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Birds of a Feather

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It was ten o'clock in the morning, and George had been sitting on the bench for four hours by the time he met Mitchell - though he didn't know, then, who Mitchell was; all he knew was that it was cold, and he was hungry, and he'd not eaten for something like two days, maybe three, he'd sort of lost track by that point. The park was quiet, with only a few solitary dog-walkers disturbing the silence (their dogs, he noticed, scented the air as they passed by him and took instantly to whining, and slunk away with their tails tucked under them). George kept his head down and stared at the ground. He thought that maybe, in a little while, he'd go into town, and sit outside one of the sandwich shops where the office-workers went in for lunch and came out with change and full bellies and, if he was lucky, a little generosity.

He was absorbed in these thoughts, so much so that he didn't notice the shiny black boots pass him for the first time, or when they stopped dead a little way along, and turned back towards him. He only noticed them when they planted themselves firmly in his field of vision. George stared at them, then followed the long line of black skinny jeans upwards, up to the black peacoat and above that the pale, strong-boned face with its rock-star sunglasses (even though it was December, and overcast).

"You smell funny," the stranger said. "Why do you smell funny?"

"Probably because I'm a werewolf," said George, because he was cold and hungry and tired, and all he wanted was to be left alone.

"Oh," said the stranger, his face blank behind the dark glasses. "Alright."

They were both quiet a moment. Then the man in the dark glasses said, "Do you fancy a cuppa?"

George stared at him. "Alright," he said. He got up, a little unsteadily.

"I'm Mitchell, by the way," the other man said, holding out a gloved hand to George. George shook it as firmly as he could manage.

"I'm George," he said.

-

Mitchell led him to a cafe not far away, and bought two big mugs of tea and a bacon sandwich, which he pushed across the table to George when it came.

"I don't need charity," said George, prickling slightly.

"Of course not," said Mitchell. "I suppose you just enjoy sitting on park benches in the freezing cold, looking like you haven't eaten for a month. How silly of me." He had taken his sunglasses off, and his eyes were dark and sardonic.

"Fine," said George, taking the sandwich.

Halfway through George's first bite, Mitchell said, "My name's Mitchell, by the way. I'm a vampire."

George considered this. Mitchell seemed to be waiting for something, watching George, as if to gauge his reaction. Which was, essentially, nothing.

"Oh," he said.

"Oh?" said Mitchell. "Is that all?"

"Well," said George. "I'm a werewolf. Nothing comes as much of a surprise, after that."

Mitchell nodded as though yes, he supposed that was so, and lapsed into silence while George ate his bacon sandwich.

"I've got a room you can come back to, if you like," Mitchell said, when George had finished.

George stared. "I," he said. "Look. I'm very flattered and all. But."

"Oh, for God's sake," said Mitchell. "I'm not hitting on you. Christ, have you seen yourself lately? I meant if you wanted to clean yourself up a bit - which, if you don't mind me saying, would probably be a very good idea - or get some sleep. I've got to go to work, you'll have it to yourself. I promise not to ravish you. Scout's honour," he finished, raising up one bony long-fingered hand in the scout's salute George remembered from his childhood.

So George considered things. On the one hand, Mitchell was a stranger, and a vampire, and more than probably insane, and he wore sunglasses in December. On the other hand, George was a werewolf, covered in three months' accumulated grime and cold down to the bone save for where the tea had warmed his fingers and the sandwich his belly, and he was tired of - of everything.

So, "Alright," he said. "Yeah. Thanks."

-

Mitchell's room turned out to be a little bed and breakfast job, with chintz curtains and a flower-patterned duvet on the bed.

"No coffin?" George said. He dropped his grimy duffel bag next to a footstool.

"I'm saving up," said Mitchell. "I figure, a coffin's an investment, you really have to get one of the good ones. Mahogany. Satin inlay. Those nice chrome handles."

"You're mental," said George.

"It's been said," said Mitchell.

When Mitchell left for work (though George couldn't entirely imagine what sort of work a vampire might do), George showered until he thought he might drown, letting the scalding water sluice away the dirt and the shame. He showered so long that the hot water gave out, and he showered after that as well, until the chilly spray got too cold to stand. When he got out, his fingers tips were puckered and pruned and his skin was raw, but, for the first time in a long time, he felt clean, and good. He climbed into the bed wearing his last pair of clean underpants and fell asleep instantly.

When he woke, it was to Mitchell flicking on the overhead light (when did it get dark?, he wondered) and Mitchell's voice, saying, "Have you been asleep since I left? You realise you're mixing your horror-movie clichés, don't you? Anyway, get up, I've got dinner."

They were eating Chinese take-away out of cartons with plastic forks when George said, "Are you dangerous?"

"Dangerous?" said Mitchell through a mouthful of beef chow mein, frowning slightly. "What made you say that?"

"Well," said George, "you are a vampire."

"Oh. Well." Mitchell took another bite. "I'm not dangerous to you, if that's what you mean. I can't drink from you, and you can't turn me."

"Really?"

"Yes. There are some perks to being a vampire. Apart from being forever young and beautiful, I mean." He poked at the chow mein some more. "Anyway, I'm on the wagon."

"You're what?"

"I'm abstaining from blood," said Mitchell. "Do you want the rest of this? It's not very good. I used to go to this other place but they turned out to have been putting rats in the meat."

