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One Way or Another

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The sight of them locked in each other’s arms, amorous and starved for eachother made Charley’s stomach turn painfully but he could not look away however much he wanted to. Words bubbled up in his throat, pleas for Amy to stop but he couldn’t force them out, his fingers curling into fists in the dirt beneath him, aching with the effort to keep still. Only Peter’s hiss of pain beside him kept him half aware of the nest of wild newborns circling the edge of the sunlight, barely holding them out of reach.

It took him a few moments to recognise that the sick feeling inside him was not because he was disgusted, not really. Well, he was, the disgust was definitely there, but it was firmly pointed at himself, because he just couldn’t find it in himself to close his eyes, transfixed by the sight of Jerry, face smeared with his own blood, coaxing hungry kisses from Amy’s willing mouth, clawed fingers buried in her blonde hair like they belonged there. Like she had always been his.

A shivering breath worked its way out of him by sheer force at the thought, and Charley realised he hadn’t been breathing, not that that would be a problem soon, the way things were looking. The only air down in the basement was heavy with old dust, the scent of death and the torturous sound of two undead creatures enjoying each other and he wanted nothing more than for it to end.

At least then he wouldn’t have to sit here, prey to his own guilt, and worst of all, the slow burn of jealousy underneath it when he looked at the way Amy melted like a burning candle into Jerry’s arms. If he examined that feeling any more closely, Charley was afraid he might put too much thought into how it might feel to be so worshipfully ensconced in the elder vampire's seemingly gentle clutches, and that it was not Jerry he was jealous of at all.

“Oh, look. A free show,” Peter groaned at his side, his sorry attempt for a laugh bubbling into a worrying gurgling noise that sounded thick and painful, like blood caught in his throat, and Charley cast a worried look over the older man.

It was obvious that he didn’t have long left.

His skin was an angry patchwork quilt of raw skin around the various bites visible over his arms through the torn material of his shirt. Jagged scratches rose in ugly red welts over his neck and chest, transitioning from thick lines to deep cuts, like blunt human fingernails started the wounds and vampiric claws had finished them. Underneath streaks of blood, Peter was browning, crisping up like over-fried chicken skin in the light.

It looked like late stage sunburn slowly darkening to third degree, spreading right before his eyes, and even through the thin sleeve of his shirt, Charley could feel the heat of his skin, a contained flame that would only erupt when the turning was complete.

Charley had seen what it had done to Doris. He had watched her stagger to her knees just feet from Jerry’s front porch when they had managed to escape the house, the desert sunlight cutting through her like a knife through warm butter. Her last agonised scream was a shrill siren that had rung in his ears for many hours after he had watched her collapse into a pile of dust, the rotting remains of her arm lingering on long after most of her had blown away in the warm breeze. It had laid there, twitching on the grass like it was making an aborted movement to escape the light and Charley had been frozen, watching as it too slowly succumbed to the sun and withered away to nothing.

He’d be damned if he’d watch it happen again.

“Peter,” Charley shifted carefully to his knees on the pile of debris, keeping clear of the border that rent light into shadow, the dust from the brickwork wafting up into the sunlight as he moved, “You don’t have much time.”

That bubbling laugh sounded again, and Peter choked on it, curling up into himself like he wanted to wrap his long thin arms around his stomach but it caused him too much pain.

“Neither do you, kiddo,” Came the hissed response, and it may have sounded like gallows humour if it hadn’t come through gritted teeth. Charley reached out to touch him, careful to avoid the obvious bites and scratches, and he could feel Peter’s eyes on him but he couldn’t meet them, not when all of this was his idea. Not when Peter was going to die, and it was all his fault.

“They bit you too much,” The newborns chittered around the circle of sunlight as if pleased, but Charley barely heard them over the sizzle and hiss of Peter’s skin in the sunlight. It was steadily growing louder, like white noise in the near silent basement, and the thin vapours pouring off of him were starting to smoke, “You’re changing too fast. You have to get out of the light or you’ll die.”

