The first time that he sees her she is flipping through a magazine while Hal Yorke tears into the throat of the young man struggling at the other end of the table. Hal’s victim is in the prime of his life and he pushes at Hal, shoves hard against him until Hal’s teeth rip into his neck a second time and the blood starts to flow in earnest. The man’s arms go limp and fall to his sides.
Mitchell stands there and waits. He watches the movement of Hal’s throat, listens to the pathetic choking sounds of his victim. Blood drips down Hal’s face. The smell of it fills the room: thick, metallic, fragrant. Mitchell takes a deep breath.
The woman turns the page of her magazine. She’s a ghost. That much is obvious just looking at her, though Mitchell tries not to look at her. You never know with ghosts and vampires. You never know which ghosts should be ignored. This one has been around a while though. Either that or she died on her way to a fancy dress party. It doesn’t matter. If she’s rooted to the place instead of the people then ignoring her is still the safest and sanest response, at least for now, at least until Mitchell gets a handle on the situation here.
She doesn’t ignore him in turn. She glances at Mitchell over the top of her magazine and raises an eyebrow. He pretends not to notice her as she uncrosses her ankles, then shifts and crosses them again. Finally she turns to Hal. She frowns, sets her magazine down in her lap and then tuts at him, disgusted.
“You used to be so careful,” she says. “Now look at you. Blood all over your shirt. And who’s going to be stuck trying to get that stain out?”
Hal releases the dying man and he falls forward against the table with a dull thud. Blood from his neck begins to pool on the wood beneath him. Vampires waste blood as though the supply is endless. Maybe for now it still is. Mitchell hasn’t been informed of the plan.
“I’ll get a new shirt.”
Hal doesn’t even look at her, but it’s enough to answer Mitchell’s question. Hal and the ghost are acquainted.
Hal approaches Mitchell, pupils dilated as he swipes his hand across his chin.
“Ah,” he says. “I see the post has arrived.”
“That Mr. Snow could do with some help,” the ghost notes. Her voice lowers to a mutter as she provides her commentary. “He always chooses the strangest gifts.”
The turn of her mouth makes it clear that she isn’t pleased by Mitchell’s appearance here. Mitchell runs a hand through his hair and then turns his attention back to Hal.
Hal Yorke is smaller than Mitchell expected him to be. You hear enough stories you start to form an image in your head. Mitchell imagined that Hal would be bigger, taller, broad. He imagined Hal to be physically intimidating, a monster in every sense of the word. He probably should have known better. The worst monsters always have ways of hiding it: a charming smile, a pleasing face, an unthreatening stature. Hal has all three.
“I assume you’re aware that you’ve been reassigned,” Hal says, addressing Mitchell directly now.
“Yeah,” Mitchell agrees. “So they said.”
“Mitchell, is it?” Hal asks. “I’ve heard a lot about you, Mitchell. Before he got himself killed, Wyndham spoke highly.”
Good for Wyndham, Mitchell thinks. Good for Hal.
The humans start screaming as soon as Fergus locks the door and Hal’s smile is wide and white and brilliant. When Hal’s eyes go black, the screams get louder, higher, shrill. Hal waves a hand and Fergus slaps Mitchell on the shoulder. Together they advance. Together they tear apart the entire room. Mitchell feels good, he feels alive, and afterward Hal grips his shoulder. When Hal smiles his teeth are red and his eyes are bright and Mitchell feels like a god. Like a fucking god.
The ghost is there when they return. Hal leans in and kisses her cheek. He’s covered in blood, sticky with it. They all are. The red runs in stained tracks down Hal’s face and over his clothes, but her cheek is pale and beautiful and unmarked by his lips. The ghost’s face twists and she pushes him away, hard, though Hal merely laughs in return.
“So proud,” the ghost says. “It’s disgusting. What would Leo think if he saw it?”
Hal stops laughing. His face is hard. It looks like he goes so far as to bite the inside of his own cheek. They stare at each other for a long moment, seconds that drag as the rest of them stand and wait for whatever comes next.
Mitchell’s surprised to see that it’s Hal who turns away in the end.
“Clean yourselves up,” he says, and then he leaves the room, followed by a short trail of henchmen.
Mitchell pauses in the door and when the ghost turns to look Mitchell up and down, Mitchell no longer feels like a god. He feels base, like earth and worms fit to be stomped beneath the toe of her shoe.
Her name is Pearl. Hal doesn’t talk about her much. There are plenty of vampires here, though, plenty of vampires with varying degrees of information. Mitchell learns quickly who he can most easily extract from. And when Mitchell sits down and asks, Nick Cutler merely shrugs.
“He just shows up here,” Cutler says. “One day years ago out the blue, and that’s it, Hal’s right back at the top. All that time I thought he was dead. Proper dead. Guess not.” Cutler laughs a little then like he’s been the butt of some really long joke and he still can’t believe that he ever fell for it.
“But what’s with the ghost?” Mitchell asks. He doesn’t care about Cutler’s past with Hal. It’s clearly fucked up, whatever happened between them. Jesus, Mitchell thought Herrick was bad.
Cutler nods. “Pearl,” he says. “She’s just – you know, I don’t really know. She came with Hal. He does that. Ghosts, though. That was new.”
Seven years and no one ever thought to ask who she was or why she was there?
It’s unusual, a vampire keeping company with a ghost. What Mitchell had with Annie, that was unusual, or so he thought. Vampires, as a rule, don’t really get on with ghosts. They’re unsettling; they’re reminders. Most of the ghosts a vampire encounters are the ghosts of the humans a vampire has killed. Who really wants them sticking around?
“You think he killed her?” Mitchell asks.
“Maybe,” Cutler sighs, loud, exasperated. He’s grown tired of this conversation. “He’s killed a lot of people.”
Mitchell thinks about it, shakes his head. “Nah. He didn’t kill her.”
“How do you know?” Cutler asks.
“If he killed her, she wouldn’t be here now,” Mitchell reasons. “Can you imagine if we all started letting on that we could see the ghosts of our meals? Every vampire would have a queue of angry spirits trailing after them. Hal’s smarter than that.”
When Mitchell asks Fergus, Fergus just shrugs and says, “Hell if I know. Hal’s always kept strange company.”
Funny, Mitchell thinks. That’s what they all used to say about him too.
There’s a group of resistance fighters in London. They’re small and vicious and loud; a motley crew of humans and werewolves. They wear fangs hanging from their ears like trophies. There are other groups too. There are groups who are smarter about it, groups who aren’t merely in love with the attention. Then there’s George and Tom and Annie. Mitchell doesn’t know Tom’s plan – Tom was killing vampires long before any of this started – but he knows George and he knows Annie. They’re in it for one reason. They only have one goal. They’re the most dangerous to the cause.
The first group is by far the loudest, the flashiest, and it makes them the easiest targets. Fergus catches one of them coming out of a pub in Brixton.
“Brixton?” Pearl mutters with an exaggerated frown. Hal turns to her, eyebrows raised, but Pearl merely shrugs and looks away.
Fergus tortured information from the guy before he moved on to the main course. He relays it to them now. The plan sounds crude, poorly thought out. It sounds like fifteen children raiding a well-protected house full of Britain’s deadliest vampires with nothing but sticks and hope. It’s free food delivery, nothing more. But Hal doesn’t seem to see it that way. Hal wants someone to take care of it.
He sends Mitchell.
“Alone?” Fergus asks. He’s obviously offended. It was his tip, after all. By rights, it should be his kill.
Hal doesn’t respond to the question. He smiles at Mitchell, reaches up to touch Mitchell’s jaw with the tips of his fingers. Mitchell nods.
Their fear spikes the air of the room immediately and it prickles in Mitchell’s nostrils. They’re prepared; they have stakes in case of moments just like this one, but they’re no match for Mitchell. His teeth rip through the flesh of the first neck. The blood hits his throat, and that’s it. It’s all that he needs. The second one is easy, the third easier, and by the fourth and the fifth, Mitchell is truly enjoying it. They scream as he pierces them with sharp fangs, as he rips through skin and vein and sinew, as he pulls the teeth of his brethren from their ears. Their blood flows and spurts and paints the room in delicious red.
Mitchell lies there afterward on the floor, limp in the pools of their blood, his entire body strumming with it, and then finally he stands, and he walks through the streets of London until Fergus arrives to drive him back to the house.
“Why the hell did you wander off?” Fergus asks.
“I knew the way back,” Mitchell returns. He’s pretty sure it isn’t a lie. He’s pretty sure he could have found the way. He’s pretty sure he would have tried.
Hal is waiting just inside the main door. Pearl stands behind him, but she turns and leaves as soon as she catches sight of Mitchell and Fergus.
Hal doesn’t leave. His eyes shift, slide down Mitchell, taking in the blood on Mitchell’s clothes, on his skin, soaking the gloves that cover his wrists. Mitchell watches the shift in the set of Hal’s jaw. He can tell that Hal’s mouth waters at the sight, knows that Hal’s teeth are sharp. Hal wants to press his tongue to the bare skin of Mitchell’s shoulder, taste Mitchell’s victory. He doesn’t do it, though Mitchell isn’t sure why. Mitchell hasn’t fought back in eight years; it’s unlikely that he plans to start now.
Mitchell watches as Hal’s lips work over his teeth and then finally Hal nods and he turns and follows Pearl from the room.
It’s probably an important moment, if you care about such moments. Mitchell doesn’t. Hal clearly does.
It’s pretty apparent that Cutler doesn’t like him. Actually, it seems pretty apparent to Mitchell that Cutler doesn’t like anyone here except Hal, and even there ‘like’ is probably too strong a word. Mitchell gets that. He does. And then he thinks again that it could have been worse for him. It might have been worse for him than Herrick.
It’s pretty clear that Cutler doesn’t like him, but when Mitchell sits down and sets a full bottle of whiskey on the table, Cutler raises his eyebrows, and he takes a glass when Mitchell offers. It’s also pretty clear that Cutler doesn’t dislike Mitchell that much. Not as much as he hates some of the others, and certainly not enough to turn down a drink.
Cutler raises his glass in a toast.
“Heard about your great mission,” he says.
Mitchell shakes his head, rubs the back of his neck, protests. It was nothing. It was a joke really, just some inexperienced kids. They weren’t a threat. They weren’t dangerous, not really. Mitchell should have let them go, let them slip out the back and no one would have thought anything of it. He didn’t. He killed every last one of them. It was nothing.
“That’s not the way I’ve heard it told,” Cutler says. “I heard you tore them apart, ripped out their insides and decorated the place with them like they were party streamers.”
It was nothing.
“Very festive,” Cutler concludes, monotone, dry and unimpressed. He hisses a little as the whiskey hits his throat.
Mitchell shakes his head again. “Someone’s exaggerating.”
“Maybe,” Cutler agrees. His mouth hangs open a little as he regards Mitchell. Cutler’s clever, more so than most of the others that Hal chooses to surround himself with. “Who do you suppose that might be? Fergus?”
Mitchell snorts, tips his glass toward Cutler and then downs the contents. Cutler leans back in his chair.
“No, one of the red shirts, most likely,” Cutler agrees. “They’re always looking for an anti-hero to worship.” He pauses. “Or maybe it’s just the truth. Maybe you’re nastier than even you think.”
Everyone here is a bit nasty. Mitchell is no standout. He thinks that Cutler might be the only exception, but probably not. Just because Mitchell hasn’t seen Cutler so much as kill anyone, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a nasty streak hiding in there somewhere anyway.
Mitchell leans toward Cutler. “What else have you heard?” he asks.
Cutler pauses for a moment, and when he laughs it’s all teeth. “Oh, that’s what this is? You’re here to have me stroke the old ego?”
“Nah,” Mitchell says. “But if people are telling tales, then I think I ought to know what they’re saying.”
“Yeah,” Cutler says, his mouth still stretched in a grin. “Yeah, well, they aren’t saying much. Just that you threw a great party, streamers of entrails and all, and you didn’t think to invite anyone. Oh, and they’re saying that now you’re here, Hal will finally have the help he needs to get London under control. Fergus is thrilled about that one, as I’m sure you can imagine.”
