The first time he heard the squelching, he figured he was imagining things.
The first time he felt the squelching, he figured he was going mad.
He'd been in a bookstore, frowning over the mythical creatures encyclopedia in his hand (And really, did vampires count as mythical enough to be on the same list as dragons? He somehow doubted any vampire could take on a fire-breathing legend and win.), when the smell of some nearby woman's perfume had gotten up his nose. He still hadn't gotten used to his enhanced senses, and it had immediately made him nauseous, which he hadn't thought exactly possible anymore and certainly didn't appreciate finding out. He'd turned, maybe to say that hey, smelling like processed flowers wasn't actually fantastic, or maybe just to see where the woman was so he could get as far away as possible, but then he'd caught sight of her.
Or rather, the precise moment she craned her head just so, and blonde hair slipped to reveal a delicately straining neck and a pulse he could see as if it was mere inches away rather than half a damn floor.
And that was when he had felt the squelch.
The sound didn't bother him. He'd been hearing it on and off ever since he'd gotten his neck ripped open, and hadn't ever paid it much mind. Considering how often he was gallivanting through alleyways and abandoned buildings on mad adventures with Hanna and his increasing freak show of sidekicks well, there'd simply been too much else going on.
To his newly-sensitive ears, the squelch sounded entirely too organic, like the ragged pulse of some newly risen thing. A squeezed, ugly, hungry noise.
And it came from inside him.
A burst of pain as he dropped the encyclopedia with the disappointing article on vampires (Watermelons? Really?) on his foot. A groan blurted out of his mouth as his fingers scrabbled against his shirt in a vain attempt to get at the sensation of a heart beating beneath his sternum and tear it out. Heartbeat? Did he call it that? It wasn't anything as banal as that; he was still most definitely dea vampire, and vampires didn't have beating hearts.
The thing in his chest was alive.
"Hey, are you okay?"
He jerked as the perfume reek enveloped him, and blond hair filled his vision. His eyes were helplessly drawn to the pulse in the woman's slender neck. "Nngh?" He managed intelligently, staring. The throbbing in his foot had already faded, barely noticed and nearly forgotten in the span of seconds.
The woman bent down to retrieve the book he'd dropped. She extended her arm to hand it to him and oh Christ, she was wearing a tank top. It was fucking eleven at night and she was wearing a tank top that showed the muscles shifting beneath the skin and the veins in her wrist were right there and
And he was running (fleeing) before his mind had even registered that getting away from the woman was a very good idea.
He flinched his way through a cluster of religious iconography novels, distantly hearing (and ignoring) the woman's surprise behind him, and forced himself to slow down and walk out the front door. The squelch resonated again, knocking about inside him like a mockery of a pounding heart. He swallowed back an unbidden noise in his throat, and glanced nervously towards the windows outside the bookstore. He was completely unsurprised to see that his reflection had vanished. It had been touch and go since his first taste of blood as a vampire, and he hadn't been this hungry-thirsty-angry in weeks.
God, why had he thought it a good idea to skive off picking up some more food from Worth's? Just to avoid the verbal spat that inevitably led to one of them punching the other? The doctor was a completehe was nothing butWorth was an
Worth was a lot of things, and it was a hell of a lot easier going to Lamont for blfood rather than trying to deal with all ofof that.
But, of course, he had managed to lose Lamont's number. That had been an absolutely fabulous job on his part, and he'd decided it was easier to ask Hanna if he had it rather than just go to Worth's, but
He crashed into someone as he rounded the corner and recoiled from the warmth of blood flowing beneath a too-thin layer of skin. Fuck, he could almost see the veins, everything else turning gray and unimportant, fading under theJesus, was this bloodlust?
"Excuth me," he muttered, brushing past the whoever he'd knocked aside.
It took him a moment to register the lisp.
He ducked into a niche too small to be called a proper alley and tried to calm down. With some trepidation, his fingers crawled to his mouth and
"Oh, fuck me."
His fangs had gotten bigger. A lot bigger.
