by Sora Junko (空 純子)
illustrated by marourin
Please note that this is the second story in the Grim series. You may want to go read the first one before reading this one, but this story does stand on its own.
As he passed through Budapest, James Grim became certain that he was being followed. His awareness of it started far earlier than that, almost as soon as he crossed the French border into Germany, but the vague, subconscious suspicion didn’t crystallize into certainty until he was almost out of Hungry and headed further east into the wild territory that had once been called Romania.
And that was the most confounding part – it always seemed like a different person, or no one at all. Whenever he was sure he could feel the observer’s eyes upon him, he would turn and see yet another stranger suddenly averting their gaze or turning to cross the street. Could it possibly be another shapeshifter? But they were so rare; James doubted that he’d ever see another one.
No, the only explanation was that he’d picked up a group of people that were tailing him. Perhaps they were all part of an organization that was handing him off like some weird kind of relay race as he moved across Europe.
The tail kept up with him as he put down a group of uppity zombies in Prague, and a young hunger-crazed vampire in Budapest. But they didn’t reveal themselves, or approach him, as the weeks passed.
Despite how creepy it was, he was easily able to put it out of his mind as he drove a winding path between the cracks of the damaged road. It was once a main thoroughfare through Romania towards Transylvania before the country fell to anarchy from a rather overwhelming excess of vampires and an unhealthy zombie infestation, and now the concrete was all humps and valleys and crazy zigzagged cracks that could easily turn a wheel.
Not only that, but there was a torrential downpour and a kaleidoscope of lightning flashing in the sky. It was hard enough to keep his motorcycle on the busted-up road without obsessing over something he couldn’t change. These people, whoever they were, would tell him what they wanted eventually, or give up and leave him alone. Either way, he’d be satisfied sooner or later. And meanwhile, he’d far rather obsess over the cold rain trickling down his spine and the wind blasting cold slaps of moisture across his face.
His intense musings on the subject of how he was definitely not going to think about the people following him anymore were interrupted by a loud bang as his motorcycle bucked underneath him. He slammed on the brakes and wrestled the bike for an instant before it flipped and he threw himself off it. He tumbled across the muddy ground as the motorcycle slid in the other direction on the road, throwing up sparks that paled in comparison to the storm’s fireworks above.
Finally James came to a stop, lying spread-eagled on the ground with the rain falling in his eyes.
After a moment, he climbed painfully to his feet, shrugged his shoulders to settle his coat around him again, and moved to inspect the damage.
The flat tire was obvious before he’d even reached his bike. Probably some junk left on the road had just gotten lucky and buried itself in his tire, resulting in the rather spectacular blowout. If he’d been human, especially considering he didn’t bother with a helmet, he’d certainly have been killed.
Sometimes there were advantages in being a vampire. Especially when they included really insanely fast reflexes.
There was other damage, but it looked mostly superficial. He righted the bike and started walking it, limping painfully. He was pretty sure he’d busted his leg in the fall, but it would heal.
Several hours later, he saw a lighted window and headed for it without hesitation. He couldn’t imagine what sort of person still lived out here in this godforsaken land, but he couldn’t exactly walk all the way to Transylvania, dragging his busted bike and nursing a sore ankle. The bone had knitted, but it still hurt like a bitch, and he was tired of walking in the rain.
Maybe they’d be friendly.
When Grim reached the house, he barely spared its gothic gargoyles and looming trees a second glance. The place was huge, but he wouldn’t have cared if it were a shack. It had a roof, and looked to be in good repair. It would surely be warm and dry inside.
He banged on the door, and waited for the ten seconds he deemed it polite before grabbing the knob and pulling it open with a rusty creak that stabbed into his brain like a silver ice pick.
“Hello?” he shouted into the darkness beyond the heavy door.
When he received no answer, he shrugged and wrestled his bike over the stoop. “My name’s James Grim. I’m just going to invite myself in out of the rain, okay?”
He happily interpreted the silence to mean it was okay.
“All right, then,” he grumbled, leaning his bike against the nearest wall and going in search of a lantern and some matches that weren’t soaking wet. The door closed with a groan and a boom, sealing out the weather.
Everything from the floors to the furniture were coated in a thin layer of dust, and the house smelled of moths and rats, but obviously hadn’t been abandoned too long. There were no broken windows and there was no sign of rot. He found the source of the light he’d seen in an upstairs bedroom window – another lamp, the oil almost gone and the flame guttering faintly.
It, and the surface of the bureau immediately surrounding it were the only things not coated in dust, but they didn’t look wiped clean, merely used frequently enough that dust never accumulated. The glass was extremely hot to the touch: it had to have been lit hours ago. He frowned at it as if it offended him.
Maybe whoever it was went out in the storm and left the light on to direct him home, he mused, and thoughtfully added more oil to it from a canister sitting on a shelf nearby. Just in case.
It sounded more plausible than any other idea, but in his entire search of the place, he’d seen no evidence of a person who might have lit the lamp. There wasn’t so much as a footprint in the dust save his own. The bedroom was carpeted, but there were no prints on the wooden floor in the hall outside, either.
Who had lit the lamp, and where had they gone afterwards? Had they flown in and out the window like some kind of bird? So far as James knew, despite the legends, vampires couldn’t fly.
Just as he left the bedroom, the front doors opened with another tooth-grinding shriek. A gust of wind blew into the house and danced around James’ coat and hair, stirring the dust up into a fine, nose-itching cloud. James moved swiftly to the top of the wide staircase leading from the lobby to the second floor, a perfect vantage point to see the nature of his returning host.
But whoever it was didn’t seem to belong there. Heavily wrapped in a long coat, hood up and pulled low against the rain, it looked more like some kind of wraith than a person. The intruder darted its head side to side, looking around furtively. Then he or she closed the door and hesitated, as if trying to decide what to do next.
When it moved towards his precious motorcycle, James decided it was time to intervene.
“You there!” he shouted, flying down the staircase on swift feet with his coat flaring out behind him. “Who are you?”