“Yeah, I bet,” Mitchell agrees. Hal doesn’t really need the help. Hal could do it all single-handed if he wanted. Mitchell’s seen enough, heard enough, to know that. London’s not under control because Hal’s enjoying having things a bit out of control for now. That’s all. The way Mitchell’s heard it, Hal was out of play for a while. The way Mitchell’s heard it, Hal’s just gearing up.
When it’s time for Hal to move on, he’ll crush London and he’ll leave it. Hal doesn’t need Mitchell for that.
Mitchell pours himself another glass, downs that one too. “What about you? How do you feel about that?”
“It isn’t how I’d go about it,” Cutler says. “But then, no one cares how I’d go about it, do they?”
“I might,” Mitchell shrugs, and there Cutler goes, laughing again as though he’s just one step away from going over the edge.
They come at dusk like the village mob from an old film, except instead of torches and pitchforks they’re packing guns and stakes. It’s revenge for Mitchell’s raid, that much is obvious, but it’s poorly planned. It’s a suicide mission. They start shooting the place up right away. It can’t be their first vampire fight; they must know it won’t work. They probably just like the theatrics of it. A bullet grazes Mitchell’s shoulder and he shouts, stumbles. He grabs a bloke with purple hair first, pulls his head back and tears into his throat. Blood splashes onto the floor of the corridor.
Mitchell drops the guy and he lands with an unceremonious thud on the tile. Mitchell moves on, rounds a corner and collides with Hal.
Hal grabs Mitchell by the shoulders. “How many?” Hal asks, but he doesn’t sound worried or scared, just excited.
“I don’t know,” Mitchell says. “Twenty, maybe.”
Hal nods, his eyes on Mitchell’s mouth, his neck. “Not enough then.” He trails his fingers over the blood that drips down Mitchell’s neck, sucks it from his fingertips.
“No,” Mitchell agrees. “Not enough.”
They hear shouting, and it isn’t long before the shouts turn to screams, high and shrill and agonized. It sounds like they’re winning, but Hal’s smile slips. He stills, and then suddenly more screams, different this time. Vampires. Hal releases Mitchell and then he laughs.
“Oh,” he says. “And here we thought they were ill-prepared!”
It starts to slot into place and Mitchell’s eyebrows rise as he realizes. “It’s a full moon.”
Hal reaches for Mitchell again, pulls him in and kisses his mouth. He licks the blood from Mitchell’s lips and Mitchell doesn’t resist. He kisses back. He lets Hal suck blood from his tongue, and when Hal’s had enough, he lets Hal push him away.
Hal’s smiling, grinning, and now his teeth look a bit red too.
“How are you in a dogfight?” Hal asks.
They capture two of them, and at dawn they lock them in a cage in the cellars. Mitchell didn’t even know the cages were there. There are three of them with heavy bars that shine. No one’s ever mentioned it before now. It’s pretty clear they didn’t come with the house.
On the upper floors, furniture is overturned, dust and bodies lie on the floors, blood splatters the walls and the carpets, mars the museum.
“I came to this house once as a child,” Pearl says as she steps through one of the rooms.
She never speaks to Mitchell, not if she can help it, so he looks up from where he’s sprawled in a chair, surprised by the sound of her voice. There isn’t anyone else here, so she must be talking to him.
“Yeah?” Mitchell asks.
Pearl stares down at one of the corpses.
“Yeah,” she echoes. They hear a scream from the cellar and Pearl pauses, squeezes her eyes shut. “I think I must have told Hal and – I think I must have told him once how much I loved it.”
She opens her eyes and focuses on Mitchell. “And look at it now.”
Look at it now. Look at them all now. He can feel her accusation, the blame that she lays on him, but it’s misplaced. This all started before Mitchell arrived. There was nothing that Mitchell could have done to stop it. This would happen if Mitchell was here or not.
“Sometimes I find their ghosts weeks later, hiding in a cupboard,” she says, nodding to the bodies on the floor. “They’re terrified.”
“Really?” Mitchell asks. He doesn’t think much about the ghosts of his victims. No vampire does. It isn’t healthy. “What do you do then?” She must do something. The place isn’t crawling with ghosts after all.
“I help them,” Pearl says. "Sometimes I notice the door first, just sitting there waiting, and for a moment I start, and I wonder if it's there for me. It's never mine though, it's one of theirs, and they're just too scared to even know. So I help them. What do you think?"
“Why are you here?” Mitchell asks, frustrated suddenly by her tone and her continued presence. He pictures her perched on Hal’s shoulder dressed in white, her hair flaming as she tries in vain to shout over Mitchell on Hal’s other side. No, not Mitchell. It’s Snow. It’s always Snow here. No one talks about it, but they all feel it, that undercurrent of control, of favor. Mitchell’s just here, caught in the middle. Hal’s fucking pet. Mitchell doesn’t matter at all in this.
Pearl shrugs and looks again at the disarray around her. “Where else is there for me to go?”
“You can go anywhere,” Mitchell says.
“When a ghost loses her root…” Pearl starts, but she lets the sentence trail off. She rights one of the overturned chairs and sits down, smoothes her skirts. She looks so out of place here, so domestic amidst the pools of blood on the floor.
“Let me guess,” Mitchell says. “That’s what Hal told you.” It isn’t that it isn’t true. Of course what Pearl says is true, but Mitchell has known some strong ghosts in his day. He knows ghosts who have been to purgatory and back. He knows ghosts who can change the world. And he knows, can see right away, that Pearl is a strong ghost. If Pearl wants it badly enough, she can find someone new to root her.
“Hal didn’t need to tell me anything,” Pearl snaps. “You think I didn’t try to leave him? You think I didn’t find out for myself? He wasn’t always like this, you know. I knew him before I lost him to this.”
Mitchell laughs. “Hal’s been like this for over 500 years. Everyone knows. He’s a horror story, the kind of legend vampires tell tales of as they tuck each other into bed at night. ‘Have you heard the one about Lord Hal and the convent,’ they ask? Sweet fucking dreams.”
Pearl looks away. “I know that,” she says.
Mitchell snorts, kicks at the pieces of a broken vase.
“He’s my family. He’s all that’s left.”
One of the wolves in the basement shouts. There’s laughter from some of Hal’s men.
Pearl shakes her head.
“It isn’t right,” she says. “None of this is right at all.”
It all changes again when, for the first time in eight years, Mitchell finds himself face to face with George.
Mitchell is standing at Hal’s side with a tongue coated in blood. They’ve been fighting for a while now, winning, and then he hears a familiar accent – Tom McNair - and Mitchell looks up and he freezes.
“Oh, right,” Hal says beside him. Mitchell turns to find that Hal is watching him. His eyes are bright, curious. “I’d forgotten that you and the wolf Sands were acquainted. I take it you know the McNair fellow too?”
Hal isn’t even trying and Mitchell picks up on the tone immediately. Hal hasn’t forgotten at all. Hal knew exactly which fight he was throwing Mitchell into. Hal just wanted to see for himself.
“I knew him a bit,” Mitchell says. The words feel tight, thick with the blood on his tongue. “Once.”
Someone knocks into them from behind and Mitchell stumbles, catches his footing and is already swinging when he turns. His fist hits his mark: the face of the werewolf who shoved him. Hal’s moved on now, into the fight and away from Mitchell. He looks to be going for Tom and Mitchell wonders for a moment if he should intervene, but Tom grips a stake when he sees Hal coming. He looks ready. He looks deadly. He looks like he’s encountered Hal before.
Neither Tom nor George seem to have caught sight of Mitchell yet and Mitchell thinks suddenly that perhaps he could run.
He could slip out of this crowd, keep going until he’s far from all of it. He doesn't need this. He doesn't want any part in this fight. None of it is saving George. Look at them. None of it saved Tom or Nina or Annie or Eve. Why was Mitchell still here at all?
The werewolf that he punched is back in the game and he gets Mitchell good in the gut. Mitchell doubles over, pushes into the wolf with his shoulder. Mitchell could get rid of him, end him. It would be quick and easy, just grab him and break his neck. He’s not sure he can do it. Not in front of George, but when the wolf comes back at him, this time with a stake, Mitchell grabs him and twists. He hears the snap and the wolf falls to the ground at his feet.
Mitchell feels sick and he backs away from the body, backs right into Fergus. Fergus curses and shoves him aside.
And then Mitchell looks up and finds George there, staring back at him.
Mitchell shakes his head. George shouldn’t come near him. George needs to keep his head in the fight. He’ll get himself killed. God, these vampires would just love to kill George, wouldn’t they? What a victory that would be. What a success.
George is blind to the danger, doesn’t take the hint. He shoves and pushes and fights his way to Mitchell and when he gets close, he grabs Mitchell’s arm and shakes him.
“George,” Mitchell says. He tries to smile, but there’s blood on his face. His teeth are red and he can still taste it on the insides of his cheeks. It’s not right. He’s –
George shakes him again.
"Where is she, Mitchell?" George asks. His face is twisted, desperate and broken.
"I don't know," Mitchell admits. It's the truth. She hasn't left Britain, that much he knows, but beyond that –
“Just tell me she's alive," George presses. "Just tell me she's okay."
Mitchell shakes his head. He doesn't know. He doesn't know. He's an attack dog for the Old Ones, nothing more. He's teeth and blood and lust and Hal doesn't trust him, not yet. He trusts him to kill, to tear and rip and shred, but he doesn’t trust him with more, certainly not with information like the location of the War Child. Mitchell turns then, searches for Hal in the crowd. He's a good distance away. He’s still fighting with Tom and he’s smiling, enjoying it, and Mitchell can see that Tom is infuriated. Tom has always done emotional bursts of rage so well. Eight years hasn’t changed that.
George's fingers dig into Mitchell's arms and George lets out a sob, high and pathetic.
"Just tell me she's alive," George says again.
Mitchell has to get away from George. If Hal or Fergus take note of this, they'll think – and it isn't true. Mitchell hasn't had any contact before this. This is –
"Tell me she's alive!" George shouts suddenly, screams, and Mitchell frantically shakes his head, starts hushing George, his hands flying up to George's shoulders, his neck. His fingers smear blood on George’s skin.
“Oh God,” Mitchell says. He pulls his hands away. "Of course, she's alive, George. Of course, she's alive."
"They killed Nina," George sobs then. "You killed Nina."
Mitchell's still shaking his head. They can't be doing this here. George can't break down here. They'll kill him. If they notice this, they'll kill him, no question.
"You know I'd never – I couldn't stop it. I didn't know until it was too late."
George releases Mitchell and pushes away from him. He turns and wipes at his face. He has a stake in his hand, just as he did the last time they saw each other. His back is to Mitchell now, just like the last time. If George swung now and pushed the stake into Mitchell's heart, finished what he hadn't been able to do then –
“Do it,” Mitchell says. “George, come on, man. Do it.”
He knows, even now, that George can’t.
"Did you tell him that she’s alive?" Hal asks him later when they're alone in Hal's office. Just the two of them and Hal's ghost. Mitchell wonders if she’s always here. He wonders if she stays through all of Hal’s meetings, all of his meals, his victims, as much a part of the interior design as the walls lined with books and the ornate wood of the desk. He wonders if she stays when Hal leads Nick Cutler into this room and shuts the door. He wonders if she watches as Hal bends Cutler over his desk and –
Mitchell shakes his head and squeezes his eyes shut and suddenly the blood’s efforts to distract him at Cutler’s expense no longer work. He sees George’s face instead, twisted with defeat. Nina and his baby girl, both taken from him. How could Mitchell ever have let that happen? He should have fought harder for them. He should have torn the world apart.
“Hal,” Pearl says, her voice soft. She’s sitting in her chair in the corner, another magazine spread open across her lap, though she hasn’t looked at it since Hal and Mitchell walked into the room.
“I haven’t spoken to him,” Mitchell says, carefully. “I haven’t seen him in eight years.”
“Eight years?” Pearl repeats from her corner. Mitchell opens his eyes and looks at her. She frowns at him, her forehead furrowed in a surprising display of feeling.
