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Strigoi

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At least I gave as good as I got.

It’s the only reassurance Nigel can give himself, a burst of brightness in a steadily dimming world. At least I took them down with me.

Three men. It took three other men to bring Nigel to his knees, and all three of them lay bleeding out in the alley with him. He sliced them with teeth and nails, and then with the very knife they used to tear open his side. He’d ripped it from his attacker’s hand and used it to cut the man’s throat, then tear through the bellies of the sniveling cowards who’d tried to run.

And now, he’s going to die. He’s going to bleed out in this alley, alone and cold.

Or not so alone.

The person that creeps from the other end of the alley is… wrong, somehow, shadowed and blurry in Nigel’s watery vision. They hesitate a few feet away. Nigel hears them drawn in a deep, shaking breath, and then…

And then.

They move faster than Nigel can follow, even without the blood loss. The sound that rips from the shadows is inhuman, a hungry, animal whine that vibrates through Nigel’s aching body. The creature leaps on one of the bodies, lowering it’s head to the deep gash in the stomach, and slurps. For long minutes, there is no sound but the wet suction as the creature devours its meal. Nigel goes very still as it jumps from one body to the next, trying not to breathe, not to move. He’s largely unsuccessful, breath coming in ragged, agonizing gasps.

Eventually, the creature slows. It looks up at Nigel, passing a hand over it’s face. He can just barely make out human features, sharp teeth. It crawls closer, and Nigel flinches.

“Don’t worry...” The creature whispers, reaching out to him with damp, dripping fingers, “You’re safe from me. I’m full.”

“Safe from you,” Nigel says with a bitter laugh, “Might as well fucking indulge yourself. I’m dying anyway.”

The creature creeps forward a bit more, close enough for Nigel’s eyes to slowly adjust. A boy. A man. The man leans forward and prods none-too-gently at the edge of the wound. Nigel closes his eyes on a hiss.

“It’s very deep and I can’t take you to the hospital. The sun will be coming up soon. I can try to stitch it at home, though. It’s not far.” He doesn’t wait for Nigel to answer, leaning forward to get his arms under Nigel’s back and thighs.

This close, Nigel can finally make out his features. The man is roughly Nigel’s height, but smaller, not built for the streets like Nigel is. He’s leaner, softer, and yet when he stands, he lifts Nigel as if he weighs no more than an infant. He doesn’t so much as wince under the weight, carrying Nigel out of the alley and into the light of the street lamps.

He’s beautiful, even with blood smeared across his jaw, a halo of dark curls and eyes so brilliantly blue as to leave Nigel breathless. Although, that might also be the blood loss.

“Are you the angel of death, gorgeous?”

The man frowns, glancing down. Not at Nigel’s eyes, though, closer to his chin. “No. She said I was strigoi.”

“Can’t be. Too pretty.”

“I thought the description was inaccurate, when I looked it up, but that’s not why. Romanian vampires are different from the ones I’m familiar with. I think my myths may be a bit more accurate than yours.”

Strigoi. Vampire. Hell, wasn’t like anything else made sense, given the circumstances. “Not hiding a fucking tail, are you darling?”

The man’s frown deepens. “You should stop talking. You have a very deep injury, you need rest.”

“Whatever you say.” He can barely keep his eyes open, as is. A few more steps and Nigel is lost.

-----

The woman who changed him didn’t know any better. Adam tries to remember that it wasn’t her fault, even if it’s sometimes a bit more difficult to convince himself.

She’d found him in the park, with his telescope. He’d kicked it over when he struggled, he’d heard it crack even over his own sobs as her teeth sank into his neck. She hadn’t even said hello. One minute, she’d been across the park, just another woman on a walk. Then the wind had turned, blown Adam’s scent to her, and she’d lunged.

She took him home to Europe in the cargo hold of a ship, held his jaw closed tight with her hands when he screamed the whole way through the change. She’d been sent aboard by an acquaintance, of course, but it would have been rude to flood the boat with Adam’s pain.

And then she learned what Adam could have told her, had she bothered to ask him first. She learned his quirks, his habits. She learned that the screaming should have been the least of her worries. That, at least, happened to everyone who changed, was something she could relate to. She could not relate to or understand the way Adam flapped his hands and banged his head against the wall when he could not have any of the things that had once meant comfort to him, no lunches in the park with Harlan, no mac and cheese, none of his DVDs or weighted blankets or fidgets.

She’d claimed him, she said, because his blood sang to her. Because he smelled as if he’d been handcrafted just for her to want, and ‘looked like a dream, to boot.’

But she’d never spoken to him, never actually asked him if he wanted to be hers, and when he awoke to his strange and wrong new world, it turned out he did not.

She left when the sun set on their seventeenth day together. Seventeen days of keeping Adam trapped inside, teaching him everything she could about what she’d done to him. Seventeen days of bringing him meals and sitting on his chest to force him when he turned up his nose. Seventeen days, and she could not take it anymore.

“You have to eat,” She reminded him as she zipped up her bag, “I know you don’t want to hurt anyone, I know. But you won’t die of starvation, Adam. You’ll just get thirstier, until you want to rip your own throat out. Everything will dry out and burn. You’ll ache. Take the dregs, if it makes it easier. The world could do with a few less thugs, in my personal opinion. You’d be doing everyone a favor.”

He wouldn’t. He couldn’t. He’d never hurt anyone before her, never felt someone’s life drain away under his hands. He only killed now, because she made him.

“One day, you might find someone who’s blood sings to you,” She said in the doorway, hesitating at the threshold. He would move after this, find somewhere new to hold him. Pick his way across Romania eating rats and the occasional farm animal. He would always wonder if she would need permission to return, to enter the home he claimed for himself, or if only humans had that safety. “Eat them, Adam. Just eat them, don’t try to change them. It’ll be the best meal you’ve ever had, and you won’t want to stop. Don’t stop. You can’t...” She’d paused, taken a deep breath. Looked at him with damp eyes and a confusing frown. “You can’t take on the responsibility for someone else. You’re not made to care for another person. I shouldn’t have done this to you, but I did, and I can’t undo it. I’m sorry.”

He didn’t think she was right, even then. He could care about people. He cared for Harlan, and for his father. He’d been sad when his dad died, it was the only reason he’d been out in the park the night she’d found him.

