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hold on to you, hold on to me

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There were four this time. They were incompetent and green. It was easy for Tom and he wondered for a moment why Hal had started underestimating him again.

It didn’t matter though, not really. It didn’t matter how many vampires there were. What mattered was that Tom had come. He’d taken the bait with little hesitation. He’d followed Hal’s clumsy vampire to the abandoned warehouse, not far from where they’d confronted the Old Ones. Tom wasn’t surprised to find Hal there waiting and armed. He’d known where this was headed as soon as he saw the vampire standing on the corner outside the house.

“If you ignore it maybe he’ll stop,” Alex suggested.

He didn’t want to ignore it. He thought they needed it, this reminder of what Hal had become.

Four vampires. Stupid and careless, all black eyes and fangs. As Hal stood back and watched, they came at Tom and Tom raised his stake. He was ready.

**

It didn’t take much to outsmart a vampire. Some muscle and some stakes, a cross or two, some common sense. Most vampires were stupid. That was rule number one. They just came at you all black eyes and pointy teeth, no thought at all.

Most vampires were easy. Killing them was nothing if you knew what you were doing. McNair made sure that Tom knew exactly what he was doing right from the start. Always aim for the heart, never get caught, never ever let them throw you in one of their cages. The dogfights could change a man, McNair said. The cage rotted a man from the inside out, but not all at once. It took time. A stake was a mercy compared to the cage.

Anyway, most vampires weren’t interested in the fights. Not anymore. Most vampires didn’t see McNair coming, didn’t plan at all, only reacted. Most vampires were stupid.

But there were still dogfights out there. They still happened. In Lowestoft and Blackpool and Barry. They happened in Cornwall, so McNair said, though they’d always steered clear there. The point was, they happened. (Tom guessed that, after everything, they might be happening more often now. He wasn’t sure. He knew they weren’t happening again in Barry though. Not yet.)

Most vampires were stupid, that was true. But few and far between there were vampires out there who used their heads, who planned instead of coming at you, their black eyes like deep pits in the earth. Those were the vampires that you had to watch out for.

“The most dangerous vampire,” McNair had told him again and again, “is the vampire that plays the long game.”

Tom was never sure what McNair meant at the start. The long game. A vampire fight was over fast. You won or you lost. If you won, you wiped off your stake, added fangs to your collection. If you lost, you ran or you died. Tom had always assumed that the long game had to do with the fights, with the cage, with the rotting.

And then Hal came and Annie invited him to stay.

**

Hal glanced down at his watch, eyebrows raised, as the fourth vampire crumbled into dust at Tom’s feet.

“Oh, I’m boring you, am I?” Tom guessed, his breath coming out in heavy gasps around the words. After all, four vampires were still four vampires. Easy was relative.

“Not at all,” Hal returned. He stepped forward and Tom tightened his grip on his stake.

Hal wasn’t stupid. His eyes weren’t black and his fangs weren’t out, but Hal was the most dangerous vampire that Tom had ever met. Tom had to remember that. He had to remember it even when he looked at Hal and still saw his best mate there, the same guy he bonded with at the café, the same guy who had Tom’s back, who sometimes looked at Tom like – his fucking best mate.

You deserve better friends, Hal had said. It was probably true, but Tom didn’t have better friends, did he? He had Alex and he had Hal and that was it. And now Hal –

When Hal got close enough, Tom didn’t hesitate. He started swinging right away, but Hal anticipated it and blocked his first two blows, twisted Tom’s wrist until he had no choice but to drop his stake. It didn’t matter. He had another in his pocket. Hal’s free hand came up and pushed at Tom’s shoulder, right where it met Tom’s neck, so Tom stumbled back before he caught his footing. He surged forward into Hal, knocking Hal off balance and causing Hal to release Tom’s hand. Tom punched Hal in the stomach, and Hal doubled over in pain.

Tom didn’t wait for Hal to recover. He rushed at Hal, but Hal caught him right at the last moment and turned so it was Tom that was pushed up against the wall, struggling beneath Hal’s grip, his arm twisted behind his back and his cheek pressed against the bricks.

“Shh,” Hal said. He leaned in close by Tom’s ear. “Shh.” Like Tom might just stop fighting, might just let Hal kill him. Tom twisted and turned and eventually Hal let him move so that Tom’s back was to the wall instead. He kicked at Hal’s shin and Hal grunted and shoved Tom back so Tom’s head knocked against the wall, the flash of pain spreading through his head, hot and white.

And then Hal kissed him.

