"Vlad, just think. This time next week you're going to be a proper vampire! Do you think your dad will let me sleep over sometimes, in the crypt?"
Robin's eyes were shining and Vlad was wondering how best to break the news that, no, his dad definitely would not. No matter how appealing the thought might be.
Perhaps it was the whispering, perhaps it was the gormless look on Robin's face. Either way, Mr. Jenkins chose that moment to drop a textbook on to the desk in front of Robin, causing him to jump a clear inch from his seat.
"Branagh," Mr. Jenkins drawled, "thank you for volunteering." Robin paled before quickly flushing to the tips of his ears. Vlad tried to give him a sympathetic smile, but, Robin wasn't looking at him.
"Come on son, don't be shy. You obviously know all about it, or you wouldn't have been talking, would you?"
Robin got to his feet slowly, keeping his eyes on his floor. The rest of the class were already snickering as Mr. Jenkins brandished an anatomical model in one hand and a foil wrapper in the other. Vlad bit back his own smirk - it was kind of funny - and looked down at the safe-sex pamphlet in front of him instead. It beat his dad's chalkboard diagrams and tips on fang etiquette.
"Sir," Richard Price, who fancied himself something of a hard man, called out, slouching back in his chair as he went on, "Branagh don't need to know how to do that. He's never going to get that far!"
Robin went redder still as he struggled to get the condom wrapper open. Laughter rippled around the classroom.
"Stranger things have happened, Price; believe me." Mr. Jenkins joked in a way that was just disconcerting enough to shut Price up. "Right, now then, Branagh. Pinch the tip."
Robin was turning an interesting shade of scarlet, sweat beading across his forehead as he did as he was told. He pinched the latex, and positioned it over the model with hands that didn't quite stay steady.
"How does it measure up to Count then?" Davis laughed.
"Come off it, Count 'aven't got one!" Watson hollered from across the room. Price snickered and flicked his hand out in a 'gangster' motion. Vlad scowled.
"Neither has Branagh." Miller offered. "Makes them the perfect match, don't it?"
"Aw, he's blushing. Leave him alone!" Kelsey Peterson, who was now sat closest to Robin, demanded, glaring at the other boys. "I bet he," she looked pointedly at Price, "would have a better idea of what to do with it than you did, Richard."
Davis and Watson 'ooh'-ed mockingly, Price glared. Robin blushed harder. Vlad settled for glowering at her with as much menace as he could muster. His long standing unrequited crush on Robin was bad enough as it was, he didn't need competition from the likes of Kelsey 'boys worship at my feet' Peterson. She was like a less violent version of Ingrid.
"Settle down!" Mr. Jenkins barked as Robin rolled the condom the last of the way down, removing his hand as quickly as he could and wiping his palm against his trouser leg.
"Well well, Branagh."
Robin looked up at his teacher, praying he would let him go and sit down now that he had been thoroughly humiliated.
"I must say, I pity the poor soul who does end up with you."
Robin frowned in confusion.
"You've managed to put it on inside out."
This time, even Vlad couldn't stop himself from laughing.
"Are you mad!?" Delila turned to face Kelsey in shock, the mascara wand raised halfway to her face all but forgotten. Her best friend could not be suggesting what Delila thought she was suggesting.
Kelsey shrugged, touching up her hair in the mirror. "You saw Richard's face when I stood up for him. He'll be well jealous."
"Yeah, but Branagh." Delila shuddered. "There's got to be a less vomit inducing way of making Richard pay."
Kelsey blushed. "I don't know, I think Branagh's kind of cute." She leant back against the sinks, grinning. "Anyway, you used to go out with Count."
"Eugh, don't remind me." Delila pulled a face. "You do realise those two are like joined at the hip." She paused, rummaging through her makeup bag for her lip gloss. "How are you going to get rid of that loser anyway?"
"I wouldn't worry about that." Kelsey undid three buttons of her school blouse and rolled the band of her school skirt under another two times. "A choice between me and Count? No contest."
Kelsey pouted at the mirror one last time before the girls left the toilets for afternoon registration. Delila shook her head at the way every boy they passed gawped at Kelsey; Branagh wasn't going to know what had hit him.
"That's my seat!"
Robin turned to see Vlad, his eyes wide and incredulous as he protested. Robin felt slightly bad, they had sat next to each other in every lesson they could for as long as he could remember… But, that had been before a fit girl had wanted to sit next to him. He was sure Vlad would forgive him.
"Miss. Kowalski said I could sit here today. Robin's going to help me with my perspective."
The smile Kelsey flashed him made Robin's heart beat three times faster than usual. In fact it was almost enough to cancel out the fact that Price was glaring over at him, a glare he recognised as meaning 'later, Branagh, you're going to wish you had never been born.'
"Robin's such a talented artist."
This time Price was wiped clean out of his mind, along with Vlad, his imminent maths coursework deadline and everything else that did not involve Kelsey Peterson smiling at him.
"Well, I'll just sit on my own then."
Robin didn't even look up as Vlad stalked past him.
"She can't be with him. He's a total loser." Richard Price pushed away from the wall of KFC to pace, glowering darkly at a couple who passed by on their way to Blockbusters.
'Tommo' Watson took a drag of his cigarette, "I'm just telling you what I saw. Kelsey and that weirdo hand in hand." He refrained from mentioning and 'tongues down each others throats'. Rich was funny like that – had a habit of shooting the messenger.
Davis continued, round a mouthful of chicken zinger, "Thought it was over between you two anyway. You said she was a right slag." Price glared harder. "'m just saying."
"Look," Watson ground his fag into the walkway, "I got to go, I'm on the tills today." He pulled his cap back on and straightened his polyester shirt. "We can give him a good hiding tomorrow."
"What have you got to say for yourselves?" Van Helsing sighed as he took in the five petulant faces; the bruises, bloodied noses and rumpled uniforms. They were too old to be fighting like that in the corridors.
"Count started it." Richard Price pouted. Andrew Davis nodded. Thomas Watson was too busy prodding gingerly at his bleeding arm.
Van Helsing couldn't help but wince as Watson's fingers came away streaked with blood. He'd seen a lot of fights as a teacher. Never had he seen anything like the vicious bite Watson was sporting.
"That's not true, Sir!"
He rubbed at the beginnings of a stress headache. Van Helsing didn't know what it was about Vlad Count, but he didn't trust the boy as far as he could throw him. Less than that even. Count was built like a rake.
"Did you bite him, Count?"
Count squirmed uncomfortably. "Well, yeah, but only because he hit Robin!"
"Count, I've had just about enough of you. You can serve detention, with me, every Wednesday for a month." At the boy's frown he continued, "Think yourself lucky you're not being put on report. Right, now get out of my sight. All of you. And Watson," The boy hovered in the open doorway, "Go and see the nurse."
"Robin!" Mrs. Branagh took in her son's bruised face, the spots of blood on his shirt collar. "You've been fighting!"
Robin scowled, dropping his school bag to the floor. His head hurt from where Watson had swung for him, and Vlad had stormed off home before he could even thank him for getting him out of trouble. He told her what he had tried to make clear to Vlad,
"I didn't start it!"
"He's right, mum." Ian chipped in around a mouthful of spaghetti. "It's all round the school. Vlad took a chunk out of Tommo Watson's arm."
"Yeah." Paul added. "It was proper gross. There was blood everywhere."
"Not Thomas Watson." Mr. Branagh put down the copy of the Stokely Chronicle he had been reading. "He's a lovely lad, helps me out with the Cubs." He looked at Robin sharply. "I've warned you about that Count boy. He's an animal."
Robin muttered something in response which was too quiet for Mr. Branagh to hear. It was probably for the best.
"Graham," Mrs. Branagh scolded, "Don't be like that. Vlad's not had an easy time of it."
Mr. Branagh rolled his eyes. Robin picked at his food without any enthusiasm; something was up with Vlad. More than the transformation. More than the inevitable jealousy that Kelsey Peterson liked him not Vlad. He sighed. Whatever it was, Vlad didn't seem to want to tell him.
"Please don't make me do this." Delila put as much persuasion behind that as she could. "Someone might see us."
"We're only knocking for him. Besides it's all part of the plan. You saw what Richard did after I went on one date with Branagh." Kelsey smoothed her already immaculate hair. "I want him to beg me to take him back."
"I don't know." Delila's tone was anxious as Kelsey rang the Branaghs' doorbell. "Look at what Count did to Tommo."
She got Kelsey to look at her properly, hoping to get across how serious she was. "You know what all the boys say about those two. And there's no smoke without fire." She thought about the time she had once spent at the castle with Vlad's weird dad and weirder sister. "Do you really want to get on the wrong side of Count?"
"Please," Kelsey rolled her eyes, "I am not scared of Vladimir Count."
Mrs. Branagh opened the door halting their conversation. Kelsey smiled up at her sweetly. "Hello Mrs. Branagh. Is Robin there, please?"
As Delila followed Kelsey up the narrow stair case to Robin's bedroom she shook her head. This was so not going to end well.
"Kelsey's so amazing, Vlad. Like really amazing. We went to see 'The Vampire's Curse' – at her suggestion - and then I walked her home and we kissed for ages. Did I say she was amazing?"
"Yes." Vlad answered with as much venom as he dared. He was sick to the back teeth of hearing about how amazing Kelsey Peterson was. It was like Robin turned into a different person at the mention of her name. He looked up and scowled harder. It was bad enough having to hear about the time she was spending with Robin. It was another thing having to watch them spend time together.
Kelsey sat down next to Robin, flicking her long blonde hair over her shoulder. Robin smiled at her adoringly.
"Kelsey, we were just talking about you!"
