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sorry about the blood in your mouth (I wish it was mine)

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Things don’t even feel that different.

They still drive like they’re running away from something, leaving everything behind (whether it’s an ancient temple masking as a bar, or a small, burning house in the distance, they leave it behind; it’s what they’ve always done). Now it’s on Mexican roads, the winding and twisting mountain roads, or the wide and expansive highways, hot desert heat that doesn’t let up and cooler nights. Now it’s at night almost exclusively, because Richie burns during the day, doesn’t matter how much he covers up (so much for sunshine and blue agave, huh?).

They’re still running from the law, but the exodus into Mexico is some relief. Seth doesn’t feel the weight of inevitable capture on his back anymore. It’s a different kind of weight now. Less running from cops and more running away, running from whatever might still whispering to Richie, leaving that piece of shit bar and everything associated with it in the dust.

Richie is the same—same glasses he refuses to part with and same white button up shirts and cheap suits and stupid khaki pants, same stillness and affection for cartoons. Still a creepy fucker.

Only now he’s a creepy fucker sleeps during the day and drinks blood, using his teeth and hands instead of his knives.

This is what you fought for, Seth reminds himself. This is why he clawed and fought and dragged his way down that godforsaken place until he hit bottom, for him. So what if his brother is a little different, has sharper teeth. They've always had sharp teeth and claws, the two of them. It’s just literal for Richie now.

He tells himself nothing else matters, as long as he has Richie beside him, that’s enough.

(he didn't think it'd be this way)

*

Richie’s blood was on his hands, covering it, until he couldn’t see the color of his skin anymore, just red, red blood and he’s never been so horrified of the sight of blood before.

Seth presses on the wound—put pressure on it, that helps, the basic first aid he picked up from a life of crime and holding Richie together—but it’s less of a cut and more of a gaping hole in his throat, and he can’t do anything but watch Richie twitch, gasp, and convulse on the floor.

Richie died with wide eyes, on the dirty, beer and blood soaked floor of a piece of shit bar and Seth knows he deserves it; if karmic justice is real, they both deserve to die here and go straight to hell but his brother’s blood is on his hands. All he can think is the promises he made to him, his ex-wife saying it’s always going to be you and Richie like it’s a curse, and telling Richie this will all be a memory soon, in their rearview mirror and Seth forgets the world around him, the danger surrounding him still, and chokes out a you can’t fucking leave me with his hands pressed against his brother’s throat, when he really means to say I love you.

Richie woke up then, snake eyes and cobra teeth and scales; he told Seth he loved him too, right before tearing into that poor bastard Sex Machine standing next to him.

*

Richie asks him to pull over when they pass a hitchhiker.

“Are you serious?” Seth says, but Richie reaches over and grabs the wheel, tugs just hard enough so Seth has to stop, no choice but to come to a screeching halt by the side of the road.

Richie gets up before Seth can say anything, and Seth knows what’s going to happen then. He can read it from the planes of Richie’s back, the way he straightens up and walks slowly, purposeful and deliberate, advancing like an animal. He doesn’t want to watch, he doesn’t want to watch, but he stares anyway, he needs to.

(Back in the bar, Richie killed vampires, helped their little group live to die another day, but the thing everyone got stuck on—the thing Kate and Scott and Jacob got stuck on—was the person he killed. No one was going to miss the man he drained, but knowing there’s a wolf among you makes people uneasy, Seth’s always known. Seth told them Richie could have killed the guy easily before, the both of them could have, the method is just different but Richie whispered, I was hungry, Seth, in his ear and Seth doesn’t think he’s ever seen Richie so crazed in his life—he used to live for getting Richie disheveled and dirty and wild-eyed but this was different)

He sees the moment the hitchhiker—a man, Seth can see, younger than them—catches on to something not quite right about the way Richie moves, or the flash of green-yellow in his eyes; he gives an alarmed shout in Spanish and starts to run.

Then Richie is on him, jumping on his back, and it’s almost funny—grown man, big guy like Richie, piggy-backing someone so much smaller. The screams aren’t funny. Neither is the noise Richie makes, like a cross between a hiss and a snarl, loud and inhuman, or the way his mouth clamps around the back of his neck, latches on, tears the flesh and buries his face in the wound. The hitchhiker ends on on the ground and Seth can hear the ugly, tearing sounds and the wet squishy ones.

Of course, it’s gotta be messy. It’s gotta be torn apart, eviscerated corpses and ripped up bodies. Otherwise, they come back. Like Richie did.

They wouldn’t want that, right?

“Richie, hey, buddy,” Seth says when Richie goes still, approaching carefully, the way you do a wild animal. Seth’s heart is pounding (maybe Richie can hear it; Richie hears a lot of things now). Richie’s back is to him, but he’s crouched over, staring down at his handiwork. The closer Seth gets, the more it smells like blood, sharp and iron-copper in the air, mixing in with the dry and dusty scent of the desert and cactus and something else. Like death, sickly on his tongue. “Richie?” he asks again.

Seth’s fingers are wrapped around the grip of his gun, before he realized he had it out, like second nature (he’s not going to use it, this is just Richie, but it feels comforting to hold it, something to steady himself with). He puts his free hand on Richie’s shoulder, fingers lightly squeezing.

“You okay?” Seth asks. Stupid question.

Richie glances at him, raising his head from the kill. Richie’s fangs are wicked and serpentine—long pointed, venomous things that cut clear through muscle. He puts them away, but it’s a process—it takes Richie scrunching up his forehead and flexing his jaw, like he’s trying to remember how to do it, figure out how the muscles in his face work again.

“I was hungry,” Richie says again, blood running down his chin. He wipes it with his sleeve, but it just gets on his suit jacket, Richie frowning at the new stain. There’s a smear of blood on his glasses too—Richie kept them, attached to those stupid things, even if Richie has perfect vision now—but at least they’re easier to clean. It doesn’t matter how much he wipes, it’s all over his face—spots and streaks of it over his nose and cheeks. “But I’m okay now.”

“Alright,” Seth says, nodding. That’s just the way things are now. “Just let me know next time, okay?” Seth didn’t know he was that hungry. He doesn’t particularly want to think about it.

Richie rolls his eyes but nods.

“Okay, let’s get you cleaned up.”

Seth helps Richie drag the body away from the car, deeper into the desert, where they can’t see the road as well except for the lights of passing cars in the distance, far enough away so it feels like they’re on the other side of the world. Seth gets blood all over his hands, but he always does. He should let Richie do this—he’s stronger now and it’s his mess, but it doesn’t feel right making Richie hide the bodies himself. It’s not as if it’s the first time they’ve disposed of a body together.

They dig a grave by the side of the road. Or rather, Richie does, with his bare hands—the ground is solid, with hard clumps of dirt and dried up land, hard and harsh terrain, but it doesn’t bother Richie. He digs it up like it’s pudding, easy for his hands to slide in and move the dirt around.

“There’s a shovel in the trunk,” Seth says, watching Richie. “If you need a hand.”

“If you want,” Richie says. “You don’t need to, it’s a bit of a walk back to the car.”

That’s true. He supposes it’s quicker this way. Seth’s pretty sure he couldn’t move the dry, cracked dirt with a shovel easily anyway.

Seth just stands by the side, playing lookout and feeling like dead weight.

It’s all desert and mountain ranges, basins and plateaus in this part of Mexico. Beautiful, really, under the stars, bright out tonight. Seth was never one to appreciate nature, but for a sweet moment, he feels all alone in the world, just him and Richie, the way it should be.

And the body. There’s the bodies. There’s always been bodies, unavoidable casualties, but there’s gonna be a trail of them, given Richie’s hunger. He’s not going to be able to help it.

It’s the hunger, I can’t help it, that’s what Richie said and the two of them have always been hungry for one thing or another—be it food, security, money, pride or love—but this is different, Seth’s never been that kind of hungry, all consuming, like it was going to swallow Richie whole.

“You gotta brush your fucking teeth, there’s blood on ‘em,” Seth says when they’re done. Richie throws his head back and laughs when he says it, warm and fond, like he used to when they were kids, before Seth got thrown in prison. There was never much cause to laugh when they were kids either—they took what they could get.

Seth tries not to think about it—the bodies and the blood—because Richie smiles when they walk back to the car, unworried, leans into Seth’s space to put an arm around him while he drives. There’s something loose and casual in Richie’s posture, and Seth thinks this must be good, then, the culebra thing. Richie calm and relaxed, and the two of them together.

Isn’t this what you wanted? What you promised?

Seth gets blood on the steering wheel when he drives, bloody handprints where he shouldn’t, and he thinks they’re going to have to ditch this car.

“You need to be more careful,” Seth says, “about the people you kill.” Richie just turns his head out the window and doesn’t say anything the rest of the way.

*

They’re used to killing.

Richie’s first kill was their father, when he was fourteen.

Richie pulled him out of a burning house. Seth thirteen years old and all sharp edges and bony angles with dark hair and even darker eyes, just barely hitting puberty. Richie was slightly older, skinny with wiry glasses and hair that flopped in his face and got in his eyes.

He didn’t look like a killer, but that was his first.

Seth felt Richie’s arms around him before he felt the smoke blanketing his lungs and then it didn’t matter anymore because his lungs felt clogged, but they were outside, fresh air pumping through. The fire lapped at their old house, wood cracking and snapping, black and grey smoke circling the air high above them, ashes falling down like benediction, like soot on your forehead on ash wednesday. Seth thought the black cloud would swallow up the house before the fire.

Is dad still in there? Seth asked. Richie was very, very still, watching the flames burn, his arms wrapped tightly around Seth. He didn’t look away from the growing inferno.

Richie set the fire, Seth knew, without having to ask. Richie never told him, but he knows—the way he knows Richie’s favorite order at Big Kahuna Burger, the way he knows his single minded intensity and when he needs quiet and when Seth needs to step back, or give him a good smack on the side of the head. Seth knows these things about his brother, as well as he knows how to breathe.

All anyone would have to do to know is take a look at Seth’s black eye and the litany of bruises, scar tissue and hospital visits on their records. All it takes Seth is a look at Richie’s eyes, hollowed out and empty, when he nods and tells him I think we’ll be okay now.

(this was something he could never say to Vanessa, because patricide might just be too much on their list of sins for her)

Seth’s first kill was when he was fifteen, and it felt like marking an anniversary, taking a crowbar to some piece of shit lowlife who’d put a gun at his brother’s forehead and broke his glasses. He took a crowbar to his wrist so the gun clanged on the floor—the man older and stronger and not expecting some skinny punk kid to come at him—then took the crowbar to his head. He didn’t stop until Seth was splattered with his blood—blood on his clothes, blood on the ground, blood on his face—and the man’s head resembled more a pile of red caved in mush than a head.

It was exhilarating at first, adrenaline and blood pumping through his veins and filling his head, practically screaming in his ears. Seth thought he knew what seeing red was, that his drunk father had taught the meaning of the phrase—but seeing red is the shaking, terrifying uncertainty he’d lose his brother that turned to destructive violence in his hands.

He shook after, and nearly puked, but manage to keep down, swallowing it down. Richie didn’t puke, didn’t he? He just got the job done.

Richie stared at him, wide-eyed and shocked, droplets of blood splatter on his face, but he thanked him and clung to him, wrapped his hand around Seth’s bloody wrist and dragged him away. Later, when they got back in the car, Richie told him to control himself, next time. Outbursts of violence can break a job. You get into less trouble if you don’t leave a trail of bodies. Kansas is a death penalty state, remember?

(That’s kind of funny now, in retrospect, his brother telling him that. Funny in a oh god I’m going to throw up, kind of way of. So not funny at all)

*

Seth is hotwiring a car outside the Titty Twister while the place goes down in flames—it’s not like anyone needs it anymore—when Richie puts his hand on his shoulder, nudging, tugging him. “Seth,” he says.

“You could help me with this, Richard, it’s your ass,” Seth says, but he looks up and Carlos is leaning on the hood, looking at them both with a grin on his face. It’s second nature at this point to just point the gun at him.

“You goddamn lying piece of shit,” Seth snarls out and Carlos just laughs at him. Seth just about pulls the trigger there—in the head, while laughing, point blank range. He’s pretty sure it’ll kill him, vampire or culebra or no. A headshot will ugly you up at least, but Richie grabs him by the wrist and pulls his gun hand down, shaking his head, and that’s the second time he wants to punch his brother right there, glances at him just so Richie can read the what the fuck, bro? expression on his face.

“No se preocupen, lagartijas. I just came to bid you farewell. I hope I never see either of your faces again.”

“Oh, is that it? You just want to say goodbye?”

Carlos smiles, a small, wry curve of his lips, head tilted low. It’s the winning look of someone who got what they wanted, cat with cream and canary. Seth wishes Richie would let go of his hand, his fingers curling on the grip.

Carlos glances at Richie, standing behind Seth.

“You’re staying with him, then?” he asks Richie, his face softening just a bit, more curious now. Seth hates it, the look on both their faces. He can’t read them, can’t read Richie, and Seth feels like he’s missed a vital part of the conversation, something he can’t understand, no matter how hard he tries.

Richie nods, quick and curt. The grip on his hand tightens, almost too much. His hand is warm but lacks the usual perspiration, palm dry rather than sweaty. “I’m not leaving him,” Richie says.

That’s something, at least, Seth thinks, but he still can’t pull his hand free; it doesn’t really ease the tense knot and pounding of his heart, Richie holding on like a vice and clinging too tight.

“Good,” Carlos says, slinking off the hood. “Because you would get annoying quick and I’d lose patience.”

Carlos takes a step closer to Seth then and before he can react, Carlos is right there, in his space. He leans in close enough so he could rip out his throat if he wanted to, sliding a hand up his lapels to grab on tight. Seth waits for Richie to say something, do something, put a gun to Carlos’ head, let his fucking hand go, but he doesn’t, he just stays slack beside him (that scares Seth more than anything).