But she’d been set in her decision, and Adam had still been too angry to be sad to see her leave. She left him alone, alone and hungry.

He wouldn’t kill. Couldn’t. When a body went cold and stiff in his arms, when it was his fault, it made him nauseous. But the men he found in the alley were already dead, or nearly there, and they smelled so good, and Adam had been so hungry. He hadn’t had time to think about it. He had his hands buried in viscera before he even realized he’d moved.

Later, he would be grateful. Three dead men were a feast that would keep him going for well over a week, two if he was careful and didn’t overexert himself. And three dead men mean he is full when he finally looks up and sees the man who still lives.

The man bleeds out in little rivers around the tight grip of his fingers, holding the jagged wound closed with a steadily-loosening grip. The smell is sharp and crisp and everything.

To human Adam, blood had all smelled much the same, copper and iron, wet metal. Now, he could tell the little differences. Each man he’d devoured tonight had tasted slightly different, but similar, kept close by shared meals and livelihood. One had the bitter taste of anemia, but his blood had nourished Adam anyway.

This man, this fourth man, doesn’t smell like any of them, and not just from differing lifestyles. This man… Had Adam still been hungry, even the slightest bit, he would have torn the man’s throat out with his teeth. The smell is intense, intimate. Adam would have ripped him to pieces, devoured flesh as well as blood and regretted nothing, even when he would inevitably have been forced to vomit up the solids. Nothing has ever smelled this delicious, not Adam’s mac and cheese, not chocolate, nothing. Adam struggles with metaphors, with fantastical descriptions, but he knows the man smells like life, despite the way it’s bleeding out around his fingers. The man smells like fresh, vital sweetness. He smells like Adam’s. Like he was made just for Adam to find and taste.

This must be what it’s like, to have someone’s blood sing for you. If Adam had not gorged himself, it would be a struggle to resist. As it is, he has to force control of himself, to keep his fangs sheathed as he carried the man back to the building he was squatting in.

-----

Life returns to Nigel in flashes. He wakes for the stitches, crying out in startled pain as the needle slides through his bruised flesh.

“Shh...” The whisper, meant to be comforting, is delivered in a flat, emotionless tone. The man-monster from before is stitching him closed, still covered in a thin crust of blood. He holds Nigel down with one icy arm, heavy as steel. Nigel finds he cannot so much as shift with that arm pinning his hips down. For a moment, he panics, thrashing. The man drops the needle and grabs Nigel’s shoulders, freezing him with two unbreakable grips.

“You’re okay. I am not going to hurt you.” The man’s voice is still flat, cautious. Somehow, it soothes. “I just want to close the wound.” Nigel stills.

He’s more prepared for the next stitch. He doesn’t scream or flinch, gritting his teeth against the pain. He’s still for the next, and the next, until the pain overwhelms him and he sinks beneath again.

He wakes again when the man bathes him, soft cloth over aching skin. Then again for cold broth, carefully tilted into his mouth. Again for mouthfuls of pills. Nigel wakes and sleeps, wakes and sleeps, until finally he comes to in soft blankets, piled onto a mattress on the floor.

The building around him is ragged. He can hear the whistle of wind through a gap somewhere, and he’s positively buried by sheets and blankets. It’s a struggle to free his hands, arms weakened from blood loss.

“I can’t feel the temperature.” The voice comes from across the room, in shadow. Nigel startles so badly that his stitches scream at him, and he has to take a moment to draw in tense, short breaths.

“Jesus fucking Christ.”

The man is seated in the corner, arms wrapped around his knees. He frowns, brow furrowing together, but doesn’t comment on the language. “I can’t feel the temperature,” He says again, blunt and matter-of-fact, “Not the same way you do. My body doesn’t produce heat anymore, so I don’t notice the cold. I wanted to make sure you were warm enough.”

“I’m warm enough,” Nigel assures him, shoving a few blankets off to the side, “Did you rob a blanket factory?”

“No,” The man says, brow furrowing again, “I robbed a department store. I can’t go out into the sunlight anymore, and I’m often too hungry to be around people. It makes it difficult to find employment.”

Nigel rolls his eyes, propping himself up into a painful sitting position with his mountain of blankets. “So. Vampires.”

“Yes.”

“Do vampires have names?”

“Of course vampires have-” The man stops, mid-sentence. Nigel can see the thoughts click into place. “Oh. Adam. My name is Adam.”

“Nigel.”

“I know. I found your wallet.” Adam points to a folding chair and table set on the other side of the room. Nigel can see his wallet, his clothes, and several cans of soup stacked and waiting. A quick shift reveals he’s wearing underwear, but not the briefs he started out in. He tries not to think about the reasons Adam might have had to change him, about how long it’s been since he had a proper shower.

“How long?”

“What?”

Nigel clears his throat and tries again. “How long have I been out?”

“Three days,” Adam smiles. It’s awkward and stiff, and doesn’t meet his too-blue eyes. “I took care of you.”

“Yeah, thanks for that.” Nigel shifts, guiding the blanket down to check his side. The stitches are neat and tidy, if a bit cramped. It’s a perfectionist’s work, far better than Nigel would have done on his own. Better than Darko’s sloppy stitches, for sure.

“You should rest,” Adam tells him, “You shouldn’t be up yet.”

Nigel wants to argue that he’s had worse, that he has things to do. The arguments flee him in a hiss of pain when he tries to shift. Instead, he nods and lays himself back down. He’s not tired, though. Physically exhausted, but not sleepy. And curiosity has latched itself into his chest, will not let go until he asks.

“No sunlight,” Nigel muses, “What other myths are true about you?”

He can hear Adam shifting. “You’re not resting.”

“I can talk and rest. I promise I’ll sleep, if you talk to me first.”

Adam shifts again. This time, the floorboards creak as he creeps closer. Nigel tries not to tense; it’s unlikely Adam would go through all the work of stitching him up only to eat him now.

Adam settles next to the mattress, watching Nigel with a curious scrutiny. After a minute, Nigel reaches out and pats the empty spot beside him. Adam looks entirely too surprised and pleased as he sits down on the sheets, leaning against the wall. It’s a painful expression, like he’s unused to friendly invitations.