He expected a witty remark, a curse word or two or maybe a joke, but Peter looked so exhausted when he looked up that Charley almost flinched. His face was pinched in a pained frown, like he was trying to bite back the agony and failing miserably, like if he opened his mouth to speak, only screaming would come out. He would not have the quick death that Doris had. He was slowly burning alive at the speed the venom was spreading and Charley gripped hold of the lapels of his leather jacket, dragging him up so that Peter could hear him.

“You need to tell me what to do,” Charley rushed out in a hushed whisper, fingers slipping over the leather as it turned soft at his touch, the white noise rising to the constant hiss of a snake pit and before his eyes, Peter’s skin started to bubble, “I’m not going to let you die-”

“Such a drama queen, Charley,” Peter’s smile was a bloodsoaked thing, a spark of that swaggering charm he only usually displayed half dressed and soaked in Midori, but it was quick to fade, his hand coming up to curve over the boy’s shoulder in a gesture of solidarity, despite the newly grown claws curling out from his fingers, “This is not gonna be on you, kid.”

Charley didn’t have time to ask him what he meant as Peter pushed him back, tearing his grip free of the jacket and throwing himself out of the light, three of the nest of fledgling vampires descending on him in a disjointed flurry of movement, their excitement palpable. Charley barely avoided falling out of the circle of light himself, an aborted yell escaped him like an animal cry, as Ginger’s sharp clawed hand swiped just over his head, daring to touch the light and snagging in the curls of his hair before she hastily withdrew with a wounded hiss.

“Peter!” Charlie threw himself to the edge of his only protection, not feeling reckless enough to go beyond it and peering into the dark swarm of bodies, trying to find his friend underneath them, when an abrupt shift on his left made him turn to look.

Jerry was right there, crouched mere inches away and close enough to touch if Charley felt stupid enough to reach into the dark, but he did not. Dark eyes were watching, every twitch, every breath, and they fastened with alarming intensity on the flesh of his jaw and down, staring at the column of his throat as if he could already taste it, and instead of the fear that hooked deep into his belly and tried to urge him backwards and away from that sharks-teeth smile, Charley steeled himself, let his fear burn over into anger as he looked Jerry straight in the eyes, and spat, “I will kill you.”

“Will you, now?”

Jerry’s voice was soft, mocking, forearms braced on spread knees, and the easy grace of a hunter. He considered Charley very briefly, appraising him with a look that held the weight of a touch before he looked down to the thick dirt beneath his boots, stretching out a single clawed finger to dig into the ground, drawing it so very slowly around the edge of the shaft of sunlight between them in a continuous line. He was so casual, so calm, as if he had all the time in the world, and Charley knew that he did. Down here, there was very little to stop the inevitable.

“I would very much like to see that.”

Amy’s laugh was a lilting thing behind him, a momentary distraction, and Charley only dared look at her for a short second with Jerry so close-by, almost demanding his attention. It was already strange that he hadn’t made a move yet. All he had to do was reach into the sunlight and drag him out. He was close enough, strong enough, and he’d played with the sun already, seemingly quite unconcerned by it. The worrying thing was, Jerry seemed to be enjoying the wait, and Charley couldn’t quite figure out what exactly he was waiting for.

What was he after that he didn’t have already?

“I’m not joking. I know you’re going to kill me,” His voice was flat, as level as he could make it, and just sitting there, caged in by nothing remotely resembling bars as Jerry smiled indulgently at him, inviting him to continue was maddening, “But before you do, I want you to know, I have nothing to lose by trying to take you down with me.”

“Brave words, Charley,” There was laughter in Jerry’s voice, amusement, like he was truly relishing the threat, like it should be obvious to this slip of a boy that greater men had tried and failed, and yet, he was enjoying the very idea that someone so small, so vulnerable, could consider himself capable of ending 400 years of survival instinct, “But you know, there is a thin line between bravery and stupidity.”

Jerry’s fingers pointedly traced the edge of the sunlight again, but when Charley dared to look, it seemed to have moved. Ever so slightly, just enough to be noticeable, the sunlight had edged away from the first line Jerry had drawn and Charley stared up at the ceiling, at the small hole he had blasted open with Peter’s gun.

