Raven has a spreadsheet. She’s not crazy about spreadsheets, not like Charles, but she does have a spreadsheet and she dedicates hours of her time to making it, because, well, if she has to make a spreadsheet, it will be colourful and shiny, full of charts, pictures and helpful annotations. So at this point it is less of a spreadsheet and more of a book; the general idea stands. It has colours, an index, the occasional sparkle and illustrations she is damn proud of.
The spreadsheet (book) is called “Modern Vampire: A Guide, by Raven Xavier, Vampire Slayer.” It details the many crimes against fashion and common sense committed by the common vampire in Westchester County. Raven started it a month after she was Called, which was just over a year ago, and already she had to staple another notebook to the one she started off with. She couldn’t help it; vampires were interesting, though not quite in the way she thought they would be interesting.
When she first met Charles, way before she knew anything about anything not normal, when he started telling her about the vamps and demons and shtrigas and werewolves and witches and creatures, she thought these were just stories. She pictured vampires dressed in fitted tuxedos or fetching period clothes; she pictured cultured men lounging on sofas twirling wine glasses filled with blood, flirting with sexy women in sleek black evening gowns. In her mind they were awe-inspiring, unlike Charles, who wandered the dusty old mansion with his nose in a book and glasses sliding down onto the aforementioned book, dressed in clothes that remembered the time of his grandfather.
Her first meeting with an actual vampire was a rude awakening. He wore a mullet! Things had, unfortunately, progressed downwards from there, as far as her fantasies went. Raven has discovered that a mullet was the least of the vampires’ crimes, even if it seemed hard to believe at first. She has learned to cope with the sad misalignment of what the vampire world should be (sleek leather, latex and black nail-polish) with what it is (crimes against fashion and common sense, mullets and lack of oral hygiene).
Raven sighs. She twirls a pencil between her fingers absentmindedly, and pretends she is unaware of the skulking going on behind her back. She doodles in her notebook while she waits for the moron to pick up his pace. This will make a groo… cool. This will make a cool new entry in her spreadsheet. Who the fuck wears pants like that? It’s like he’s asking for someone to stake him, as he well should, because, oh lord, the bling! That should be listed a crime against humanity.
Behind her back the vampire slobbers and bends his legs and struts out of the shadows, happy as a bivalve mollusc. Raven beams at him when he taps her shoulder.
“Bad things happen to little girls who wander the streets alone at night,” he says, slobbering all over the innocent English language, which shrieks and beats at him with its purse.
“Tell me about it,” Raven says with a sigh. The pencil in her hand stops its twirl mid-spiral and when she moves the vampire doesn’t even have the time to blink before it’s stuck between his ribs all the way to the rubber. Charles would have no less than three litters of kittens if he saw her fight vampires with a number two pencil. There is a reason she has a viola case by her calf, filled with no less than seven deadly weapons, chief among them the ancient scythe, handed down through generations of Slayers. Raven prefers to think of it as an axe, but Charles insists on proper terminology. There are other weapons, too; even a plain, old-fashioned stake. Raven doesn’t bother opening the case until she has something interesting to slay.
The vampire dissolves into a cloud of dust around the pencil. His surprise is quite persistent, and the o-shape of his mouth hovers in the air for a few seconds after the rest of him is gone.
Seriously, vampires are so lame, she thinks as she shoves the pencil into the back pocket of her skirt.
“Someone really should put up a warning on the city website,” someone says from high above. Raven cranes her neck and, of course, there’s Erik, crouching on top of the lamp post like he is the goddamned Batman. “Do not approach. Slayer on the prowl.”
“Oh, fuck you,” Raven says with a scowl. “I still hate you. Go on a cheery sunlit picnic in the middle of May.”
Erik hops off his perch and lands on the pavement like he was hopping off the curb. Raven would be impressed by his sheer coolness (hell, the sad truth is a few months ago she was impressed with the way Erik didn’t breathe, for crying out loud), if he wasn’t such a complete dickhead. “It’s September,” he lisps around his distorted features.
“You are so getting a tanning salon coupon for Christmas.”
“I don’t tan well.”
“You also can’t recognise a subtle hint. What the hell are you here for?”
“I was following you.”
Raven opens her mouth and then closes it, opens it again, closes it, then pulls the pencil out of her back pocket and advances. “You slimy fucker,” she says, more than a little gratified when Erik takes a few steps back, holding up his hands in a placating gesture. His “I’m an evil vampire, roar” face shifts into something more palatably human and nervous. Raven grins. She knows she has good canines. She knows how to make vampires worry about their skin. She loves making them worry. “I don’t need your help,” she says, syrupy sweet. “I would rather be eaten and turned and staked and fried and served with bacon, before accepting help from you, you two-timing fiend.”
