and soft-looking than I would have expected from someone who neglected any sort of pampering, would purse as he asked me questions as the fluid he’d made pumped into my slow-moving veins. I knew the ingredients held some sort of magic to them, but from what I could tell, he never did any magic around me.
After each infusion, I felt a little more lucid, though I don’t know if that was an effect of falling further out of it each time and thus more lucidity to make up, or if something in what he mixed for me was actually bringing me back, closer to who I truly was.
I also didn’t know which part of me the desire to press him up against the table, or him me, grabbing the ass he hid away in baggy pants but that I knew existed from the times he would bend or stretch to reach came from, or if that was wholly my own. Either way, it wasn’t something I could ever act on, so our time together passed in relative calm.
He let me ramble, during these sessions, let me talk about anything that came to mind from the questions he’d ask. They were never anything too specific, so I’d end up talking about Mrs. Viega down at the market and how her daughter was getting married and how her new daughter-in-law worked in the city proper, but that I’d chimed in that the city had better restaurants, so her daughter and daughter-in-law were likely to try new food and need new ingredients and cooking tips and come visit her often. I usually ended up scolding Francesco during these times – everything always ended up coming back to some bad habit he held, whether it was not being able to cook (half of the time, I was sure he’d worked so hard to create me because he would have starved otherwise – I’d had to acquire a startling number of cookbooks) or tend a proper garden, or be able to organize or remember an upcoming event, or even leave his house. This last one almost caused a row between us, to the point that I all but ripped the IV out of my arm when the bag was empty.
It’s not like I had much blood to lose.
I just didn’t understand why he would lock himself away or let other people start rumors about him the way the town had done. Of course living in a house by yourself and never coming out would start to arouse suspicion, especially as soon as someone new started coming in and out of said house without the original occupant ever being seen for years. I’d long grown used to fielding questions on how Francesco was doing and comments on how cruel it was that my husband never went anywhere with me and how lucky he was to have me.
I could only agree with the last point. Francesco had gone off the grid for a reason, he insisted, though he would never reveal what that reason was.
And so it was a complete surprise when I was kidnapped by one of his former colleagues.
I can only think I was an easy-going sort of guy when I was alive – I don’t imagine many people would take to having a hand shoved over their mouth, wrestled into a van, and a bag shoved over their head with as much aplomb as I did. Then again, I don’t imagine most people would have woken up from being dead and having varied limbs with much more than an “I need a name” either.
“You’re not fighting. That’s good.” The other man in the van had a much smoother voice than Francesco’s. He clearly had experience in not only talking but in having people listen to him, by the way he addressed me and seemed to expect me to keep quiet as a matter of course. “What a curious experiment you are – I’d love to find out what makes you tick, and I think it’s in both of our interests if you help me with that.” He paused, and from the rustling I could hear, sat back against the van seat. “I can’t imagine dying again holds any prospect for you.”
Instead of replying, I tried to figure out what this man hoped to gain – what was the point in kidnapping me? I was a complete unknown outside of this town, and nothing in the various memories I still had made me think I would have been well-known to anyone outside of my own circles. But he mentioned experiments – did he know Francesco? Francesco never left the house, which was the whole reason I was even in this predicament to begin with, so how did anyone know I existed?
Oh god, was I going to have to start checking his communications history if I ever got back? Was magical communication even traceable? Had he been bragging about me? Who did he even communicate with? He didn’t seem the type to brag, more the type to completely forget to eat while absorbed in his work and then smile absently at me when I dragged him upstairs. If he was going to brag, surely we wouldn’t have spent the last few months here?
No, there had to be some other way this man had found out about me. With the bag over my head, I couldn’t see anything, but from what I could feel, none of my limbs or places where the stitches holding me together were obvious – had they been watching me? How did they know who – or what, I guessed was the more pertinent question – I was?
“How do you know who I am?” Sometimes, the best way to get an answer is to just ask.
“Hmm.” The man across from me made a small noise, almost pleased, which was somehow worse. “I’m honestly surprised you caught on this quickly. It’s a good sign, you know, that your brain is functioning at full capabilities and able to make logical leaps. Most of your peers were barely able to string a sentence together a week in, much less a month in. You’re really doing quite beyond anyone’s expectations almost two years in.”
I probably should have been more surprised to find out that there had been others before me, but honestly, it wasn’t so surprising. No one did anything with magic properly their first try, much less something as complicated as raising a whole living human with rational thought. My kidnapper also seemed to be trying to get a rise out of me and the more he talked, the more determined I was to give him absolutely nothing. I didn’t know what else he wanted from me, but if it was as I suspected and he wanted to examine me and figure out what Francesco had done, I wasn’t going to make it easy for him.
I crossed my arms and sat back – even with the hood covering my face, I had to trust that it would give off enough of an “I’m done talking” vibe to get my message across.
He simply chuckled, a sound that rasped through his throat as if he had forgotten how to laugh. “I see. Well then, I suppose it’s my job to fill the awkward silence. I’ll do you the favor of assuming a higher level of intelligence than the others, but please stop me if you have questions.”
Even without seeing his face, I could just about imagine the smirk that had to be across it right now, believing he had the upper hand.
“As you likely know already, you are the latest in a line of experiments that Dr. Francesco Silva has been working on in the field of reanimation. I don’t know how familiar you were with the workings of your local mage’s association when you were previously alive, but suffice to say, we had been keeping a close eye on him. Particularly close when he decided to leave our institute entirely and run off into the mountains.”
Staying nonchalant became harder and harder. How many times had I asked Francesco these exact questions? But in the end, I didn’t want them from this nameless, faceless man, I wanted to hear Francesco tell them, for him to trust me with the answers. I could feel my face twisting and for the first time, I was thankful for the cover over it.
“It took us quite a while to find him, though likely not as long as he expected – as much as he tried to cover his tracks, he just wasn’t meant to go on the run. Anyone with sense could have told him that siphoning a ley line, no matter how carefully, attracts a certain type of attention.”