Tom’s head was pounding from the impact, and he stood there stunned for a moment when Hal’s mouth came in to cover his. Hal’s hands were still fisted in Tom’s coat, pushing him against the wall so that Tom couldn’t escape, but Hal’s mouth felt – not gentle, but not violent either. Insistent. Tom felt some of the fight slip out of him. He reached up to grip at Hal’s coat, suddenly unsure if he meant to push Hal away or pull him closer.

This wasn’t why he’d come here. He didn’t want this reminder. This wasn’t that world anymore.

Tom reached for the stake in his pocket, but before he pulled it out, he made sure to kiss Hal back.

**

This was how it went.

One moment they were human and then the moment passed.

They woke up in a cell at the Department of Domestic Defence, Alex a ghost and Hal and Tom with feeding tubes stuck in their abdomens. Blood dripped from the end of the tube when Hal pulled it away and he wiped at it with his fingers, licked them clean without hesitation. Tom felt his stomach turn at the sight, and when Hal looked up and caught Tom’s eye, Tom was quick to turn away.

Alex called out, shouted for Rook, then for anyone. She cursed and she screamed and then she made Tom call for her, but even then no one came. Finally Hal bluntly reminded Alex that she was a ghost again and Alex rentaghosted out of the cell, began searching for the key to release Tom and Hal. While they waited, Tom paced as far from Hal as he could get, back and forth by the bars. If he’d had a stake he might have tried something, threatened at least, but there was nothing to be done. Not until Alex got them out anyway. Hal leaned against the wall, arms folded over his chest.

“You should see how you look,” Hal said. “Like a wild animal locked in a zoo, pacing the perimeter. Searching for weaknesses.”

“Shut up, Hal.”

“Werewolves,” Hal concluded. Tom thought it sounded a bit affectionate really, and he looked up to find Hal smiling at him. It didn’t look like a very nice smile.

For a second at the start Tom thought that maybe they would have Hal back even here, even though their conditions had been there all along. Maybe what had happened while they were there changed what they were here, but Tom’s heart fell as soon as Alex started shouting and Hal opened his mouth. Before that. He knew as soon as Hal licked the blood from his fingers. Tom saw Alex harden, her body stiff, business-like, and he knew she’d secretly hoped for the same thing.

The DoDD was just about empty (a bad sign) except for one or two people – humans – who seemed completely disoriented and couldn’t remember how they got there or what they’d been doing (a worse sign). It didn’t take Alex long to obtain the keys. Searching out Regus was Hal’s idea.

“Regus is useless when it comes to many things,” Hal reasoned. “But he’ll be keeping up on this.”

Regus wasn’t hard to locate. Most of the DoDD had been emptied, but it seemed that they hadn’t finished clearing things out entirely before it all started. Alex found a few boxes of Type 2 files sitting near the entrance.

“Here!” she said. Regus’s file wasn’t in any of the boxes, but Michaela’s was.

Alex asked questions that none of them could answer while Hal flipped through the file, skimmed for a location, somewhere to start.

Tom didn’t say anything, just stared hard at Hal. Once Alex had released them, Tom had broken a chair, and he held the broken leg of it tight, just in case, though he didn’t think Hal was actually going to try anything. Hal had worked with them before anyway. Tom just wanted to be prepared.

“You see the way he looks at me like this is somehow my fault?” Hal asked Alex. “He’s already forgotten that the reason we’re back here rests entirely in his lap. When this is finished, I’ll have to remember to thank him.”

“I should stake you right now,” Tom returned, but he didn’t. Of course he didn’t.

**

“I thought you’d be here sooner,” Regus admitted. “No one knew what had happened to you lot. I was starting to think you might be dead.” He looked up, squinted at Alex. “Who’s this?”

“Alex, Regus,” Hal said, waving a hand between them. “Regus, Alex.”

“Where’s Michaela?” Tom asked.

“She’s in Japan,” Regus said. He gestured toward the books and the papers. “I was boring her. She left before – well, before everything. Don’t worry, she’ll be back.”

“I wasn’t worried,” Tom assured him.

Regus nodded, pleasantries out of the way, and started flipping through the pages of a really old dusty looking book.

“So where is he?” Tom asked, trying to move things along. He was anxious. The state of things outside – would it be like that if they’d figured it out sooner? Could they have stopped it? “Where’s the Devil?”

“Oh, he isn’t the Devil.”

Regus said it like it was just some throwaway remark, but Tom started, turned to stare at Alex, who glanced back, eyebrows raised.