"All good, I hope." Kelsey smiled back at him, touching her fingers to the purpling bruise on Robin's temple. A souvenir from their run in with Price and his gang. Vlad had to take shallow breaths to control the urge to wrench her hand away. It scared him; he knew it was because he was so close to the transformation, but it didn't help. Yesterday he had lost control completely and bitten Tommo Watson. He could still taste the acrid tang of the other boy's blood.
If he wanted to draw blood now when somebody was just touching Robin, how was he going to cope once he was a vampire for real?
Trying to take his mind off it he took a bite of his sandwich, just as quickly spitting it back out as he felt something moving. Gingerly he lifted the bread to see half a worm and some pink mush he supposed was the other half. He dropped it back into his lunchbox and looked up to see Kelsey eyeing him up like he was a particularly nasty mess on her shoe.
"Anyway," She turned back to Robin, "as I was saying, you can come round about six tomorrow. My mum's seeing her new bloke so we'll be on our own." She looked up at Robin from beneath her lashes, her meaning obvious. Robin seemed to be lost for words.
Vlad folded his arms, all the better to sulk effectively. Suddenly a thought occurred to him.
"You can't! Not tomorrow."
"Why?" Robin asked him, clueless.
Vlad tried not to think about how much Robin's obvious indifference was hurting him. "It's my birthday tomorrow. You know, big occasion and all that. Life changing, even."
"Oh yeah." Robin sounded… disappointed.
It was too much.
"Fine, hope you manage to get it on the right way this time!" Vlad spat, shoving his lunchbox into his schoolbag angrily and hauling it over one shoulder. "Meanwhile I could die and you don't even care!"
He stormed off, doing his best to pretend he couldn't hear the entire canteen laughing at him.
"I reckon," Ingrid said as she bit into another sugared cockroach, "that it'll kill you within an hour."
"Ingrid!" The Count tsked. "That's my son and heir you're talking about. Vlad will emerge from that room victorious. A true vampire."
"A true Wimpire, more like." Ingrid sneered in Vlad's direction. "Look at him. He's been crying all afternoon."
Vlad sniffled helplessly into his shirt sleeve. "I have something in my eye!"
Ingrid just shook her head. "Can't we just get on with this? Branagh's obviously blown you out for something more interesting like, I don't know, watching paint dry."
Vlad looked away. "He'll be here." He knew it was a lie even as the words left his lips. Last night he had even risked life and limb to ring Robin from Ingrid's mobile. Nothing. If Robin wouldn't answer the phone to Ingrid, then no way would he bother to show up for this.
Ingrid sighed dramatically. "I haven't got all day!"
"I hate to say it, but she's right, Vlad." The Count snapped. "Your destiny awaits."
Vlad cringed, how long had been hearing that for? He took a hesitant step closer to the imposing wooden door, clasping his hands together to try and hide the fact he was shaking with fear. If it still had the ability he was sure his heart would be hammering against his ribcage. He just wanted to see Robin once more. Once he came out of the blood mirror room he, Vlad, might not even exist any more, might be completely taken over by a monster…
The sound of feet pounding down the staircase broke through his maudlin thoughts. "Sorry, I'm late," Robin burst through the archway, panting for breath, "I 'ad. Detention. With. Jenkins."
Vlad felt faint with relief. "You came?"
Robin finally straightened up. "Course I came. That's what best mates are for." Robin flashed him a crooked grin and it was all Vlad could do not to run and fling his arms round him. For the first time since he'd woken up that morning his burgeoning hysteria subsided a little.
"Well go on then," Robin motioned towards the door, "I'll still be 'ere when you get out."
Vlad smiled gratefully and squared his shoulders: Destiny here I come.
"Given you the push, has she?" Ingrid dropped inelegantly into the chair across from Robin.
"Why are you here then?" Ingrid asked, tearing the wrapping paper off one of Vlad's birthday presents. When finished she sprayed the revealed bottle of aftershave, pulled a face, and hurled it against the far wall.
Robin swallowed nervously. "Because Vlad's my best mate." Because, Vlad was. He understood that Vlad hadn't meant what he'd said yesterday. Vlad wasn't like that.
"Is he?" Ingrid looked at him inquisitively. "Really?"
"Yeah." Robin backed away slightly. Ever since Will had died Ingrid, in his eyes at least, had gone from being deadly but irresistible, to just downright deadly.
"That's not how Vlad sees it." She smirked at the way Robin's eyes went wide in shock. "If I were you, I wouldn't hang about. When he gets out of there he's not going to have a lot of control."
"Yes, he will." Robin defended. "Vlad's the Chosen One. He'll be able to control it."
"Not when it comes to you. You still don't get it, do you?" Ingrid sighed and spoke slowly, enunciating each word to Robin like the imbecile she clearly thought he was. "When he gets out of there he's not going to want to be friends with you. You coming round here, smelling of her, well, it'll be as good as a death sentence."
Robin paled but managed to stutter out. "Vlad will always want to be my friend."
"Believe what you want, Branagh."
Kelsey carefully positioned the webcam on her desk, so that it was pointing right at her bed. This was a part of the plan she hadn't even shared with Delila. Walls had ears and if it got around before she'd had chance to carry it through, well, it didn't bear thinking about really.
Some of the other girls were so horrible. She wasn't a slut.
It was just that boys understood sex. This would hurt Richard far worse than anything she could say to him. This would make him understand how she had felt when he'd gone with that stupid girl on holiday.
It was all set up, her stomach fluttered nervously. There was nothing to do but wait. Kelsey sat still for all of about thirty seconds before grabbing her mobile. She might not be able to tell Delila about this, but she still had plenty of other gossip for her.
Vlad peered into the mirror cautiously, cold sweat trickling down his back. When his reflection finally appeared he jumped back in shock.
"Jumpy, aren't you? I've been waiting too long for this, Vladdy."
Vlad tried his best to look unafraid. "I'm not afraid of you. You can't make me evil."
"No, I can't." His reflection whispered, the nasty smirk looking horribly out of place on his own face. "You're already evil, Vlad. You just need me to help you stop fighting it."
"Don't be like that, Vladdy." His reflection mocked, leaning nonchalantly against the mirror frame. "You haven't seen what it could be like yet." He snapped his fingers and the image that appeared in its place had Vlad touching his fingertips reverently to the cool glass.
Suddenly he was no longer seeing the vision through the mirror. It was as though he were actually experiencing it.
Robin was stood in front of him; looking at him with the same adoring gaze Vlad had only ever seen him direct at Ingrid or Kelsey. He took a step closer without any conscious direction from his brain. It was like a dream, where you knew what you were doing but still had no control over your actions.
He was so close now that he could feel Robin's breath on his cold skin. He wanted to cling to Robin, to soak up his warmth, to kiss him so deeply it would feel like he was being warmed from the inside out.
What he felt himself doing was completely different. He could feel his fangs tingling as they descended, brushing against his lower lip. Robin had gone chalk-white, moving to take a step back, but Vlad grabbed hold of him. His fingers clenching so tightly into Robin's shoulders that the other boy grimaced.
He was lowering his face to Robin's neck. The sound of Robin's racing blood crashing in his ears, the smell making him ache in ways he had never known. He opened his mouth wide, ready to bite, when he finally came to his senses. Vlad fought against the urge with everything he had, stumbling backwards with the force, and breaking contact with the mirror. He covered his mouth with one shaking hand.
"I wouldn't… I would never hurt him."
"You won't have any say in it, will you?" His doppelganger hissed in his ear and Vlad spun around. The fight had begun.
"Count said what!? No way." Delila balanced her mobile between her shoulder and ear, rooting through her wardrobe for her favourite dress. She had a date with Tommo tonight, a proper one, not just hanging about on the benches in town, or sitting in the park with the others all night. She wanted to look perfect.
"Seriously," Kelsey's voice crackled down the phone line. "He said he was going to kill himself if Robin didn't go to his stupid birthday party! He is so pathetic."
"So did Robin go?" Delila smirked to herself; it had always been 'Branagh' before now. At this rate Kelsey wouldn't want Richard back.
"Well, he had to, didn't he?" Kelsey chattered on, oblivious to Delila's insinuation. "Not that anyone would miss Count."
"That's so mean!" Delila protested, laughing anyway as she lay the dress out on her bed. She peered back into the mass of clothing, which shoes?
"True though. Still, he said he'd come round after they've blown out the candles and Count's had his hand held for half hour."
"You want to hope that hand holding is all Count expects."
"Don't be so disgusting!" Muffled noises came across the line as Kelsey moved. "Hey, hang on a minute."
Delila switched her hair straighteners on; she could hear Kelsey opening the front door.
"Actually Dee, I'm going to have to ring you back. He's just turned up."
"Aw, NO, you stupid fucking undead bastard! ARGH!"
Richard Price raised an eyebrow at the string of profanity coming from his best friend. Drew was red in the face, pounding at the Xbox controller like his life depended on it. Richard slid into the swivel chair in front of his computer desk. It was Drew's own fault. If he spent less time with his hand down his pants and more time working on his strategy, he wouldn't still be on level 28 like some twelve-year-old noob.
He, of course, was already on level 50. It meant there was no point in playing against Drew, he was so rubbish. If Tommo were here, instead of staying home to whack one out over Zac Efron like the gayboy he was, then it might be different. He powered up the computer. As it was, he'd take his chances on MSN.
"hey bbz, wot r u up 2?"
Kelsey! Richard turned the monitor, discreetly, so Drew wouldn't see. Not that he needed to worry. Drew was too busy threatening death to all the 'cocksucking fuckwits' who had been involved with the development of 'Vampire Orgy 6'.