I filed all this information away in my brain – if I ever got free and made it back to Francesco, I’d remember it. He’d thought he was entirely off the grid, but next time, I’d make sure we were truly hidden.
The thought surprised me. I’d automatically taken it as my given that I’d be going with him if I got back – I’d never even once thought about trying to leave. At the beginning, I’d stayed by his side because of the transfers he gave me that kept me going, but when had that ceased to be the reason? Surely, if I told the man across from me, who seemed to be from one of the big universities or research companies, they’d be able to reverse-engineer what Francesco had used. Surely they’d be able to replicate his steps if I told them the process I could almost perform in my sleep at this point. I didn’t know the theory behind it; I honestly hadn’t wanted to ask or know what kept my body ticking, the same way that anatomy classes had held no allure for me when I was alive. It was enough to be alive. I even liked the life we’d been leading. Sure, I would have liked to have gotten out past our town more often. But now, given the chance, my thoughts kept returning to Francesco. When would he realize something had happened? It wasn’t rare for me to take a while on running errands, always finding something extra to look at or someone else to talk to. He had stopped worrying after the first weeks, when I had been able to go out and come back without suspicion. Now I was the one who worried if I was out for too long, about the sorts of things he would get up to without anyone there to make sure he ate or took a break or didn’t exhaust himself. He’d work through the night if I didn’t interrupt him, depleting his energy and not letting it replenish before starting all over again the next day. When did I start hoarding the smiles he gave me as I shook his shoulder?
I didn’t know why he worked so hard, but at some point, I’d apparently decided that if I could help out, I would.
So the offer in front of me, the one I had created in my own mind, held no allure for me. I didn’t know these men, and even if I knew about as much of their goals as Francesco’s, I knew Francesco, knew that even in a temper, he’d only sulk for an hour before admitting I’d had a point. I knew ultimately he wasn’t on a bad path, whereas these men had kidnapped someone in a market.
“It must be hard for you up here, cooped up in the mountains like this and being forced to run errands all day. You can’t make a connection with anyone aside from Dr. Silva – they’d figure out what you were before too long. Necromancy is frowned upon by the associations and distrusted everywhere else – you can’t have expected to have been accepted for much longer.”
“Then what do you propose?” I couldn’t stop myself, his talking as if he knew anything about Mrs. Viega and her daughter or any of the others who had treated me kindly and accepted me as the eccentric doctor’s new spouse. Even if most of what they felt for me was likely pity or confusion, there were enough who were genuinely kind to me. I’d somehow become a member of their community, and that was thanks to Francesco. “Do you have some magic word that will make them suddenly trust me? Some better way of living?”
He rasped another laugh. “Of course not. No one is ever accepted by everyone they meet, but you’d be around a community that understands you, where you could talk freely about what was happening to you and who were willing to help you understand who you are now. I don’t suppose any more of your original memories have returned?”
My face flushed under the bag, covering my reaction, but I could feel my fists clench at the same time. I stayed silent, rather than snipping back any retort he might be waiting for.
“I didn’t think so. Tell me, did Dr. Silva tell you anything about his previous work? Did he tell you how many of them went mad under the weight of too many different memories? Did he tell you why he had to leave?”
I tried to force my hands to relax, but I could feel them clenching tighter and tighter as I struggled not to speak back. What did this man know of Francesco? Not enough to know the twist of his mouth every time I said that I hadn’t recovered any distinct memories, nothing more than a flash. Not enough to know that any time I did mention a specific detail, he always went out of his way to research it more, that more often than not, I would find a flower, a snack, a bubble of a strain of music, waiting for me on the table the next day.
“I see you must have been the very loyal sort when you were alive. That’s fine, anything you could tell us was always a bonus.” Another rustle as he adjusted his position. “You should rest. It’s another hour to the city, and I imagine you’ll be quite the spectacle at the institute. You’ll need your energy”
He was likely right, and even though he wouldn’t know one way or another whether or not I was resting with the bag still covering my face, I was loathe to give him the satisfaction of following even one of his orders. However, as soon as I started thinking about it, my body started to feel heavy. When my last infusion been? The day before? The day before that? We’d never tested how long I could actually go between the infusions or what would happen if I let it slip beyond the stage at which it became difficult to keep my eyes open. It wasn’t one of the experiments Francesco was interested in running, and the ingredients for the infusion and the energy he expended for it didn’t seem important enough to try and ration it. I never saw the jars he used for them even less than half full, even though there were others in his stores that regularly were close to empty.
I tried not to think about it, or what would happen if Francesco actually came for me, like this man seemed to want to happen. It was unlikely – if Francesco hadn’t left in over three years, why would he do it now, for me? If I was a success, if he was as used to letting failures slide from his mind as the man who had kidnapped me suggested, wouldn’t it be easy to move on to the next experiment? I supposed I was the one who had become unreasonably attached to him – now that I thought back on it, any time I’d tried to involve him or connect with him more, he would pull back further the next few days. At first I thought it was just trying to keep a good objective distance so that he could monitor my progress and emotional state without bias, and then I just assumed it was part of his personality, but what if he just had no interest in me? What if I was merely the next stepping stone to his goal? The most advanced, sure, but nothing more than a means to an end.
Was I ready for him not to come for me at all?
At some point, I must have actually drifted off because the next thing I knew was the van jolting to a stop. Hands grabbed me and pulled me out of the van. It was warmer outside than it had been up in the mountains, and louder when I tried to listen for any identifying sounds. I’d never been down to the city proper since waking up, but I was hoping something might trigger a memory inside any part of me. I heard various vehicles, people shouting what sounded like enticements for their shops or restaurants, calling people in off the street to relieve their troubles or for household spells. One even called out for a charm that would do a thousand dishes! I headed towards it instinctively – though I’d taken on most of the chores out of necessity, I hated doing dishes and the feeling of having my hands wet for too long. They always took so long to dry off and the clammy feeling never quite went away for hours afterward. Before I got too far, however, the hands that had been around my arms yanked me back. I wondered briefly what the people around us must think about a hooded man being dragged out of a van and then pulled into a building, but no one around us reacted. Francesco hadn’t spoken much about magic, so beyond his specifics, which tended towards life energy and often went towards the theoretical or esoteric, or the charms that were sold up on the mountain, which were often long-lasting but simple in their effect, I didn’t know much either. Did glamours exist? I already suspected that my kidnappers were of a high-level sort, so perhaps it was simply the sort of invisibility that societal respectability and money got you.