The gap was worryingly narrow, and no amount of broken windows could filter in enough light to give him the time he’d need to think up a proper plan of escape. The sun wouldn’t last a whole day for him, not with so small a margin for it to get through, and when he looked back down, Jerry was staring at him directly, as if waiting for him to reach the same conclusion.

“Your time is running out.”

--

It seemed like hours later but in truth, Charley didn’t know how much time had passed. Maybe it only felt like hours because he was surrounded by ravenous carnivores hell-bent on opening him up like a sacrificial lamb, so eager to get their curly straws into his neck and sip him down like a milkshake that he was starting to adjust to the idea that he wouldn’t be making it out of here alive.

Some of the weaker vampires, the newer ones Charley would expect, had crawled back into their beds, packing in dirt around them until they were able to sleep. Likely the early morning sun was too strong for them, and even Amy looked a little worse for wear, keeping far back in the dark, only the bright white of her dress picking her out of shadows.

Peter had been left alone, unmoving and sprawled over the ground and it wasn’t yet clear if he had been drained dry and left for dead, or if he would soon be another monster looking to take a chunk out of the last of the group with a pulse. Either way, when Charley called out to him, he hadn’t received an answer and he wasn’t sure whether he should feel relieved about that or not.

Jerry was wide awake, hovering at the edge of the sunlight, walking around it in circles and at first, it had been a game, Charley turning with him to keep him in his sight at all times, never feeling quite safe with his back turned, but as the time passed, and nothing happened, the lull of complacency began to settle. He knew it was dangerous, to be so casual about his own death, but it seemed like the more he tried to deny it, the more Jerry fed off of his defiance and he was loathed to ever give that monster anything he could enjoy.

He shifted back another few inches so he remained firmly in the centre of the light, noting that the circle had begun to shrink, the angle of the light not slanting directly through the ceiling anymore. It wouldn’t be long now, and he wasn’t stupid enough to think that just because some of the nest had buried themselves to sleep, that he could escape the house. The one thing he lamented was that, the further back he had to move, the further he was from any potential weapon.

The crossbow was still by the door where he had dropped it, Peter’s gun was somewhere in the dark with very little chance of retrieval and the stake was still attached to his belt but he couldn’t get close enough to use it. It was as good as useless.

“You’re starting to bore me, Charley,” Came the sigh from behind him, and it almost brought a smile to his face, “I don’t enjoy being bored.”

“Go fuck yourself,” Charley quipped back, the words foreign in his mouth though it felt good to get them out. Often swearing in front of his mom would result in a cuff upside the back of the head, but she wasn’t here (thank the Lord for small mercies) and the situation was already dire.

What was a little cursing between creature and prey?

“Such a mouth on you,” The words were so close that Charley jumped, hunching in on himself as he turned to glance over his shoulder, Jerry pressed so close to the light that the proximity of him was enough to send a sharp spark of panic up his very human, very breakable spine and the look on the vampire’s face as he tilted his head back, inhaling the air deeply with a satisfied groan was disturbing.

“There it is, that fear...” A pink tongue, human shaped for the most part, slicked out to lick over the very sharp points of elongated canines and Charley wanted to move away but there was nowhere to move to, the reality of sharp teeth suddenly very close and very, very real, all numb complacency wisping away like a shadow of a dream.

“I remember when I first saw you,” Jerry dropped smoothly to his knees beside him with hardly a sound, knuckles braced in the dirt, close enough that the swing of his pendant broke the circle of light once with a bright silver flash and Charley felt his eyes follow it, Jerry’s open shirt practically inviting curiosity, “I passed you off as easily intimidated, simple prey, nothing particularly exciting beyond the usual virgin appeal, but then, when I came over to your house for some beer…”

The elder vampire paused, the curl of his mouth almost wicked, like he was relishing a particularly fun game that no one else knew the rules to.

“You didn’t invite me in.”

Charley closed his eyes at the soft purr in those words, suddenly feeling very obvious as he recalled with embarrassing clarity how he had practically screamed at the vampire that he knew exactly what he was with his body language alone. Jerry had probably had suspicions before that, when he cornered him out by the fence but it definitely hadn’t taken long to confirm them. Charley knew he was a rubbish actor, couldn’t keep his cool to save his life and the very situation he was in now was more than adequate proof of that.