Hal adjusts the objects on his desk, straightens them with the tips of his fingers. He doesn’t bother to look up at Mitchell, but he continues, eyebrows high.
“I didn’t ask if you’ve been meeting with him,” Hal says. “I know that he asked you about the War Child and I want you to tell me how you responded. Did you tell him that she’s alive?”
Mitchell hoped Hal hadn’t heard. In the moments after he parted from George, Mitchell’s mind flooded with grand plans, fantasies of playing the hero. He’ll do everything asked of him; he will flirt with Hal, play the game. He’ll be a model of destruction and terror and in doing so, he’ll gain Hal’s trust. He’ll find out what he needs to know; the whereabouts of Eve Sands. And then he’ll tear Hal apart.
He’d never go though with it anyway. Long-term heroics were never in his nature.
Mitchell takes a step forward.
“Is she?” Mitchell asks. He sounds pathetic even to his own ears. “She is alive, isn’t she?”
Hal slams his fists down on the desk then, and Mitchell and Pearl both jump in surprise. Pearl sniffs.
“Hal, calm down,” she scolds. “Can’t you see he’s upset?”
Hal shakes his head, but he listens to her and takes a deep breath.
Mitchell looks between them, and when neither of them say anything more, Mitchell nods.
"Yes," he says. "I told him that she's alive. Jesus, what else could I fucking say?"
Hal is quiet for a moment, just staring at Mitchell. Mitchell holds the stare. He’s done hiding. He’s told Hal the truth. He needs to pull himself together, get himself under control. He used to be so much better at this game.
Finally, Hal nods. “Good.”
Mitchell raises his eyebrows at that. His nod mirrors Hal’s and he does look away then, stares at the floor. He tries to seem unaffected, unconcerned, and then he changes his mind and takes a chance. He’ll pull himself together in the morning.
"Really?" he asks.
Hal’s eyebrows shoot higher on his forehead. “Yes, really,” Hal confirms.
Mitchell takes another step forward. “She is alive then? Eve Sands is alive.”
“It doesn’t matter if she’s alive or if she’s dead,” Hal shrugs. “What matters is that they think she lives, that they think there’s hope.”
Mitchell shakes his head, but Hal’s done talking. He turns his back to Mitchell, raises a hand and refuses to say more. When Mitchell begs and shouts, Hal sneers, and then two vampires appear to pull Mitchell away.
It’s well-timed, enough so that Mitchell wonders later if it was orchestrated, if it was all planned to play out exactly like this in advance.
Mitchell is expelled from Hal’s office just as a commotion rises in the corridor, shouts and curses, and Mitchell shakes off the vampires holding him and turns to see four others wrestling with a struggling man. The man spits at the vampires and he must have bitten his tongue because one of them shouts and falls back and away, clutches at his cheek as though burned. A werewolf. And then Mitchell sees the scratches on the man’s scalp, the most pronounced running down the back of his head and disappearing beneath the neckline of his shirt. Mitchell’s stomach drops and churns and he knows for certain that it’s Tom McNair.
He turns to leave; he has to get out, but Tom turns too and he recognizes Mitchell right away.
“Mitchell!” Tom shouts. He kicks at another of the vampires holding him, but the vampire doesn’t fall away, just grips him tighter and pushes him on. “Mitchell!”
He shouts for Mitchell again and again, but his face is twisted. Even Tom knows that Mitchell could never help him. Not now. Mitchell’s chosen his side.
There’s a noise behind Mitchell and he glances back over his shoulder. Hal stands in the doorway watching him.
“He’s just a fucking kid,” Mitchell says.
Hal turns away and shuts the door, leaves Mitchell to stand in the corridor, alone.
Tom’s shouts continue, farther off now, and then they fade into the cellars.
It isn’t true, of course, what Mitchell said to Hal. Eight years and Tom isn’t a kid at all anymore. Tom is older now than Mitchell was when he died. He looks to be harder, tough and smart; a fierce killer, a danger to any vampire, young or old. And now he’s just another of Hal’s captive werewolves, locked in the cellar at Osterley Park.
The next time there’s something needs doing, Hal sends Fergus, and Fergus’s mouth twists as he tries not to smile. His eyes shine as he looks to Mitchell, and then he bows – actually fucking bows – to Hal.
“My lord,” he says, and even Cutler’s snort is audible.
It’s probably an important moment, if you care about such moments. Mitchell doesn’t. Fergus clearly does.
“He doesn’t trust you,” Pearl says. She appears beside him on the stairs and follows him toward his room. Her heels click against the steps as she rushes to keep up with him.
She speaks to him sometimes now, but not often, not enough that this isn’t unusual behavior. She’s been speaking to him more since the exchange in Hal’s office. Sometimes she even smiles at him in passing.
“Yeah?” Mitchell asks. It’s not like there’s a lot of trust going around the place. It’s not really that surprising.
“It’s because of the werewolves,” Pearl says. “Tom and George.”
Mitchell reaches his room and he shuts his door in Pearl’s face. He doesn’t want to talk about George with her. He doesn’t want to think about Tom locked down there in the cellar. When he turns, he finds her sitting on his bed, her arms folded across her chest. Of course. She’s worse than Annie ever was.
“Look, I hardly know Tom McNair and I had nothing to do with Wyndham’s death,” Mitchell says immediately. He assumes that Hal’s sent her. She’s never been this persistent with him before. And hey, it’s the truth. He hadn’t known. “He sent me to Ireland. I had no idea what George and Tom had planned. I had nothing to do with it and by the time I returned Wyndham was dust. I had nothing to do with it.”
“I didn’t say you did,” Pearl shrugs. “I don’t care about that Wyndham. I only met him once. Didn’t like him much either. Good riddance.”
Mitchell smiles at that despite the situation. He wonders if there are many here that Pearl does like. Maybe it’s only Hal, which would be inexplicable, really; Hal Yorke, of all the vampires in the fucking world. Mitchell squints and folds his arms over his chest. He leans down toward her.
“What do you care about?”
She shrugs again and rubs her hands up her bare arms as though cold. “Hal,” she says. “Or I did, anyway…once.”
Mitchell nods. She still cares. Anyone can see it. She’s still here, isn’t she? Annie once promised to spend eternity in a jail cell with Mitchell, but even Annie wouldn’t have been able to stick around for this. Annie doesn’t have the stomach for it; too much heart. It would kill her all over again to watch it. Mitchell knows that staying with Mitchell the way he is now would have been the thing that caused Annie to fade.
Mitchell isn’t actually sure what that says about Pearl.
She looks up at him. “What do you care about?” she asks.
“It doesn’t matter what I care about,” Mitchell says immediately.
Pearl’s forehead furrows and her eyebrows draw together.
“It matters to me,” she says. “I think I’d like to know.”
“You already know,” Mitchell says. “I thought everybody did.”
“Not everyone,” Pearl says. The look on her face tells him that she thinks it’s a little pompous that he should think so.
“Hal knows,” Mitchell says. “And if Hal knows, don’t you?”
“No,” Pearl shakes her head. “That’s – it’s not something that he would want to talk about. Not to me.” She pauses, thinks hard on her next words before she continues, careful. “This werewolf, this George, you love him?”
“I haven’t been in contact with him,” Mitchell says, stubborn, just in case it really is Hal who sent her, though he’s starting to think she really must have come on her own.
“He was your friend once, wasn’t he?” Pearl presses.
Mitchell looks up. Something in her voice makes him pause, and then he’s moving toward her, sitting beside her on his bed. “He was my best friend, yeah.”
“And there was a ghost too?”
Mitchell nods and Pearl must read something in his face, because she reaches for him and wraps his hand in both of hers.
“You see?” Mitchell says. “What did I say? Everyone already knows.”
Mitchell remembers how George bent to retrieve the stake from the floor of the house in Barry. How long ago was it now? Eight years, that’s all, but it feels like a hundred. Mitchell watched George lift it and he remembers that he felt hope. George would release Mitchell and all of it would end; the fight that raged in him, the confusion and the need. It would be over just like that. Mitchell would harden and break and crumble into a heap on the floor.
But George didn't do it. He swung toward Mitchell, yeah, but then he stopped short, and Mitchell heard Annie's gasp just before George turned back, fast, and drove the stake up and into Wyndham's chest instead.
He missed the heart. Damn it, he missed it by a lot.
Wyndham's vampires were fast and they were on George in seconds. Wyndham looked down at the stake and he laughed before he fell to his knees. George cursed and fought and Mitchell rushed past George, knelt at Wyndham's side. He knew it was their only chance. He rushed to Wyndham and he fell to the floor beside him. He made all of the promises in the world.
It wasn't noble, not really. It wasn't heroic. He'd saved George that day, sure, but when he thought on it later, he'd had options. Wyndham was wounded and stunned, his vampires were focused on George. Mitchell could have taken the opportunity and finished what George had started. He could have killed Wyndham then and maybe that would have saved George too.
Mitchell didn't do it. He didn't even try. Mitchell saw an excuse, saw justification. Death or destruction. He'd tried so hard to convince George to make the choice for him. He'd told Wyndham no. He'd pleaded. He knew he was supposed to choose death; a good man always chose death.
Mitchell saw the opportunity and the justification and in the end he chose destruction.
“Get me out of here,” Tom demands when Mitchell finds himself standing in front of the cages in the cellar. “Mitchell, come on, mate. You gotta get the keys and let us out of here. Full moon’s in two weeks and you know what this means, right? Locked up like this in a cage, just waiting? Hal’s not saying, but I know you know what it means.”
The other two werewolves have been in there six weeks. They spent the last full moon locked up down here alone while the vampires laughed and drank above them as they raged. They’re broken and quiet, but one looks up and says, “What does it mean?”
“Nothing,” Tom says, quickly, as he glances back over his shoulder. “It means nothing.”
“We’ve been here two full moons,” the wolf pushes. “Why’s this one any different? What’s happening?’
Tom shakes his head. “I’m just talking, all right? That’s all. It don’t mean nowt.”
The other wolves head falls and he shrugs, but Tom doesn’t back down. He stands at the bars, his eyebrows pushed up on his forehead as he pleads with Mitchell.
“Say something, will ya?” Tom asks. “Why the hell are you here if you’re just going to stand there like that?”
But Mitchell doesn’t speak. He doesn’t know why he’s here. He should tell Tom the truth; that he doesn’t know Hal’s plan. He should tell Tom that these days, Hal’s probably doing more talking with Tom than he is with Mitchell. He should tell Tom that the last full moon passed and the other wolves are still here; they weren’t forced to fight or to kill. He doesn’t say any of that.
He didn’t mean to come. He was in the kitchen digging around for something to eat and the next thing he knows he’s in the cellar with a slice of dry toast cooling in his hand.
It isn’t long before Tom can’t handle Mitchell’s silence any more. It isn’t long before he starts shouting at Mitchell. The things he says: bloodsucker, filthy lying pair of fangs, traitor.
Mitchell reaches out and offers Tom the piece of toast. Tom grabs his hand, presses his fingers hard to Mitchell’s wrist and pulls him toward the bars. Mitchell tries to yank his hand away, fights back and then kicks his foot forward hard. He makes contact with Tom’s shin and Tom curses and falls back.
“You fucking mutt,” Mitchell says. He turns back toward the stairs.
“You’re just like the rest of ‘em,” Tom shouts after him. “Saw right through you from the start, mate. You never fooled me.” He throws the toast at Mitchell. Mitchell feels it hit his back, light, barely noticeable, and then it falls to the ground.
Mitchell leaves without another word.
He dreams about them often, and his dreams are usually a mess, blood-induced, fucked. Sometimes he dreams that he's with George, that he's clinging to George, sucking at his skin. He dreams that he's shoving his hand down George's trousers and that George is letting him. George is urging him on.
It's easy to spot, this dream. Nothing like it would ever have happened between them. Neither of them ever had any interest in it, but Mitchell dreams of George anyway, of the noises George makes, high and breathy, in Mitchell's ear.