“I don’t like garlic,” Adam finally says, after a long moment, “My senses are too sharp. I don’t eat, anyway. I mean, I can if I have to, but I have to throw up later. I didn’t like garlic when I was… alive, though. That’s a stupid saying, isn’t it? I’m alive now. My heart doesn’t beat, but I move, I talk. I have higher brain function. Isn’t that living?”

“Sure, Adam,” Nigel agrees, watching as Adam works himself up, fascinated.

“There are multiple definitions of life. I don’t consider myself dead. Or ‘undead’. I’m just… I’m Adam. I like being Adam. But I don’t like garlic.” Adam switches back to the previous topic so quickly that Nigel feels like he has to hold on, physically, just to keep from being lost. He speaks quickly, and is prone to rambling, but it’s amazing to watch. Adam lights up when he speaks, becomes a vibrant, excited thing instead of the shadowed monster he was before.

“I show up in mirrors, too, that’s just unscientific. Why wouldn’t I have a reflection? If I didn’t reflect light, I would be invisible, and then the mirror wouldn’t matter.”

“Coffins, then?” Nigel says, when he begins to worry he might be subjected to a lecture on basic physics, “Stakes through the heart? You don’t have a tail or extra nipples, do you?”

Adam seems to be expecting the first two, but the last question makes him scrunch up his face in disgust. Nigel blames Hollywood. Strigoi aren’t supposed to be beautiful, they’re supposed to terrify you.

But then, Adam is beautiful. Even if he turns out to have a tail.

“I don’t sleep in a coffin,” Adam says, unbuttoning his shirt. “I don’t sleep at all, actually. It’s stressful. It ruined my routines.” He bares his chest to Nigel. Two nipples, the typical amount, but Nigel is more distracted by the smooth, hairless skin before him. Adam is something else, something unearthly. “A wooden stake would likely shatter against my chest. It definitely wouldn’t penetrate the skin.”

Nigel blinks away his dazed, vague arousal to stare blankly at Adam. “Seriously?”

Adam smiles and holds out his arm. It feels like flesh beneath Nigel’s fingers, colder, perhaps a little smoother It lacks the micro-imperfections that can typically be found in humans, and when Nigel presses in with his fingernails, he’s surprised to find it doesn’t give, suddenly marble beneath his touch.

“It took a long time for me to adjust,” Adam tells him, “It feels wrong. Imagine spending your entire life one way and then waking up to something completely different. No papercuts or pillow creases. Nothing leaves a mark on me. She thought I should be grateful, but I don’t like being so stiff.”

Nigel’s next question, She? Is lost to a yawn. Adam laughs and presses gently at his shoulders. Nigel can feel the way he’s tempering his strength, but it’s still firm enough to lay Nigel out across the bed, no give to his touch.

“Sleep,” Adam whispers, “You promised you would.”

-----

His human, as Adam has begun to think of Nigel, is full of questions. Adam has never had a pet before, but he remembers his dad always telling him they would need attention, would need to be entertained. It was why Adam had never had one; his father had worried about Adam’s ability to commit to so much effort with all his fixations and his need for a strict schedule.

People, Adam is realizing, are much the same as pets, although he finds he doesn’t mind. Nigel disrupts his routine, certainly, but Adam hasn’t had much of a routine since being bitten. He can’t make himself eat regularly, he has to break into places to get hot water for a shower (he’s very thankful that he no longer seems to sweat), and all of his books and DVDs are still back in New York. He steals what he can, but he’s always been an incredibly honest person, and the guilt is too much for him to do it too often. That, and most of the things he finds are in Romanian, which he does not speak.

For Nigel, though, he steals more often. He brings him food and juice and as many books as he can carry. Some days, Nigel reads them. Most days, he asks his questions.

“How did she change you? How does someone become strigoi? Is it like the stories?”

Adam thinks it over. “Mostly. My blood is poison. Just a bite won’t change you, you need something of me in return. And if there’s too much blood in you, if you’re too far from death, it won’t take. It’ll just hurt and hurt until your insides are burnt out and you lose your mind from pain.” At least, this was what he had been told. This had been one of the lessons passed on to him by his maker, before she’d fled. Don’t feed anyone you don’t intend to change, and don’t change anyone because you have no idea what you’re doing.

“It hurt you?” There’s a funny look on Nigel’s face, a tense frown that Adam unconsciously mimics.

“It did. It burns, mostly. Like touching a hot stove, but everywhere. I thought I was dying. Well, I was dying, but I thought I was dying for real. I didn’t think I would get back up. She said I screamed the whole way through, all three days.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Why? You weren’t even there. It’s not your fault.”

“No, but that doesn’t mean I’m happy you were hurt. Christ, three whole days, Adam?”

Adam nods. “She said it was normal.”

“Nothing about this is ‘normal.’” Nigel points out, and Adam finds he has to agree. “Was it worth it?”

“No,” Adam said, sharp and quick. “No. I hate this. It took a long time to adjust. I had meltdowns all the time. I still do, on bad days.”

Nigel frowns again. “You didn’t choose this, did you?”

Adam cannot cry anymore, but he feels the frustrated pressure behind his eyes. It aches. It’s the closest thing to physical pain he can still feel. He never thought he would miss pain. “No,” He whispers, closing his eyes, “I just wanted to look at the stars.”

They are both quiet, for a long moment. Then, Nigel’s rough, calloused hand wraps around Adam’s. This, perhaps, is the only benefit to enhanced senses. They are normally too much. If a car alarm goes off three streets away, Adam will ache and ache and melt down until he scares the locals and has to move again. But he can also feel every bump and ridge of Nigel’s skin, and there’s something soothing in that.

“I’m sorry,” Nigel says again, and it seems like something he needs to say, so Adam smiles at him and doesn’t correct him.

“Who were you before?” Nigel asks, closing his eyes. Adam keeps him well-medicated with things he steals from the pharmacies. Sometimes, he falls asleep before he can get his answers, and Adam has to start over again. Adam doesn’t mind. He likes that someone is finally listening to him. It has been a very long time since someone has asked Adam a question and genuinely wanted to hear his response.

“I was just Adam,” Adam tells him. “I’m still just Adam.”

“Tell me about yourself. Before you got bit.”

“I have two degrees in computer science and engineering. I used to live in New York City with my dad. He died right before she found me.”

