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He Made Me Feel

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I was startled awake by a blow to the head.  The thump left a ringing in my ear on the left side where I was struck.  And perhaps “startled” isn’t the right word; it was a slow rousing really, my eyes opening blearily.  I was starving, weak, and there’d been a cross near me for who knows how long, keeping me subdued and unconscious.  My senses were dulled, the dark blinding me, my mouth too dry to taste, and the ringing from being hit fading into only my slow, shallow breaths.  But I could smell, or maybe that was only because the scent was of my own blood as it dripped down the side of my face.  I was so hungry.

When sensation started  to return to the rest of my body, I realized I was still hanging.  My hands had gone numb and blue from the tight cords tied around each wrist, and my arms felt all needley from being strung over my head and bearing my weight.  As memories came flashing back of my last moments before unconsciousness--Bhruic, anger, punishment, being strung up in this frame, the cross to keep me out--I realized the last thing, the cross, must have been removed, for the stinging of my holy scars and the aching in my joints had gone, and I had awoken.  Which probably meant Bhruic was here too to continue our visit.

When I could focus and see through the dark more than a foot or two, I found him holding a club in his hand menacingly and looking rather disappointed.  But then he always seemed to look that way. He was tall compared to me, and everything about him was severely rigid, always in order, from his posture to his straight hair.  Even his eyes, flecked with all sorts of colors, had a way of remaining very still and focused on whatever his target was. He never flinched, was never distracted. Just a solid, waiting stare from an old, old vampire, the oldest I’d ever met. Bhruic had sired the one who made me into a vampire, but I had killed my master, and Bhruic was not very pleased to learn that. 

“Seorus, do you recall our last conversation?”  Bhruic’s voice was deep, and his accent in English not as strong as one would expect from such an ancient man.  

I struggled a little against the ropes holding me, manifesting in the barest twitch of a finger or two.  I was still recovering from the cross exposure and couldn’t do much about them at the moment. “Seems to have been knocked from my head just recently.” My voice came out surprisingly hoarse and gritty.

“It was in regards to your attempt to leave my home, which I expressly forbade you to do on your arrival,” he almost hissed out the words through clenched teeth.

“Aye, that sounds vaguely familiar.”

He seemed to glare at me with a little more disappointment than normal.  “Did you know I’ve been hanging you here for a week?”

“I’ve been unconscious, haven’t I?  How the hell would I know that?”

“Your flippancy seems to suggest you haven’t really learned your lesson.”  He set his club down on a stand next to him and took up a long knife and a small glass vial.  When I first came here, he had brought me down to this room, his punishment chamber, and shown and explained to me in detail the instruments he used on his vampires whenever they misbehaved.  There were chains and whips, silver stakes and needles, a wooden table covered in divots and holes, and a plethora of horrid metal things to rend flesh from bone. But his most beloved item was diluted holy water.  My master had been extremely fond of the full strength variety, and my body and eye held the permanent marks of that fondness. I hoped the diluted would hurt less, that it would allow me to keep my composure in front of him.

Bhruic stood directly before me.  From the height I was hanging, our faces were almost level.  He dropped his eyes down to about my waist, and then quite suddenly grabbed my bad hip in a vice-like grip.  I couldn’t stop myself from hissing in pain, already failing in my quest for composure.

“I’ve noticed you walk with a limp, Seorus.  This,” he gave an extra squeeze, “seems to be the source of all your troubles, doesn’t it?  Did Hagen do this to you?”

I didn’t give him an answer besides my gasping breaths.

“Perhaps a reminder will suffice this time.”  He stabbed into my hip with enough strength to chip the knife or my bone, and then rending the wound open with the knife, poured the diluted holy water on the blade so that it ran along it and deep into the joint.  I hated giving him the satisfaction, but I couldn’t stop screaming. This pain, in a way, was worse. Not bad enough to knock me out like real holy water often was, but that meant I had to suffer through it for longer. In the end, whenever it healed, Bhruic said that diluted didn’t leave permanent scars.  He didn’t like imperfections.  

Only when the wound stopped steaming did he finally pull the knife out.  I could at least manage to hold most of my voice back then, and let out nothing but heavy breaths bordering on sobs.  

He held the knife in front of my face.  It was whole, so it must have been my bone that broke.  “If you leave again without permission I will treat your other hip just as Hagen did so you will be too crippled to even climb a flight of stairs you fucking waste of space.  Speaking of which,” a quick slice above my head severed the ropes. I tried to land on my good leg, but I was too weak and collapsed completely. “Good luck with that,” he turned and left without a second glance as I lay crumpled on the floor and trembling.

It took a long time to work up the nerve to stand, I had to wait for the muscles on my left side to stop convulsing from the holy water, and then prepare myself for the pain and blood loss of being vertical.  When it seemed my body calmed down, I slid along the floor to the wooden table and grabbed that to hoist myself to my feet. Tools were left on the little stand nearby. I only fleetingly thought of stealing one.  He was so focused, I was sure he knew every item and its place down here. He was just waiting for me to step out of line, so he could do this to me again.  

My cheeks were wet with inadvertent tears from the pain of holy water.  I roughly brushed them away, pressed hard against the gash in my leg hoping to still the pain some (it didn’t really help), and turned to the stairs that led down here.  This home, unfortunately, was too new to have narrow stairs with both walls in reach, and, I was sure, purposefully seemed to be neglecting banisters of any kind. I hobbled over to the base of them, my bad leg almost a dead weight,  and leaned against the wall. I didn’t feel steady enough to even hop up them with my convulsions barely under control.

I was mildly surprised he hadn’t stayed to watch me suffer through this, but then I was sure all my bloody fingerprints would tell the story just as clear as if he’d been here himself to see me crawl up the fucking stairs like a goddamned dog.  And he could chuckle to himself about it; perhaps he’d bring it up the next time he wanted to punish me. Unless he planned on killing me soon, I had to take that into account as well.

Though not dignified, crawling was the fastest and safest way up the stairs, and I had three flights before I got up to the floor with my room.  No one was around though. At least I had that small consolation. When I reached the top, I forced myself to stand again and hobbled down the hall as far as I could.  I kept one hand on my hip, one on the wall. My blood, already thin from lack of regular feedings, was still flowing freely from the holy water polluted wound. It would continue to do so until I was next able to feed.  Whenever Bhruic felt that was allowable.

A small area opened off the hallway that perhaps could be a seating area, but there were no chairs.  Just some empty floor space in front of windows, moonlight shining in on an unusually clear night. I crossed the empty space, and paused to lean against the wall there taking a break before going any further. 

As I stood there panting, I heard footsteps from far down the hall.  It didn’t mean the person was approaching; they could be going the other way, or to a room, or any number of things.  I wasn’t even sure there were any other vampires on this floor, so maybe just a human servant. I’d been given the impression Bhruic wanted me seen as little as possible.  But the more I strained my ears, the louder the steps got. My options were severely limited: even if I tried to leave, a human would overtake me at the rate I was walking.  I moved the only direction I could that would put me out of approaching steps’ path: along the wall toward the windows of the empty space. I made it to the corner and stood silently, weight off my leg with my eyes on the floor.  How easy it had been for Bhruic to put me back into this place, a vampire’s servant cowed in a corner, staring at the floor to avoid attention. I was disgusted with myself for accepting this so readily, but I didn’t know if I could handle anything more tonight.  

Finally the steps were loud enough to be close, and against my initial judgment, or perhaps to prove to myself that I wasn’t that scared servant anymore, I chanced a glance up.

The glance turned into a long look at a figure that I couldn’t pull my eyes from.  It was a man coming down the hallway. He was tall, thin, almost lanky in appearance, but not so much as to be awkward.  There was a grace in his step that didn’t come from being high strung and snobby, just from being at ease. He was at home here, comfortable, one of Bhruic’s vampires.   It was a smooth walk, I noted with some anger, still grasping at my own hurt leg. His pants were . . . tight. On his legs, on his hips, hugging every inch of him, though I was unsure why this should catch my attention, why I felt the need to drag my eyes away.  His shirt was purple and velvety, and in the way of soft looking things it almost made me want to reach out and touch him. He had brown hair, shortish, but long enough to hang down in his face, carelessly again, like his gate.  

The longer I looked at him, in reality only a second or two, the more confused I was.  His walk, his silhouette, something about the set of his shoulders. It felt like a match was striking in my brain, trying to ignite a memory that just wouldn’t catch. What was it about this man that drew my eyes to him?  Why was he so familiar?

He had not seen me yet; he was looking down at the floor as he approached, following the trail of bloody spatters and smears that had escaped my still oozing wound, and that would inevitably lead right to me. I held my breath, still hoping futilely not to be seen, not wanting to be near another vampire again.  But he scanned the floor ahead of him, right to the window and corner where I was, and I found myself staring back at a pair of purple eyes. They seemed to shimmer in the moon’s light, glitter almost. His face was young looking, gentle, smooth, curious about the trail, worried when he saw the source . . . worried.

The match caught;  my memories lit, and old, old feelings began to rekindle, though I’d done my best to leave them dry and dormant. 

I’d seen those worried eyes before. This man, this vampire, had visited my master’s place once, decades ago.  His name was Ignatius Bainbridge. He’d stared at me with those violet eyes, protected me from my regular beatings.   For two or three very short weeks it was as if I’d been allowed to breathe. It was such a departure from my usual misery that when I looked back on that time, it seemed more and more unreal, and this person more and more unlikely to have ever existed.

But there were things he had left behind. Emotions he had stirred up and which rippled out as if he’d thrown a stone in a pool. He’d given me a coat for cold nights when we’d walked together, and a handkerchief he’d wiped away my blood with.  But those ripples eventually faded, leaving a smooth, undisturbed surface. The coat I wore to pieces, the pieces turned into patches, and the clothing with those patches eventually discarded. The handkerchief I kept using to catch my blood with, but I washed it so many times, and clutched it during hard times (when were they not?), eventually it disintegrated to threads.  When all the evidence had gone, and I myself became a vampire, I convinced myself he was some mythological being I created. And yet here he was after all these years, standing in Bhruic’s hall hesitating as he looked at me. Had he always been this beautiful?

He took a step closer as he concentrated on my face. I tried to glare at him, to warn him to back away.  But I couldn’t hold it. Looking at him just made me . . . feel.  Seeing him again wiped every other thing from my mind.  No Bhruic, no punishment, no being torn from my home. I could see only him, my ears just hearing a soft, drawn out pounding that was my currently slowed heartbeat.  What the hell was he doing to me? As my eyes were taking in their fill, he seemed to move in ways he knew would make them happy, an extra sway to his hips, a subtle shift to his shoulders.

With his next step I finally managed to close my eyes and pressed myself into that corner as much as I was able.  My body was running with so many emotions and with a hunger, a need,  that I thought was driven from me long ago. I tried to think through these unwelcomed feelings, to keep all this strangeness at bay.  Just because he was kind once, didn’t mean he would be now. I was a boy then, certainly more pitiable than the ruined wreck of a man I had turned into.  Maybe he didn’t like any vampires. He had openly confronted them for me, a disposable human servant! He probably didn’t even remember me after all these years.  He had been a shining beacon to me, and I was just a passing urchin to his long years, just some throwaway memory.  

A scent filled my space, perhaps . . . spices and flowers?  I opened my eyes to find him standing directly in front of me.  I flinched from his surprising closeness and pressed my hands to the walls on either side of me.  I wanted to jump away, but I couldn’t go further in this corner unless I could sink into the walls themselves.

He bent his head toward mine, just looking at me, but he was close enough that we could have kissed.  Then I couldn’t stop myself from blushing as I thought of kissing him. What a thought to have as his violet eyes stared back at me, scanning mine, my face.  He had always been this beautiful, the most beautiful vampire I’d ever seen, now or then.

Ignatius raised his left hand. Slowly as he did it, I still winced.  He didn’t strike me though, and I berated myself for acting like a frightened rabbit.  His fingers brushed my forehead and ran under my hair. They reached the edge of my face, drawing my bangs back slowly.  He was revealing the holy water scar that had blinded my right eye. I wanted to get away from him suddenly, but I had wedged myself into this corner with nowhere to go.  If he saw it, if he thought I was disgusting like Bhruic did. . . . 

I tried to fight his grip, to turn that side of my face away from him, to the wall, but he was deceptively strong, holding my chin fast as his fingers finished their journey down the side of my face.  All I could do was close my eyes, lower my gaze from his face, I couldn’t bring myself to actually touch him. So I just fidgeted, distressed, while he remained perfectly still, eventually brushing a finger along my jaw with a, “Shhh.” When I looked up at him, finally, he was staring at me shocked, or sadly. He ran his thumb down the pitted skin of my scar and sighed, but he didn’t look disgusted.

“Holy water?” he finally said.  It was just a whisper, but it made my skin tingle where his breath hit me.  And again all I could think of was kissing him; his breath would be so close then.  What was wrong with me?

He tilted my face the other way, looked at the little cross scar by my left eye and the freshly dried blood trail from Bhruic’s club.  His brow furrowed as he glanced down, taking in my tattered clothes, perhaps wondering if I had more terrible scars to run his hands over.  I did. Was he going to ask to touch them too? 

“Hagen was very cruel to you, wasn’t he?”  

Of course he knew why I was here.  Bhruic must have told his vampires that Hagen was dead and I had done it. 

I didn’t say anything in response.  I felt like I was trembling and wouldn’t be able to hide it if I spoke.  I also hadn’t taken a breath since I decided to hold it hoping he’d pass on by.  He smiled at me, making me exhale the little bit of air I had left. How was he this beautiful?

“You can speak, can’t you?”  One of his hands was still fastened to my chin, and he ran the thumb over my lips as if to entice the words out.  It was the most intimate gesture I’d received in . . . how many decades? My hands were shaking. I was shaking. But his thumb lightly tracing my lips made me think again of—“Would you like me to kiss you?”

I stared uncomprehending.  How had he known? Could he read my thoughts?  Could I tell him yes or no? Did I want to tell him—

And then his lips were on mine.  I inhaled sharply through my nose.  His left hand touched my face, his right arm wrapped around me trailing down my back, his warm body pressed into me, and his lips moved wondrously against mine, his tongue surprising me by sliding along into my mouth.  I allowed my eyes to slowly close, my hands moved from the walls and were clutching at his arms so hard it must have hurt him, but I was so caught up in shock and pleasure, I didn’t know what else to do with them. What did a person even do with hands when you kissed someone?  It had been so long since my last, years I’d stopped counting.

Ignatius, though, was acutely aware of what hands should do.  The left tilted my face to whatever angle he deemed best, the right moving around my back, fingers tracing every bone and muscle, and I just took it all.  Whatever he wanted to do, I thought that I might let him. Even as his one hand grabbed my ass I couldn’t stop myself from making some wanton noise, but then it moved to my hip, the one which Bhruic had just re-injured.

His fingers trailed around the wound, and my whole body jerked defensively, breaking our kiss, trying to push him back by the arms I’d been clutching so hard.  He was going to do something to me. He smiled down at me, still so beautiful, though now I feared there was something sinister underneath. “Shhh,” he said, “I’m not going to hurt you,” and as he spoke I could feel his power rising in him, his vampire energy bubbling up.  It was like being outside, on the edge of a storm, the clouds blocking out the sun, and following shortly after a visible wall of rain advancing faster than you could ever make your escape. In that brief moment of seeing it and not yet being caught in it is where I found myself, locked in his arms, his fingers positioned so precisely to cause me greatest harm, and his power rising through him almost making contact with me.  I’d cornered myself, and now been trapped by him, Bhruic’s vampire, Hagen’s sibling. He was speaking again, but I’d stopped listening. 

“I only--”

I docked him, an uppercut to the chin, as hard as I was able.  It wasn’t my best, trapped as I was, unable to get the full arc of a swing.  But his teeth still clattered loudly together as his lower jaw met upper, and he was so unprepared for it he fell back quite hard on the floor.  There was blood on his hand and his pants from my still bleeding hip, and now blood trickling down his neck from where I had split his skin.  

“Keep away from me!” My first words to him.  I wanted them to be angry, but I couldn’t help feeling like it was fear that drove them out of me.  Like a frightened rabbit. I couldn’t outrun him, so I huddled back in the corner as if it could protect me.

He touched his hand to his chin looking at the blood even as the wound now closed.  “Really now.” He jumped to his feet rather acrobatically, ending with a hand on his hip, the other rubbing his jaw.   “That was uncalled for. I’m not going to hurt you, I mean it. Just let me--” He was reaching his hand toward my hip again, so I shoved him back, elbowed him in the stomach, and when he was bent over grabbed his shirt front and headbutted him in the face.  

There was a crunch that told me I’d broken his nose.  But I was deaf to whatever results my violence was causing.  Punching him was the greatest kindness I could have given, and he wanted to ignore that, to come after me again.  So I let my rage take its usual place and continued pummeling into his head, over and over again, his voice crying out, arms up as he kept shrinking beneath my anger until he collapsed on the floor unconscious, a dull throbbing in my hand from the contact.

Only when he was down and I had time to breathe did I stop to consider the terrible consequences if Bhruic should find that I’d hurt another one of his vampires.  I tried to use this wariness over Bhruic’s anger to push down the vague misgivings and guilt I had at beating Ignatius, especially on looking back at the fight that was clearly one-sided since he’d spent most of the time trying to protect himself against me. 

I kneeled down beside him, realized I’d just severely beaten the one vampire who’d ever been nice to me, and the guilt won out.  But I couldn’t deny the possibility that he’d meant to harm me, no matter how he smiled or what he said or how he pressed himself against me with gentle touches and fiery kisses.

Ignatius’ face was slowly healing.  His nose was definitely broken, but the bleeding was slowing, though it stayed extremely crooked.  I grabbed it and straightened it out with another crunch, at least as much as I was able. His velvet shirt was now as blood spattered as his face, but somehow he still looked beautiful.  I found myself touching the bruises on his face, fading with every moment, tracing the same lines he’d followed on mine, and trailing fingertips down to his chest to feel the soft fabric. It was when I was like this that he awoke.

We stared frozen at each other for a moment.  I could feel the heat rising in my cheeks as my hand still rested on his chest.  He finally broke his gaze from my face to dart his eyes to it. “What are you doing?”

“N-Nothing.”  I pulled my hand away.

Ignatius shoved himself hastily away from me using his hands and feet, propelling himself several yards.  He wiped some of the blood off his face with the back of his hand. “Yes, well, sorry for bothering you. I’ll keep my distance from now on.”    

That I couldn’t tell if I wanted this or not made me even more flustered.  I said nothing more to him, only stared at the floor as he stood up and backed down the hall before running the way he’d come.  When his footsteps faded, I finally lifted my eyes and stared down the hall, still filled with . . . . feelings .  Unwanted. Unbidden.  Only when a human servant happened to come down the hall and paused, taking in me, the bloody evidence of my altercation on the walls and floor, did I finally decide it was time to hoist myself back up and walk to my own room. The servant hurried the other way, afraid of me, a vampire.

Chapter Text

In my room I was left in silent solitude with nothing to do except think.  I wasn’t officially locked in, but leaving always brought with it the possibility of more interaction.   Interaction with vampires, or interaction with human servants.  None of the other vampires would be as . . . gracious . . . as Ignatius had been, and with hunger gnawing at me I’d be dangerous around the humans.  I felt sure from the brief hollow looks and tired eyes that their lives here were difficult.  Surely ending one or two would be a merciful release.  I tried to convince myself of that, but seeing Ignatius drove memories to the surface, and once I started thinking about my own time as a human servant, I couldn’t stop.  

