It cost three vampires their lives to turn Tom, Hal jabbing a stake into their backs to force them to keep drinking the caustic blood, while Tom moaned and swore and fought against the restraints.
There isn't much folklore on hybrids, mostly because it's suicide for someone to attempt it, but Regus was helpful after Hal described in great detail what he could have done to Michaela, and Hal knew Tom wouldn't be grateful, wouldn't even understand, but he still ordered him found and brought in and left for him to deal with. People don’t refuse Hal anything these days, after all.
Hal bit his own wrist open and forced Tom to drink, slippery fingers on the back of Tom’s neck, scars he knew intimately well and scars he didn’t know yet. Tom was barely conscious, fading quickly, and Hal would mourn him in the cold hours of waiting that followed, but right then all he cared about was making sure this didn’t go wrong. It couldn’t go wrong. He made Tom drink until his own head began to swim and then pulled away, wrapping a bandage around his arm, neat.
There was werewolf blood all over the floor, all over the bed, Tom’s throat was a mess and there were bodies collapsed where they screamed, burning.
In the end, there was nothing to do that Hal could stomach. He walked across to the low table in the corner with the wooden box lying on it, opened the catches, and began to lay out his dominos.
Three days later, Regus put a mug of coffee in front of him.
“I didn’t...” Hal folded shaking fingers into the palm of his hand. “I didn’t mean it about Michaela, you know.”
“Yeah, you did.” Regus sounded tired rather than angry, resigned rather than frightened. “He’s not awake yet, is he.”
Hal wrapped his cold hands around the mug, eyes itching, collar too tight. “You said it would take days.”
Regus shrugged, because they were both working blind and desperate here.
“I liked you better when your OCD kept you away from people.”
Hal smiled, mirthless. “So did I.”
Tom tried to scramble away from him when he finally woke up, but Hal had kept the restraints in place and he was weak and all he managed to do was jerk and flop back against the bed.
“Tom,” Hal said, soft and low, trying not to sound like he was pleading, “Tom.”
He’d appropriated a hospital wing, gathered a group of vampires who’d been pissing everyone off lately, and Cutler promised to keep everyone distracted for a couple of weeks. It’ll probably cost Hal too much in the end, but well, neither of them really planned for any of this to happen, and there isn’t a lot left to pay with anyway.
Tom’s eyes roamed the small room, wide and confused and half-wild, swallowing the locked door, the lack of windows, and finally the poster of Hal, laminated to the wall and impossible to remove.
And then, slowly, pointedly, he turned his face away from all of it.
Hal hadn’t cried in years, but he thought about doing it then.
“I saved you,” Hal told him. “It was the only way.”
Tom looked thin and tired and broken; the recovery was taking longer than it should, partially because he refused to drink blood.
“Maybe I didn’t want saving,” Tom said flatly.
“You would’ve died.”
“I did die!” Tom’s voice cracked halfway through the shout, but it was still loud enough to sting against Hal’s nerves.
“You’ll be safe now,” Hal insisted, because it was true enough, for a given value of safe.
“I’m not your fucking pet.”
Tom was a boy once, a hopeful boy with smiles and innocence and determination. He fell asleep on Hal’s shoulder once, smelling of wolf and salt and Annie’s experiments in Earl Grey.
That boy had been gone a long time.
“I know,” Hal replied, and it came out a whisper.
Tom shook his head, something bitter pulling at his lips. “Nah, you don’t.”
It’s a week later, and the full moon is tomorrow.
“For what it’s worth, I liked him.” Cutler is smoking and spilling lies to twitter; multi-tasking.
“That’s how you express liking people, isn’t it,” Hal mumbles, “with betrayal.”
“I learned from the best, Mister Yorke,” Cutler replies, but there’s no real heat in it. “Tic Tac?”
Hal declines, concentrating on folding a Sunday supplement into handfuls of paper flowers. There’s not a lot of space for anyone in this world if you won’t drink blood, but Hal made a promise to Leo a long time ago, and anyway when the last few pockets of humans fall everyone’s suddenly going to be very thirsty.
“How’s the hybrid thing worked out, anyway?” Cutler asks after a while.
“No,” Hal says, sharp. “No, I’m not helping you build an army of vampire-werewolves just because you’re bored.”