Sometimes it's Annie there and Mitchell's on his back, Annie over him. She smiles when he looks up at her, her hips moving and when she leans down her hair creates a curtain, hiding them from the world, protecting them. Her mouth is cold for a moment and then it swelters and burns against his.
He can feel her in these dreams. He can feel her in ways that he never could before and sometimes he tries to tell her. He needs her to know. It wasn't her. None of their problems had to do with her. It was all him. He wasn't ready for her. He couldn't concentrate on her like he should have, but he can feel her here in his dreams. He can feel her as he sleeps with the blood of hundreds coursing through his veins.
Even asleep, he plans to leave that last part out.
Once it was Hal, his hand tight on Mitchell, sliding and pulling and Mitchell moaned and shook his head, but Hal didn't care. He smiled at Mitchell, that same cold smile that Mitchell's sure he'll remember for the rest of his days. When Hal leaned in, Mitchell surged forward and kissed Hal's mouth. Hal laughed against his lips and then he pulled back away from Mitchell and stilled.
Mitchell's vision shook in the dream, swam, and his eyes went black. So did Hal's, but Hal was faster, and Hal was on him first. His teeth tore into Mitchell's neck and Mitchell gasped. He clawed at Hal, pulled him closer, fingers digging into the muscles of Hal's arms as he found his release in the palm of Hal's hand.
That dream ended with Mitchell sitting up to find that Hal was gone and Mitchell was surrounded by bars, locked up in the old swimming pool in Barry, the same cage where Herrick locked him with George right at the start of it all. Hal stood there on the other side, flanked by Cutler and Fergus, his arms folded across his chest as he looked down at Mitchell and laughed.
It isn’t George or Annie or even Hal this time. This time he dreams of Pearl.
Her eyes are closed and her mouth open, her red lipstick smeared a little onto her cheek. It's so human, that little imperfection. It's beautiful and bright and Mitchell imagines that it tastes of blood. He pushes toward her and licks across it with his tongue. It doesn’t taste like blood. It doesn’t taste like anything.
Pearl opens her eyes and she smiles at him, reaches up to caress his face with the tips of her fingers.
She cares about Hal and she cares about Leo, whoever that was, but here in this moment she cares for Mitchell too. She drops kisses on his lips, sweet and easy, and when he surges up toward her, tongue and teeth, she meets him in kind and her kisses bruise in return. Her skirts rustle as they move together and she feels hot, far too hot for a ghost.
She moves and twists and he shudders and snaps, biting into her as he comes. She struggles for just a moment and her gasps sound small and choked. She struggles for just a moment and then she slumps against him and stills. He rests his cheek against the top of her head, licks the blood from his lips, and feels her start to cool.
Mitchell wakes up in his bed, certain there is someone else in the room. He sits up, squints at the light coming in from the corridor. He always shuts the door, usually locks it too.
“Hello?” he asks. No one answers.
Mitchell wipes at his face, the dream still fresh in his mind.
“I’m not in the mood for your fucking games, Fergus,” Mitchell calls out, louder this time.
When still no one answers, he throws off his blanket and stands.
“Fergus? Shit,” he sighs and moves toward the door, leans out and looks in either direction. The corridor is empty.
He shuts the door and locks it again, and then turns and jumps to find Pearl standing behind him.
“Shit,” he says again. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing? You’re fucking haunting the joint now?” He squints at her, raises a hand and gestures back toward the bed. “Were you watching me sleep?”
Pearl rolls her eyes. “I wanted to talk to you about Tom.”
Mitchell throws up his hands and moves to sit on the edge of his bed. He met Tom McNair all of twice and suddenly he’s the expert. Mitchell rubs a hand over his chest, scratching, then looks up at Pearl, eyebrows raised.
“All right,” he says, trying to move things along. “I’m listening.”
Pearl shrugs. “He isn’t like the other two. He pushes back, talks back.”
“Tom’s been here a couple of days,” Mitchell notes. “The others have been here weeks. Give it time. I’m sure Hal will break him soon enough. Jesus, Pearl, this couldn’t wait until morning?”
Pearl shakes her head. “It’s not just that. He isn’t even frightened. He’s locked in a cage in the cellar of a house full of vampires. The other two are shaking and he’s standing toe to toe with Hal. And I – “
“So he isn’t frightened,” Mitchell interrupts, impatient. “So what? The way I understood it, the kid’s been fighting vampires since he was in nappies.”
“I think he reminds Hal of – of someone; of Leo. Hal hasn’t said, but I’ve watched them from the top of the stairs.”
“So you are haunting the joint,” Mitchell accuses.
It’s the wrong thing to say. She narrows her eyes at him and then she snaps.
“Haunting? Cleaning up after a house full of deadly slobbering children, more-like. Running around making sure the messes get mopped up, making sure we aren’t buried beneath piles of rotting bodies in the corridors. It’s a fulltime job, cleaning up after heartless killers.”
She makes it sound as though she’s their maid or their mother and Mitchell’s been here long enough to know that she’s exaggerating her role and neither is true. He starts to smile and then tries to hide it from her. Her words are meant to upset him, to offend him, but they don’t. The night’s kill is still too fresh in his veins and the dream, Pearl’s skin firm beneath his fingers –
“What is it like when it’s just the two of you?” Mitchell asks. “Just you and Hal, alone together?” He thinks it might be worth doing a little haunting of his own to see something like that.
“Did you hear what I was just saying to you?” Pearl asks. She never really wants to talk about herself. In this one small way, they’re the same.
“What does he talk about with you?” Mitchell continues. “Does he tell you about the good ‘ole days? Raping and pillaging across Europe? Do you sit together and laugh comfortably at the carnage left in Hal Yorke’s wake?”
“Stop,” Pearl says.
“Does he tell you about the first time the great Mr. Snow laid eyes on him? That legendary obsession? Hal’s scramble up the ladder?”
“Stop,” Pearl says again, her voice sharper this time. “You want to know? Really?”
“Yeah,” Mitchell says. He leans back against his bed. “Yeah, I think I do want to know.”
“It’s normal. When it’s just Hal and me, I can almost pretend that everything’s normal.”
“Normal,” Mitchell repeats, and he wants to laugh at it. He thinks back to the first time he saw her. He thinks of her sitting composed as Hal opened the veins of a victim in front of her. Normal. It’s a ridiculous lie… but then there’s a part of him that understands her. He’s been there too. He’s lived that lie.
“Raping and pillaging,” Pearl mutters. “That woman you killed tonight before you stalked up here and collapsed on your bed? I saw that she went through her door, in case you were worried, in case you gave it a moment’s thought. She screamed when she saw what you’d done to her, how you left her torn apart and lying across an antique rug. ‘This is how it is now?’ she asked me, and do you know what I said? ‘Yes,’ I said. This is how it is now.”
She’s worked up and she pauses to collect herself. Mitchell thinks about kissing her.
It’s an inappropriate thought, but then look at them. Look at where they are. They live in a house of nightmares and all thoughts here are inappropriate.
He thinks he might do it, but then she looks at him, and her eyes are hard as she continues.
“As though John Mitchell is one to talk. As though John Mitchell doesn’t have horror stories of his own to tell.”
He stares at her mouth as they form the words, as she reads him her verdict.
“Yeah,” he agrees. He turns away from her. “You might have a point there.”
“Who is this Leo anyway?” Mitchell asks Cutler over another bottle of whiskey.
Mitchell doesn’t go much of anywhere alone anymore. Mitchell doesn’t go much of anywhere at all, which means that Mitchell spends a lot of time sitting around with Cutler, because Cutler really prefers not to go anywhere if he can help it. Cutler likes to have things delivered to him. His whiskey set on the table, his blood handed to him in a glass, Hal kneeling before him, eager. That last part Mitchell guesses anyway. It’s probably true.
Hal’s interest, his focus, has turned to his captives. He doesn’t trust Mitchell, that’s what Pearl had said, but he didn’t need her to see that it was true. Hal saw Mitchell and George and that was it, the end of Mitchell’s rise, and with the cool looks that Hal gives him now, Mitchell considers it lucky that he’s here and not in the cellar with Tom. Anyway, Fergus has exactly what he wants. Let Fergus help Hal pretend to control London. Let Mitchell sit here and drink with Nick Cutler while he pretends he doesn’t miss any of it, not the blood or the screams or Hal’s approving smiles.
“Is he another ghost? This Leo?”
“I haven’t a clue,” Cutler says after a moment. Cutler might actually prefer it if Mitchell was in the cellar with the lycos. Cutler never turns down a drink though, and sometimes when they laugh, they laugh with each other instead of at each other. It’s an improvement of sorts.
“Does it matter?”
“I don’t know,” Mitchell shrugs. “Seemed to matter to Hal. Definitely matters to Pearl.”
“He’s gone, whoever he is,” Cutler says.
“Hal’s never mentioned him?”
“Does Hal Yorke seem like a man who runs his mouth freely to you?”
Mitchell nods, doesn’t press. There’s a reason he’s talking to Cutler and not to Pearl or Fergus or Hal.
“How about Mr. Snow?” Mitchell asks then. “He ever stop in?”
Cutler’s shoulders pull up a little at the name. No love lost there.
“Once or twice,” Cutler says.
“Creepy old fuck, isn’t he?”
“You could say that,” Cutler agrees. He downs his drink and reaches for the bottle. Mitchell pushes it toward him.
“I hear he fancies Hal a bit,” Mitchell says, though ‘a bit’ is probably downplaying things.
“You could say that too,” Cutler says, his words slower now, careful. He drums his fingers against the table. “You’re full of questions tonight, Mitchell.”
Mitchell shrugs. “Boredom.”
“That’s what happens when you fall from favor,” Cutler agrees. “It’s annoying, isn’t it?”
“Yeah,” Mitchell says. “Yeah, I guess so. You’ve been there too, I guess.”
Cutler shakes his head. “No, I didn’t say that. Just making an observation, that’s all.” Mitchell remembers Cutler’s disbelief when Mitchell first arrived. He remembers the touch of hysteria in Cutler’s voice. He’s lying now, but Mitchell lets that go too.
They drink together in silence for a while, and finally Mitchell asks, “So what’s the deal with the War Child? You ever see her?”
He’s not sure where the question comes from. He doesn’t mean to ask it. He’s already drowned his encounter with George in blood, enough blood to forget, or so he thought.
He’s drowned it in blood, yeah, but Tom McNair’s still in the cellar, and here’s Mitchell asking the dangerous questions all of a sudden.
Cutler stares down at the table for a long time. Eventually he looks up, looks Mitchell right in the eye and says, “Nope.”
Mitchell smiles, squints, shakes his head. “Does she even exist?”
There’s no point stopping it now that he’s started. He might as well see how it plays out.
Cutler laughs in his face. At him. Definitely not with him.
“Are you serious?” Cutler asks. “You’re really serious? You actually think I’m that – does she even exist? You sit here and you ask me about Eve Sands? You?”
Mitchell feels a jolt at her name. It surprises him that it can affect him at all. Eve. He’s never even seen her. She was the curve of Nina’s belly to him, that was all. Now she’s their prisoner and Nina’s dead.
Mitchell hears her name and he knows that if any of them ever lets on where she’s kept, Mitchell will tear the world apart to reach her.
He finds Pearl standing at the top of the stairs to the cellar. She starts when he touches her arm, turns fast. He covers her mouth, raises his eyebrows, nods down the stairs.
“Shh,” he warns.
She’s staring at him, her eyes wide and her skin cold beneath the palm of his hand. They haven’t spoken since she left him alone in his room, but he’s thought about her. He’s thought about her constantly. Yesterday he caught himself standing in the corridor outside the door to Hal’s rooms, wondering what the picture might be like on the other side. He imagines them laughing together, comfortable, a picture of humanity. What a ridiculous lie, more ridiculous than the lies that Mitchell created for himself in Bristol or Barry.
He pulls his hand away from her mouth and replaces it with his lips, kissing her. Is this what she means when she says normal? Is this why she can’t leave Hal?
His hands are on her shoulders, gripping her tight. They threaten to pass right through her and collapse back in on himself.