Adam is not good at expressions, at subtleties, but he can see Nigel gearing up for another question. He opens his mouth and a yawn slips out, drowning whatever words may have come. He doesn’t try again.

-----
Adam is fascinating. Nigel spends much of his recovery just watching him. He is a combination of constant motion and utter stillness. He always has a foot or a hand twitching or tapping, and his eyes flicker around the room rather than sticking to Nigel’s face, but the rest of his body is solid stone. He doesn’t breathe. Occasionally, his shoulders will rise in a single breath, just enough to scent the air for infection, apparently. Nigel probably should have been nervous about a vampire sniffing after his blood, but as long as Adam’s eyes were blue, he had little to fear.

That was the other fascinating thing. Adam’s eyes were a brilliant blue, right up until they weren’t. As the days passed, he would grow twitchier, and his eyes would grow darker, until the irises were reddened and he had no choice but to disappear for a couple of hours. Sometimes he waited until Nigel slept, but usually the panic would come all at once. Nigel would shift too much, or come too close, and Adam would take a deep breath, freeze, and flee the room.

He always comes back blue-eyed and calm, with reddened lips. Nigel is under no illusions about what he does while he’s gone. He finds it bothers him very little. None at all, in fact, so long as Adam doesn’t sink his teeth into Nigel’s throat next. Maybe it’s because he’s a violent man himself, or maybe it’s just because Nigel can’t bring himself to worry about anything that keeps Adam whole. His attachment to Adam is far more stressful than anything about Adam himself. Maybe it’s a response to being ‘rescued,’ maybe it’s just that Adam is the most beautiful thing Nigel’s ever seen, but Nigel finds he can never look away for long.

Nigel gets better. It seems to take years, but it must only be a few weeks before Adam watches him carefully remove his own stitches. Adam hadn’t known how, he’d apparently sealed Nigel up with the same technique his father taught him to mend clothes. That was a little disconcerting, but it had worked, so Nigel supposes he can’t complain.

“You’re going to leave now,” Adam says. Normally, so long as his eyes are blue, he sits on the mattress next to Nigel when they talk. Today, he is across the room, fingers drumming out a chaotic beat on his thighs. He always does that, but Nigel would have to be an idiot not to realize by now how much worse it gets when Adam is upset.

“I have to go home,” Nigel says gently, “I have business to take care of. I haven’t spoken to my partner since you found me, he’s probably a mess.” Adam didn’t have a cell phone, nor a reason for one, and Nigel’s had been left behind in the alley. It had been surprisingly pleasant to be disconnected during his recovery, but he knew Darko was going to give him shit for it.

Adam nods. Short, sharp. Stiff. Sorrowful. Lots of ‘s’ words that ache in Nigel’s chest.

“I’m coming back,” He says. He’d always intended to, but it slips out of his mouth before he can find the right way to put it. Adam looks up, gaze sliding over Nigel’s features before settling somewhere around his forehead. He looks surprised, and heartrendingly pleased.

“You are?”

Nigel nods. “Just as soon as I clear a few things up at work. I’ll come visit you. Bring you a thank-you gift.”

It’s such a little thing, to Nigel, but to Adam, it seems to mean the world. Nigel takes his things from the table and looks around the hovel they’ve been squatting in, rundown with holes in the window. He wonders what it was like for Adam, back in New York. How long it’s been since he laid out in an actual bed, even if he can’t sleep in one anymore.

-----

Nigel looks him up as soon as he gets home, right after an hour long phone call that mostly involves Darko yelling at him. Missing persons cases, adult men, Adam, New York City. Nigel has just enough information to track down an article about Adam Raki, including an interview with a man named Harlan Keyes who seems absolutely devastated at his loss. He was very insistent that Adam would not have run away, that he would not up and leave his safety and routines.

Adam has been a vampire for less than six months. According to the article, his late father was not even in the ground yet when she took him, whoever she was. Adam had missed the funeral. If Nigel ever met this woman, he was going to find out exactly what it took to kill a vampire, marble skin be damned.

-----

Nigel comes back to Adam only a week later, with his gift. Nigel’s ‘thank-you gift’ is a twitchy little man who smells like sweat and blood and something acidic that Adam is coming to recognize as a sign of alcohol abuse. His wrists are bound tight behind his back, mouth sealed shut with tape, and Adam can smell the blood on his knuckles from where he’d fought back. Adam is thirsty, so, so thirst. Thirsty enough to remember the sweet scent of Nigel’s blood on his hands, how he’d stitched him closed and then licked it off his own skin, too full to be a danger but unable to resist the lure.

Nigel still smells delicious, far better than the squealing man he’s brought with him, clearly intended for Adam’s teeth. Adam recoils, pressing himself against the back wall. Nigel had not called ahead of time, had no way to do so, and Adam is red-eyed with his desire, throat screaming, barely able to hold himself together. He should have eaten sooner, should not have risked the chance that Nigel would stumble upon him like this, smelling as good as he does. His blood calls to Adam, hypnotizing.

Nigel frowns and shoves the man forward. “You’re hungry.”

“Thirsty,” Adam corrects, voice raspy. He can’t feel hunger anymore. He will never be hungry again.

Nigel shoves the man another step. The man and Adam both whimper. “Then drink,” Nigel insists.

Adam shakes his head. “I can’t.”

“What do you mean you can’t?”

Adam twists and flaps his hands in front of him, rocking in short, unsteady bursts. “I can’t,” He babbles, “I can’t, I can’t. I’ve never hurt anyone. She would bring them to me and make me, but I didn’t want to, I didn’t want this. I’ve been living off of rats.” And it was disgusting, every second. Animal blood tastes wrong, feels bad in his mouth, like strongly spiced food and strange textures had felt when he was alive. The rats would squirm and struggle and Adam would cry when he ate, and he just wanted it to stop.

“You ate those men in the alley.”

“They were already dead, or close to it. It wasn’t my fault.”

Nigel nods, takes a step closer. Adam whimpers again. Any closer, and he will forget himself, will forget how nice it’s been to have someone to talk to, will forget everything except Nigel’s sweet scent. Adam no longer breaths, but he clamps a hand over his nose and mouth anyway.

“He’s not a good man, Adam. You don’t want to know what brought him to my attention. The world wouldn’t miss him.”