"What do you mean he isn't the Devil?" Hal asked, his arms folded across his chest.

"I mean, he isn't the Devil," Regus repeated.

"Then what is he?" Tom asked.

"I don't know," Regus admitted. "A devil, probably. Maybe a demon with delusions of grandeur. All I know is that he can't be the Devil. It wouldn’t make any sense. It's impossible."

Hal glanced at Tom, a slight roll of the eyes as he unfolded his arms and then moved in to lean against the edge of Regus's table. Regus pulled back, uncomfortable with Hal's sudden proximity. Regus didn’t seem to like this side of Hal much either. Hal leaned closer.

"You have the story," Hal said, his voice slow, the words careful. "I told you what happened in France. You've known it for years."

"Yes," Regus agreed, though he sounded less confident now. "I know the story, Hal. I researched everything you told me then. The curse, all of it. And everything I've found suggests a run of the mill demon on a rampage. Probably trying to jump the ranks. I don't know how they order these things. A devil, the Devil with a capital D, could not be confined in a human form. The Devil could not even be summoned, if he exists at all. You think there's a curse that summons God too?"

**

Even before they figured it out, there were clues.

Sometimes Tom still felt it in him, like it was trying to claw its way out. He felt it scratching at his stomach and his ribs, pulling at his bones. It left him aching, like after a fight. It didn’t happen often, but it did happen, and on the night when it felt the strongest and hurt the most Tom rushed out into the back garden and stared up at the sky. There it was. A full moon.

He sat on the edge of the table, picked at the peeling green paint with his finger. He pulled small strips of it off the wood as he stared. There was too much light here, but he imagined what the sky must look like in the woods, at McNair's grave. There’d be stars there. Not a lot because the moon was so bright, but more than here.

He heard the door click and Hal came to stand beside him. Hal didn’t say anything, but he stood close to Tom, close enough that when Tom shifted, their arms brushed. He heard Hal let out his breath as though he’d been holding it for something.

“I’ve never actually seen it before, ‘cept in pictures,” Tom said.

Hal was watching Tom, but he said nothing. The tips of Hal’s fingers played at the corner of the table, close to where Tom’s still pulled at the paint. Tom continued.

“Almost full, sure, I’ve seen that loads of times, but never a proper full moon.”

The way Hal was looking at him it was like he was trying to learn something, but he still wasn’t saying it, whatever it was, and finally Tom had to look away. He looked back up at the sky, but he couldn’t concentrate on it now. He dropped his head to stare at his trainers instead.

“Can you still feel it?” Hal asked, finally.

“Yeah,” Tom said. He didn’t look up. “I think I can a little, sometimes.”

Hal nodded.

“Can you?” Tom asked.

Hal didn’t respond at first, but he shook his head, just slightly. When Tom looked up Hal said, “I think it must be psychosomatic. We’ve lived with our conditions for so long, your entire life and for me – five hundred years is a long time to – it’s psychosomatic.“

“If anyone here is psycho, mate, it’s you,” Tom said. He wasn’t offended, not really, but he had to point it out. If Alex was out here with them, she would have jumped on it too, he was sure.

Hal huffed a little, but he didn’t disagree. His fingers brushed against Tom’s hand. Tom thought that if he turned his over, Hal might slide his palm over Tom’s, take Tom’s hand in his. Since they’d become human, it felt to Tom like there was something building between them. Tom didn’t understand what it was, not yet, but this felt like that, like he was waiting for something. Or Hal was waiting, maybe. Alex, too. Tom shrugged, but he didn’t turn his hand and Hal didn’t touch him again.

“I didn’t mean psychotic,” Hal clarified eventually. “Psychosomatic. I think that these…symptoms are in our heads. That’s all. They’re residuals. Memories.”

“Yeah,” Tom said. He looked back up at the moon. “Maybe. I don’t know.”

Even then he was pretty sure that this time, for once, Hal was wrong. Even then he thought he felt the lie of it deep in his gut.

**

“We have to stop meeting like this,” Hal said, barely able to keep the smile from his face. Tom had taken out Hal’s vampires in mere moments; six this time. Some of them knew a thing or two, weren’t new at all. It was a harder fight than it had been the last few times that they’d done this, but not too hard. And now here he was, advancing on Hal, one stake in each hand.