He heard two pulses beating closer, two pairs of feet and a set of laughter, and his throat clicked as a couple slid into the niche he'd hidden in, tangled and reeking and fuck.
"Who's there?" One of them asks, and Conrad can smell his popcorn and cigarette breath, his deodorant and his shampoo, the slightly bitter tang to his sweat, and he wondered if the man would put up much of a fight and if he should go for the girl first since she'd be more likely to scream?
He groaned into his hands.
The woman muttered something low into the man's neck, but he didn't catch it because his chest made the squelching sound again and drowned out everything but the urge to rip it out and kill it. She smelled like licorice and Pepsi, and there was aloe vera over her sunburns, and lipstick and something peppermint in her purse, and when he took his hands away from his face she had taken a few hesitant steps closer to him, the man trying to pull her back and Conrad could smell-taste-feel that he was horny and didn't care if there's a dog or some shit lying hurt in the garbage (and fuck the smell of rotting meat was not helping in the slightest) and this time he really could see their veins and arteries pumping life through their bodies and the capillaries scrawling through their eyes and two hearts hovering bright as headlights among all the outlines of less important organs and if they come any closer he didn't think he'd be able to stop himself because they smelled so good.
"What's that smell?" the woman asked.
"What, the garbage?"
No, no no no he smelled it too now, raising above all the other smells, and it wasn't the garbage. It smelled like batteries, like burning electrical wire, like rain on concrete, like a lightning strike.
It smelled like Casimiro when he had changed into thatthat thing.
With a low cry he turned from the couple and ran towards the brick wall for no other reason but to put some distance between them, to save time before
He stumbled, tripped, and should have fallen to his knees but felt that indescribable collapsing inward sensation and fell upwards instead. He would have nearly sobbed with relief, if bats could cry.
"Hanna, fer the last time, I ain't seen him. I said I'd let you know when th' fag came in for his bags, yeah?"
"An' have I called you?"
"I figured you were busy"
"I am, so stop callin' an' tyin' up my phone lines. I said I'd call ya an' I will. Christ."
"Okay, okay! Sorry." Hanna muttered something unintelligible. "Anyway, just, if you do see him, be careful, okay? I know you love winding him up but unless he's actually gone for something fresher he probably hasn't eaten in a few weeks."
"I think I c'n handle 'im. Really. Now"
Worth jumped as something large crashed outside his front door, and he spilled booze down his chest. He cursed.
"What was that?"
"Feckin' nothin', jes' th' damn cats 'gain. Bye Hanna."
"I got work. Bye Hanna."
Worth hung up, or rather, slammed the phone down, which did nothing to help his headache. If he'd let Hanna get more than a few words in, he would have been on the phone for another hour. He liked the kid but Jesus, he knew how to run his mouth about nothing. He stood and stomped to the front door. It was time to play a little target practice with the local fauna again. The booze was cheap but dammit, he actually liked this shirt.
However, when he opened the door, rather than cats, he saw Conrad crawling out from a pile of bulging trash bags.
Well, he was pretty sure it was Conrad at any rate. No one else wore ridiculous white shoes like that in this part of town.
"Enjoyin' yerself, Connie?" He asked, grinning around his cigarette.
"H-hardly. " Conrad stumbled to his feet, knee-deep in garbage, holding his face. "Blood."
He cocked an eyebrow. "What about it?"
"I need it."
"Well obviously. S'not like you come 'ere fer my company."
He leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms. "Where ya been? Hanna's been callin' me ev'ry day fer a week askin' fer you."
"Aa week?" Conrad seemed surprised by this. "But I talked to him three dafuck. Never mind. I need blood."
"What about three days ago?"
"Like you care. Let me in." He stepped into the light, and Worth felt his other eyebrow shoot up. He whistled.
"Somebody's lookin' less 'n fabulous tonight, eh?"