The figure froze like a deer in headlights, head jerking up to look at Grim. James caught a glimpse of a pale face and wide stormy eyes, and then the boy bolted.
Feet slipping on the smooth tile, the newcomer fled away from the motorcycle, into a dark room off to one side of the lobby that James knew from his earlier explorations was a sitting room.
The vampire darted after his prey, bloodlust slamming into him unexpectedly at the realization that the boy was running from him in fear.
While James had lit a lamp or two in the lobby before starting his explorations, the room the boy had run into was pitch black. There wasn’t even any light filtering in from outside, due to the heavy rain clouds. Almost as soon as the running figure entered the room there was a yelp and a crash as he tripped over an errant piece of furniture and fell headlong on the floor.
Grim was on him in an instant, discarding the lamp carelessly as he pinned the struggling body. It rolled across the floor, flame flickering wildly, and fetched up on the hearth.
Grim bared his teeth with a hiss and pulled the cowl from the boy’s face, baring bright blond hair and a sweet, unblemished neck.
“No wait!” his prey screamed. “Please James, wait!” His pulse beat visibly in his throat; a trapped butterfly Grim would free in a moment.
Grim bent to taste him, but paused, teeth dimpling that smooth skin.
He knew his name.
Why did he call him by name?
Bloodlust pulsed in James’ brain like a diseased heart, but he raised his head with an effort, looking down into those terrified grey eyes. He’d seen that exact flavour of fear before.
Relief flooded into Sebastian’s face and he nodded hastily. “Yes, it’s me. I-I’m sorry, I won’t touch your bike again. Will you please let me up?”
There was a moment when neither of them moved, and then James reluctantly drew back and rose to his feet. He bent to retrieve the lamp, which had thankfully neither broken nor lit the entire place on fire. Sebastian climbed to his feet as well, rubbing his elbow with a pained look on his face.
A few things were starting to add up now. “What the bollocks are you doing here, boy?” James demanded, turning on Sebastian with a frown. “Don’t tell me you’re the one who’s been following me!” Suddenly the fact that he could never pin down the identity of his tail made sense. Sebastian could have disguised himself as a hundred different people along the way. It really had been a shapeshifter – the only shapeshifter James had ever met.
He’d have thought of it sooner, except he’d been sure the kid was too smart to do something so idiotic.
A blush flooded Sebastian’s cheeks. “Yeah,” he said. “I’ve been kinda following you.”
“Didn’t I tell you if I saw you again I’d kill you?” James demanded. There was another thought in his mind attempting to connect itself with something else, but he pushed it away, far too angry to deal with it at the moment.
Sebastian shifted from foot to foot. “Technically you said if you ever caught me preying on the innocent, you’d kill me,” he said.
“And haven’t you?” James demanded. There was no way a newly-reborn vampire could resist the call of his lust. No way in hell.
Sebastian shook his head quickly, taking an eager, and almost desperate, step towards him. “No! No, James, I haven’t. I’m not a vampire – it didn’t happen!”
But James suddenly caught up with that niggling thought and realized he already knew. He would have smelled it in Sebastian’s blood if he’d been a vampire. James would never have reacted the way he had – never have attacked another vampire for food.
“How is that possible?” he whispered, rocked to the core. “She bled you out, and you tasted her, didn’t you?”
Sebastian shivered visibly, drawing his coat – which James saw was threadbare and looked scavenged from a dumpster somewhere – more closely around himself. His shoes were nearly worn off his feet, too. “She did,” he said. “But I waited and waited, and I never turned into a vampire. I never got sick, and I never changed.”
James searched his expression, but he already knew he wouldn’t see a lie there. The evidence was right there in front of him.
“Maybe because you’re a shapeshifter,” he mused, frowning deeply. “You must be immune.”
The boy nodded. “That’s what I figured, too.”
Grey eyes flicked away for a moment, then met James’ again. “That’s why I started following you.”
“Meaning what? Why follow me?”
Sebastian sighed, and then sat down on a sofa, tucking his muddy feet up underneath him with no regard for the dusty, but fine upholstery. “Well,” he said. “It’s just that…”
James glanced at him when he trailed off, and saw something he hadn’t wanted to truly notice – a shivering, forlorn figure wrapped up in a dirty coat way too big with him and full of holes besides.
He sighed. When had he gotten so damn soft?
“Come on,” he heard himself say. “I think there are hot water facilities here, if they’re still working. You should get warmed up before you shiver yourself to pieces.”
What did it matter why the kid was following him? Really? He’d get around to telling him sooner or later.
Sebastian’s head jerked up in surprise and a brilliant smile lit up his features. “Yeah, that sounds great.”
James grunted. “I’ll show you where they are.”
But mostly he was wet, and chilled. He’d managed to catch rides most of the time that he was travelling, following James across Europe. It hadn’t been that hard to keep up with him – living on the streets for most of his childhood, Sebastian had learned how to adapt.
A new vampire in town always caused talk, and when that vampire was supposedly called in by the city to help with some other problem, there was even more speculation and gossip. It didn’t take Sebastian long to learn what rumours to follow, and there were usually those willing to give rides to certain faces. Beautiful women were dangerous to mimic, but people always stopped for young girls and old grandmothers.
But when James had passed into the wilder realms, it had become harder and harder. Sebastian had stolen a car and wrestled it as far as he could, ignoring it when a tire blew out and bumping along slowly over the damaged road. But when it simply sputtered and died, one of the arrows on the board pointing firmly at the red “E”, Sebastian hadn’t known how to make it go any further.
He’d been walking for hours along the road by the time he found the lighted house. He was lost, alone and wondering why he’d ever left civilization to follow a stupid impulse out into cursed land; when he saw the light, he could have cried.
The fact that he hadn’t lost James either was almost enough to make him cry for real, even if the vampire had attacked him. Again.
He was in a fog at this point, too exhausted to really pay attention, so he nearly ran straight into the taller man when they reached the bathroom.
James looked at him askance, then gestured. “Here. All yours, I guess. No one seems to be here to tell us otherwise, anyway.”