"nuthin jus pissin my pants at drews xbox skills. lmfao. u?"
He waited impatiently for the reply, trying not to think about how gay his stupid 'feelings' for Kelsey were making him.
"not much. wanna go on webcam?"
Richard risked another glance over at Drew – he was still engrossed with blasting the heads off vampires.
A picture of Kelsey came up on screen. She was so beautiful. He wished, not for the first time, that he'd just told that skanky cow on holiday to fuck off, instead of going back to her parents' caravan.
Richard turned at a yell of triumph from Drew. "Oh, yeah. I'm catching you up Richy boy."
"Only another 21 levels to go." Richard scoffed. When he turned back to the computer screen his blood ran cold. Kelsey was back – but she wasn't alone. She was on her bed with some other boy. His hands inside her top, her hand, from what he could make out, working its way into his trousers. He looked closer before getting up and slamming his fist into his bedroom wall, uncaring of the shocked look on Drew's face.
Robin Branagh was dead.
When Vlad finally emerged from the blood mirror room, it was to darkness. He blinked, his vision quickly adjusting, and made his way up the staircase. His dad was dozing on his throne; Renfield curled at his feet, like a dog. There was no sign of Ingrid, or Myra - Ingrid's baby daughter; Will's parting gift to stability in the Vampiric community. Or, Robin.
The emotions the other boy's absence engendered felt so much stronger than they had even that morning. The anger made him want to scream, to take the pile of birthday presents on the table and smash them all to the floor. The hurt was worse. He wanted to howl his grief to the night sky. It was his reflection, he knew. He could feel it beneath his skin, like it was trying to consume him from the inside and make him give in to every bad thought he had ever had. He controlled himself. With difficulty.
Instead he clicked his fingers and lit the wall sconces. It illuminated a banner on the wall, declaring that today was a 'Happy Birthday'. Vlad sniffed. It wasn't to him.
"Vlad!" The Count was up and standing in front of him in a flash. "I knew you could do it." He jerked his head in the direction of the crypt, "INGRID!"
Ingrid appeared, looking angrier than usual. Her hair was in rag rolls and she was wearing her red pyjamas, the ones with the little bats on. Myra was in an all-in-one sleep suit made of the same material. Vlad thought Ingrid was really mellowing in her old age.
"Still here then, bat breath? Pity, I was planning on renting your room out."
The Count scowled at her. "Here, Vlad, open your presents. The ones Ingrid hasn't already opened for you."
Ingrid scowled back.
Vlad simply sat and started tearing at the reams of wrapping paper. He felt tired and unsettled, he wasn't sure he could cope with one of his dad and Ingrid's infamous arguments. He placed each present back onto the table: A new cape. Coffin polish. A bottle of blood, '98 vintage. A 15 tog shroud. A book from Great Uncle Armand entitled 'An A-Z of Vampiric Sex for the Curious Adolescent.' Vlad shook his head, was there nothing here that he actually wanted?
Finally he picked up the last package on the table, wrapped untidily, sellotape everywhere. His mouth went dry; it had to be from Robin. Vlad unwrapped it carefully, revealing what looked like a normal sketchbook. He opened it curiously. It quickly became clear that it was scrapbook. Robin had made him a scrapbook of all the years they had been friends.
There were photos of him and Robin at the Branaghs', in the castle, on that awful school trip to Kenwood Adventure Centre. They were all interspersed with Robin's sketches, the usual – bats, castles, and vampires – but also caricatures of their classmates and their teachers. Van Helsing trying to stake his own reflection. Mr. Jenkins playing rugby in a ballet tutu. Richard Price being outwitted at maths by a gorilla.
He forced a smile, and hid it under his new cape, away from Ingrid's prying eyes. Sat numbly as his dad rattled off some speech about this being a great day for the Dracula dynasty. Stared unseeing at Ingrid's resultant tantrum.
It wasn't until later when he was lying, unable to sleep, in his new coffin, pinned in place by his new shroud, that Vlad finally let the tears fall. Robin cared. He just didn't care enough.
"Don't look so nervous! We don't bite… other vampires!"
Vlad attempted a polite smile as the man at his side laughed at his own joke. Vlad had come to the conclusion that he was clinically insane. From the moment he had stepped through the door of the Council Chambers the older vampire had introduced himself as Vlad's new Chief Advisor – 'call me Varn, everybody does!' – and proceeded to not stop talking.
It reminded him a little of Robin. Vlad forced that thought out of his mind and concentrated on straightening his papers. Minister's Question Time was about to start and with any luck Varn would finally shut up.
He should have known that fortune never shone in his favour.
"Vampires, Vampiresses, and those who haven't decided yet." Varn paused to chuckle to himself. The less than amused expressions on everyone else's faces confirmed Vlad's fears. 'Varn' was like this every day. "I'd like to introduce you all to the new Grand High Vampire, Vladimir Dominus Imperitor Electus Dracula."
Vlad got to his feet and nodded his head in acknowledgement, unsure of what else he was supposed to do. The closest he'd ever gotten to having a job was a week's work experience with Tommo Watson at the Stokely branch of KFC. He still hadn't managed to live down sniffling in the middle of his first shift. Watson was a hefty lad, how had he been supposed to know that he was only joking about sticking Vlad's hand in the deep fat fryer?
The vampires gathered around the table nodded back at him, some of them with a more friendly air than others. Vlad sat back down and did his best to concentrate on the questions. Varn kept up a constant stream of anecdotes about the speakers in his left ear, and, against all his expectations, by the time it was blood break (pig, no sugar) Vlad was beginning to think that, perhaps, being Grand High Vampire wouldn't be so bad after all.
"Mam, I'm too ill to go to school." Robin put on his best 'I'm ill' voice and leaned heavily against the bathroom wall.
"Robin, don't be silly." Mrs. Branagh looked at him closely. "You look fine."
"I'm really not."
Mrs. Branagh sighed but went downstairs to fetch the thermometer. Robin used the opportunity to push his fingers down his throat, succeeding in coughing and hacking and, finally, retching up last night's supper. It was disgusting, but infinitely better than what Price would do to him.
He braced his arms against the bathroom wall, grimacing as his stomach roiled again.
The night before he had had a video forwarded to him by Peter Miller. A video of him and Kelsey – in a compromising position. Mostly him looking like he was about to have a heart attack, if he were honest.
Miller was almost as much of a nobody as he was at school, which meant that over the weekend everybody must have seen it. Which meant that Price must have seen it. Which meant that Price was literally going to tear him limb from limb. Kelsey had said that she must have accidentally left the webcam on. He still didn't know if he believed her or not.
"Robin!" Mrs. Branagh appeared in the doorway, her expression one of concern. "You poor thing, you really are ill, aren't you?" Robin nodded and let her rub his back comfortingly. "Come on; rinse your mouth and let's get you back in to bed."
Robin let himself be led gratefully. It might only be delaying the inevitable, but even that was better than nothing.
"Maybe he's run off with Count, they're both skiving." Drew laughed. He hated seeing Richard so miserable. He hated Richard's propensity to thump anyone, including him, within reach when he was this miserable. Normally there was nothing that cheered Richard up more than a round of Vlad-bashing.
"Branagh's just too much of a pussy to face me." Richard spat as he rifled through the pockets of a first year, some dark haired little brat who looked about ready to piss his pants. Drew stuffed his hands in his own pockets. If they didn't get a move on Tell-Tale Van Helsing would be round with his prefect badge.
"What you going to say to Kelsey?" Tommo asked, keeping carefully out of range of Richard's right fist.
"Nothing." Drew and Tommo shared an incredulous look, a look that Richard either didn't notice or just didn't care about. "It's not her fault, is it? This is that perv Branagh's doing. And that's why," Richard finally let the first year go, "when I see him I'm going to smash his face up so bad even Vlad the Impaled's not going to want anything to do with him."
This time Drew and Tommo grinned at each other. That was more like it.
"Let me see that!" Paul crowded behind Ian to watch the video on his mobile phone screen. "So that's why he didn't want to go to school this morning!"
"He's bringing shame on the Branagh family name." Paul smirked, pointing to the video duration.
"You saw him last cross country." Ian said, already working on forwarding it to everyone in his address book. "The boy's got no stamina."
Paul straightened up as Natalie Matthews walked into the common room. He nudged his brother as he got ready to go over, "It's lucky for our Nat that this Branagh has stamina to spare."
Ian just rolled his eyes and pressed 'send'.
"What are you looking at?" Delila glared at Chloe Branagh. Was the whole school just full of freaks? At that moment Jonno Van Helsing jogged past, trying to catch Chloe up. Question answered, Stokely Grammar was definitely freak central.
Delila turned back to where Kelsey was picking at her salad. She looked a lot better than she had that morning; mascara streaked thickly down her cheeks and her hair a total mess. Luckily old Jenkins was a push over and had let them out of PSE to go and sort her out. Price was so not worth all this aggro.
"I've messed up, Dee. I didn't think he'd send it to anyone. I'll never get him back now."
"Of course you will!" Delila lied smoothly. This wouldn't have happened, she thought, if Kelsey had told her about it. Everyone knew who the brains of this duo was.
Kelsey sniffled unattractively.
"Besides," Delila smiled at her, "I thought you said you liked Branagh. He's not going anywhere." She screwed her face up into the imitation of Branagh's face half the school had been pulling all morning. "Hot stuff."
Kelsey laughed gratefully at Delila's attempts to make light of the situation.
Stacey Darner and Trish Litton chose that moment to drop into the seats opposite them. "So, like, oh my God," Stacey started, "is it true that Branagh cried when he came?"