“You’re the one who’s so insistent about hobbies,” Cutler murmurs, ashing into an empty water bottle stained pinky-red on the inside.
Tom sits on the floor of the cage and folds his arms and glares. He’s drugged and tired and malnourished and there’s no guarantee he’s even going to survive this in the end; vampires and werewolves were never supposed to coexist in the same body, after all.
“You’re just gonna sit there?” he asks, as Hal folds himself into an armchair, Dostoyevsky and a flask of tea.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen to you,” Hal tells him, careful. “I... I want to be here.”
Tom waves a hand at the wall, at the poster stuck to it. “You’re always here,” he mumbles, “you’re bloody everywhere.”
Maybe they’ll talk about that later, though more likely they won’t, and anything Hal was thinking of saying in reply is cut off when Tom arches and groans, the first trace of the moon cracking down his spine.
Hal watches Tom change, keeping his expression dispassionate. He’s heard Tom scream through the change before, and it’s different this time, probably because Tom is still full of painkillers and sedatives, possibly because Tom’s not a straightforward werewolf anymore. Either way, he tries to scream his own lungs up, while Hal digs his fingers into the arms of his chair and forces himself not to look away.
The wolf... the wolf doesn’t react like any wolf Hal’s seen or heard of. It pads over to the bars of the cage and sits down and stares back.
Tom sleeps for most of the next day, while Hal smiles for Mister Snow and oversees a public execution and feeds Cutler’s latest lies to the press.
When he goes back to the hospital, it’s to find Tom sitting silent and bandaged on the edge of his bed. Hal lingers in the doorway and watches the angry hard set of Tom’s bare shoulders, the striping of scars that still look cruel after all these years. He wants to touch his fingertips to their edges, wants to never see them again.
“What happened,” Tom begins. “What happened to the other hybrids?”
Death, always. Some were slaughtered by vampires or werewolves or even humans who decided they were worse than their separate species. Most, though, most committed suicide.
“I don’t know,” Hal lies. There’s a domino in the pocket of his suit and his hands are aching for it.
Tom laughs mirthlessly, shoulders shivering. “‘Course,” he mutters.
Hal forces himself to move, walking over to the bed. He curls his fingers over the metal footboard, something solid to hold onto, and for the hundredth time reminds himself that he made this choice. Yes, he made it for himself and not for Tom, and maybe Tom will never be grateful, but he made this choice.
Groggy, scared, fighting the change and strapped down to stop him from hurting himself or anyone else, Tom once muttered Leo’d spit in your face if he could see you now.
Tom turns his head to the side and Hal studies him in profile for a moment; the long eyelashes, the harsh set of his jaw, the new scars slicing his face.
“Hal?” he murmurs.
It’s suddenly hard to swallow; he fumbles out: “yes?”
He gets his first sighting of Tom’s new fangs as he twists around and says: “I want you to leave now.”
Tea before a council meeting, the kind that always ends with new bills being passed and ever more slaughter. Cocooned in the relative safety that comes from Regus and Cutler’s company, Hal is crocheting elaborate squares for a blanket that lies in a box at the end of his bed like yet another corpse. Keep busy, though he lost sane by the roadside a long time ago.
“He wants to leave, doesn’t he,” Cutler says, pouring himself another cup. “Are you going to let him?”
“What do you suggest I do?” It comes out as more of a snap than Hal meant; he forces himself to breathe before he continues. “I can’t keep him locked in a cage in a basement forever.”
“Well,” Regus mutters, “at least you’ve grown as a person.”
Hal ignores him; there’s nothing he can say, anyway, and the headache building behind his eyes isn’t going to be improved by this afternoon.
“I’d let him go,” Cutler shrugs, tapping his teaspoon against his saucer in thought.
Hal looks at him and Cutler looks back, expression steady, unchanging.
It’s been a long century.
“And where’s he going to go?” Regus asks after a while, reaching for more Hobnobs. “You might’ve saved him from something, Hal, but he’s still a wolf.”
Hal wraps the wool tighter around his fingers, tight enough to hurt.
“Tom’s not stupid,” Cutler says.
No, Tom isn’t stupid, and he isn’t naive anymore either. He’ll probably outlive all of them.