(Un)fortunately, because Raven would dearly love to knock his block off, unlike the usual vampire, Erik has a working brain and he knows that antagonising the Slayer will not end well for him. “I am sorry for that,” he says. It is a little stiff, like he isn’t used to apologising, but it is an honest apology. Raven will take it, maybe even accept it at some point, because, fuck it all to the goddamned hell dimensions, if she isn’t the better person. Granted it’s not hard to be a better person than a damned vampire, what with the soullessness and viewing people as god-given lunch, but still.
The other reason he still enjoys his unlife unspoiled by the Slayer’s attentions is that, in addition to being stupidly smart, Erik doesn’t ping her vampdar quite like he’s supposed to. It’s therefore not a bad idea to keep on his good side, just in case. Stupid souls. There should be a law, right, that evil creatures of the night don’t get souls ever, whatever the circumstances, so that the lone girl whose job it is to kill them would know right away. Except, oh wait, there is one! Vampires have no souls, Raven, says the voice of Charles in her mind. They are demon essence in human bodies, Raven, using the mind of the deceased simulate being people. This is why you feel them, Raven; why anyone with a shred of magic can feel them.
Along struts Erik, and fuck you, rules, I’m a vampire and I have a soul, bitch, try and catch me now!
“In my defence, Charles made me come,” he adds.
“I bet.” Raven grins when Erik does the vampire equivalent of blushing. It is always hilarious to watch him not-blush.
“He says there are omens or some such.” Erik shrugs. “He says demons. I say you are a big girl. He says ‘I’m her Watcher, Erik, she is important, Erik, I need to make sure she is safe, Erik, please Erik.’”
Raven isn’t impressed. “Your British accent could use some work. Also, I’m not buying it. I got the full lecture on demon-omens-sighting-be-wary and sketches and extra weapons.” The magic lighter that Hank manufactured flickers to light between her fingers. Erik covers his eyes and doesn’t yelp, but he doesn’t make a sound very loudly. Raven grins and flicks the lighter closed. “Yeah, my point. Charles went out of his way and beyond on this one. Plus, if you were tailing me, you’d know I’ve already killed the demon in question.”
“’Please, please, please, Erik, apologise to Raven, Erik,’” Erik admits sullenly.
“Your accent sets a new standard in badness.” Raven taps the toe of her ballerinas on the pavement and cocks her head.
“So does my assertiveness coach, apparently.”
Raven rolls her shoulders, punches Erik in the face hard enough to crack his head against the brick wall, and steps back. “There. Apology accepted. Hurt my brother and I swear to gods there will be no hellgate slimy enough for you to crawl into that I won’t follow and skin you alive.”
“I’m not actually alive.” The words arrive one by one, meticulously holding hands, as though the sentence would collapse into gibberish if they weren’t. Erik is checking his head for indentations and for a moment Raven worries she might have cracked his skull, then she remembers that, oh yeah, he is an undead demon wearing some guy’s meatsuit, even if said guy is back in town now. Erik broke her fucking heart – she deserves to get even, and she is led to believe a cracked skull hurts way less.
“You will wish you were alive, so that you could die. And believe me, with what I know about how vampires die, I can keep you alive for a long time.”
He looks up at her and his face is soulful, which is a bloody stupid word to use on a vampire, but which is nevertheless fitting. Raven feels a pang of something that could possibly be guilt, as she stares into his eyes, if she wasn’t his mortal enemy by definition and choice.
Then, of course, her vampdar goes screeching and flashing neon lights and well, she might feel a tiny bit bad, for incapacitating Erik before a fight. Not that she needs the help, or anything.
“Stay down and nurse the headache,” she tells him. “I’ll be right back.”
Erik looks a little dazed, but he nods. Raven turns, pulls the scythe from the viola case and goes to town on the pack of stupid bloodsuckers. Any vampire dumb enough to invade her neighbourhood deserves the first prize, which is getting run through with polished wood. Heh. Run through with polished wood. She nails the fifth and final one with the pencil, because pfft, vampires are so not in this season and don’t deserve the celebrity treatment.
Raven returns to find Erik sprawled on the ground, with his head resting on a protruding brick. His eyes are closed. Guilt bops her on the head with a rubber chicken, before her wounded pride arrives, armed with a wooden mallet, and starts chasing the guilt around until they both collapse into a heap, whacking indiscriminately at whatever’s available. Guilt is winning, despite its choice of weapon.