"Well," Kelsey smirked at Delila conspiratorially, "it was like this…"
Delila tuned her out, grinning to herself. Half a day and already things were getting back to normal. Nobody kept these girls down.
"What is that?"
"What's what, Mistress Ingrid?" Renfield hid it behind his back, his expression guilty as charged.
"My mobile phone. I've been looking for that, you useless cretin!" Ingrid snatched it from him, wiping it against her skirt before opening it. She pointed it at Renfield with more than a hint of menace. "If you ever touch my things again I'll wrench your thieving arms from their sockets and donate them to the homeless to use as backscratchers. Do you understand me!"
"Yes, Mistress." Renfield skulked away. Ingrid smiled in satisfaction and sank back into her chair.
Vlad sighed. Was it too much to ask for a little peace and quiet? He was trying to get through all his correspondence. So far most of it had either been over-excited vampiresses offering him the bone marrow of their first borns, or crotchety old vampires telling him he should just stake himself now and do everyone a favour. But, you never knew, there might be something important.
"Oh my God! Have you seen this?"
Vlad made a show of putting his quill down and looked up to see Ingrid holding her phone out to him. Myra was peering up at him curiously from her place at Ingrid's feet, taking time out from the no doubt thrilling activity of stabbing a teletubby with a fork.
"What?" He snapped, taking the phone from her. It was a video, wow, how had he lived without seeing moving pictures on a 2 by 2 screen? Still, he pressed play, squinting at the low resolution of the picture, trying to work out what it was he was seeing. He almost dropped it in shock. That was Kelsey Peterson, he was sure of it. And there, with her hand wrapped around a part of his anatomy Vlad had never really seen, was Robin Branagh.
A flare of white hot jealousy like nothing he'd ever experienced swept over him. He couldn't see, couldn't hear, couldn't think…
"Vlad? Vlad, are you alright?"
He looked up to see Ingrid stood over him, her expression concerned rather than angry. Vlad looked at his hand and jerked backwards in shock. The phone had been completely crushed. He winced as he closed his mouth and cut his lip on his own fang.
"I'm, yeah," he struggled to get the words out; "I'm fine."
Ingrid scoffed in obvious disbelief. "Yeah right." Her tone softened, "I warned him, you know. When you were fighting your reflection." Vlad looked up at her, silently urging her to go on.
"I told him that you wouldn't be able to control yourself. That if he didn't finish it with her, he shouldn't come here anymore."
Vlad looked away, ashamed of the tears burning in his eyes. So that was why Robin hadn't been to see him since then. But now. Now it would be different. Kelsey was out of the picture.
He made to move, he was going to see Robin. Right now.
"You can't be serious?" Ingrid had a hand on her hip and her most disbelieving scowl on her face. "What if she's there? You'll kill them both! I'm not doing all the paperwork that'll create."
"I can control it!"
Ingrid looked at her phone pointedly. "No, you can't!"
"She's not going to be there anyway. He wouldn't stay with her, not after that!"
He left before Ingrid could stop him.
"Did you text me earlier, Ian? You know I can't work this phone." Mrs. Branagh asked, staring in puzzlement at her new mobile phone.
Ian looked up from his tea, realisation slowly dawning. "Mam, you don't want to see that! Give it here."
Paul caught on and smirked at his brother. "What Ian means is, you really need to learn how to use that phone. Press the green button."
"Paul!" Ian hissed, shoving him. "Do you know what that is?"
Paul grinned widely. "Yeah."
Ian saw his point.
Mrs. Branagh dropped the phone to the floor with a clatter, clasping one hand to her mouth.
Kelsey smiled tearfully at Robin. He really wasn't so bad. Not if you ignored the awful dress sense and his weird choice in friends. And, she squirmed slightly, the plastic bats everywhere. He'd do until she found someone better, at least. She put on her sweetest voice, the one that always worked.
"You do believe me, don't you, Robin? Richard's just jealous that I dumped him. Oh, I don't know what I'd do if you didn't believe me."
Robin hesitated for a moment, before pulling an arm round her. "Of course I believe you." And, he decided with a slight nod, it was the truth. Why would anyone intentionally broadcast themselves getting off with him to anyone? He was under no allusions as to how attractive the population of Stokely Grammar, bar Kelsey, found him. I.e. More repulsive than Mr. Jenkins jockstrap after a particularly intensive training session.
No, she had to be telling the truth. "Come on, why don't you go and wash your face and then we can watch a film or something."
Robin watched her leave the room with a sense of pride. She had chosen him over Price.
Vlad climbed the porch under Robin's window, amazed at how easily he could do it since the transformation. Last time he had tried it he'd nearly collapsed with exhaustion afterwards.
He was worried about how Robin would have taken it. Not well, if he knew Robin. He ignored the part of his head that was busy whispering nastily to him that he wasn't at all worried about Robin. Didn't want to be there to comfort Robin. That he just wanted to be there to take advantage.
The window was already slightly open so he pushed it up the rest of the way, stooping to climb through it. He stepped on the edge of his cape on the window sill, and fell to the carpet clumsily.
"Vlad!" Robin hissed at him, eyes wide with shock. "What are you doing here?"
Vlad pulled himself to his feet, sitting on the edge of the bed next to Robin. He took one of Robin's hands in his own. "I heard all about what happened and I knew you'd be upset. I'm here for you. I'll always be here for you."
Robin was looking at him like he'd sprouted an extra head. That speech had sounded a lot less pathetic in his mind, Vlad decided. He was about to say more when the bedroom door was opened, revealing Kelsey in all her glory.
She took in the open window, his cape and their joined hands, pulling a face. "Count, what are you doing here?" Robin pulled his hand free. Vlad pretended he didn't care.
"I could ask you the same question, you – you" Vlad got to his feet, searching for a word horrible enough to describe how he felt about her, "skankatronic!" He clenched his hands into fists at his sides in an effort to stop himself from throttling her.
"Skankatronic?" Kelsey scoffed, "How old are you, Count? Ten?"
"What do you want me to call you?" Vlad could feel his control slipping away from him. "A dirty sewer whore!"
She looked at Robin angrily. "Are you just going to sit there and let him speak to me like that?"
Vlad lunged for her, and she screamed. Robin grabbed him by his cape and hauled him from his bedroom, and – amidst much struggling on Vlad's part - down the stairs and out through the front door.
He tried to focus on Robin's face, it took a moment.
"What is wrong with you?"
Vlad raised a hand to his mouth and felt fangs. If Robin hadn't have stopped him, he could have killed her. He looked at Robin, who was stood there barefoot and shivering, and his useless heart ached.
"She was using you." Vlad said quietly, awkwardly aware of the rest of the Branagh clan watching them through the window.
"No, she wasn't. You don't know anything about it. Look, I appreciate," Robin waved a hand, clearly trying to encompass Vlad's climbing through his window like something out of a bad B movie, "this. But, it's none of your business."
Vlad looked at his hands, noticing for the first time that he'd managed to gouge bloody crescents out of his palms. They stood like that for a long, tense moment, before Robin broke the silence.
"I'll see you tomorrow or something, yeah?"
He went in and shut the door without waiting for Vlad's answer. Vlad slammed his fist through a plant pot on the porch ledge in frustration before, mindful of the fact Mr. Branagh was still watching him, trudging back up the hill towards the castle.
"Lover's tiff, eh?" Varn nudged his shoulder and Vlad did his best not to snarl at him. Now was not a good time. "Always the same at your age, Vlad. You love them one minute, hate them the next. Make the most of it while you can!"
Vlad just glowered into his pig's blood. He wished he could hate Robin, maybe then he would stop feeling like he was being torn apart by this stupid need to be near him. Varn took in his expression and sat down next to him.
"Your sister asked me to have a little chat with you actually."
Vlad looked up at him suspiciously, what was Ingrid up to now?
"Lovely girl your sister, by the way. Always the feistiest at our vampiresses and spawn evenings." Vlad grimaced, so this was the Varn Ingrid had vowed to stake in his sleep by the time she was 21. "Now, she says that you're in love with a breather."
"What?" Vlad gaped in shock. How could Ingrid do this to him? How was he supposed to win over the support of a world full of blood thirsty vampires when everyone knew he was in love with the enemy? He looked at his hands, then at the wall when he realised they were resting on the scrapbook Robin had given him for his birthday. He had taken to carrying it round with his Council papers; to further taunt himself with what he couldn't have, he supposed.
"It's nothing to be ashamed of. can happen to anyone." Varn clapped a fatherly hand on his shoulder, although Vlad barely registered it. "Problem is, Vlad, it can be dangerous. Especially for a vampire your age. You've not even learned to control it properly yet, have you?"
His mouth didn't seem to want to work, so Vlad settled for shaking his head. He hadn't been a very good human, and now he wasn't a very good vampire. Brilliant.
"Try not to fight so hard against it. It needs breathing space. Ha, breathing space, that's a good one. What was I saying?" Varn furrowed his brow, drumming his fingers against the table top in a way that had Tatiana von Schinnen storming from the room. "Breathers! Right."
Varn looked at him seriously. "You loving them, well, it won't make them love you back. No matter how hard you want it to. You need to understand that, Vlad. You'll be trying to make this girl see you as more than a prospect for a bit of how's your father when – suddenly – you'll snap, and seconds later she'll be dead in your arms."
Vlad felt sick.
"It's not that bad. When you're older, say three hundred or so, it won't be a problem."
Three hundred! Vlad buried his head in his arms. Robin would be dead.
"Look, I tell you what," Varn said, rooting around in his cape pocket for a spare handkerchief, "why don't you come along to our Carmen's Coming of Age party on Saturday night?" Vlad pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes and willed himself not to cry in the middle of the Council Chamber. "There'll be lots of pretty vampiresses there. That'll help take your mind off it, won't it?"