The room looked like a palace.
Tiled in white on the floor, wall and countertops, the bathroom would have gleamed had it not been covered by a thin layer of dust and grime. There was a sink with knobs that hadn’t rusted much yet, a real water closet, and a claw-foot bathtub that was easily large enough for Sebastian to submerge himself.
The boy stepped forward and ran a finger through the dust coating the edge of the bathtub, then touched one of the silver-plated knobs next to the faucet. “What is this place, anyway?” he asked, turning to James.
The vampire paused, half-turned as he’d been about to leave. Somehow Sebastian didn’t want him to go, though he knew no one sane would go back out into that storm without a good reason, vampire or not. James would only be elsewhere in the house, not gone far.
“I have no idea,” James said, glancing at him over his shoulder. “It’s just a place we both found, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone here. You okay with that thing?” he added, gesturing to the faucet. Sebastian was still touching it with the tips of his fingers, but hadn’t tried messing with it, yet.
Sebastian blushed and glanced down at the knob. “I…think so. I turn this, right?” At James’ nod, he grasped it and twisted and a cascade of water began flooding into the tub. He jumped, his eyes widening. He’d only seen running water a few times in his life – always from afar.
“That’s it,” James said, his lips crooking. “Make sure you use both, one should be hot and one cold. Test the water to make sure it’s a good temperature before you put the stopper in and let it fill. Could get burned if you’re not careful.”
Sebastian nodded and smiled up at the vampire as he tested the two knobs. The water warmed quickly and steam rose into the air. “Thank you,” he said. “I’ll be okay.”
The vampire left the room without another word, leaving his lantern on a hook and closing the door behind him. Alone in the dimly-lit and strange room, it took Sebastian a few minutes to work up the courage to undress and get into the steaming, slightly pungent water.
Once he was in, though, it was glorious.
The shivering stopped almost immediately. There was a small bar of real soap on the side of the tub. It was hard, but once he’d washed it off a few times in the stream from the faucet it started to soften up. He scrubbed himself until he was pink, allowing the greying water to run out of the drain and then filling the tub a second time before settling in to luxuriate in the sensations.
He laid there, head back and body supported by the water, for so long the water began to cool and his fingertips wrinkled. The only illumination in the room came from the lamp that James had left him, and the wavering light of the flame wasn’t enough to brighten more than a small area of the room. He found he was falling asleep despite himself, sinking deeper and deeper into the water.
He dreamed there was a horrible, blood-curdling scream from somewhere nearby. The dream actually woke him and he jerked up into a sitting position, the cold water splashing and slopping out of the tub.
As he sat up, he thought he saw a girl in a faded print dress, standing just a few feet away. He started in surprise, a cry on his lips, but in a blink she was gone.
Heart racing, he looked around wildly, but there was no sign of the girl. He had to have dreamed her from the beginning.
His heart was just beginning to slow when the door slammed open with such force that it was nearly ripped from its hinges. “Kid!” James exclaimed as he burst through the doorway. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing!” Sebastian gasped, his heart racing all over again. “Nothing’s wrong!”
“It wasn’t you screaming?” James demanded, beginning to relax from his agitated posture as his expression flickered into irritated confusion. Sebastian saw a gun in his other hand, which James was holding low as if he didn’t want it to be noticed.
It was huge for a pistol, with a long double barrel. It looked like it’d be too heavy for Sebastian to lift, let alone use.
Sebastian wrenched his eyes away from the weapon and up to James’ face. It wasn’t a dream? he thought. “It wasn’t me,” he croaked, his throat suddenly gone dry. The last of the heat had long drained out of the water and he realized he was shivering again. “I thought I heard a scream and it woke me up, and then I thought I saw someone, but then I really must have woken up for real. There was nothing there.” He pointed to the spot where the girl had been standing.
James’ lips thinned. “I’ve searched this house for hours. High and low. There isn’t a single footprint in the dust that we didn’t leave ourselves, and the only evidence that anyone lives here is that one lamp in the window.”
There was a door standing slightly ajar close by to where the girl had been standing in Sebastian’s dream. The inch-wide gap wasn’t nearly wide enough for a person to fit through, and James had to pull it open to look inside. “This is just a closet, and there’s no one in there,” he said.
Sebastian shivered again, and this time it wasn’t from the cold. “Then who screamed?” he asked softly.
James only shook his head.
Silence stretched out for a few long minutes. Sebastian sat, shaking and straining his ears to try to hear something, anything, other than the blood rushing in his veins and his own breaths. But he heard nothing but the rain on the windows and the howl of the wind outside. No repetition of the scream, certainly. No other signs of life other than themselves.
Finally he bestirred himself. “James?” he whispered, and the vampire started. Sebastian thought he had probably been listening, too. “Can I have a towel?” the boy asked apologetically.
James looked at him as if suddenly remembering he was there. “Oh,” he said. “Let me find you one.”
He turned and went into the closet, emerging quickly with a threadbare but large towel in his hand. “I found some clothes that might fit you while you were bathing,” he said, holding the towel out.
Sebastian took it and covered himself as he stood, feeling oddly modest even though he knew James had seen him under far worse circumstances before. He remembered the feel of James’ cock under his hand and shivered at the memory.
Rubbing himself down, he watched the water drain out of the tub, afraid to look at James. He wondered if the vampire was watching him, maybe thinking about how good his blood had tasted.
No. He’s not like that.
But it wasn’t until he was completely dry and had the towel wrapped tightly around himself that he dared to look up. James wasn’t looking at him at all, but was examining an old, faded bowl of coloured leaves.
“What is it?” Sebastian asked quietly, and James turned to look at him.
“Nothing,” the older man said, shaking his head. “This potpourri stuff is everywhere in this house. It smells rank.”
Sebastian frowned uncertainly. “Is it bad?” he asked. He could only smell a faint perfume, but he had noticed that it lingered in every room he’d been in so far.