The man takes a frantic step backwards only to be shoved right back towards Adam. Adam jerks in place, hands shaking. “That’s not the point,” He says, frantic, “I can’t do it, I can’t do it!”

“So you don’t have a problem with drinking from them, you just don’t want to be the one to kill them.”

Adam gives a single, hesitant nod. Hesitant, because the man has been shoved another stumbling step closer, and his bloodied knuckles are beginning to drown out the rest of the world.

The bloody knuckles turn out to be the least of the man’s problem. Nigel steps forward, draws his knife from his pocket, and draws it quick and deep across the man’s throat. “Waste not, want not.”

Adam’s decision is made for him by the spray of blood scattered hot and wet across his face, but he thinks, had Nigel asked first, his answer might have been the same anyway. He is, after all, unbearably thirsty.

Adam lunges for the man, who would only have lived a matter of minutes, anyway. His supernatural speed is occasionally disorienting, leaving Adam feeling uncomfortably overwhelmed. Now, though, it is a blessing, allowing him to get his mouth against the man’s throat as quickly as possible. He sucks deeply from the wound, quenching his thirst in deep pulls. The man struggles, but he is no match for the strength the bite gave Adam. He tastes far better than he smells, a soothing balm to Adam’s aching throat. It’s the best thing he’s ever tasted. After living off of rats, sneaking onto farmlands, only getting a taste in the alley by chance. Adam drinks until the man goes still, then drinks some more, until each suck draws less and less, until he’s licking blood from his lips and rubbing at his jaw. It’s drying across his skin, tight and stiff, and Adam whines when he can’t immediately rid himself of the mess.

“Here, I’ve got you.” Nigel kneels before him, water bottle in one hand and a cloth in the other. He’s beautiful. He has always been beautiful, but now, giving Adam something he needed but could never take for himself, now… Adam can’t help himself.

He doesn’t stop to think about mind blindness, about asking for a clear-cut answer. Adam doesn’t stop to think about anything other than how Nigel has been made for him, how his blood sings for Adam’s teeth, how every hard line of him could have been ripped from Adam’s fantasies.

Adam kisses him, close-mouthed, but firm, unyielding. He presses into Nigel, blood and all, desperate for him. And Nigel presses back, hauling Adam close with a grip on his curls that only works because Adam wants it to, is shivering from the delight of it all.

When Nigel’s tongue licks the blood from his lower lip, Adam pulls back, regret heavy in his chest. “My teeth are too sharp,” He explains, eyes lingering over the plump redness of Nigel’s mouth.

Nigel grins. “I’m not worried about you getting a little taste,” He says, but Adam pushes him back when he tries to press against him again.

“I’m afraid I won’t be able to stop.”

Nigel’s smile slips right off his face. “You’re not a danger to me when you’re full, gorgeous, you said so yourself. You just ate. Didn’t I bring you enough?”

“I only need one every few days or so. I can go two weeks, if I’m careful.”

“Then what’s the worry?”

And Adam tells him. Explains how Nigel’s blood smells like nothing else ever has, how his heart seems to beat out a song made just for Adam. They’re not Adam’s words, too metaphorical. They’re hers. But it seems she was right about some things, even if she wasn’t right about Adam.

“That’s why she bit you?” Nigel asks.

“She said I was beautiful,” Adam remembers.

“She wasn’t wrong.”

Adam wonders if he looks at Nigel the same way Nigel looks at him, if his eyes hold a fraction of the intensity he feels. It’s too much to be on the receiving end of it. He ducks his head, stares at his fingers as they tap out a heartbeat he no longer has. “She said she couldn’t resist me. No one could have. But I can resist you, if I’m not too hungry, so I think maybe she just didn’t want to try.”

Nigel’s hand lands on his, and his grip might have been bruising if Adam was still capable of being bruised. As it is, it is a heavy reassurance instead. “Where is she, then?” Nigel asks. “If it was so fucking necessary for her to have you, why isn’t she here?”

“She didn’t know me,” Adam tells him, “She didn’t know a thing about me. She didn’t know about my… problems. My father used to call them my ‘little quirks.’ She said the change should have fixed me. Apparently, she had some sort of illness before she was bitten, and being bitten fixed her. But...”

“But there was nothing to fix,” Nigel says, cupping Adam’s chin and turning Adam to face him, “Because there’s nothing fucking wrong with you, gorgeous.” Nigel kisses him again, but he keeps his tongue where it belongs, and Adam is grateful that she couldn’t take everything from him.

-----

“What’s it like, being a vampire with autism?”

Adam has never come out and said anything about it, but it’s clear he knows that Nigel figured it out. He’s less tense now, no longer trying to hid his tics and stims from Nigel. He hasn’t had a meltdown in front of Nigel yet, but Nigel has seen him on a bad day, covering his ears and closing his eyes and waiting for whatever hit him to pass.

“Asperger's,” Adam corrects. Technically, Nigel knows he’s right, and they don’t call it that anymore, but Adam would have been diagnosed years ago, and Nigel isn’t gonna tell him what he can and can’t label himself as. “And it’s just like being a person with Asperger’s. I’m still me.” Adam looks ever-so-slightly offended, and Nigel doesn’t entirely blame him. From what he’s heard, Adam has had to be fairly defensive over his identity.

Nigel thinks over his question until he finds a better way to ask. “What’s it like being a vampire with, what’s the word? Sensory issues?”

Adam stills. When Adam stills, it’s eerie. Sometimes Nigel will reflexively check to see if he’s still breathing, only to remember, oh yeah, vampire. When Adam finally speaks, he sounds far away, as if he’s lost himself in the answer.

“Everything is so loud,” He whispers, “The cars, the people. The heartbeats. I like this building. There’s nobody else in here, and I ate all the rats.”

Nigel cringes, like he always does when he remembers what Adam ate before Nigel started bringing him his meals, killing people over a plastic tarp right next to the mattress so they’ll still be fresh enough when Adam’s fangs sink into them. Sometimes, they struggle, and Adam has to leave the room because the slick slide of the plastic against itself goes right through him.

“And the smells,” Adam continues, “I know so many new things about people that I didn’t know before, but it’s overwhelming. I get headaches. She thought I was lying at first, because we aren’t supposed to get headaches.”