Vlad just took the proffered hanky.
"Mam, please don't do this."
Robin kept his eyes on the ground as he scurried to keep up with Mrs. Branagh's determined strides. His cheeks felt like they were about to catch fire they were burning so brightly. When he had risked a glance upwards it had been to the sight of a bunch of year nine's pulling an imitation of his 'sex' face.
He wondered if it was possible to die of embarrassment.
Everyone but his great nan had seen him getting jerked off by Kelsey Peterson, and that was only because his great nan was dead. After Vlad had tried to kill Kelsey – and what was that about? – his dad had made her go home. Then his parents had sat him down and given him an excruciating talk on the birds, the bees, and the merits of KY. His mother had then told him, in her best 'no nonsense' voice that he was going to school tomorrow. End of story.
"Stop worrying, Robin. We'll go and see Mr. Van Helsing and get this mess sorted out."
What could he do? It was either have his mum hold his hand to go and see his head of year, or Price was going to relieve him of the body parts that had got him into the situation in the first place.
"I ain't even done nothing!" Richard Price flung his school bag into the corner of the room and Van Helsing sighed. What had he done to deserve getting stuck as head of year eleven?
"No one said you had. This is a pre-emptive chat." At Price's obvious incomprehension, Van Helsing elaborated. "I'm warning you now, don't do anything to Robin Branagh that you'll later regret."
"Trust me, sir. I won't regret it." Price was cracking his knuckles menacingly and Van Helsing conceded that Elizabeth's fears had been well founded. "You haven't seen what he did!"
"Price, everyone's seen what he did." Van Helsing coughed to hide his embarrassment; he hadn't meant to let that slip. "I just want you to think about it carefully. You'll be sitting your GCSEs in a few months. Is it really worth getting expelled now over Robin Branagh? Be the bigger man, walk away."
Price screwed his face up in concentration as he considered his options. "So, what are you saying, sir? I should just let him get away with it?"
"No, I'm saying that you should act like an adult." At Price's scowl he went on, "If I find out you've laid one finger on Branagh you'll be put straight on report. Is that clear?" Price just stared at his shoes sullenly. "I said, is that clear?"
It was given through gritted teeth but Van Helsing let it go, it was more than he had expected.
"So, what's happening with you and Branagh?" Delila pouted into her pocket mirror, trying to decide whether she really did prefer 'Pistol Packing Pink' to 'Raisin' the Roof Red.'
"He still loves me." Kelsey paused to blow at her nail polish. "Count was raging. He literally crawled through Robin's bedroom window last night."
Delila put the mirror down. "You are not serious!"
"Cross my heart. I came back from the bathroom and Count's there, trying to, like, molest him. And then he called me a skank!"
"Count's a skank?" Stacey slid into the spare seat, a sandwich in one hand and a bottle of slimfast in the other. Delila shook her head, with her figure Stacey ought to be giving both a miss.
Trish looked up from her copy of Heat magazine for the first time in over ten minutes, "Count said Kelsey was."
"Where is he anyway?" Stacey asked, taking a bite of her sandwich. "He was supposed to have done my geography project. It's due in next week."
"Bet he's finally gone off to have that sex change." Trish smirked.
Stacey laughed, "Yeah, and when he gets there they'll be like, Count, you already are a girl!"
Kelsey sighed dramatically. "Hello, I was talking." The other girls fell quiet. "So, anyway, I was like 'don't let him speak to me like that' and then Count went for me. Like proper tried to bite me!"
Stacey pulled a face. "That boy has serious problems."
"Tell me about it. I wouldn't have been able to wear that new dress on Saturday with Count's minging teeth marks down my arm!"
"Is that still on then?" Trish asked, not looking up.
Kelsey rolled her eyes. "Of course." She grinned. "Richard's coming too, I heard him telling Davo earlier."
"What," Delila asked in mock shock, "is Branagh not enough for you? I saw that video, he must have lasted at least thirty seconds."
All four girls started laughing.
"Price! You can't do that!" Jonno called down the corridor to where Price, Davis and Watson were busy spitting over the banister.
"Fuck off Van Helsing before I stick that badge where the sun don't shine!"
Jonno backed off, just in time for Robin Branagh to push past him in the direction of the boys' toilets, a grimace of disgust plastered across his face. Jonno pulled a face of his own. Nobody wanted their hair full of Tommo Watson's spit.
Davis and Watson were doubled over laughing. Price smirked and leaned back against the wall. "Well, he did say not to lay a finger on him."
"I just don't know what to do with him, Mina." Elizabeth Branagh handed her friend a mug of tea before joining her at the kitchen table. "First fighting, now this."
"It's his age." Mina Van Helsing said comfortingly. "He'll grow out of it."
"Ian and Paul weren't like this. And don't try and tell me Jonno is starring in that sort of thing." Elizabeth motioned at her mobile in despair. She hadn't touched it, other than to put it on the sideboard, since last night. It was a sight no mother should have to see.
"The thing is," Elizabeth continued miserably, "I was so sure he was gay. Vlad came round last night to see him and Robin just sent him away, poor thing looked absolutely heartbroken."
Mina nodded knowingly. "Maybe they've had a falling out?"
Elizabeth sighed. "Do you think I should let him go to this girl's party on Saturday night?"
"He is almost sixteen, you have to let him make his own mistakes." Mina smiled, "and, if it makes you feel any better, Jonno will be there to keep an eye on him."
Elizabeth smiled back gratefully.
Robin was trying to concentrate on his drawing but Price's glare was really, really off putting. So far today he had been spat on, had the contents of his lunchbox emptied into the bin, and 'Branagh is a wanker' tippexed onto the back of his school jumper. Then, just to cap it all off, Price had rugby tackled him so hard during games, Jenkins had actually let him sit out for ten minutes.
Even worse was the note he had found slipped inside his week planner. 'Saturday, kelseys place, your DEAD.' He supposed at least it gave him time to sort out the important stuff, like which Cradle of Filth track he wanted to have played at his funeral.
Kelsey had said that they shouldn't speak to each other at school, as it would just stir things up. Robin couldn't help but think that that was awfully convenient for her. He glanced at the empty seat next to him and wished, not for the first time that day, that Vlad was there. Vlad never cared what people thought of him for being his friend.
He sighed self pityingly. Even Vlad was going to be in a mood with him now. Robin had never seen Vlad so angry, so… powerful. Not even when he had first worn the crown. He reflected, for the first time, that maybe he wasn't a very good friend to Vlad. The other boy had come round, even though he had all but ignored him since he'd got with Kelsey, just to try and make him feel better.
He remembered Vlad telling him how scared he was about the transformation, about starting at the Council Chambers. He realised with a start that Vlad would have already began. The guilt that settled in his gut felt even worse than Price's knee had out on the rugby pitch.
Miss. Kowalski tutted at his lack of concentration as she walked pass and he tried, once again, to focus on his work. He looked at the reference picture he was using, a still from 'The Vampire Bat' of some dapper looking Victorian vampire climbing through a girl's bedroom window. She had the covers pulled up to her chin, long hair streaming everywhere. He imagined how he'd feel if he were in her place. It had always been his sort of secret fantasy, to wake up and find a fit vampire climbing through his window.
Suddenly the memory flashed through his mind of him looking up to see Vlad at his window, the high collar of his cape shrouding his face in shadow. The way Vlad's hand had splayed elegantly against his window frame… Robin picked up his pencil and started to draw.
"Are you going to Kelsey Peterson' party on Saturday?" Jonno asked Chloe Branagh, his heart hammering like a drum in his chest.
Chloe scooped up her papers, filing them away in her school bag; she was the secretary for the student council. It had been the only reason Jonno had joined. "Is it still on?" Chloe didn't need to say it out loud for Jonno to pick up on the 'after what happened?'
"Yeah, you know Kelsey Peterson, she's like a boomerang. Keeps coming back for more."
Chloe giggled and Jonno grinned at her dopily. "So I was wondering, if you were going, if you might like to go with me?" He waited breathlessly for her answer.
The moment stretched out into what felt like an eternity.
"I'll have to think about it."
Jonno looked away to hide his disappointment. Of course she didn't want to go with him.
"But," Chloe smiled brightly at him, "you can walk me home."
Jonno rushed to open the library door for her. Today was turning out to be the best day ever.
"Hurry up, we 'aven't got all day!"
Robin scrambled down the stairs of the art block, wishing he didn't need Ian and Paul's protection to get home with all his faculties in tact. "Alright, I'm coming!"
"Not again, Robin. You need to learn to control yourself." Paul laughed. Ian joined in. Robin scowled at both of them.
"So you're still alive then?" Ian asked, wiping at his eyes. "Nobody tried to strangle you with a boot lace when your back was turned?"
Robin scowled harder. "Obviously not."
"Aw, never mind, Rob." Paul ruffled his hair and Robin got a sense of grim satisfaction from the knowledge it was still full of Price's phlegm. "We'll keep you safe."
Robin groaned as Kelsey pushed him back against the mattress. This was, quite possibly, the best thing that had ever happened to him. She took his hand and pressed it against her breast, her other hand reaching for his fly. Robin squirmed and prayed he wasn't going to embarrass himself and come before she even touched him.
Oh, but it felt amazing. So much better than his own hand. He reached out to try and kiss her, but she moved back, removing her hand as she did so. Robin opened his eyes, shocked to see that it wasn't Kelsey in front of him, but Vlad.