Either way, it meant I was now inside and being dragged down a corridor. I tried to keep things straight in my mind, but after the third sharp turn I suspected the place was either a labyrinth or they were intentionally taking me in circles to confuse me.
Inside the elevator, finally they removed the hood. I could now see that there were three people surrounding me – two who looked to be security and were likely the ones who had been dragging me around so far, and the third.
He had a small goatee and a pleasant-enough face, if you ignored the serious set of his brows and the deep furrows on his forehead. He was younger than I would have guessed, but still older than Francesco.
“Do I get to know your name now? It feels only polite, given you’ve already gotten me this far and I don’t think you want me to continue calling you ‘that bastard’ in my mind.”
He glanced at me, the furrows deepening. “It’s not my concern what you do or don’t call me within your own mind. I also don’t believe you’ll have much of an opportunity to refer to me out loud once we’re through with you, but for the sake of professionalism and the record we will be keeping, you may refer to me as Dr. Tavanish.”
The elevator dinged its arrival and we all piled out. Nothing about my surroundings felt familiar, though I had already suspected from my time with Francesco that I’d never had any affinity for magic or interest in it. It looked much more like a life sciences lab than anything I would have associated with magic, but I supposed that I’d forgotten that what Francesco did utilized magic as well. The two were more intertwined than I’d thought.
We passed a number of people who started to look up, but as soon as they saw Dr. Tavanish, looked quickly back down at their own work, including one person who started to call out to him but was jerked swiftly back by one of their colleagues. I got the impression that Dr. Tavanish was important enough around here to clear a room with a glare.
“Put him in the examination room; I’ll be in shortly.” Dr. Tavanish didn’t even glance back at me or the two still restraining me, simply heading into what must have been his office and leaving me to my fate. Thankfully, the examination room turned out to be nothing more than a room with a couple of armchairs, nothing like the steel table I’d come to associate with my rebirth and with my usual infusions. No restraints as far as I could see, but even as I sat down, the two guards stood by the door, both of them watching my every move.
“Do you think I could get something to read while I wait? Do you know how long he’ll be?” The walls of the room were covered in the bland sort of paintings one expected to see from that sort of room, but even as I thought about it, I wondered where that association had come from. Up in the mountains, most of the art had been vibrant and purposeful, rather than to simply fill a space. Francesco had photographs, ones of landscapes and vistas that made me wonder if he’d taken them himself or were places he wanted to go. Nothing I’d seen since waking up had been this sort of room. What sort of life had I led before?
Before I could think much more on it, the door opened again and Dr. Tavanish came through, walking towards me and sitting down across from me and putting a folder on the table between us. “I’m sure you don’t have a very high opinion of us at this point, but I assure you, this will go much more smoothly if you cooperate with us and answer all of our questions as well as you are able.”
I glared at him. He looked up, then down at the pad in his hands and made a note. “Very well. Note that subject F29 is uncooperative at the start and responses are to be under particular review for intention. Recording by Dr. Tavanish, begin.”
“Who are you people and why am I here?”
“We are the Rafflesian Institute, researching all aspects of potential magical usage in the realm of health and wellbeing. As such, you are in very good hands.”
“Okay, but that still doesn’t answer my question – why do you want me, or Francesco?”
Dr. Tavanish steepled his fingers and sat forward. “The history between Dr. Silva and this institute is quite long, longer than we have time for, but suffice to say that his research was of great interest to us, even more so after he left us. He had a propensity for great genius, as long as that genius was properly directed, and we fear that his talents have been led astray by his own whims.”
“So you want him under your thumb again, only doing your research, because none of you are smart enough to do what he does, is that right?”
“Note that Subject F29 retains much of what is likely an original personality, including reasoning skills and a sense of humor.”
“That wasn’t a joke!”
“Regardless, Dr. Silva’s work is too important to humanity to be lost up in the mountains, no matter what he or you thinks.”
“And you think that having me will bring him down here when he hasn’t left in three years?”
“Five years, to be exact; it took him some time to settle into his current location. And perhaps. Your peers, perhaps not, but you have lasted quite a bit longer than the rest, exponentially so, as a matter of fact. Two years is more than enough for Dr. Silva to have formed an attachment to you.”
I had to laugh at that. “Man, you guys really didn’t know him when he worked here. If you think he’s formed an attachment to me, you need to think again. All I do is make sure he actually eats and doesn’t collapse. Or live in the wreckage of his own experiments. He barely looks at me most of the time; if you want to call that an attachment, you may want to reevaluate your definition of that. That’s definitely not something anyone would break a five year exile for.”
My mind reeled, even as I mouthed off and tried to downplay everything as much as I was able. ReFive years? Had Francesco really been alone for that long? And if the subject number they’d assigned me meant anything, I was the 29th of my peers. That they knew of.
Just what was Francesco working toward?
Dr. Tavanish sat back, picking up the folder from the table and rifling through it until he found whatever he was looking for. “Does the name Sebastian Morena mean anything to you?” At my blank look, he set a photo on the table between us.
Looking at it, it was a shot of two young men at a cafe table, expressions bright as they looked into the camera. Their arms were slung around one another, and the shorter of the two of them had his head tucked in the space between the other’s shoulder and neck, comfortable in their proximity. I barely paid any attention to the taller of them – why would I when here was Francesco, looking more alive and vibrant than I’d ever seen him? However, Dr. Tavanish’s finger tapped the other man’s face. My breath caught in my throat. His face wasn’t that similar to my own, but there was a resemblance there that couldn’t be denied, the same trend of features. Maybe if I’d ever had a reason to see my own face with a smile that big, it would be more familiar.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I could feel memories trying to slot themselves into place, picking up flashes and trying to see if they fit this scene, if there was some reason I should know either of the men here. The Francesco in the photo was all but a stranger to me, and while I knew what Dr. Tavanish wanted, my attention kept drifting back to Francesco’s face, so open and happy. The soft smiles he gave me were shades of this, and I felt myself wondering just what I’d need to do to get him to look at me this way. If I ever could.