I was something of a delivery boy in my youth.  On a late night, cutting through back alleys on my way home, I accidentally stumbled across a vampire, Hagen, feeding off a human.  There is something terrifying about vampires, being so familiar a shape and so foreign in every other way at the same time.  The silence, the utter stillness, unfathomably quick movements or perfectly fluid ones.  Just seeing his darkened, ominous form sent shivers down my spine, goosebumps on all my limbs, and I ran as far and fast as I could.  I made it within sight of my own front door, thought I escaped, but was proven so very, very wrong when he caught up to me with a pale hand on my shoulder.  My first glimpse of him in proper light showed him to be a pale, middle-aged man with strikingly white hair.  I thought all vampires would look like this, but none were ever quite so pale as Hagen who simply suffered from albinism.  

I don’t know why he didn’t kill me immediately, or why he didn’t just let me go.  It was so dark, I could never have identified him again if he hadn’t caught up to me, and I must have been only eight or nine at the time.  Surely any things I said could have been written off as a boy’s fancy.  Maybe if I’d run into him before he struck down that other, I would have been his meal, and I could have perished in peace.

Instead he took me back to his home to live amongst his other vampires and the lowly vermin that were his human servants.  It didn’t take the vampires long to realize that my blood was special to them.  I think they could smell it even before the first drop spilled.  Their attention was fixed on me as I moved through their halls, noticeable because they mostly ignored the other humans doing chores. 

I’m sure there was a discussion about me before it happened, who would get to try me first.  Hagen was the one to approach me and order me to bare my wrist.  He was certainly not the one whose eyes followed me the most, but he was the master vampire there, the sire of all the other vampires, so if he wanted the first taste he got it.  I had been indoctrinated as a human servant, with wards and commands placed on my mind, limiting my actions.  So I think it was with some surprise to both of us that he failed to hypnotize me.

It didn’t stop him from biting me, but I could see it perturbed him.  I think I tried to struggle, but what strength does a child have against such supernatural powers?  His pale eyes were wide as he drank from me, shocked at how apparently delicious I was, and he resumed draining my life away until I was unconscious. 

If only he’d gone a little further.

The other vampires, immortal and impatient, were always waiting for me to be “stable,” to be safely recovered enough that they could drink me and I hopefully wouldn’t die.  I didn’t understand why at the time, but I eventually overheard them enough to know that they thought I had faerie blood in my ancestry.  I wasn’t sure that was true, but I did know my great-grandfather had professed to falling in a faerie ring at some point and come out changed.  Perhaps his experience had given me this unusual, delicious blood, and a slight resistance to their vampire magic.  I loved that grandfather when he lived, but I now cursed him unfairly for being the cause of my suffering.

In my first few years there, resistance to their hypnotization was sparse.  It would happen in fleeting moments, uncontrolled.  But as I grew older, it was harder and harder for them to put me under, and many stopped trying.  There was a large part of me that wished I could control it; I would just let them do it to me if I could.  To be awake and conscious during their blasphemous acts was so terrifying, I lived in a constant state of anxiety and fear.

By the time Ignatius came to Hagen’s, I had been there for four years.  

He arrived with his master, Bhruic, and an entourage of other vampires. Hagen’s vampires were keen on showing off their prized servant to their guests, almost immediately finding me to engage in a sporting round of a cruel “game.”  Because I was a limited resource, quarrels sometimes broke out about me and who would get me, and they solved this problem by “playing for me.”  The winner got a bite.

Their most frequent one at that time was the “Beat the Servant Till he Cries Game.”  And Anyone who has been a vampire’s servant for any length of time has seen their horrific capabilities: a slap hard enough to snap one’s neck, a stomp of the foot going clear through a rib cage, a punch that shatters the bones beneath it to shards, unrecoverable--if you’re a human.  Heading into these games I knew from personally witnessed violence that they could end me with a flick of their wrist, but part of the fun for them was holding back.  They knew exactly what they were doing, they knew exactly how much they could hurt me, and they used exactly that much force to do so.

Such was my dislike of getting bitten, and my hope that they would go too far one day, that I held off crying for as long as I could.  Sometimes they’d knock me out on accident, but then I didn’t have to be awake for their feedings.  On this night, with their new player, I held a lot of hope that he would get too violent, and maybe this would be it for me.

But instead, in the middle of their game, when I was curled up in a protective ball on the floor, Ignatius broke in.  I didn’t hear the first words he said to them clearly, but he stopped them, told them something about Bhruic wanting them, lifted me up gently, and walked away from them to their protests.  

The first words he spoke to me were, “Are you okay?”

They were so startling and surprising that I relaxed a little from the tight ball I was trying to maintain, and looked up at his face for the first time.  There was no trace of anger, not even of coldness, or indifference, just genuine concern.  And those words with that expression made me drop my guard so fast, that braced in his arms I felt safe for the first time in four years, safe enough to cry.

He brought me out to a balcony, closing the doors behind us.  Ignatius draped his own cape around my shoulders for warmth, and used his handkerchief, which he later gave me, to wipe away my blood and tears.  And then he just sat with me, quietly, letting me cry and calm down.  I don’t remember his exact words now, but he spoke reassuringly, kindly, asked my name and my age, and the more he treated me like a person, the more clear my miserable situation became. 

He stayed with me the rest of that evening, even when others tried to summon him through the window.  He just waved them off and continued spending time with me, the lowly human servant.  When the sun was threatening to rise, he walked with me like a shield, taking my hand, down to where the humans slept and bid me goodnight there.

A tiny flame tried to struggle to life in me that morning as I lay down, a little spark of hope.  Though I smothered it then, during the following nights, where he came to check on me, to walk with me, to get me my own oversized coat so I wouldn’t be so cold at night, and to continue to shield me from the other vampires, both Hagen’s and Bhruic’s, that little spark of hope was kindled.  Maybe it didn’t have to be like this.  Maybe things could be normal.  My bruises faded, my bites all scabbed and healed: I was able to be whole for the first time since my initial bite from Hagen. 

 

Then he left.  

 

He bid me farewell the night before their departure.  I . . . broke down crying in front of him.  He looked distressed, but there was nothing to be done to change the situation.  Obviously he was leaving at some point.  I ran away from him and sobbed in my bed, and that was the last time I saw him.

Until tonight.  Over 100 years later.

“I’m not going to hurt you,” he’d said.  Twice.  

I hadn’t believed him.  I couldn’t help running every word through my mind, filtering every expression or gesture for some evidence that I’d been right to hurt him.  Of course there was none.

I sat up quickly in my borrowed coffin.  The pain of my still open wound caused a gasp to escape my lips.  I decided to sacrifice my hoodie as some kind of bandage to try and catch, or maybe help stop, the blood flow.  Anything to stave off this hunger a little bit more.  

I didn’t have any other clothes with me besides what I was now wearing, a long sleeve shirt, and pants with holes throughout, so if any other punishment came I wasn’t sure what I’d do, other than rely on Bhruic to give me some other rags I could wear.

Splinters dug into my palms and fingers as I adjusted myself in my coffin.  The one I used in Scotland was old, and not in great shape, but at least it was more civilized than this rough hewn pine box Bhruic had seen fit to give me.  As I worked on pulling the slivers out of my skin, I could hear the steps of servants outside my door, along with the slosh of water.  These sounds repeated over the next hour or two (or three? I didn’t have a clock), and told me they were likely cleaning up my blood trails and the evidence of where Ignatius tried to help me, and where I had rebuked him.

I was painfully aware of their presence every time they passed my door, but . . . there were too many things running through my mind, too many memories wrestling with my current hunger.  I would not be the vampire that piled more misery, pain, blood loss and death on them.  I’d just let them be; I felt like I deserved this anyway.

Eventually the passage of the humans faded, and in my small room with no windows, I fell asleep leaning against the wall, with no reason to close the lid.

When I woke the next evening, I was still in my room in my shitty coffin.  It had only been a week or so since I’d been here?  At least a week of me being awake and not unconscious in the dungeon, but every evening I always hoped I’d just been in a drawn out nightmare, sure to vanish when I next opened my eyes.  But here I was once more in this unlocked cell.  

The size of it was about seven feet by ten, and besides the coffin there was also a long, thin table that I guess was a stand in for some kind of desk, and a wobbly chair.  I assumed I should’ve been thankful for both of those things considering the state of my casket.  Beyond that there was only the floor space the table and coffin didn’t take up.  I had no other possessions, and nothing in the way of diversions.  So my thoughts, inevitably, shifted back to his long fingers, his breathtaking smile, and his few brief words, “Hagen was very cruel to you, wasn’t he?”

Aye, he was.  And I had repaid that cruelty unnecessarily onto Ignatius.

I slumped down further in the coffin, the splinters a welcome distraction.

During my fourth pass of purposefully rubbing my hands over the wood of the coffin to be able to pull out slivers, my door unclosed, and Bhruic came in.  He stared down at me angrily, but silently.  This was pretty irritating, so before very long a “What?!” shot out of my mouth.

“It’s come to my attention, that you assaulted one of my vampires.”  

Ah. Did Ignatius tell him, or the servants?

“Self-defense.”

“From Ignatius?  What was he trying to do?  I’m pretty sure he has some standards, so I doubt he was trying to fuck you.  Regardless, assaulting my vampires, after having already killed one, is not acceptable, no matter what they are trying to do to you.”

I sat up fully in my coffin now.  Apparently my desire to stay out of view of the other vampires had been a smart one.  I was just supposed to let them play their games with me all over again, ‘no matter what’?  My anger pushed down my wariness and guilt, and it was a welcome feeling.  “And what are you going to do about it?”

His hand darted faster than I could follow, he grabbed my throat, and lifted me easily in front of him, above the floor so my feet couldn’t reach.  He moved, at a normal speed, toward the stairs I had ascended just last night.  I grabbed at his arm holding me, trying to pry his fingers off my throat. 

“Be still.”  Bhruic’s eyes narrowed at me.  

I dug my nails into his skin, scraping hard enough to draw blood.  

“I am increasing your punishment with every act of disobedience.” 

Well fuck him.  I kicked him in the stomach with my good leg.  There was only the barest hint of a sharper than normal exhale, not even enough to make him flinch, but his anger surged, darkening his brow, increasing the force on my neck to a crushing level, and finally using his vampire speed to bring us the rest of the way to his dungeon.  

He immediately threw me on his wooden table, and when I struggled to get use of my limbs back (perhaps a few of the vertebrae in my neck were crushed), he stilled me with a swift, rib-cracking punch to the sternum.  I was too injured and too dazed to react when he tore away my shirt, took each one of my arms, and using two silver stakes per limb, pinned me to his table.  

My throat was too crushed to scream, but the way my torso jerked gave away the pain he was inflicting.  

Bhruic gave a soft thoughtful noise as he stood over me, and then poured something cold in my mouth: refrigerated blood.  The bones he’d cracked and crushed started congealing, my airways reopened, and that cursed wound in my hip finally closed up.  By the time I could draw in a gasping breath he was grinning down at me.

“I don’t want you to think I’m going to let you pass out on me.  I think we’ve already seen that leaving you unconscious doesn’t really do much to lessen your disobedience.” He moved to his cabinets and drawers pulling out a few tools here, a utensil there, multiple bottles of diluted holy water.  “I won’t have it be said that I am unfair, Mr. Fellick.  So I will ask you this before we begin: would you like to apologize for any of your actions?”

I’d spent my entire life up to the point of killing Hagen and his vampires bending past the point of breaking.  So with all the courage I could muster, I told him, “Fuck off.” 

“Such a mouth you have on you.”  He held one of his vials of diluted holy water, uncapping it with deliberate slowness.  I met his eyes the entire way.  He pressed his thumb to my chin, Ignatius’ gentle hands had been there just last night, and forced my jaw to drop.  In went the whole vial. 

The inside of my mouth was steaming, it felt like the flesh was boiling, my teeth melting. Uncontrolled, a gurgled scream tried to escape, but doing that only let the water into my throat burning raw everything it touched on the way.  A desperate inhale of air let it into my lungs, which reverberated with every breath as the tiny air sacs collapsed on every new pull of contaminated air.  

It was the most painful thing I had ever experienced.   

Through my cries and the watering of my good eye I saw Bhruic standing at my side with another vial.  “Any apologies yet?”

I spit at him. 

He punched me hard enough to crack my skull and I was out.  

The taste of blood brought me to my senses, which quickly turned into a horror show of gore and sensation.  In drawing my first breath I could feel the coldness of the outside air on my exposed, moving lungs.  My skin and muscles had all been peeled away and pinned back with long silver needles to lay bare my organs.  The barest twitch of movement pulled against them.  My arms and legs were both rendered immobile by silver stakes.

“I didn’t want you to completely miss this, you understand.”  He unscrewed another vial of holy water and dumped it over my exposed viscera.  The agony of it made me scream, again. My body convulsed, back arching, which pulled against my separated layers.  When my screams were subdued just enough, they were replaced with loud sobs and freely flowing tears.

Everything hurt

He really began “working on me” after that.  Hagen had never done anything as precise as Bhruic was now doing.  The slow and purposeful dissection was far more controlled and thought out than the harsh and hasty crosses and holy water splashes that adorned my body. 

“Did you know vampires can lose most of their organs and not die?” he asked before tearing my liver from my body.  “Do you have any more words of confrontation for me, Seorus?”

I couldn’t get anything out.  Even if I wanted to bait him, or apologize, there was no way to form words.

He cut out more things, sliced off parts of others, and in the midst of this, of my screams and gasps, my attention was momentarily diverted by the scent of spices and flowers.  My good eye was facing the stairs, so I could see him as he descended the last few steps.  He took in the scene before him, was utterly horrified, and tried to take a step away which almost caused him to trip and fall back on the stairs.

He was agile though, caught himself easily, and huddled near the wall, perhaps how I had looked the previous night.  Bhruic called to him, even as he broke two of my ribs off, to keep my chest open.  

When I stopped yelling and could open my eyes, Ignatius was standing at my side, Bhruic across from him at my other, saying, “. . . why weren’t you the one to tell me about your interaction with him last night?”

“There was-was nothing to tell!”

“So you did meet him?”

“I did. . . .”

“And he hurt you?”

“It was nothing!”

“You were injured? By him?”

“Master it was my fault!  He-he doesn’t deserve this!”

A slap rang out that was not aimed at me.  For a brief, guilty moment, I was glad to be spared.  Ignatius was bent over from the force of it, catching himself on my table.  When he straightened up, my blood was again smeared on him: on his face from Bhruic’s strike and his hand where it touched the pool on the table.

Bhruic took the moment to snap another pair of ribs off.  Ignatius winced and looked away, fighting back . . . tears?  It was a little hard to see his face through my own though, and my screaming blocked out some of their exchange.

“And?” I heard Bhruic ask when I could finally quiet myself.

“That we were supposed to tell you about any harm he even attempted to do to us.  No matter how minor.”

Bhruic slammed down a vial, reaching across my body to place it in front of Ignatius.  “Show me how well you understand this, then.  And administer this to his good eye.”

He visibly quailed, taking a step back from the table.  “Master, please .  I’m begging you--”

Ignatius . ”  Bhruic’s snarl cut through Ignatius’ pleas. “I am already very disappointed in you.  Are you really going to make this worse?  Do I need to take more drastic measures against you when our guest has vacated the table?”   

I wanted to tell him that it was fine.  The sooner he did it, the sooner I could get to the end of this, and then to healing.  He didn’t need to get hurt over me, not again.  But I couldn’t communicate to him in any meaningful way.  Even as he took the bottle in trembling hands and looked down at me, I couldn’t bear to meet his eye knowing what was coming.  I was just so tired.

“Hold his eye open, Ignatius,” Bhruic helpfully chimed in, and the gentle and hesitating touch of his fingers followed shortly after, brushing my brow, and then trying to force my eyelids open.  

He wasn’t very dedicated in his attempt.  “I’m not going to hurt you,” he had said, that phrase again ringing in my mind.  If only I’d listened to him then.  I thought about how I had knocked him unconscious, the harsh slap he had just received, and the threats of being dissected on this table, all because of my anger and his apparently too kind actions.  I slowly opened my eye beneath his fingers, hopefully in a way that fooled Bhruic into thinking Ignatius had done it. 

Ignatius swallowed loudly looking down at me, meeting my gaze.  Did he finally understand, it was okay?  He tipped the vial quickly, closing his own eyes just before the contact of the liquid on mine.  He didn’t have a hold on me at all, so I was able to close my eye quickly and pull my head away to the protest of every other part of me that was restrained by silver.  

My mind, my body, every cell felt so heavy and so tired, that I didn’t even scream that much at this newest holy water intrusion.  Perhaps the continual breaking and attempted regrowth of my ribs and organs had sapped away the last of my energy, for I felt myself drifting into unconsciousness, Bhruic’s voice lashing out still, with only a few words catching my ear, “simpering coward,” and, “useless slut,” among them.  I must have blacked out then, for a few minutes or so, before being forcefully dragged back to consciousness with a few drops of blood.

Bhruic spoke directly to me, though I could see nothing in this state, “I hope this session has been . . . enlightening.  If you’ve learned your lesson, I won’t need to see you down here quite so exposed again.”  He slid a finger down my completely bare and poorly fluttering heart, “If you continue to be boorish about learning to show me the proper respect, I will end you, Seorus.  Make no mistake about that.”

I was in no state to respond; nothing in my body seemed to be moving, and the sharp pain of his dissecting had given way to a constant fiery ache that spread through my nerves like tiny needles and white noise. There were sounds near me, of him cleaning up, putting away instruments, and I hoped that I would be allowed to heal after that.  But Bhruic left the stakes in me, and the silver needles that were keeping me apart, and he went up the stairs leaving me helpless and alone.

When I went to sleep that day, I did not wake up.  I don’t know how many days he left me dissected, but it was only when I received a tiny splash of old blood that my eyes finally opened.  Bhruic was standing there, so he must have given it.  “When you can move, you should return to your room.”

And he turned and left.  Such relief flooded my body.  The stakes and pins were gone! But none of my limbs responded to me, only my fingers moved a little, and even my eye could only make out fuzzy blocks of color.  I lay there wishing I would get better faster so I could get out of this terrible place, but the blood was too little, and no one was going to come help me.  As day broke, I fell asleep just as he had left me.

Chapter Text

I expected to be on the table in the open when I next awoke.  So I was extremely surprised to be closed in by the sides of a coffin and under the weight of fabric.  So surprised that I briefly doubted  my consciousness.  When I passed that point of confusion, I thought my wish for this nightmare to be over had finally happened.  I was going to sit up in my own coffin at home in Scotland.

Yet, I wasn’t in my real coffin.  It was pine, as Bhruic had given me, but no longer rough.  I ran my finger along the bottom and found it was completely smooth.  All the splinters had been sanded away.  And the weight of fabric was multiple things: I was wearing fresh, new clothes, bandages under them, and somehow also acquired a blanket.  Terrifyingly . . . the smell of spices and flowers hung in the air.  Why would he have done this?

I tried to sit up, but I only made it up to my elbows before my body screamed in protest.  These wounds were still not healed.  With my head above the edge of the coffin, I could clearly see that Ignatius had not only been responsible for my current state, but was still here in my room sitting on the floor.  His back was against the wall; his forehead rested on his one bent knee, the other leg laying straight.  The sound of my pained efforts drew his attention.  Ignatius sat up looking at me, and when he spoke it was very quiet, “If you want me to, I could help you sit up?”

I wasn’t sure if I could get any farther on my own, so I gave him the barest nod.  He moved nearer, easily lifting me to a sitting position against the wall.  Despite the gentleness he used, every new movement was agonizing.

He retreated away from the coffin a couple feet, kneeling with his hands in his lap before dropping his gaze.  He kept staring down at them, his mouth partially open, trying to find things to say, and finally he came out with something rather unexpected, “I’m such a coward.”

“What . . . ?” My voice surprised me by its raspiness.