Vlad gazed at him intently; his eyes so dark it made Robin shiver. "I'm here for you. I'll always be here for you." And then Vlad was kissing him, his cool fingers picking up where Kelsey had left off. Robin clung to him desperately, dimly aware that he really ought to be trying to push Vlad away. Instead he writhed up into Vlad's touch, trying to press himself closer to the other boy. He was so close, if Vlad just –
Robin sat bolt upright in bed, panting. Sunlight was streaming in through the chinks in the curtains and his duvet was lying in a tangled heap on the floor. What was wrong with him?
"Nice legs, love!" Tommo Watson wolf whistled appreciatively. The girl blushed and quickened her pace to get into 'Darner Manicures'.
Tommo shifted his weight on his bike, getting it up on just the back wheel, practicing the trick Stinky Stevo had taught him at Scouts the week before. "Come on then, Drew boy, go and ask her."
"I can't." Drew was gripping the handlebars of his own bike so tightly his knuckles were white. His skin had an unattractive clammy sheen to it. "What if she says no?"
"She's mad for you, mate!" He smirked. "Foaming at the lips."
"You really think so?"
"Knows it, blad."
Stacey and Drew sitting in a tree… Tommo shook his head as Drew balanced his bike against the shop front, wiping his palms on his football shirt before going in. Not those two he thought, the bloody thing would likely give under their weight.
Chloe banged on the great wooden door and waited. Robin was such a prat, if she didn't do something the pair of them would likely never speak to each other again. Vlad had looked like he was going to cry that night Robin had kicked him out. And, Robin was moping about worse than a girl. Yesterday, she had been to the art room and had seen Robin's coursework taking pride of place on the display board: a vampiric looking Vlad silhouetted against the window frame of a bedroom that was more Branagh semi than gothic mansion.
Robin just couldn't see what was in front of his face.
She was about to knock again when the door was wrenched open, revealing an irate looking Ingrid.
Ingrid looked her up and down. "Too scrawny, come back next year."
Chloe sighed. "Can I speak to Vlad?"
"No." Ingrid inspected her manicure, either oblivious to or uncaring of the fact that behind her Myra was trying to stab Zoltan with a fork. "He's catching up on his beauty sleep. God knows he needs it."
"It won't take long."
"I said no." The pure venom in Ingrid's voice made Chloe reconsider her options.
"Can you give him a message then? Tell him that Kelsey Peterson's having a party tonight, and he's invited. He knows where she lives."
Ingrid pinned her with a searching look that made Chloe want to cower. She stood her ground however, and didn't break eye contact.
"Fine." Ingrid sighed. "It's not like I have anything better to do than play secretary to Vladdy." The door slammed in Chloe's face.
Chloe pushed her hands into her pockets and made for the gate. She'd done her bit.
"Sorry, Trish, looks like you're the only one flying solo tonight." Delila said apologetically as she ran the straighteners down the other girl's hair. "I heard that even Chloe Branagh has a date."
"Yeah." Trish scoffed. "With Tell-Tale Van Helsing. I'm so jealous. Not. I'd sooner do old Thompson."
Delila raised an eyebrow. "I thought he'd already touched you up. Last year, on that trip to Kenwood Adventure Centre?"
Trish blushed slightly, the less said about the entire Thompson affair, the better. So she might have slightly over-exaggerated, so what? It wasn't like he'd been on suspension long. "I'm just saying, even an old perv like Thompson is better than Jonno Van Helstinks."
"His dad's a bit of alright though." Kelsey said, rifling through Delila's make up box for her eyeliner.
Trish looked at her thoughtfully. "Do you think Richard's really going to get back with you tonight, then?"
"Yes." Kelsey snapped. "Why wouldn't he?"
Trish and Delila shared a significant look, but kept their mouths shut.
Delila was the first to crack. "What are you going to do about Branagh?"
"Tell him to go jump off a cliff, I don't know." She squinted at the mirror, keeping her hand steady as she applied a thick line of black. "Who cares?"
Delila shrugged. You couldn't argue with that.
"Come on, son. Drink up. This is a party!"
Vlad looked up at the vampire in front of him, swaying unsteadily as he held a glass full of something out to Vlad. Vlad took it reluctantly and sniffed at it with suspicion. He fought the urge to heave, it smelt disgusting.
"Good stuff that, Dracula. The best. A few of those and you'll forget all about your little breather bint."
"Claude!" His companion, a surly vampire Vlad recognised as Minister Tschetter, nudged him, making Claude spill half his own cup over the floor. "Show some tact." He turned to face Vlad, handing him a glass of something that looked a little less revolting. "Here, try this instead. You'll feel more like a vampire with that inside you."
With that they both retreated to join Varn in another chorus of 'Highland Laddie'.
Vlad stared into the glass miserably. It was Saturday night. He was sixteen years old. His best friend was at the coolest party Stokely would see all year. And, where was he? Watching Varn singing sea shanties while his apparently never ending stream of children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren ran riot and snickered at how much of a loser the new Grand High Vampire was.
Kelsey Peterson was ruining his entire life.
He made a decision, tipping the glass against his lips and grimacing as the liquid burned its way down his throat. The night couldn't get any worse, what harm would a few drinks do?
He swallowed, his head feeling light and somehow detached from his body. The room spun. Then, the haze lifted and Vlad suddenly felt better than he had, well, ever. He looked at his hands. He felt so powerful, like he could snap someone's neck with the slightest pressure. He glanced up at the kids who had been snickering earlier and flashed them his game-face, smirking at the way they shrank back against the buffet table.
What was he doing here? Moping about whilst that bitch put her dirty hands all over his property. And, he realised, with a clarity that he couldn't believe he'd never seen before, Robin was his. Had been from the moment he'd bared his throat to him back on the day they had first met. Vlad swept to his feet. He was Grand High Vampire, he wasn't going to sit around and wait for Robin to come to him.
He was going to go and claim what had always been rightfully his.
"Don't be such a coward, Robin. Mr. Van Helsing's already warned them to leave you alone."
"Yeah, Chloe, cos Price is bound to listen to old Van Helstinks, isn't he?" Robin hissed. "No offence, Jonno."
"None taken." Jonno shrugged. Robin could insult whoever he wanted, Chloe's hand was wrapped in his and that was all that mattered.
"They're going to kill me."
Chloe just sighed and rolled her eyes, quickening her pace as they turned down Kelsey's street. She just knew that Vlad would show up to this party. Robin would have to be there when he did.
"Tommo, they got your favourite on here, High School Musical!" Drew snickered, looking up from the hi-fi system he was fiddling with. The girls had all gone off for a quick snog, or whatever it was they did when they all went off to the loos together. He liked to think it was the former. Maybe Stacey would even let him watch now they were seeing each other.
"Fuck off!" Tommo cuffed him round the ear. "My mam made me take my sister to see it."
Drew shrugged, turning the speakers up, he loved this remix. "I bet that's what Count says and all. Hey, speaking of Count, have you seen that picture Branagh drew of him? Looks like Count gets to be Vlad the Impaler after all."
"Drew!" Tommo pulled a face. "I'm trying to eat!"
Drew would have replied but Richard's hand on his shoulder stopped him glared at him. They looked up to see Branagh creeping in, flanked by his sister and that dickhead, Van Helsing. Drew had to give him credit for having the balls to show up, they'd been making it clear all week what they were going to do to him once they were out of range of nosy school teachers.
Richard ground his right fist into the palm of his other hand. "Let's have him!"
Robin struggled not to cry. This was so bad. The back of his head was pressed against Kelsey's kitchen cupboard, his legs trembling with fear.
"Tell the fucking truth, Branagh! You set her up!"
Price's fist smashed into stomach and he would have collapsed were it not for Price's hand around his throat, holding him in place.
"You're lying!" Price punched him again, in the face this time, for emphasis. "You're a fucking liar!" The pain seared through his body and Robin tried to break free, his hand scrabbling against the top of the sideboard. He gasped, and squinted at his hand. He'd cut his fingers open on someone's broken glass.
"Richard! Stop it!" Kelsey pelted into the kitchen, trying to pull Price away something which, Robin thought, he would be eternally grateful. Tommo Watson and Andrew Davis were otherwise occupied, trying to keep Chloe – who was kicking and screaming – away from Price. Jonno was, in turn, trying to get them off of her.
"But, Kels." Price yelled, obviously trying to keep his anger under control. "It's his fault!"
Vlad dropped down in Kelsey's front garden, feeling the pulsing base of the dance music vibrating up through the ground. It merged in his head with the beating of the hearts of the people he could sense within. He could feel his fangs extending and made no effort to stop them, kicking at Kelsey's front door, so that it hung uselessly from its hinges.
He stepped over the threshold, inhaling deeply, trying to pinpoint Robin. He followed his nose, enjoying the way his former classmates cowered away from him as he passed. He wasn't Saddo Vladdo now, was he? He pushed through into the kitchen, eyes narrowing at the sight in front of him. Vlad grabbed Price by the scuff of his neck and pulled him away from Robin.
"Count!" The other boy's eyes were wide and the commotion between the others stopped. Everybody was crowding around, wanting to see what he'd do next.
Vlad sneered at him, using his other hand to pull Price's arm behind his back, keeping up the pressure until he could tell it was just about to snap. "Touch him again and I will kill you." He hissed into Price's ear, releasing him to the floor. "And you," he grabbed hold of Kelsey's wrist, "you're nothing but a slut. He's mine, do you hear me? Mine. So back off!"
He shoved her back into Price's waiting arms and took a step closer to Robin. He was pressing himself back against the kitchen cupboards, fear written plain across his face. "Vlad?" Robin's voice was rough, his face already swelling up.
Vlad took a step closer, the smell of Robin's blood driving everything else from his mind. He took hold of Robin's hand, meeting no resistance, and brought the other boy's bloody fingers to his mouth, sucking at them wetly.