James shrugged. “Just numbs the nose after a while,” he said. “They use it in hospitals in some countries, because it covers the smell of sick people. I find it foul.” He shook his head and headed for the door. “Come on. You’re asleep on your feet.” Sebastian moved to follow, padding barefoot out into the hallway.
“Thanks, James, for taking care of me like this,” he offered with a smile.
James snorted. “Who’s taking care of you?” he growled. “Just got nothing better to do, and I want to keep track of you, that’s all. What with the screaming.”
“Oh,” Sebastian said, frowning down at his feet. But still he felt he was right about what was really under that gruff exterior. Despite everything, he felt reassured when James was around. He believed that James was different from other vampires, and that belief had carried him all the way from France.
But he could still only hope that his faith in the vampire wasn’t misplaced.
Though he’d looked, James hadn’t found any food in the kitchen, which was the most disused room in the house. “Don’t suppose you brought any food along with you?” he asked tersely, turning away to poke through the closet, which was filled with little girls’ dresses, many of which had suffered from the depredations of moths.
He didn’t expect a small hand to slip into his own, warm even though the leather of his gloves.
He glanced at the boy, seeing how his face jutted out pale and peaky over the light blue flannel of the pyjamas. With the grey eyes and blond hair, he looked like a ghost himself.
The compelling aroma of fear hung about him, probably left over from the fright a few minutes before.
“Will you… stay for a bit?” Sebastian whispered, his gaze falling away. Blood chased itself across his cheeks, driving back some of the pallor. “I know you need to find somewhere dark to sleep before dawn, but… please?”
James turned his eyes heavenwards, sighing. If he’d been a praying man, he’d have been asking God for the forbearance to deal with stupid kids who wanted to snuggle up to vampires to chase away the ghosts. If James had been in Sebastian’s position, he’d rather have played with the evil spirits.
“Yeah,” he heard himself say. “Sure. Whatever.”
He didn’t see the relieved smile spread across Sebastian’s face, but he heard it in his voice. “Thank you, James. This place is just so… creepy.”
James nodded, wondering why he was putting up with this. “I guess it’s creepy, at that,” he said, gently but firmly removing his hand from Sebastian’s grasp. “But there’s nothing here that can hurt you, so long as I’m around. Got it?”
“Got it,” Sebastian said, and dear Lord, the kid actually sounded reassured.
Sebastian moved to the bed, which was at least sizeable, and James shrugged off his coat and stepped out of his boots. The gun harness went next, both of his girls clanking against the wood as he laid it on a chair.
He hadn’t been able to bring his precious paired pistols along on his last major vampire hunt – Lord knew, there just wasn’t anywhere in a corset to keep a pistol whose barrel was half the length of your arm. From the shocked look in Sebastian’s eyes earlier, he hadn’t seen them before, even while stalking James for the last few months.
When Grim had first begun working for the Vatican, they’d outfitted him, and these guns were the most deadly weapons he could come up with. Thankfully the Vatican had agreed to have them made for him. Silver-plated, they were deadly to vampires even if all he did was pistol-whip them. Even better, if he fired the guns, the silver hollow-point bullets contained holy water.
His biggest fear was that one day he’d come up against someone who was smart enough – and talented enough – to get them away from him.
He walked over to the bed and sat down next to Sebastian, who had gotten under the covers. The boy was sitting up, watching James’ every move. “How do you want to do this?” James grunted.
And why did he have to look so damn small and vulnerable like that? It was worse than when he’d been a girl! On the other hand, James had to admit he liked him better this way, though he couldn’t put his finger on exactly why.
Sebastian shrugged and the collar of the pyjamas fell slightly askew, baring one shoulder. “Uh, are you really asking me?” he asked. There was a chain around his neck and James remembered the silver cross.
“Sure I’m asking you,” James said, rolling his eyes. “You asked me to stay, so spit it out. Where do you want me?”
Sebastian was amusing when he squirmed, but he seemed to know just where he wanted James – leaned up against the headboard, with Sebastian curled up against his chest and practically in his lap. James allowed himself to be manipulated by Sebastian’s hands with a sense of bemusement.
Finally they were settled and Sebastian was out like a light thirty seconds later. James was left to stare into the dimness and brood.
There were a few things to mull over, foremost of which was the warm, vibrant boy snuggled up against him. What the hell was he going to do with him? Abandoning him in the house was vaguely tempting. At least he’d have shelter, if no food, but if James was honest with himself he knew he couldn’t take that step.
Sebastian was vampire bait, and given where they were, if a vampire didn’t already live here, one would soon move in.
Even taking that into account, there was the question of the motorcycle. The last source of parts was some miles behind him and the Lord knew there was unlikely to be anything ahead other than more desolation. Sebastian would never be able to keep up with him on foot, either. No human could match James’ endurance and speed over the long haul, even burdened with the machine.
There was nothing for it. He had to go back.
And he had been looking forward to a good bit of hunting, too. Damnit.
Just as he came to this disheartening conclusion, another shriek echoed through the house.
Sebastian jerked awake at the sound and his arm came up, wrapping around James’ neck and clinging tightly as the scream went on and on.
“What can it be? No! No don’t leave me!” Sebastian exclaimed, the latter part because James had been trying to extricate himself from his grasp and go investigate the source of the sound.
To his vampire ears, it sounded like it was coming from all around them. It had a male cadence and was definitely inside the house, but he could hear it coming from somewhere in the room, and further down the hallway, and even downstairs. How was that possible?
He stood, pulling Sebastian forcibly off of him, but by the time his feet hit the floor, the scream had already cut off as if by a knife. He stood, ears cocked, Sebastian’s hand curled tightly in the tail of his shirt, but again there was nothing more to hear.
He glanced down at the boy. Sebastian was trembling, holding James’ shirt so tightly the vampire didn’t think he could free himself without ripping the fabric.
“Sorry…I’m sorry,” Sebastian said after a moment, uncurling his hand reluctantly.
Sighing, James dropped down heavily onto the bed. “I don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “But it’s a little bit important to find out, don’t you think?”