Nigel has some opinions on Adam’s woman, too, but he doesn’t voice those. Adam goes numb if they talk about her for too long, she triggers something hurt inside him that Nigel isn’t sure he will ever be able to heal. Vampires are unchanging. They get stuck in emotional states, sometimes. Adam says the woman who bit him was crying when she left, like she didn’t want to leave, like it wasn’t her own fucking bright idea. Like she still had some attachment to Adam, to a man she forced into eternity with her before she even knew his name.

Adam’s moods are flighty, more prone to drastic upset, particularly if he is caught off guard, but he’s still young. Lingering moods and unwavering desires are just something that comes with eternity, when time flows differently for you. Or so Adam was told, and therefor told Nigel.

He watches Adam flap and twitch his hands, watches the way he shields his eyes when headlights flash past the window, and wonders. He thinks of Adam with a beat to his heart, flushed with blood, vibrant. Alive. He thinks of a thousand things Adam will never have again and he hates.

-----

“It’s just your blood that’s poison, right?” Nigel says, and whatever he means by that goes right over Adam’s head. They’ve talked about this, after all. Extensively, between chaste kisses and soft touches. If Nigel wants more, he hasn’t said.

Adam, though, Adam absolutely wants more. He wants everything.

He’s had sex before, although not since college. Not since there was a beating heart in his chest. He knows, from private moments with himself, that his body will still go through the motions, although he tries not to think too hard about how it does that. And he wants Nigel. Nigel fills his every moment. Adam doesn’t sleep, so he spends long hours sprawled out on the mattress, pants around his knees, trying out the limits of his new body.

But he’s stronger than Nigel. Maybe, if they had met before, he wouldn’t be. Nigel is broader than him, more thickly muscled.

But he didn’t meet Nigel before. He knew him now, after the heat had long gone from his skin. And now, Adam is strong. His teeth cut through tendons and muscles like butter, and he had broken into this building by clawing his way through the solid door itself. Adam knows what that strength could do to Nigel. He has seen it on the men who have died by his hand.

Adam doesn’t want to tear Nigel apart like he tore those men apart, so he says nothing about the desires that stream through him, and he makes no move to progress from their soft kisses. So, when he says, “Yes, we’ve been over this,” he is completely taken off guard when Nigel grins and crawls over him on the bed.

“Good.” Nigel may not be able to do anything with his tongue when they kiss, but everything else is apparently fair game. Adam lets Nigel lick and kiss his way down Adam’s neck, whimpering when Nigel bunches up his shirt and presses kisses to the soft skin of his stomach, the sparse trail of hair leading down to his jeans. “I knew you wanted this,” He says, cupping the front of Adam’s jeans with one large hand, “I was waiting for you. I’m tired of waiting, gorgeous.”

“I didn’t want to hurt you,” Adam says, breaking off with a gasp when Nigel unbuttons his jeans with his teeth. His hands fist in the sheets, white-knuckled. Nigel huffs out a laugh against his skin, sending a shudder through Adam.

“Darling, some risks are worth taking.”

Adam doesn’t take risks, though. He doesn’t step out of bounds, doesn’t stray from what he knows. Not that it did him any good, in the long run. He tries to tell Nigel all of this, but then Nigel gets his pants down around his thighs and Adam is lost to the slick heat of his mouth.

Nigel licks and sucks at him, long, slow bobs of his head mixed with the drag of his tongue against nerve endings that have been ignored for far too long. Adam holds himself as still as he can, whimpering under the onslaught, until Nigel growls around him and gets a tight grip on his hips, urging him to thrust up into the pleasure. Adam sobs and tears at the sheets, until they actually tear, give way under his hands.

“Nigel, I can’t-”

Nigel pulls off and grins at him, lips reddened from his effort. “You can, gorgeous. I want you to.”

“I don’t want to-”

Nigel reaches up and slides their fingers together. He holds onto Adam like Adam is precious, delicate. Human.

“I want you to,” Nigel says again, and pulls Adam’s hand to his hair. Adam doesn’t use his grip to guide. Instead, he holds on to Nigel for dear life, letting Nigel urge him with rough hands and skillful fingers. Nigel opens him up in ways he has never been exposed before, fingers slick with something he pulls from his pockets when he strips them.

“You won’t hurt me,” Nigel tells him, braced over him on all fours, Adam’s legs wrapped around his hips, “Not like this.” When he pushes forward, Adam whines at the pressure, cants his hips up and tries to go lax in Nigel’s grip. He’s still too tense as Nigel works into him, sharp, shallow thrusts that almost-hurt in a way that Adam finds intoxication. He has missed pain, and pleasure, and human touch. All things he would have sworn he could live without. He will never live without this again. Nigel thrusts forward just a bit more, fully seating himself inside Adam, and Adam clings to his arms with a grip that will leave bruises.Nigel just smiles and bites a mark into Adam’s neck, until Adam is gasping and bucking up against him. They move together, smooth glides and sharp thrusts that make Adam shake, make him cry out and cling harder. It has never been like this. Nothing will ever be like this.

Nigel is beautiful, Adam has always thought so, but he’s even more beautiful when he finds his pleasure in Adam, when he wraps a hand around Adam’s length and drags him towards the edge with him. They are something else entirely, in this moment, something more than they have been. Nigel’s pulse beats under Adam’s fingers, body flush with the thick, sweet scent of his blood. Adam opens his mouth, seeks the frantic thrum in the crook of Nigel’s neck.

Adam’s teeth catch and split the skin. The first taste slides over Adam’s tongue in a wave of ecstasy, and it is the last little push he needs. Adam comes, thrusting up against Nigel in frantic motions and sobbing out his pleasure against Nigel’s neck. Nigel is still hard inside him when he comes back to himself, when he realizes what he’s done. He tries to pull back, but before he can get a hand against Nigel’s chest, Nigel twines his fingers through Adam’s hair and yanks him roughly back to the cut, thrusting hard into Adam’s pliant, sensitive body. Adam sobs, pleasure and pain intertwined as Nigel seeks his release, as he sucks hard at the blood that flows from him. It takes him a moment to properly latch on, but once he does, Nigel’s body starts to shake. He thrusts into Adam again and again, until he’s spilling over deep inside of him, holding Adam’s face to his neck like it’s all he wants into the world.

Adam loses himself for a moment. He drinks long and deep, nursing at a taste unlike anything he’s ever experienced, until Nigel chuckles weakly and tugs at his hair.