“Be careful, Seth,” Carlos says, inching closer. Seth waits for Richie to come to his rescue. It doesn’t happen. “Your brother has teeth and hunger now, and you’re a tasty snack. You should watch your back. You never know when you’ll wake up to fangs in your throat.”

He leaves then, walking off before the sun rises. Seth turns around to yell at Richie, to smack him at least, vampire or no, but Santanico is standing next to Richie. Her face is soft and relaxed, not like at the bar, when it was all performance art or snarls, and she is stroking a hand softly across his face. It looks gentle, it looks intimate, like they’re having a conversation he can’t hear. Seth can’t tell what Richie is thinking, his face blank as she touches him; he is still grabbing on to him, rendering his gun hand useless.

Seth just wants to shoot her until he’s out of bullets, then reload.

“He’s jealous,” Richie says when she’s finally gone, starting to load up in the car. “That’s why he doesn’t want me around, but I don’t really—”

“What did she say to you?” Seth asks.

“Say to me?”

“Don’t lie to me, brother,” Seth snaps, “Not now, I know she did some freaky mind mojo or some shit with you.”

Mind mojo or some shit. She’s in my head, Seth, Richie told him, she showed me things, and it makes Seth’s skin crawl, wishing he could just kill her, the idea of someone crawling around in his brother’s head and soul and poking at stuff Seth can never see making him sick in the pit of his stomach.

Seth can’t stop thinking about how Santanico killed him, but now he’s here, standing before Seth, same as ever. Still here.

Richie pauses before he answers, which makes Seth instantly suspicious. “She just wanted to say thank you.”

Seth stares at Richie, long and hard. He should be driving, but—

“Oh, is that it?” His voice is sharp and ugly. “Is that all? Are you sure you wouldn’t rather stay here? Among your kind?”

“Seth. This is stupid, it’s over, Seth, she doesn’t need—”

“Do you want to go with her?”

He lowers his voice for his last question, but it’s not gentle. More like a ready condemnation, accusatory. His brother looks like his brother right now, and they’re both covered in blood from the fight. Seth can almost forget what happened to Richie, act like everything is the same, except for when he looks at Santanico touching him and remembers (she made him a vampire, culebra, whatever, and the process was violent and ugly, not something Seth ever wants a part of, but there’s something there he can’t touch, can’t understand—something he wants to leave his fingerprints all over).

This was easier in the bar; the stakes were lower, he thinks, than they are now. All he had to do was shoot, and protect his brother, and that’s always been easy.

Richie shakes his head. “No. don’t be ridiculous, brother,” he says, dismissing it, as always. How many times has Seth heard, don’t be ridiculous, when Seth asked a question Richie deemed too stupid to answer.

Okay then, Seth decides, fine. “Let’s get ramblin’, then,” he says, that old stupid phrase, but it feels too rehearsed, going through the motions.

They drive away from the bar, leaving it on fire and behind in the distance, until all Seth can see in the review view mirror is a speck of orange flame in the distance, Richie’s gaze heavy on him.

*

Once they leave the Titty Twister, Seth doesn’t stop the car for anything. Drives hard and fast, burning rubber, breaking the speed limit, like he can somehow drive this car and outrun vampires with it. That’s stupid, he knows, but his hands grip tight on the steering wheel and he’s too tired to keep his mind from whispering you can’t take him over and over, like Santanico will come back and snatch her prize away.

Richie sits in the driver’s seat next to him, like a gift from god, his dead brother returned to him only a little bit dead. He’s unearthly quiet, staring out at the dark roads, only their headlights lighting the way. Sometimes he moves, staring at his hand, the one that was recently duct taped up. The hole is gone now.

(Seth wonders what he’s thinking about; he thinks he should know, him of all people—no one else knows Richie better than him, no one else would dare to get close enough—but that’s not true anymore, she’s been in his head, saw things Seth can’t know about, and he doesn’t think he can even ask)

“You need to find a hotel soon,” Richie says out of the blue, first word he’s spoken since they left. His hands fiddle with the radio. All the stations are in Spanish, but sometimes English songs come on them, though he doesn’t recognize those songs either.

“Excuse me?”

Richie looks at him. Seth doesn’t turn away from the road, but his eyes burn a hole in him.

“The sun is going to rise soon,” he says calmly. “I need a dark place. Like a hotel. Black out curtains.” He pauses, mulling it over. “I suppose the bathroom will work if there’s no window.”

Seth swerves and pulls over on the side of the road, too abrupt, the car moving too fast to adjust well to the sudden stop. They both jump in their seats a bit, the motion pushing them forward.

“What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Seth,” Richie says, saying his name slowly, like Seth is some child. “I’m a vampire, remember? A culebra. I’m going to burn in the sunlight.”

“Okay, okay, just, Jesus, Richie,” he says, can’t put into words how he’s feeling. He thinks Richie is adjusting a little too quickly to vampires, or maybe Seth is too slow to keep up.

“Seth,” Riche says, softer now, and reaches over to cup his hands, holding them in his, the movement slow and deliberate. Seth is shaking. He hadn’t notice.

“Seth, I’m alright,” he reassures him. He grabs his shoulder now, and Seth leans in instinctively, even if Richie’s hands are cooler than usual. “I’m alright. I’m right here. My head is clear now.”

There’s something off about that, the way he says it. Seth thinks he’s trying to be comforting, but he’s not sure he understands the meaning of the word anymore. There’s a light in Richie’s eyes that wasn’t there before, gleaming brightly like the edge of a knife.

After the night they’ve had, they have redefine a few things, like what alright means.

“I don’t want you going to her,” Seth says quickly. “I don’t give a fuck that you’re a vampire now, I don’t want you joining your new vampire master, okay.” He doesn’t think he meant to say that, exactly, but he’s exhausted and it just slipped out, a snarl in his voice he wasn’t quite feeling.

Richie laughs. There’s something bitter in it Seth doesn’t like, a curl in his lips. “I thought we were done after we got out of the bar. Isn’t that what you said?”

I also said ‘don’t fucking me leave me’ when you died, you fucker. Not when he just got him back, five years in prison and Seth’s not going to let go.

“Christ, Richie, I was pissed off, that’s all,” Seth sighs.That’s not entirely true, it was more than just pissed off, a choking sense of betrayal and fear, but everything’s different now. “You know how I get. And that was before you sprouted fangs and shit.”

Richie doesn’t answer. He fixes Seth a heavy stare, empty and blank, until Seth feels all shivery inside. He’s suddenly very aware of his heartbeat.

“Does that mean you’re not leaving?” he asks.

Seth’s hands tighten on the wheel. His knuckles are scraped bloody and bruised black. His body aches. “It’s you and me, remember? We’re the Gecko brothers.” Seth’s said that, how many times before, he doesn’t know. He lost count. “We made it. We’re home free, buddy.”

Seth thinks about that later, when he watches Richie sleep in the shower stall of some third-rate motel, tucked away from the morning light. Seth puts a blanket over him—he’s not sure if he needs it, if vampires get cold—and then for a long time, simply watches the prone form in his bathtub, more like a dead body than his brother; we made it.

*

Seth likes thunderstorms. They hit K.C. a lot, or often enough so that Seth waited for the next one eagerly. He liked watching the bright cracks in the sky and the roar that came after, the spectacle and sound, like gods dueling in the skies. It’s stupid, really, but at seven it felt magical and exciting and there wasn’t much magic in his life.

He liked best how rain would pour all around their house, loud enough so it sounded like they were being blanketed in rain, surrounding and covering them all over, with Seth safely inside to keep him from drowning (not many kids felt safe in a thunderstorm, but he did).

Richie would sneak into his bed and not say anything, lying very still next to him—Richie is always still, learned to be still from their father until it became a natural part of Richie, stillness interrupted by intense interest or twitching. When Richie got a little older, he told Seth how thunderstorms worked, friction and negative charge and energy generation, and Seth told him shut up, Richie, you’re ruining it.

Richie got mad at him for cutting him off, but he stayed under the covers with him, hand reaching out to him and wrapping around his small wrist.

It felt safe like that, hearing the world them engulfed in rain and thunder, Richie’s hand around his in the dark. Safe and sound.

*

They get a hotel in Monterrey, ask for one without a view.

The hotel receptionist looks at them oddly, and Seth isn’t sure why—could it be that they’re white and don’t fit in entirely, that his Spanish is mangled or was it asking for a single for two men.

He’s my brother, Seth tells her, like that clears anything up, but in English of course, and Richie has to roll his eyes and reply hermano, while pointing at him.

(“Where the fuck did you learn Spanish?” Seth asks and Richie doesn’t answer, except for, I don’t think you want to hear it.)

The lack of view is nice, because the window is facing a brick wall of another building and that’s just what Seth wants, for no sunlight to stream in the middle of the day.

Richie sleeps on the bed that day, falling asleep in the middle of watching television, and Seth can’t be bothered to stay awake during the day, not right now, curls in right next to Richie on the bed like when they were kids, bodies slotting and fitting each other. Seth can’t remember a time where he didn’t do this; he thinks their mom might have put Richie in the crib next to him. They crawled into each other’s beds as children, because they felt safer that way, and they just never quite stopped that habit. Richie always made room for him.

It’s not the same, Seth realizes—some things are missing, like the sound of Richie’s heartbeat, his body heat, the rise and fall of his chest, utterly still; it’s like sleeping with a corpse, and it takes Seth a while to fall asleep, to get that sick thought out of his mind.

*

Seth hates watching Richie feed.

It’s his own fault. He doesn’t have to watch. He doesn’t have to follow him when Seth knows where’s he going, but he can’t seem to make himself stay still, not when Richie’s out there and he’s inside, twiddling his thumbs while Richie kills someone (he can’t stand to let him out of his sight for long; he never could but the urge is worse now, after the bar, after Santanico).

Sometimes he loses the Richie trail—Richie’s faster than him now, and Seth can’t keep as well track of him, Seth doesn’t always know where he is. Seth can turn around and Richie can just be gone, like he was never there, then reappear next to him a few moments later. It’s like losing a compass and he’s just going in circles.

But it’s always stupidly fucking easy to know exactly what he’s doing. They’re at a bar playing darts, they’re at a street side corner walking down a block, they’re at a city square, looking at the market, and Richie puts an arm around him, gets close enough so Richie just has to whisper and only Seth will hear it.

“I’ll be back, alright? Don’t leave,” he says. His eyes have this intense sheen to them, a glossed over stare as he watches people walk around, bright but detached, even as Seth can see him zeroing in on a person. It took Seth a bit to notice, because Richie always looked at people in a detached way, that was nothing new, but there’s a naked hunger now that doesn’t even bother trying to hide from him.

There’s a fucked up kind of comfort in that, that Seth can still read him, like the thousand times he’s done before (sometimes he looks at Seth like that too).

Seth knows he shouldn’t follow him, but can’t help it, he needs to know. He’s never been good with Richie hiding stuff from him, keeping secrets locked away.

Seth hates to watch Richie feed, but he thinks he knows all the movements now, the motions and attacks—sometimes he shoves them against the wall and rips out their throat with his teeth, until there’s a gaping hole where someone’s neck used to be, Richie seizing his mouth over it. Sometimes he shakes like a terrier with a bone, except blood gets everywhere, all over then. Or he hops on some asshole’s back, wraps his arms around him and squeezes and squeezes while he drains the life from him. He makes noises, loud sucking noises or something lower, like a groan.

There’s nothing pretty about Richie feeds, like a wild animal, greedy and ravenous. Sometimes, it almost like watching a nature documentary.

Richie notices him, though. Always. Seth can’t hide anymore, even if Richie can.

Richie stares at him when Seth catches him in the act (or is it Richie that catches him? Seth the interloper, after all). He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand like that can fix anything, like his teeth aren’t almost too big for his mouth and his eyes aren’t glowing in the darkness. Richie watches Seth with hunched shoulders, like he’s waiting for him to do something, expectant, but nothing happens. Nothing ever happens—there’s nothing Seth can say and Richie just walks back with him, shoulder to shoulder, slipping into place, trying to make the pieces fit.

Sometimes, they’re not anywhere and Richie just leaves their motel room, with an “I’m going out,” and he comes back an hour or so later, smelling like blood.

This is routine. This is the shit you put up with when your brother is a vampire.

Seth usually can’t sleep, lies awake in bed waiting for him to return, even if his eyes are shut. Richie always knows he’s awake, but he doesn’t say anything. He crawls into bed sometimes with Seth, instead of heading to the darkened shower, the creeping daylight be damned; he wraps his arms around Seth or curls in next to him, like how Richie used to as a kid, stealing in his bed when Seth was almost too groggy from sleep to notice, like he didn’t want to let on that he was there, treading softly. He’s less like a corpse now, more alive and warm, right after killing and eating a person. Without a shower, the scent of Richie’s fresh kill clings strongly to him, a sharp and strong metallic smell and something mustier and ripe that gets stuck in the back of Seth’s throat, but he learns to fall asleep like that.

(That’s just what Richie is going to smell like now).

*

When they were kids, Richie would stitch him up, bandage him and put gauze over his wounds and cuts and bruises, do what he can. He always did it in silence, angry with himself that it even happened, fuming even as he was still and methodical, and touched Seth so carefully, like he was afraid to hurt him more if he pressed too hard.

When they were kids, Richie cut himself, trying to teach himself how to throw a knife without anyone else’s help. Seth was already too old for it then, already a teenager and knew that shit didn’t work, but he still leaned down and kissed the bleeding finger, Richie’s blood staining his lips. Richie frowned at him and Seth said, isn’t that what mom used to do? but it’s not as if Seth remembered her.

The point is, the two of them have had each other’s blood on their hands for a long time now,

*

Richie’s hand burns in the sunlight.

He pulls back the thick curtains, so just enough light streams into the room, and very deliberately places his hand in the rays of light, watching it smoke until it flames.