Sebastian wasn’t looking at him. His teeth were just visible, chewing on his lower lip. James scented a tiny bit of blood and reached for him automatically, but Sebastian curled gratefully into his arms. “I guess,” the boy said reluctantly. “I just think this place is haunted. Why else would I have seen a ghost before? Why else would there be no footprints?”
“I’ve never met a real ghost,” James admitted. He pulled off his gloves and set them on the bedside table, shifting to resume their former position. His fingers combed lightly through Sebastian’s hair in an absent motion. “I thought they were a bloody crock, though after this… I might have to change my mind.”
Sebastian nodded, relaxing against him. “Sorry I stopped you,” he said softly. “I was just scared. This place…”
James leaned his head back against the wall. Hunger curled in his stomach, awakened by that tiny spot of blood on Sebastian’s lower lip. It wasn’t even visible, but he could smell it, and he hadn’t had a good meal in a long while. The injury from earlier had depleted his stores even further.
“I’m the one who should scare you,” he muttered. “Why did you follow me here, kid? Why follow me at all? You were free of the virus. Why didn’t you just go on with your life?”
“I…” Sebastian curled up a little further, his arm tightening around James’ waist. “I didn’t want to go on with my life.”
He looked up, something old and jaded in his grey eyes. His mouth was pulled down in a solemn frown. “My life sucks, James. In case you hadn’t noticed.”
“Sucks?” James echoed, raising an eyebrow. “What makes you think I know enough about you to even guess that?” And what does that have to do with anything, anyway?
Sebastian shrugged. “I dunno, I just thought you were pretty smart.”
James reacted to that before he thought. “Hey! I am smart,” he exclaimed, sitting up a little further. “Where do you get off saying that, brat?”
Then he realized that Sebastian was grinning, and settled against the wall, grumbling. “Tell me why your life ‘sucks’,” he demanded in a growl. He wasn’t going to let Sebastian get away with trying to change the subject.
Sagging, Sebastian glanced away again and settled his head against James’ shoulder. In that position, James had a beautiful, tempting view of the back of his neck, and the vampire deliberately chose to study the ceiling.
“I don’t have a home to go to, James,” he said. “I’ve lived on the street most of my life. You say I should have gone on with my life, but what life did I have? Living in an alley stealing food to survive? That’s no life.”
James was quiet for a moment, realizing belatedly that he should have realized that. Sebastian had mentioned that he lived on the streets when they’d last met, but James had forgotten, or perhaps he hadn’t been listening.
“Yeah,” James said with a sigh. “That’s no life at all.”
He glanced down, grasping Sebastian by the chin and forcing the boy to sit up enough to meet his eyes. “But that doesn’t explain why you’ve been following me. Out with it.”
Sebastian blushed again and tried to draw back, to pull his chin from James’ grasp, but James held him still and he was forced to look steadily into his eyes as he spoke. “I… I wanted to be like you,” he admitted, the blush creeping down his neck and out to the tips of his ears. “I wanted to learn to be strong, to fight vampires and zombies, so I can have a life like yours, and not have to be afraid of them anymore.”
James felt the slack look of shock and amazement on his own face, as the surprise hit him like a fist to the gut. “Are you mad?” he demanded. “You want to be like me?”
There was something shining in Sebastian’s eyes, and it wasn’t tears.
It was… hero worship.
The kid nodded quickly. “You never have to be afraid of anything. You have all of the food you could ever want, and stay in the nicest inns, and never want for anything. You just go wherever you please, and you help people, and you’re so strong that nothing can hurt you.”
“I don’t need food, nor soft beds,” James reminded him with a growl. Sure he stayed in inns when he travelled – but he shut himself in during the day. And when the sleep of day had him in its thrall, he could be sleeping on a bed of nails and he’d never notice.
And Sebastian was missing the most important factor. “And I’m a vampire.”
Doubt flickered in Sebastian’s eyes. “Well… I know,” he said. “And I don’t want that. But there are humans who hunt vampires, and I’m better than human. I can do a lot of things that normal people can’t do, and I’m sure I’d make a good hunter, if I just had a little training.”
Shimmering, hopeful grey eyes turned upwards to James. “I hoped you would help me. I can be your part– your sidekick. See? I’ll be like an apprentice.”
James gave his well-considered decision without a moment’s hesitation.
Sebastian’s face fell, but he looked up a moment later, his expression set with determination. “You say that now,” he said. “But I’ll show you I can be useful!”
Annoyance flickered through James, and his eyes narrowed. “Not only are you a fool for even asking for this,” he snapped. “But you’re worse than useless, kid. You’re soft, and untrained. I work alone, and you’ll only drag me down.”
“That’s not true!” Sebastian exclaimed, to James’ surprise. He’d been expecting sagging defeat, not this. Then again, Sebastian had followed him this far. He did have a bit of fire in him, at that.
Not that James would tell him so in a thousand years. It would only encourage this stupidity.
“It is true,” he said implacably. “Look at you – you’re so afraid of some stupid ghost stories you can’t even sleep alone.”
A flush spread across Sebastian’s cheeks and he shoved hard at James’ shoulders, pushing himself up to sit more than moving the vampire. “Shut up!” he exclaimed. “I’m not soft, and I’m not a scaredy cat. I could do just fine without you – I just don’t want to! And I’ll show you I’m brave, and help you at the same time.”
“Oh, and just what are you–”
Something glinted in Sebastian’s hand as he raised it and James suddenly realized that he had one of the knives he kept strapped to his thigh. The little scamp had nicked one of the silver knives without him ever realizing it. When had he taken it?
“You attacked me before,” Sebastian said, and James stiffened, wondering if the kid was planning on stabbing him with his own goddamned knife. “You’re hungry, aren’t you?”
And before James could react, the boy brought the knife down in a slashing motion, opening up a vein in his own wrist.
Sebastian’s mouth opened in an ‘O’ of shock and pain and his eyes watered up, but he shoved the bleeding wound towards James and the rich, hot scent of his blood filled his nostrils. The vampire surged forward, grabbing the boy’s hand and bringing it to his mouth.
