The doorbell rang, and when George opened it, a fat, orange woman was on the doorstep. "Owen's not here?" he said hopefully.
"Of course not," said Janey. "The murdering bastard's locked up in the nuthouse. He's going to rot," she hissed.
"Ah," said George. "We didn't know."
Janey gave him an extremely doubtful look and pushed her way past. "You put him there, yeah. He keeps ranting and raving about a werewolf and a vampire. Which one are you?"
"I, I, I haven't the least idea what you mean," said George. He jiggled the door handle a little. He wanted to close the door, but with her on the other side of it.
"Annie?" called Janey. "Annie? Are you here?" She threw a glance over her shoulder at George. "Can you see her? Is she—?"
Annie popped in between George and Janey, facing Janey. "What do you want?"
Janey pulled back abruptly, so she brushed against the supporting wall behind her. She jumped at that and a small yip escaped her.
Annie raised an eyebrow and crossed her arms. George sighed and closed the door.
Janey swallowed and looked down. In a very small voice, she murmured, "Thanks for warning me about Owen."
Annie blinked rapidly several times, but said nothing.
George cleared his throat, and, when Annie turned her head to look at him, gestured vehemently at Janey with his chin and Annie with his eyebrows.
Annie frowned at the dumb show but caught the gist of it when George mouthed the words at her. She turned back around and said, "You're wel—."
"I'm really sorry, but you still have to move out," interrupted Janey, speaking very quickly to her feet. "It's not my fault." She looked up and at Annie for the first time. "Owen's mum's solicitors are selling everything off. You know what she's like."
Annie just snorted and nodded.
"That's, that's really all I came to say, so…." She waggled her fingers, walked around Annie, and pushed past George. She stopped with her hand on the doorknob. "No, really, are you the werewolf or the vampire?"
George sighed and rolled his eyes. "The werewolf."
Janey's eyes widened, and she hared herself out the door.
Mitchell was neither shocked nor horrified when they told him what Janey had said. "Stands to reason," he said. "We'll just have to be the buyers."
"What?" said George. "We'll what?"
Annie just rolled her eyes and shoved a mug at George. "I don't know if you've noticed this or not, but you and George are about this far from being on the dole, and I don't make anything but tea. We'll buy the house with what, exactly?"
"Our inheritance," he said, with a smile and a headshake intended to communicate that the two of them were, regrettably, just a little bit dim. He pulled a beer from the cupboard and opened it, said, "Our inheritances," and took a drink.
Annie and George just kept looking at him, Annie with impatience and George with more than a little discombobulation.
"Well, Josie didn't have any kids, yeah? And her husband went first. So she left me everything, since I'm, well, working for a living." He shrugged and picked at the bottle label. "I may have been somewhat more posh when we were running around together. As 'twere."
"She left you enough money to buy the house? You didn't say you'd gone and inherited a bloody fortune," said Annie, and she pushed at his shoulder a little.
He shrugged. "Dunno if it's enough to buy the house, but with what George got from Herrick, we're set." And he upended the rest of the bottle in his mouth, throat working fast as he swallowed.
"I inherit from Herrick? What are you on about?" said George.
"It's a vampire thing. You defeat him in mortal combat, you get all of his stuff. Herrick had a lot of stuff."
"And the other vampires will go along with this?" asked George.
"Well, no." Mitchell turned around and scanned the kitchen, head swiveling from side to side as if he'd never before thrown something away there. "I told them I defeated Herrick in mortal combat, and I took things. The funeral parlour doesn't do any actual business, so I sold it back to them, but he—," he straightened up a little, glared at Annie, "—your next stop's not a council estate."
"Excuse me," said Annie, arms crossed and her body drawn up tall, but her voice was pretty easy. "Someone played things close to the vest. How was I to know?"
"It's a bad plan." George turned away from them both, grabbed a lager from the fridge.
Annie and Mitchell hmm'd inquisitively in unison.
"This place is a bit of a dump." He plowed blithely on past Annie's enraged, "Oi!" "And the neighbors…." He waved his unopened beer bottle from side to side, then frowned at it and put it down on the counter. "We could get a place with a secured basement. Big enough for two."
"For two?" Annie flipped to face him in a sort of ghostly flash. She'd been doing that more often lately, apparating over short distances.
Nina usually wore a t-shirt or a camisole or something that covered the scars on her stomach to bed. When the nightgowns got bigger in the aftermath, George thought she just wanted the comfort of being covered up. When they made love in the dark, he was afraid it was because she didn't want to look at him. When she screamed at him for coming in the bathroom to brush his teeth while she showered, he assumed it was some sort of post-traumatic stress.
"Do you think talking about what happened would help? I don't know any psychology, but at least I won't tell you you're crazy when you describe the Wolfman v. Dracula showdown that started," he shrugged, "what's going on with you."
The conversation stopped for a few minutes there, while Nina choked on her waffles and George whacked her on her back. When they were both back in their respective chairs, and Nina had exchanged the fork which fell on the floor for a new one, and George had wiped up spilled orange juice and poured fresh, Nina said, "I don't smell any different?"
George tilted his head sideways and looked at her. He blinked once, sniffed, and coughed. "You smell like shower gel." He snorted and rubbed at his nose. "Tickles."