“I don’t know who he is.” I sat back in my chair, staring at Dr. Tavanish rather than the picture, trying to slow the frantic beating of my heart. It had picked all the way up to what was likely a normal heartbeat on most people.
“He’s another researcher here at the institute. The best in his field, in fact. He was only second to Dr. Silva and they collaborated quite frequently.” His tone of voice made it very clear what sort of collaboration he wanted me to infer and I quashed the spark of jealousy in my heart before it could spread. “Perhaps you’ve seen his name in some of Dr. Silva’s notes.”
“I haven’t.” I didn’t try to hide the way my voice shook – I still didn’t know what they wanted from me or what this was supposed to accomplish, but perhaps if they thought they had something on me, I could use that to my advantage.
“Hmm.You haven’t seen his name or you haven’t seen Dr. Silva’s notes?”
I bit my lip in frustration. “Both. Dr. Silva – Francesco – has never mentioned him before, but I also don’t make a point to pry into other people’s business.”
My words had no effect, and Dr. Tavanish kept writing down notes without a flicker of change in his expression. “Interesting. Subject F29 has given information that would imply he’s no longer working off of those same theorems he was with Subject F27.” All this muttering under his breath to a recording pad was getting to me.
“I have a name, you know.” I knew it was petulant but I didn’t care anymore.
That got his attention. He looked up sharply at me, brows at almost a 45 degree angle. “You…” he sat back, trying to get himself under control. “Did Dr. Silva give it to you?”
“No, he didn’t. I did.” Dr. Tavanish’s head tilted, just slightly, and I continued, wanting to keep him off balance. “I was the one who wanted a name, who picked it, who changed with it when I wanted. Francesco was the one who adapted.”
Dr. Tavanish had sat entirely back in his chair now, eyes on me. He stared at me, more intently than I would have thought my comment had warranted. “What name did you pick?”
I thought about it, about all of the names I had tried out over the years, and only had one answer. “Lucas. My name is Lucas.”
Instead of watching me, he broke my gaze and turned back to the recorder. “The subject has given himself a name, a new indicator of independent thought and the first that we’ve observed.”
I started out of my chair at that. “The first?” I couldn’t have been the only one to have had feelings about a name. Could I?
“Likelihood of Dr. Silva having tried experimental techniques has now risen to 85%. No need to confer with Dr. Morena’s notes on the matter.” He turned to look at me, his gaze actually quite penetrating as he considered his words. “What comes to mind when you think about what you’ve been through? Or Dr. Silva, if those emotions are different.”
If they’re different? They were as different as could be. My thoughts about all of this were complicated, a mess of knowing that I’d gotten a second chance at life, but what sort of life was it? Could I be happy as I was, unable to connect with anyone aside from Francesco and unable to connect with even him the way I wanted to? Thinking about him made my chest tighten. I wanted to know he was alright, that he would be okay even if I wasn’t, even more now that I’d gotten a glimpse of his life before. What he must have been through to have to leave, to live away like he did. Was this even the life he wanted to live, or just the one he was forced to? I didn’t know if I wanted him to come or to leave me and be safe. I wanted to see him so desperately, but not at risk to himself.
“More than I want to tell you,” I said honestly, then turned my head from Dr. Tavanish.
He looked at me for a long moment, then motioned towards me. At first I didn’t realize what was happening, then I saw the guards at the side of the door move towards me, then felt them pick me up off of the chair and drag me towards the door. I stumbled along behind him soon enough, relieved to be out of the room, but unsure as to what was happening next.
What happened next was being sat in a cell, a small office in truth, the door shut behind me as I was shoved in. The office was bare of everything aside from a few shelves and a desk and chair that I sat down at, looking at anything and everything. It was a plain office, empty aside from the fixtures, and I found myself drifting as I stared at it. With nothing to focus on, I felt myself slip, then slip further and further from any sort of awareness.
The next thing I knew was the door opening, the two guards looking in at me, and Dr. Tavanish, striding in to grip my chin, turning my head this way and that. As he did, I realized I had been sitting in the chair at the desk in the same position since the door had been closed. Dr. Tavanish had changed clothes; I hadn’t even registered a change in light in the room despite the window at my back.
I knew the signs, knew that I was only going to slip more and more until I had an infusion, but I also knew I would die again before telling that to Dr. Tavanish. I stared him down as he watched me; he broke first, but I knew it might be the last of my defiance, at least intentional.
Indeed, over the next day and a half, I heard question after question but answered only a handful of them. I could feel my consciousness slip and knew Dr. Tavanish could tell something was wrong; I got a slight sort of satisfaction out of the fact that he had no idea how to fix what was wrong with me. It was tempered with the knowledge that I also didn’t have long if Francesco didn’t actually come for me, but I knew that I would much rather help him stay off the radar than betray him.
The last day was a flicker of memories: of the same bland room, of the chair, of Dr. Tavanish sitting across from me, of his expressing becoming darker and darker, then of shouts outside, of footsteps pounding down the corridor, then the door flying open, and within that doorway, Francesco.
“No,” I whispered, and I felt my eyes slip closed as he stepped towards me.
The next I was aware, I could feel my heart racing; it must have been almost a hundred beats per minute, all systems in overdrive. Everything seemed clearer than it had been in days, an almost painful clarity, the edges of colors and sounds almost too sharp, my mind going at what felt like hyperspeed. There was a metallic taste in my mouth, and as I tried to sit up, I realized Francesco was holding me in his arms.
It was a ridiculous position, with my frame quite a bit larger than his and dragged into being half propped up, limbs still rather askew as I was, but for the first time in what had to have been days, I felt safe.