Seth panicked the first time he did it, but Richie pulls his hand away before Seth can reach him, faster than him. He takes a motel towel and covers his hand with it, Seth’s hand steadying his shoulder while Richie said, I’m alright, I’m alright. His hand is burned, blistering and ugly, but it doesn’t take long to heal, skin turning pink and whole. Then he does it again.

“You’re a fucking weirdo,” Seth concludes.

“I’m just trying to figure things out, Seth,” Richie says, hissing as the light hits his other hand now. “I want to know my limits. Carlos could go out in daylight, why not me?”

“Why don’t we try to figure out where we’re heading off to next instead,” Seth snaps, his stomach queasy at sight of Richie’s other hand cooking in the sun. “I’d like to stop going from motel to motel some day.” Seth walks out then, where Richie can’t follow, not right now.

It’s an asshole move, he knows, but sometimes he just wants to be an asshole. It’s hot the moment he steps outside, sweat pooling down the back of his neck, his temples, his spine. The air is arid in his lungs, uncomfortable, his throat turning dry and lips chapping, but he doesn’t mind. The heat in K.C. was like this sometimes, even if the air feels different here, thicker somehow.

They’re in some small strip of a roadside town, one you could outrun in a few minutes with a decent engine and leave behind without much effort. It’s not the beach retirement he envisioned, to say the least but he always liked an easy out at his back.

Seth wanders around a bit, no real direction like always, just letting his feet lead the way, half hoping he gets lost, but the town isn’t big enough for that. It’s easy to wind around back to the motel and end up where he started, the sky bright orange and red as the sun sets. He wishes he smoked, just to have something do with his hands, but that’s always been Richie’s vice.

There’s a body on the ground of their room when Seth comes back.

A body is the nice version, the cleaned-up for the kids, PG-rated version—the reality churns in his gut, staring at her ripped-open corpse (he thought he’d have a stronger stomach by now). There’s blood everywhere, staining the carpet. She looks like she might have been pretty, if she were alive, if she weren’t ripped apart.

“Seth!” Richie says. There’s blood on his shirt and he’s smiling at Seth, blood-stained teeth. “I figured it out.”

Seth shoves him against the wall before he says anything else. He can’t say anything at first, not even yell. He doesn’t know what he could say, but he wants to feel his hands curl in Richie’s collar and shove him against the wall and get in his face, wants to feel like he’s not just some prop, some tag along in Richie’s journey into becoming a serial killer.

(some part of his mind remembers Monica, some hostage he wouldn’t remember otherwise if Richie hadn’t killed her, if that hadn’t been the start of the trail of mutilated corpses Richie wouldn’t stop leaving; this is me, Richie told him then, and Seth should have fucking listened)

“Richie, you can’t do this, you can’t shit where we sleep, for fuck’s sake—”

“Seth,” Richie says, reaching out to him, grabbing Seth’s wrists, even if he doesn’t pull him away. His face softens as he speaks—still blood splattered and horrible, but younger, the odd baby face that used to fool people once. He blinks rapidly, trying to focus. “Seth, it’s alright, look.”

Richie slips away from him easily (he’s strong, stronger than Seth; they’re supposed to be equals). He reaches back behind the curtain, pulls it back just far enough so Richie is standing in a beam of sunlight.

No smoke, no flames.

“I can go in daylight,” Richie says, proud of himself, “as long as I’ve fed some.”

“Some?” Seth asks, staring at the corpse. “Who was she, Richie?” He hopes for tourist, or at least a motel guest. An employee would be harder to cover up.

“Room service,” Richie says, chuckling a little before he catches himself, eyes flickering shut. “I got you a cheeseburger.”

“I’m not hungry.” A corpse leaves a stench and it’s all over the room. The blood is going to be impossible to get out. The smell is never going to leave hotel room. “You couldn’t have killed her on the bed? Then you could at least leave DNA evidence over something portable to wrap her in.”

Richie has the decency to look properly at ashamed at that, or what Seth thinks should be shame, corner of his eyes crinkling, glancing at his feet. “I didn’t think about it.”

“You didn’t think about it?”

“I got caught up,” Richie says. His voice is soft. He’s not looking at Seth. The words just hang there in the air, and Seth doesn’t need to ask Richie to clarify, but he can’t resist pushing against the bruises.

“Caught up in what?”

When Richie doesn’t answer, Seth presses closer, closer than he thinks he should, crowding Richie against the open window, covering them both in fading sunlight.

“Caught up in what, Richie?”

“Hunger, Seth,” he says, meeting his eyes. A strand of hair falls into his face. “I was hungry. And then I noticed the sun didn’t burn me.”

Seth’s hands tighten on Richie’s shoulders; hadn’t even realized he was grabbing on to him. Richie holds his gaze, an expectant look on his face, but Seth doesn’t know what they’re both waiting for. He can’t think of anything to say, can’t even figure out what language he’s speaking.

He steps back, takes a breathe. Tries not to look at the ground.

“Just clean up your fucking mess,” Seth says, turning away.

They leave quickly after that, Richie’s new-found day walking ability letting them check out at a reasonable time. The drag the corpse with him in blankets and hide her in the trunk when no one’s looking, speed off to a few towns over, and Seth has never been more thankful for fake IDs. No one stops them.

She’s just food for him, Seth reminds himself. That’s all this is now. He never liked leaving a trail of bodies—Kansas was a death penalty state, after all—but they were necessary sometimes. What’s more necessary than Richie needing to eat? It wouldn’t be the first time either of them did some fucked up shit just so they can have a meal that day. Seth’s killed people for less.

(if she’s food, what does that make you?)

Unbidden, Carlos pops up in his head, like a night terror he can’t get rid of.

“Where are we going?” Seth asks, trying to shake it off.

Richie shrugs. “You’re hands are on the wheel, brother. Take us wherever you like.”

“I don’t know what I want,” Seth says. There is no El Rey. They’ve never had a home but each other. Seth wants to do a job, steal some shit, knock off some store. They got enough money to last them for a while, bonds converted to dollars converted to pesos—it’d be unnecessary, but he itches, aches to get back into some familiar rhythm, to do something he knows he’s good at.

“Somewhere with a beach,” Seth says. “You can go with me now, it’ll be fun.”

They sleep in the car that night, off the side of the road. Seth figures if someone bothers them, Richie can eat them. And if Richie’s sunlight thing wears off by the time the dawn comes, he can just stick Richie in the trunk. See how he likes it.

They get a king bed in Durango, and the hotel is a shady stand by the side of the road, no room service to speak of, and two star enough so no one looks twice at Richie as long as Seth pays in cash.

Richie spends most of the day staring at himself in the mirror—pressing his hand against it, watching his reflection for hours while his eyes go from blue-green to yellow and slitted, teeth from blunt to sharp snake fangs.

Sometimes, Richie’s face changes entirely—ripples, like water, the flesh moving behind the skin. It changes into something scaley and warped and ridged, like the monsters Seth shot in the bar without thinking, like Santanico before she attacked, and Seth always looks away.

Jacob Fuller told him that’s not your brother anymore back at the bar, and Seth told him to fuck off, because nothing was going to convince him to shoot his brother, he wasn’t going to watch him die again. There is a difference between the other raging culebras he killed, and Richie. There is a difference, he knows it, but it’s harder to see when Richie looks just like them.

“Why do you even still have these?” Seth asks, fiddling with Richie’s glasses on the bathroom sink. “It’s not like you need them anymore.”

Richie snatches them back, quicker than a rattlesnake. “Consistency, brother,” he says and secretly, Seth is a little relieved for it.

“What are you doing?” Seth asks. The sun has set already, but Richie’s still in the bathroom.

“Figuring it out,” Richie says, speaking almost too low to be heard. “I don’t think I need to sleep.”

“You sleep all the time,” Seth says.

“I sleep because it’s day time and I feel like it,” Richie says curtly. He stares at Seth through the mirror, meeting his eyes over his reflection. “But I don’t think I need it like you do. It’s like breathing. It’s an old habit, that’s all.”

Like you do. Because they’re different now, on a biological, chemical level. Richie has different needs now.

Richie folds his fangs out again, watching the way the teeth expand and elongate, until they’re almost too large for his mouth. Seth takes a step closer, feet just pulled towards Richie, until he can reach out and touch him, until he does, grabbing him lightly by the shoulder.

“Hey, can I?” Seth says. Richie’s fingers twitch when he does, but he turns around.

“Can you what?” Richie says but Seth just does it before he loses his nerve, reaches out and places his fingers on Richie’s teeth.

Richie’s fangs feel like—well, like teeth, same consistency but sharper and a little slicker. He can’t figure out how they fit in his mouth. He lets his finger edge along the pinpoint of a fang, and feels a crazy, desperate urge to prick his finger on it, to push where he knows he shouldn’t, wondering how much pressure it’d take to draw blood, thinking about the venom that’s in them.

It’s just Richie’s teeth, that’s all. How many times has Richie’s teeth touched his skin?

“How does it feel?” Seth asks, as he slowly tugs his hands away. Richie’s fangs fold back in and it’s funny now, actually, the way they move. If he looks long enough, Richie actually looks ridiculous.

Richie’s expression is blank for minute, before he cocks his head to the side, thinking.

“Good,” Richie says slowly, running this tongue over his teeth, dragging it carefully, like he’s not used to the blunt teeth sensation on his tongue. “Overwhelming at first. Too much sensory information. But I feel good. I’m getting used to it.” There’s a pause as Richie blinks slowly, fixes his stare on Seth. It makes Seth feel like Richie can see inside him, his bones and flesh and muscle, or maybe it goes further back, in his head, but Richie’s always lived down in his heart. “Everything is sharper. Like someone dialed up the noise and brightened the colors. I can hear everything, you know? Like your heartbeat, Seth.”

Richie makes a strange clicking noise, his mouth curving into a small smile. Seth can’t help the shiver down his spine.

“I can smell you, too,” Richie goes on. There’s something distant in the way he talks, or just distant from Seth, maybe—he’s thinking of other things, far off in the distance. His tongue darts out and wets his lips, a small quick motion, like a snake. “And other people. Their blood. It’s like I’m in tune with everything.”

“You sound like you’re high,” Seth says. Or the newest member of a cult.

“I’m not high,” Richie insists. “I’m awake.”

“Yeah, okay,” Seth says, nodding, wishing he hadn’t asked in the first place, wishing he could just drop it (turns out, he doesn’t want to hear about it).

“I could show you,” Richie tells him. He reaches up and doesn’t quite grab Seth by the throat, but his fingers linger and slide down his pulse point, his collarbone, getting Seth’s sweat on his fingers. One finger twitches against his jugular. “We can do this together.”

It takes a moment for Seth to get it. It takes an embarrassingly long moment for Seth to get it. And even then, he just meets Richie’s eyes, goddamn snake eyes, full of hunger and something else that makes Seth’s skin crawl. Seth’s mouth goes dry and he can’t think of anything to say.

“I know how to do it,” Richie goes on and his voice changes, becomes lighter, words running together. Excited. “How to—change you, I suppose, if that’s the word for it—it’s pretty simple, really, it’s just a question of venom. It’ll hurt, but then it won’t.”

We can do this together, Seth thinks. Just the two of them, the way it’s always been.

“No thanks,” Seth says slowly. “I like the sound of my pulse.”

He doesn’t want to explain why not. He doesn’t even want to think about it, because it makes his insides twist and churn. He tries to imagine his face like Richie’s, scales and fangs, and can’t picture it, his mind won’t go there. He just knows the idea terrifies him on some primal level, doesn’t want to be the one leaving a trail of bodies, with some terrifying inhuman hunger twisting him from the inside until he doesn’t recognize himself, it’s bad enough what it did to Richie.

Richie’s hand tightens around his throat—not painful, but enough so he could choke if Richie wanted him to, fingers pressing on pulse points. Seth watches Richie’s inhuman eyes, the way the color slowly slides back to the familiar blue-green he’d seen his whole life, and Richie’s fingers lazily rub the sweat-slick skin of his neck.

“I like your pulse too, brother,” Richie says, in a soft, shuddering voice, and Seth breathes out, exhales. He didn’t realize he’d been holding his breath.

“I’m sorry,” Seth says, looking at his brother—his brother, who looks the same and talks the same, right up to when he decides he doesn’t, that he isn’t.

“For what?” Richie asks.

For the mess I got us in, Seth thinks, for stupidly buying something I knew was too good to be true; letting this happen to you. Seth can’t shake this feeling, that sensation of being ungrounded and lost, adrift, climbing out of his skin. From the moment he set foot in the Titty Twister, he’s felt it, palpable, thick dread churning in his guts, and it still hasn’t gone away.

I’m sorry I let this happen to you.

It’s not fair, to break out of prison and have less than a day with his brother before he becomes something else, when the option to pick up where they left off is gone for good now.

Seth know better than to complain about what’s fair or not, but it rankles anyway.

“For not listening to you,” Seth says. “Back in Abilene.”

Richie smiles—beams at him, really, all wide and face wrinkles. “I’m over it,” he says, pressing in close to Seth. “Trust me. We left that behind. It’s not important anymore.”

*

Seth doesn’t sleep well for awhile.

He hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep in a long time; could never sleep well in prison, one eye always open, always paranoid. You learn, you get used to it, you adapt, like Seth always has but prison was another story. There were times where he and Richie slept on the ground, on hard floors and couches too small for the two of them, in the backseat of cars but somehow the beds in prison was always the hardest.

The hotel room beds are softer than prison beds, even if some of them smelled a little funky sometimes, but still he tosses and turns, puts the pillow over his head, lets his hand rest on a knife under his pillow, nothing works (Richie is either here or not, out hunting—hunting, like that’s something they do now, part of the routine—or reading some language handbook, awake when Seth is ready to pass out, and Seth isn’t sure which one is worse). He never feels that well rested, but that’s just something he’s gotten used to already.