If he were human his jaw would be broken and the back of his head caved in. Raven is strong enough to hurl a car at a demon, after all. If he were human, he would be dead. If he were human, Raven wouldn’t have met him, late one night, and if she had, then they would both be dead. She was on patrol, five months into her slayership; one of her first solo endeavours (Charles is a fantastic brother, but a pain in the arse Watcher. He wouldn’t let her set foot outside the well-warded mansion until she mastered the billion clever moves he found in a dusty old book), when she was jumped by a pack of seven vampires and a demon. Now she wouldn’t even break a sweat. Then, she found herself surprised, terrified and thus outmatched. Suddenly, Erik stepped in and did away with the demon, first, which lowered the morale and together they made short work of the bloodsuckers.
Then she got a look at his face and well, she very nearly dusted him, too, until the lack of sirens in her brain made her pause and consider him in the yellowish lamplight. He was cool. Everything a vampire should be: well-dressed. Suave. Handsome. He’d just saved her life. Of course she was enamoured when it happened again. Of course she snuck out of the house and informed him of her patrol schedule. Of course she didn’t mention it to Charles. Of course she entertained scenarios, she was bloody fifteen and still on a “OMG, superheroine!” high, even if he seemed a touch… old.
(Later she found out he was twenty-seven when he was turned, so, yeah, old.)
It didn’t matter much. She was the Vampire (and assorted demons, pests and other creatures) Slayer, he was a vampire who had a soul; of course they were meant to be. Or at least meant to have a tragic romance which would end in tears and drama and everyone and their mother shaking their heads and telling her what an insane idea it was. It would have been so romantic.
The lovely fantasy grew and blossomed when he met up with her in dark alleys under the moonlight, guarding her back when she went about her duties. He’s never let her down; even when a demon got a lucky swipe in and slashed her across the shoulders. She killed it and whirled to find Erik staring at her bloodied collar. She would have fought him, of course she would, but then his vampire mask shifted into the handsome human face, and he was shaking his head. “Go home,” he said, casual as you please. “I’ll finish your route.” It was perfection.
(Charles did have a kitten that night, when he laid eyes on the blood on her neck, surprisingly enough. It turned out to have been the result of a vanishing spell gone wrong.)
Then she took him home to speak with Charles. Ostensibly it was to share the information about the wicked demon nest they’d found, full of runes and texts, because her memory was excellent, but she lacked Erik’s comprehension of runes and digital photos, on the whole, fucked with inherently magic writing. Taking a vampire home was risky, but it wasn’t like Charles didn’t do the dumb “I will talk to everybody” thing, anyway. Besides, he was right at home with necromancy, what with keeping the zombie to make dangerous magical stuff for him, so there. What’s one more corpse?
Logically, it would have been so much easier to just take Charles to the nest, instead of hauling the books, photos, scrolls and the vampire home (people look at you funny when you are five-seven and thin and carrying three boxes of books in one hand), but Charles never left the house, ever. In retrospect she really should have drilled him harder, at some point; should have asked about the scars on his neck, but he was just her brother, and the stuffy, old (twenty-five going on seventy-eight, if one was to judge by his wardrobe and affinity for tea) Watcher, it’s not like anything interesting has ever happened or would ever happen to him.
She was the bloody Vampire Slayer, she was the one to whom interesting and cool stuff happened.
“Charles,” she said to him. Like every good library, this one gobbled up her words, so that by the time they made it across the room, where he was bent over yet another ancient text, they were but a whisper. It was fitting, she thought then, as she had thought a thousand times before, when she looked at Charles curled protectively over an ancient text. Glasses were sliding down his nose and his hair had a coat of dust on it, like he had been sitting there for hours without moving, which was probably the case. “Charles, come here for a moment,” she started saying, but before she could finish he looked up and – where did the crossbow come from – Erik had an arrow in his chest, an inch away from his heart.
“What the hell!” she screamed, stepping in front of him, but Charles was already up and moving towards them both, the crossbow taut and dangerous in his rather delicate hands.
“Move away, Raven.”
“He is a vampire, Raven, he will hurt you.”
“No, he bloody well won’t, I’m the Slayer! I kill vampires, not the other way around!”
“He’s already killed one Slayer,” Charles said calmly.
Raven froze and looked at Erik, begging him to deny, to say something, anything. He didn’t. He wasn’t even looking at her.
“And yet you didn’t kill me,” Erik said instead, giving the arrow in his chest a little tweak, until it vibrated. “You used to be a crack shot.”
“Don’t make me.”
“You won’t kill me.”
“Try me,” Charles said, but Raven could see that the arrow, although it was steady like a rock supported by a pile of other rocks, was aimed too far to the left, where it would undoubtedly hurt a vampire, but not kill.