Francesco was also breathing hard. I looked around for Dr. Tavanish, only to find him on the floor, one of the lamps from the table on the floor beside his unconscious body. “I. Oh god, Lucas.” As soon as I made a movement, Francesco helped me sit up, his hands running over my face, up and down, then up and down to my shoulders, then back up, turning my face this way and that. I could only nod, that I was whole, that I thought I was fine.
“I’m…I’m okay?” I did feel fine, better than I’d felt most times, even back home, despite the lack of an IV or any of the other infusion equipment around me. I looked around and saw nothing, until I looked down at Francesco’s hand.
His right hand was a mess, bandaged sloppily, with dried blood and what looked like fresh staining the linen, and I licked my lips unconsciously, chasing that metallic taste. I could feel my heart beat faster in my chest and wondered if it was the effect of fresh human blood, if stories of vampires had any truth to them. But aside from the usual general desire to keep being near Francesco himself, I had no desire for more. The low buzz in my gut at being near Francesco was maybe stronger than after an infusion, but as I had been doing a lot of thinking on my feelings for him recently, maybe it was only to be expected.
“What happened?” I rasped, my eyes darting to Dr. Tavanish’s form and the open door to the office. I didn’t seen anyone else, even in the bit of hallway I could see, but I’d seen too many people the previous days to think for a second that our isolation would last, but for now, I wanted to know how Francesco had gotten to me.
“I…Lucas, I’ve done things I shouldn’t have.”
I chuckled. “I kind of figured that, after I realized you were using the mountains to hide. You’re about a year short on that revelation.”
He dragged a hand down his face, his left one, but he still winced as he did it and I instantly looked for other injuries on his body. Finding none, I looked back up at him in concern. “I didn’t stop though; I knew they were wrong, and I’ve only done worse since then. Some would say my entire work is an abomination, a violation of nature.”
“But you continued.”
He nodded. “You’ve asked before, but I didn’t want you to think poorly of me. I was scared, then ashamed of being scared and each time you asked reminded me. I suppose Martyn told you some of it.”
“Martyn? If you mean Dr. Tavanish, not so much; actually I think he was disappointed at how much I didn’t want to hear. It was more that I didn’t want to hear it from him; it wasn’t his story to tell.” My words were coming fast, quicker than I’d heard them, faster even than the pulse that pounded in my ears.
Something shifted in Francesco’s face as he watched me, almost like a wall coming down even as it softened and he sighed. “He plays a rather large part, but I think I understand what you mean. I haven’t had a lot of practice telling this story – anyone close enough that I’d tell was part of it themselves, and I since it happened, I haven’t had anyone else I wanted to tell. Until you.” He took my hand, left in left as was his way, his expression intent in a way I hadn’t seen it before. “Lucas, I wanted to tell you, please know that; I knew from the beginning everything about you was different, but it was all so tied up in everything I couldn’t admit that it all just got away from me.”
“But you’ll tell me now.”
He took a deep breath. “Yes.
“It started so long ago that I don’t actually know where to start; I suppose I’ve always been fascinated with the intersection of science and magic, of how the two complement each other but are treated as such different paths. I wanted to see if I could use a combination of them to achieve what neither could. You see, magic can heal and science can heal, but only short term things; neither can do so much about the things that are inevitable, the slow return to entropy that we all find ourselves in. But if there was a way to harness both, it just might be done. I…I admit, I became a bit obsessed with the idea. People tried to talk me out of it, tried to tell me that there was so much actual good I could do in either field and no proven good I could do with my path, but it got to the point that anything other discovering the mysteries of life felt hollow. I searched out more and more fringe research, anything that was even remotely related to the theories I wanted to test, and eventually ended up at the Rafflesian institute. They do a lot of legitimately good work here – Martyn’s research on the usage of magical signals within the body was key to many of the personalized medicine developments that underscore much of the medicine used today. But they were also pushing boundaries – Seb’s work with magical signatures and how long they linger after death had never been done before. It was controversial, but he didn’t care, and neither did the Institute.” He paused, looking at me, and I could guess what he was looking for.
“Dr. Tavanish asked me about him. He showed me a picture – you were together?” My heart clenched waiting for the answer, even if I thought I knew it already.
He blushed, something I don’t know that I’d ever seen him do. It made him look younger and if I hadn’t already held more fair feelings for him than was probably wise, that alone might’ve done it. “He brought out a side of me I hadn’t ever thought about, a person I didn’t know I could be. He pushed me, both as a person and a researcher – I’d never had that before. I was used to being the smartest in a room, but for the first time, I was around people who got it, got me. It was addicting, and I fell.
“But then it started to slip, we were doing riskier and riskier experiments and telling ourselves that it was only illegal because no one else understood what we did. That one day we’d publish and show them and be lauded as the geniuses we were. It was about that time I started working on resurrection.” He’d continued holding my hand as he spoke, and I’d thought it was to anchor himself, so as his voice faltered, I squeezed it, comfort and support that was easy and that I was happy to give. He seemed entirely surprised, however, looking down at our joined hands and blinking, but he didn’t pull away.
“With Seb’s work on signatures, my own work on vitality magic, and the implicit support of the Institute, we actually got quite far. Far enough to start…trials…as it were.” He swallowed thickly so I squeezed his hand again and this time he squeezed back.
“Up until that point, I think I’d gotten so caught up in the potentials of the work that I hadn’t let myself think about what we were doing actually meant. It was one of Seb’s conditions, that we know who we were trying to resurrect, otherwise how would be know if we were successful or not? I learned to distance myself, to read the files of the corpses delivered to us from the hospital as I would any other case file. None of the attempts in those days worked, in any case.”
“So what was the breaking point? From what I got off of Dr. Tavanish, he seemed pretty desperate to have you, or at least your research back.”
“He would be. Towards the end, I began to suspect that Martyn’s interest in our research went beyond just scientific interest. He asked us more frequently than any of the other projects, encouraging us to stay late, to push more boundaries, giving us more leeway on the legality of what we were trying than I’d ever seen. So I did a little digging of my own. It didn’t take a lot to find out that his daughter had died shortly before he joined the institute. It took everything I had to bring it up with Seb, and when I did, all my worst fears were true – he’d been collaborating with Martyn almost from the start. I’d fallen into their laps, almost literally, which Martyn had seen as fate at work and was convinced I would be the one to crack the mystery. Seb thought it was better, to have a concrete goal to work towards, a set personality to bring back, personal motivation.