Hal’s hands were beckoning him forward, fingers curling in toward his palms, and Tom shouted as he rushed at Hal, his shoulder connecting with Hal’s chest and knocking them both to the ground. He dropped one of his stakes and Hal kicked it away, the sound of it sliding across the floor loud over their grunts. Hal followed that up by kicking at Tom and Tom scrambled back and got to his feet. Hal was on his feet again too, but Tom was ready, grabbing Hal and pushing hard so that Hal stumbled and then Tom was on him, pulling him to his feet and shoving him against a concrete pillar.

Tom held the stake over Hal’s chest, his other hand fisted in Hal’s coat, pushing his shoulder back against the concrete.

“Go on,” Hal said. “Go on, Tom. What are you waiting for?”

Tom stared hard at the point of the stake, the way it pressed into the fabric of Hal’s shirt. He tried to imagine himself going through with it, plunging it in, breathing dust into his lungs and knowing that a moment before that dust had been Hal.

Tom released Hal, pushed away. He shouted and threw his stake hard across the room. It clattered against the far wall.

"You don't have to pretend anymore," Hal said. Tom had his back turned toward Hal, but it didn’t matter. He could hear the smile in Hal’s words. He could hear how much Hal enjoyed this. "I see you too well for that now. I know how far you're willing to go to get the things you want."

"I don't want you though," Tom said. He wiped his face against the shoulder of his coat and then he shook his head. "Not anymore."

"No?" Hal asked. "Then what are we doing? Why do we keep coming back here?"

"One of these days, I'm gonna kill ya," Tom said, sure in his heart that it was true. One of these days he'd find the resolve. He'd find it and he'd let Hal go. How many vampires would it take? How many deaths would he tally? They were responsible, Tom and Alex. That’s what they’d said. Tom was going to have to kill Hal.

“I’m gonna kill ya,” Tom repeated. He thought it sounded more sure this time, more confident.

Hal must not have thought so because Hal was still smiling and suddenly Tom wanted to grab him, shake him. He wanted to feel his fingers pressing hard into the muscles of Hal's arms. He wanted to knock the smirk from Hal's mouth. He wanted -

"Ah," Hal said, knowing. His eyebrows rose as his smile stretched wider. Tom hated it when Hal smiled at him now. His face didn't light up with it, not the same way it used to, but it still hurt just the same anyway. Tom's fists clenched at his sides and he shook his head, looked away. When he looked back up at Hal, Hal pursed his lips, mimed a kiss, and Tom snapped.

“You remember that,” McNair had said once. “A vampire’s got all the time in the world. Playing with you is just an evening’s entertainment.”

An evening’s entertainment.

Hal grunted when Tom hit his chest again, stumbled backward, and Tom kept pushing, didn't stop until he had Hal backed up, pressed against the crumbling wall of the warehouse, his hands hard on Hal's shoulders. Hal was still smiling just a little, and he leaned in toward Tom, his voice low, nearly a whisper.

"There you are," he said.

“Here I am,” Tom agreed.

“Yes,” Hal said, at the same time that Tom pushed at him. It made the word sound like a groan of pleasure. “Lethal, efficient, but you won’t kill me, just as I have no intention of killing you. That’s not really what we want from each other, is it?”

“I don’t know what you’re on about,” Tom sniffed, but it was a lie. He understood Hal perfectly.

“It’s foreplay," Hal said. Somehow he made the word sound even dirtier than Tom would have expected. Not that Tom ever expected anything like this from Hal. “Right from the very start. You think it’s ever been anything else?”

**

Sometimes Tom imagined how life could have gone if he could’ve just kept Hal good; if he’d been more responsible, if he hadn’t been so selfish, if he’d taken it all more seriously. Hal told them right at the start what he needed. But that was the thing – they’d needed things too. Tom couldn’t do it on his own then. He couldn’t pay for Hal and Annie and baby Eve. Hal had to work too.

Even so, Tom had tried, and it seemed like Hal was doing well. He seemed good at the café, at least most of the time. Yes, it was true that there were times when it was hard. He could see it on Hal’s face. Hal would go all quiet, tense. His mouth would tremble, just slightly at first, and if Tom was busy, couldn’t intervene, he could see Hal’s grip on the counter tighten. He could see Hal’s knuckles turn white with the strain. Tom was always there though. He was there to pull Hal away, to distract him.

“I shouldn’t be here,” Hal said once, early on, as he paced the back room.

“You’re doing good,” Tom insisted. He kept his eye on the front. He’d have to leave Hal here if a customer came in.

“If you knew what was in my head, you wouldn’t allow me to be here,” Hal said.

“I think I have a pretty good idea,” Tom said. “You were thinking about ripping all those people apart.”