“The way you stuttered and made excuses, leaving me standing in the doorway while your scent flooded with fear was intoxicating,” Jerry’s braced forward on his hands, like he could press through the barrier of sunlight between them and snatch Charley up if he wanted, ready to pounce at the slightest given opportunity, “I would have taken you then. I would have pressed you back on the kitchen counter and made you beg, and only when I’d wrung every last exquisite drop of pleasure from you, and trust me Charley,” Jerry stared him down, eyes black and blown wide, hungry in a way that set a shiver in the teenagers bones, “Fear is pleasure.”

The half-choked gasping noise that escaped Charley’s mouth echoed loudly around the basement and Jerry seemed pleased to hear it, lifting one hand to stroke over the shaft of sunlight between them, hissing only mildly at the near sting of it in close proximity, “Only then would I sink my teeth in you, and drink my fill.”

Charley felt terror seize his heart at the promise on that deathly pale face, backpedalling as far as he could in the light, but Jerry was gone when he looked up, and he barely had time to look for him when a clawed hand twisted in his hair from the other side of his protective circle, the sharp hiss of sunlight on undead skin filling the air as the grip tightened and tugged, craning his head back into the shadows and a toothy smile widened over him, Jerry’s free hand coming up to gently cradle his jaw.

Charley wanted to scream, wanted to kick and writhe but half of him remained in the protective light and he couldn’t give up that security. Screaming would only invite more hungry mouths for the feeding so he stayed silent, biting back every curse that wanted to leave his lips until his jaw ached and fighting not to flinch away from the unyielding grip on his hair, even as Jerry leaned down, the cold tip of his nose brushing gently over his temple.

“So brave, Charley,” Cold breath rolled over warm human skin as the vampire breathed him in, over the curve of his eyebrow, down over the apple of his cheek and when Charley felt a shaky noise rattle out of his lips, half prepared to plead, Jerry kissed him.

It wasn’t at all what he imagined, not that he would confess to imagining it.

Cold lips were firm and insistent, leaving Charley with little choice but to open his mouth as Jerry tugged his head further back by his hair, and the nerve-wracking knowledge that his neck was unprotected and presented on full display to the entire nest made him quiver in the vampires hold.

Jerry seemed to relish his compliance for the time being as he lapped his tongue between open lips, sharp teeth prickling gently over the boys full lower lip, threatening to burst it but he did not, content to hold Charley still and explore his mouth, almost like he was teasing himself with an appetiser before he could fully sample the main course.

When Jerry finally lifted his head, Charley was startled to realise he was panting, oxygen a heady rush in his lungs as he dragged it in with each desperate breath, and the nervous tremors wracking his body did nothing to help. Jerry looked thoughtful, fingers stroking over the scant amount of neck he could reach before curling up behind sensitive ears that made the human in his grasp shudder, and the satisfaction on Jerry’s face was mortifying as he willingly released the grip he had on the boys hair, watching him dive back into the sunlight.

Jerry watched him for a moment, eyes trailing down over the layers of clothing he was wrapped in, in a way that made him feel entirely naked, sucking his own lip into his mouth as if to savour the taste of Charley before he turned away, allowing him a brief respite to recover his pride, “You can’t stay in there forever.”

--

Impending death was a boring thing, Charley had decided, and he had had enough of it.

His minor protection was shrinking, the spotlight moving back and back with the ticking of the metaphorical clock until he had even less limited space to move in. The pile of rubble was more than a few feet from him now and while he was happy to be on semi-solid ground again and away from the choking clouds of dust that rose every time he moved, there was something strangely vulnerable about ground level that he couldn’t seem to shake. Bad enough that the sudden kiss (a manipulation, it just had to be) had rattled him enough, but it certainly hadn’t helped that Jerry had followed him, matched every inch of withdrawal with an inch of advance, creeping after the drifting light and the tempting meal hiding in it, like a strange game of chess.

Charley wasn’t fool enough to ignore he had too little time and space for any risky moves, but if he made none beyond cower and retreat, Jerry’s checkmate would be far too easily won.