Lots of things, Seth is getting used to now.

Once (just once; he hopes it was just once) Seth wakes up and finds Richie staring at him from across the room, as if the weight of his gaze had woken him up. There was no sun leaking in from the cracks in the drawn shades, but the sky outside didn’t look like night either. Seth thinks it might have been that time of day, before the sun comes up but it’s not night anymore, sky lightening. He wonders if Richie can stay out there during that or if that burns too.

Richie is sitting on the ground in front of the door.

“You okay, Richie?” Seth asks and Richie nods. Calm and cool, even if he looked small on the ground, sitting and curled up, knees pulled close. Staring at Seth, watching him through his glasses. The glasses felt like a barrier, but his stare still feels like something is gripping Seth, grabbing him and jerking him awake. Seth doesn’t know how long he’d been there.

“You weren’t sleeping well.” Richie says. Like that explains it. “Nightmares?”

Seth shakes his head. “I wasn’t having a nightmare. I don’t have nightmares.” Not even in prison he had nightmares, or when they still lived with their father. He had nights of fitful sleep, or no sleep, close to insomnia sometimes, but not nightmares. Seth rarely ever remembers his dreams.

“I used to have nightmares,” Richie says. His voice is distant, almost hollow but still, his piercing eyes trained on seth. “When you were in prison. I didn’t sleep well.”

“Richie,” Seth says, starting to tug the blanket off him, but Richie stands up suddenly. Seth never saw him move. Seth doesn’t see him, he’s just there, towering over him on the bed, even if he’s crouching just low enough to put his hands on the sheets around him, inching closer towards Seth. There’s blood on his mouth—faint, dried up, but a spot of it on his shirt collar and his bottom lip.

“I had nightmares, before, because of the knife?” Richie inches closer, his knees on the bed now, crawling closer to Seth. Seth feels absurdly like pulling up the blankets above him, has to remind himself it’s just Richie. It’s always you and Richie, right? “I couldn’t sleep well. I kept seeing her and sometimes it was good, sometimes she was just there, with me, and very beautiful. But sometimes I just saw monsters. Snakes writhing and blood, blood everyfuckingwhere, and she wouldn’t let me sleep.”

Seth nods. He remembers. She ripped his throat out and Seth shot her, over and over, but it didn’t do jack. Damage was done (if Seth had nightmares, it’d be about that; her pretty face, gone all scaled and gnarled, thinking that’s Richie’s face now).

Seth doesn’t like hearing about her.

“But it’s clearer now,” Richie says. he hovers over Seth, hands on either side of him, pressing him down into the bed. This close, Seth can smell the person he fed off on—a heavy scent of cigarette smoke and tequila and oil—and blood, of course, but Richie always smells like blood before a shower these days.

“What’s clearer, Richie?” he asks. His voice shakes a bit, but he doesn’t know why. He puts his hands on Richie’s shoulder, just to hold on to him, to make sure he still has him.

“Me,” Richie says, looking into his eyes. They’re a light blue-green, like they’ve always been. “You. My head, my head is clear, she’s not here anymore, it’s just you and me. I’m better, I’m better now, Seth, like this is what I was supposed to—”

“Okay, okay, I get it,” Seth says, cupping his face, his cheekbones. His skin is warm and flushed; definitely just ate some poor sucker. Seth almost covers his mouth entirely, because he doesn’t want to hear this, not right now, about how grateful he is that Richie died in front of him; just because he came back, doesn’t make it better.

Richie shakes his head, slowly, face scrunching up, the way it does when he gets annoyed. “No, you don’t. Don’t tell me you do, because I know you don’t.” There’s a note of frustration, something heated even behind the words and his eyes, but his face softens. “But that’s alright too, Seth. You don’t have to, not right now. You don’t have to understand, you just have to know I’m not going anywhere, you have to know that—”

“I do, I do, buddy,” Seth says, nodding, rubbing his fingers against Richie’s cheekbones. He’s sweating, feverish pinned under Richie and the force of his intense babble, and Seth feels like his breath is caught up in his throat, choked, can’t hardly speak. It’s what he wanted to hear, right? But it feels different on this end. Through the looking glass, a scanner darkly. Everything filtered through a reptilian funhouse mirror.

“Good, because I need you to know that, I need—”

Richie leans down, foreheads touching, stolen warmth seeping into Seth. Richie kisses him, lightly pressing his lips against him and it’s easy, easy for Seth to open up his lips and press his tongue against his. He’s desperate for it, a hunger in his hands, in the way they clench on Richie’s shoulders (don’t let go, I won’t let you go). It’s almost like they never stopped doing this. He’s warm, like he used to be, and Seth thinks he could lay here and just keep kissing Richie, roll around in the nostalgia of it (it was kid’s stuff, when they did this but aren’t kids anymore; Seth’s not sure what they are anymore).

Richie tastes like blood, heavy and coagulated on his tongue, strong and lurid.

“Brush your teeth,” Seth says, shoving him lightly by the shoulders. Richie goes when Seth pushes, moves when he moves. “I’m not kissing you while your breath stinks like the last person you killed.”

Richie chuckles. “Like you don’t have morning breath.”

“Not all of us like the taste of blood,” Seth says, not kindly, and he thinks Richie is about to say something else, but he doesn’t want to hear it.

He drags himself out of bed and Richie lets him, doesn’t say anything while Seth puts his clothes on and goes out the door. “I’m going out,” he says, leaves Richie on the bed in his sheets.

Seth doesn’t actually know what to do with himself, just wanders around the block aimlessly, lets his feet take him down street names he can only half pronounce. It’s hot but early enough so it’s just a pleasant warmth and not high noon sun.

He sat still in prison for five long years, like a rat in a cage, and this is his freedom now. Richie is a vampire, but this is still what he wanted (you shouldn’t have to keep reminding yourself).

Seth buys a few churros from a food stand—he’s picked up enough Spanish to buy food, at least—and snags a case of beer from the convenience store down the block from their hotel, old fashioned twist top bottles. When he comes back to their room, Richie isn’t in where he left him. Finds him in their shower stall, curled up against the wall with a blanket. No windows here. Richie could always sleep in most conditions.

Seth’s going to leave him there, let him sleep through the day but he sits down next to him in the shower instead, until they’re bumping shoulders, Seth on top of the blanket.

“What are you doing?” Richie asks, dragging the words like he’s sleepy. He doesn’t open his eyes.

“I got beer,” Seth says, opening his up and taking a swig. He hands another one to him. “You want one? Can you even drink beer?”

“Of course I can drink beer,” Richie says, grumpy, snatching it from him. He opens up the top without a bottle opener and just chugs it down immediately, throat working and swallowing, not stopping for a breath. He drinks almost two thirds of it before he stops. “I didn’t even know you could order beer.”

“Of course I do,” Seth says, “It’s not hard. Dos cervezas, por favor. Most important thing to know, am I right?”

Richie laughs, his eyes glittering behind his glasses. He doesn’t look away from Seth, the kind of edgy stare that freaked most people out. Seth was used to it, got used to it, the way Richie would just stare at you sometimes, longer than anyone should, longer than what was appropriate. He always stared at Seth the most, and Seth never minded. It’s different now and sometimes his eyes flick yellow-green and slitted, but it’s still Richie.

“Aren’t you drinking a little early?” Richie says.

“Oh, you’re going to judge me, bloodsucker?”

Richie holds his hands up, peace offering. I surrender. They don’t talk anymore about their drinking habits, and Richie finishes his beer in silence.

He leans into Seth when he’s done, first nudging his face against Seth’s shoulder, and then burying it in his throat, like he’s trying to sleep sprawled and pressed against him in the shower stall.

Seth thinks, he could do it right now. Rip it out. No more Seth Gecko.

But Richie wouldn’t do that. Not to him. Seth has that, at least.

“It’s you and me, right?” Richie asks, murmuring softly into the crook of his neck.

“It’s always going to be you and me,” Seth says. He leans back without thinking, baring his throat, letting Richie snuggle in. He slings an arm around his back and yeah, Seth could fall asleep like this. “Been that way since we were born. That’s not changing.”

Richie makes a humming, content sound as he falls asleep.

*

Today, Richie kills the hotel night clerk.

The guy screamed a lot. The guy bled a lot, arterial spray hitting the ugly faded yellow plaster walls, the dusty tile floors, jugular torn out. It’s a goddamn mess, flesh torn and rendered and blood covering the walls.

Seth kept waiting for someone to come down from their rooms, his gun trained and ready—kill the witnesses, right? Doesn’t matter who they are, they couldn’t buy or talk their way out of this mess—but no one comes. Whether they heard nothing or are just calling the police, no one comes.

“Goddammit, Richie,” Seth says, “ease up on this shit, the last thing I want is goddamn federales on our asses.”

Richie lets the body drop and Seth grabs the cash in the lobby register and anything else worth stealing, because might as well, while they’re here. Even if they don’t want for money anymore.

“It’s alright,” Richie says, “this is a piece of shit roadside and we’re the only guests tonight, I checked. We’re good.”

We’re good, Seth thinks. He can no longer shove his brother against the wall and yell and snarl at him to stop. He has to be careful now, because Richie is his brother but so much stronger, with a twitching hunger behind his eyes.

Seth wipes the blood of Richie’s mouth and chin. “You gotta be more careful,” he says, “it’s all over your clothes, we can’t keep getting you new clothes,” and Richie leans into his hand instead, eyes sliding shut, like he’s savoring his touch as he savored the blood.

(There was a plan before all this, but Seth can’t remember it.)

*

It’s not as if Richie isn’t capable of being precise though.

“I want to try something,” his brother says, leaning over him while he sleeps.

Slept. Was sleeping. Not anymore, obviously.

Seth’s sleep schedule has gotten all twisted up lately. He can’t keep track of how many hours he’s sleeping, how long it’s been—sleeps too much during the day and isn’t sure how long he drives at night, when he stops driving and stops going—but Richie keeps track for him. Richie’s always been better at the planning.

“Okay,” Seth breathes out, willing himself to hold still (he’s not scared of his brother, except for how he is—it’s more a bone deep dread, but also a primal instinct, the fear people get when they find themselves alone in a room with a wolf and unarmed, the kind of fear that kept your ancestors alive, that you’d be a fool not to have).

Richie’s fangs slide down. He presses his teeth against Seth’s throat, resting over the rapid beating pulse of his neck.

Seth grabs the gun and presses it against his throat, down to the hollow of it.

Richie chuckles and Seth feels the vibrations in his skin, down to his bones. “Are you going to shoot me?”

“I don’t know, Richie, are you going to eat me?” Seth says, keeps his voice even, keeps it steady. His hands don’t shake but the problem is, he doesn’t think he would shoot Richie, and you should never point a gun at someone you’re not willing to shoot.

“Maybe you should,” Richie says, casual and laid back, talking through his teeth somehow. His teeth scrape across Seth’s throat, like insistent pokers. It feels like a warning, a prediction of what will happen and Seth thinks of all the vampires back at the bar, tearing through a soft human crowd, thinks of Richie and how easily he rips apart bodies now, with just fangs.

Richie’s tongue is cool against his pulse, the rapidly beating juglar of his neck. He half-expects it to be forked, but it feels normal, just not warm. Seth holds his breath without knowing it, fighting back a shudder. He presses his gun into Richie’s throat, trying to push back, but Richie is an iron wall, made up of hunger and death and something old coursing through his veins (and still your brother; all sugary snack foods and sharp knives and warm hands on his back).

“Richie, man,” Seth says. He cups Richie’s face in his hand, his palm fitting perfectly over his skin, slotting like it belongs there. He’s gentle, placating; he’s done this so many times, knows how to tell him “hush” and “it’s okay,” and “you got this” and reassure him just the right way. “Richie, you’re with me, right?”

Richie pulls back. He doesn’t move, his weight pressing Seth down on the bed, but he pulls his teeth away and lifts his head and smiles down at Seth, eyes gleaming bright and warm.

“It’s okay, Seth,” he reassures, “I wouldn’t do that. You know I wouldn’t.”

Seth nods, breathing out. “Okay, buddy.” He still has his brother’s face cupped in his hand, reluctant to pull away.

Richie doesn’t move, except to reach over to the hotel drawer and pull out one of his knives, sharp and wicked looking. He puts the knife to Seth’s throat.

“I want to taste you,” he says, serrated blade against sweaty warm skin.

“Richie?” he asks, careful, so careful, because he doesn’t want to be alarmed, but his brother’s eyes are still snake slitted pupils and he’s hungry, glazed over detached stare as he watches the pulse of Seth’s throat.

“I just want a taste. You know how good I am with this, Seth,” Richie says, knife twirling in his hand, lowering his voice, gentle, like how his big brother carried him out of a burning house, told him dad will never hurt them again in a quiet, trembling voice. “I won’t hurt you. Seth, c’mon,” he says.

He used to buy Richie food as a peace gesture, whenever he was mad—I’ll get you the sour worms you like so much, that burger you can’t get enough of—or just whenever he wanted to see him smile, or when he went for a food run, but Richie doesn’t need food anymore. He needs blood.

Seth lays his gun hand to the side, still gripping it but resting his hand against the other pillow. His throat feels bare and exposed, heart pounding in his chest. “Okay. But I will shoot your balls off if you try anything.”

Richie doesn’t even laugh or bristle at the threat, his predator’s eyes gleaming as he looks down on Seth’s throat, placing a knife to the soft skin there.

It does hurt, you fucking liar, Richie, but he’s had worse, so much worse. The burning sting isn’t much, and for a long, intense moment, Richie just stares at it, mouth hanging open and snake fangs out, holding utterly still. The hand Seth had on his face had slipped to the side, hanging uselessly off the bed, fingers twitching.

When Richie places his mouth on the wound, he just clamps down around it—no teeth except the blunt ones but it’s like an animal closing over prey, except his tongue darts out and licks long swipes against his skin that has Seth shuddering for real. He’s not sure what to feel, stomach twisting and sinking at the same time—is this revulsion or desire or fear or all of that at once; can it be all of it?