“Alright, gorgeous, enough for now. You can have more later.”

For a moment, a single, terrifying moment, Adam can’t stop himself. Nigel is too much in his mouth, too sweet, too thick, the only thing that could ever possibly slake his thirst.

But no, that’s not true at all. Because if Adam could have this blood, every day, for the rest of forever, he would give it all up in a heartbeat to keep Nigel instead. Adam pulls back with a gasp, wiping frantically at his mouth to try and forget the taste. Nigel laughs again and leans forward to lick his own essence from Adam’s mouth.

Adam knows, then, that they’re going to do it again. And again. Over and over, until they are both full to bursting with each other.

-----

Once he’s touched Adam, once he’s felt Adam’s teeth against his neck, Nigel can’t get enough of it. They fall into a cycle, fucking and feeding, learning each inch of each other. Nigel doesn’t bring snacks anymore. The filth of Bucharest can rest easy, now that Nigel would much rather feel the sting of Adam’s teeth against him than share him with another.

They’re of near-even sizes, but Adam just seems like such a tiny little thing, right up until he gets a little over-excited and loses control of his hands. He leaves marks all over Nigel’s body, and no amount of sheepish guilt will erase how much Nigel loves them. On once incident that will live in Nigel’s memory even as the years try to wrench it from his hands, he hauls Nigel up and off the ground entirely, pressing him against the wall and grinding into him with desperate little moans. Nigel has never been one to appreciate being manhandled, but he likes just about anything if it’s Adam.

“Why didn’t you ever go home?” Nigel asks after another round, bruised in the best ways, in the shape of Adam’s hands across his hips. Adam had made it all the way to Bucharest, after all, surely there were safe ways for vampires to travel.

“Couldn’t. Couldn’t handle it, couldn’t afford the bribes. And she said...” Adam trails off, sorrow in his eyes. It takes a long time for him to speak again, but Nigel, who has never been patient before, can be patient for Adam. “She said we weren’t allowed to tell anyone. No witnesses. It’s why we have to kill our food, why we aren’t supposed to just take some and leave. There are rules.”

“Strigoi have rules?”

Adam shrugs. “Apparently. She didn’t tell me a lot about that. I don’t think she knew much. But it would be bad if people all knew about us. We’re not impossible to kill, just difficult. I’d fair just as well against a grenade as you would.”

Nigel tries not to think about it. He knows what people would want from his boy, how they would try to harm him. Vampire. Strigoi. Demon. They aren’t kind words. People would sling them with sharp eyes and sharper weapons, all at a soft-hearted man who had never asked for any of this. No, in this, and only this, the woman was right.

“Still, you could have called. You have that guy looking for you, your dad’s friend?”

“Harlan,” Adam says softly. “i wanted to. I stole a phone once. But when he answered I… I didn’t know what to say.”

“So you were alone,” Nigel says softly. Adam looks up at him, and bites his lip.

“She left me,” Adam whispers, “And I was alone.”

It’s nothing Nigel didn’t already know, but it still sets a fresh wave of anger through him, every time. He takes Adam’s hand in his, pressing kisses to the knuckles. “What if you didn’t have to be alone, anymore?”

Adam winces. His fingers clench, nails digging into Nigel’s hand for a painful second before Adam manages to relax them again. “One day,” Adam whispers, “You’re going to die, Nigel. It might even be soon, with your job.”

“I might,” Nigel agrees. “Or I might not. I might never die. I could stay like this, right here, with you.”

There’s a spark of light when Adam gets it, of hope. Adam shutters it almost immediate, closing in on himself. “You don’t know what you’re asking for.”

“I know exactly what I’m asking for. Should I have brought you a ring? Would you believe me, then?”

“A ring?”

“Till death do us fucking part, gorgeous. Real, true death.” Nigel grabs for Adam’s hand again, pressing kisses to the ring finger, right where he suddenly knows he will have to put a ring, if he ever wants to be satisfied with himself. He should have already bought one, the second he realized he could no longer walk away.

“No.”

Nigel falters. “What… What do you mean no?”

Adam shakes his head, pulling away, retreating into a corner with his arms wrapped around himself. “I didn’t want this, Nigel. I didn’t ask for it. I hate this, I hate it so much. Every second is worse than the last, except when I’m with you.”

“But I could be around all the time,” Nigel reminds him, “Forever, darling, you and me.”

Adam wavers. Nigel can see the yearning in his eyes, the desperation. Adam wants it just as badly as Nigel does, but he’s also just as stubborn.

“Not yet,” Adam finally says, “Don’t ask me yet. I can’t… I can’t give you what you want, not right now. Please don’t hate me.”

“Oh, Adam,” Nigel whispers, pulling at Adam’s arms. Adam cannot be moved if he doesn’t want to be, so it says a lot about his emotional state when Nigel gets him easily arranged in his lap. “It would take a lot more than you trying to protect me, to make me hate you.”

-----

In the end, Adam’s decision, like all of his decisions lately, is made for him. Adam does not believe in fate, but it is beginning to get a little bit frustrating, how every time he thinks he’s starting to understand how life works, it decides to twist the other way.

When the men come for Nigel again, to finish what they started, they find him less than a block from Adam’s doorstep. Of course they do, anyone who followed Nigel long enough would see how long he lingered in this dilapidated, abandoned neighborhood. Nigel is still well within Adam’s hearing range. Adam listens to him every time he walks home, as long as he can, until Nigel’s footsteps stall and the hushed words begin. Adam does not speak Romanian, but he can hear the tone. The click of a folding knife.

A grunt of pain.

In the end, had it ever really been Adam’s decision to make? Had he ever really had a choice? There were two ways things could go. Life without Nigel, or life with him. Adam had already had the one. He could never go back.

He could never want to. No matter what it took.

-----

Nigel is not any more prepared for the ambush the second time it happens. This time, at least, he has an excuse. The men who might want to hurt him have been quiet, driven underground by his and Darko’s careful revenge. When they come at him, four this time instead of three, they manage to get him up against a wall with a fist to his gut and a knife at his throat. The blow knocks the wind out of him, and his frantic gasp for breath presses his tender flesh against the blade. The men are smiling, laughing. They have him exactly where they want him, unable to move far enough to draw his own weapon. Nigel is not afraid, though. Over their shoulders, he can see what they can’t.