And once again that beautiful sparkle ran over his lips and down his throat.
“Y-you see,” Sebastian gasped, slumping against him and tossing the knife aside to clatter on the floor. “I’m not afraid.”
Grim scarcely heard him, shifting to push the boy down onto the bed. Somewhere in the back of his mind he remembered the last time he had tasted him, and his hand began to wander, stroking over the flannel that covered Sebastian’s stomach and then down his thigh. His own cock began to swell and he rubbed against Sebastian’s thigh, awakening his own arousal further.
The whimper his prey gave only spurred him on, especially when a small, questing hand slid between them and began to rub at his erection through his pants.
He tugged the pyjamas down, vaguely remembering that Sebastian had stopped him the last time. But this time the boy allowed it, gasping and rocking up as he curled his fingers around his member and it awakened in his hand.
“J-James,” Sebastian moaned as Grim stroked him gently, up and down, and his cock lengthened in James’ hand.
The blood still flooded into the vampire’s mouth, but it was a vague trickle compared to the rich, pulsing veins in Sebastian’s throat. But there was another artery, deeper, just beyond his reach and he bit down hard, fangs seeking the rich, oxygenated blood that was too deep for the knife to reach.
Sebastian let out a scream and his hand stopped rubbing at James’ groin as his whole body began to tremble. “Please stop!” Sebastian pulled his hand up and pushed at James’ shoulder. “That hurts!”
Perhaps it was the slower trickle of blood compared to the last time, but James was able to gather the shreds of his mind together at Sebastian’s plea. He licked at the wound one last time, savouring the flavour, and lifted his head, turning his eyes to meet the boy’s.
“I thought you weren’t afraid,” James rasped. His hand was still moving over Sebastian’s cock, which had softened.
“It still hurts,” Sebastian hissed angrily, and James found himself smiling. He did have spirit.
“That it does. And you’re nicely accommodating, despite it,” he said. The faint thread of gratitude running through his words wasn’t feigned. For all that Sebastian had obviously had something to prove, James knew he had also done it out of a twisted desire to be helpful.
The words brought a faint, pained smile to Sebastian’s face and James bent his head to kiss the boy.
That produced a combination of sounds that were a bit difficult to untangle. There was definitely a grunt of disgust as he tasted the blood on James’ lips. But there was also an undercurrent of deep, heartfelt pleasure and Sebastian pressed upwards a moment later, returning the kiss.
James purred, his fangs nicking the boy’s lips and producing just a bit of that delicious sparkle for him to feed upon as he rewarded Sebastian for his generosity. A give-and-take relationship like this wasn’t exactly something he had tried before, but as Sebastian tugged his belt open and slipped his hand inside to stroke his cock with hard, rapid pulls, James realized that there might be something to it, after all.
They rocked together for a long while, tongues tangling, hands stroking one another harder and faster. Sebastian soon was jerking roughly in James’ hands, orgasm sending come flooding over James’ hand.
“Good boy,” James soothed him automatically as Sebastian dropped back against the pillow, his hand faltering in its rhythm. He beamed lopsidedly and blinked his eyes sleepily open to smile up at him.
The warmth James felt at that smile had everything to do with his own impending climax, and that was it. Or so he told himself as he came shuddering over the fine fabric of Sebastian’s pyjamas.
As the pulses of pleasure started to fade, James bent over Sebastian, licking lightly at the pulsepoint of his throat and enjoying the faint shudders and sighs it produced. Did Sebastian fear that he would bite him again? Perhaps. But the soft skin, with his faint aroma of rich redness was too tempting not to sample. Just a little. Even if he didn’t actually bite.
Then just as James began to recover from the feeding frenzy and orgasm, Sebastian stiffened and let out a shriek.
James whipped around, just in time to see a flicker of movement at the window. He received just a faint impression of fluttering cloth and a pale, moon-shaped face, but before he had a chance to take it in, there was nothing but the waving shadows of the branches of the trees outside. “What? What was that?” he demanded, turning back to Sebastian and pushing himself up to sit.
Sebastian sat up with him, throwing his arms around James’ neck. “It was the ghost!” Sebastian exclaimed. “The girl. I saw her again – I know I did!”
James’ lips thinned and he glanced back at the window. The wound on Sebastian’s wrist was still smeared with blood, but was nearly closed due to the healing properties of his saliva. James’ nostrils flared, but he felt only the smallest curl of hunger. The kid really had helped him, after all.
Carefully, he extricated himself from Sebastian’s grasp. He’d seen something. He just wasn’t sure what it was. “I’m going outside, to see if I can figure out what that thing is,” he said. “Wait here,” he added, turning a narrowed gaze on the boy. Sebastian was pale and sweating, even weaker than he had been before. Considering how spent he had been when he arrived, bleeding out for a vampire had not been smart.
To James’ relief, Sebastian nodded, laying down and pulling the blankets up to his chin. “I’ll stay here,” he said in a soft, uncertain voice.
James nodded and rose from the bed. He threw his coat over his shoulders, pulled one of his girls from the holster, and headed out in a whisper of fabric.
The rain closed over his head, and within moments of walking outside he was drenched again. The lightning had all but stopped and the darkness was oppressive, though his internal clock told him that it was close to dawn. You’d never know it from the sky, however. There wasn’t even the faint indigo glow of pre-dawn – just iron grey clouds and endless rain.
As he moved away from the building, his eyes turning up towards the glowing window where Sebastian could be found, he caught sight of a white shape.
It skittered across the roof like a spider, climbing over the eaves and up towards the peak of the roof. It moved fast – from where James was standing, it looked as fast or faster than a vampire. And though he could barely make it out through the rain, it looked vaguely human-shaped.
But no human could crawl so nimbly over the rooftop of that house without a misstep, and certainly not at that speed.
Then as he watched, it went behind the point jutting up from the roof and vanished, not reappearing from the other side. James cursed and darted to his left, circling the building as quickly as he could, but he didn’t catch another glimpse of the creature. Where had it gone?