“I’m sorry, I know I’m the last person you want to see right now.  But I just--I. . . .”  He put his face in his hands, a frantic kind of movement I don’t think I’d seen him use before.  He looked up at me through the cage of his fingers.  “I didn’t meant for-for any of that to happen.”  His hands slid up into his hair, “And I poured that terrible stuff in your eye just because I didn’t want to be punished!  I’m such a coward.  And you-you were awake and aware that whole time, weren’t you?” 

“Aye. . . .”

“You . . . helped me.  You helped me do it.   Why?! ”  He crossed his arms protectively in front of him, clutching his upper arm and the fabric near his collar in each hand, as if he needed to be guarded from what I might say.  He looked at me desperately for some kind of reply in a conversation I didn’t know how to have.

“You didn’t . . . you didn’t make any of this happen.”

 “I . . . I cornered you in the hall, I ignored you when you told me to go away, if I hadn’t done that--”

“I was . . . baiting him.  He told me to apologize . . . and I spit in his face.  He was angry.”

He dropped his hands into his lap, his mouth slightly opened in shock, “Holy shit.”  He looked down in thought for a moment before raising his eyes back to mine.  “But that still doesn’t explain why you helped me.”

Would simple honesty suffice?  “Better me than you.”

“How could you think that?”

“He already hates me.  He’s not going to be nice to me . . . no matter what I do.  Why make you suffer for that?  There’s no reason.”  

Ignatius looked a little dissatisfied with my answer.  “I’m-I’m sorry I scared you in the hallway, that first night.”

“I wasn’t scared!”  The forceful tone made me cringe and slump into the corner in pain.  Inhaling too much or too fast twinged every one of my wounded muscles and organs.  

“No, well, I’m sorry I was overly aggressive then.  Maybe we could start over.”  He scooched a little closer to my coffin.  “I’m Ignatius.”

I didn’t want to know the answer of whether he remembered my name or not.

“Usually you reply with yours.” he whispered.

“Mmm . . . it’s Fellick.”"

“Fellick . . . is that your last name?”

“Aye.”

“Okay, not on a first name basis yet.  Understandable.  Mr. Fellick, I can see you’re in a great deal of pain, if you allowed it, I could do something to help you with that.”

“What can you do?”

“I have some vampire abilities that let me sway . . .  a lot of things.  But I can use them to deaden the pain.  I would have to touch you though, are you okay with that?”

“Is-is that what you were going to do the first night with your power?  In the hall?”

“Oh, you could tell about the power!  You’re . . . pretty sensitive.  But yeah, that was the idea.”

“It’s probably not going to work.”

“Why’s that?”

“Vampire magic . . . doesn’t usually work on me.”

“Well . . . in my experience, magic can be quite fiddly.  So it wouldn’t hurt to try?  And does that mean you punched me over something you didn’t even think would work?”

A flush crept onto my face as my mind worked around this information.  “There was a lot-a lot going on, and . . . I wasn’t thinking clearly.  You are just . . . a lot!”

He smiled for the first time that evening.  “It was a lot; you’re not wrong.  But right now, would it be okay to try?”

“Wait.  Where are you touching me with this?”

He smiled the barest amount as if he knew where my thoughts had turned, “Just a little, on your chest would be best, I think.”

“Oh.  Aye . . . that would be okay.”

Ignatius slid the rest of the way forward right next to my coffin, pressing one hip flat against it to face me.  The automatic tensing from another person’s approach was both painful and a little embarrassing. 

He, of course, seemed to notice everything and tried to take extra care with his movements, making sure to slowly touch my chest over my heart.  I couldn’t stop another involuntary flinch at this action, no matter how carefully he choreographed it.  “You can trust me, you know.  I’m not going to hurt you.”

“I know.  I mean . . . now I know.”  I couldn’t look at him directly as I said it.

Ignatius grinned, and I felt his power rising up in him just like the first night.  But I didn’t fight back today; I’d no strength to do so even if I wanted to.  It flowed through his fingertips, washing  over me like warm water, trickling onto my chest, seeping into my wounds, and taking away the pain of everything it touched.  The tension of his closeness washed away with it.  I relaxed against the wall, exhaling a sigh with my eyes closed. In my chest I was left with a blissful numbness.  

“It’s working then?”

In shock I answered him, “Aye. . . .”

“Is your stomach okay?”

“Ah . . . it’s not as bad as it was.  So yeah, it’s--”

He trailed his fingers down my chest, over my stomach.  I could only feel them the second half of their journey.  He repeated the process of dousing me in his power, taking away all the pain with it.  

“Your arms and legs, where you were staked?”

I lifted one of my arms experimentally, flexing my fingers and wrist.  I couldn’t hide the tremor from this brief bit of activity, and before I could say anything he touched either side of each stake wound, pouring his energy in.  

“Isn’t this . . . draining for you?”

Ignatius flashed a smile at me taking my other arm, “I’m almost 1200 years old, I won’t get tired from this.  But thank you for your concern, Mr. Fellick.”

He shifted down, facing away from me to see to my legs.

“Why did he make you?”  I asked.

“What do you mean?”  

“Why did Bhruic pick you to be a vampire?  You’re not . . . cruel.”

“Oh.  Well . . . he always makes vampires with striking eyes.  He thinks they are likely to have special powers as a vampire or something, so he seeks out people like that.  He just . . . abducted my brother and me because ours are purple, and turned us into vampires.  I think we rather disappointed him though.”  He straightened out the blanket and turned back to me after completing his work on my legs.  “What about your hip?”

“Oh . . . that’s not . . . that’s always bad, so you don’t--”

He drew close to me again, and I gripped the edge of my coffin as he pulled the blanket down and reached for my hip.  “What do you mean ‘always’?  And sorry, I’m going to feel around a little.”  

Ignatius watched my face as he tried to gently squeeze around the muscles and bone of the joint, “Uhh . . . H-Hagen, injured me . . . a long time ago.” I gave a grunt as he hit the most painful spot.  He nodded and focused his attention there.  “Bhruic just . . . stabbed me there as a reminder, the night we met.”

That feeling of warm, soothing water rushed over me one last time, and the sudden lack of pain in that long standing wound made me openly gasp and grab at his arm, clinging to his sleeve.  He was looking straight at me, silently . . . waiting?

“I . . . I didn’t mean--” I withdrew my hand and also myself into the corner, the first movement this evening that was blissfully pain free.

Ignatius’ fingers lightly lingered a moment before he pulled them away.  “You can touch me if you want.  I don’t mind,” he offered his hand out to me.

“I’m fine.”  I really wanted to take it.

He replaced the blanket with deliberate slowness, tucking it in, smoothing it out, and then sat himself against the wall right next to my coffin, placing a hand on the coffin’s edge almost as an invitation.  

“How-how long will this last?”

“I’m kind of tethered to you now, so I don’t need to keep direct contact to make it work.  If I’m close, you’ll get the full effect, the further away I go, the more it will fade.”

Did that mean he was just going to hang around?  Why would he come back?  He sat quietly against the wall, head tilted just slightly toward me, looking extremely comfortable, hand still resting next to me.  I had held his hand many times as a boy, so it didn’t make sense that it would be so very enticing and yet so very nerve-wracking at the same time in this moment.  But he had never grabbed my ass and pressed me against a wall to kiss me back then either.

“How old are you?” he finally asked, breaking the silence. 

“What does it matter?”

“No name, no age.  I don’t have nefarious purposes in mind in trying to get this information out of you, I assure you.”

“I gave you a name.”

“Half of a name.”

“Which, you said, was ‘understandable.’”

He made a quiet, “Hmph,” before continuing on, “I just didn’t see you when I was last at Hagen’s, which means you were turned 100 years ago or so?  Maybe less?”

“Thereabouts,” which I hoped was unhelpful.

Ignatius reached toward my face, brushing back my hair, and only slightly touching my jaw.  He chose to ignore the small jump I gave at his approach, “When I picked you up and had some more time to look at you, I noticed all your vampire bites,” with my hair brushed back, he examined my neck closely, his thumb lightly grazing the faint scars.  “Were you a servant there before you became a vampire, Mr. Fellick?”

The way his fingers lightly touched my skin was very distracting, “I . . . uh . . . was, aye.”

“How long were you there as a human?”

“Too long.”  

He lowered his hand.  “I only ask . . . because . . . well, I knew a servant there, and I was just wondering if maybe your time overlapped and you might know what became of him.”  

I stopped breathing.

“He was just a boy when I was there, and you . . . actually kind of remind me of him a little?  He was also bitten . . . all the time.  And he had . . . black hair and . . . the prettiest . . . blue. . . .”  His tone was normal when he started, but the further along his words progressed, the more they sank into a quiet, faltering despair.  

I tried to stare very hard at the foot of my coffin.  There was an intense silence in my very small room. Eventually he was quiet for so long I broke and glanced up to him.  

His hands covered his mouth, but his eyes were more than enough to show his agony. “No,” he finally whispered.  “No, it’s not--tell me it’s not. . . .”  He got back on his knees, grasping the edge of my coffin, leaning over it and me as if to reexamine my face. 

I didn’t say anything to him, just returned my gaze to the end of my coffin.

A soft sound came, the creaking of wood under stress, as the pressure of his grip  increased.  He finally spoke again, just a few inches from me. “Seorus?”  

There it was, my name on his lips.  Why was it so terrifying?  I shuddered even though he now drew away.  He sounded like he was in pain saying my name.  

“Do you remember me?”

“Of course I remember you,” I hissed.  “You were there for two or three weeks, and you were kind, and then you left .”  I wasn’t prepared for the venomous way the words came out.  

Ignatius wasn’t either.  He just crumpled after being hit by them, forehead resting between his hands, almost bowed before me.  “Seorus, I’m so sorry.  I’m so, so sorry!”  I didn’t know how a single person could hold so much despair.  From the shaking breaths he was drawing, I thought he might have started crying as well.

“I-Ignatius . . . I didn’t mean . . .”  I didn’t know how to comfort someone.  What would he have done?  I touched the top of his head tentatively.  He looked at me, his face raised enough for me to see his weeping eyes.  I, a little boldly, took his chin and lifted it above the coffin’s edge.  He let me guide him.  Using the sleeve of my new hoodie, I wiped away his tears.  “I’m sorry I don’t have a handkerchief like you did.”

It was like my words struck him again, “Oh, Seorus. . . .” was all he managed before burying his face in his hands, folding back down to the floor, and sobbing.

This was clearly beyond me.  “What . . . has to happen . . . for you to stop crying?”  

He sobbed loudly for a few more breaths before shakily lifting himself from the floor, using his own sleeve now to wipe his tears away.  “I-I . . . I dunno.  Maybe . . . would it be okay if-if I held you?”  

“Aye.  Sure.  I guess?”

He threw himself at me, arms wrapping around me.  I had almost lifted an arm to return the embrace, but he shifted me away from the wall and climbed in behind me.

“Uh--”

His arms circled me, and he pulled me back against him, his forehead resting against the back of my head.  It felt like he was . . . trembling.  His grip around me tightened with every uneven breath.

“I’m going to bleed on you if you keep grabbing me so tight.”

He made a noise of distress and flung his arms open wide.  

I grabbed at his wrists to try and stave off another wave of tears, but in the moment I could only catch the one I could see.  “Just not so tight.  Okay?”  I lowered his arm back down to coffin level, but released him before I went so far as to rewrap myself in his embrace.  He completed that on his own, faltering, and in increments, touching the side of my ribs, and eventually completing the circle around me once more.

Again, pressed against him,  I was left with the confusion of what to do with my hands. His legs were bent on either side of me.  I could easily rest them there on the tops, or his knees, but thinking about touching his legs made me extremely aware of the feel of his thighs, something I’d never thought of on another person before.  I could also ignore every part of him that was touching me and rest them in my own lap.  But his hands were also an option, lightly clasped around me. . . .

Inviting and tempting, I ended up resting them there.  I wasn’t sure how long he was staying, if we were going to speak, or if he was even going to stop crying.  Should I talk to him?  I didn’t feel confident in my ability to do anything more for him than this physical contact.  So I contented myself with listening to his breathing as he forced it to slow and stabilize, the shaky, sharp breaths fading, and I traced my fingers over his, slow strokes, like petting a sleeping cat.  Maybe this was something people found comforting too?  Especially those looking for physical touch as he seemed to so desperately need.  I thought I could memorize every soft line of his knuckles and fingers if he stayed long enough.  

After twenty minutes of this quiet time, he curled a little tighter around me, dropping his forehead down to my shoulder, squeezing me a little tighter with his legs (and thighs), and wrapping more of his arms around me, moving his hands past mine in their resting place, and then he finally spoke.

“You knew who I was immediately, didn’t you?”

“In the hall?  Aye.”

“But you didn’t want me to know you.”

I shook my head.  I couldn’t explain all the reasons or feelings why.

“I didn’t understand it, the way you were looking at me.  You were into me, I could see that, but there were so many other things happening, things you were feeling, and I couldn’t place them, so I just focused on that.”

“Why did you even follow my blood trail that night?”

I felt like he curled up a little more at this question, and shook his head against my shoulder.  “I . . . I was thinking about you.  About little human Seorus.”

“What?”

“From the moment Bhruic said there was a new vampire here from Hagen’s place, I thought, ‘I wonder if he knows what happened to Seorus?’  But I was afraid to know, so I didn’t seek you out.  And-and that night, I saw your blood, and I almost passed by it.  I knew it was the new vampire’s, it had to be from the scent, but there was no way you weren’t someone dangerous.  You’d killed Hagen and his vampires after all, but then why did Bhruic bring you back if you were so bad?  Eventually I thought I would just follow it, take a measure of you, and if I could help you . . . maybe we’d get on good terms.  Maybe you knew about Seorus.  And then I fucked that up real bad.”

“You . . . cared what happened to me?”

“Of course I cared!  How could you doubt that I would?”

“Uh, you’re a vampire?  I was a measly human servant.”

“Seorus, I have a heart still.  I feel still.  You don’t think every time you took my hand or smiled at me I wasn’t affected?” 

You Left.

He sat back away from me, dropping his arms with a shiver.  He spoke, barely above a whisper, “I know.  I know.  I-I thought about taking you with me.”

“Then why didn’t you?”  I couldn’t stop the words as they flew from my mouth, the question I’d asked silently as a human able to exist and be answered after so long.

He leaned forward again, into my back, clutching my hoodie, forehead resting at the nape of my neck..  “What did Bhruic call me?  A ‘simpering coward’?  He’s not wrong, Seorus.

“There were a lot of reasons why I couldn’t.  You had orders on you.  How could I take you away from those?  If you had more put on you after that . . . I felt like you’d go leech immediately.  Hagen and his lot were obsessed with you.  And then, the biggest reason . . . I couldn’t bear to watch you die.

“My brother chastised me for interacting with you as much as I did . . . because you were doomed.  And I disagreed, what harm in giving you hope?  But as those nights ticked on, I knew he was really trying to protect me.  Because you were doomed.  There was no future where you didn’t die at a vampire’s hands.  Even if, miraculously, you came with me, Bhruic would . . . would use you against me.  He always leverages the things and people you love to pull your strings, and there was no way to protect you from that here.  There was no way to protect you if Bhruic decided you were communal property, and everyone should get a chance to drink from you.”  He paused with a large shuddering breath.

“And to watch you die in front of me . . . or to find you dead and broken when I should have protected you. . . I just . . . couldn't.  So I buried my head in the sand.  I said goodbye to you, and I left.  But thoughts of you haunted me for years.  Until I pushed them away and tried to forget that you ever existed.  But every time Hagen’s name was mentioned you always came floating back, my own ghost.  Until tonight, when you just appeared in person.”

He heaved a sigh, his palms spread flat against my back.  “I’m selfish and a coward, and you deserved better.”  

And with that, there was again a very deafening silence between us.  I remembered imagining as a human, over and over, the possible answers to that question, “Why didn’t you take me?”  But that was so long ago, and I hardly recalled any of those pretend details, only that I surely had gotten every one of them wrong.  Ignatius’ reactions, his demeanor, his words and surprisingly upfront feelings all came as a powerful shock.  

I kept trying to roll his words around in my mind, to get a handle on everything he said, but I couldn’t sort out anything.  We must have sat in silence for ten minutes or so before he meekly said, “Seorus . . . ?  Are you okay?” 

“I . . . I don’t know.  There’s so much to think about.”

“Do you want me to go?”

“You don’t have to.  Can you lean back again though?  Sitting up isn’t great.”

He quickly threw himself back the few inches to the wall, leaving me free to lean into him at my own pace.  He didn’t put his arms around me again though, choosing instead his own leg and a knee, both easily within my reach. 

Though I tried to mull his words over, everything about him pulled my attention away: those nearby hands, how warm he was, his scent , and the new fidgety motions he was slowly ramping up.   A finger tapped incessantly against his knee, and his heel bounced with apparent nerves.  

“Is there . . . anything you want to talk about?”

I shook my head.

He let the silence hang for less time than his last question.  “Is there anything . . . I could do?  Or answer?  Or . . . anything?”

“I couldn’t handle anything more.”

A shaky, suspicious sigh escaped him.  I sat up so that I could turn to look at him.  He was still visibly distressed though he’d largely managed to hide the noises and physical tells from earlier.  Without that sigh and looking at him, I wouldn’t have ever known how upset he seemed to be.  

A single tear ran down his cheek, and he hastily brushed the evidence away.

“Can you just stop crying?  Please.”

“I’m sorry.  I . . . I was trying.  But I just . . . keep thinking about . . . everything.  And what I could have done differently.  And what those differences could have meant for you.  If there was a way to-to--”

Ignatius!

I startled him into silence.

“Please.  I really can’t handle anything else.  I don’t know what to do with what you’ve already told me.  I just . . . I just want to think about it.  But it’s so hard to do that when you’re here!”

He looked . . . hurt.  That was truly the only way to describe his expression.  “Here,” he said quietly  as he slid his legs away and pushed himself up.  “I’m sorry, you didn’t owe me this, but I . . . appreciate your graciousness.  I should . . . give you some space.”  He stepped out of my coffin to stand next to me, wiping his eyes, hopefully for the last time.  “I’ll bring you something to do tomorrow, to pass the time?  What do you usually do at home?”

“I just . . . hang out with my cats and read the papers I guess?”

“Newspapers?”

“Aye?”

He nodded, hesitating before bending down and planting a soft kiss against my temple.  “Good night.  I’ll see you tomorrow.  I’ll get my tears out tonight.”

Chapter Text

As soon as the door closed I hoped I would gain calm and clarity.  My mind, unfortunately, was still buzzing, chaotic, and confused.  In his absence I wanted to focus, but the fact that my first feeling when left was a tiny pang of loneliness spiraled me into worry and irritation.  

The confusion was quickly overwritten when thinking about his absence as a child, how he had filled me with hope, and taken it all away, nestling inside me as anger which I now in turns welcomed and then shoved away.

Did hating him now for that do me any good?

I didn’t know how long I swung between these feelings, was it an hour, or two, or three?  At some point, I was distracted from my thoughts when my wounds, which he had so carefully caressed, started tingling with a faint needling sensation, and then to lightly ache.  Had I so offended and hurt him that he decided to stop helping me?  Or perhaps it was more draining on him than he wanted to admit?  

But the pain progressed no further than those small aches, and a slightly larger one in my core where the worst damage was.  I then remembered he said the effect would fade with his distance to me.  Wherever he had moved to, he seemed to stay there for the rest of the night.  When I went to sleep, I lay under the warm, quilted blanket Ignatius had given me on my newly sanded coffin, surrounded by his faintly lingering scent.

The next evening I was awoken by the sound of knocking at my door, and a hesitant human voice, “Hello?  Is anyone in there?”

I shoved my lid up, sitting up a little too quickly, and then panting out, “What?!”  Everything was aching, throbbing with every beat of my heart. 