This time, the monster creeps into the alley in broad daylight, no shadows to hide the rage across his face. Adam angry is a wonder, a beauty unto itself.

The first man is dead before his partners even notice Adam, lost in a sickening crunch as Adam grabs his head and smacks it against the brick wall with the full force of his strength. The knife drops from Nigel’s neck. It’s owner barely has time to comprehend before Adam sinks sharp nails onto his throat and pulls back with thick chunks of flesh dripping from his hands. The third, shaking in his boots, takes a swing at Adam. The bones of his hand crack and snap against Adam’s stony skin. He is dead before he has time to scream, another victim of the wall.

The fourth tries to run. Adam, lost to the blood lust, lets him. Adam stands still next to Nigel, fire in his eyes, for a full ten seconds. Then he blurs. He moves so quickly that it makes Nigel nauseous, one moment looking over Nigel for damage, the next at the mouth of the alley, tackling his last victim to the ground. This one, Adam savors. This one, he tastes.

Nigel’s hard in his jeans, the attempt on his life doing nothing to temper his awe. Adam looks up at him with blood streaked across his jaw and concern flooding his gaze. Nigel says the first thing he can think of.

“You said you couldn’t go out in the sun.”

“I can’t. It’s too bright and my eyes are too sensitive now. It makes my head ache.”

Nigel laughs. He can’t help himself. He laughs so hard it brings tears to his eyes and makes Adam wince from the sound of it. “Let’s get you home,” he says, wiping at the dampness.

Adam is quiet for the walk, contemplative. He doesn’t speak again until they are inside, and even then, it is soft, uncertain. “It’s going to hurt.”

“What is, baby?”

“When I change you?”

Nigel’s heart skips a beat, as if it knows how few of those it has left to use up. “Are you sure, Adam?”

Adam looks up at him. Locks eyes with him, for a moment, for as long as he can bear to do so. “They can’t have you,” He growls, blue eyes fiercer than his red have ever been. “And I… I need you, Nigel. I love you.”

Nigel grabs for his hand, yanks him forward. Adam folds into his arms like he belongs there. And he does. “You won’t be able to taste me anymore,” Nigel warns him, but he can tell Adam has already made up his mind. Adam never says anything he doesn’t mean.

“But I won’t have to worry, either. You’ll be stronger than me, especially at first. When you’re too new to know any better.”

“Are you going to ask me not to hurt you, darling?”

“No,” Adam says, showing off the sharpness of his teeth in an eager grin, “I’m going to ask you to show me how I make you feel.”

Nigel laughs and presses soft kisses into Adam’s firm skin. “Like the luckiest man in the fucking world, my love.”

-----

Susannah arrives in Bucharest with a single bag and a hangover. Well, not a hangover, not really. More the memory of one, of what it should feel like. After a while, the remembering is almost like having the thing itself, once it’s been long enough that you start to forget how the world used to spin around you.

It’s been a rough year. She had known better, when she left. Her kind mates for life. They are too immobile, too set in their ways, to do anything else. Adam, for all his stressors, all his triggers, had been beautiful. Had been hers. She had wanted him, and so she had taken him. The blessings Adam had resented her for meant that she could have whatever she wanted. That Adam could have whatever he wanted, if only he would let her teach him. He would have adjusted, eventually, she was sure of it. Instead, she’d left, and her heart had ached for him every second. There would never be another for her, not after Adam.

She had been surprised to find he wasn’t where she left him, clinging to familiarity, but the search had given her the time she needed to do her research. Her bag held notes from the acquaintance who had tracked Adam for her, books on loved ones with autism, and a fresh pint of donated blood, in case Adam is still touchy about hunting. This time, she would ease him in gently. Be patient with him. They had forever to get it right.

The first step would be to relocate. The apartment Adam’s been holing up in is a lot nicer than she was expecting, but Susannah is tired of the old country. She wants to travel.

She doesn’t knock. Adam gets stressed about surprises, and she doesn’t entirely trust him to answer the door. Instead, she lets herself in the old fashioned way, forcing the lock with thin metal picks. She could rip it off it’s hinges, but she’s wary of anything that might frighten Adam. If he flees, she’ll catch him, but it will be such a waste of energy.

Everything in the apartment is neat and tidy. There’s no sign of the temper tantrums Susannah had left behind, no broken lamps, no torn clothes. Sometime in the past year, Adam had learned to control his strength. Good, it’s one less thing she has to teach him.

She finds Adam in the living room, braced by the window, on alert from the creaking of her footsteps. He stiffens, and his defensive posture drops in favor of shock.

“What are you doing here, Susannah?” He looks just like she remembers him. Decades pass, her friends stay the same, but she still expects something to change, every time. He’s even wearing the tight frown he’d worn the night she left.

“I came back for you, honey,” She says, voice soft. The books said she had to be clear. She couldn’t expect him to pick up on subtext. She was going to do it right this time. “I missed you.”

Adam frowns, hands twitching at his sides, tapping out a rhythm. She used to want to rip them off every time he did that, but now she knows it’s not his fault. She can be indulgent. She can be kind.

“You should go.” Adam says, shaking his head. Susannah tries to keep a soft, soothing smile on her face.

“I know you must be upset with me, Adam. But it’s alright. Things will be better now.”

“You should go,” Adam says again, louder this time, “I don’t want you here.”

It cuts her deeper than it should. Really, his anger is to be expected. He’ll likely be angry for a long time to come, given their nature, and she is prepared to offer up whatever atonement he’d like.

“I’m so sorry, honey,” She says, taking a cautious step closer. Adam’s eyes aren’t on her, they never are, and she still hates it even though she understands why, now. Instead, he looks beyond her, over her shoulder, like she’s not even there. “I’m sorry,” She says again, “I shouldn’t have left you.”

“No, you shouldn’t have.” A heavy, calloused hand lands on her neck. She glances back over her shoulder and up, staring into the dark eyes of another vampire. She hadn’t picked out his scent, and now she realized it was because she was surrounded in it. Every inch of the apartment smelled like this man, and Adam. The man smiles at her, icy and cold, and reaches up to caress a lock of her hair.

Then, with a groaning, screeching sound, he uses his teeth and claws to pry Susannah’s head from her shoulders.