When he reached the back of the house, where several straggly trees and bushes surrounded a courtyard that must have once had a beautiful lawn, but was now overrun with weeds, he craned his neck to look up. He peered through the curtain of rain and faintly made out the shape of a window in the rooftop. There was an attic, and that window had to lead into it.
“Bloody hell,” he muttered. “Do we have a nest of something up above us, then? Best get back to the boy before he gets himself into trouble again.”
As he walked back around the house and went inside, he frowned as he tried to work it out. Where the hell was the access to the attic? Surely there was a way in from the house, and he had just missed it. But he’d even looked in the closets, aware that most attics were accessed through trap doors in the ceiling, and there had been nothing.
He shook the worst of the rain out of his coat and squeezed out his hair on the grimy lobby floor as he headed for the stairs. He was upstairs a moment later and walked into Sebastian’s bedroom. “Well, I saw something. Looks like they’re living up–”
He stumbled to a halt, staring at the disarranged and empty bed, and the gun harness on the chair.
Sebastian was gone, and so was his second pistol.
He had grabbed the second pistol, and the silver knife he had used to cut his own wrist, and gone looking for the source of the sound.
A minute later, the shrieking stopped, but not before Sebastian had made a significant discovery. When he heard James’ distinct voice swearing up a storm, he emerged from the bedroom’s closet. “James!” he exclaimed, and the vampire whirled around and started for him.
“Bloody hell, kid, where the fuck were you?” he demanded, grabbing Sebastian by the shoulders and giving him a little shake. His hair was plastered down by the rain and his blue eyes were wide.
Sebastian looked up at him, feeling a kernel of warmth grow in his chest. James had been worried. He grinned and pulled out of his grasp. “I’ll show you. I think I know where the ghosts are.”
“They’re not ghosts,” James said sharply. “I don’t know what they are, but they’re solid.”
“I know,” Sebastian said, opening the closet door wide and stepping back inside. He gestured up at a hole in the ceiling, where he had removed the grate. It was just big enough for him to wriggle through, and he already had investigated enough to know it led to a network of passages he suspected ran over the whole top floor of the house.
“That’s how you get to the attic,” he explained. “And there are grates all over the house. I bet there’s one in that bathroom closet. Whoever that girl is, that’s how she’s getting in and out.”
He glanced back at James, who was nodding. “Makes sense,” he said. “Old ventilation shafts that they’re using to get around. But I can’t use it. Get back to bed, kid, I know another way in.”
Sebastian lifted his chin stubbornly, and stepped up onto the shelf below the grate. From there, he knew he could pull himself up. “I’m going this way. I’ll meet you there.”
“Hell no,” James said sternly. “You’re staying here.”
“I am not!” Sebastian argued. Frustration made him reach up and boost himself through the hole. He had thought James might act this way, but he’d just have to show him. He could handle this.
“Hey!” James exclaimed, and Sebastian felt a hand close around his foot, pulling back with incredible strength.
He yelped and kicked out. “Stop it! I’m going!” Twisting around himself like a snake, he bashed James’ hand with the muzzle of the heavy pistol.
James exclaimed and jerked back, and Sebastian was suddenly free. Turning to face the passage again he crawled forward quickly, out of James’ reach. Guilt squeezed his heart, but he moved forward determinedly on his elbows and knees, pistol in one hand and knife in the other. He had forgotten that the gun was silver-plated. Hopefully he hadn’t hurt James too badly.
Though it was dark in the passage, and choked with dust, light filtered through the grates here and there, giving Sebastian enough to see by. He wasn’t looking for a light from below, however, but a light from above.
It didn’t take long to find.
Bright light shone down through a square hole in the ceiling, and Sebastian cautiously poked his head up through, looking around.
He seemed to be in an alcove or closet of some kind, and couldn’t see anything at all except for a forest of metal legs and wheeled carts. A metallic clattering sound came from somewhere in the room, along with a low soft muttering that sounded like a male voice.
Sebastian climbed out of the hole as quietly as he could, aware that his pyjamas were coated in dust – not to mention the blood – and wondering if he looked like a ghost as well. He crept forward noiselessly and peeked out of the alcove.
The room was spacious and well-lit by electric bulbs and oil lamps situated all around. Two cots dominated the centre of the room, both occupied, and a tall, lanky figure in a white coat moved from one to the other. He looked like a doctor, and he was humming to himself as he worked. The stench of the potpourri was strong and Sebastian saw little baskets of it all over the place.
The figure in the bed closest to Sebastian was definitely dead. It was male – which was obvious, as it was uncovered and completely nude – but it completely lacked a head and its left leg ended at mid thigh. Both stumps looked surgical in nature, as if cut by a sharp knife. Tubes and wires extended from them and ran into bags and equipment. One of the bags suspended over the body was filled with blood, the others with less easily identifiable substances.
Sebastian recoiled slightly at the gruesome sight, swallowing bile, but forced himself to turn his attention to the other body.
If anything, that was even worse.
The second figure lacked both arms, and one leg, but it was definitely alive. The man didn’t appear to be breathing, but he moved slightly, shifting against restraints that bound him securely to the bed.
The doctor was doing something at the lower part of his body, and suddenly spoke up more loudly. “Well, the tissue is cut through,” he said in a jovial tone. “Time to deal with the bone, eh, Luiza?”
“Yes, doctor,” came a second voice, and Sebastian’s head whipped around to look in the direction it had come. The girl he had seen before was sitting on a countertop, stockinged legs swinging slightly, watching the proceedings. She looked to be perhaps six years old, small and pale in her frilly dress. She was soaked from head to toe, but didn’t seem bothered by it.
She turned her head and met Sebastian’s eyes, and the boy froze in shock. She’d seen him! And now Sebastian saw that fangs protruded from her lips.
A metallic squeal assaulted Sebastian’s ears and both observers turned to watch the doctor once again. He lifted up the bone saw, whose round blade rotated so fast that Sebastian couldn’t see the tines. Then he brought it down and the tenor of the sound changed.
He was cutting off the man’s leg.