“Uh . . . I have . . . dinner for you?” she meekly replied, as I chastised myself for yelling.

I tried to heave myself up to a standing position, but the pain was even worse when moving, and I collapsed back into the bottom of my coffin.  

“Can . . . can you bring it in?”

The door unclosed, and a human woman peeked in.  She was pale and tired, the way human servants often are, with dark hair pulled back into a bun.  She eyed me, trying to take a measure of how worried to be about this new vampire in her space.  “My apologies for being late.  I was told you’d be in the basement still.  Where shall I leave it, sir?”  She carried a glass partially full of dark red blood.

The “sir” made me flinch, but my eyes were glued to the glass.  “Next to the coffin is fine.  Please.” 

She obliged, her eyes never leaving me, as if watching me would somehow stop me if I decided to do something to her.

“What’s your name?” I asked as she stepped into the door frame to leave.

“Clara.”  She sounded surprised.

“Thank you.  Clara.”

She gave the barest curtsy before closing the door.  I grabbed the glass and downed the contents as quickly as I could without spilling a precious drop.  It was distressingly cold, so I could feel it as it coursed through my body, taking away some of the soreness a little more.  

The rest of my aches settled into stillness thirty minutes later when, I assumed, Ignatius returned home.  Only moments later my injuries went completely numb followed by the sound of a soft knocking on my door.  “Can I come in?”

The sound of his quiet voice immediately churned up all those thoughts I’d tried to bury overnight.  I answered with a similarly uncertain, “Aye.”

He came in carrying a plastic bag on his arm loaded with stacks of newspapers, and under the same arm was an orange, stuffed cat.  “How are you feeling tonight?”

I shrugged leaning into the corner.

He nodded and set the bag down beside the coffin holding the stuffed animal as he spoke, “I didn’t think it would be a good idea to have a real cat in here, so I got this one to maybe keep you company if you wanted?  I’m sorry, it’s kind of stupid, but I thought it was cute.”  He set it on the corner of the table as if it were looking over me on a perch.  “I thought Peaches would be a good name.  But feel free to change it if you want.  I . . . should have asked what paper you wanted or liked best, but I didn’t, so I just got a bunch. There's some major ones from Scotland in there, and Ireland, a couple other international ones too.  A few more local papers.  So I hope there’s something there you like.”

The opening in the bag revealed the front page of a pristine newspaper.  “Are these new?”  I dragged it toward me to take out the first one.

“Yeeeaaah . . . ?”

“You . . . bought newspapers?”

He squinted at me with an odd sort of look, “How else would I get them?”

“I just always pull them out of the rubbish bins.”

He made a noise, enough to make me pull my eyes away from the headline about the selection of a new pope, but he had stopped looking at me, rubbing the back of his neck and staring at my door instead.  “Um . . . do you want any . . .  company?  Or . . . to maybe talk about anything tonight?”

I shook my head pointedly staring at the page in my hands.  Even the few lines about newspapers was more than I wanted to share with him.

“Alright.  Well, how did you feel this evening when I was out?  Was your pain okay?”

“It was fine.” It was pretty bad.

“Well . . . I might go to work tonight then.  I’ll stop by tomorrow with some more papers.  Goodnight.”  He seemed to hesitate, his movements halting as he took a half step toward me then just turned and left the room.

I was taken by quite a few thoughts in those last moments.  The first, Peaches needed to come sit with me.  The second, why had I lied about something as stupid as the pain?  Especially now that I was being forced to suffer through it as he swiftly distanced himself from the house.  Thirdly, he worked?  I’d never known a vampire to have a job before.  And finally, his uncertainty before he left . . . last night he had kissed my temple, I wondered if tonight he was thinking of the same thing, but changed his mind?  It only underscored the slow realization that he wasn’t, as I had originally believed, perfectly confident and powerful and sure of himself and everything he did.  He was just . . . a regular person.  

I was so certain in that brief time he protected me that he knew and could do anything, but the only thing he really knew how to do was to be kind.  He struggled with everything else.  I blamed him for so long for not taking me with him, but he’d been miserable over the question, and probably would have been miserable if he had found an impossible way to bring me.  Maybe as miserable as he was right now with me here.

And yet, he was still just trying to find ways to be kind.  The coffin, the papers, Peaches.

“It was easier when it was just me and cats.”

Peaches stared placidly back at me with plastic eyes.  He was really cute.  But now I was talking to a fake cat.

I settled him in my lap and turned back to the newspapers, noting with a start that the date was a bit further along than I’d expected.  Surely I hadn’t been here for a month and a half?

Much of the rest of the news, outside of the new pope, was normal, and familiar, and felt comfortable.  I read every paper he bought, front page to back, stopping especially at the obituaries, looking for familiar names.  My sister passed away 20 years ago, but her children still lived as far as I knew.  And though I’d never met or seen them, I just liked knowing they were still out there.  None of their names appeared on this date.  But what of the previous 40 days or so where I hadn’t seen any papers?

When I was working through the second to last paper, I could tell that Ignatius must have come home, my aches turning down to a tingle with his closeness.  He didn’t come back to see me, and I finished my papers with just enough time to consider if I should leave Peaches with me or back on the table.  

With me, of course.  

The following night, Ignatius was again absent just after sunset, and Clara visited again with a slightly more full glass.  I did manage to stand this evening and make it to the door, so I felt I was doing really well.  She took my old glass and left me with the new, and I thanked her again as she cautiously bowed her head in acknowledgement.  

I collapsed back into the chair to drink my dinner, knowing that getting back down to the floor would be a bit more painful.  Ignatius again returned home, and from the numbing in my body, was rapidly approaching my door.

He tapped softly, not waiting for a response before opening my door to peak in.  “Oh!  You’re in the chair!  You must be feeling better.” He glanced over to my coffin where Peaches clearly laid tangled amongst the blanket.  He smiled at me as I blushed and set my glass down.  “I got you the same papers that are dailies tonight.”  He set the bag on the table next to me, “And I also brought you a radio?  If that’s something you might like?”  It was small, rectangular, tan and brown with two dials on it and a handle that he carried it by.  

“Oh.  Yeah.  Sure.”  I’d honestly not interacted with a radio since Hagen’s death, some decades before.  The house lost electricity so I didn’t have a way to run them anymore.  Ignatius put it on the table and then bent down to crawl underneath with the cord to plug it in.  

He stayed on his knees after that, glancing up at me hopefully.  “Do you . . . want some company tonight?”

I slouched in my chair a little more and gave a noncommittal, “Mmmhhh.”

“Do you want to talk?”

I shook my head.

He sighed looking down to his lap, “Seorus, I’m dying over here.  Are you . . . can you just say are you mad at me?  Do you ever want to see me again?  Is-is my coming here too hard for you?”  He glanced up to me again, pleadingly, waiting for some kind of answer.

“I . . . I’m not . . . it’s just.  It’s hard to talk to you . . . when I have to look at you.”

He looked around my room as if assessing things, then shook his head and stood up, leaving and closing the door behind him.  A soft sound of sliding fabric, and he spoke, sitting on the other side, “Would this be better?”

I half fell out of my chair and situated myself against the wall near the door, “Aye, it’s better.”

“So . . . are you mad at me?”

I grabbed Peaches from the coffin and sat him in my lap again, nervously rubbing his ears.  “I . . . I was mad.  As a human.  For a long time.  And I was . . . sad too.  And even now . . . I’m angry, but it’s not . . . at  you.  It’s just anger at the situation.  At the vampires who made the rules, and the chains.  I’d always thought of . . . of an ideal, I guess, as a child.  Where you took me and everything was perfect.  But . . . you were right . . . there was no good way for things to turn out.  That’s not your fault.”

 

“Was I wrong . . . to help you as a child?  Should I have ignored you that first night?  Would it have been kinder?”

Of course he would be concerned with this question.  “You weren’t wrong to help me.  You never promised me anything.  I just . . . allowed myself to dream.  And your actions from that time . . . were the only things that kept me going.  I think I would have been . . . harder . . . if not for you.”

“Do you still want to see me?”

“Ignatius, you--” I clutched Peaches to my chest, “you are the only person I have ever wanted to see.  But . . . if you aren’t happy . . . you don’t have to keep coming back.”

“You think I’m unhappy?”

“You cried for like an hour after learning my name?  And you’ve been miserable on top of that since the table thing.  And I knocked you unconscious.”

“The crying is pretty irritating.”

“It’s not irritating !  I just . . . don’t like to see you sad.”

There was a silence, a shuffle, and then the turning of the doorknob.  He snaked his head through the open door  to look at me, biting his lip as if in hesitation.

“What?”

“Can I come back in?”

“You’re already here.”

He crawled in, kneeling right next to me, his one leg touching the side of mine as he sat facing me.  This was really the worst case conversation position for me.  “I was--and still am--pretty upset.  Most of it was just . . . horror at how much I failed.   I’d wanted to help you back then.  And I . . . I didn’t.  All my worst fears just came true at once.  It’s not you, like you said, but the situation."  He smiled sadly.  “I’m sorry you had to suffer through so much.”

“You don’t have to-to keep apologizing.”

“Well, I would like you to know, I am sorry for the suffering I caused, unintentional or not.”

“I-I know you are.”

He held out his hand to me, palm up, as a peace offering?  An invitation?  I looked at it, and him, and very slowly took it.  Ignatius smiled, scooched forward a little more, and took my hand in both of his, curling his fingers around it.  

“You are more courteous to me than you have any right to be.” 

“That’s . . . not. . . .” I sighed looking down at Peaches.  “I’m sorry I punched you so many times.”

He chuckled, “Well, I kind of deserved it.  I’m not mad about it.  But thank you.”  He smiled wide at me, making me catch my breath.  He tilted his head as I tried to avoid looking at him.  “Do you want to walk around the hall a little bit since you’re feeling better?  You can lean on me if you need to.”

“Mmmh . . . I . . .  don’t.”

“Feel like walking?”

“Feel.  Great.”

He dropped my hand as he gasped.  “But . . . yesterday you said--”

“I lied!”

“But I was gone the whole night!”

“Och, I know!  It was not pleasant.”

“Seorus, why did you--”

“I don’t know!”

“You should be in your coffin resting!”  He leaned in to scoop me up in his arms.

“I’m resting right here,” I protested pressed against him, pushing on his chest as if I were strong enough to keep him away.  “And it’s less bad tonight!”  He paused in his attempt to pick me up for long enough that I became flustered at touching him and drew my hand away blushing. 

“Fine.”

Finally, he slid his arms away from me, grabbed my coffin blanket, and laid it over me, moving Peaches back on top.  He also took the papers from the table and set them next to me, and then slid me away from the wall to move in behind me. “What are you doing?” I asked as he pulled me back against him, like we’d sat in the coffin two nights ago.

“I’m making you more comfortable.”  Ignatius pulled the top newspaper out of the bag and set in in my lap as well, wrapping his arms around me, his thighs gently squeezing.  “Since you are obviously pretty bad at taking care of yourself, I’m going to stay here with you this evening, so I can make sure you’re resting.  Read me a story?”

“Wh-?  Out loud?”

“I couldn’t hear it otherwise.”

“I can’t read like, like this,” I motioned to his arms and legs surrounding me.  “You’re too . . . “

“Distracting?”

“AYE.”

“I’m not really doing anything though.  What about me is distracting?”

“You know.”

He laughed, hugging me a little tighter, “Suppose I don’t?”

“Just the fact that you exist!  And you have those-those eyes, and you’re so . . . pretty.”

He was silent for a short moment, but still long enough to start regretting my choice of words.  “You think I’m . . . pretty ?”  Everything about him shifted: his tone, his legs, his hands, his posture.

Was there any way to undo this? “Pretty . . . like a woman.  In a very feminine way.”

He was not even remotely put off.  “Is that what you like?” his breath came hot on my ear, “Some lipstick?  Eyeshadow?  Lace?”

The flush on my face deepened.  I didn’t know how to respond.  I could only barely comprehend what he was asking me. 

“Maybe you don’t know what you’re into?”

“I . . . I’m not into anything.”

“I think . . . you’re into me.”

“You’re delusional!”

“When I kissed you, you kissed back.”

“That’s not—I was only—I’m not a homosexual!”  Though him mentioning it immediately brought back the feel of his lips on mine.

“You’ve never been intimate with a man, have you?”

That was enough.  “You need to leave.”  I grabbed at his fingers, trying to pry his hands off of me, but he wouldn’t let me go.  

“No, no, stop.  Don’t struggle, you’re supposed to be resting.  Here, I’m sorry, I’ll be quiet.”  He proceeded to pull me back against him again.

“No, I don’t want to lay with you.” I proceeded to continue struggling.

“Okay!  Okay!”  He opened his arms wide, I bundled the blanket up with the cat and the news and threw it all in my coffin, clambered over the side, and slammed the lid down.  “So . . . no goodnight kiss?” he asked 

“GO FUCK YOURSELF!”  

He laughed, which did not temper my anger any.  “Well, I guess I’ll go back to my room.  Maybe I’ll go out for an hour or two?  And you can tell me how you feel tomorrow.  We should also take some of those bandages off and see how you’re doing physically.  Have a good evening!”

“You can go out forever for all I care!”

He laughed again, and the sound of the door closing behind him muffled his voice in the hall.  

  #

I was leaning partially against the wall the next evening when I felt him coming.  Peaches was sitting on the floor next to me.  Clara had already come and said, “Good evening,” and I’d turned the radio on low, news reports being read aloud to me.  With this, maybe he wouldn’t need to come bring me papers all the time.  I could tell him he didn’t need to drop by every single night , with his stupid, smug face and inappropriate words.

“Evening, Seorus!” Ignatius practically sang as he burst into the room.  “How is the patient doing today?”

I growled at him in response. 

“Oh, not good?”  He set a new stack of newspapers on my table with a flourish.  “Perhaps the doctor should examine you.” He stepped in my coffin and knelt down between my knees.  “I’m the doctor, by the way.”  He was wearing ripped jeans today.  They were still tight , as was his custom, but his knees were bare, and the tops of his legs as a line of frayed fabric spread halfway up his leg, exposing a rather indecent amount of skin.

“Go examine yourself!”  I tried not to stare at him.

“I’m not the one who was so grievously injured.”  He leaned forward with his hands on either edge of the coffin so that his body was parallel to mine, though some inches away.  “Unzip your hoodie for me.”  His shirt, a pinkish violet, was fitted but had a loose, cowl like collar, and when he bent forward over me, I could see down the center of his chest.  Sometimes it felt hard to breath around him.

“I will not!  I’m doing better!”  I crossed my arms for added obstinance.

“Those are words you’ve said and lied before.”

“Just because, because you might’ve helped me once or twice doesn’t mean you can go around touching me whenever you want.”

He sighed leaning back on his knees again.  “Seorus, you are so hot and I want to touch you all the time, but I also really just want to check on your wounds right now.  And I kind of think you’re just being shy.  Are you being shy?”

“I’m not . . . either of those things!”

“Not hot or shy?  You are most certainly both of those things.  Would it help you to know I’ve already seen you naked?”

“You saw me naked?!”

“Seorus . . . I bandaged and dressed you.  You didn’t have any clothes after the table.”

I was back to blushing again as I tried to sink into the corner. 

“Oh come now, it’s nothing to be embarrassed over.  You could see me naked, if you wanted.”  His hands lifted the hem of his shirt.  He’d gotten to his navel when I lunged forward and grabbed it, yanking it down.

“Och, keep your clothes on!”

In a flash he unzipped my hoodie and pushed me back against the wall.  “Now behave or I’ll tie you up.”  The way he said it, the tone with an added glance and a smile, made it seem like a sensual promise rather than a threat.  “And if you do behave, maybe I’ll let you tie me up.”  

He picked at the tape holding the bandage closed.  There was quite a lot of blood that had seeped through since he had put them on.  And while he worked I tried to imagine why I should want to tie him up.  Was it another sensual promise?  He couldn’t touch me then.  Maybe he’d even be a little more . . .  helpless looking.  At my mercy even, if I wanted to touch him.  Not that I would, but if I did, with his hands behind his back, it would be so easy to just run my fingers over his face, through his hair, down his neck—

I jumped, startled, as Ignatius’ fingers ran down my naked torso.  He had already removed the bandages and was now pressing along the noticeable seam where my skin had stitched itself back together.  “You’re not usually so distracted.  What were you fantasizing about?”

How did the damn bastard make me blush every time he spoke?

“I’m going to drop my power for a bit now, and feel around a little, let me know if it hurts?”  

He looked up at my face, yet again extremely close to me.  I grabbed my coffin edges as I avoided his eyeline and the blissful numbing of Ignatius’ energy faded away.  I hurt a little, in my stomach area, but the major pains Bhruic had inflicted on me were nearly gone.  Ignatius put one hand on each of my sides, feeling along my ribs, then moving his thumbs to the inside edge of them, up along to where my ribs met my sternum.  “Hm!  All your ribs have grown back.  A promising sign.”  He moved back to the center of my stomach, pressing in the softer areas, slowly moving his way down.  I kept darting my eyes around, occasionally landing on his face which remained near mine.  So far in our interactions, he seemed to mostly be very sad or very smug, but this expression was one of concentration and thoughtfulness.  This focused look was . . . incredibly handsome.

 

He then hit a painful spot which made me grunt., “Ah, sorry,” he apologized, finally finishing his examination.  “Seorus, you’re doing great!  Your liver’s still growing back I think, but most everything is in place at the very least.  And your skin’s closed up pretty nicely.  We can definitely leave the bandages off.  Tomorrow we could even get you cleaned up.”  He reached for my bad hip, again applying his magic to it.

“Cleaned up.”  

“You know, a bath?”   He touched my stomach, relieving that injury as well.

I glowered at him as he zipped my hoodie back up. “Great.  You’ve looked, I’m dressed, get out of my coffin.”

“You don’t want to cuddle again?”

“No!”

“Shall I get the rope?”

“What is wrong with you?!”

“Oh, no rope?  It seemed you were enjoying the thought of it.”

“Get out of my coffin!”

He stood with a smirk, stepped out, and sat down right next to it. “Why are you so afraid of getting close to anyone?”

“I’m not afraid of anything!”

He seemed to talk on as if I hadn’t, “You must know by now that I’m not going to hurt you, and that you’re attracted to me.”

“Get out of my room!”

He smiled at me, leaned forward, and whispered, “Make me.”

I snarled at him baring my fangs, grabbed the front of his shirt, and lifted him as I stood.  “Get out of my room or I will knock you the fuck out again.”  One arm held him in a trembling grasp, my other I pulled back in preparation for a strike that was not an idle threat.

He regarded me with only a smile, not the least bit concerned.  “I’ve been blocking off your pain for days, and you’re kicking me out of your room?”

“If I have to put up with you, then you can take your stupid power right back!”

“You could just stop being afraid of me.”

“I am NOT afraid!”

“I don’t doubt that you have no fear of pain or getting hurt.  But after living alone for so long, at odds with every part of the world and every person you’ve ever known, the thought of desiring someone must be terrifying.”

I launched my fist forward.  Unlike the first night, he swiftly caught it before I made contact with his face, only showing the barest wince at stopping my punch in his grasp.  He used his free hand to pry my fingers off his shirt.  “I’d not have you punished again for my trespasses.”  Ignatius leaned in quickly, pressed his lips to mine, and then just as fast released me and stepped away backwards.  I fell back against the wall in surprise.  He made the slightest bow and opened the door.

“T-take your fucking power with you!”  I tried to recover my anger.

He grinned.  “Seorus, we haven’t even gotten to the fucking power.  I’ll see you tomorrow.”

The radio continued on talking about the color of smoke.  Peaches was silent, as always.