Hal closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Tom tried to imagine what it must be like, though he didn’t really want to know. The way Hal shuddered, even the insides of his eyelids must seem red right then.

“What did Leo used to do for you?” Tom asked.

“What?”

“He must’ve done something,” Tom reasoned.

“He didn’t force me to work in a café,” Hal pointed out, his words clipped and tight.

But Hal had gotten used to it. Tom thought it seemed like it was even good for him, spending more time out there, getting used to being around people again. Tom had thought it would make Hal stronger. Good strong, not, you know, killing people strong.

“I want you to be my new Leo,” Hal had said once, and Tom thought that that was the moment. That was the moment when he knew that they were really friends, mates. Hal had been visibly nervous about it. He was asking Tom to take care of him, to care for him. He was saying that he trusted Tom to keep him safe.

Tom had been flattered. He’d been honored. And he’d tried. He really did try, but not hard enough. He just kept pushing. He couldn’t be Leo. He needed too much from Hal. He needed someone to take care of him too. And then there was Cutler and there was Alex and the Old Ones and the chair. There was the two months of feeding Hal and listening to Hal as he tried to sleep. Of emptying the bucket and cleaning Hal up. It was worth it, he thought. Even when Hal said things that cut and hurt, it was worth it because Tom knew then that Hal was his best mate.

Leo would have done it differently. Leo would have kept the house clean. He wouldn’t have made Hal so desperate to escape. Leo knew that two months weren’t enough. He probably didn’t even have to ask.

Leo would have stepped up once Annie was gone. He would have set the rules. He wouldn’t have let Hal take charge. He wouldn’t have needed Hal to take charge, to tell Leo what his place should be. Leo seemed like a man who knew what he was doing. Tom never knew.

Fifty-five years. That’s what Leo had, right? More than that. Fifty-five years, Hal and Leo and Pearl. Tom and Hal and Alex. Sometimes Tom was sure it was all that he really wanted. If he’d been given a choice – and he was – he’d have chosen them every time. He loved them. He needed them.

“It’s incomplete without you,” Hal had said when they’d come to him in that dream version of the house. Alex was there too, of course. She leaned in to press a kiss to Tom’s shoulder.

Tom knew that he was just as much responsible for Alex’s death as Hal was. Hal never would have phoned Alex if Tom hadn’t pushed. He wondered if Hal ever thought of that too. Alex kissed Tom’s shoulder and he wondered if Alex even knew.

She did that sometimes then. She reached out and touched them like she couldn’t believe it. She couldn’t believe that they were all real.

It was one of the reasons that Tom hadn’t said anything sooner.

**

Tom saw the sign one day when he was walking home from a confrontation with Hal. He felt tired and bruised, and if he was admitting it to himself – which he wasn’t – a little aroused (it was almost time for his change. He tried to tell himself that that must have something to do with it). He was itching to get back to the house, to shower and eat, but the sign caused him to slow to a stop.

Tony had apparently survived Hatch’s scourge and now that Barry was trying to clean itself up, pick itself up off its feet, the Café on the Corner was reopening. The sign in the window was looking for help. Tom glanced down at himself, then up and down the empty street and then, before he could change his mind, he went inside.

It didn’t take as much convincing as Tom had expected before Tony agreed to give him his job back. He even asked about Hal.

“No,” Tom said. He shook his head. “Hal won’t be back.” He looked around the café. He’d loved it here once. He’d been comfortable here and he’d loved working with Hal. This was where they’d come to understand each other. It was where they’d bonded. He thought that that was probably why he wanted the job back. Well, that and he really didn’t want to go anywhere near the Barry Grand.

“Did he - ?” Tony started to ask, but he trailed off before he finished. It didn’t matter. Tom understood. Everyone in Wales understood that question. Tony was asking if Hal had died.

“No,” Tom shrugged. “He’s not dead. Well, not properly.”

“You can’t convince him to come back then?” Tony asked. “We aren’t busy – well, you can see that.” He gestured to the empty café. “But Barry’s waking up. We’re rebuilding, and you’ve gotta be ready, you know. I could use the help.”

“Um,” Tom said. “Hal’s a vampire.” It felt weird to say it out loud and not have to explain.

“Oh,” Tony said, eyebrows raised. He shifted, uncomfortable, in his seat. “Oh. Right. I imagine he has other things going on then.” He laughed just a little, probably to ease the tension. Either that or he didn’t believe Tom. The vampires in Wales had kept a low profile so far.