She makes a muffled noise against his mouth, but she kisses him back, cold and desperate for just one moment, and then she reaches up and she pushes him away.
The stairwell is narrow. He doesn’t go far.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she asks. “What’s gotten into you?”
Blood is what’s gotten into him, of course. It’s always the blood. A fresh kill, and everything he touches suddenly feels so alive. Even Pearl, even now.
She stares into his face and she knows that he sees it. She knows. She’s been surrounded by vampires for years, of course she knows. She turns her head to the side, looks down the stairs into the cellar away from him. She doesn’t push him away again, not even when he takes a step closer to her. He stares down at her, at the white line of her neck.
“I think he’s planning something,” Pearl says.
Dogfights, Mitchell thinks. Hal’s planning dogfights. Jesus, anyone can see that. He’s waited a couple months, yeah, but what other reason is there for a vampire to start collecting werewolves?
As a general rule, werewolves don’t make good house pets.
“You don’t say?” Mitchell asks, and when she turns back to look at him, he kisses her again.
He figures she’ll never speak to him again. He figures he’s fucked up and she’ll pretend that he’s the one who’s a ghost, act as though she can’t see him anymore at all. He thinks that might be good. Invisibility. It might be easier for everyone. He thinks he probably deserves it.
He’s surprised when she comes to him the next day, stands before him and says, “I think it’s good.”
Mitchell’s eating breakfast, actual food with a bowl and a spoon, and he looks up at her, eyebrows raised.
They aren’t alone. There are other vampires milling about. No one important in Hal’s hierarchy, all red shirts according to Cutler, but they all have ears and they all have mouths, so when Mitchell asks his next question, his voice is low, an exaggerated whisper.
“The kissing?” he asks.
She frowns. “No, not the – “
She folds her arms across her chest. “The kissing was entirely inappropriate, and if you ever try something like that again, I won’t hesitate to hurt you.”
Mitchell’s mouth turns down in an exaggerated frown and he nods. “That’s fair,” he says.
She pulls out the chair beside him and sits down, leans in. “I meant the werewolves. I think it’s good that Hal’s spending so much time with them. I told you, I think it’s that Tom. I think Hal even admires him, in his own way. Don’t you think that’s good?”
Mitchell shakes his head and wonders how Pearl could possibly think that Hal taking a special interest in a werewolf could ever be considered a good thing. More like a death sentence.
“He’s planning dogfights, Pearl,” Mitchell says. “Don’t you see?”
“Maybe,” Pearl says. She’s frowning. Her fingers slide across the tabletop, tracing the grain of the wood. “But it might be something else.”
“Something else like what?” Mitchell asks. “He’s got three werewolves locked down there in the cellar, just waiting. What else do you think this could be?”
She stares past Mitchell at the wall for a long time, her fingers moving on the table until finally Mitchell sets down his spoon, reaches out and places his hand over hers. What does it matter who sees? What does it matter if it gets back to Hal? There are no rules regarding Pearl. Hal barely speaks of her at all.
She starts and looks down at his hand where it touches hers.
“It would have been worse,” she says, quiet. “I think it’d all be much worse if I wasn’t here.”
“Worse how?” Mitchell asks, but he doesn’t disagree. There are always ways for things to get worse.
“He wanted to round them all up – humans and werewolves. He wanted prisons, these big events, and – ”
She trails off. “I think it might have been worse.”
Mitchell shakes his head. These are still early days. There’s still plenty of time for things to get worse. He watches Pearl, stares at the turn of her mouth, the sudden wetness at the corners of her eyes. He’s never understood why ghosts are still able to cry, why their tears still feel wet if you touch them. He wants to reach for her. He wants to pull her up from her chair and wrap her in his arms.
He doesn’t do it, but he does press his hand tighter over hers. Pearl makes a sound that falls somewhere between a gasp and a sob. She turns away from him. The line of her neck is long, beautiful. Her hair curls against it.
“I – Hal and I – “ Pearl starts. She bites at her lip; her white teeth press against the red of her mouth.
The lights in the room flicker. A few of the other vampires look up, glance around the room. They don’t connect it to Pearl. Vampires are pretty stupid when it comes to ghosts most of the time, but Mitchell knows right away. He’s seen it before.
“What is it?” Mitchell asks.
“Leo told me once that –“ Pearl says and then she shakes her head and before Mitchell can press, she’s gone, a spot of cool air left in her place.
It’s ten days before the next full moon and Hal brings Mitchell with him to the center of London. They stand by the car, watch as people rush by them, their heads down. They don’t look at each other. They push toward where they’re going, fast and careful and faster still.
“It’s a disappointing war,” Hal says as he looks around.
Mitchell snorts. Hal turns to him and smiles.
“Not for much longer,” Hal adds. “It’ll all get interesting again soon enough.”
Mitchell doesn’t ask him what he means. He stares at the people rushing past.
“Go on then,” Hal says. He presses the palm of his hand to Mitchell’s shoulder. “Your choice. Pick two.”
”What for?” Mitchell asks.
“Lunch,” Hal returns. “On second thought, yes. Better choose four.”
Mitchell chooses three that walk faster than the rest and the fourth because she looks a bit like a modern-day Pearl. Hal raises his eyebrows at this choice, but he nods and waits as Mitchell grabs her and pushes her into the car. Two of the men are in the boot – a tight fit – and Mitchell can hear them struggling and shouting. Mitchell climbs into the back seat beside the woman, and Hal opens the door opposite, the one he’s been leaning on. The man they’d shoved inside tries to make a break for it, but Hal pulls him back in, slams the door shut. It’s cramped with two vampires and two humans and Mitchell pulls the woman up on his lap. She struggles and pleads and he wonders for a moment what the hell he was thinking. She was a terrible choice. He doesn’t want to kill her. He hasn’t thought it through.
Hal’s waiting and Mitchell takes her hair, long and auburn, and yanks it back so she has no choice but to push her neck toward him.
Mitchell turns to Hal. Hal’s lips are parted and Mitchell can see the tips of his fangs.
“How did she die?” Mitchell asks.
“That’s for you to decide now, isn’t it?” Hal says, amused.
“No,” Mitchell says. “Pearl. How did Pearl die?”
Hal’s mouth pinches shut and Mitchell doesn’t think he’ll answer, is sure that he won’t and then is surprised when he does. Right before he tears into the neck of his meal, Hal nods toward Mitchell and he says, “Not like this.”
The car fills with the smell of the man’s blood and Mitchell feels the shift as his eyes go black.
“That’s good,” Mitchell says. “That’s good.”
Tom stands by the bars of his cage and glares at Hal as Mitchell pushes the humans into the last of the empty cells. Tom’s fists are clenched at his side. He knows exactly what this means. There is no mistaking Hal’s intention now.
“Why only two?” Tom asks. “There’s three of us down here.”
“Yes, I know,” Hal agrees. “I have something else in mind for your two friends.”
“They ain’t my friends,” Tom says, automatically. “Never met them before you threw me in here, did I? You know that too.”
Mitchell is surprised by Tom’s willingness to contradict Hal, exactly as Pearl said. He’s even more surprised when Hal doesn’t get angry right away, doesn’t snap or snarl. Instead Hal stares back at Tom, his mouth tight and working. The moment is long and Mitchell can feel the tension between them, but eventually Hal shrugs and turns away.
“Make sure that cage is locked,” he directs Mitchell, and then he turns and leaves the room.
The werewolves are shouting.
Pearl paces in front of the door at the top of the stairs to the cellar. She touches the handle and then she pulls away and she shakes her head.
She doesn’t speak to Mitchell. She barely even glances at him. Mitchell’s sprawled on a sofa, has been for the last hour, long before Pearl was drawn into the room by the shouting.
The blood that rushes through Mitchell is still too fresh. He’s not in the mood to play nice. He thinks she probably blames him for this and he doesn’t have the patience for a cold shoulder that he hasn’t earned.
“This was all your boy,” Mitchell says, defends himself against her unspoken accusations. “It’s just like I’ve been telling you. From everything I’ve heard, this is classic Hal Yorke.”
Pearl shakes her head and then she laughs. She actually laughs at him.
“You’re just going to let it happen though, aren’t you? Look at you, Mitchell. You’re just like him.”
Now it’s Mitchell’s turn to laugh. “I’m nothing like him.”
“No?” Pearl asks. Her hands move to rest on her hips. Her entire stance judges him. “Nothing at all? Not a bit?”
“No,” Mitchell says. He’s still smiling. It’s ridiculous and he shakes his head. “Come on, are you joking? No!”
“I suppose you think you’re better then?”
Mitchell’s smile slips a little. “I didn’t say that.”
“Do you know where Hal was before all of this happened?” Pearl asks. Her hand gestures to encompass the room before it settles back on her hip. “Do you know where he was before that Mr. Snow came for him? Hal was living with me and with Leo. He was a good man.”
Pearl’s brow furrows and she shakes her head. “Well, no, not good, but he was dry and he was trying so hard to stay that way. So hard. And he was ours, mine and Leo’s. And we were his for almost sixty years.”
“Leo again,” Mitchell says and throws up his hands. “What does that mean? You come to me in the middle of the night and you say these things and none of it makes sense. You talk and you talk, but you never say enough. Why do you bother talking to me at all?”
“Who else am I supposed to talk to?” Pearl asks. “Cutler? Fergus, the others? They pretend they can’t see me most of the time. They pretend that if they ignore me, maybe I’ll just fade away.”
“Fine,” Mitchell says. “Then talk to me, but talk to me. Tell me about Hal. Tell me something that I can use.”
Pearl stiffens visibly, and Mitchell holds up his hands.
“Not use,” he says. Mitchell isn’t sure why he said it. He isn’t sure what he meant himself. “Just tell me something that means something, all right? You keep skirting around this Leo. Who was he? Another vampire?”
Pearl’s face falls.
“He was a werewolf,” Pearl says. “He died eight years ago.”
“A werewolf,” Mitchell repeats. She has to be fucking with him now. Hal Yorke shacked up with a werewolf and a ghost for sixty years. Hal fucking Yorke.
“He was Hal’s best friend. He was – he was my best friend.”
Hal’s werewolf best mate. Fuck, that’s rich. Mitchell sits up now. He leans forward.
“Did he lock Leo in a cage and feed him humans too, then?” Mitchell asks. It’s hilarious. The entire thing is just hilarious. And then a new thought:
“Is he telling you to say this to me?” Mitchell asks, suddenly suspicious. He stands from his chair and shouts down the corridor. “Come on out! I know you’re there!” He rounds on Pearl. “Where is he, Pearl? He must be here somewhere, listening, laughing at me!”
“What are you going on about?” Pearl asks. She reaches for Mitchell, pulls at his arm. “Calm down! Of course Hal didn’t tell me to say this. You think he wants anyone here to know? Stop your shouting right this minute.”
Pearl’s hands pull at him. They’re on his arms and then his shoulders and finally they come up to cup Mitchell’s face, and Mitchell stops and looks at her. Her eyes look wet. She doesn’t look like she’s been lying.
He leans in and tries to kiss her, but she catches on and pulls away before their mouths can meet.
“How did you die?” Mitchell asks.
Pearl blinks, confused. She takes a step back from him and smoothes her skirts.
“What does that matter?” Pearl asks.
“Why haven’t you passed over?” Mitchell presses. “Where’s your door?”
“If I knew that, do you think I’d still be standing here with you?”
More shouts from the cellar. Pearl’s face is painted in a perfect expression of distraught.
“I’m sorry,” Mitchell says. He shakes his head and tries to clear it. He remembers the face of his modern-day Pearl, a hole torn in her throat, her eyes open, dead. They pushed her and the man Hal killed out of the car when they were finished with them. They left them lying there on the pavement. Discarded rubbish, that’s all they were.
That was the world now.
Mitchell is minding his own business, shuffling a deck of cards, when Hal sits down opposite him. Hal studies him, quiet for a while, until finally Mitchell can’t let it continue.
“Something happen?” Mitchell asks. He holds up the deck, but Hal shakes his head, waves it away.