"I didn't know vampires could do that," said George. He took the chow mein and offered Mitchell his own special fried rice.

"What, have discerning tastes?" said Mitchell.

"You know what I meant."

"I know what you meant," Mitchell agreed, but he didn't say anything more about it. The chow mein really wasn't very good, and George hadn't been much for meat anyway, ever since - well.

-

George slept on Mitchell's floor that night, with a flowery pillow under his head and a knitted blanket draped over him. When Mitchell went to work he transferred himself to the bed, and woke up again when Mitchell came home.

"Got you a present," said Mitchell, and he tossed something small and shiny onto the pillow next to George's head, which upon closer inspection turned out to be a small set of keys.

"What's this?"

"The front door key, and the key to room twelve," said Mitchell. "I booked it for you. Because you snore in the night, and I need my beauty sleep."

George weighed the keys in his hand. "Mitchell," he said. "Look, thanks. But I can't afford to keep a room."

"Well, you will once you start work," said Mitchell. He was stripping off his coat; underneath, he wore a baggy cleaner's uniform that looked weirdly incongruous on the body that George was already used to seeing in skin-fitting black. "I also got you a job." He pulled a card out of his pocket and tossed it at George. It had on it the name of a hotel, and a phone number scrawled in red biro on the back. "You start tomorrow," said Mitchell.

George stared at him.

"I know it's not much," said Mitchell. "But it pays alright, for the work. And it doesn't tie you down." He sank into a chintz armchair, stretching his long legs out in front of him. His eyes were dark, and he was a vampire, and George was a werewolf, and they'd only known each other for two days, and yet. And yet.

George closed his hand around the keys. "Alright," he said.

-

When George had been in school, his parents had often talked about his Bright Future, which they envisioned as Oxford or Cambridge (they weren't picky), a degree in law or medicine (they weren't picky about that, either), and then a glittering career - money, a semi-detached house in a nice suburb, flash cars, a girl from a good background, grandchildren with apple-cheeks and scholarships to public schools. What George wanted was a quiet life, a normal job; crosswords in the morning and cups of tea, and someone to come home to in the evenings. George had 5 As at A Level, but the deadline for university application had slid past first one year ("It's just a gap year," he said) and then the next ("I'm just not ready; besides, think of the money."). George worked in the local council offices, and in the evenings he and Julia would go to the pub and maybe get fish and chips on the way home, and he was happy.

And then, walking home one night on a dark evening something leapt at him from the shadows - for a moment he's thought it was a dog, the moment before it sank its jaws through the fabric of his jacket and shirt into the tender flesh of his arm. The memory went fuzzy a little, there, but he remembered vividly waking up on the cold pavement, on his back, looking up at the moon and feeling for the first time that horrifying tug in his bones, the feel of something wild and terrible straining inside.

-

The morning after the full moon, George woke up with his fingers gore-sticky and his bones burning. The watery sun scorched his eyes. Blades of grass sliced into his hyper-sensitized skin. He swallowed, and the taste of something coppery and raw hit the back of his throat, and he gagged.

"My God," came a voice, silky smooth yet unbearably harsh in his ears. "You are a sight for sore eyes."

George raised his head. Blearily, he looked at the black-clad figure perched so nonchalantly on a nearby log. "Fuck off, Mitchell," he tried to say, only it came out more like, "F'oh, Mishull."

"And here's me being all friendly-like and coming all this way out to find you," Mitchell said. "I brought clothes. Can you stand up?"

"Nngh," said George, pushing himself up, first onto all fours, and then all the way up, not even caring about his nudity. "How'd you find me?"

Mitchell tapped his nose. "Blood trail three miles long out behind you, wolfman." He tossed George a carrier bag full of clothes.

"These aren't mine," George said, looking inside it.

"They are now," said Mitchell. "Your old ones were revolting. I threw them away. I would have given them to Oxfam but then I thought, really, isn't there enough suffering in the world?"

"You're a twat," said George.

"You're welcome," said Mitchell.

George fell asleep in the car on the way back to town. When Mitchell tapped his shoulder outside the B&B, he came awake slowly, disoriented and only half-conscious.

"Come on, Rover," said Mitchell. "Rise and shine."

"Mitchell," said George, as Mitchell was turning to let himself out of the car.

"Hmm?"

"Thank you."

Mitchell paused for a moment, looking at George. George's eyes wouldn't focus properly, but he smiled at Mitchell anyway, and maybe that twitch at the corner of Mitchell's mouth was a smile and maybe it was an involuntary muscle spasm or however Mitchell would want to spin it, but anyway. Anyway. There it was.

-

It was maybe a week after that when Mitchell let himself into George's room, pale and oddly twitchy. George had worked a nightshift, and he raised himself with some difficulty on one elbow and blinked at Mitchell.

"What the hell's wrong with you?" George said. "What do you want?"

"Listen," Mitchell said, perching on the edge of George's bed. He was nervous, twisting his hands over one another again and again (Out, vile spot, thought George, randomly). "Something's happened. Something's - I mean, I - I've got to leave."

George stared. His mind didn't seem to be working, it had gone strangely blank. "Where are you going to go?"

"I'm not sure. I was thinking perhaps Bristol. Which probably means that I'm not thinking."

George thought for a second. "Can I come with you?"

Mitchell's shoulders twitched a little, like he'd maybe only just stopped them from sagging. "If you like," he said, nonchalantly.

"Alright," said George, and that was settled.