Tom nodded. “Yeah.”

He played with a frayed section at the bottom of his shirt, and then he looked up at Tony. He thought about just admitting it. “And I’m a werewolf”, he’d say. What did it matter? Tony probably didn’t believe him anyway. And technically they were out now. He could just say it. But it was still new. It had all just happened and no one knew yet what would come next. They didn’t know if people would retaliate. Better just to keep it to himself.

In the end he simply said, “I’ll be needing Thursday night off.”

**

This was how the world finally learned.

They heard the news two days after they woke up in the DoDD cell. The Devil (still in Hatch’s body – switching to Rook’s had apparently all been part of the Devil’s trick) was wreaking havoc somewhere in South America, having already paid his visits to England and Europe and a few other places besides. Regus told them where, but Tom couldn’t keep all the names and places straight. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that a vampire named Carl, a werewolf named Paulo, and an unnamed ghost cornered Hatch and completed the ritual. They succeeded where Tom and Hal and Alex had miserably failed.

The trinity died, Hatch died, and the vampires saw opportunity.

“What do you know?” Hal asked, laughing as they listened to the news broadcast over the radio. “It would appear that Cutler had it right all along. Show them something worse. Leave it to Hetty to follow through.”

Tom didn’t remember Hetty, but Hal said she was an Old One. A vampire with the body of a little girl, he said. She must have escaped the explosion. They listened as she talked of the dead trinity as martyrs, as heroes. They listened as people cheered.

“What happens now?” Alex asked.

“Bolivia will love Hetty,” Hal said. “They’ll fall at her feet, bare their necks for her. Brazil will follow, perhaps Chile. Of course, there will be some that won’t be caught up in her spell. They’ll retaliate. Eventually there might be a war.”

Regus nodded as he considered Hal’s prediction. “It’s an interesting time. It’ll change everything.”

“Yes,” Hal agreed. His stance was rigid, arms folded across his chest. Tom couldn’t quite read it. Was it hesitation? Anticipation? Jealousy?

“So what do we do then?” Alex asked. She looked from Tom to Regus, then back to Hal.

“Nothing,” Regus shrugged. “We wait and see how it all plays out.”

“But she’s going to take over,” Alex said, pointing at the radio. “You heard the report – it’s just like the Old Ones all over again. Shouldn’t we blow her up or something? Finish the job?”

“Alex is right,” Tom said. They had to be back for a reason. They had to fix things.

Hal shook his head. “Hetty is a far cry from Mr. Snow. Ultimately, Hetty craves comfort and stability. She can be brutal, yes, and she can be fickle, but she can be just too. As long as she’s adored. And listen to them; they adore her already.”

“For now,” Regus agreed.

“For now,” Hal amended.

"What did we come back for?” Alex asked, her voice rising a little. “Why are we even here if we aren’t going to do anything? She’s a vampire. People will die.”

“People have been dying for weeks. All that Hatch offered was death, disease, famine, war. Compared to that, Hetty will feel like relief, like order restored. And vampires are nothing new, after all. The world has long survived with us in it.”

“But then there was no point to any of it?” Alex asked. “The War Child prophecy, Eve, Annie’s unfinished business. None of it changed anything?”

“Of course it did,” Regus said.

Hal was becoming visibly impatient with Alex and he turned toward her now, his eyes hard.

“The planet should thank him for what he’s done. It was population control. It was needed. Humanity should thank him. Perhaps now balance can be restored.”

“Balance,” Alex laughed. “Listen to yourself. Such a load of pretentious shite. What happened to ‘the apocalypse is bad for everyone’?”

“This isn’t the apocalypse,” Hal said. “We were wrong. This isn’t an extinction event. It’s a thinning of the herd, a change in power, nothing more.”

“But we don’t try to fix it?” Tom asked. He didn’t care about herds or balance. He cared about what came next. “We just live with it?”

“We wait for the dust to settle and we see what comes next,” Regus said.

“That’s what you always do though, isn’t it?” Alex noted. “Oh, you’re the Vampire Recorder. You stand back and observe. That’s all you’ve bloody done for hundreds of years.”

“And for hundreds of years, it’s worked,” Regus returned.

“So that’s it?” Alex concluded. She laughed. It sounded a bit like she was cracking up. “We’re letting vampires take over the world.”

Hal sighed. He glanced at Tom and then he turned back toward the radio.

“It could be worse,” Regus said. He glanced toward Hal as he spoke. “Of all the possible scenarios, I can definitely think of worse.”