Richie just licks, long dragging licks and moans against his throat. Seth feels like bowing off the bed, like flames are licking at him, and they’re going to consume him, breath punched out of his gut. He reaches out blindly, instinctively, for Richie, like he’s always done—reaching out for him in the dark, hand clasped around the back of his neck, blunt nails digging in. It’s just Richie’s cool mouth, lips and tongue, and he feels closer than he’s ever been to his brother since the bar, like he might come out on the other side of him if he presses any closer.

Richie’s lips are stained bright red when he pulls away, looking down at Seth with wide eyes, frenzied and brazen. He doesn’t wipe his mouth or chin.

“You taste like cinnamon,” Richie says, when he’s done. When he stops, really—Seth doesn’t feel like they’re done (he thinks of the time he got his tattoo, the ink itched and burned into his skin; that’s what Richie’s mouth feels like).

That doesn’t make sense, that’s not what blood tastes like and you culebras are fucking weird, Seth thinks but he feels like he has cotton in his throat, his tongue heavy, making it hard to speak. The cut on his throat throbs.

He hasn’t let go of Richie’s neck yet.

“Richie,” he breathes out, body exhaling.

*

Seth stares at the wound around his throat, the way the skin swells and puckers around it, the redness around the cut Richie made.

The sun is up and Richie is asleep, tucked under the covers now this time, blankets upon blankets hiding him from the sun. It’s just Seth in the bathroom alone with his reflection.

(He can’t do this with Richie watching. Just can’t, makes his guts twist, like that’s giving himself away, more than he already has.)

Seth looks different in the mirror—paler, like he’s living at night too, sleeping during the day like Richie, more hair on his face, stubble growing thicker. He’s forgotten to shave lately. There are bags under his eyes and it makes him look hollowed out, almost more undead than Richie looks. Beads of sweat are on his forehead and running down his temple, because it’s hot, even in here, air conditioning not worth a damn. Seth thought he’d be tanner in Mexico, sun and beaches, but it’s more hotel rooms and dark roads at night.

Richie looks the same as he always does, when he doesn’t look like a monster—he’s just cooler to the touch.

Seth presses his fingers to the cut, pushes down. Shudders, a shivery sensation up his spine. It still aches, pain throbbing. He feels it beyond his neck, bodily, aching through him.

It’s just a knife wound, Seth tells himself, stop touching it. It’s not the first time Richie’s left a mark, not even the first time he’s left a knife mark on him, but this burns from the inside out. He used to like them, the marks, and he’s not sure if he likes this.

He’s had worse, much worse—nasty, ugly cuts that didn’t heal quite right, scars from fights and guns and his father—but that’s not why he keeps looking at it.

Seth’s fingers linger and the throbbing ache reminds him of Richie’s mouth clamped on it.

“Why did you do that?” Seth asks, when Richie wakes up. Seth fiddles with Richie’s knife on the bed, turns it over in his hand. Lets the tip rest against his fingertips, pressing down slightly, just enough to feel the pinpoint.

“Do what?” Richie asks. Richie is watching tv, in Spanish, but he doesn’t seem to mind—his attention is completely absorbed, except for the flicker of a blink when Seth spoke, but otherwise he’s still as he watches. Maybe he even understands. He always understood faster than Seth could.

“Feed off me,” Seth says, the words feeling awkward and alien in his mouth, like his tongue doesn’t know the shape of them (Is this what we talk about now? Feeding and vampires and ritual sacrifices?).

Richie glances at him, finally, looking away from the screen, eyes bright and fixated on him. The way he looks at him makes Seth feels like there’s something crawling under his skin, underneath his spine.

“I wanted to taste you,” Richie says. His voice is soft, like a faint wisp of wind, and all Seth can think about how awful it was to watch Richie die, with something sucking out his blood.

“But why me? You can get whatever kind of blood you want.” It’s not like Seth could stop him. If Richie wanted to eat babies, Seth doesn’t think he could stop him. “Am I your Renfield now, or some shit?” Seth laughs, but it doesn’t feel like a joke.

“That’s ridiculous,” Richie says, shaking his head too hard. Seth wants to ask what definition he’s using. Ridiculous is your brother being a goddamn snake vampire. “You’re not Renfield, you’re my brother. It’s our blood.”

Oh.

Seth shudders. His neck throbs. He’s all warm in his gut, curling and tightening sensation. There’s something in his throat, like a hand squeezing. But he nods, because that sounds like Richie—he understands that. Blood is simple, when it comes down to it. Blood is family. His blood and Richie’s blood, merged and pooling together.

“Do you want to do it again?” Seth asks.

Richie says yeah, immediately, all hunger and throat dry and scratched, because talking through fangs is still a little difficult.

Seth takes Richie’s knife and drags the edge down his palm, hissing at the sting. He holds out his hand and lets Richie take.

Richie wraps the wound in gauze later, slowly, carefully; Seth thinks of the hole in Richie’s hand that closed up when he died and came back, thinks, we match.

*

Someone puts a gun to his brother’s face and a second later, Seth shoots him. The bang of the gun is loud but the screaming and shouts of the bar patrons are louder still. Kate and Scott stare all wide eyed and horrified, like they’ve never seen a headshot before, never seen the splatter of blood it leaves (Seth doesn’t have it in him to feel bad about their innocence). The rest of the bar patrons—the ones remaining, at least, the ones who weren’t dead yet after that first attack, there weren’t many—are screaming too, half in anger and half in horror and disgust, turning into a cacophony of sounds, all bad.

Seth aims his gun at the closest person around; the round would go through the heart. “Next person who wants to try shooting my brother again, they’ll get a seat next to Mr. Hero here,” Seth says, nudging the corpse at with his foot.

“That thing is not your brother anymore,” Jacob tells him. Jacob has a firm, steady voice, but his eyes were twitching with panic. “It’s a demon, like the rest of them. Look at him.”

Seth glances at his brother, gun still aimed at the man in front of him. Richie stands behind him, his face monstrous—covered in blood, his own and others’, eyes like a goddamn snake’s, scales instead of skin, and teeth long and sharp like cobra fangs too, mouth hanging over like he doesn’t know how to close it. Richie is silent and still—which is creepy but normal—and he just drifts closer to Seth, standing directly behind him and Seth can read I got you back when he sees it.

“This is my brother,” Seth says, hand tightening on the grip, reaching out and putting a hand on Richie’s shoulder that lingers there long enough to make his point. He still feels the same, even if he looks different, he can’t let that get to him right now (he thinks about how Richie’s blood is still on his hands, where Seth tried to stop the bleeding and failed, felt him twitch and stop moving on the ground). “He stays. You don’t like it, you can take it up with Mr. 45 here.”

No one responds, except for the flickering look in their eyes, as dread sinks in—he’s seen it before, in hostages, or crew they’ve worked with, or people he and Richie cornered. The I’m fucked look.

“Don’t be foolish,” Jacob says, almost shouting, voice booming, bossing him around like he calls the shots here, and Seth getting tired of the guy. “He’ll kills us all. You think he won’t kill you too?”

Seth cocks the gun, aims at him. “No, I’ll kill all of you if any of you touch my brother.”

“Seth,” Kate says, softer, pleading—for her father’s life or for herself, or everyone in this bar except him and Richie. ”Seth, please,” she says, gently, but it’s all the same don’t do this pleas, doesn’t matter how it’s delivered (she looks at him the way Vanessa used to sometimes, half pity and half sick with him).

“The answer’s no,” Seth barks. “Or do you wanna have a chat with Mr. 45 too?”

Richie doesn’t say anything, hovering behind Seth, silent, waiting.

“I thought you were mad at me,” Richie whispers in his ear later, when his face has gone back to human shaped (even if he moves different now; smells different).

“Oh, I’m pissed off, but you think that means I won’t shoot these people for you?”

Richie smiles. “I won’t kill you.”

“I know, Richie,” he says, cupping his chin, making sure he looks at him, makes sure Seth sees his eyes. “I won’t either.”

(Kate asks him later, when he’s trying to give her a quick ten minute lesson on how to shoot a gun, how can you do it, just shoot someone and not care.

He wants to tell her, because there’s no judgement in her tone, just trembling hands on the gun—late enough in the night so most people no longer care about morality as well, just surviving—but Seth doesn’t have an answer for her. This part has always been easy for him, when it comes to Richie.)

*

They make it to Mexico City and Seth’s steps are a little lighter, his shoulders less weighed down, weight he didn’t even know he was carrying. Like Richie drinking his blood set loose something in them both, and Seth is tired of the churning stomach sensation, the constant on edge, like he’s still living on the run from the law, like he can’t stop looking over his shoulders.

This is the vacation, he reminds himself, the is a break he was promised, the El Rey without the beach, the paradise his brother told him the bar was when they walked in. Playing tourist feels like a child’s play (Seth is not used to just accepting a vacation as it is; they fight hard for it, bloody knuckle for bloody knuckle), but neither of them mind, wandering the downtown streets and the Zócalo, zipping through metro like kids allowed to play for once. Richie doesn’t even complain about the crowds and Seth buys him horchata from a street vendor.

“I kinda like the jamaica better now,” he says when Seth hands it to him, even if he takes a sip.

“Well, excuse the fuck out of me,” Seth says, and snatches it back.

Richie wanders off, and that’s okay with Seth. It’s okay, Seth tells himself; he doesn’t need to follow Richie everywhere (there are some things they just don’t share now; like Vanessa, or vampires).

This is what freedom tastes like—open road and the flames on his arm and the crowd so big, they get swallowed into it, no one worrying who they are or what they’re after, no cops here for them.

They can’t stay here, of course. It’s too big, too crowded, and Seth’s always had a love-hate relationship with big cities (K.C. was large and a shithole, but their shithole, like that makes a difference; every other big city was just a shithole too, even if it was prettier on the surface). Big cities are nice to disappear in but they can only hide you for so long, and Seth just wants something on the edge of the rest of the world, no one but them.

Sometimes, he lets himself imagine a house on the beach, walking distance from a market, a dog maybe, or a cat—one of those little one-eyed strays he sees around sometimes; it’s a stupid fantasy he never let himself have in prison, and he shouldn’t start with it now. He just doesn’t know where else to go, where to stop. The money will run out eventually. And there’s no place right for Richie anymore.

(Guys like them don’t retire, his uncle told him; guys like them go to prison or go down bloody and die young, except Richie’s going to live forever now, if he plays his cards just right—he wonders what Uncle Eddie would make of that.)

Seth walks around the market, looking for a place to buy a candy skull. It’s not that time of year yet, though, and instead, he flirts with a girl running a jewelry and embroidery stand, for no reason except that he can (it makes him nostalgic for a time before he went to prison, before everything spun out of control). The embroidery is gorgeous and intricate, but reminds him too much of the stuff decorating the Titty Twister to really buy. She looks about his age when he went to prison and speaks some English, and he grins at her until she looks down and blushes.

The sun sets and Richie hasn’t come back yet, and Seth knows better than to think Richie got lost or something as simple as that. Richie could find him first in a crowd, sniff him out like a bloodhound (come to think of it, Richie could do that long before he ever became a vampire; Seth just used to be able to do it, too).

Go back to the hotel. Richie will find him there, like he always does. Just go back to the fucking hotel, go to sleep, wait for him to stumble back in at four in the morning, smelling like his fresh kill (don’t look for him, Seth, you won’t like what you find).

Seth run-walks through the streets, checking in corners, going down alleyways. Getting himself lost in a maze of the city, with the street names he only barely understands. He ends up in a part of town not meant for tourists, where no one knows what he’s speaking if he asks for directions, no tour buses rolling around here. He’s lost, and it’s a not a surprise.

“Seth.”

Seth stumbles past a bar with a bottle of beer in his hand when he hears him. There Richie is, eyes fucking glowing, hidden half in shadow of an alley way. The streets not quite empty yet, not quite deserted, not quite safe to go out covered in blood. He turns around when Seth makes eye contact, walking further into an alleyway and Seth runs, deep into an alley behind a bar that smells of alcohol and piss and blood.

Mostly blood—there are three bodies, and that’s more than usual. That’s a little excessive, torn apart fuckers. One is missing his head.

Richie is talking to him, saying something about how the first one was a meal but the other two, they found me. There is no apology, which is fine, because they never apologized for the destruction they caused, but there are three dead bodies and Seth wishes Richie could just leave neat little marks in someone’s throat like the movies, but life’s never been the movies, and Seth’s never liked horror films.

“You know, there’s a temple around here,” Richie says, casual voice once he’s done explaining the mess, leaning against the brick wall. The way he stares is more curious than anything else, head cocked, glance from his handiwork to Seth. “An old Aztec temple, Templo Mayor. You know it was once considered the center of the universe?”

“I don’t want to fucking hear it,” Seth snaps, glares at Richie, who has the gall to frown at him when Seth stares him down. How fucking ridiculous that looks, Richie covered in blood and frowning like a confused child.

All that ease between goes away, a string snapping.

“Goddammit, Richie,” Seth says, half a sigh and half a snarl, but he can’t stop once he says it, can’t stop the momentum of his body, advancing on Richie, pushing closer and closer until he’s in his face. “All the superpowers you have, you can’t figure out how to do some shit like this neatly? Can’t figure out how not to do this every goddamn time?”

“You’re mad at me,” Richie says, staring at Seth oddly, like this is a surprise. “What did you think I was going to do? You knew why I left. You know I’m going to feed, we both know you don’t like to watch. Do I have to spell it out for you? Because I am getting a little tired of protecting your delicate sensibilities.”