Chapter Text

He wore a pale lilac shirt, buttoned from the middle of his chest down.  It was untucked, and the sleeves were rolled back to his elbows.  His jeans were tight (but slightly less so than normal?) and faded black which rode low on his hips with some kind of flashy belt. His shoes were sneakers, purple and white.  Perhaps it was the casualness of his dress that suited him more than usual, but I thought he looked more attractive than I’d ever seen him before.  I tried not to show this, but the way he smiled and shifted his weight again gave me the impression that he knew exactly what I thought of him.  When he squatted in front of my coffin, he brought his partially bared chest down to my eyeline, and I realized I wasn’t supposed to be ogling him, his skin, or his smile but still be angry from the night before.  After all, he had said. . . . 

He started touching me again, and it was startlingly difficult to think about anything else.  His palm flattened against my cheek, fingers running down my jaw and neck, “Seorus.”

“Wh-what?”  I smacked his hand like a bug.

He pulled away with a shake, “Will you come with me?” 

“I don’t want a bath.”

“Come on, I think it will feel really good to be free of all that dried blood and grime.”

“You just want to touch me while I’m naked.”

He chuckled at me with that incredible smile again.  “As true as that might be, I won’t take advantage of your nakedness in the bath, I promise,” he put a hand over his heart.

I glared at him with folded arms.

“Have I ever given you a reason to not trust me?”

I continued glaring.

His smile faltered then and was replaced by a much less accommodating expression.  “Seorus, you’re going to take a bath.”

I growled at him, but like his ridiculously old master Ignatius was irritatingly fast.  He wrapped his arms around my waist and we were shooting through the halls and into a bathroom in a matter of seconds.  He set me on the floor next to the bath and turned the faucet on.  “Clothes off, Seorus.”

“N-no!”

He squeezed a few bottles into the tub from a tiered shelf next to the tub.  He stood up as he finished, turning to me and leaning on the rim.  “Seorus, I will strip you down and throw you in here myself if I have to.  But I’d like this to be a more civilized matter.”

His approach seemed extra menacing, and I was so far from the door.  All I could do was yell at him. “I don’t want you to see me!”

He paused considering me for a moment, then put his hands up in surrender. “I’ll go stand outside the door while you get in.  I’m not going to stay while you’re washing.  I just want to see that you’ve gotten in, and there’s a nice layer of bubbles, so you’ll be blocked from view once you’re in there.  And then, I’ll only come back after that to see that you’ve finished.  Is this agreeable to you, Seorus?”

I was weighing this option against the idea of him forcibly stripping me and scrubbing me down, the fighting and bloodshed that would accompany it.  I shivered remembering my last interaction with Bhruic over the injuries I’d given Ignatius.  But still I crossed my arms.  “How do I know you’ll not peek?”

He grinned.  “Okay.  How about this: I’ll go over there to my room,” he pointed at a second door behind him, “and I’ll just  . . . sing?  Then you’ll know how close to the door I am.  And if I’m not that close, I can’t peek, right?”

I glanced to the tub, and the door, and his patient face.  I gave a brief nod.  

He patted the edge of the tub, “Turn off the water when it gets high enough, and I’ll pop back in then.”

Ignatius left out the second door giving me a wink as he closed it.  He started singing an old sounding song I didn’t know, “ I’d enter your garden if I dare be so bold.  For such blushing roses are fair to behold. . . . ”  His voice faded from the door as he went further into the room, 

I looked back at the first door we came through.  I could just walk back out, but he’d probably hear it and be on me again before I got more than a few steps away.  I heaved an irritated sigh and unzipped the hoodie.  The bandages were still wrapped around my arms and legs where the stakes had pierced me, so I also had to remove those after getting my clothes off.  

Oh grant to me the pleasure for which I fondly sigh, ” Ignatius sort of yelled that line out from his room. 

The bathtub edge was high, being an old fashioned claw footed one, and my entry was clumsy.  The water was hot and steamy, coated with bubbles and filled with scents . . . like spices and flowers.  If he wasn’t blocking all my usual hip pain, it seemed like this would be a nice way to dull some of it.

His distant voice shifted to a song I did know, “ My love is like a red, red rose ,” as I waited quietly for the water level to rise, at least up to my chest.  His singing voice was . . . not terrible, but also a little off-key.  What he lacked in talent he tried to make up for in exuberance.    The scent, the warmth, and sometimes the sound was surprisingly relaxing, almost intoxicating, and then slightly inappropriate as he started a more bawdy song.  

I turned the faucet off watching the door as his song announced his arrival, “ Give me your hand and make my world turn, just one look from you and I burn. ”  He swung open the door and finished with, “ Don’t leave me lonely, ” and a dramatic pose against the frame.  He smiled as he looked me over from afar.  “Aw, Seorus, I half thought you were just going to run away.”  He pointed to the small table next to the bath.  “There’re soaps and washcloths on the stand next to you.  Use what you like.  I’ll be back in a little bit to check on you.  Don’t get out before I do.”  He blew me a kiss before leaving and closing the door.  I slumped down into the tub, hiding my blush from no one.  “ I can’t sleep at night, I toss and I turn, just the thought of you makes me yearn. . . .

I didn’t move for a few minutes after he left, listening to his verses of, “ Don’t leave me lonely.    If all baths were like this, I thought maybe I could take them more often.  But then . . . the thought of finding relaxation in him seemed . . . hopeless.  It meant I would be here, under Bhruic’s harsh and degrading thumb, or I would be back home . . . without him.

I sat up looking to the table.  There were so many bottles, some in foreign languages.  It seemed ridiculous for a vampire to have things for moisturizing or rejuvenating anything.  I picked the least flowery and descriptive bottle and a washcloth and set to cleaning myself off. This seemed to take entirely too little time, so to prevent my thoughts from going back to the possibility of him and his not being there I washed down again.  When I had finished the second time I leaned back against the curved slope of the tub wall and clutched the wash cloth, as if holding it hard enough could keep those thoughts at bay.  I was jolted back to my human days,  desperately holding the handkerchief he had given me to make my world less terrible.  I dropped the washcloth in the bath, momentarily angry that I had fallen so easily back into the habit.

Ignatius distracted my thoughts by singing his way to the door, “ Take my hand and kiss it dear, maybe then you’ll draw me near, all the wonderful things we’ll do, when it’s just us lovers two ,” and popped his head in.  “All cleaned off, are we?”

“Aye, I’m fine.  Can I get out?”

He squinted at me then entered the room fully striding over to the bath.  I gathered all the bubbles around me as he reached for my hair and ran his fingers down it.  “No shampoo?  You didn’t even dunk your head in.”

“What?  No.  I don’t need it.”

The hand he placed on his hip challenged this assertion.  He picked one of the many bottles and held it in front of me.  Shampoo was written in stupid scripty letters.  I smacked the bottle out of his hand.  It clattered on the floor as he stared at me.  He picked a different bottle glaring the whole time and instead of holding it in front of me, poured some shampoo into his own palm.  As he brought his hand toward me I launched myself to the other end of the tub, sloshing out water with my movement.  He followed leaning precariously over and still reaching toward me.  “No!” I kicked him in the stomach, making him double over and fall with a splash.  He was underwater from his head to his waist while his legs flailed against the back edge of the bath. 

Ignatius righted himself, which forced him to kneel in front of me in the bath, coughing up water and wiping away suds.  With one hand on his stomach he wheezed out, “Why does everything have to be so difficult with you?!” 

 He hoisted himself out splashing water everywhere.  I drew my knees up to my chest as the water and bubble layer had noticeably decreased.  I thought I saw him looking me up and down, but even though he’d fallen in, he refrained from touching me, and he quickly turned the water on again before politely angling away from me.

“Well now I’m completely soaked.”  His back was to me, but I could see by the way his arms moved in front of him he was unbuttoning his shirt.

“What are you doing?”

His expression was rather wry when he glanced at me, “I’m taking off my wet clothes.”  As if stripping down in front of someone you barely knew was the most normal thing in the world. 

He peeled his shirt off his shoulders; it fell with a wet smack on the floor.

“Stop it.”

“What?” His hands had paused on his belt.

“Keep your clothes on!”

“They’re wet.”

“I don’t care!”  His torn pants had been indecent I thought, but now . . . half-naked and dripping, his wet clothes clinging to him, he was downright lewd.  I hadn’t realized exactly how low his pants were before, showing the tops of his hips which I inexplicably wanted to grab while kissing every stray drop of water that ran down his back.  Instead I buried my face in my hands wondering how these thoughts had come to enter my mind.  When I finally raised my eyes again, he was shutting the faucet off and glancing at me with a smile.  His bare arms . . . his naked chest . . . he was so uncomfortably close to me.

“Let me shampoo you, and I’ll keep the pants on.”  He leaned on the edge of the bath.  I leaned against the side furthest from him trying very hard not to stare.

“Okay. F-fine.” I held my hand out for a bottle.  I just wanted to get out of this tub, get my clothes on, and go back to my room alone.

“No, I’m doing it.  You’ve lost your independent shampooing privileges.”

“What?!”

His hands moved to his belt.

“Fine!”

Besides the mortifying embarrassment of being treated like a child, the nearness of his bare skin to mine, and the soft continuation of his last song (“ Take my hand and kiss it dear, maybe then you’ll draw me near . . .”), it wasn’t that bad.  His long soapy fingers secretly felt really good as they massaged my scalp, but I still grumbled about him shampooing me twice.

After dumping water over me to rinse me off, Ignatius pulled out two white, fluffy towels from a nearby cabinet and set one on an empty table next to the soap stand while wrapping the other around his neck.  “That’s for you. And here,” he swooped up a paper shopping bag and some heavy black boots from somewhere, “are some new clothes for you.”  He placed the boots on the wet floor and balanced the bag on their tops.

“You already gave me new clothes.”

“An oversized hoodie and some pajamas which are stained with blood,” he collected his wet shirt and my things, “These are more the daily wear of a healthy adult.  A celebration, if you will, of no longer bleeding everywhere.”

“It’s only a little blood!  And . . . I don’t like you . . . buying all this stuff for me.  I feel like I owe you now.”

“Seorus,” he was at the door, glancing over his shoulder at me, “I’m the one with a debt to pay here, not you.”  His gaze lingered on me for a moment before he started humming again. 

“You don’t have to keep singing!”

He laughed and left the bathroom quietly.  It was blissfully silent for the first time this evening.  The door seemed firmly shut, so I got out, toweled dry, and looked at the clothes he’d bought me.  I had to admit, I did like them.  They weren’t flashy or decorated, and everything was black, even the boxers.  The shirt was soft and long sleeved, with a zipper that went down to my sternum, and the pants were black jeans nowhere near as tight as the ones he was wearing.  Or perhaps he had stepped out of those already. . . .  The boots went up to my calf and had big heavy heels.  I felt like I could kick someone really well in them.  After I’d slipped them on and buckled them up, I limped over to the mirror by his bedroom door.

Most all of the ones in my home were broken, so it had been a long time since I’d seen my reflection so clearly.  If my hair hadn’t been a tangled mess still I thought I’d look almost like a person, clean and dressed well in things that fit me and hadn’t been scrounged from the garbage or my corpses. There were a couple of combs near the sink, so I picked one and attacked my hair, yanking out all the tangles, and when I finished, I shifted my hair back as a screen for that eye.  I stared at myself for a long while.  I didn’t understand what he saw in me.  Why did he keep coming back?

A sudden knock startled me from the mirror.  “Seorus, are you decent?”

I tossed the comb down. “Are you?”

Ignatius laughed as he peeked in.  His eyes widened when he saw me, “Oh.”  It only took two steps to reach me.  He kept staring at me, lips slightly parted as he ran his tongue along a fang.  It all made me fidget uncomfortably.  He ran his fingers through my hair.  “Aw, you brushed and everything.  I thought I was going to have to make you.”

As he was taking in my clothes, I was staring at him.  His wet hair was combed back, reminding me of how he styled it when we first met.  He was wearing another button down shirt, white with widely spaced black stripes.  The same buttons were undone, but his sleeves were rolled down though the cuffs remained unbuttoned.  He had grey jeans which looked comfortable and worn, and he hadn’t bothered with shoes. 

“You’re so handsome.”

“Stop.”  I dropped my eyes from him to the tiled floor.

“Why?  It’s true.  You are incredibly--”

“I’m NOT.”  I stepped away from him glancing back at the door that would lead me away from him.  I was clean and dry and clothed; I could just leave.

“Seorus.”  He stepped up to me again, his hands on either side of my face, turning me towards him and lifting it, forcing me to look at him.  “If I disagreed with your assessment that I’m ‘pretty,’ would that change how you think of me?”

I huffed.  Clearly telling him that was one of my poorer decisions.  

One of Igantius’ thumbs brushed the corner of my mouth and then my bottom lip.  He stepped in closer, our bodies almost touching, and he lifted my chin.  All signs pointing to him wanting to kiss me.  I stepped back quickly, nearly stumbling, and headed for the tub.  “I didn’t let the water out.”

“That’s fine.”  He was following close on my heels.  “I can do it.”  Just as I reached the bath Ignatius grabbed my arm making me turn to face him. With my next step back I hit the tub, but he kept leaning towards me holding onto the edge of the bath on either side of me.  With my escape cut off, I started bending backwards away from him.  Eventually I had bent as far as I was able without falling, and he smiled before moving in, knowing I had nowhere left to run.  He didn’t go straight for my lips but nuzzled the side of my face, gently kissed my temple, my cheek, and finally my mouth.  The first was a light brush of lips, the second a firmer, longer contact, and the third a more passionate one as he pressed himself against me. I had to grab him around his torso to keep from falling back into the bath. 

Then he was kissing me like he had that first night, and it seemed just as wonderful, lips and tongues and bodies and hands.  He held me against him as he stood us both up then gripped me by the waist to sit me on the edge of the tub.   He slipped between my knees to reconnect to me.  All the while his mouth only left mine when he wanted to change their positions.  My hands gripped the back of his shirt; his wandered around my back, my chest, my neck, squeezing a leg.  I felt like I was on fire everywhere he touched me.  Why had I been running from this? 

Overwhelmed, I broke our kiss with an embarrassing whimper, dipping my head against his chest, clinging to his waist panting and flushed.  He leaned down and bit my ear lightly before whispering in it, “I want to taste you, Seorus.”

This statement pulled me out of my haze.  I leaned back to get a better view of his face.  “Taste me. . . ?”  I touched my lips where he had been kissing me.  Hadn’t he just been tasting me?  Did he want to bite me?

His hands drifted to the waistline of my pants.  He found the button at the front and undid it, then repeated slowly, “I want to taste you.”  He had taken hold of my zipper by the time I grabbed his upper arms and squeezed them tight.

Stop.

He looked from my face to my hands clenching his arms to his hands on my pants, and after a long, single breath took his hands away and stepped back.

“You’re going to have sex with me.”

“That’s . . . the plan.”

I stood in front of the tub.  If I had been able to pace, I would have.  He remained back away from me, out of arm’s reach.  “You can’t just—you have to ask!”

“I thought the kissing was asking.”

“It’s not!  It’s completely separate!”

“Fine.  Seorus, can we--”

“NO!”  I limped a large path around him toward the door.  I wished the stupid bathroom wasn’t so large.  Who needed this much space in a bathroom anyway?  He didn’t move to stop me or come after me until I’d gotten through it.

“Seorus, I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to press you into something you didn’t want to do.”

“Aye, you did!  You always do!  You cornered me when you knew I was trying to get away from you!  And you’re always touching me!”

“I thought you were just . . . just playing hard to get.”

He kept following me, and I didn’t even know where I was going.  I hadn’t been to this hallway before.  I couldn’t even remember if we’d gone up or down any stairs.  His footsteps kept pace with mine, so I tried running as his stupid power dulled the pain in my leg so much that I thought it could take the weight.  But the first stride was too much strain and the leg gave out.  I was falling, but Ignatius zipped around me and caught me before I even had the chance to try and catch myself.  “Seorus, look--”

I shoved him away from me causing us to fall back against opposite walls, “STOP TOUCHING ME!”

He stayed frozen against the wall as I collected myself.

“Where’s my room?”

“It’s . . . it’s up one floor.  The next staircase will take you near it.  I can--”

“I will get there myself.”

“Seorus . . .” his voice sounded hurt as I shuffled away, “is this really about the sex?  I don’t understand.”

Even with all the confusion I was feeling, I just couldn’t leave him standing there sounding so desolate.  “I don’t want to need you.”

After a drawn out silence I continued heading down the hall, a hand on the wall to steady myself, but his voice stopped me again, “You know, the having sex part would get rid of the need.”

I sighed exasperated.  “I’m NOT talking about that!”

“Then . . . what?”

“IGNATIUS, I CAN’T DO THIS AGAIN!”

He took a step away from me, eyes wide.

“How do you think this will end?  You didn’t take me last time because you-you knew you couldn’t protect me?  Because I was going to die?  HOW DO YOU THINK THIS WILL END?!”

“He . . . hasn’t decided what to do with you.  You’re still here now.”  His eyes were glistening.

“You’re a fucking fool if you think I’m making it out of here alive!  And you think Bhruic will like that one of his vampires is making my life more comfortable in the meantime?!  Or maybe, you’re right, he hasn’t decided.  He’ll just let me go.  And I’ll go back to nothing.”

He tried taking a step towards me again, “Nothing?  Seorus, you have--”

“Och, you’re so FRUSTRATING!  You have EVERYTHING.  You have friends and family, and you’re gorgeous, and I have NOTHING!  And you try to worm your way into my life just because you feel sorry for me, or for yourself?!   And you make it feel like . . . like there’s someone there.  But I will be by myself at the end, and I would rather keep my ignorance at what it would be like if things were different!”

His speechlessness didn’t last long.  “It’s not because I feel sorry for you, and I didn’t-I didn’t think that--”

“No, you didn’t think!  Because you never think about anything except for fucking!”

He looked deflated.  A tear slipped out of his eye that he hastily wiped away, and when I turned to go down the hall, he didn’t come after me.

The next door I came to was opened, and I took a startled step back to see Ignatius standing there, in different clothes?  Looking back I found I was wrong, Ignatius was still back in the hallway leaning against the wall with his head bowed.  This second Ignatius was then, “His brother.”

“Lochan.”  He was dressed . . . provocatively.  His shirt was see through mesh with a few opaque blocks of floral print that didn’t seem very concerned with covering much.  The hem of his shirt ended exactly at the top of his tight, shiny pants which meant that every movement bared the skin of his stomach.  His pants also had slits along the side that were laced but still revealed a shocking amount of skin, and I thought he might have been wearing eye shadow.  “You’re awfully loud, Mr. Fellick.”

I stepped away from the wall, trying to keep a space between us.  His movements were just as graceful as Ignatius’, but his manner was angry and threatening.  He took a couple steps out his door toward me, but down the hall immediately came Ignatius’ voice.  “LOCHAN!”

Lochan halted his movement glaring at me.  He looked toward Ignatius, saw him wipe his eyes, and abandoned me moving with vampire speed to Ignatius’ side, touching his face, hugging his brother.  “Iggy, it’s okay.  Don’t cry over him .”  I continued down the hall, stairs in my sight.

“I thought you were going out.”

“I am.  I was, but I thought I’d just hang around until I knew things were going good.”

They entered Ignatius’ door, blocking out the rest of their conversation, and I found my room without too much trouble after scaling the staircase.  Like an extra punch, there on the floor were three bags of other new clothes.  One had been knocked over, staged with Peaches half inside on a stack of new splayed out newspapers.

Chapter Text

That first night, walking in my door to see his set up of clothes, papers, and Peaches, I was hit first with guilt.  Immense guilt that I had hurt him.  I left him standing in the hallway crying .  But then, why should I feel guilty about his feelings?  He clearly didn’t care about mine.  If he did he would’ve listened .  Instead he was always forcing me into situations I didn’t want to be in, filling my life with useless things and attachments that I didn’t need or even want!