“I had thoughts about sabotaging the whole project, of lying and telling him it couldn’t be done, but I’d also sunk a lot of time and passion into our experiments, and while I wasn’t close, while I didn’t think that theirs was the way, it was something I wanted to answer as well. I knew that if I asked to leave, I’d be convinced to stay the way I always had been, so I took the coward’s way out – I ran. I packed up all of my notes and everything I could carry with me and left. My family is from the coast, so I thought I’d go to the opposite; I went to the mountains.”
“And you continued the work.” I knew the answer, I was the answer, but Francesco was finally opening up to me and I wanted him to continue. My heart was in my throat and each beat of it felt important in a way I’d never truly thought about before.
“I did. I didn’t stop, and I told myself my goal was different, that it was purer, interested in resurrection for resurrection’s sake, to answer the question of if death is the end of our energy. I kept going, over and over. By any chance, did Martyn say how they found me? Reports of grave digging?”
“Tapping ley lines, apparently.”
“Well. I had wondered how they hadn’t found me for years, but ley lines they would have known from the start. I suppose they thought it was better to let me work if they had ways of keeping an eye on me.”
“You really didn’t know before now?”
He shook his head, his dark curls falling over his forehead in a way I longed to push back, but my hand was firmly ensconced in his and I wasn’t about to let that go any time soon, no matter how alluring his hair looked. “I suspected, after about the fifth who simply disappeared, and even at that point, rational thought wasn’t particularly…strong. It was hard enough to get any of them to stay nearby in the first place. I also hadn’t gotten it right. Even if I had been right, the Institute hadn’t contacted me – they didn’t really want me back, they wanted my work. And the work was wrong.”
“Until you.” He looked away at that, even tried to pull his hand away, but I held it fast. The surprise was clear on his face, but I simply held on. I’d known the road led here, between Dr. Tavanish’s assertions about Francesco and the number he’d assigned me, and I wasn’t letting Francesco run again. I wanted him to look at me with those spring green eyes.
“What was different?”
Another sigh, more shifting, but I stayed silent, giving him time to think. “I’d stopped trying to resurrect a whole person quite some time ago – I had quite a lot of evidence that between the magical signature fading and the burden of the onslaught of a whole life’s worth of memories on that weakened state, it wasn’t a viable path. So I worked on finding a balance of memories so that a person was functional, but someone new. I failed, quite a lot, as you might expect.
“I eventually got it right – the proportions of how much of a person I could use, what signatures I had to suppress so that they all worked together without rejection, similar to organ transplant rejection, as you might suspect, but it still wasn’t right. They were blank, almost literally, no personality to speak of, no spark that made them human.”
“So what did you change?” This was it, the question I’d wanted answered since almost the beginning. I was aware of the heart beating in my chest, at almost the same rate at Francesco’s, which was new. I could feel our combined pulses through where his hand was clutched in mine, the throb of it echoing through me.
“Me.” His voice didn’t shake any longer but I still got much of the same hesitation and I could tell he was watching me for my reaction. “What was missing was the spark that made them human, so I gave the next one some of mine.”
“I…I don’t…the infusion?” My head was reeling, pulse roaring in my ears and the metallic taste in my mouth suddenly stronger.
He shook his head. “Close. For your actual resurrection, I used my own blood, but I quickly learned it wasn’t enough. The infusions are vital on their own, supplying nutrients your body is slower at producing, but the base of it is steeped in my own life energy. Your magical signature is still your own, just…tinted. Boosted, I suppose, like constantly jump starting a car. But it worked! You are your own person, more than I ever could have imagined from past results – Lucas, you gave yourself a name!”
“Why didn’t you tell me any of this? Not once, in two years?” The ground felt like it had fallen away from me, Francesco’s hand in mine the only point of connection I had to my life.
“That’s exactly it, though! I’d never had success, nowhere near the way you were. I was half expecting it all to go wrong at every turn, and then when it became clear that it had not only worked, but truly worked, I guess I thought it was too late to tell you. So I continued as I’d begun.”
“So I’m not…anyone?” I…I couldn’t think, much less process all of what was in my head at the moment, flailing inside my own body.
He turned to grip my hand with both of us, staring intently into my eyes, freezing me with his gaze and anchoring me. “You are Lucas, in as much as you want to be. It’s true you aren’t any one person, but I’d say two years has done quite a lot in giving you your own personality, and certainly not my own. You’re remarkable, Lucas.”
I found my roots in him, and as I did, it was my turn to blush, something I also didn’t know if I’d ever done around him. Our conversations had previously been about nothing in particular, or about how I felt; praise was rarely in the cards.
“Says the man who brought someone else to life.” I knew now that who I’d been didn’t matter, that all the checks for memories had been watching for the resurgence of who I’d been, but at every turn, I’d continued to be Lucas. I felt unmoored, the possibilities I’d known I had now thrown into stark relief. “So what do we do now?”
Francesco looked around worriedly. “I’d expect Martyn will be waking up any time now; I sent a fairly strong sleep signal to him, but it still only lasts for about twenty minutes if the person is resisting. How are you feeling?”
The immediate answer was off-kilter, drifting, entirely unsure, but I knew that wasn’t what he was asking. “Good, I think? My pulse is faster than it’s ever been, and everything seems…sharper, somehow.”
He nodded, his right hand coming up to gingerly cup my face, watching me. “Blood has a more potent effect, but tends to run out more quickly.”
“What do you normally use? Do you have any on you?”
“For the most part, it’s just a standard base that I keep on my person so that it absorbs my energy, but that takes quite some time to make. The infusion needs ingredients that have a high content of life energy from another person, those sorts of substances that reflect vitality and life itself, but the only other things that naturally have high energy content are blood, and…” he trailed off, the blush returning to his cheeks as he turned away from me.