He smiles at Mitchell. His entire face transforms with it, his lips tight where they cover his teeth.
“I have a job for you,” he says. His fingers tap against the table. He tilts his head toward Mitchell as he speaks, as though he’s trying to keep this from the others, but there is no one nearby to overhear.
Mitchell nods. “Good.”
It’s only been a few weeks since the encounter with George. Mitchell didn’t expect that Hal might get over it so soon.
“I think you’ll like it,” Hal adds.
Hal stands and then pulls out Mitchell’s chair as Mitchell stands too. Hal touches Mitchell’s shoulder and tips his head to indicate that Mitchell should follow. Mitchell sets down his cards and does as he’s told.
Mitchell stands in the cellar beside Hal as Fergus unlocks the cage that holds the two wolves, pulls them from their cell and pushes them into the waiting hands of two of Hal’s less important vampire minions. Mitchell’s spoken to these two, but not often. Frank and Sherman, he thinks. Frank’s name might actually be Phillip.
“What’s going on?” one of the humans asks, getting to his feet. He looks sick, pale. The other human is quiet, keeps his face turned away from them. If Mitchell was going to bet on a human in Hal’s upcoming fights, that’s the one he’d choose.
The wolves barely struggle. They’ve been broken already at the hands of Hal’s men. Just a few weeks here and they’re already defeated.
“Pathetic,” Hal notes, an echo of Mitchell’s thoughts. “That’s the problem with werewolves. You’re cursed by accident, recruited without thought. There’s no quality control.”
Hal turns to Mitchell and nods. “Kill them.”
Mitchell starts. This is the job Hal had in mind for him? Killing his house pets?
“What?” Mitchell asks, surprised. He looks from the wolves to Hal. “Kill them now?”
“Of course now,” Hal returns, his tone patient, though everyone in the room knows that Hal Yorke’s patience is unlikely to last.
“The full moon’s just a little more than a week away,” Mitchell points out. “What? Eight days?”
“Yes,” Hal says. “And these hounds won’t be here to howl at it again. Kill them.”
The wolves have found a bit of fight now and they push against Frank and Sherman, kick their legs out at Fergus. Fergus laughs and takes a step back from them.
Tom’s quiet in his own cage, just watching, his face hard. He doesn’t beg for the wolves’ lives. He hardly knows them, after all. He’s said as much. Eight years have changed him, just as they’ve changed Mitchell.
All eyes are on Mitchell. Mitchell starts to turn toward the wolves, and then he catches movement on the stairs.
He knows who it must be even before he glances back. She’s standing there, only her shoes to the hem of her skirt visible from her place on the steps. He wonders if she knew that this was coming. He wonders if Hal told her that this was coming during those moments of normality that she cherishes so much. He wonders if she thinks he’ll go through with it.
“Why don’t we take this outdoors?” Mitchell asks.
Fergus laughs. Hal is waiting, face tight, expectant.
Finally Mitchell nods. He takes a step toward the smaller of the two wolves, and watches as he twists in the arms of his captor. It’s too easy, this kill. There’s no real fight here, there’s no anger or adrenaline. Just snap their necks and watch them fall to the floor. Just pass Hal’s latest test. Kill the werewolves and show Hal that he’s wrong to question Mitchell’s loyalty. Mitchell’s killed werewolves before. What’s two more now? It’s just a small thing, this.
Mitchell reaches out a hand to touch the wolf’s face. The man looks like shit. He looks like he’d rather be dead anyway. Mitchell’s probably doing them a favor. Die now, or die later. Those are the choices. Might as well get it over with now, right? Why put off till tomorrow what you can get done today and all that.
It’s not that simple though. Hal’s purpose runs deeper, and his meaning is clear. The werewolves are symbolic. They aren’t just two random faces, two men who came at night with guns and stakes to attack the house. They’re stand-ins. Hal’s asking Mitchell to kill, yes, but he’s not asking him to kill these nameless broken dogs. He’s asking Mitchell to kill Tom and most importantly, to kill George.
Mitchell stops and takes a step back. Could he do it? They haven’t been friends in over a decade. If it was asked of him, would he do it now? Kill George just to appease Hal?
It’s all so hypocritical that suddenly Mitchell wants to laugh. He feels it bubbling in his chest and he shakes his head and tries to stop himself.
Sixty years, Hal and Pearl and a werewolf named Leo. Hal was just like him. Domestic fucking bliss with his abstinence and his ghost and his dog. And not for just a few years either; he had a fucking lifetime of it! Hal Yorke, the same vampire who twice fought the werewolves across Europe and back, the same vampire who instigated the rise of the dogfight all over Britain. That same Hal Yorke, sharing a fucking flat with his werewolf mate. What a fucking load of shite.
Mitchell’s turning before he has time to think it through.
“What is it with you and the lycos anyway?” Mitchell asks.
Hal’s smile falters, but he recovers quickly enough. “What?”
“Vampire-werewolf wars, a legacy of dogfights, now this. What the hell happened, Hal? Why this obsession? Did your parents refuse to let you get a puppy when you were a kid?”
Fergus reaches for Mitchell, a hand tight on his arm. Mitchell shakes him off and takes a step toward Hal.
“Or maybe it runs deeper than that, huh? Maybe that toxic blood coursing through their veins leaves you feeling an itch you just can’t scratch? Is that it? Something as mundane as oral fixation?” Mitchell shrugs. He’s standing right in front of Hal now, leaning in toward him, his stance threatening. Hal will probably kill him for this, but it’s too late to back down now. And anyway, Mitchell’s itching for a fight. He thinks he might like it if Hal tries.
Hal doesn’t move, not yet. He stands there watching Mitchell, arms folded across his chest and mouth set in a line. Mitchell continues.
“That’s understandable,” Mitchell reasons. “We’re all there with you, mate. Vampires, right? It’s always oral fixation with us.”
Hal nods. “I think that’s enough, don’t you?”
“Oh, I’m not through yet,” Mitchell says, a shake of his head. “Not the blood thing then, huh? Is it all even simpler, more base? Sexual frustration, maybe? Is that why you keep coming down here to flirt with Tom when you think no one’s paying attention? Did you have a bad breakup back in 1612 that you’re still aren’t over?”
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Fergus asks, but Hal holds up a hand.
“It’s all right, Fergus,” Hal says.
“Yeah, Fergus, fuck off,” Mitchell agrees, but he doesn’t bother to look at Fergus. His eyes stay trained on Hal. “I’ve been fucking loyal these eight years. I’ve slaughtered and I’ve fought. I’ve played my part in this war. I’ve done what I’ve been told, and I’ve done it well.”
“Perhaps you should shut up and do what you’re told now,” Hal suggests. His smile returns and he glances toward Tom, as though, of all of the people in the room, Tom McNair’s the one who might share in this joke.
Tom doesn’t laugh, but Mitchell does. He laughs and shakes his head. He gestures toward Tom.
“I’ve watched my friends imprisoned, I’ve watched them die at our hands, and I did nothing. I’m done playing this game with you. I won’t kill George and I won’t kill these stand-ins just to appease you.”
“That’s your decision?” Hal asks. He’s still smiling, still looking past Mitchell toward Tom
“Yeah,” Mitchell agrees. “Yeah, that’s my decision. Don’t you see? It won’t make any difference! Severing my ties won’t help you to sever yours.”
Hal’s eyes are back on Mitchell. They’re harder now and Mitchell watches as all of Hal’s patience drains away.
Mitchell wakes up on the floor of the cellar. He shifts and then groans as his entire body screams in protest. His limbs ache. He’s bruised. He might even be a little broken. He gasps and winces only to find that his face is just as tender as the rest of him – maybe more so. He touches his jaw, hisses at the pain. He turns his head, testing, stretching, and then he opens his eyes and blinks until the room comes into focus.
Tom McNair is crouched by the bars of his cell, watching him.
“I thought maybe you were dead,” Tom says. “You weren’t moving. It’s been hours.”
Mitchell pushes himself up off the floor with a grunt and looks around.
He’s in one of the cells, of course, the one that held the two humans earlier that morning. There’s no one here now except Mitchell and Tom, but the smell of human blood is still strong in the room.
Jesus, Mitchell could really use some blood right about now.
“He’s killed the rest of ‘em,” Tom explains. “The humans, John and Bill – those were the other two werewolves – even the vampires that was down here helping him. Killed all of them except that one vampire who beat you to a pulp and threw you into that cage.”
“Fergus,” Mitchell supplies.
“Yeah,” Tom agrees. “Him.”
“Why not you?” Mitchell asks.
Tom shrugs. “Don’t know.”
Mitchell thinks that he might. The full moon’s in eight days, and look what’s left in Hal’s cages: one werewolf, one vampire. There’s more than one way to host a dogfight.
“So that was it then?” Tom asks.
“That was what?” His head is pounding. Someone’s cleaned up the bodies, but they missed some blood somewhere in the room. Mitchell can’t concentrate on anything else.
“Now you’re in a cage too,” Tom says. He nods toward the bars. “I guess that was your plan, provoking Hal like that, throwing that bloke Leo in his face?”
Mitchell groans again.
“I didn’t have a fucking plan,” Mitchell says. “I’m not on your side.”
“Well, I bloody well know that,” Tom mutters. “But I reckon we got a little over a week to get out of here, otherwise one of us is gonna end up killing the other.”
“Yeah,” Mitchell agrees. Tom seems to have a pretty good idea of why he was spared after all.
“Where did that ghost go?” Tom asks. “What’s her name again? Pearl? She comes down here sometimes. She could, you know, like rentaghost you out or whatever.”
Mitchell laughs. “Rentaghost. Jesus, I haven’t heard that in years.”
It hits him then, sudden and hard, that Tom is Mitchell’s replacement. Mitchell abandoned his friends, turned his back on them, and Tom stepped in and took his place. Tom’s had George and Annie for eight years now. He’s known them longer, better, than Mitchell ever did.
“How are they?” he asks.
Tom stares down at the floor. He shrugs. “Not good,” he says. “No one’s really good anymore, are they?”
“No,” Mitchell agrees. “No one’s good anymore.”
Time slows down when you’re confined, trapped, incarcerated. Doesn’t matter if it’s a cage or strapped to a bloody chair, it doesn’t take long before the minutes start to feel like years.
Mitchell can hear the blood pumping through Tom McNair’s heart, running, rushing, racing. Mitchell’s veins pull and constrict beneath his skin. Everything hurts. The smell of human blood on the floor fills his nostrils and tickles at his tongue. How long has it been, his last drink? Not that long. There was the woman in Hal’s car just four days ago. Five? Not long at all.
“Will someone come down here and MOP UP THIS FUCKING BLOOD?” Mitchell howls. He’s been shouting on and off for some time and his voice is growing hoarse. “Fergus! Cutler! Jesus, anyone. Where the fuck is Pearl? Can’t get rid of her normally, nowhere to be found now.”
“Come on, Mitchell. Stop shouting, will ya?” Tom asks from his own cage. “You’ve given me a right headache.”
“Shut up or I’ll fucking kill you right now,” Mitchell spits at Tom, instant and thoughtless.
Tom snorts and stands, moves to the side of his cell closest to Mitchell. He wraps his fingers around the bars and then leans forward until his face is pressed to the gap between.
“Yeah? Sure, all right, go ahead and kill me. Why wait for the full moon? Go on. How you gonna do that locked in a cage, huh?”
Tom pushes away from the bars, turns his back to Mitchell.
“I’m inventive,” Mitchell mutters. “I’ll think of a way. Jesus. It’s all I can smell.”
He swears it’s getting stronger by the minute when by all rights it should have dried and faded already.
“It’s over by the stairs,” Tom says, his voice lower. “That’s where Hal killed ‘em.”
Mitchell knows that. He has his back turned away from the source on purpose, but something in Tom’s voice changes in the middle of his sentence, and Mitchell turns to look at him. Tom’s staring toward the stairs and Mitchell twists to follow Tom’s gaze.
Pearl is standing there watching him. Her mouth is puckered into a small red frown.
“What are you doing here?” Mitchell asks. He turns his back toward her again.