In the bottom of Tom’s rucksack is a jumper Hal knitted to keep himself sane while organising the takeover of Northern France. It’s thick, dark green, and full of so much self-loathing in every stitch that it made Hal tremble just to touch it.
Tom doesn’t know that he has it, and Hal doesn’t know what he’ll do when he finds it, but, well, it’s cold out there.
They were close, once, so close that Hal scratched himself and found Tom under his skin when it was too late to do anything about it. When he’d fallen too far and too deep and, well, he knows what the honourable thing to do would’ve been but he’s clung to existing all these years. Now, he hesitates over a handshake, over appropriate words.
“‘S’alright, you know,” Tom tells him, a flicker of a real smile. “I mean, I won’t forgive you or nothing, but I know why you did it.”
“You don’t have to-” Hal begins.
“I know you, Hal,” Tom shrugs. “And I fucking wish I didn’t, and I wish your face wasn’t on every wall, and I wish I didn’t know how you like your tea or how you sing when you think no one’s watching, but I do, and we’re both gonna have to live with all of this, okay.”
Hal watches him leave, and wonders if he’s ever felt more helpless.
They’re both drunk, and there’s blood and booze spilt all over the table and a tightly locked door. No one’s safe these days, not even poster boys and spin doctors. No one’s irreplaceable.
“Is this what you were expecting?” Hal asks.
Cutler’s mouth twists, smudged red and eyes glittering. “You were an Old One,” he says, “you were planning the world domination shit longer.”
Hal shrugs. “I never planned anything.”
“Well, that’s obvious.” Cutler smiles, cruel, and they were a lot of things to each other in dark rooms and fresh graves and clean sheets, a lot of things, but they never understood each other then the way that they do now. “And no. I don’t think many of us planned for this. This is bloody awful.”
“It is,” Hal says.
He often wishes that Ivan was still alive; he’d make a better poster boy, make a better leader. Just... someone else, someone more capable.
“Maybe I’ll leave,” Cutler muses. “Find somewhere better with beaches and a sense of humour and fewer underground bunkers with grumpy resistance forces.”
Hal has thought about it, thought about it a lot, but he’s in too deep and it’s too late. He can’t escape. Cutler... well, there’s still a little time.
“And leave me to deal with all this?” he asks, tone light.
Cutler sinks back into his chair, sighing. “Oh, you bastard,” he breathes. “You can out-bastard even me.”
“I always could,” Hal reminds him.
“Did anyone think about the fact there’d be no TV or films anymore?” Regus asks, conversational. “I’m just asking this as someone who didn’t get involved in any of this until it was a bit too late for anyone to be pointing out logistical errors.”
“This whole thing is one long logistical error,” Cutler murmurs. He pats his suit jacket. “Can I smoke in here?”
“No,” Hal tells him.
“We should’ve repealed those smoking laws before eating parliament,” Cutler sighs. “Are there at least going to be canapés?”
“I think there’s going to be a buffet later,” Regus shrugs.
Hal wrinkles his nose, curling fingers into his palms. He doesn’t want to be here but Mister Snow sent him; the book being launched is probably about to become required reading for all vampires, a memoir in taking over the world. Most of it’s a pack of lies that even Cutler turned his nose up at, but it doesn’t matter; the masses need something to cling to, something to keep them quiet now Hollywood is dead and radio killed the video star.
“Well, that’s just tacky,” Cutler sniffs.
“At least this is swanky enough for them to have actual straps rather than duct tape,” Regus points out.
Someone clinks two glasses together, quietening the chatter in the room, and Hal looks towards the chairs arranged for the guests of honour.
“You’re up, kid,” Regus tells him, pushing a hand between his shoulder blades.
So he is. Hal assembles a public face and begins to walk through the crowd, careful not to touch anyone, hearing Cutler sigh behind him.
Breaking his own rules is what Hal does these days; there’s an email address that he shouldn’t have, a secret that he’ll never tell, no matter how far he falls (and he will. Hal’s always tripped through cycles, and he’s barely clinging onto grace as it is).
Allison, he types, are you still out there?
Michaela’s wearing her striped tights, a pair of angry black boots and too much eyeliner. Hal doesn’t ask how she feels about this brave new world; she’s writing a volume of verse, though, and god knows publishers will take anything these days.