Sebastian watched the horror for a few seconds, rooted to the spot, and then the man on the table woke up and started screaming.
“Oh dear Lord in Heaven,” Sebastian exclaimed, barely audible over the shrieking of the tortured man. The knife in Sebastian’s hand clattered forgotten to the floor as he pulled the silver cross from his shirt and clutched it like a lifeline.
There was a hiss and suddenly the girl was standing right in front of Sebastian, her pointed teeth bared. He hadn’t seen her move. “Put that away. Doctor, he’s being a bad boy!”
The sound of the saw ceased and the doctor turned, ignoring the ongoing, but diminishing screams. The man was youthful, his face slender and pointed, spattered with fine drops of blood. He, too, was a vampire, and he glared at the cross in Sebastian’s hand.
“Who are you?” he demanded. “Why are you interrupting my work?”
He set down the saw and picked up a syringe. “Luiza, bring the boy here, my darling.”
Luiza grabbed Sebastian by the wrist, avoiding the cross and taking hold of the arm he was holding the pistol with. Forgetting about the cross in his hand, Sebastian cried out and tried to pull away, but her grip was far too strong.
The doctor turned away from the struggle and brought the syringe down towards the neck of the man on the table. Before he could inject him, a few things happened in quick succession.
Sebastian brought the pistol up and fired blindly. The force of the discharge ripped him from Luiza’s grasp and backwards to lie on the blood-soaked floor, stunned.
The bullet tore through Luiza’s arm, leaving a smoking black hole, and buried itself in the doctor’s stomach. The doctor shrieked and dropped his syringe, stumbling backwards against the table bearing the inert body, and clutching at the wound.
And James Grim crashed through the single window in the ceiling, dropping to the floor in a rain of glass shards. Suddenly the sound of the storm was quite close, rain pattering down onto him as a fork of lightning lit the sky.
“You! Both of you! Get out!” the doctor screamed, waving his free hand at Grim and crooking his fingers into claws. “Luiza!”
But Luiza wasn’t listening. She gazed down at the blood soaking into her dress for a moment, and then took off like a spooked cat. She bounded up onto a table, dug her hands into the wall and spidered up its sheer surface in a blur, and finally disappeared out into the rain.
Sebastian climbed to his feet, looking around at the destruction. The man on the table was no longer screaming, but his eyes were open and rolling in their sockets. Whimpers issued in a stream from his mouth. He, too was a vampire, and he had bitten through his own lips so many times that his chin was masked in dried blood.
The sounds made Sebastian feel that he might go mad.
James turned on the doctor and grabbed him by the collar, hauling him up to his feet. “What devilry are you doing here?” the hunter snapped, his face inches from the other vampire. “Why are you torturing him?” He thrust out his other hand, pointing the pistol straight at the unfortunate vampire on the table.
“Torturing? No, no!” the doctor exclaimed. He didn’t struggle, but turned his head to look at the man on the table with a sick fawning expression that turned Sebastian’s stomach. “He is my love. My Eli. He’s dying!”
“Dying?” James shoved the man away from him in disgust. “Of course he’s dying! You’re fucking cutting him to pieces!” He levelled the pistol at the doctor’s forehead.
“No! You don’t understand!” The doctor put his hands together in a pleading expression. “His body…it’s diseased. I gave him the kiss of love centuries ago, but now there is something wrong with him. His face is still beautiful but his body is weakening by the year. No amount of blood can sustain him.”
“That’s impossible,” Grim snarled. Sebastian was surprised to hear the depth of anger in James’ voice. “Vampires don’t get sick.”
“I…I know,” the doctor said. He reached out and put a hand on the body on the other table, stroking its strong and muscled chest and leaving a smear of blood behind. Now Sebastian was close enough to see that the body’s three limbs had been stitched to the body with tiny, neat stitches.
“Dear God,” he whispered, a true and honest prayer.
“Don’t interrupt,” Grim snapped, turning the force of his gaze on Sebastian for only an instant before returning his gaze to the doctor, who went on.
“I’m giving him a new body,” the doctor whispered, his voice thick with anticipation and pride. “He’ll still have the arms that he held me with, the legs that he walked with before he became too weak. Soon I’ll find how to transfer his head without killing him, and then I will have my love back.”
Sebastian was surprised to hear the words come out of his own mouth, but James had said the same thing, even louder, and no one paid Sebastian any mind. James continued. “You stupid fuck. You can’t cut his head from his heart, or he’ll ash. And after what you’ve done to him, he can’t be sane!”
“His heart is diseased!” the doctor wailed. “I opened him up when he first began to fail, and there were lumps and lesions. If I don’t give him a new heart, he’ll surely die. I didn’t want to hurt him, but the drugs I have…they aren’t enough.”
A soft, broken whisper reached Sebastian’s ears and he turned towards the man on the table.
“Please…” the man whispered through his broken and bloody lips. He turned his head, fixing a beseeching gaze on Sebastian. “Please, let me go, my love.”
Sebastian raised the pistol and fired.
The bullet punched straight into Eli’s forehead and buried itself in the table. Sebastian was thrown back by the recoil against a table full of equipment and it overturned, crashing to the floor in a shower of sparks.
“NO!” the doctor screamed, but a second discharge from James’ pistol silenced him. Before Sebastian had gained his feet again, the doctor had dropped like a stone and both vampires had begun to dissolve into ash.
Sebastian straightened, looking to James and realizing that he was beginning to shiver. He didn’t feel cold, but he realized in an almost clinical way that the horrors he’d just seen had put him into shock. “I killed him,” he whispered, the gun falling from nerveless fingers to land with a thud on the floor. “I killed Eli. He asked me to.”
James moved swiftly towards him, scooping up the pistol before pulling the boy tightly against him. Sebastian closed his eyes and melted into the protective circle of James’ arms.
“You did just fine, kid,” James whispered. “It was a mercy.”
James tightened his arms. “It was a mercy to kill both, the mad bastards.”
Sebastian nodded, burying his face into James’ chest. He couldn’t agree more.