“They’re all laughing at you upstairs,” Pearl points out. “They think it’s funny, you down here shouting like this. They think you’re no better than those poor dead werewolves.”
“Fuck,” Mitchell sighs. Of course that’s what they’d think. Of course.
“They’re all placing their bets against you now,” she says.
“I’d beat him even if he wasn’t cracked,” Tom mutters.
Mitchell turns to glare, but Tom still isn’t looking at him. He’s staring at Pearl, watching her like he’s waiting for her to say something to him, like he’s been waiting for her just like Mitchell was.
“Wait,” Mitchell says. He turns, squints at them both. “Do you two know each other? Why’s he looking at you like that?”
Tom’s eyes drop to the floor and he shakes his head.
“I told you that I’ve been visiting Tom since he came to stay,” Pearl says. She shrugs.
“Came to stay?” Mitchell scoffs. He takes a deep breath and the smell of that fucking blood fills his lungs. He shakes his head and he laughs. “Really, Pearl? Like he’s Hal’s fucking houseguest.”
Tom watches Mitchell laugh and his face loses some of its tension, and then Tom gives in, joins in. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, someone should really teach Hal some manners. He hasn’t even offered me tea, not even once.”
“Came to stay,” Mitchell repeats one last time for good measure.
Tom’s asleep when she returns.
“Why did you kiss me?” she asks. She’s in the cage with him. She sits on the floor beside him.
“Because I wanted to,” Mitchell groans. He closes his eyes and he sees the version of her from the street, her hair dark, her neck torn and her eyes dead. They didn’t stick around long enough to meet her ghost. They never do. He thinks suddenly, that maybe this is the woman from the car. Maybe this is her, disguised as Pearl, come to get her revenge.
“I’m sorry,” Mitchell says. He’s not sure if he means it. He can’t tell if it’s the truth.
She reaches out to touch his cheek and he pushes her away, but she’s stubborn. She doesn’t leave.
“Why did you have to bring Leo into it?” she asks instead. Definitely the real Pearl then.
“Oh, what does it matter?” Mitchell returns. “You’re really going to pretend that this wasn’t his plan all along? You said it yourself, I’m just like him. I’m his fucking mirror, and it was all just great when he looked at me and saw the monster looking back at him. That was just brilliant, wasn’t it? And then one day he looked and he saw a few shreds of humanity staring back instead. You and I both know that as soon as that happened, it was always gonna end like this.”
“There was a ghost,” Pearl presses. “The one that you lived with – ‘
Oh, God. He doesn’t want to talk about Annie. Not now.
“Tom says that you loved her?”
“Yeah,” Mitchell says. “Yeah, of course I loved her. I screwed it all up. It’s long over, but yeah, I loved her.”
Pearl smiles, nods. “I screwed up too.”
Here we go. Here it comes.
“No, no, of course not with Hal,” Pearl scoffs. “With Leo.”
Of course. Of course, he should have guessed. Everything here always seems to come back to Leo.
She continues. “I should have said and I – I screwed up too. That’s all.”
Mitchell lies back, stretches out on the floor. Pearl turns, leans on her arm as she twists back to look down at him. He imagines pulling her to him, knocking her arm away so she falls back against him. He’ll hold her close, hug her tight, before pressing his teeth into her throat. He’s gentle about it. Just punctures, no tearing.
He presses his hands over his face and he sighs.
“Tell me about Leo,” he says. “Tell me what you loved about him, the little things, okay? Give me the list.”
Pearl turns away from him, sits up and looks down at her hands. “I don’t – “
“Please,” Mitchell insists. “I could use the distraction.”
She looks back at him. She presses her lips together, and then finally she nods.
He can barely hear her when she starts. He can hardly concentrate. She talks of a barber shop, concerts and petty fights, Louis Armstrong and even Hal a bit, but all Mitchell sees is blood and ghosts and Nina dead in Regents Park.
Entrails hang from the ceiling like party streamers.
Maybe you’re nastier than you think, Cutler says, and he’s right. No one’s exaggerated anything. No one has ever exaggerated anything, not about Mitchell.
Mitchell screams for George and for Annie.
“They’re gonna come down here if you don’t stop. You think it helps shouting for them?”
“I don’t fucking care who hears,” Mitchell returns. “You think I should listen to you? Fucking lycos.”
Tom looks up. “What?” he asks. “Don’t care who hears what? I wasn’t talking.”
“This entire cellar reeks of dog. They’ll have to burn the fucking house down to rid it of your stench.”
“Yeah?” Tom asks. He sniffs. “You don’t exactly smell like roses right now either, mate.”
Hal sits at the base of the stairs. There’s a record playing, a woman’s voice. Mitchell recognizes it. It’s from an old musical. Great. A new form of torture.
“He’s half out of his mind,” Tom says. “Look at him.”
“Yes,” Hal agrees. “That happens. You should be happy. Just think of how easy this makes it for you.”
Tom and Pearl are talking. Their voices are low, hushed.
Mitchell turns his head toward them. They’re huddled together in a corner of Tom’s cage and Tom rubs a hand over his head as he nods at something Pearl has said. He’s frowning. Pearl reaches out and takes Tom’s hand, wraps her own around it as she continues to talk. She looks out of place, sitting there on the floor. Her skirt is bunched around her, her knees bent at her side, pointed toward Tom.
Mitchell plucks her from this cellar, imagines her outside instead, sitting in a garden or a field. She smiles up at the sun.
His stomach pulls and twists. He wants to close his eyes, but every time he does, he sees Nina. He sees her with blood running down her throat, her belly large and swollen.
It was years ago. It wasn’t his fault. He wasn’t there.
Get over it.
The smell of blood is back.
It dried on the floor and the smell faded, but it’s back now, fresh and fragrant and Mitchell is sure he’ll go crazy with it. He’ll bend steel; he’ll knock this cage to the ground.
“What are you doing?” Tom asks, and Mitchell thinks that Tom’s talking to him again until Tom continues. “Are you gonna give that to him? Tomorrow’s the full moon.”
Pearl responds to Tom, but Mitchell hardly hears her. All he can think about is the hunger that claws at this chest, threatens to crawl up his throat and devour everything in the room. It gets worse as the sound of her voice moves closer to him, as though she’s been brought back to life since last he saw her. Mitchell closes his eyes and takes a deep breath.
“Here,” Pearl says. “Mitchell, look at me. Mitchell, here.”
Mitchell turns his head to find that she’s pushing a coffee cup at him between the bars of his cell. He ignores her and looks up at Tom.
Tom’s pacing the cage like the animal that he is, back and forth by the bars as he watches Pearl and Mitchell. His mouth is turned down in a frown and his eyebrows are pushed up on his forehead into a point. He rubs his palms on his trousers.
“What’s this?” Mitchell asks, turning back to Pearl’s cup. He knows, of course. He just doesn’t believe it.
“It’s blood,” Pearl says with a roll of her eyes. “What do you think it is? You spent days complaining about the smell of that bit of dry blood over by the stairs, but you ask me a question like that?”
“Where did you get it?”
“From the pitcher on the table upstairs,” Pearl says.
“Because we’re sick of listening to your shouting,” Pearl says. “Why do you think? Besides, I need to talk to you.”
He takes the cup from her hands.
“I need you to hear what I have to say,” Pearl says, but Mitchell stops listening as he rushes the cup toward his mouth.
The blood bursts with life on his tongue. He can’t help but moan as it courses down his throat. Pearl looks away at the noise and Mitchell knows that the sound must have bordered on obscene. He doesn’t care. He really doesn’t. He’d do it again, he thinks, and then he does.
It’s not even that fresh. He can taste that it’s been sitting in the pitcher upstairs for a few hours, but it doesn’t matter. It’s enough.
It isn’t enough. It’s never enough.
He sits there for a long time after the cup is empty, his forehead pressed to his knees. He sits there and he tries to clear his head. He pushes the ghosts aside, pushes them out, and for the first time in days, they don’t push right back in. It isn’t enough. It’s never enough, and Mitchell instantly wants more, but he knows where he is, and he knows to play along, and finally he takes a deep breath and he looks up at Tom and at Pearl.
“Tomorrow’s the full moon,” Pearl says, right away.
Mitchell rubs a hand across his face. He nods. He’s been in here a week, then. He looks over at Tom. Tom looks like he hasn’t slept in days. He looks awful. Mitchell imagines that he must not look much better.
It isn’t in Tom’s best interests, allowing Pearl to give Mitchell blood now, just a day before a full moon. Mitchell will kill Tom if it comes to that, he knows that he will. Tom can talk about winning all he wants, but there’s a reason Mitchell’s lasted as long as he has. Mitchell will kill Tom if they’re still here at this time tomorrow.
“We’ve gotta get out of here,” Mitchell says. He’s pretty sure he’s stating the obvious.
“Yeah,” Tom says. He moves toward Mitchell. Mitchell watches as Tom’s fingers tap at the bars of his cage. He nods toward Pearl. “Yeah, we – uh. We were talking about Hal and that and Pearl’s got an idea.
“What idea?” Mitchell asks. He picks up the empty cup for the floor, stares at the blood that coats the bottom.
“That’s what I wanted to tell you,” Pearl says.
Mitchell sticks the tip of his finger into the cup, swipes at the blood, and then presses his finger to his tongue.
“Are you listening?” Pearl asks. “I said I know where she is.”
“Yeah,” Mitchell says. “Who?”
“The little girl,” Pearl clarifies. She keeps her voice low. “Eve Sands.”
Mitchell freezes. He sets the cup back down on the floor. “Really?”
Pearl plucks at her skirt and then she rolls her eyes and says, “Of course.”
“How did you find out?”
“I didn’t find out,” Pearl shrugs. “I’ve known all along.”
“You’re fucking kidding me,” Mitchell says, but of course Pearl’s known.
Mitchell pushes himself to his feet and then moves to the bars, closer to where Pearl lingers on the other side.
Pearl stood there as Mitchell begged Hal just to tell him if George’s child was alive, that was all, just say she’s alive, and all this time Pearl knew. She’s been at Hal’s side for a lifetime. Of course she knew.
“Why are you – you’re just going to tell me now?” Mitchell asks. “Just like that? That’s it?”
Pearl bites at her lip. “Will you go after her?”
“Yes,” Mitchell says without hesitation. He pauses and thinks over his answer. It feels like the truth. Even with a few drops of fresh blood running through his veins for the first time in more than a week, it feels like the truth. Yes, he’ll go after her. “I’ll tear the world apart to get to her.”
Pearl nods and then she looks over toward Tom. Tom nods too.
“So that’s the plan then?” Mitchell asks, extrapolating the rest. “You get us out of here, tell us the location of the War Child, and Tom and I go after her? What’s in this for you? You’ll come with us, get the hell out of this house?”
“No,” Pearl says. She pauses and frowns, then shakes her head more emphatically. “No, you don’t understand. We aren’t coming with you.”
“What?” Mitchell asks, suddenly confused. He thought that’s what this was about. He thought that this was Pearl’s escape plan. She told him weeks ago that she couldn’t leave Hal, but she kept coming back to Mitchell, she kept talking to him, seeking him out, and now here she is promising information and escape, and why else but to facilitate her own escape as well?
“You can leave him. You can leave Hal and you can come with us.”
Pearl shakes her head. “That isn’t what this is about. I don’t want to leave Hal.”
“And Tom – “
“Tom stays,” Pearl insists. “That’s part of the deal. I tell you where she is, and you go, but Tom stays.”
Mitchell laughs, confused. He remembers Hal sitting at the base of the stairs, talking to Tom. He remembers the way that Hal smiled at Tom, mouth tight and eyes disengaged. Yeah, Hal has plans for Tom all right, but they aren’t plans Tom should willingly stick around for.
“Why?” Mitchell asks. “Tom stays so that Hal can have his very own werewolf, just like Mr. Snow?”
“You wouldn’t understand,” Pearl says. She dismisses him with a wave of her hand.