Erik was grinning with his human face, which was nevertheless twisted into something grotesquely demonic – a mask of teeth and unholy glee, fixated on her Watcher, her brother. He was one of the undead, he needed little rest and she was the Slayer, but she still a human girl; she was tired, after taking on that nest. The onslaught of guilt that she let the vampire into the house, no, that she invited a vampire into the house crumpled her reflexes. When she moved Erik threw her into a bookshelf with one hand, and then he was on Charles, pinning him to the desk, while the crossbow was skidding to a stop on the floor.
“You didn’t leave home at all. Did I scare you?” Erik kept grinning even when he was inches from Charles’ face. They spoke in hushed whispers, and the magic of the library was such that a whisper carried throughout, reached every book on every shelf, while a raised voice died before it could touch a single cover. There would be no cavalry arriving; outside the library, the whispers were as silent as ever.
Raven moved across the floor in a soundless crawl, silently begging Charles for forgiveness and watching, listening for the first sign of trouble. She didn’t know whether to curse or praise his composure. He looked into the vampire’s eyes fearlessly and spoke just as calmly as he spoke to his charges.
“Of course you scared me. You murdered that poor girl. You murdered a Slayer.”
“She was insane. I put down a rabid murderer.”
“How is that an excuse?!”
“In my defence she was trying to kill us at the time.”
“She was the Slayer. She was only doing her job.”
Raven saw Erik’s hands tighten on Charles’s wrists. “You don’t seem too afraid now.”
“Why should I be afraid? Are you planning to kill me?”
“If I couldn’t kill you then, how could I kill you now?” Erik asked, so low that the words became a low rumbling, hardly speech at all. Charles started and Raven froze, low on the floor, with her hand on the discarded crossbow.
She watched, stunned, as Charles freed his hands and ran them down the vampire’s shoulders, yanking the arrow out and dropping it to the floor, well-out of his reach, before his fingers trailed back to his face, tracing the shape of the vampire’s brows and cheekbones. “You’ve,” he started breathlessly. “Erik. You have a soul.”
“Which is a right pain in the ass, let me tell you. Nothing tastes good anymore. The screaming grates on my nerves. You wouldn’t believe the hoops I had to jump or crawl through to get the useless bauble. And it’s so useless. It hurts more than anything else and I don’t get any bonus immunity.”
Erik barely moved when he spoke, but by the time he finished his lips were brushing Charles’ and Raven, fuck her life, got the front row seat to the doomed romance of her ensouled vampire and her Watcher.
She broke the crossbow on her knee, stalked out of the study and refused to come out of her room for three days, because, well, fuck you, that’s why. Charles was boring and a nerd, and bookish and useless – okay, not useless, he was clever and when he did magic the foundations of the earth shook – but he certainly wasn’t half as cute as her.
Stupid gay vampires, she fumed.
Stupid gay vampires, leading her on with their bad-boy charm, psychopathic grin and leather jackets. Stupid gay vampires, using her to get to her reclusive brother/Watcher.
Suffice to say Erik’s entry in the vampire spreadsheet was amended to something less than flattering, with a metric shit-tonne of sparkles, because if he was going to be a stupid gay vampire, he would be a stupid sparkling gay vampire.
The vicious glee at seeing those cheekbones suffused in glitter faded eventually. In the end she’d torn the pages out. Her bookworm of an older brother instilled in her a devotion to factual accuracy in scientific publications, and Erik didn’t sparkle all that much. The notes on what a damn suicidal bastard he was stayed, because what kind of an idiot vampire shacks up with a Slayer and a Watcher and their world-saving team, anyway?
“Come on,” she says, when after several minutes the daze doesn’t leave his eyes. She must have hit him harder than she thought. Not that she felt guilty, or anything, but her stupid pride was assaulted by that sneaky, atrophied bastard, her empathy, which rode to battle armed with the picture of sad Charles, which is a deadly fucking weapon on par with nuclear missiles. Charles would be very sad if Erik, the traitorous vampire scum, didn’t come home. Raven pulls Erik up and throws his arm over her shoulders. “Don’t stumble. I will carry you home in my arms, if you stumble, and I will call ahead so that they can all take pictures.”
Erik snorts into her shoulder. “Charles will be sad at you,” he says, faking a very convincing slur, which sounds more like a taunt than anything else.
Just to spite him, Raven calls ahead. There is enough blood in the house to bring an army of vampires to their feet, so if she can get a single picture of Erik helplessly lolling in her arms like a romantic heroine, it will be almost worth it.