“And…?” I had an inkling of what he meant, but if I was right, it was far more fun to tease him and find out this way. Most of anything that could have been called banter in our relationship before was my turning some stray comment into a joke and his smiling faintly at it. This was new and I quite liked it.
“Oh, what else would it be but semen?” He face was bright red now as the words spilled out of him. “Anyway, we’ll have to make do with how much quicker the effects of blood run down.”
“Why? How long do the effects of semen last?” The grin was all the way across my face now, even as serious as our situation was.
“I don’t know! It’s not as if I actually tried it!”
“That…it would have been taking advantage of you! I literally hold the keys to your life, how could you say no?”
“But what if I said yes?”
That stopped him short. “You…why?”
I shrugged. “Why not? Francesco, you have to have some idea of how I’ve watched you.” Curiosity killed the cat and all of that, and I’d already been brought back once, so I was due some satisfaction.
Every word seemed to make him more and more flustered, but he wasn’t stopping me, so I continued. “I thought you didn’t like me or thought of me as just an experiment, so I backed off every time, but believe me, my willingness is not the problem here.”
“Can you even…,” he trailed off again, but I thought I knew what he was asking by the way he kept glancing up at me and then away again.
“Yep.” I winked, feeling better about this by the minute. I didn’t know which set of parts my dick had originally belonged to, but it certainly worked as it should. “That’s one experiment I’ve already done, and you only have yourself to thank for that one. Or rather, the pants you grew out of last summer.”
“I…I…why me,” he moaned into his hand. He tried to pull his left one back, but yet again, I held it tight, enjoying that he didn’t truly try beyond a feeble token yank.
“That’s an answer I’m looking forward to proving to you many times over. However, if we are going to try this, if I’m finally going to be able to get my hands on you, I’d rather not where the bad doctor over there is likely to wake up.”
“Agreed.” He nodded, color still high in his face but no longer trying to pull away or argue with me, so I counted it as a total win. However, when he helped me stand up, my head spun rather wildly. As my knees wobbled, he reached out to steady me, and despite our height and build differences, I leaned all the more heavily against him, somewhat shamelessly as I realized he would support all the weight I would give him. “Let’s figure this out quickly.”
I’d thought it strange at the start when no one had come in after Francesco, but then gotten so caught up in his story that I hadn’t thought about it again. Going out into the hallways, I saw why – the spaces from earlier were entirely empty, not a soul in sight.
“I set off an evacuation alarm as I came in, then locked the doors behind me.” Francesco looked sheepish, but I simply leaned over and brushed my lips quickly against his. I grinned as he startled, the exact reaction I had been going for. “Smart thinking.”
“You’re having entirely too much fun with this, I hope you know.”
“I never expected to have this, so I’m going to relish it for as long as I can. Besides,” I said with another wink, “it’s not my fault you’re so easy to tease.”
This time, he simply rolled his eyes, although I could see the corner of his mouth quirk up as he tugged me down the hall. “Come on; if they haven’t changed too much there should be staff quarters this way.” And indeed, down another hallway was a room with a set of bunks that he steered us toward quickly, locking the door behind us.
Once he’d locked the door, he strode towards me, reaching up to cradle my face in his hands. “Lucas, are you sure?”
“Oh my god, just kiss me already.” And to underscore my point, I went ahead and leaned down the rest of the way to kiss him myself.
I’d thought about it a surprising amount for someone I had previously thought I would never have, but still nothing quite prepared me for the way Francesco kissed. In the years I’d known him, he was quiet and reserved, but the past few days had shown me he’d had a very different life before, one of vibrancy and pushing boundaries. It was clear in the way he pressed up to me that that man had simply been buried by years of caution, and I soon had my arms full of Francesco. His mouth opened under mine as he walked me backwards towards the bunks, hot and insistent as he licked at the seam of my lips, nipping as he went. Somewhere in the back of my mind, memories of how I had liked to kiss and be kissed kept flickering, competing, but I pushed them aside. I was going to figure out who I was and what I liked all over again, with Francesco.
I let him push me down to the lower bunk and cover me, his mouth never leaving mine. As my hands began to fumble with clothes, I pulled back to murmur, “How should we do this?”
I hadn’t meant for him to stop, but I really should have known better than to present Francesco with a question that needed answering. He sat back, watching me as he thought.
“IV was obviously the fastest, but we don’t have that as an option, and frankly, no. I’m willing to consider just about anything you ask of me, but filling a bag that way may be a line. Ingestion will work, but may be slow, as would absorption through mucous membranes. We also likely don’t have time to make sure absorption takes, so ingestion may be our best route.”
“Translation? Still not operating at a hundred percent right now.” I had a pretty good idea, but I was quickly becoming addicted to seeing that slight blush dust Francesco’s cheeks when I teased him.
To my surprise, he just stared me down, his eyes dark as they locked on mine. “I’m saying it’s probably fastest if you blow me, since we don’t have time for me to fuck you and I don’t have a plug for you to keep all my come inside of you.”
“Holy fuck,” I breathed, my vision whiting out for a second that had nothing to do with my energy levels. “Can we do that later though?” Even if it didn’t work for the research, I knew I’d be dreaming about it happening until it did, that was for sure.
Francesco leaned over me again, a sly smile dancing across his features. “Darling, I pieced you together, I can take you apart under me any time you wish.”
“Hnngh.” I didn’t know if I liked this confident sex god Francesco or my reserved blushing researcher more, but boy was I lucky that I had both. I pulled him down to me again, relishing the feel of him on top of me for a second. Right. Low on time. I went back to fumbling at his clothes, shifting back on the bed slightly as I did so that by the time his pants were off, I was propped slightly against the pillows, motioning for him to come sit on my chest and kneel above me. Like this, I could look my fill before I dove in, as it were. I braced my hands on his hips, thumbs stroking the soft skin over his hipbones and framing the dick he was about to feed me. He was fully hard already, the length jutting out and leaking clear fluid from the tip, a sight good enough to make my mouth water. Without any warning, I leaned in and lapped up the precome with a grin, feeling Francesco tense under my hands.