“I understand,” Mitchell says. “But Tom isn’t your Leo, Pearl. Tom isn’t anything but a kid with a cause. He’s not gonna reform Hal. He’s gonna break, just like I did. He’ll attack just like I did. Great for Hal, great for the vampires, not so great for you and me. Not so great for Tom.”
Now Tom’s shaking his head too. “Pearl thinks it will help if I stay.”
“Oh, not you,” Mitchell moans. Jesus, Tom’s actually in on this. He’s actually agreeing with her. “So that’s what you two were doing while I was out of my head. I saw you sitting over there, your foreheads pressed together as you whispered. You’ve been filling his head with that rubbish?”
“It’s not rubbish,” Pearl says. She won’t even look at him now. Her arms are folded across her chest. “It’s the truth.”
“You know what he’ll do to you if you stay, Tom,” Mitchell warns.
“I won’t kill a human,” Tom says from the cell beside him. ‘I’ll die first.”
“Well, that’s fucking noble,” Mitchell laughs. “That’s fucking great. You think you’ll be able to stop yourself? Wolves have survival instinct, same as everybody else. You can’t expect to control that once you transform”
Tom shakes his head. “I can control it and I won’t do it.”
“You won’t even remember,” Mitchell argues.
“You don’t know me,” Tom points out. “Stop pretending that you do.”
“If he refuses to kill a human,” Pearl cuts in. “Hal will stop it before Tom’s killed.”
Mitchell laughs. “You’re all delusional! So what you’re saying is, if I stay, Hal’s gonna throw us in a cage together on the full moon, but we try to hurt each other, game’s off?”
“Nah,” Tom shrugs. “He’ll let me kill you.”
“You’re crazy! You’re both fucking nuts. He hardly knows Tom.”
Pearl’s hands come up and she frowns at him. “Keep your voice down, Mitchell. Do you want everyone to hear?”
“I’ve been fighting with Hal for five years now,” Tom says. “Seems to me I’ve known him longer than you, mate. He coulda killed me plenty of times, but he never did, always stopped right before, even if he was winning.” Tom pauses and then adds, “He wasn’t winning very often.”
“Oh, what is this?” Mitchell asks. “What’s the point? Even if Hal doesn’t kill you, what are you going to accomplish here?”
“We’ll take Hal out of the fight,” Tom says. “That’ll help, won’t it?”
“You aren’t going to change him,” Mitchell insists. “He’ll change you. Hal Yorke is never going to become some fucking hero.”
“Yeah?” Pearl asks. “And what about you, huh? Couldn’t we say the same about you? What did you just say? ‘I’ll tear the world apart.’ What about that?”
Oh, here they go again. Hal and Mitchell, Mitchell and Hal.
“I’m not a hero,” Mitchell says. “I never pretended that I was.”
“No,” Pearl agrees. “You aren’t a hero. But you can do good things, can’t you? You can fall in love. You can befriend a werewolf. You can save that little girl.”
“It’s not heroic,” Mitchell insists. It’s just selfish. Everything he’s ever done is selfish. If he hadn’t seen George – if George hadn’t looked at him the way he did –
“You’ve gotta promise,” Tom says. “You’ve gotta promise, you’ll go for her.”
Mitchell squints. “Did you let yourself get caught?”
“Come on, Mitchell. Promise you’ll go for her.”
“And if I don’t promise?” Mitchell asks. Of course he’ll go for her. He’ll tear apart the world.
“Then Pearl lets me out of this cage and I stake you right here.”
Mitchell laughs. “Oh, that’s how it is?”
“Yeah,” Tom shrugs. “Yeah, that’s how it is.”
“A prisoner who thinks he’s in charge.”
“Are you gonna promise or what?” Tom asks, impatient. “We ain’t got all night. Someone’ll come down to look in on us eventually.”
Mitchell squints at Tom and Tom stares right back.
“You’re gonna let me go?” Mitchell asks. He snaps his fingers. “Just like that? You know the first thing I’m going to do once I’m out of here? I’m going to find the nearest human and I’m –“
“I know,” Tom cuts in. He shrugs again and looks to the floor. “But you’re going to get Eve back to George and Annie too, ain’t ya? You’ve gotta promise.”
Tom must have some plan. He must be lying to Pearl, playing along. He’s here for a reason, and Mitchell would bet money that that reason has nothing to do with reforming Hal Yorke and everything to do with killing him. Tom and George killed Wyndham, and now here they are, moving their pieces into place to kill Hal. First, get the ghost on their side. Second, get Mitchell out of the picture. What’s next? What’s left? Does it matter?
“Yeah,” Mitchell sighs, makes up his mind. “Yeah, I promise. You’re both really serious? You’re both really staying?”
“Yeah,” Tom says. “I’m serious.”
Mitchell nods. Okay, he thinks. Okay, let him kill Hal. What does Mitchell care? No love lost there.
Mitchell looks up and Pearl’s staring back at him. Her eyes are big, a little wet. There they are again, a ghost’s impossible tears. They don’t fall though, merely threaten.
“I can’t leave him,” she says.
Mitchell nods again.
“Pearl,” Tom says, his voice gentle. Pearl starts and then she nods and moves toward Mitchell. She pulls the keys from somewhere in the folds of her dress. The metal clinks and rings as the keys knock into one another. It sounds loud in the cellar, like an alarm sounding, a warning bell. It doesn’t matter. No one comes.
Mitchell watches her closely as she slides the key into the lock. Her hand shakes a little, but she gets it eventually. The key turns and when Mitchell pushes, the door swings open. He steps out of the cage and reaches out, a hand on her arm.
Getting out of the cage is the easy part. Getting out of the house is another story.
Mitchell takes a deep breath and prepares. His eyes go black and his teeth extend. Pearl slaps him on the arm.
“Put those away,” she says. “You aren’t fighting your way out of here. Don’t you think we’ve thought this through?”
Mitchell shouts as he stumbles forward. He spreads out his arms and tries to catch his balance. Pearl’s still holding onto his arm and her grip tightens as she pulls at him until he’s upright and stable.
He yanks his arm from her grip and then watches as she shakes her hand as though his touch burned her fingers.
Oh, you can rentaghost with a vampire, Tom says. Oh, Annie does it all the time during a fight to pull them away from the group so they’re easier to kill. No, no, it’s fine. Because vampires aren’t living things, see. As though Tom McNair can be trusted. And then, while Mitchell’s still protesting this newest crazy plan, Pearl reaches out and grabs his arm and –
They’re on the lawn by the pond. The night is quiet and the lights of the house glow through the trees. Mitchell’s ears are ringing a little and she shakes his head, opens his mouth wide and then shuts it.
“What the fuck?” Mitchell asks. He leans over and props his hands above his knees. “What the fuck, Pearl.”
“There wasn’t time to stand around arguing in the cellar,” Pearl reasons. “I knew you’d be fine.”
“Did you?” he asks. His voice sounds high to his own ears. “Did you really?”
“I hoped you’d be fine,” Pearl amends.
Jesus. “Is it always that loud?”
She reaches for him, tugs at him again until he straightens up. She runs her hands over his arms, up his neck, fingers scratching through the stubble at his chin.
“See?” she says. “I was right, wasn’t I? You’re fine.”
She smiles at him and eventually he gives in, relaxes against her hands. She starts to laugh. Her face seems to glow in the moonlight, and she shakes her head and says, “Sorry, I’m sorry. This isn’t the time – “ before the laughter starts again.
He laughs then too. None of it is actually all that funny, but she’s beautiful and she’s promised to help him and he finds that he can’t help but smile with her when she smiles.
“I never knew I could do that,” she says. “I’ve been dead almost seventy years, and I didn’t know I could do that!”
She’s laughing still and she’s never looked so alive.
“Come with me,” Mitchell says, suddenly. He blurts it, blunt and unrehearsed as it bursts from his lips.
Forget Tom. Tom's made his choice. Mitchell can't do anything for Tom now, but Pearl can come with him. Pearl can leave this house and Hal and –
The laughter dies on Pearl’s lips, and her face falls.
”Why do you want to go after Eve Sands? To stop Mr. Snow and save the world?”
”No,” Mitchell says. “For George. That's all. I want to get her back to George.”
“It isn’t going to be easy,” Pearl notes.
“I know,” Mitchell says, but it’s this or Hal’s dogfights. Those are his choices now, and if this is how Mitchell dies, then it’s better than how he’d go in that cellar. It’s better this than dying at Hal’s hand.
Pearl’s fingers move softly over his skin. ”You see? We're the same here too. I want to help my friend, same as you. I think Tom staying here can help Hal. I'm not trying to fashion a hero or save the world. It's too late for that, don't you think? But he's all I have left, Mitchell. He's all I have.”
”You know that isn’t true. You have me.”
”I don't want you,” Pearl says, but her hands are still cupping his face, and her fingers press tighter. He leans into her touch.
”Come with me,” Mitchell says again. He’s sure that if he tries hard enough, he can convince her. He’s sure he can convince her, and he almost continues. He almost asks her to save him instead of Hal, but he stops himself, bites back the words. It wouldn’t be fair, and anyway, he doesn't deserve her. He doesn't deserve her anymore than he deserves Annie. He has no illusions here. Saving Eve won't save Mitchell. Saving Eve won't win back Annie or George.
Mitchell had a choice, death or destruction, and Mitchell chose destruction. He told himself then that he did it to save his friends, but Nina’s dead and Eve is trapped, Annie is heartbroken and George is destroyed. Mitchell’s not coming back from that. Not this time. He's always been the villain here. Wasn’t that what he told Herrick at the start of this? He’s never been cut out for the hero.
"Hal needs me," Pearl insists. "Tom needs me."
"He'll kill Hal the first chance he gets," Mitchell warns. “He’ll kill Hal just like he killed Wyndham. Tom McNair’s no friend to vampires.”
"Maybe," Pearl agrees. Her thumb swipes across his jaw.
”You'll stop him if he tries,” Mitchell guesses.
”I don't know," Pearl says.
Mitchell nods and smiles. "Yeah, you'll stop him.”
He reaches up and pulls her hands from his face. She lets him guide her hands away, and as their arms drop, she leans in and presses her mouth to his. He freezes, surprised. It’s the last thing he expects, and when she starts to pull away, he tightens his hands around hers and pulls her back. He kisses her this time, and the night is warm, but her mouth is still winter-cold. He kisses her and he thinks of Annie, of accidental kisses and kisses that he planned. He thinks of Leo and Hal and George and Nina.
“Mitchell,” she says as she pulls away from him.
He watches her mouth, the shape of it as it speaks his name, so close and so red.
“I’m going to tell you where they’re keeping Eve Sands and how to get to her. That’s it, okay? That’s the end. I’ll tell you where she is, and then you run and you don't look back.”
He understands and he takes a step away from her, tries to clear his head and focus on what’s ahead. Yes, he’ll turn and he’ll leave. He’ll release her hands and he’ll get the hell out of here, far from Hal and Fergus. He’ll run from Tom and Pearl and his bottles of whiskey with Nick Cutler. He’ll rip and he’ll shred and he’ll drink. He’ll tear the world apart until he finds her.
It sounds easy enough. It sounds heroic, even, if he glosses over the tearing, the shredding and the drinking, but he knows that’s a lie. He knows that it will be anything but heroic and it’ll be anything but easy. Hal will put the pieces together. Pearl won’t say and Tom won’t tell, but Hal’s clever and Hal didn't trust Mitchell from the start. He’ll figure it out. Tom McNair isn't sufficient distraction. It’s a joke to think that he might be.
But maybe, just maybe, Hal will figure it all out too late. Maybe Cutler never mentioned that Mitchell questioned him about the War Child. Maybe Hal really is more hung up on this thing with the werewolves than he is on protecting the girl. Maybe, against all odds, Mitchell will succeed. Maybe he’ll find Eve and he’ll return her to George and to Annie. Maybe it’ll change everything.
And if it doesn’t and Mitchell fails, well, what the hell; he’s lived a bit too long already.
“Are you ready?” Pearl asks.
Here it is, he thinks. Here it is, and Hal’s war is about to get a bit more interesting.
“Yeah,” he says. “I’m ready.”