Seth punches him. His hand just balls up into a fist and he hits him right there, connecting with his cheekbone, and Richie just stands there and takes it, lets Seth punch him, but there’s no reaction, not a flicker on his face. He thinks it hurts his hand more than it hurt Richie, and that just makes him want to punch him more. But Seth can’t do it, not anymore, doesn’t have the strength to fight with him the same way. There’s blood on his fist—not his own, nor Richie’s. He grabs Richie by his shirt and starts dragging him away, until he realizes he can’t let Richie anywhere until the blood’s washed off his face, until the crowd dies down. Seth shoves him roughly up against the wall instead, and Richie comes, Richie lets him, even though he’s stronger now, can pin Seth against the wall.

“My delicate sensibilities?” Seth hisses. “They are long gone, brother, but I didn’t sign on for this serial killer shit—”

“I’m not a serial killer.”

“That’s what they call it when you kill a person each day. I am pretty sure you have a higher body count than Jeffrey Dahmer at this point”

“What’s your problem, Seth?” Richie asks, the I know better and I’m going to lecture you tone that Seth’s heard his whole life. He straightens up—not hunching, not anymore, drawing himself up to full height, slipping out of Seth’s grasp like he’s butter. He towers over Seth. It’s not something Seth notices often, not when they walk side by side and stand with each other, but he feels small now; he’s always been a small, scrawny kid at the end of the day. “You’ve been different since we left the bar, you keep—”

“I haven’t been the same, are you fucking—”

Richie shoves him against the wall behind him, so fast, it knocks the wind out of Seth’s chest. That one hurts. Glass crunches under his feet. The rough brick digs into his back, his shoulders and spine aching, and Richie hands pressing him against it, holding him there. Richie is covered in blood, face twisted and gnarled, his inhuman eyes staring down at him and flaring.

“You keep acting like I’m dead,” he hisses. Seth expected his voice to be low and gravelly, but it’s trembling, fumbling with the words. Richie is trembling. “I’m still fucking here, asshole, I’m not fucking dead.”

“You don’t have a heartbeat, Richie, I am pretty sure that makes you at least a little fucking dead.”

Richie’s face changes, the scales and ridges receding, slips back into something human, as human as he can look with blood dripping down his shirt and chin. Something familiar. His hands still press Seth against the wall, but he appreciates the shift.

“Is that what you think?” He says softly. “You think I died and I’m just...what? A ghost? A demon?” He laughs, and it’s low and crawling, and it creeps under Seth’s skin. “C’mon, tell me already.”

“I don’t think that—”

“Don’t fucking lie to me, I can smell it, Seth—”

“You know, you don’t help your case for ‘not a demon’ when you say you can smell lying—”

“I’m still here, I’ve stayed, I’m still your goddamn brother—”

“Well, you’re my goddamn something,” Seth says, not nicely (sometimes he opens his mouth and shit just comes out of it, shit he doesn’t mean, shit he does mean; sometimes he can’t tell the difference by what he means or doesn’t).

“Fuck you,” Richie growls out.

“Fuck me? You’re the one leaving corpses all over Mexico—”

“I need to feed,” Richie hisses.

“I know that,” Seth says. If anything, he’s very aware of Richie’s needs, always has been. “God, I fucking know that, Richie—”

“—and, what, you care now?”

He looks into Richie’s eyes. The glasses never did a good job of hiding his gaze, and Seth feels like sagging under it. What a strange feeling it is, to want to punch and kick him, fight and claw his way away from him, but at the same time just wanting to drop and be done with everything.

“No, you know what? I don’t care, I don’t give a fuck,” Seth says, gesturing down at the corpses a few feet away, ugly and ruined. “I really don’t give a fuck, I don’t care about the bodies, I don’t care who you kill, I don’t care that this is what you are now.” Seth feels a little sick, for saying it, what you are and not who you are, and he doesn’t know who to blame for that.

“I just want,” he says, starts, stops. What does he want? His money’s worth, maybe, what he paid to get here for, gave away to Carlos, in exchange peace of mind. That sounds like a joke now, or maybe he just can’t see the beauty in it.

His rib cage is squeezing around his heart, his knuckles grimy and bloody, and Seth wants to laugh, but it would be an ugly thing. It’s all hollow in his chest, like something grabbed him and carved out his insides, bit by bit. “I just want to go back to the way things were.”

“I’m trying,” Richie says. His breath smells metallic and sickly sweet, like death, and Seth is getting sick of it, but he presses his forehead to his, sighs a deep breath Seth knows he doesn’t need, inhaling him. He laces his hands around the back of Seth’s neck, fingers wrapping and holding tight, possessively and Seth just wants to relax into it, cling on to the way things used to be. “I swear, I’m trying.”

Seth puts his hands around the back of Richie’s neck too, just for old time’s sake, for starters. He doesn’t know what he is doing.

(In a hotel in Texas, he slams his brother against the wall, demands for him to deny the murder he committed, demands for him to tell him we’re okay—this is not who we are, this is not who we are. Seth says it more desperately than Richie does.

Richie repeats back to him, this is me. This is me, and Seth should have listened then, when he was slipping away from his hands, losing Richie to something he didn’t understand then, something he barely understands now. This is me, Richie tells him, straight to his face that he’s going to lose him, so Seth only grasped harder.

He grasps harder and doesn’t let go.)

They are getting blood everywhere and Seth doesn’t care—there has been blood everywhere since the start.

“You’re so fucking warm, Seth,” Richie says, rough-hewed voice as he talks. “Everytime you touch me, it’s like you’re leaving burn marks.”

Seth shudders when he says that, Richie’s fingers rubbing the back of his neck, holding on, holding him.

Richie kisses him, blood in his mouth, still hot and warm and thick, the bodies over there, and it’s sick, Seth knows, it’s sick but it’s a familiar taste, nonetheless—bloody mouthed kisses, how often have they’ve done this, Seth punched in the teeth after a fight, Richie bleeding for one reason or another.

Richie keeps his eyes open, like always, stares at him with his glassy, glazed over eyes, hungry eyes.

Seth doesn’t care about dead bodies and he doesn’t care about dead rangers and he doesn’t care about dead tourists and dead locals—he is hollow on the inside, and hungry too, for something else, wants to cut him open and make sure it’s still Richie in there.

Richie’s mouths is at his neck, his throat, tongue against his jugular and teeth on his skin, and Seth waits, waits for the bite to come, waits for him to tear it out and Seth knows he’ll let him, because he doesn’t know how to do anything else, doesn’t know how to pick anything else.

Instead he gets on his knees.

*

I’m all he’s got, he told Vanessa—pleaded for her to understand (no one ever does, though).

Can’t you see I can’t leave him? He tells Vanessa about the fire and means to say, can’t you see I owe him? I’m all he’s got, Seth repeats like putting on a suit of armor. I’m doing this for him.

(Are you telling her or yourself? Don’t bullshit a bullshitter.)

The first time he told her that—long ago, after their honeymoon in Vegas and the shine started to wear off marriage and off him, seeing all the dirt and blood under his nails (they were both criminals, with sordid pasts and records, but Seth always took it too far, more skeletons in Seth’s closet than she had in hers)—Vanessa didn’t get it. She thought he meant it casually, colloquially, the way normal people do, but Seth and Richie don’t know normal, never had normal, wouldn’t know how to build that.

Then, she looked at him like he made her sick.

“Go see a fucking psychiatrist,” Vanessa spat at him once, during one of their fights, storming out of their little apartment, even though it was her apartment, like she couldn’t stand to be near him. “Because you are a piece of work.”

(She had it right then and there, why did she keep trying?)

But eventually she just stared at him sadly. Pitying. Like there was something wrong with him, and he was too dumb to see it. The way you look at terminally ill patients, who haven’t figured it out they're dying yet, and you can’t bare to burst their bubble.

The problem with Vanessa is that he could never make room for her, because Richie took up all the space, no matter how hard he tried, how much he wanted to believe, he couldn’t carve out enough room for her.

The problem with Vanessa is that she got too close in all the wrong ways, and she saw Seth for what he was—not a criminal and a thief and occasional murderer—but a man with an empty space in him, where other people have the spaces filled up, glimpsed at his sick, twisted fused bits inside of him just long enough to leave scars.

(The problem with Vanessa—which is really to say, the problem with Seth—is that he wanted to love her, he wanted to be in love, but Richie was in the way.)

What if he can’t be saved, she asked him in a fast food joint, the one Richie’s loved since childhood. Does she understand that, that she’s telling him to give up on his brother, right in the same kind of restaurant they used to at eat at as kids all the time?

What if he can’t be saved, and Seth thinks, well, I can’t be saved either then.

*

Richie's mouth is warmer than Seth thought it’d be, hotter than a corpse should be. It’s the blood, Seth knows, from the people he just ripped apart, blood staining his lips and chin, and the thought makes him sick but the wires cross in his brain and instead of nausea, he groans, because his brother is sucking him off in some back alley in Mexico City and he didn’t think it’d feel this way.

“Watch the teeth,” Seth says. It’s supposed to be a joke, a weak one, but his voice is breathy and caught in his throat. He doesn’t feel like he’s joking—feels wrung out and stripped open with Richie’s hands pressing against his hips like a brand. It’s hard to say much with his cock in his brother’s mouth, hard to think past that, hard to think when his brother makes a low sound, like agreement—yes, Seth, I will, you don’t need to tell me—that’s what he would say, if he could form words, but it sounds like a moan,and it vibrates around his cock, and Seth can’t keep thoughts from slipping from his mind, image and sounds eclipsing everything into sensation.

He’s grateful Richie doesn’t look up at him—focuses solely on getting him off—because Seth’s not sure he can handle what the look in his eyes would be like, if he wants to see it, but he can’t look away either. Seth’s stomach flops, a hand on his gun in his pocket and the other in Richie’s hair, carded lightly through the loose strands, automatically stroking like he always does, the way Richie likes.

(The gun’s not for Richie; the gun is for habit, and maybe for anyone who decides to walk in on them—they’ll get either Richie’s fangs or Seth’s gun, but the gun is never for Richie).

Richie’s forgotten how to do this—it’s been five long years since the last time and no practice—unskilled with his tongue but he devotes every bit of methodical energy to licking and sucking his cock. Richie swallows him down all the way to the root—no gag reflex, remember, no need to breathe, and that’s sick and hot at the same time, curling at his insides. Seth can’t help sliding his hand down and cupping his chin, feeling his dick in Richie’s mouth, the hollow of his cheek, the blood on Richie’s chin smearing on his hand now, still warm. Richie still thankfully doesn’t look up at him, just makes a small sound like a grunt when Seth touches him, focuses on flicking his tongue and Seth just tries to focus on that too—his nose in his pubic hair and tongue flicking the bottom of his cock, the wet sucking noises and the obscene stretch of Richie’s mouth, he didn’t think a person could open that wide.

Seth comes with a lurch in his gut, the way your stomach flops out on you on a roller coaster on the way down, weightless and shuddering through his body, stealing his breath and any words he could have said. It’s almost painful how his orgasm gets wrung out of him—with short, gasping breaths and his eyes sliding shut in the intensity, his hand tightening on Richie’s chin as he tries to breathe through it. Seth opens his eyes and watches the way his come builds in the corner of Richie’s mouth, not quite dripping down his chin, but not quite swallowing it all. It’s easy for his thumb to slip and touch the corner of Richie’s mouth there.

He wants to say something—I’m sorry, did it hurt, what did it feel like, I didn’t mean to hold on so hard—but Seth just moans instead and keeps holding on.

Seth is panting over and over when he’s done, and Richie is silent. Richie pulls off and leans his head against Seth’s belly, his forehead cool. There is come and blood down his chin and when he glances up at Seth, his eyes are yellow and slitted like a snake, and Seth feels like he’s doing something wrong (he’s wrong and Richie’s wrong and something is wrong, terrified and terrifying, in them both), but he doesn’t know what, can’t give a voice to it.

“Seth,” he whispers, voice soft and low and a little dangerous (but that’s not new, they’ve always been dangerous—that stays with them). Seth can’t read the look in his eyes—too alien for him right now and it bothers him; Richie’s not alien, Richie is Richie, even when shooting all the lawmen in the county, or ripping people apart in back alleys, and fuck it if he’s seeing shit that isn’t there or ripping out throats with his teeth, Richie is Richie and—

“C’mere,” he says, tugging at Richie’s shoulder, pulling at his button-down sleeves (he gets blood on that too, bloody transfer from mouth to hands to clothes). Richie comes up with a grace he shouldn’t have, just rising up and steps too close to Seth, presses his forehead against his like all he wants is to just breathe him in, wants to blanket him and press him against the wall until he’s trapped there. Seth’s not thinking, just feeling, the warm familiar press of Richie’s forehead and his body against him, something to anchor himself to, and he just lets his gun drop and starts roughly tugging on Richie’s pants, shoving down the zipper, shaking and desperate and eager to get his hands on him.

He’s not sure he’s ready to suck his brother’s cock right here, but he can do this, wrap his hands around his cock, the ridges and veins, the weight of it familiar in his hands. He never really forgot how Richie’s cock feels when it’s hard, or the changes in Richie’s face when he comes on Seth.

Richie makes an odd, choked noise for a creature that doesn’t breathe, eyes still fixed on him, wide, intense and single minded, and still fucking yellow-green.

“Is that good?” Seth asks and Richie nods, exhaling a needless breath. Seth tightens his grip and twists, watches with a churning, almost vicious kind of satisfaction as Richie groans and his mouth hangs open (they used to do this too; it was a game—Seth said the game was whoever comes first is the loser, but the game was really always make Richie come and squirm and lose control for a split second; stupid fucking game, really).

“Can I?” Richie asks, his hand trembling, almost gently like normal, but he tugs down Seth’s shirt until his collarbone is exposed and then there’s a knife in his hand that Richie tugged from his belt suddenly, cool steel tip pressing against the skin. “Can I, Seth, can I?” he asks, begs, starved for him.