“Don’t want to waste anything, right?” Before he could respond or go off on a tangent about different magical levels of different bodily fluids, I went right back to it, licking and sucking lightly to test around what I could do. Francesco knelt above me, his eyes shut tight and trembling under my hands. His control was impressive, and I could see that I’d have to work a little harder to get him to lose it.
I got the first crack in that composure when I reached down to roll his balls softly in one hand, timing it with a particularly good flick of my tongue, if I do say so. And based on the soft “Lucas…fuck” above me, Francesco would say so as well.
After that, it was a matter of keeping up the pace, not giving an inch and taking quite a lot of them. The most surprising thing was that once Francesco had started talking, he kept it up, the fall of words washing over me. “God, you’re beautiful” mixed with “fuck, you take me so well”, interspersed with the name that I’d claimed all on my own.
Soon, Francesco’s hand was at the back of my head after a quick bob of my head in the affirmative that he should keep it there, stopping just short of driving all the way into my throat. I tried to relax, to let him in, but it was just clearly something we’d work on later. I did my best to make up for it in other ways, my hands and tongue moving over his cock. With a cry of “Oh Lucas, my Lucas,” he was coming. I knew the point was to swallow, but I couldn’t help but let some of the come linger on my tongue, trying to see if I could discern any magic about it.
While there didn’t seem to be anything about the flavor that indicated magic, it was clear by the way that my own body perked up that it seemed to have done the trick.
Francesco had rolled off of me to lie on his side next to me, but watching me, he smiled softly. “I want to watch you bring yourself off. I want to know what your face looks like as you come, how you looked when ‘experimenting’.” And with a request like that, how could I not?
I hissed lightly taking myself in hand, all of my senses feeling like they’d been dialed up to eleven – even if it was something new to think about, I couldn’t deny the effect of Francesco’s ‘life energy’ on me. At least this would be quick. I certainly wasn’t going to last with Francesco next to me, head propped up on my shoulder as he watched, his breath hot in my ear.
“What did you think about, those times back then?”
“You,” I panted. “Always you.” My hand moved, faster as I remembered. “What would happen if during an examination, your hands wandered, or I gave in and kissed you.”
“In the lab?” He sounded genuinely curious.
“Mmhmm. Bending you over your desk, or you fucking me on the steel table.”
I shivered as I felt him blow lightly on my ear, his voice low. “Well, I can certainly make sure we make up for lost time, but first, you need to come, Lucas. Let me see.”
His voice, speaking my name into my ear was what pushed me over the edge; I came with a cry, feeling the hot come splash on my chest and wondering if my come held any magical properties if he ingested it. He must have had similar thoughts, or just wanted to drive me out of my mind, because he took a finger and ran it through the mess, bringing it up to his mouth and licking it off. “Hmm, I think we’ll need to do more tests.” I smacked him lightly with the back of my hand as he pushed off to go grab something to wipe us both off. My pulse was high and I should have been exhausted, as I usually was immediately after orgasm, but instead it felt like my entire body was buzzing. I grinned up at Francesco as he leaned over me to clean me off. “I think it works.”
He was smiling, but his gaze grew serious as he looked over me. “We’ll need to keep an eye on your energy levels; we don’t know how long this actually lasts yet.”
“All the more reason for more tests,” I replied, sitting up and throwing clothes at him. “Let’s get out of here while we still can.
Dressing took a matter of moments, but it was still just a shade too long. Waiting for us in the hallway was Sebastian Morena, looking older than in the photo Dr. Tavanish had shown me, but no less handsome. His arms were crossed, and he had fixed Francesco with a hard stare.
“Seb…,” Francesco started, stopping when Dr. Morena raised a hand.
“I didn’t think you’d actually come. I wasn’t happy when Martyn kept taking your subjects, but then you never came for them, just created more.” He jerked his chin at me, and I immediately stepped forward and put myself between him and Francesco. “I guess you finally did it, then.”
Francesco’s hand on my arm pushed me aside lightly. I glanced at him, not wanting to move, but I had to admit I had no idea what I was doing in this situation and if we were going to get out of here, I had to trust him. “I did, and even less helpful to you than the rest. Seb, what you want, it’s impossible.”
“So you still refuse to help us, even though you’re allowed to run off when you want and keep on working.” Dr. Morena’s voice could have cut glass, but Francesco simply squared his shoulders and spread his hands.
“Because I’m not chasing a dream! Seb, open your eyes; you know this won’t work. Come with me; we worked well together once, we could do it again.” I started at that – I had no intention of hanging around Francesco’s ex, no matter how much bad blood was between them. Not to mention I knew nothing about him. I didn’t want him with us, and the strength of that emotion startled me
The worry was entirely for naught, though, as Dr. Morena turned and spat on the ground. “You can’t have everything you want, Francesco. Some day you’ll learn that.” I was afraid he’d do something more, call for help, but instead he simply stood aside, his shoulders slumped as he gestured up the stairs. “Don’t let us catch you again.”
“Thank you, Seb.” The tone of Francesco’s voice made me look away, the emotion thick in it, but then he was taking my hand and we were running up the stairs, breath quick in my throat, just me and him, escaping. We made it all the way outside without stopping and collapsed against the wall, both of us panting as we looked around.
“Where to from here?” I asked, trying to catch my breath. “They’ve known where the lab is for years now, should we still go back?”
Francesco shrugged, a careless gesture that I’d never seen him adopt but that went well with the wild grin spreading across his face. “The lab was just one location, the research is all up here,” he tapped the side of his head, “and here.” He placed one hand against my chest, where my heartbeat was already beginning to slow. I could feel my pulse return to something more like what I was used to, slow and steady, but I felt closer to after an infusion than the wild energy of the blood. “This just might work.”
“Let’s go, then. Anywhere you want.” A matching grin spread across my face as I thought about it: we’d run again, but this time I’d be looking out for him. We’d be looking out for each other, our lives intertwined in a way I wasn’t going to give up without a fight. “So long as we’re together.”
“Together,” Francesco nodded, and hand in hand, we took off down the street and into the night.