Nina blinked at him, breathed deep, and started hacking and spitting. "Why didn't you tell me that was so foul? God!" She chugged half her glass of orange juice.
George shrugged. "I really only notice it when it's almost the full, at the beginning of the day. By the end of shift, you smell just…." He sat back, took his glasses off, rubbed at his face. "You didn't think I needed to know?"
"I do think you need to know. Which is why I'm telling you now."
"I'm sorry." He kept his eyes down, wouldn't look at her. "I never wanted to do this to anyone, especially not to someone I lo—someone like you, Nina." He rubbed at his eyes, even harder, and didn't quite have tears fall on his cheeks. "Fuck. Fuck! This is my worst fucking nightmare." The smack to his own head was hard enough to rock him back in the chair a little.
Nina got up and grabbed his hands, held them behind his head. "No hitting, no biting."
George choked and sat up straighter, pulled his hands free. "No biting?" He twisted sideways to look at her. "You want to bite things? I don't want to bi—."
"You're not the first monster I've ever met." Nina put a hand on her stomach. "And this isn't the only souvenir I've got."
"Ah," said George. He put his free hand out, slowly, grabbed her wrist very gently, and guided her around his chair, into his lap. "I am sorry," he repeated. "But now that I've done it, I want to make this werewolf thing," he shrugged, "not terrible for you. What do you need?"
"I don't understand why a ghost needs a bedroom," said George. "You don't sleep, and the only things you own are for tea." He didn't quite know how the tea things had come to be Annie's. He and Mitchell hadn't rented a house together long enough for them to forget who had brought what into the household. In fact, he could say definitively which mugs had been brought in by Mitchell, and that the kettle had been his.
"You've got a bedroom, and the basement, and your girlfriend's here half the time. I don't see why you begrudge me a space no bigger than Harry Potter's cupboard." Annie had drawn herself up to her full-height, head held up, nose high.
George wilted under her glare. "I don't begrudge anything. I just don't understand, that's all."
Mitchell came up behind and clapped a hand to George's shoulder. "Every lady deserves a boudoir."
Annie's chin came down, and her expression smoothed into a smile. "Exactly, George. I need a place to escape from the two of you and your tussles."
"I don't tussle," muttered George, quiet enough about it that the other two ignored him. He walked back down the stairs and out of the house, to the moving van.
Mitchell laughed, not quite clapping his hands with amusement. "That guy."
Annie wrapped her scarf around her body a little more tightly and shrugged indulgently. "It's Nina coming tonight that's got him so wrecked, isn't it?"
"Probably," said Mitchell. "It's a hell of a thing, bringing someone into this life." He sighed and stood just a little straighter, eyes gone soft with memory. Then he shook his head and headed down the stairs himself. "Come see the kitchen. I had to move the tea things from where we agreed."
Annie was hunkered over a ball of yarn, trying and failing to knit. Mitchell was sucking on a cigarette, legs stretched halfway down the lovely wooden steps that led to their front door. They would be out here a long time, and Mitchell wondered if the moonlight was bright enough to read by.
He heard the footfalls first, then the breathing. He stood before the runner came in sight, a pose against the railings that looked loose and relaxed, but was really just…ready.
A young white man stopped in front of them, stretched his arms to the sides, bent backwards a little. He was ginger, and pretty rather than handsome, tall and thin. "Hullo," he said, voice husky and deeper than Mitchell had expected.
"Hello," said Annie. Mitchell nodded.
"It'll be good to have someone in this house again. Kids had started breaking in and hanging about. The estate agent chased them off again and cleaned up after, but…." He grimaced, shook his head, smiled a little. "The whole neighborhood is glad to have you here." He stuck out his hand. "John Fletcher."
Mitchell blinked a few times, eyes focused on the pulse point jumping in Fletcher's throat. Then he smiled and stuck out his hand. "Mitchell."
Annie half-rose from her perch on the steps. "Annie."
The smile Fletcher gave her was a little too warm for strict friendliness, but neither of them had made up their minds to do something about it before the cry of an animal in pain shot out of the house.
Fletcher stepped back, hand going for his mobile.
Annie shook her head frantically, but Mitchell just stood up straight and said, "It's all right, mate. My cousin, he dropped off his dogs for the weekend. The bitch has gone in heat, but she's not too fond of the male. They're just working out who's king of the hill."
Fletcher raised an eyebrow. "That didn't sound like fighting to me. That sounded like something large in a lot of pain."
"Oh, they're large," said Annie, a little too quickly. "Practically the size of miniature ponies. It's why we locked them up in an empty room, even just walking calmly through the parlor, they'd break things." She nodded vigorously.
Fletcher looked dubious, but he moved his hand away from his hip. "All right."
Mitchell ran a hand through his hair, and said, "Annie, though, you might want to take a look at them. Make sure they're not killing each other." He flashed a wry grin at Fletcher. "They like her loads better me, haven't bitten her once, or I'd go."
Annie blinked once, then nodded and said, "Yeah, makes se—."
"I'll get the door for you while you gather up your things," Mitchell interrupted.
Annie started, then said, "No need, I'll be right back." Then she stood and carefully opened the door, walked through it, and pulled it shut behind herself.
Fletcher's frown got bigger as he looked between Mitchell and the door and backed up a few more steps. "As I was saying, welcome to the neighborhood."
"Thanks," said Mitchell, and his smile was pretty weak.