The vampire's clothes weren't shredded, which was just shy of being a miracle, but wherever he'd been sulking the past few weeks had left him looking like he'd been through one hell of a wringer. Conrad glared at him over the hand hiding the lower half of his face, glasses askew, his eyes looking more like a pair of hot cigarette burns in a too-white face that was actually smoking.
"Let me in," Conrad repeated stubbornly.
"Make me," Worth replied. Hanna had said not to wind him up, but how could he resist? The fag upset so easy.
Conrad squeezed past him before Worth even saw him move. He coughed through a sudden haze of ozone that rubbed his lungs the wrong way. "Can you not be difficult tonight? I really need to go home."
"Then go. Ain't holdin' you hostage, am I?" Worth closed the door a little harder than he meant to.
Conrad whirled on him, letting his hand fall from his mouth long enough to make a hole in the wall by Worth's head. His fangs curled out of his mouth, nearly touching his chin. The flash of white enamel was quickly hidden again behind too-long fingers. "Fuck."
"I'll say. Yer getting' the bill fer that." Worth crossed the room and returned to his chair. "Now siddown a minute and calm yer stupid ass. Bags ain't gonna do ya much good if yer this antsy."
"Siddown." He stabbed a finger at a fold-out chair near his desk.
Conrad sat, his skin fizzing in a distinctly disgruntled fashion.
Worth grunted and grabbed the warm neck of his beer and gulped some down. He let the glass hit his desk loudly, and smirked when the other flinched. "Now," he said with aplomb, "you gonna tell me whatcha been up to since yer last visit that's got your panties in a twist, or do I gotta wait to hear it second-hand from Hanna?"
The vampire sneered. "Doing legitimate work, unlike you."
"Oh yeah, 'cos bein' a 'freelance graphic designer' is so high end. Feh." He tapped his ashes onto the floor. "Whatever, go ahead an' lie to me. I don' give two shits what you do. But whatever it is seems to be doin' some kinda number on you. You managed to give Hanna the slip, an' tha's magic if I ever saw it."
Worth held up a hand. "I jes' said I don't give two shits, yeah? Do whatchure doin' or don', jes' s'long you keep Hanna in the loop an' you come get your damn nummies occasionally, or I won' hear the end of it. Hanna is feckin' persistent." Fucking annoying, when it got right down to it, really.
Ah, so the fag could laugh. He'd wondered.
"So who got you so hot n' bothered anyway?"
The smile slipped right off Conrad's face, though his mouth was still stretched by his exaggerated fangs. "What?"
Worth sighed. "Yer fizzin' like a goddamn bottle a' champagne. Yer kind don' do tha' unless somethin' really got under yer skin."
Conrad hunched in his chair and passed a hand over his sunken eyes. "II hadn't realithed I'd gone tho long without eating," he muttered.
Worth was very proud he managed to restrain himself. The fag had a lisp now. "Yeah? Well tha's yer fault, isn't it?"
"Yeah. I meanI had Lamont'th number, but I can't find it anymore."
He lit another cigarette. "I wouldn' trust 'im anymore 'n you trust me."
"Yeah, well, at leatht he batheth now and again."
"Iaugh, I kept meaning to call Hanna but I got tho buthy with work and" He sighed and looked uncomfortable. "I'm an idiot."
"You got that right, Connie."
Amazingly, Conrad didn't react to that.
"You take a bite outta anyone?"
He shuddered. "No, but IitI don't want it to get that bad again."
"Once you man up an' get off the bags, you'll have better control over everythin'."
"Hanna thaid the thame thing, but " He clasped his hands together. "It'th tho invathive."
"S'not like you gotta kill 'em, though. Just take enough t' keep yerself from goin' off, yeah? An' I'd get my bags back. Win-win."
"Except for the guy missing a liter of blood. Hey!" He cautiously touched his teeth. There were still too big, but they had shrunken enough to get rid of his lisp.
Worth grunted. An opportunity wasted to keep the fagand Hannahappy.
"Can I have my blood now?"
He grinned. "Nah, better give it another ten minutes t' be sure."
"Worth, the only reason I haven't torn your neck open is because I don't know where you've been."