“You’re an idiot,” she tells him, conversational, flicking the dominos on his table over. Hal isn’t sure who let her into his rooms, or even why he’s letting her stay, but something about Tom’s awkward hands lingers in the back of his mind.
“I’ve had people killed for saying less,” Hal reminds her; not a threat, just a statement of fact.
“I knew you when you were a loser,” Michaela shrugs.
Hal folds himself up from today’s masochistic sit-ups, leaning back against his wardrobe. “Did you want something, Michaela?”
She rolls her eyes, tapping impatient fingers against his tumbled dominos. “You let Tom go,” she snaps. “I bloody know you love him and both of you were trying to get in my knickers when I first met you.”
He honestly doesn’t know how to reply or defend himself against any of that, so he pulls out the thread he can control. “You know about Tom?”
Michaela shrugs. “Who do you think helped Regus with the research? You just came into his library and snarled I need to know about hybrids, it’s not like using google.” She waves a dismissive hand, dark red nails. “Anyway, we’re talking about what you did to Tom and then you just let him go.”
“I saved him,” Hal insists, because he’ll keep saying that until someone pries the words from his mouth.
Michaela makes an impatient noise and then comes to sit next to him on the floor, shoulder pressing too close and Hal swallows, fights not to pull away.
“I knew he wouldn’t tell you everything,” she murmurs. “He promised me he would, but I knew he wouldn’t.” Hal turns to look at her, questioning, and she twists her mouth. “Half the hybrids went mad.” Her voice is soft, careful; a mixture of kindness and wariness. “You see, when they change... their minds stay normal and only their bodies become wolves. At the full moon, Tom’s still in there.”
Hal isn’t aware of getting up or pushing off her comforting hands; when he becomes aware of anything it’s that he’s running desperately through the empty streets. He’s never been able to outrun himself or his consequences, but it’s never stopped him from trying.
“Get out of my bed, Cutler,” Hal sighs, pulling back the covers. He’ll have to change the sheets now, though at least this time Cutler’s taken his shoes off. There are spots of blood on his pillow, black in the dark, and while the smell is tempting it’s also sickening. “You’re drunk.”
“I am,” Cutler agrees. He rolls onto his back, eyes glittering in the shreds of moonlight skittering through the curtains; full moon tonight, and oh, that hurts in ways Hal didn’t know things could hurt. “Go to sleep, Hal.”
“Please,” Hal says softly, fingers still knotted in the blankets. “Please, Nick, just get out.”
Cutler laughs; bright and cruel and sad. “I’m only ever ‘Nick’ when you want something,” he says, words slipping and sliding. “I thought I was in love with you for years.”
“Don’t.” It comes out quieter than a whisper, Hal’s lips shaping the word.
“I mean, I even spent a while wondering what the fuck a little werewolf had that I had never had. This is years ago, mind; now I know how you treat people you love I’m glad I never got close.”
Hal sits down, the air and the fight slipping out of him. Cutler’s still watching him. “I used to count having blood licked out of the hollow of my throat while being told I was a good boy as happiness,” he muses. Hal opens his mouth and Cutler touches his lips with clumsy fingers. “I’ve heard your apologies before,” he points out, “and you’re terrible at them. I’ll write you a proper one at some point, remind me.”
They have too much history, too many moments that cannot be spoken of, too many recriminations. Maybe that’s all friendship is, when you’ve been alive this long.
He says nothing because there’s nothing to say; his throat feels raw, peeled, and Cutler pushes himself upright. “It’s okay,” he announces, too loud, “I’ll go. Leave you to your own messes.”
“Most of my messes were created by you,” Hal tells him, fighting for control of any of this.
“Not the ones that’ll keep you awake tonight.” Cutler shifts, pressing a too-warm kiss to his cheek, and stumbles from the room.
He leaves his shoes behind, and Hal sits in the crumpled sheets and looks at the moon and thinks about everything and nothing at all.
We’re still here, Allison’s email says.
Hal doesn’t know where here is because he doesn’t trust himself, but he does know there’s a small pocket colony of werewolves who are still alive. Perhaps he should have trusted Tom to them, but he’s not naive, they won’t last much longer, even with Hal sending them all the information he can garner and spare.