I kicked all three bags, ripping them and sliding clothes and papers everywhere.  I snatched a handful of newspapers from the stack I’d read and tore them apart.  I grabbed the radio, ripping it from the wall and smashing it to the floor.  The plastic casing broke and scattered, one of the pieces sliding next to Peaches, laying, as always, placidly on his side from where I’d upended him.  The memory of Ignatius setting him on the corner of the table was irritatingly clear, and him being nervous about telling me why he’d bought him and what he’d named him.  Under the threat of rising guilt, I slammed the door and stormed away from my room for only a few steps before realizing I had nowhere else to go.  Any time out of my room was a recipe for vampire interactions and more disaster. 

But I still couldn’t go back in there, so I continued down the hall to the empty sitting area near the windows.  He first kissed me here, and I punched him into unconsciousness.  We should have parted ways then and never looked back.  

I went to a window pushing open the glass to breathe in the rainy night.  I hadn’t been outside since my first week here when I was hungry and tried to leave; Bhruic caught me almost immediately and strung me up in the frame in the basement.  The night air was cool and calming, at least until I realized my hip was still numb.  Normally this weather would make it ache worse than normal, but Ignatius’ power was still connected to me.  Why hadn’t he stopped it?  We were done, we had to be done.  There was no way we could make up after this.

Was there?

Leaning my elbows on the sill, I dropped my face in my hands, no longer feeling that the rain was calming me.  I felt . . . trapped.  Despairing.  Hopeless.  How many times had I stood at the open windows of Hagen’s house as a human, feeling these same things?  Being unable to do anything about them because of the vampire orders that had been placed on me.

I lurched back, roiling with even more confusion.  These thoughts weren’t helping.  Nothing could be solved by throwing myself out a window as a vampire.  

But if . . . it was during the day. . . .

“Ugh, what is wrong with me?!”  I dropped my face in my hands again.  I wouldn’t give Bhruic the satisfaction.  I wouldn’t make this easier for him.   

“Sir?”  Clara’s voice interrupted my self-loathing spiral, carrying a laundry basket in her arms and walking with a human man.  “Are you . . . alright?”  There was clear concern on her face and in her voice.

I didn’t need her pity either, “LEAVE ME ALONE!”  They took a few steps away from me while I stormed back to my room slamming the door behind me.

Which again put me face-to-face with the sum total of my life: a shitty room in the home of a shittier vampire, filling with things I hated and treasured.  I sunk down to the floor grabbing Peaches to my chest.  I regretted the radio now.  It had brought some small amount of joy to my dreary existence.  As had the papers.

As had Ignatius.  

It was fitting I had destroyed them both.

I inhaled sharply, blinking rapidly.  I was not going to cry.  And I was not going to cry about him.  This was not my fault.  

The rest of that night, the power he used to numb my hip didn’t stop.  I could tell from the connection that he was home, and I waited with baited breath for him to end it, clutching Peaches on my floor.  It would be the final act of severance.  A sure sign that I had messed up.  But he never did.  

The following night a timid knock on the door came from Clara.  She didn’t say anything or open my door, but I thought she must have brought dinner.  When I finally snapped, “What?!” there was no response.  I went to the door and found a less than full glass sitting atop a couple newspapers.  A handwritten note was there: “I’m sorry, Bhruic is restricting your blood now.  Ignatius put in for a subscription for these a few days ago and said to give them to you on their arrival.”   My instinct was to kick the glass across the hall and smash it.  But the bloodlust outweighed my irritation.  I drank it and then tossed it out the door.  I left the papers there.  At least for a few hours until I’d driven myself crazy with internal monologues and doubt and anxiety.  Then I went and got them and started to read the ones he’d left yesterday.   As for Ignatius himself, he spent most of his time away, the power cut down to just the faintest tingle.  Perhaps on this second night, when he got home, he would end it then?

Again, he didn’t.  Not on that night, and not on the third night either.  Surely I yelled at him enough that he was done.  Surely he realized we were too different to interact.  I couldn’t handle his attention, and he couldn’t handle my anger, and it was just for the best if he never saw me or came near me again.   

I thought out many scenarios as to why he hadn’t stopped.  They ranged in possibilities from him being unable to (were we just connected forever now?), to having forgotten (he’d said it wasn’t a big deal to him after all), to being afraid of me (I could punch him or make him cry), to the most unlikely: that maybe he was coming back (there was no reason for him to do this).

Finally, on the fourth night of wallowing in my own misery, there was an unusual knock on the door.  The sensation in my hip told me Ignatius was still in his room, and Clara’s presence was not usually so supernaturally silent.  So I was confused and hesitant about answering or acknowledging this new presence.  Surely Bhruic wouldn’t knock.

But then, impossibly, Ignatius’ voice came through the door, “Hey, can we talk?”

I stared at it for a good 30 seconds.  I touched my hip to reassure myself.  Finally I came out with a possibility, “Lochan?”

It was the other party’s turn for a protracted silence before finally turning the knob and peaking in.  “How did you know?  How could you tell without even seeing me?”

I just glared at him.  He shrugged and barged in, kicking aside some papers and clothes to pull the chair out.  “Had a temper tantrum, did we?” 

I was startled to smell Ignatius’ preferred scent on him.  The spices and flowers was not what he’d been wearing the first night I passed him.  He was also dressed differently, casually.  He had a button down shirt as Ignatius usually wore, the same violet sneakers, and jeans.  Everything about this was suspicious.  I was slouched against the wall laying on top of the coffin when he came in, but with his lingering intrusion, I pushed myself up and swung my legs over the side to be prepared for his actions.  “What do you want?”

“To talk, as I said.”

“About?”

“You know.”  He paused for a moment considering me, “I can see why he’s attracted to you.  You are an extremely good looking man.  I would entertain you myself if you weren’t so prudish.  It’s too bad about your personality though.”

“Get out.”

He laughed dismissively and was interrupted by another knock sounding at my door.  Again, not Ignatius, but Lochan called out before I could say or do anything.  “We’re busy tonight, Clara!  Come back later.”  

“Of course!  My apologies!” she called through the door.

 After her footsteps faded, Lochan turned his attention back to me.  “Mr. Fellick, my brother is . . .  sweet on you.  He gives you a lot of leeway that he probably wouldn’t give other people, and you’ve mostly used that, as far as I can tell, to be a huge shithead to him.  I overheard most of what you screamed at him in the hall, and I just wanted to offer up some advice.

“I realize you’re worried about things.  You’re in a new place, with new people, in a different time.  It’s stressful, you’re afraid--”

“I’m not afraid!”

“--and you’re worried about your lifespan.  Well, take it from someone a little bit older than you: life for vampires is meaningless.  There’s nothing there to make your world better except for yourself and whatever people you decide to surround yourself with.  No matter how long you live.  What’s the harm in pulling someone close to you whether you live one more night or one hundred thousand.  You go out knowing not every one of your nights was shit?!”

I huffed at him, “It-it doesn’t matter!  Nothing you’re saying matters because he’s GONE.”

Lochan rolled his eyes.  “Mr. Fellick.  Seorus.   You don’t know him at all, do you?  He’s obviously coming back.  He’s been sighing and moping every single night since your fight.  He’s going to give you another shot.”  This seemed impossible.  Why would he, and why would Lochan tell me?  “And let me be very clear:  I don’t care about you except for that fact that my brother does.  And I one hundred percent care what happens to him.  So when he comes back for you, are you going to open yourself up to some risk and reward, or are you going to keep being a little bitch about it?”

I was overwhelmed again.  Why were the Bainbridge brothers like this?  “I-I don’t . . . I don’t know.”

Lochan sighed, heavy with irritation.  “I know what would help.  Seorus, you need to get laid.”

I sat up on alert, watching him.  He seemed so nonchalant that I wasn’t sure I could intimidate him, but I stood up nonetheless, “You need to leave.”

He smirked at me, “I will,” and stood as well, towering over me.  But he didn’t move.  He just shifted his weight and tilted his head.  His hand suddenly shot out, toward my face, at vampire speed.  In a panic I flailed a little wildy, still catching it, which was lucky considering my depth perception issues.  He blinked with a look of surprise, “You’re fast.”

“Don’t touch me.”

“Seorus, I have news for you.”  He looked at our clasped hands, “we’re already touching.”  

It all happened in a fraction of a second.  Just like with Ignatius, I could feel his welling energy, but he was pouring it in too fast, in a rush, through the contact our hands made before I had a chance to react.  At the first moment of connection I reflexively defended myself, crushing his hand in my grasp, the bones snapping like toothpicks.  He cried out, his energy surging in a wild, blinding flood. 

I released him, or maybe he pulled away.  The room was spinning, and my knees buckled, planting me back on my closed coffin lid.  The sound of our panting breaths seemed to echo in my ears as I tried to comprehend what he’d done, what had happened to me, what I was feeling.



Ignatius


 

Three nights had passed with the fourth just starting, and he was still on my mind.  I was wildly swinging between uncertainties: check on him now, leave him alone a little longer to calm down, or leave him alone forever.  It seemed clear, after his yelling at me, that he might prefer the latter, but the knot in my own stomach and the despair on his face made me keep settling on the middle path.  Maybe we could talk soon.  Maybe he would listen to an apology?  Maybe he didn’t want to hear anything I had to say or be subject to any action I might take ever again.

Lochan had tried to comfort me that first night.  We moved to my bedroom and I threw myself on my bed facedown, mostly to hide the fact I was possibly still crying, and he sat near with a hand on my shoulder.

“Iggy, he was wrong to talk to you like that.  You don’t deserve--”

“I deserve all of it!

“He was out of line!”

“Lochan, I’ve been pushing and pushing.  Obviously there was a point he would break.  Obviously!

“Maybe I should go talk to him.”

“NO!”  My head shot up, and I grabbed his wrist.  “You will do nothing of the sort.  Just-just let him be.  I will fix this.”

“Iggy, maybe there’s nothing to fix?  If he wants to be an isolated, angry man, just let him be one.”  

“There’s more to him than that.  The anger and isolation are just . . . all he’s known for decades!  He could be so much more . . . if he had more than that given to him.  And. . . .”  

“And?”

“Doesn’t it mean something, that I’ve found him again?”

Lochan sighed, a simple sound that let me know he thought it was a ridiculous statement.  And it was.  As vampires, we’d fallen out of fate’s favor the night we rose from the dead.  We’d spent centuries freewheeling past destiny or connections we would otherwise have been tied to.  At least that’s what I always believed.  Maybe that’s why his reappearance struck me so firmly.   It seemed like a lifeline, a firm footing when I’d been lost at sea.  

“Maybe it only means you can say goodbye to him to your satisfaction,” Lochan finally spoke.

“UGH!  HOW DARE YOU!”  I grabbed the nearest thing at hand to hit him with, but it was only a pillow.

“Hey!  He’s the one who said it!  And he’s right, Iggy!  This . . . doesn’t end well for him. Unless you can see him bending peacefully to Bhruic’s will?”

I boffed him with a pillow twice more before sitting up and holding it in my lap.  He was not a man who bent easily, even for someone he tolerated.  And with Bhruic’s strictness . . . that left him few to no long term options.  “I . . . I don’t want him to die.”  Tears overflowed my eyes, again.  I bowed my head into the pillow.  “He’s barely had a life.  Why are vampires the worst?  Why are we so terrible?!”

Lochan stroked my hair, moving to sit right next to me.  “Hey, we’ve always tried hard to not be that, and you didn’t cause any of the hardships in his life, except for maybe some current sexual frustration.  But he doesn’t want help with that right now.  And possibly not with anything?  Maybe . . . you need to take a step back from what you think he needs, and look at what you need.  What will settle your conscience and make you feel better, since you’re the one who has to live with it?”

His advice . . . was sound.  I sniffed once or twice and raised my head.  I nodded, since it was hard to get anything else out.  “Thanks.”

We bantered about our plans for the rest of the evening.  I made the mistake of saying I wasn’t in the mood to go out with him, and he then insisted on staying home with me for most of the rest of the evening, watching idiotic tv. 

The next evening I worked, scheduling clients for a few days, looking for the ones I could expect just wanted a good fuck without problems I’d have to listen to or try to empathize with.  I was burdened enough by my own.  And in the quiet moments I thought about Seorus, and how to interact with him, if at all, in a way that made him happy, and me not regretful.

On the current night, I was picking out my evening’s clothes and tools that clients had requested.  My hands moved among my wardrobe easily, knowing every item, only missing things that Lochan sometimes borrowed, letting my mind wander and finally settle on the fact that, yes, I would try to talk to him.  Not tonight, as I had scheduled appointments, but maybe tomorrow, or the day after?  I couldn’t let that night in the hall be the last interaction we had.  And I also couldn’t just wait for him to die so I could finally forget about him.  He’d gotten close enough that I would likely remember him forever, and I would try to not make those memories all regretful.

I went through a list of personal rules I had to implement to make him more comfortable.  I had to stop touching him, unless he initiated it, that was very clear.  I had to listen to him when he wanted me to go, or to stop making him uncomfortable, and try to pay attention when I was being overly flirtatious or making inappropriate remarks.  I . . . was no longer completely sure what kind of remarks were inappropriate anymore, but I could certainly make a better effort at tamping down on them.  I also needed to try--

The door opened suddenly, interrupting my mental tally and wardrobe gathering.  Clara was behind it, looking startled to see me. 

“Oh!  I’m so sorry, Ignatius.  I thought-well, I heard what I thought was your voice in Mr. Fellick’s room, but I suppose it must be Lochan then.”

“You heard . . . Lochan in Seorus’ room?”

“Yeah . . . I just came from there.  That’s why I thought I’d pick up your laundry now, because you were--” 

I bolted to Seorus’ room.  It was dangerously fast for being inside, but I knew the halls well enough, and trusted Lochan’s intentions little enough, that speed was of the essence.  When I barged in, almost pulling the door off its hinges, Seorus was sitting on his closed coffin lid, breathing heavily with his head bowed.  Lochan was a few feet away from him on the floor clutching a mangled and bruised right hand, tears streaming down his face as he rapidly panted.

What are you doing?! ”  I turned on him.

Me? ”  Lochan looked offended.

You! ”  I was fuming that Lochan disrespected my specific requests about Seorus and leaving him alone .

“Ignatius . . .”  The incredibly soft sound of Seorus’ voice drew my attention.  It was an odd tone for him, one I didn’t think I’d ever heard before.   His head was raised now, his one pupil dilated, and his expression filled with an unmistakable need. 

“Did you give him power ?”

“Iggy, I tried talking to him reasonably, but I really think the two of you just need to fuck this out.  It’s my gift to you.”  Lochan, shakily in voice and body, was getting to his feet, his hand still straightening itself out, pressed against his body as if for protection.

“Don’t you dare leave this room until that hand is completely healed.”  Seorus slid off his coffin onto his knees, grabbing my leg to pull me closer to him.  I stepped out of his grip and back.  He exhaled a disappointed noise, almost a whimper.  It was a noise that made a tingle of longing run down my spine. 

“I mean, if you want me to stay and watch you make up, I will.”  He climbed on the table sitting cross legged, forcing a grin through his pain.

“We are not going to ‘make up’.

“Oh, no?”

Seorus again crawled forward, his hands not grabbing me, just touching.  With one on the inside and one on the outside, he slowly ran them up my leg.  The wall was not that far away from me, so I thought perhaps I could reason with him.  “Seorus?”  For the first time in our interactions I was the one paling at his touch.  

His inside hand reached all the way up to the crotch of my pants, his movements slow and exploratory.  His other hand reached my waistband, moving beyond it and under my shirt to grab my hip.  “Iggy,” he just barely breathed it out, nuzzling his face against my leg, almost pleading with me.  This was absolute torture.

“Holy shit, are you actually blushing?”  Lochan’s laughter grated on my ears.

“Lochan.”

“Iggy, he’s so inexperienced, it’s adorable.  How long do you think it will take him to realize he needs to take off his pants?  Maybe you’ll--”

Lochan.   How much power did you give him?”

Seorus’ inside hand shifted over my groin to my other hip, grabbing it and using me as a stable place to pull himself up to his knees, a position that I frequently fantasized seeing him in.  I was the one borderline whimpering now.

“Well . . . more than I intended?  He sort of crushed my hand at the same time I was trying to give it to him, so it was a little bit uncontrolled.”  Lochan held up his hand glancing at both sides and noting them healed with a nod.

“Get. Out.”

“What if he wants a threesome though?”  He leaned over the edge of the table, trailing a finger through Seorus’ hair before I smacked his hand away, almost simultaneous to the angry turn of Seorus’ head as he gave a feral growl.  “Oh, wow.  I can see when I’m not wanted.”  He slipped off the table behind me, keeping me as a buffer from Seorus, then ran out the door in a rush.  “Have fun!” he called out before the door swung shut.

Seorus and I turned our attention back to each other, his hands moving to my ass, his face approaching my groin as if he meant to nuzzle there.  I tried to back away from him again, but he grabbed the back of my knees, holding me tight this time and tripping me.  Given the small size of his room I fell back against the wall; my feet were on some bits of newspaper and I slowly slid down to the floor with the lack of traction  “Seorus, are you in there?  Can you understand me? And . . . what happened in here?”  The room was littered with newspapers, some torn, some not, and bits of plastic that looked like--

Still holding my legs he yanked me towards him and away from the wall, then climbed in my lap pushing me flat on the floor, straddling my hips.  

This was . . . the hottest thing he had ever done.  How much fault would he find with me if I just passively accepted all this attention?  I wouldn’t have to actively touch him, I could just let him continue exploring, let him keep fulfilling all of my physical fantasies.  He pulled hard at the collar of my shirt apparently finding the buttons too difficult to navigate, but still managed to separate the first few, the top one pinging off as it broke.  He put his hands on my bare chest, lowering his face to my neck and jaw, and seemed to be breathing there, smelling me?  His fingers caressed me, his lips delivered kisses to my neck, and he started grinding his hard cock against my own.  

“Seorus?”  I attempted one more time, my voice both a moan and a gasp. 

But there was no response from him, just an increased feverishness to his movements.   While this sexual willingness was more than I could have hoped for, it . . . wasn’t really from Seorus.  And when it passed . . . he would be so betrayed if he knew I could have stopped him.  “You never think about anything except for fucking!” He’d yelled at me a few nights ago.  Now was the time to accept or deny that.

I slapped my hand against Seorus’ forehead, pushing him back, using the skin-to-skin contact as the point of connection to draw Lochan’s power out of him.  Seorus had done a fabulous job of turning me on, and the addition of Lochan’s ridiculous amount of power was not doing me any favors.  It felt like he’d given enough for a whole orgy!  Draining it from him, I could see the clarity returning to Seorus’ face, the red of a blush creeping up on him, until I absorbed what I hoped was everything, dropping my arm over my eyes to try and give myself a chance to calm down without having to look at him and his attractive face as I collapsed back to the floor.

He seemed frozen in place though, and I was painfully aware of his crotch still on mine, and the way his left ring finger was right next to my nipple.  After waiting several seconds for movement or reaction, I offered, “Seorus, if you want to keep going, you know I’m all in, but if not, could you please get off of me?”  These were not the first words I expected to say to him at our next meeting.

He whimpered a little, no longer a sexual sound, and fell clumsily off my lap.  I dropped my arm and raised myself to my elbows, my partially opened shirt askew.  Seorus had pushed himself back against his coffin.  His knees were drawn up  in front of him, probably embarrassed that he was still erect, and he held his hands in front of him, looking as if he couldn’t believe what they’d just been doing.  When he finally looked at me he was . . . confused and afraid.

“What . . . what--”

“I-I can’t stay.”  The surprise on his face when I cut him off and got to my feet threw me off a little.  I thought he was going to yell at me again, be angry and dismissive, and this concerned and subdued Seorus made me feel incredibly guilty as I ran from his room back to mine.  But I was still thrumming with energy, and I couldn’t trust myself to stay around him and not influence him, even subconsciously.  