The sunlight was pressed back against the wall now, the upper half of the perfect circle slanting into a straight line where the floorboards over head kept it from leaking into the basement. It wouldn’t take long for the sun to disappear from the house completely and Charley was already uncomfortable, crouched in this small measure of protection, knowing he had limited time left to devise a foolproof escape.

None of his plans had anywhere near a 100% guaranteed success rate, though to be honest, how would one manage to outrun an inhumanly fast predator, on their own turf, surrounded by their newly fanged hellspawn while utterly, moronically unarmed?

The answer to that was dangerous.

Charley was far too tired to think about it too much until it was the only choice he had left.

Instead, he used what little reserves of energy he had to turn his head to the left, seeking the blackened shape of the elder vampire in the dark, and finding him half-slouched against the rough edge of the torn up cement floor, elbows propped back on it and fingers laced over his bare stomach. He had stopped whistling a short while ago, some nonsensical tune that sounded suspiciously like Blondie’s ‘One way or another’, choosing instead to study the way the sunlight crept higher up the wall, the small breadth of it yet to inch across the ground barely enough to stand in.

Jerry had continued to monitor the situation between bouts of pacing, only recently settling into longer moments of unnerving stillness accompanied by a thousand yard stare that felt like a physical violation when he directed it towards the sunny corner of the basement. He had stayed up well beyond sunrise, and it must have been nearing midday at least, not that Charley had any sense of time beyond the weight of his own bones and the heavy sleepless ache behind his eyes but even that was enough to tell him he’d gone too long without proper rest.

“You’re only making this worse for yourself, boy,” The silence was broken by soft words and Jerry’s expression was one of concern, almost convincing if Charley didn’t know better.

“Maybe I’m hoping you’ll be too pissed off to kill me slowly,” He bit back, but the words lacked any real venom, head tilting back to rest against the chipped wall behind him. It had been a long time since he had last slept, and with no adrenaline to keep him wired, it was all he could do not to tilt forwards into the darkness, knowing Jerry would be there to catch him before he hit the floor.

He imagined he should be worried that the thought sounded almost nice, but he just didn't have the energy to linger on it.

It seemed a good while later when Jerry spoke again, sighing his name like he’d done something particularly endearing and Charley almost flinched at the sound of his voice, whole body startled back into the solid wall behind him like he had been shocked into wakefulness, but that couldn’t have been right. He'd just shut his eyes for a second, barely a minute. He hadn’t been sleeping.

Had he?

The inside of his mouth felt like cotton when he tried to wet his lips, that stale after-nap taste sinking like a lead stone in his stomach when he realised he had been defenceless for a lot longer than a minute, his eyelids heavy as he rubbed at them with the heels of his hands, pressing hard enough that multi-coloured spots erupted in the dark behind thin veils of skin.

He had fallen asleep. He must have.

Stupid, stupid, stupid-

“You deserve slow, Charley.”

There was a smile in Jerry’s words, and he could almost see it without having to open his eyes and look.

“Can’t say I’ve ever met anyone that held out this long. I’d be impressed if I wasn’t so infuriated by it,” Jerry laughed, and it was a soothing sound, low, deep, almost entrancing, “What else is there to prove, kid? You know there’s no way out of here that doesn’t involve me, and you, and one hell of a good time, so why are you making this so difficult?”

Charley breathed out a sigh, dropping his hands to press his bare palms to the cool stone of the wall at his back, hoping to soak up any feeling that would anchor him to the world of the conscious, and forcing his eyes open just enough to meet the dark look directed at him. He could see the hungry gleam in Jerry’s eyes but the anticipated smile was missing, and the way his head was ducked down, shoulders craned forward like he wanted to move but he wouldn't let himself just yet, felt like a warning. To the unknowing eye, he still looked so very relaxed, the picture of quiet calm despite the subtle overlying tenseness betraying his casual poise, and Charley straightened up as much as he could without compromising his safety, meeting that starved stare directly, “I’m in no hurry to die.”

Jerry looked meaningfully at the ground, and Charley followed his gaze, the sight of the sunlight creeping back over the toes of his shoes enough to snap him out of the easy lull his lethargy had pulled him into. It was like blinking awake after full submersion in a tub of ice water.

“We’ll drink you from the ankles up if we have to...”