"Fucking hell." Tommo Watson's voice dimly registered. "He's gone mad."
Vlad released Robin's fingers, taking in the look of wide eyed shock on his beautiful face. He buried his face in Robin's neck, one hand sliding into Robin's hair to hold him in place. He could smell the blood beneath his soft creamy skin, it was so perfect. He started to suck at his pulse point, carefully, keeping his fangs out of the way. He'd never hurt Robin, never…
Suddenly strong hands were pulling him back by his shoulders.
"Vlad! You stupid stupid boy! Let him go!"
Vlad turned and snarled up into the face of this intruder. Robin was his and nobody was going to take him away from him! Vlad lunged at his attacker, intent on getting rid of the distraction, when something slammed into the back of his head and everything. Went. Black.
"You've killed him, Branagh." Tommo Watson had a hand around Vlad's wrist, checking for his pulse, scout indoctrination overriding their mutual dislike. "You've fucking killed him."
Robin dropped the frying pan to the floor with a clatter. This was like something out of a really cheap horror film. Vlad had to be okay. He had to. Robin knelt down next to Vlad, trying to work out if he was okay. No pulse, no breathing. How were you supposed to tell!
"Son, you can't kill the undead!" The man Vlad had been trying to attack started laughing. Watson backed away in obvious fear; the look on his face said that he thought Vlad was probably beyond help now anyway.
"Who are you?" Robin asked, his hand still clutching at Vlad's shoulder, wanting reassurance that Vlad was still there. He had had to hit him; if Vlad hurt someone it would drive him mad, Robin was certain.
The man grinned widely. "Call me Varn, everybody does! I work with Vlad." Robin took in his embroidered cape and ornate pocket watch and sucked in an excited breath. A Council Minister. In the flesh.
'Varn' reached down and heaved Vlad's unresisting form over his shoulder, forcing Robin to let go. "He'll be fine, just let him sleep it off." He looked Robin up and down and Robin struggled not to squirm under the scrutiny. "So you're his breather then? Thought you'd be more," he waved a hand, "breather-y. Well," Varn gave Robin one last appraising look, "must dash."
And with that he was pushing through the unresisting crowd of teenagers, Vlad's cape trailing the ground. Robin just stood there trying to work out whether or not he had just been insulted.
"Should we call the police?" Delila asked, biting her lip.
Kelsey shook her head; Delila remembered that her mum was still on licence, she'd do her nut if Kelsey let the law swarm about the house. "You heard what that bloke said," Stacey said slowly, "Count will be fine. He said he works with him, must be like Count's mental nurse or something."
"He don't do a very good job of it!" Richard exclaimed. "Count nearly broke my fucking arm." He stared at the limb in question as if it were a treacherous snake.
"Not so funny when it's your arm is it!" Tommo snapped, hand rubbing at the lingering bite mark on his own forearm, "I told you, he's mad!"
"He's not mad." Branagh's voice was like steel. The small group left in the kitchen all turned to stare at him incredulously. He hadn't said a word, hadn't done anything other than stare blankly at the door, since Vlad had been carried out.
"What, Branagh?" Tommo loomed over the other boy menacingly. "You saying that that was perfectly normal? I'd have thought that normally," He looked him up and down, eyes lingering on the light mark on Robin's neck, "you'd have to knock the poor bastard unconscious before he'd let you touch him."
Delila watched, eyes wide, as Robin Branagh caught Tommo with a right hook. Everyone stared in shock; even Branagh himself looked astounded. Whether it was over the fact that he'd hit him in the first place, or the fact that Tommo hadn't yet punched him back, Delila wasn't sure.
Tommo finally made to thump him and Delila rushed forward and laid a hand on his chest to stop him. Count could come back at any time. "He's not worth it, Tommo."
"Yeah, you're getting the wrong idea." Kelsey said, one hand on her hip. "Robin's with me."
Richard looked up at her murderously. "What the fuck!"
Delila understood. Branagh was unavailable; in Kelsey's eyes that would have just made him a couple of hundred times more attractive. Kelsey laid a hand on Branagh's arm, a hand he flinched away from jerkily.
"Don't touch me." Branagh spat, his gaze sweeping the room, before he stormed from the house; his sister and Van Helstinks trailing quietly behind him.
Delila felt the words slipping from her mouth before common sense could stop them, "You do realise you've just been chucked for Vlad Count."
Ow! Vlad shifted, what was that? It felt like needles stabbing into his hand.
"Myra! Don't stab Uncle Vlad like that. Do it like this."
"Ow!" Pain shot through his hand and Vlad jerked upright, his head spinning dangerously as he did so. After a few moments the world was still enough for him to be able to make out the faces of Ingrid, Myra, his dad, and Varn. What were they doing here? He struggled to remember…
"Calm down, son. He's alright." Varn said, pushing him gently, but firmly, to lie back down. "Everything's alright."
"No thanks to you!" Ingrid spat into his face, Vlad tried to sink back into the mattress to get away from her. "If I hadn't have turned up at Varn's we'd be arranging Branagh's funeral as we speak."
"I wouldn't have bitten him." Vlad thought his voice sounded small, even to his own ears.
"You hear that!" Ingrid scoffed. "He wouldn't have bitten him! That's why when Varn got there you were getting ready to sink your fangs into his neck."
"I wasn't!" Vlad tried to get up, but it was too much effort. "I wasn't."
"Ingrid," The Count said, his tone uncharacteristically soft. "Leave him alone."
Vlad wanted to explain, to tell them how he'd never have bitten Robin, but his eyes were already sliding shut.
"He whacked Vlad over the head with a frying pan?" Ian asked, frowning in confusion.
"He had to;" Jonno explained excitedly. "Vlad was trying to kill this guy. They were dressed up like it was Halloween. I think they were both on drugs."
Paul laughed at them, "How much have you had to drink?"
"Drugs?" Mr. Branagh said over his son's laughter. "Elizabeth, did you hear that? What have I always said about that boy? And you've let Robin go up there, alone, at this time of night." Mr. Branagh shook his head.
"Last week," Chloe said, a little too innocently, "you said that Robin should try to be more like Vlad. That Vlad was an upstanding member of the community because he went on that charity fun run and didn't try to skive out of PE every week."
Mr. Branagh squirmed. "I admit that he might have," he waved a hand, "pulled the wool over my eyes. The point is, Robin shouldn't be associating with hoodlums like Vlad Count."
"No." Paul piped up. "Not when he's got a brilliant career in porn lined up."
"Yeah," Ian sniggered, "Robin 'blink and you'll miss it' Branagh."
The twins burst into laughter; Mr. Branagh hid his face in the Stokely Chronicle trying, and failing, to ignore the smug look on his wife's face.
Richard Price pushed through Kelsey's front door, out into the cold night air. He looked away from the others, making a show of straightening out his shirt, to hide the horrific urge to cry. Count's gayness must be rubbing off on him. He took a deep breath then pushed his hands into his pockets, striding across Kelsey's front garden, knowing Drew and Tommo would fall into step beside him.
How could she do it? Prefer Branagh to him? Swallowing past the lump in his throat he said,
"Don't care anyway, she's a right slag."
"Yeah," Tommo soothed, "total slut."
"She was so desperate for it," Drew went on, "she even let that bell-end Branagh touch her."
Richard nodded, they were right. He wished his pansy heart would catch up with his brain on the fact.
"Right," Tommo rubbed his hands together, "that's enough of girl shit. Who's up for 'Vampire Orgy 6'?"
"I told my mum I'd be home by twelve."
Tommo stopped, throwing his arms up in apparent exasperation. "Drew, don't be such a retarded, penis-sniffing, mummy's-boy cocksucker! The greatness of 'Vampire Orgy 6' cannot be constrained to -" He glanced at his mobile phone screen, "forty seven minutes."
Drew glared at him. "I do not suck cock!"
"Yeah, you do. You suck Count's cock."
"Nah," Richard joined in, grateful for the distraction, "Count haven't got one, everyone knows that." He looked at Drew, smirking, "You suck Branagh's while Count watches."
"Haha. Yeah, and Tell-Tale Van Helstinks does you from behind." Tommo pumped his hips, putting on a falsetto voice "Oh, yeah Jonno, give it to me, big boy."
"Fuck off." Drew protested. "I'm not gay!"
"Then why do you like sucking cock so much?"
Drew ran at Tommo, the two of them play wrestling all the way down the high street. Richard shook his head but grinned, rushing to catch up with them, yelling encouragement to Tommo who currently had Drew in a headlock. It was like his mam said; girls came and went, but his mates would always be there for him.
Vlad sat at the top of the stair case, listening to the conversation below. He wanted to go and see Robin, to apologise. To try and make amends. He was just waiting until his head stopped spinning enough so that he would actually be able to see where he was going.
"He was trying to poison him!" Ingrid's voice reverberated around his head; did she really need to screech like that?
"Poison. No!" Varn laughed. "Tschetter must have just forgotten the side effects it can have. It's been a long time since he was Vlad's age!"
"Don't touch me." Ingrid's voice was cold. "I could make you suffer in ways you've never even imagined."
"A fine young Vampiress you have here, Dracula. Absolutely smashing." Varn's tone was full of approval. "You must be so proud."
Vlad could just picture his dad waving a hand dismissively and Ingrid stomping her foot in temper. Sometimes he thought Myra was more mature than both of them.
"Well, I'll see you on Wednesday at the Vampiresses and Spawn meeting, Ingrid. Don't forget your knitting needles; we're learning how to skewer kittens. Oh, and tell Vlad to get a good day's sleep, he'll be fine come nightfall."