I threw myself on my bed, furiously masturbating while imagining with all new clarity exactly what it would feel like if Seorus were willing to put his hands on me and push me down to the floor.  I had to come three times before I felt like I could control my power and function normally, but even then I knew I would have to go out for the night to unload the rest of it on someone else.  Lochan was nowhere around to reciprocate the favor.

My phone alarm buzzed with a 15 minute warning before my first client.  Just enough time to get hastily cleaned up, dressed, and out the door.

Chapter Text

I always kept my shutters and curtains closed during the day, and there weren’t any nearby windows in the hallway, so I knew as soon as I awoke, even though the sun was up, I could dash across the hall to Lochan’s room without putting myself in too much danger.  I had some things to discuss with him, after all.

“YOU COMPLETE AND UTTER FUCK HOLE!” 

He blinked at me in surprise stretching in his coffin.  “Good evening to you too.”

“YOU ABSOLUTE DOUCHE NOZZLE!”  I advanced on him.

He hesitantly looked around his room.  We were alone.

“YOU ARE WORSE THAN THE PUSS FROM A PLAGUE SORE!”

“Ooooh, you are so mad,” he shrank back down in his coffin trying to grab the lid and close it before I could get to him, but I dashed over, catching it just before it closed, the force of my speed against the side causing it to slide off its stand with a loud clatter to the floor and a yelp from Lochan.  Though he threatened to crush my fingers, I kept my grip so the lid stayed open a crack, our contrasting strength enough to cause the wood of the lid to groan.  “Iggy, my coffin!”

“Break it for all I care!  I am not letting you out of this.”

He broke first and released the lid causing it to fling backwards harshly, smacking the floor with a crack.  Lochan winced at the noise, and then again when I grabbed his bare shoulders.  “Someone didn’t get laid last night,” he offered, surveying my anger.

It was exactly the kind of thing to destroy my last shred of composure, and I just screamed wordlessly in his face.  I shoved him back down into his coffin before storming away to try and do some therapeutic breathing so I could form words again.  “I . . . specifically . . . told you . . . NOT to do the thing you did.”

“Well, yeah,” he shifted his coffin back to its platform, “but you were wrong so I did it anyway.”

“LOCHAN!” I turned on him.  He cowered a little bit as he threw a robe on.  “I am so . . . so incandescently angry at you right now.”

“Oh I have definitely noticed, but I don’t really get why.”

“He . . . was mad . . . that I’ve been ignoring his boundaries.  And what.  Did.  You.  Do?  To try and fix it?  You thought it would be a good idea to do that . . . EVEN MORE?!”

“Look, there were two outcomes!  One: you take advantage of my gift, have sex, and he realizes his ‘boundaries’ were stupid!  Two: you don’t do that, and then you become the hero!  You saved him!  He was probably super grateful!”  Lochan spoke dismissively, seemingly trying to brush me and my concerns aside as he turned his back and straightened his coffin a little more while checking the lid’s integrity.

I was a little familiar with his tone.  “What are you lying about?”

“Nothing!” he said indignantly, almost as a confession.  He turned to me, and his glare rivaled mine, as if daring me to find the flaw in his words.

“You knew I was working yesterday.”  His face twitched the barest amount, a partial wince.  I had struck close to the heart of the matter.  “That I even showed up . . . was a surprise.    Were you . . . were you trying to fuck him?”

Lochan’s expression faltered.   “Iggy, I-I don’t even know!  I had plans, but they all went out the window as soon as I was at his door. ”

“‘Plans.’  Wouldn’t ‘no’ have been the easier thing to say?”

“Everything I was trying to do was to help you!”  he said defensively. “And it’s all worked out in the end, hasn’t it?”

“No!  It hasn’t!   You gave him so much fucking power that even I was struggling to handle it!  And I had to leave because I couldn’t trust myself!”  Lochan’s eyes grew wide, “And when I did leave he was scared and confused, and now maybe it’s more fucked up than before!  And all I asked was that you just . . . do nothing.  Just leave him alone!  Why are you trying to ruin this for me?”

There was only a flash where he looked chastised, but then his brow set.  “I wanted to know if this was just a stupid waste of your time!  You’re going to get hurt.  You’re investing so much in him, and it looks so pointless!”  

Had he been within arm’s reach, I would have slapped him.  Instead I turned and walked out of his bedroom, not even closing the door as I left.  “Iggy.  Iggy!   Ignatius! ” he called out after me as I went to my rooms, walking back to my closet.  

I angrily rifled through my drawers and hangers.  I needed something not provocative.  No half opened shirts or plunging necklines, though Seorus was always incredibly affected when I wore them.  Which was the reason this evening to NOT wear them.  I was not going there with the intention to flirt.  

Lochan hovered in the doorway of my closet.  “Ignatius, please.  I--”

“I’d ask you to leave me alone, but I’m sure you’d know better again, right?”

He exhaled a single short breath, as if he’d been struck in the gut, and turned and left.  My immediate inclination was to go after him.  But Lochan would be here later.  Seorus’ plight needed my more immediate attention to try and stave off any more damage.  Lochan and I could recover from anything.  And we would.  Just not at this moment. 

I spent . . . a long while trying to make an outfit decision.  I finally settled on something extremely casual:  grey sweatpants, black hoodie, maroon t-shirt, and sneakers.  Surely this would be tame enough for him.  

I walked up to his room with dread filling me every step of the way.  I moved at a natural speed, maybe even slower than a human, fretting at the top of his staircase, looking down the hall to where his door was.  Why was this so ridiculously difficult?  It was just a conversation.  I was just coming here to talk to him.  What was there to be afraid of?  That he might hate me now and turn me out of his life?  For a man I hardly knew, this possibility weighed heavy on me.  

I tried to think through the verbal pathways we might take to make our encounter easier to face.  Should I just enter, or ask permission?  He could deny me if I asked, but that was his right.  And I had to respect it, no matter what.  I made it to his door and stood there silently, further considering, should I start off with an apology, ask how he was doing, or just act like everything was normal?  Not the last one, surely.  

I glanced to my right to a spot on the floor.  The night I learned his name I’d sat out here for hours, perhaps two or three, so he could have some space and his wounds wouldn’t hurt.  We’d never really established how far away I could go and still have my power help his hip.  Did he even still want my help with that?

“Ignatius?” Seorus’ quiet voice surprised me from inside his room.  I was certain I’d been silent out here, and yet he’d known.

“Y-yeah.”  I grabbed the doorframe on both sides, all my conversational plans gone out the window.  “Could I come in?”

There was an upsetting amount of silence before he asked, softly again, “Why?”

“To talk.  To give you an apology.”  

No response.

“I’d . . . understand . . . if you didn’t want to.  Yesterday must have been . . . upsetting for you.  But you deserve an explanation at least.”

The silence continued for another full minute.

I sighed, but this was one of the possible outcomes.  “Well . . . I’ll leave you alone.  Goodnight.”

I turned from the door and got only two steps away before a panicked, “Wait!” came from his room.

I went back to his door with a hand on the knob.  “Is it okay if I come in?”

There was a silence for the span of three breaths before his quietest response, “Aye.”

I exhaled a sigh of relief, pulling open the door and stepping in.  The light was off, but being a vampire, the state of him and his room was still clear in the dark.  There were things I’d noticed the last time I was here, but I didn’t have time to focus on or fully comprehend them given the hectic and sexual nature of our meeting.   Scattered on the floor were torn pieces of newspaper, clothes I’d gotten him, bags the clothes came in, and broken pieces of plastic from the radio.  There was no sign of Peaches.  As for Seorus himself, he was sitting on top of his closed lid, head leaning against the wall that held the door.  That put his good eye against the wall, and his face was tilted so that he probably couldn’t see me at all.  His hands were clasped tightly between his knees, and he hadn’t changed his clothes or combed his hair since the night of the bathtub fight. 

I sat down against the wall opposite his coffin, putting myself as far away from him as I could.  His body was taut, and he was curled up over himself.  This was not the angry man I had parted ways from; he was as he had been last night, confused and scared, but he was also emanating something else . . . perhaps shame?  Heaping waves of shame.   With the room and his physical and emotional state, I was struck at how wrong I’d been to leave him alone for so long, especially how wrong I’d been to leave last night.  But I couldn’t help it.  And I couldn’t change the past.  I could only deal with the present.

 

 

 

I’d spent so long considering him that he decided to speak, “What did he do to me?”  Seorus’ voice, again, was just a soft whisper.  It was heartbreaking to see him like this.

“Oh.  Lochan.  Yeah . . . I guess I never really went into my--no . . . our power.  Do you remember, when I first numbed your wounds, I said something like I could use it to sway things?”

“Aye?”

“Well . . . we usually use it to sway sexual desire and satisfaction.  Which is what Lochan did to you.”

He curled up on himself a little more.  “I’m-I’m sorry.”

“W-what for?”  

“He . . . made me . . . touch you.  And I-I did things to you.”

“Oh.  Seorus.  No.  You don’t need to be sorry for that, not on my account.”

“But I didn’t ask!  I just-I just did it.”  

“Seorus, we . . . we obviously have different views of intimacy, which I’ve done a terrible job of taking into account.  But I want you to know, sincerely, any time you want to touch me, in any way, I am so completely okay with it.  The only bad thing about last night was that you weren’t in control of yourself and we had to stop.  Seorus, I should be apologizing to you.  I should have stopped you sooner; I’m so sorry I didn’t.  I just thought I could reason with you so I wouldn’t have to touch you, and then I was . . . I was into it.   But I never wanted you to end up feeling like this, and I’ve had some words with my brother.  I’m so mad at him.”

Seorus’ face was still pressed against the wall, his feelings of shame achingly high.  This had obviously been consuming him for the whole of the previous evening.  He finally said, “Then why are you over there?”

“What?”

“If I didn’t . . . upset you . . . why are you so far?  You’re never this far away.  You’re scared of me because I--”

“I’m not!”  I ended up yelling it out a little louder than I wanted, but it startled him enough to finally look at me, giving me the first full view of his face.  He was more ashen than normal with bags under his eyes.  His usual feedings here were subpar, and it seemed they had gotten even worse in the days I’d been absent. 

Now that he was looking at me,  his blue eye slowly ran down my outfit as it did every time he saw me for the first time in the evening.  I always enjoyed the very deliberate way Seorus absorbed everything I wore, but I expected little to no reaction given how casually I was dressed.  I was surprised when he blushed and dropped his gaze to the floor, a brief swell of attraction breaking through his shame before being quickly overwhelmed again.  “I’m not upset,” I said without yelling this time.  I slid forward on the floor toward him.  He flinched at my approach, back to his skittish ways.  “I thought you’d be more comfortable the further away I was.”  I stopped just shy of him no matter how much I wanted to run my hands through his hair or touch his knee comfortingly.  “You were right the other night, I knew you were avoiding me when I’d get close, and I did it anyway.  But . . . if you still want me around, I promise I’ll be better.”

“If you knew, then why did you do it?”  He met my eyes with a flash of anger, the sharp sound of bitterness in his voice.

“Because, I thought . . . rather like my stupid brother, that I knew better than you.  I can feel . . . a lot of things from other people, and I’m especially sensitive to attraction.  I knew on the surface you were being distant, but I could also tell that once I got my hands on you you were always really into it, reciprocating my feelings.  If I could just push you past your hesitancy, I thought . . . you would realize you didn’t need those limits.  But you won’t even hold my hand if it strikes your interest, so obviously trying to push you was a foolish and thoughtless plan.”

He was staring at me with a stark look of concern.  “You . . . can tell . . . when . . . someone is . . . attracted . . . to you?”

“Yeeeaaah.”  The rising panic in him made me doubt my choice to divulge that fact about myself.  But it was basic information about me, something he should get used to knowing sooner rather than later if he wanted to continue any kind of contact.

“No!  No.  Then when . . . when was the last time?”

“Just . . . a minute ago when you first saw me?  You liked my clothes I guess, but to be honest I’m really not sure why.”

Seorus whimpered.  If it was not tied to an overabundance of fear, it would have been an adorable sound.

“And . . . you like when I smile.”

He buried his face in his hands, shame surging.  When he finally looked at me sitting on the floor at his feet, it was with a great deal of panic.  “You have to leave.”

“Seorus, no.”  I sighed over this predictable outcome.  “Okay.  I will, but . . . for how long?”

“Forever!” he snapped.  His emotions were roiling.

This was spur of the moment, he didn’t mean it.  However, I reminded myself, whether he meant it or not was not my call to make.  I could come back another night to check on him, but I’d have to leave him hurt and confused for even longer.  Unless I could sway him right now to let me stay.  I got to my feet, looking at him as sadly as I could manage, clearly showing my disappointment in my posture and the sluggish move I made to reach for his doorknob.  With my hand on it I said, “Well.  I guess this is goodbye, Seorus.  I’ll miss you.  This isn’t what I wanted.”  I turned the knob feeling his fear skyrocketing above the clash of his feelings.  I pushed the door open subtly side-eyeing him as I felt him wavering.

One small step elicited, “STOP!”  

I paused with relief.

“I-I . . . I’m so confused.  I don’t want to feel like this.”  He again hid behind his hands.

It was too difficult to say which feeling was weighing on him.  Maybe all of them?  “Like what?”  I re-shut the door and sat cross legged in the middle of the floor.

“Like-like . . . you know!

“Turned on. . . ?”

“AYE!  That!”  He threw his arms wide, pleadingly looking at me as if I could make it stop.

I smiled at him.  “I mean, you can’t help how you feel, but it doesn’t mean you have to act on it.  I shouldn’t have forced you to.”  He grimaced at me, perhaps because of the smile.  “Oh, sorry.”  I bit my bottom lip to try and stop my grin.  “You know . . . it is OKAY to like someone, to be attracted to them, to want them.”

With a growly huff he turned on me again, “I don’t need you!  I don’t need anyone!

“Bullshit!  Everyone needs someone!  You need humans to live, so you can survive.  You need someone to buy newspapers, to write them, to create them.”

He was startled again at my increasing volume.  “That’s . . . not the same.”

“Seorus, people have done you wrong and been cruel and unkind, and I know that makes you wary of anyone.  But just because you have been alone up until now, doesn’t mean that you have to keep being alone.  You don’t have to keep living like this.”

“Like what!?”

“Like you’re afraid!”

“I’m NOT AFRAID!”

“YES YOU ARE!”  He cowered a little as I truly yelled at him for the first time.  “But it’s okay.  It’s okay to be scared.  It’s okay to have feelings.  But you are letting your fear rule you, and you are miserable!  You don’t have to feel like this. And even if  . . . even if it’s not me, you need someone.  To talk to, to pet your cats with?  To tell you to brush your hair or change your clothes.  Seorus . . . you’ve been alone since the vampires died, forty or fifty years ago?  Can’t you let your misery with them go?  You don’t have to be alone now.  I’m not going anywhere.  It won’t be like last time, I promise.  I’m not going to abandon you.  I will be right here if you want me to be.”

It was Seorus’ turn to look like he was on the verge of tears.  “Even though I’m going to die?”  He wielded the words like a knife, knowing how much they had hurt last time.

“We don’t know anything,” I shot back, “but yes.  Even if Bhruic came in right now and said, ‘tomorrow’s it, Mr. Fellick.’  I would not leave you.”

“And if he lets me go?” Seorus asked bitterly, not really believing it himself.

“I’ll come visit you!  I’ll get you set up in a nice apartment, get you a phone.  We could talk all the time.”

He was looking down and away from me, hands fidgeting with themselves.  I wanted to hug him, sit next to him, or kiss the top of his head.  I could take his restless hands in my own and still them with a squeeze or a kiss, but instead I just sat on the floor, close enough that I could have leaned forward and touched his knee, waiting for his next bout of combativeness, or waiting to silently sit with him, perhaps the only amount of interaction he would grant me.

Seorus finally asked, “And you’re never going to touch me again?”  The shame he was feeling seemed to have subsided, and his tone, for the first time, indicated that he might be sad if that happened.

“Not unless you say you want me to?”

The slight slouch in his posture told me he was dissatisfied with this.

“I know that . . . that asking . . . out loud, can be hard.  So you could do a motion if you wanted to?  Like pat your coffin and I’ll sit next to you, or if I asked to cuddle with you, you could nod, or you could offer me your hand,” I turned my own palm up and outstretched toward him, “and I would always accept.”

He looked at my offered hand, and at my face, and then away.  I lowered my invitation and waited for his next move or word.  His hands continued fidgeting before he balled his fists, took a steadying breath, and turned one over, opened, vaguely pointed in my direction.

I moved a little closer and took it, slowly, giving him time to retreat or change his mind.  He gripped my hand tightly in his.  For the first time since our fight, I felt truly relieved.  Everything would be okay.  So much relief flooded into me that it forced a smile, which caused him to look away in irritation, but he didn’t let go of my hand, so I smiled even wider.  He tugged on my arm, pulling me almost off balance, angling his force to the empty space next to him.  

I took the hint and sat there.  He looped his arm in mine, grabbed it with his other hand, and leaned into me, forehead against my shoulder.  He couldn’t see me smiling at him, nor could I contribute much more to this physical contact, so it was a rather ideal position for him.  I leaned against him a little more, just to let him know this was fine by me.

 

 

After a few minutes of comfortable silence he spoke, “Can I ask you something?”

“Anything.”

“Why . . . are you here?”

“To see you?  And apologize.”

“No.  Why . . .” he struggled to find an explanation, “Why do you want to see me?  Why do you feel like you have to apologize?  Why do you keep coming back?  I feel like I’m not . . . I’m not worth all . . . this.”

“Of course you are.”

“I don’t . . . see it.”

“Well . . . I like you, for one.  You’re someone I knew as a human, and was fond of, so now I’d like to get to know you as a vampire.  I think it’s cute how blunt you are, that you can just blurt out what you feel or think.  And at the opposite end, it’s also cute how bad you are at lying when you don’t want to be honest.  You seem complex, and warm, and you have the capacity for kindness, even if you’re hesitant to show it off.  It doesn’t hurt that you are incredibly handsome and manly, and I like how new everything is to you.  I’d like to help you experience lots of new things.”

He gripped my arm more tightly.  “Why are you like this?”

“How do you mean?”

“You-you’re . . . you’re good at . . . saying what you feel.  You said, a while ago, that you  were a coward . . . because you chose to punish me instead of getting hurt yourself.  But you didn’t owe me anything.  You’re not-not the coward here.  I AM.”  I let him talk on, afraid of interrupting and stopping him.  “I . . . I am scared.  It is terrifying.  I’m afraid of . . . everything.  Everything to do with you.”

He was gripping my arm so tight I thought there’d be bruises when he finally let go.  “I mean . . . if I’m brave for saying what I feel, you should afford yourself the same compliment, because you just did a pretty good job.”

He grumbled, as if in disagreement, but said no words to the contrary.  He looked up at me, and quietly again said, “I’m . . . I’m sorry.”

“For what now?”

“For . . . making you feel bad.  I’ve . . . yelled at you a lot.  And making you cry the other night.”

“Well . . . I don’t . . . like being yelled at.  You’re right.  But, at least the other night, I wasn’t listening until you said all those things.  We weren’t having the same conversation.  I think . . . we both kind of messed up.  And maybe . . . we’ll just try to be better in the future?”

He nodded against my arm.

I tried to think of something I could do to put him more at ease, that didn’t involve any possibility of forbidden intimate discussions.  Looking at the torn papers on the floor gave me all the inspiration I needed.  “Would you like me to read you some articles in a paper?  If you’ve got any whole ones left?”