He wants to ask if Tom’s managed to find them, if Tom’s somewhere safe among people who might treat him as a friend, but... there are too many reasons he can’t do that.
Footsteps outside him send him closing the window and slamming the laptop lid. Regus doesn’t bother knocking.
“Shit. Fan. Hit.” He jerks his head. “This can be your problem.”
Hal should probably have thought about the fact that sending Tom out into the world would lead to a trail of bodies. A noticeable trail.
If he takes responsibility for this then he’s dead. He’s dead, and they’ll find someone new for the posters, and his execution will be public and slow and nasty. And what will happen to Tom doesn’t bear thinking about.
“So we find whoever’s responsible for this,” he says, calm and steady, “and we kill them, big and slow and obvious.”
Just for show, just to cover his tracks, he rips out the jugular of the shivering young vampire who brought the news.
It’s been two months. Two long, long months. Time doesn’t pass normally these days.
Regus puts a hand on Hal’s shoulder. The others mostly laugh at him, but he’s the one with the history and vampires are a more superstitious lot than they’ll ever admit. In any case, he gets his way into most private functions.
“You need to get out of this stupid meeting,” he says in an undertone. “There’s going to be naked women and biting soon anyway, not your kind of thing. And you might want to have a word with your supposed security detail.”
Michaela’s sitting on the floor outside his rooms, Poe open in her lap. She gives Hal a long, thoughtful look before she gets up and slinks away, and Hal thinks his heart would be pounding if it could as he pushes open the door.
Tom is sitting on his bed, eyes dark and wide, skin too pale. Hal has no idea how he managed to get in here when half the country is out looking for him, and even less of an idea as to why Tom would come back.
He closes the door behind him, locks it.
“Have you come to kill me?” he asks.
Something softens in Tom’s face, something familiar that he hasn’t quite lost. “I don’t know,” he admits.
Hal walks over to stand before him, vulnerable and open and it’s Tom’s best chance. “I won’t stop you,” he tells him.
Tom studies him for a moment, then fists his hands in Hal’s shirt and drags him down.
There’s something angry in the way Tom kisses, something greedy, something bitter, something urgent.
Hal can’t compare him to what he would have expected, what he would have wanted, back in those days when Annie seemed like she’d never drift and they lived in a house with the War Child who should have fucking destroyed them all while she could, if she could, and he doesn’t try. He bites into Tom’s mouth, into the cracking softness of his lips, fingers curled over his hips and something he can’t even gloss over and pretend isn’t desperation in every move he makes.
Tom’s hands are everywhere, searching, exploring, touching more than Hal is comfortable with in these days where he keeps himself to himself, wrapped in static. He doesn’t try to push him off, though, doesn’t try to stop him from curling ever closer. The burn on his upper arm from Tom’s blood, the scar streaking his wrist that still feels too new, too sensitive.
“You made me, didn’t you,” Tom whispers, lips bruised from Hal’s kisses and eyes flashing from black to brown and back again.
“Wouldn’t trust it to anyone else,” Hal replies.
It’s not enough and far too much and he can’t. He leans back in but Tom pushes him back, frowning, squinting like he’s looking for something.
“You didn’t want me to die,” he says, and Hal could spit that that was obvious, that they’ve been arguing about that since Tom’s eyes first opened as a vampire. But he can hear the things Tom isn’t saying, can’t ask.
“I didn’t want you to die,” he agrees, and when Tom kisses him again it isn’t forgiveness but it’s something.
Tom is gone in the morning, the twist of sheets the only sign he was ever there.
“He’ll be back,” Cutler sighs, mug of coffee in one hand.
Something slots into place. “Why would you even help him get in here?” Hal asks.
Cutler shrugs. “Maybe I feel like I owe him one. Maybe I want to see what it looks like when you get your heart broken for a change.”
Hal pours himself some coffee. “You’ve got a bet on with Regus, haven’t you.”
“Something like that.” Cutler smiles, brief and real, before it twists into the face he wears for the masses; too bright, too sharp, and one Hal’s known for a very long time.
“Hobbies, I suppose,” Hal murmurs.
“Hobbies,” Cutler agrees, lighting a cigarette.
They don’t have a lot else; not anymore.