Vlad heard the sound of high speed motion and knew Varn was gone. He pulled himself to his feet, leaning heavily against the wall for support. He needed to speak to Robin.
"You totally made the right choice." Stacey said.
"Yeah, men are idiots, you're better off without either of them." Trish added, with more force than any of the others could muster.
Kelsey just sighed. Jerking Robin Branagh off was one thing; how was she supposed to live down being dumped by a nobody like Robin for an even bigger nobody like Count?
Delila wrapped an arm around her shoulder. "What we need, is damage limitation." She waved her mobile phone under Kelsey's nose.
"What's that?" Kelsey sniffed.
"Video of Richard getting off with Stinky Stevo for a dare at Youth Club. Once this goes up on Youtube, Branagh's going to be yesterday's news."
"Let me see that." Trish grabbed it. "Gross!" She made retching noises. "Stinky Stevo is so minging."
Delila switched the computer on and shrugged off Kelsey's grateful smile. What were friends for?
"What do you want? I've had my dinner."
Robin looked up at Ingrid, and wished he wasn't the coward he had long ago accepted he was. That swing at Watson back at Kelsey's was probably the closest he'd come to an act of bravery all year. Still, he stood his ground. This was for Vlad.
"Go away, peasant." The Count said smoothly, moving to stand in the doorway behind Ingrid. The menacing vibe was only slightly spoilt by the fact his arms were full of a squirming baby, with a beribboned fork in her right hand. "He doesn't need your kind anymore."
The Count and Ingrid turned round to see Vlad stood unsteadily in the middle of the main hall. Robin pushed past them and went straight over to him.
"Vlad, are you alright? I'm sorry I hit you!"
Vlad reached a hand to the back of his head. "You hit me?" He dropped the hand and continued sheepishly. "Thanks."
Suddenly, Robin was horribly aware of Vlad's family watching the exchange closely. "Vlad," he whispered, "can we talk? In private?"
The Count took that opportunity to move with inhuman speed to Vlad's side, hissing something in his ear that Robin couldn't hear. The exchange continued for a few moments. Robin wrung his hands together and went over the speech he'd spent the last hour perfecting in his head. He hoped he wasn't about to make a huge mistake.
Finally the Count stepped away and Vlad nodded at him, leading the way up to his bedroom.
As Vlad trudged up the stairs he wondered if this had been how people had felt as they were being led to the scaffold. He could smell Robin behind him, could tell that he was overcome with nerves. Vlad felt ill. His best friend was afraid to even be in the same room as him because of his own stupidity. When had he ever encountered anything Vampiric that was safe?
His dad had asked him if he wanted him to drain Robin's blood for him, and feed his bodily remains to the 'ravenous hell hounds.' Vlad appreciated his concern, in spite of the fact there were no ravenous hell hounds in Stokely – Zoltan really didn't count – but he had to face up to what he'd done. Take it like a man. Or a vampire. Whatever.
Vlad shut his bedroom door behind them and sank, thankfully, onto his bed. His head still felt delicate. Robin perched on the very edge, as far away from Vlad as he could get. Vlad resolved to do anything to salvage what he could of their friendship. He would even offer to hypnotise Kelsey into staying with Robin if it was what he wanted. The last week had been awful without Robin around. He didn't even want to contemplate an eternity of it.
"Vlad," Robin spoke, looking anywhere but in his direction. "I 'ave to tell you something."
Vlad cut in, wincing at the obvious edge of desperation in his own voice. "Robin, I'm so sorry for what I did. I will never, never, never do anything like that again. I promise you. Please don't say you don't want to be friends with me."
Robin blinked at him in shock. "I'd never not want to be friends with you, Vlad. You must know that."
Vlad shrugged. He really hadn't known that.
"You mean a lot to me, Vlad." Robin started, the words sounding suspiciously like they had been rehearsed, "You've always been there for me, even when I've been an idiot."
"And, I 'aven't appreciated it as much as I should 'ave. I didn't know how much you meant to me until I pushed you away. I was stupid. And then I was scared. And - " Robin stopped and Vlad looked at him curiously, not daring to hope the other boy's words meant anything more than forgiveness.
"I'm rubbish at this, Vlad." He shook his head. "I'm just going to show you."
With that Robin was shifting along the bed, using one hand for balance and touching the other to Vlad's cheek. Vlad could hear Robin's heart beating wildly, and he prayed to whoever looked out for soulless bloodsucking fiends that Robin was really about to do what Vlad thought he was.
Whoever they were, they clearly liked him, as Robin crushed their lips together. Vlad kissed back with everything he had, sliding one hand into Robin's hair. He wanted to make the most of it, just in case Robin decided he never wanted to do it again. Eventually Vlad had to pull back and let Robin breathe.
When he did Robin's cheeks were red, his eyes impossibly dark. Vlad swiped his thumb across Robin's bottom lip, wanting nothing more than to just kiss him again. He leaned back in, feeling like nothing could break through the haze of happiness in his head... only for Robin to move his head at the last moment, Vlad's lips connecting with his scalp. Bullet for my Valentine blared into the otherwise oppressive silence.
"Shit. Sorry Vlad." Robin fumbled for his mobile.
Vlad glanced at the screen. Kelsey. He sat back; he should have known. When did anything ever work in his favour? His inner vampire, the part of him that would have quite happily ripped Price's jugular out earlier that evening, warned him that he had better not do anything to damage their reputation, like cry. It was easier said than done.
"Vlad, it's not -" Robin put a hand on his arm, smiling reassuringly. "Me and Kelsey. It's over. I –" Robin looked away, obviously embarrassed. "I've been 'aving these dreams about you. About you and me. An'" He looked back at Vlad, "When you told everyone I was yours - "
Vlad shifted uncomfortably, ashamed of his earlier lack of control.
"It felt, I don't know, right. I liked it. Oh God, I sound like something out of one of my mam's Mills and Boon books." Robin pulled a face. The silence stretched out, Vlad taking everything in. "Please say something, Vlad." Robin's tone was anxious and Vlad, not quite able to believe it, asked miserably,
"Then why is she still texting you?"
Robin handed him his phone, pressing 'play'.
"Is that," Vlad peered closer, "Richard Price getting on Stinky Stevo?" Robin nodded, smirking widely.
Either he was dreaming - in which case, why was Price featuring? - or he had just called Robin a liar. Vlad spoke quietly. "I'm sorry I didn't believe you."
"It's alright, Vlad." Robin shrugged. "I 'aven't exactly given you much reason to." He extracted his mobile from Vlad's suddenly numb fingers and dropped it to the floor. "But, I'm going to make it up to you." He squirmed closer, pushing Vlad back into his mattress. "Starting," He kissed his jaw bone, "right," another kiss, "now. I mean," Robin stopped and started babbling nervously, "that is, if you want me to; I just hit you over the head and you might not want -"
"Robin," Vlad clutched him closer, he felt like he'd been waiting forever for this moment. They could sort everything else out later. Right now, there was only one thing that needed to be said.
"You talk too much."
[Epilogue... Few months later.]
"You can come if you want, Vlad. There's plenty of room." Mr. Branagh gestured to the cramped campervan. "It'll do you the world of good; get some sun on those pasty white legs of yours."
Vlad shared a look with Robin, unable to keep the smile off his face. "Thanks but, er, no thanks, Mr. Branagh."
"Suit yourself." Mr. Branagh climbed into the driving seat, slamming the door shut.
"I wish I was a vampire too," Robin looked at him solemnly, "then I wouldn't 'ave to go on this stupid camping trip."
"You'll love it, you know you will. Fresh air, early mornings, cross-county hikes." Vlad shook his head. "I know how much you love hiking."
Robin grinned. "You're an idiot, you know that, Vlad? But you're my idiot." His tone softened. "I'm going to miss you."
"You're only going for five days." Vlad said, and then leaned in to whisper in his ear. "But, I'll miss you too." It was true, he loved spending time with Robin. In fact, he was pretty sure he just loved Robin full stop. If he hadn't said it out loud, then it was only because he was afraid it would freak the other boy out.
Mr. Branagh chose that moment to lean on the horn and call out of the open window, "Hurry up, Robin. We'll never get there if we hit the Bank Holiday traffic."
"It's four o'clock in the morning." Robin muttered testily under his breath. Vlad glanced into the van; Ian and Paul were both asleep, Ian drooling onto Paul's shoulder. Jonno didn't look like he was faring too much better. Chloe, on the other hand, looked as calm and collected as she always did.
"Go on, I'll still be here when you get back."
Vlad smiled at him, leaning in to kiss him soundly. "Promise."
"Robin, don't make me get out of this van!"
"Alright!" Robin yelled. He smiled at Vlad apologetically, "Got to go." He turned to clamber in but stopped at the last moment, dashing back to Vlad and pressing a kiss to his cheek, whispering, "I love you, Vlad." Vlad grinned back at him as he got in the van, Ian kicking him soundly in the shin for waking him up.
He was still grinning that evening as he pushed a supermarket trolley around the Stokely branch of Price-Cutters, under Ingrid's increasingly irate direction ('they're practically dead anyway, just push them out of the way!'). When they finally finished stocking up on steak, offal and jars of baby mush, it was to see Kelsey Peterson at the check out, her luminous overalls doing nothing for her orange hued foundation. Vlad made straight for her checkout, ignoring Ingrid's complaints.
This was too good an opportunity to pass up.
Kesley was scanning one bag of meat, her face screwed up in disgust, when she started screaming. The bag had split and blood was running up her forearms, and into her lap. Ingrid howled with laughter, Myra burbled along happily, chewing innocently on the handle of her favourite fork.
Vlad grinned so hard it felt like his face would split. Life couldn't get much better.