He was blushing when he pulled away from me, embarrassed over his bad behavior perhaps?  But he bent down underneath his feet to a whole stack of papers and handed one to me.  “I haven’t read this one yet.”

I held my arm out as an invitation to return, and he slowly accepted.  “Which one should I start with?”

“The first one on the first page,” his tone made it seem like this was a stupid question.

“Do you read them cover to cover?”

“Aye.”

“Well, I’ve got a lot of reading ahead of me, haven’t I?”

You don’t have to read the whole thing!”

“Well, just let me know when you’re tired of my voice.”  And I started reading.  The residual shame, the embarrassment, the hints of anger all faded away into tranquility.  One of Seorus’ thumbs idly stroked my sleeve, probably like he would stroke a cat, and he seemed content for the first time since I’d reconnected with him.  

Chapter Text

He didn’t cling to me the whole time, unfortunately, but after the end of the first section of the newspaper, Seorus released my arm and leaned back against the wall.  I continued on uninterrupted to the second section and had the impression that he was watching me closely as I read, perhaps trying to put his feelings and thoughts in order.  When I finished that section I asked him, “Do you want me to keep going?”

“You don’t have to.”

“Tired of me already?”  

I’d meant it jovially, but the distressed way his brow furrowed at me meant that was not how he took it.  Though he had difficulty stating aloud what he wanted, I eventually found that if I asked the right questions, his glances and expressions said everything his words could not.

He didn’t want me to have to keep reading, but he didn’t want me to go.  And he clearly didn’t want to talk.  So I just stayed with him, quietly reading our own separate papers right next to each other, legs occasionally touching.  I had ended up on his blind side, so I could safely look at him for extended amounts of time without him knowing or growing uncomfortable.  Though my stillness when I wasn’t reading had a tendency to draw his attention, so I tried not to stare too much lest I give myself away.

 

 

I exclaimed every now and then over something I read, “Oh wow, did you know--” about a political event, law, murder, trial, or scandal, and with incredible frequency he could tell me more about it, delving into the history and details, with a little bit of prompting.  His tone at these statements was mostly one of disbelief, perhaps thinking that I was a little dumb to not already know all this.  He also didn’t like being interrupted from his own reading, but with a smile, a lean, and a head tilt to show I was sincerely listening, his irritation was smothered.

Seorus was always hesitant to talk, but in this one instance, with enough questions, he could start to speak freely.  He was smart, he was surprisingly informed, and it was so incredibly hot .

Eventually he paused his reading, and when I glanced at him, I saw him looking over a crossword puzzle.  He intently read a clue, counted the boxes with a finger, turned his eyes  upward to think and gave a little nod.  He continued on in this manner, silently contemplating the blank boxes.

“Should I bring you a pencil or something tomorrow for your puzzles?”  

He folded the paper quickly with a sharp look at me, apparently embarrassed?  “Why are you so focused on me instead of your paper?”

“Oh, s-sorry.”  I scooted to the edge of the coffin to make myself as visible as possible.  “I am reading it!  We’ve been talking about it this whole time, y’know?  But . . . I just like seeing what you’re doing.”

He seemed angry with me, then forced himself to breath and dropped the paper to the floor. “I-I didn’t mean to snap at you.  I’m not . . .” he covered his face as he said, “Ignatius I’m not sure I can do this.”

“You can’t be friends with someone?”

“NO!”  He threw his hands down and looked directly at me like a plea.  

I couldn’t help the exhale of a laugh I let out.  “Seorus, you’re doing great!”  My hand was millimeters from grasping his forearm before I froze, almost breaking my no-touching promise the very first evening.  “Well . . . maybe we’re both doing okay.”  I planted my balled fists firmly in my lap on top of my paper.  “I think I’ve just stayed on a bit too long, perhaps?  I do thank you for giving me so much of your time this evening.  Would it be okay if I visited you again tomorrow?”

“I’m just . . . going to yell at you again.”  He seemed disappointed in himself.

“Seorus, that was hardly a yell.  And it’s okay to tell me to leave if I’ve been here too long, or you’re tired of having company.  I’ll understand.  You don’t just have to live in irritation.”

I stood and left my paper in my place stepping to his door.

“So . . . is it okay to come back tomorrow?  I won’t stay as long!”

He fidgeted for a bit before speaking, only looking at my feet as he did so, “You must have something else to do.  Something more important.”

“Seorus . . . right now what I want most is to spend my time with you.”

He noticeably blushed and clasped his hands together tightly between his knees struggling to finally say, “Then . . . I guess . . . I’ll see you tomorrow.”

I smiled broadly at him, even though he was pointedly not looking at me, and told him, “Good night, Mr. Fellick.”

I went back to my room that morning with a spring in my step.  I’d stayed with Seorus for hours, the longest continuous time we’d yet spent together.  I couldn’t remember the last time I had so innocently stayed with a hot man for so long, but I had already resigned myself that it would be this way for quite a few nights to come.  And I was okay with that.

With my hand on my bedroom door handle I wondered if I had time to go out and find someone quickly, or whether I would, uncharacteristically, stay in and perhaps scrounge up those pencils I promised.  My comfortable elation fell when I opened my door to find my brother sitting on my bed, his face illuminated by a phone.

He glanced at me sheepishly, “Hey.”

“Lochan.”  I stood near the bed with my arms crossed.

“How’d it go?”

“As well as it could have, all things considered.”

“He doesn’t hate you, then?” he asked.

“No, but he’s gun-shy.” 

“And how do you feel about me?”

“It depends, I suppose, on what you were waiting here to tell me,” I said as I leaned against the bedpost.

“I . . . I just wanted to tell you what happened.  Yesterday, with Seorus.  What I meant to happen.”

“Alright.”  

Lochan motioned to the bed hoping I would sit with him.  He looked chastised enough that I accepted, but stayed out of arm’s reach.  He gave a few sighs before beginning “I . . . tried to be you when I went to see him.  I thought I could fool him with the twin schtick, but he knew it wasn’t you as soon as I spoke, before even seeing me!  I had your shoes, your clothes, your scent, but he still . . . knew!

Why?”

Lochan ran a hand through his hair, his expression one of discomfort as he tried to keep my eye.  “I thought . . . he didn’t really value you, like I said before, that you were just wasting your time, and I wanted to see him and interact with him in a way that would convince me.  And then depending on that, I thought maybe I could . . . I thought you just weren’t saying the right things to get close to him.  You just weren’t being bold enough!  If I could go to him, and be forward enough, he-he would agree to sex and stop being such a prude.  Whether that was with me, or if I managed to slip out and grab you.  And once he’d had it, he would of course agree to it again and again!  Problem solved!”

“Lochan, you--”

“I know!  I know!”  He held up his hands as if that could lessen my anger, “It was gross.  It was a gross thing to do, to think, to try!  But . . . like I said, he knew from the start it wasn’t you!  All my plans were ruined.”

I felt as mad as Seorus often seemed to, “So what then?”

Lochan’s shoulders slumped, “I . . . tried to talk to him.  I tried to convince him to open up to you, to not be so shitty.  I was still trying to get a measure of him, and he seemed . . . overwhelmed, kind of defeated, so I wasn’t really that impressed.  I think I’d come to the conclusion that he . . . didn’t deserve your time, and I . . . kinda wanted him to suffer.  A little.  I thought I’d just . . . give him power to see how he reacted.  And I guess my original sex plans were still lingering, but I also thought about just leaving him alone to deal with it.”

“I hope this isn’t a surprise to you,” I said through gritted teeth, “but so far I am not really feeling any less angry.”

“Iggy,” he sighed again, “the power . . . didn’t do anything to him.  Not until you got there.”

This statement was such a surprise it shocked me out of my anger, releasing the tension in my body and the blanket I’d been clenching in my fists.  

“I mean . . . he could feel the energy.  He kind of . . . collapsed sitting down and was a little dazed, but it wasn’t . . . the normal reaction.  There wasn’t any sexuality or horniness at all until you burst in.  So I guess . . . what I’ve come to realize and am trying to say . . . is that he . . . he’s confused and inexperienced, but he clearly cares about you.  A lot.  I think he’s practically in love with you.”

“Lochan, stop.”

“Iggy, he is!  You’re like . . . the only thing he has.  And I wouldn’t . . . I wouldn’t want that weight, of getting attached to him, but . . . I can understand if you do.  I’m sorry I got in the way and almost messed everything up.  And I’m sorry for trying to be you, and for going against your wishes, and for just being a really bad brother.  I won’t interfere again, unless you need something.”

“Lochan, that was like . . . the shittiest thing possible.  There’s almost nothing worse you could have done to him.”

Lochan traced a finger on the pattern of the blanket, “I know.  I thought I was doing it to someone who deserved it though.”

“You’re going to have to give some of these apologies to him.”

He winced at that, “Yeah.  Okay.  If you want me to.  Do you want me to go by myself?”

“No.”

“Or--okay.  No.  When, then?”

I moved closer to him, putting my hands out as an invitation.  He looked at me rather hopefully while taking them as we sat facing each other.  “I’ll let you know,” I said.  “Maybe in a few nights.”

He nodded with a small smile at me.  We both leaned forward, our foreheads resting against the other’s.  “So what salacious gossip do you have about him tonight?” he asked with a grin.

“We read newspapers, he is very smart, and it is unquestionably hot.”

 

 

Lochan threw his head back in a barking laugh, “ You read a newspaper?  When’s the last time that happened?”

“Uuugh,” I covered my face in faux shame, “Don’t remind me.  It’s been . . . decades.”

He grinned wide.  “Me too,” he admitted.  “Well, it sounds like a very cute and proper date.”

“It wasn’t a date.”

He gave me a look with a raised brow, “Mmmhmm,” he intoned as he slid off the bed, “which is why you’re definitely not blushing about it.”

I threw my hands up, “Would you stop pointing it out!”

“I can promise a lot of things, Ig, but I can’t promise that!”

He laughed again as I half-heartedly chucked a pillow at him.  He ducked under its arc and retreated to my door.  “Hey.  Good luck tomorrow.”

“Thanks.”  

He gave me a reassuring smile as he left, and everything, for the moment, felt right.  So I set about finding some extra pencils.

The next evening I ran out to buy a new, small radio as well, hoping this one would last a little longer.  I was at his door in short order with a knock and far fewer butterflies in my stomach.  He answered more assuredly than last time, “Come in.”

“Evening, Seorus!” I exclaimed as cheerfully as I could.

His room had noticeably changed since the night prior when all of his torn and broken things were spread across the floor.  All the garbage was pushed back into a corner under the table with his clothes in a pile next to that.  On top of the table in the corner sat Peaches, reappeared and safe.  It was almost the exact place I’d set him when introducing Peaches to Seorus.  The chair was pulled out and facing the coffin, and Seorus sat on his closed lid in the middle, as if offering no invitation to sit  next to him.  As for Seorus himself, his clothes were changed.  He had picked a long sleeved blue shirt that brought out the brightness of his blue eye and different black pants. 

“Seorus!  You look really nice.  Is this for me?” I motioned to the obviously pulled out chair.

He nodded silently, looking self-conscious, and failing to subtly take in my outfit.  I’d chosen a remarkably similar outfit to the day prior, just with a bit of a palette swap.  Again, despite its casualness, he blushed beneath a swell of attraction.  I was immensely curious, but perhaps tonight wasn’t the right time to ask him.

“I . . . I didn’t have a comb.”  He said it almost ashamed, an explanation for his still messy hair.

“Oh!  I’ll get you one!  I can’t believe I forgot.”

I was half out of the chair before he stopped me, “It-it doesn’t have to be tonight.”  

In other words, I thought he meant, “Don’t leave right now.  Stay here.”

“I’d come right back,” I offered, trying to appease the unspoken fears. 

He looked at me angrily, cheeks immediately red, “I--can you not--”  He forcefully stopped himself with a long “ Mmmmmmh ,” staring hard at the floor trying to get his anger under control.

“I’ll . . . just bring it tomorrow then,” I offered, settling back down in my chair.  “I’m glad to see Peaches is well,” I said as a distraction, reaching to pick him up but pausing when I noticed a small round object right next to him.  “A button?”

“It’s . . . it’s yours, I think.  I . . . broke it.  Maybe you can sew it back on.”  There was that lingering shame from the previous night threatening to make a resurgence.  Were his memories of the night Lochan tried and failed to trick him as clear as mine?

It was my button.  The one that had popped off when Seorus straddled me and forced my shirt open, hands on my chest, lips against my skin.  There were a lot of erotic feelings tied up in that one little object.  With a thrill I picked it up off the desk and said with all the nonchalance I could muster, “Thank you.  I should be able to do something with this,” and pocketed it, switching places with the pencils I had brought.  “For your crosswords?”  I set them down next to Peaches and continued picking him up to sit in my lap with crossed legs and curled toes.  I felt Seorus and I both needed something to tear our minds away from that night, so I continued talking about the stuffed cat as I pet him, “I was a little worried when he was hiding yesterday.”  

“I wouldn’t hurt Peaches!” he snapped, finally looking at me from the corner of his eye.  His shame, at least for the moment, was successfully smothered.

I took the opportunity to wave one of Peaches’ front legs at him, “Yes, he’s just too cute for that.”

Seorus’ anger evaporated and was replaced with warmth, worry, and then a small kernel of anger again.  Though I’d banished his shame, his interest in me was like a magnet.  I had a hard time keeping my thoughts focused when I was so horny and he was so attentive.  His back and forth and anger and inclination came from a person struggling with attraction, either because I was a man or because he had trouble with anyone but now was NOT the time to make any more moves on him. 

I desperately sought something else to do, “Shall I read to you again?”

“No!”  

“Could I . . . try a crossword then?”  The pencils were here, just at my elbow.  

He squinted at me, as if suspicious, but handed me a paper: the one he’d been reading yesterday.  

“How do you do them?”

There was careful, silent consideration.  All wavering emotions slowly settled down into serenity as he asked, dumbfounded, “ What?”

“I’ve never done one before!”  

“What?!”

“I just need a little guidance!”

“You just,” his hands motioned helplessly before him, “you just fill in the boxes.”  

“The white ones or the black ones.”

“The white ones.”  

“Well what are the black ones for?”

“They’re just spaces you don’t fill in.  They’re there to NOT fill in.”

“What are these little numbers then?”

“That’s . . . how you know . . . what clue goes where.”  

“Okay . . .” I faced the puzzle to him and pointed to the rotated L shape of number one, “Does the answer for the first one wrap around like this?  Almost all of them are straight.  But this is bent in a weird angle?  Does that mean it’s special somehow?”  

He sighed like a deathrattle, his face in his hands.  “Ignatius.  Look at the clues.  There’s across.  And there’s down.  They are two separate answers.”

“Ah!  I think I got it.  But what if I don’t know the answer?”

“You have to look it up.  Or use the letters from other clues you do know to help you.”  His voice was devoid of inflection.

“Can I ask you too?”

“Aye.”  There was no resistance left in him.  He listlessly picked up a fresh paper but could not seem to take his eyes off me in a horrified kind of way.

“You can call me Iggy if you want.”

A little bit of life blinked back into him, “Iggy. . . ?”  

He’d said it only once before, on his knees feeling me up.  It was foolish of me to bring it up now, being that we’d both just stabilized, and I couldn’t help but think of that quiet whisper and his hungry touch. “It’s just what . . . my friends call me.  People I like.”  I repositioned Peaches as I turned a little to work at the table.  He made no response, affirmative or negative, but only looked quietly at me, finally turning to his paper.  

I could see in my periphery, or when I leaned my cheek on my fist to think, him frequently flicking his eyes towards me.  I decided to let him do this in peace, making no move or comment that I noticed.  And besides, I did like being admired, if that was his intention.

I read through all of the clues, answering the few that were obvious to me, but quickly ran into a problem.  “Seorus, something’s wrong.”

There was a soft, short sigh as he peered above his paper.  “What.”

“Well, I have this one clue where the answer is clearly ‘chicken,’ and there’s another clue that overlaps it that should be ‘addition,’ but the letters aren’t the same in the overlapping box!”

“That means one or both of those answers is wrong.”

“No, these are so obvious!”

He held his hand out for the paper, and I gave it to him, rising to my feet to peer over the top to watch him look.  He shrunk back against the wall, “Do you have to hover?”

“I want to see too!”

There was an almost imperceptible twitch to Seorus’ blind eye, but with a grumble he slid a few inches to his right leaving a big enough space for me to sit next to him on his sighted side. I happily accepted, sitting as close as I could without touching him.  

“Ignatius--”

Aw.

A sigh and a glare.  “Iggy.”

I smiled brightly at him.  He’d kept me at arm’s length so far this evening, trying to hold on to his composure, or to the denial of his feelings.  If we were just far enough away, maybe it would be easier?  But now, I was right next to him, our eyes meeting, and I had given him a smile.  

He blinked rapidly, his next breath shaky, but managed to say without fumbling, “I can’t believe this is all you have done.”

“Hey!  It’s my first one.  And I didn’t get all the way through!”

“You filled in four things.  And one of them is wrong.”

“Which one?”

He pointed to ‘chicken.’  

“That’s not wrong!  The clue says, ‘The birds most commonly living amongst people.’  And that’s a chicken!  People are always raising them for their eggs!”

 

 

Seorus glared at me.  “Iggy.  It’s ‘pigeons.’  It wants ‘pigeons.’”

“You’re telling me people raise more pigeons than chickens?”

“They don’t raise them!  They just live in cities!  All over the place!”

I steepled my fingers and drummed them as I considered this.  “They . . . they are all over the place.”

He collapsed back against the wall with a groan, covering his face with the paper.

“Seorus,” I leaned back beside him, “Am I . . . distressing you?  You seem stressed.”

He shifted the paper just enough so that his glaring eye was visible. 

“Do you want me to go?”

He dropped the paper with a heavy sigh. “Don’t . . . talk to me anymore about crosswords.  I can’t . . . take it.”

“Okay!  I won’t.  Can I have it back though, to see if I can finish?”

 He pushed it at me with a skeptical glance, and looked back to his own paper.  I wasn’t sure if he wanted me to go back to the chair or stay next to him, but given his level of irritation, I decided the table was the better choice.

We sat in silence for quite a long time from my perspective, but when I started humming out a tune, he finally snapped, “Okay!  That’s it for tonight!”

“Oh.  Can . . . I take this and try and finish it?”

“I don’t care.”

“Okay!  I’m sure you noticed, but I got you this new radio too.  Try to make it last a little longer?”

He grumbled some kind of displeasure as I got to my feet.  

“Would it be alright . . . if I gave you a goodnight kiss?”  The daggers he shot me were a clear indication of his disapproval, but I hoped to soften him.  “As like . . . a reward for behaving so well tonight?”  I gave a hopeful smile to try to add to my argument, “It . . . it could be anywhere you wanted!  Forehead, temple, cheek.  Though I was a little . . . inconsiderate with my last one, so I’d understand if it was a no.”

“You want me to reward you for not touching me tonight, by letting you touch me.”

“Oh . . . when you say it like that. . . .”

Without altering the intensity of his glare, Seorus stared hard at me.  I turned the rolled paper hesitantly in my hands as I waited to see if he’d give an official response, but the continued stare was rapidly undermining me.  A mere moment away from my breaking and leaving without an answer, however, he . . . melted.  Just a little.  He tilted his head, jutting his jaw toward me, good eye keeping close tabs on my movements. An acceptance and invitation?

I half-smiled as I bent down, hands behind my back, and slowly approached.  With all the time to retreat, the only change in his demeanor was to roll his eyes as I closed in and pressed my lips to his cheek softly.  All previous goodnight kisses were short pecks.  This one . . . I let linger for a few seconds before slowly drawing back.  

I heard his heart race as I pulled away, watched his rapid blinking, and asked, “Can I come see you again tomorrow?”

He helplessly replied, “ . . . Aye.”