“Yeah, okay,” Seth puffs out in a breath. It’s quick, barely any time to react, knife cutting into his skin, stinging and sharp—then Richie’s mouth covers the bleeding wound, tongue lapping and dragging long slick strokes, sucking, obscene in a new way. The knife clanks to the ground and Richie wraps his arms around him, holding him close and too tight while he feeds.

Seth squirms, lightheaded, angle a bit awkward now with their heights, Richie’s mouth not at his throat, but still close. Don’t do that, Richie, he thinks, but he wants to lean and arch into it, make it easier on him, tell him it’s okay, almost wanting the press of his teeth; he’s getting used to it.

“Remember how we used to do this,” Seth whispers, rubbing his thumb over the slick slit at the tip of his cock, murmuring the words in his ear. Richie makes a short, whining whimpering noise, soft, trying to cover it up, same as he always did but his body doesn’t lie, hips pumping into his hand (some things don’t change).

“I used to jerk you off when we were kids, remember, Richie, remember?” His voice is all rough and gravel. Of course, Seth remembers—kids’ stuff, he called it, fooling around, experimenting, but they never outgrew it like they should have (once you start that shit, you can’t stop it). “We used to crawl into each other’s bed and help each other jerk off, like this, remember? I showed you.” He needs to know if Richie does too, just needs to hear it.

Tell me this hasn’t changed.

Richie nods against his body, mouth lapping at Seth’s blood and cock throbbing, distracted.

“Tell me,” Seth whispers; he squeezes, presses a bit more pressure, feels precome leak and Richie groan, louder this time, hips just rolling into Seth now, humping his hand. Seth could get hard again off this. “Tell me, say it.”

“Seth,” Richie mutters. His voice is thick, covered in blood, muffled against Seth’s collarbone.

“Say it, Richie,” Seth says, “I want to hear you fucking say it.” Richie stops holding Seth steady. Richie stops drinking, lifts his head and looks with his scary as fuck snake eyes at Seth’s, fucking into his hand. Seth puts one hand around the back of his neck, his fingers pressing against the soft skin there, and twists and jacks him harder with the other. Richie comes nodding his head too fast, eyes unfocused and glazed over momentarily, but never leaving his.

He whispers his name, and it makes Seth shiver, watching him. Feeling him this close and his come on his hands, dripping down on the concrete through his fingers.

“I remember, Seth,” he says softly, curiously. He pulls Seth closer to him, tugging him away from the wall; he’s so close he can’t breathe anything else, but Richie. “Did you think I forgot?”

Seth doesn’t know what he thought. “I just want to hear it.” He thinks he needed to hear him say it more than Richie needed to come.

Seth’s panting like he just came. Richie isn’t. Richie doesn’t need to breathe. Richie isn’t human anymore, but Seth puts his hand on his cheek, making sure their eyes are leveled. There’s blood and his brother’s come on his hand. He just doesn’t care about the stains they left on Richie’s skin, or what they are now.

“Are you with me?” he asks. Are we in this together?

“Yeah,” Richie says, nodding. eyes fading back to something human. His glasses slide down his nose. Seth pushes them back up for him.

“We’re okay,” Seth repeats then. “I think we’ll be okay now.”

(We’re not okay—not since Richie busted Seth out of prison, maybe before that really, when he left Richie alone to his shack in the forest—but Seth combs his hands through his hair, pulseless body pressed tightly against him, and thinks he can live like this.)

*

The days bleed into one another, the way the sun rises and sets every day, dusk and dawn merging into each other until Seth can’t really tell which is which anymore when he looks up at the sky, can’t tell if the spot of light in the dark sky means the sun is going to rise or if it’s just setting. Seth has given up keeping track. He falls asleep when Richie drives and wakes up in a new town, always, like they teleported, like they weren’t even really there at all. Sleep, wake up, be somewhere new. Seth doesn’t have to do anything.

“Where are we going?” he asks.

Richie shrugs. “Nowhere. Around,” he says, more calm about their lack of direction than Seth’s ever seen him.

It gets more desertic as they go, into the center of Mexico, where there’s either deserts and mountains. Seth wants to go to the coast—sits in a hotel room cross legged and has a map he only half understands in front of him, staring and points to here. We could go Cuernavaca, he tells Richie. They call it the city of eternal spring. It sounds a bit like what Carlos said about El Rey. Beaches and blue agave, brother. “Sounds nice, right?”

“Since when do you wanna settle down?” Richie asks, flipping through channels.

“Since I went to prison,” Seth snaps and keeps staring at maps. Further south, there are pyramids, heading into the heart of it, and Seth doesn’t want to go there. Pyramids have spooked him since the Titty Twister. “We could go to the other coast too. Mérida seems nice.”

Richie ignores him and watches cartoons in Spanish. Seth throws the map at his head.

He stops following Richie when he goes out to hunt, mostly because he knows the routine now and there’s no reason to do so, not anymore, but Seth is always awake when he comes back, twitching and itchy and unable to sleep, rushing towards him when he walks through the door. Richie smells like fresh, metallic blood, the scent catching thickly in the back of his Seth’s throat, and someone else’s sweat, spots of red on his white shirt.

“How does no one notice the mess you make?” Seth says, kissing him like he can’t help it, can’t help but be pulled into Richie’s orbit, biting and tugging at him. “Fuck you, Richie, you’re going to get caught if you keep getting your clothes bloody like this,” he says, but Richie lets him push him against the door and kiss him until both their lips are swollen and Seth can taste Richie’s meal like it was his too. Richie laughs into his mouth and puts his arms around him, hands on Seth’s hips, eyes glittering.

(Richie cuts him, every time they fuck now, always taking some during sex like he’s starved for it, doesn’t matter how recently he fed. The wounds rarely ever get a chance to heal before Richie wants to feed again)

“Did you get rid of the body?” Seth asks later, from the shower, getting the smell of blood and come off him. He doesn’t really mind the smell—they’ve come out of jobs and fucked in the car with the same scent before—but it’s different this time, pushed under his skin and bones.

“Of course I did,” he says, laughing. His hair is no longer slicked back, starting wearing it like when they were kids and before Richie started putting gel in his hair to keep it out of his eyes. It falls into his face, the loose strands making him look younger and more boyish than he actually is. “It’s not my first time, you know. Who showed you how to hide a body?”

Seth smiles despite himself.

Seth starts to sleep when Richie does, his schedule just sliding over to synch up with his. He wakes up a few times to Richie shaking him awake, Richie’s eyes on his, already dressed up and ready to go, sun set a while ago. Once, Seth woke up and it was closing in on midnight and he has no idea how long he slept, and Richie was watching him, hovering over him on the bed, gazing intently (Seth thinks of Carlos less and less the further they get away from the Titty Twister, but sometimes he remembers what he said and tries not to shudder, shove it away).

“Why didn’t you wake me?” He asks and Richie shrugs.

“You seem to have needed the rest,” Richie says simply. That doesn’t make sense, it’s not like they’re doing anything strenuous, just driving around and figuring out where to go—and letting Richie feed off him, drink him. Seth is okay with it, but sometimes he feels dizzy and lightheaded after, and Richie has to lead him to the bathroom to clean up the wound.

It’s just easier to exist at night together, even if they get further with Seth behind the wheel during the day and Richie hidden in the trunk. They get further, but it’s not like they’re in a rush.

Sometimes Richie pulls over in the middle of the night and he’s hungry but there’s no one around but Seth, so Seth rolls up the sleeve of his shirt, buttoning down until his forearm’s exposed and lets Richie drag the blade tip until he’s bleeding. Lets Richie feed like that, mouth pressed into the veins of his inner arm, nothing but sucking sounds and the desert around them and the rough slide of Richie’s tongue, almost like he’s nursing a child.

Feels like he’s food, something warm for Richie to suck on and he tries not to shudder, but he can feel it traveling up his spine, like something crawling out from his under his skin (he doesn’t know how to describe the experience—he’s food and prey, and brother and lover, and something else entirely).

“The things I do for you, Richie,” Seth mumbles, mostly to himself, running his hand through Richie’s hair, but Richie glances up at him while he’s still feeding, and stares at him oddly, pushing his glasses up and lifts his mouth away.

“Do you want me to stop?” He asks.

“No,” Seth says, before he can think about it, before the answer gets lodged in his throat. “No, I don’t.”

The cut on his forearm is throbbing and bleeding, and Seth doesn’t want him to stop. Don’t make me explain why, brother, because Seth can’t put it into words, just that Richie wanting, needing his blood gets his heart pounding and face flushed, that he can still crawl his way inside him like he’s always had.

“You just say that like you don’t like it,” Richie says softly, yellow eyes narrowed and blood dripping down his chin, white teeth red. He reaches over to cup his cock, squeeze just hard enough to take Seth’s breath away.

“I like it,” Seth groans like it’s punched out of him, groans again when Richie’s fingers slip under his pants and underwear, and there’s something animal in Richie’s smile, like trying to be smug, but it goes beyond that, and Seth feels trapped, held down there by his brother’s gaze.

Richie blows him in the car and leaves a bloody imprint of his mouth on his cock.

This is the new normal, Seth tells himself, you better get used to it.

(He is, he thinks; he’s covered in scars that weren’t there before they got to Mexico, and he pushes back Richie’s hair when they get in his eyes while he feeds and he never wants let go but some moments, it still feels like he’s in prison, and missing Richie every day, missing something.)

*

In Veracruz, Seth fucks up a con and gets a knife to his throat in a back alleyway, pressing it just the slightest bit, enough to hurt with a promise of violence. Seth grins until he gets punched in the solar plexus and doubles over, the knife grazing his throat enough to draw blood.

It’s not like Seth is worried, though. Richie is always there.

Seth glances back up when he hears a cut off scream, a yelp that was rising until suddenly the voice is gone. He sees Richie with a hand clamped tightly, squeezing, around the mark’s mouth, Richie’s fangs buried in his throat, feeding messy and ugly.

Seth is used to the bodies. The sheer brutality of it still throws him. The two of them have always been brutal, he knows—he once bashed a man’s skull in for his brother, blood and brain matter all over his clothes, and he’s done more, worse since then—but he looks away, feeling useless now with his gun. He wants to put a bullet in the mark’s head, just to prove he can still dispose of someone, but that makes more noise than what Richie is doing.

“You could have sprung sooner,” Seth says when he’s done, when Richie comes over and tilts Seth’s head up to meet his eyes, check on his injuries. Seth doesn’t really bother to clean Richie up, better to wait until they’re back in their room and with a shower. “Or at least let me take care of myself,” he says, and Richie grins at him, fanged and bloodstained.

“Thanks,” he says. “Did you get your money?”

Seth nods, because this is what they do now; con a mark, lure him out, Seth gets his money and Richie gets dinner. A small time thing, no where near a real job, but familiar enough for Seth, enough to get his bearings, even with Richie getting all lizard snake monster on them.

Richie puts his arm around him, walking him back to the car. He presses Seth against the door before he gets in, leaning in to lick the blood off Seth’s throat, like he can’t help himself, Seth shuddering (vampires are territorial, Seth vaguely remembers, but it doesn’t matter; he’s always been Richie’s).

Later, Richie sits on his bare chest, pressing the blade of his knife against his throat, where the mark had pressed it today, where the blood still stains his skin a bit even after it stopped bleeding. It rests against his jugular, Seth’s pulse pounding harshly against it. Richie’s eyes are dark and hooded, and hungry as he looks down on him.

“Can I?” he asks, his hand steady.

“Yeah,” Seth says. “You don’t have to ask all the time.” But Richie just smiles down at him, and Seth likes telling him, likes hearing the can I and telling him yes, yes.

Richie drags the knife down his chest instead of his throat, serrated blade teasingly scratching, like a promise, Seth shivering at its cool touch. Richie is slow and careful, edge of the knife grazing above his nipple then down below, slicing a cut open mid chest. It’s just a trickle, but Seth gasps anyway when Richie just laps at the blood, pink tongue darting out.

“Why do you that?” Seth asks when Richie moves on, further down; he cuts him a little bit more down on his hip, where Richie hasn’t left a mark there yet, fingers pressing down on the hollow of his hip and watching blood well out before drinking. Seth’s hands are on his shoulders, idly kneading, his fingertips hot against Richie’s skin (he used to touch Richie all the time to ground him, bring him back to earth when he got so fixated on something, I’m here, Richie, come back—but now he fixates on him, now he’s the meal and what does he pull him back from).

“You just drained some asshole dry. Aren’t you full already?”

“I’m always hungry,” Richie says, glancing up to look at him, features smoothing out, face opened up.

Seth doesn’t have a response for that. He reaches up and pushes Richie’s glasses up for him, and wraps his hand around Richie’s throat, just to touch him, feel the lack of pulse even when his skin is warm from the kill. Just to make sure he’s grabbing on to his brother. Richie shudders, places a hand over his throat as well, fingers lightly dancing over his skin and pressing down a bit. He likes feeling Seth’s pulse, too.

He stares at Seth for a long time, until even Seth can’t read the look on his face anymore. He thinks he’s staring still when Seth falls asleep.

*

The texas ranger called them monsters.

“Oh, we’re the bad guys?” Seth shouted at him. “I’m not denying it, but you’re the one out of jurisdiction. What does that make you?”

Seth said it grinning, like he won, like this was a victory, outlaws versus cops—I fought the law and I won—but Richie standing next to him was dead, walking corpse, and he doesn’t think either of them can hold up a flag and call it winning, exactly. More like compromise.

The last time he saw Freddie Gonzalez, they were leaving him in the dust and he wasn’t chasing after them. Seth expected him to, expected to have to put another round in his chest and one in his head just to make sure it’d take this time, but the ranger—covered in blood from fighting culebras and a tired, wane look in his eyes—just stared at them, gun drawn but otherwise doing nothing.

“Take your best shot, ranger,” Seth dared, not entirely feeling the smile on his face, but Richie at his back—now a terrifying undead snake vampire, but one on his team, at least for the moment—made him feel cocky. “I’d like to see you try. You shoot either one of us and it’s not going to end well for you. You can’t hit us both at once”

“I”m not afraid,” Freddie scoffed, glancing at Richie with a highly skeptical look on his face, like Richie’s fucking lizard face was nothing impressive. “But I think you two are fucked as it is.”

He didn’t holster the gun—this isn’t a white flag—but he lowered it, headed towards the exit.

“What about your revenge, cowboy?”

“Richie’s already dead,” Freddie said, walking away. “I’m pretty sure you’ll follow soon.”

“He has a wife and daughter,” Richie said when he left, leaning in to whisper in his ear. That makes sense to him.

We all got family to take care of, at the end of the day.

Seth felt a bit guilty for leaving Kate and her brother behind, with nothing except a couple million between them, like he could pay for their father’s death with it, that’ll no doubt get confiscated by the cops. He hopes they at least hide it where he told them to.

“Take us with you,” she asked, holding her brother’s hand tightly. Seth thought of two other siblings with a useless dead father, an unwelcome sense of obligation churning at him. Scott was shaking, Scott was reluctant, Scott hated them, and hated them more now that Richie was a vampire but still, he leaned into his sister, following her lead.

For a stupid moment, he wanted to take them with them, because after all, their father is dead because of him, and it might be nice to have two protegés to pass on their criminal know-how. Might be nice to be proud of someone.

He told her no—go with Freddie, go with the ranger, because fuck it if Seth has ever cared enough to do the right thing, just the right thing for him. It wasn’t as if Seth could take Kate and Scott with them on a roadtrip through an unknown country, no telling what Richie would do now.

No telling what Richie would do to them.

“They’ll be okay,” Richie said to him later, his hand lingering next to his. “They got each other.”

*

(He should have seen it coming.)

Seth wakes up and rolls over to find Richie still staring at him, too close, no sense of personal space (not that it ever mattered). He’s next to him on the bed, close enough so Seth could have felt him breathing if he still bothered to breathe.

“Hey,” Seth says, still groggy and half asleep. “What time is it?” He can’t tell anymore. It looks dark outside, but the curtains are drawn and that doesn’t tell him anything.

“About eleven,” Richie says, in a detached voice. “You slept a lot again.”

“Oh,” Seth says, still a little lightheaded. “You could just wake me, you know.” He sighs, shaking his head, putting a hand to his temples and then rubbing out the sleep from his eyes. “Did you already eat?”

Richie shakes his head. “Seth,” he says, and nothing else. He leans over, closer and Seth thinks he’s going to kiss him, but instead he nuzzles his throat, the side of his jaw, his skin cool and pasty.

“Hey, easy brother,” Seth says, laughing a little, putting his hands on the back of his neck, fingers lingering in his hair. “What, you want a quickie now?”

“No. I’m going to fix things,” Richie says softly, but his eyes are dark and narrowed in fierce intensity, the kind he gets while picking a lock or cracking a safe.

(He didn’t, because don’t bite the hand that fucking feeds you, right? That’s just common fucking sense, a dog knows better than that.)

Seth doesn’t get a chance to respond, because Richie’s fangs are in his throat.

He’s never felt that before.

Richie’s teeth have grazed down his throat before, recklessly teasing but always playful, never going there. This feels a hundred times more painful than his knife, tearing and burning, skin and flesh blown in white hot pain and Seth can’t even scream. Richie’s mouth is stronger than he ever thought it was, locked down over his flesh, hands pinning Seth to the bed, and Seth doesn’t even have the strength left in his arms to try to push him off.

Their fangs have fucking venom, and Seth’s not sure how he forgot about this, spent too long with his brother trying to tell himself everything was the same otherwise, and now he feels like he’s on fire, skin inflamed. Seth’s vision goes dim, white around his eyes, and he thinks he hears something, right before he passes out—Richie’s voice, faint and whispered, we’re going to be okay.

*

Goddammit, Richie,” Seth snarls when he wakes up on the floor.

His voice is funny. His throat feels clogged and his gums itch. He’s covered in his own blood. “Richie, what the fuck?”

Richie smiles at him from across the room. “I fixed us,” he says, smug and pleased with himself.

“Jesus fucking christ, Richie,” he says, standing up. His voice is so scratchy, thick and rough. His tongue feels numb. It’s like the day he found Monica, dead and eviscerated in their hotel room, eyes gouged out, some awful sinking feeling in his gut, a sense of helplessness so strong it was going to strangle him alive, breath gone out of him and feeling like he might puke. He feels like he might puke now. He can’t breathe—he’s not breathing. Seth sucks in a sudden, panicked breath, trying to remember that he can still breathe. He thinks he might hyperventilate.

“Easy,” Richie says, standing next to him, hands on his shoulders to balance him. “Take it easy, try to—”

Seth shrugs out of his grasp, batting his hands away. “Just, Jesus, what did you do?” He reaches up to touch his throat. It’s whole—sticky and caked with blood, flakes of it falling on the tile as he brushes his fingers across it, but whole.

Richie rolls his eyes. “What do you think, Seth? I made you a vampire like me. I fixed our problems. It was easy. I should have done it the night we left the bar.”

“Fuck you,” Seth spits out. “Just, fuck you, man, don’t you fucking condescend to me. This is not fixing our problems, this is making more problems, you fucking deranged excuse for a prodigy, you could have fucking warned me, or asked, or, fuck.” Seth feels dizzy. Are vampires supposed to feel dizzy? He can’t stop pacing. Everything is loud, clattering sounds from outside and the buzz of the air conditioning, everything is just too loud. He feels like he’s going to climb right out of his skin. “We were doing fine, goddammit, we were working, we were—”

“I see the way you look at me,” Richie says. He looms, drawing himself up to full height, silent as a blade in the dark. His eyes have the same kind of glint in them that they had when they got to the bar and Seth fucking wishes they’ve stopped at some other bar down the road, not that one. “I’m not stupid. I’m not blind. You’re afraid of me—”

“We were working,” Seth says. His voice sounds different. Lower, deeper pitched. He doesn’t think he’s doing it on purpose. “I was dealing with the changes you’ve gone through, fuck you, just, fuck you.”

“But you’re not denying it. You still think I’m a monster. So I fixed it. Now we’re back.”

Seth stares, pants a breath he can’t really breathe more, looks his brother up and down.

He snarls, mouth curling, and lunges at Richie instead. Slams him against the wall then the other wall, lamp crashing and footboard breaking. He throws him to the ground and claws for him, and Richie is laughing, grinning wide up at a him and Seth doesn’t really care, because he can attack now. There’s a strength in his body that wasn’t there before, like he’s made of iron, something powerful buzzing and coursing through him. It’s easy, so fucking easy now to pin Richie down on the hard floor underneath them, to put his legs on either side of his hips and grab him by the throat with both hands and squeeze.

Richie grabs his throat too, nails digging into the skin and fingers pressing down tight on a windpipe he no longer needs.

“Hey,” Richie says. “You hear that?”

He does. Seth hears a lot, the cars rushing outside and the idle conversations—and he can hear the approaching footsteps outside. Not too far, two hotel rooms down over, but they’ll be here soon.

“Hey,” Richie says, not choking, stroking his neck now. “I just wanted us to be the same again.” He places a hand on the back of Seth’s head and pulls him closer, until their foreheads are touching. Seth leans into it, lets his eyes close shut as he leans against his brother, his grip on his throat loosening. It’s a warm night, but neither of them sweat, not even after that fight.

“Are you hungry?” Richie asks again. Seth’s eyes feel funny, his skin tingling, like there’s something moving behind it, hot and alive. Is that how it’s supposed to feel? He nods.

“Listen.”

Seth listens. It’s a woman (the maid, he thinks, but does it matter?) and he can hear her heartbeat, loud and steady like a drum. He can smell her blood under her skin, even from here.

It was always easy to forgive Richie. If there was ever anything to forgive.

“Why don’t we say we let her in?” Richie says, and they share a grin with a mouth full of teeth.

*

Jacob had asked him, before the old man died, if he was really willing to go down to hell with his brother.

And Seth laughed, looking at the man on the ground he’d shot to protect Richie. Wondering where the hell did Jacob get such a ridiculous question. “This ain’t my first rodeo, padre,” he said.

He didn’t understand, but that’s alright, he didn’t need to understand, just stay out of his way.

He’d already been with Richie in hell, since the day Richie set the fire, since the day they did their first job, since the day Seth bashed a man’s skull in for his brother—and all the fucked up shit he’s done that wasn’t about Richie. Maybe before, even, since they were condemned to have a piece of shit father who was only good for getting drunk and beating children.

Seth and Richie walked into hell hand in hand a long time ago, before Mexico. Makes no difference what Richie is or isn’t.

*

They kill a hitch-hiker by the side of the road.

The hitchhiker was blond, an American tourist, the surfer type, the college kid back-packing in Mexico on no money, even though he had rich parents at home, for the experience. Seth wanted to kill him on principle alone.

Still, they work up to it. Seth asks him what his name is (Bradley, he says, he’s a fucking Brad), where he’s from (California, he says, UC Santa Barbara), what he’s studying (economics), what he’s doing here. What are your plans after college?, and the kid talks what sounds like nonsense, he thinks, all technical stuff, internships and networking and far away things that were never in reach for them.

“Santa Barbara, huh?” Seth asks. “Never been but that’s not far from L.A., right? Richie, we did a job in L.A. once, remember?”

Richie glances sidelong at him, arching an eyebrow. He nods briefly, a flicker of a smile on his lips, even if his eyes narrow.

“What kind of job?” Brad asks.

“Contract work,” Seth says. “Paid well, but man I fucking hated L.A., traffic was a nightmare.”

Brad laughs like they’re bonding. “Tell me about it, the 91 could kill a man.”

Seth snorts. Richie sits in the passenger seat and keeps shooting Seth side glares, little glances that scream what the fuck is taking so long and Seth just ignores him.

“Where are we going?” the kid asks, when Seth turns not at the sign back to the city, but at a darker, back road, away from the main road. The concrete road turns to dirt and sand and gravel eventually, and the signs disappear, the path around the road turning snarled, empty and desolate.

The kid’s heart is pounding, a loud rhythmic thump-thump in his chest, even if his face is still the easy-breezy smiling, like nothing is wrong but it was always hard to fool Seth.

“Short-cut,” Seth says, smiling at him. “It’s faster. Trust me”

Richie sighs, impatient. He doesn’t say anything the entire time.

There’s a beach around here, one away from the tourists. There’s no food stands or parking lots or nearby hotels to stay at and watch the waves from the balcony, just sand and rocks, lots of it. Tourists don’t come here, just locals every now and then, when they want to get away from the tourists.

“This isn’t a short-cut,” the kid says when Seth parks the car over a mound of sand, his voice trembling, shrinking into the seat. Seth used to think he knew what fear was like, familiar with the wane, wide-eyed faces and the tears of hostages and victims as Seth pat them on the shoulders and told them everything would be fine if the cooperated, but now it’s different. Thick in the air, intoxicating and mouth watering.

Seth meets Brad’s eyes in the rearview mirror, watches his own eyes slip to cobra yellow-green, his smile turn sharp-toothed, face change to something more reptilian and snake-like. “We’re the Gecko brothers. Maybe you’ve heard of us? We were on the news a while back.”

Richie is faster than he is, though. It’s less than two seconds flat, how he moves, zooming out the door, tugging the passenger side door open and dragging the kid out by his foot, because god forbid they get blood in their car.

The kid screams, high and pained, when Richie bites through his abdomen and the scent of blood and fear intermingle in the air. Seth doesn’t want to wait anymore, Seth rushes out as well, takes the kid from behind and tears into his throat, cutting and gnawing open a gaping wound and clapping his mouth shut around it. He tastes like schnapps and cherry, and sweet, sickly fear.

The hitchhiker trusted them because they were white and American and spoke english, which really, he should know better.

Seth and Richie don’t bury the body, what’s left of it anyway, just drag it out to the ocean and let it float away.

“Did you have to talk so much?” Richie asks.

Seth laughs, puts a blood-stained hand around the back of Richie’s neck and leads him back to the car. “I didn’t have to, but I wanted to. He should know who we are, don’t you think?”

Things haven’t changed much, to be honest, after Richie turned him. He still feels mostly the same—hungrier, maybe but he’s always been hungry, starving and hollow for something he couldn’t put a name to and never could fill. He still feels like himself. He doesn't know what he was worried about, why he feared this.

Like he was really going to let Richie live forever without him. Honestly.

“It’s not exactly the kind of beach you wanted,” Richie says, leaning backwards against the car, staring out into the ocean. He faces Seth, pensive and brows knitted together. There’s blood on his shirt, another ruined article of clothing. “You know, sunshine and blue agave.”

Seth’s mouth curves into an easy, slow smile, glancing up at his brother. “I didn’t want the beach,” he says, kicking at the sand and cupping Richie’s cheek, blood smeared upon bloody skin. Seth leans in and presses his lips against Richie’s mouth, because he can, tasting the remains of their meal there. On this side, it’s different now, no longer just the heavy iron taste, but an explosion of flavor on his tongue, sweet and sharp and savory. Seth wants to lap it up from Richie’s face, slides his tongue in his mouth to get a little more of it.

Richie makes a noise like a hum or a growl, his teeth sharp against Seth’s tongue. Seth’s still cupping his cheek when he pulls away, Richie pushing into his hand, Richie’s face no longer smooth but rougher and snake-like under his hands. He always lost his control and composure for Seth, all Seth has to do is touch him, never stop touching him and Richie folds (it’s a wonder he held out so long).

“I wanted you. Us,” Seth says. “The Gecko Brothers ride again.” They used to tell each other that, when they started doing jobs, real jobs, not candy-ass holding up stores and shit.

Richie grins, wide and toothy, and leans closer into him, foreheads touching just to touch, eyes gleaming bright and monstrous in the dark and Seth thinks they’ll be okay now.