Jonathan threw Edgar’s motionless body over his shoulder and carried him back to Pembroke, where he sneaked in through a back door, settled his friend in the desk chair in his office, and went to check on Geoffrey still locked in the panic room, lying on the ground still as death where Jonathan had left him. On his way to the hospital, he had already formulated his plan: blood transfusions would ensure neither of them woke up rabid. He’d bitten Geoffrey in a burning rage which had only expanded since then to include Edgar and his careless transgression. Despite that, however, he wanted neither of them to wake up from a trance with blood on their hands and a dying innocent in their arms, as Jonathan had on the worst night of his life.
Thanks to his long expertise in the field, a transfusion was easy enough to set up for him, even as his hands shook with exhaustion and the beast in him growled at the sight of the bottle filled with red. He did it first for Edgar and watched the blood drain into his arm until it was all used up. This done, he locked the unconscious man in his office before he hauled the necessary equipment up the stairs and into the elevator.
When the wooden grate opened up, Geoffrey leapt at him.
They went crashing against the wall and then sprawling onto the floor. Jonathan rammed his arm into Geoffrey’s face, keeping him from sinking his fangs into Jonathan’s throat; they pierced the thick fabric of his coat instead, just pricking his skin. He tore his arm away and punched Geoffrey in the mouth. He fell off, but shook his head like a dazed animal, growled, and went in again without a moment’s pause. He seemed utterly uninterested in the bottle of blood Jonathan had brought, but Jonathan couldn’t say if it was because a source with a beating heart was more attractive to Geoffrey, or because his own anger was somehow tearing through the haze that filled the head of a newborn to make him want to rip Jonathan’s throat out above anything else, even before finding sustenance. For once, Jonathan could not truly blame him.
However, while a poor soul like Mary welcoming her brother back with open arms might not have been able to fend a newborn vampire off, Geoffrey was just as unfocused and shaky as Jonathan had been after dragging himself out of the mass grave, and without the advantage of surprise was only ineffectually grabbing at him. Holding Geoffrey at bay was no problem, but he wasn’t going to be able to administer the blood transfusion in this state, either. He could try to knock him out, but Jonathan was not sure if that could not kill Geoffrey in his weakened inbetween state in case he managed to fracture his skull or cause brain swelling.
In the end, it seemed that the most reasonable thing to do would be to feed him and just drink the blood in the bottle himself to replenish. Not with Geoffrey’s teeth at his neck, though, he wasn’t foolish enough to take that risk.
Jonathan flipped them, forcing Geoffrey’s body down with the weight of his own, leaning heavily on his chest. Geoffrey snapped at him like an angry dog.
“Now you want my blood, do you?” Jonathan said with a strained smile that pulled tightly at his lips. His own voice sounded ugly to him, mean-spirited in a way he hoped he usually didn’t. God alive, Geoffrey had a way to get under his skin. Awkwardly, he used the hand with which he kept Geoffrey down to drag up the sleeve on his other arm.
Geoffrey latched on to his wrist and sank his fangs into the flesh as soon as it was close enough for him to reach. It stung, but after this night where he had convinced a man to take his final rest, had fought Geoffrey and then his thugs, and created two progeny, Jonathan was all but numb to most sensations.
Geoffrey’s eyes were glazed over, feverish, a stark contrast to the panic Jonathan had seen in them just a few hours earlier. To his surprise, he could feel him hard against the thigh which he’d wedged between Geoffrey’s legs to keep him down. It was not the first time he’d noticed this reaction to drinking blood, though. It hadn’t been that way for him with poor Mary or Seymour or Whitaker, but then, one he’d known all his life, and while the beast sucked her dry some part of his subconscious mind might still have recognised her as his sister. The others had been remorseless murderers he’d only had contempt for. Sean Hampton, however, who had at first grasped his arm with trembling hands and looking close to tears, had also sounded like the pleasure he got from drinking had little to do with fighting hunger by the end.
If hate could stop that reaction, though, shouldn’t Geoffrey’s be strong enough? Shouldn’t Sean’s have been, after the things Jonathan had said to him? Adrenaline and endorphins likely accounted for much here, the different ways people reacted to their stimuli. An interesting field of study, for another time, another night, when his mind wasn’t reeling with the breakneck pace at which his life barrelled along, when he didn’t have a man trapped under him and wasn’t fighting the same mix of chemicals in his blood, his emotions liable to become just as unreasonable if he did not watch himself, with his head in such a frightful disarray. After all, feeding someone always made one feel immensely powerful, that Jonathan could not deny…
The change in Geoffrey’s expression came gradually. First, his eyes refocused, then the greedy lapping of blood slowed, before he finally tore his head around, panting. Jonathan lifted his arm off his face.
“Will you behave if I let you go now?” he asked.
Geoffrey showed him his red-stained teeth in a scowl.
“Why did you do that?” he rasped.
“Because I didn’t want you to attack a staff member or patient,” Jonathan said. “They shouldn’t come to harm because of what happened between us. Besides, I know what’s like to live with knowing what you’ve done after being abandoned without guidance by your Maker.” He glanced down at him. “And even you don’t deserve that.”
Geoffrey looked at him in wide-eyed, angry confusion and Jonathan slowly eased his weight off of him. As Geoffrey sat, he noticed the predicament he was in, and despite everything that had happened in this never-ending night, Jonathan almost found himself laughing as he saw him staring in abject terror at his tented trousers.
“A purely physical response to chemicals, I am sure,” he said, in the soothing voice he might have used on a patient.
“Shut the hell up, leech,” Geoffrey bit out.
“You can stay here until you feel strong enough to leave,” Jonathan said, as he got to his feet. “I have to check on Edgar now, since your thugs did almost manage to murder him, after all. If you truly don’t intend to kill humans, you need to start keeping them in line.”
With those words, Jonathan lowered the shutters of the gates and held eye contact with Geoffrey as the elevator clattered upwards.
And left Geoffrey had, likely as quickly as he could. Jonathan had met him soon after, though, collecting the ingredients for the antidote that would hopefully allow him to put an end to the terrible curse which had been put on the city. It was a cold night when he climbed up the terrifyingly well-known steps to the highest point of Stonebridge Cemetery, the groans of Skals carried down by the wind. Geoffrey was already embroiled in a battle when Jonathan found him.
It was no surprise that Geoffrey and him fought well alongside each other, in truth, but Jonathan did marvel at how easy it really was in the end, how quickly they adapted, keeping out of reach of each other’s blades, creating openings for each other, flanking in to come to the other’s aid. There was a rhythm to it, the natural fit of two men who were so used to the weight of their weapons in their hands that they might as well have been part of their limbs.
“A hacksaw?” Geoffrey asked when they stood over the corpses, looking at the instrument that was dripping blood into the earth Jonathan had buried his sister’s broken body in barely a fortnight ago.
“It does the job,” Jonathan answered. “Although I concede a sword is more elegant.”
“I just didn’t see a posh West End boy like you using that sort of thing.”
“I took what I found and got used to my tools. Unless you want to give me your sword to complete the image, I fear that will remain so.”
Geoffrey almost smiled.
It was the first time they fought together, but not the last. Jonathan couldn’t say what he had expected, turning Geoffrey. Looking back, he would have to admit that there hadn’t been a whole lot going through his head that approached a structured thought. He’d been angry, and worried, and hurting all over with bolts still sticking in him and patches of skin burned ashen black, and he’d wanted to make this self-righteous, rash crusader feel just a fraction of the horror that had befallen him. As Edgar had put it, it might not have been a wise course of action. Perhaps Geoffrey coming to embrace his powers, then, and continuing on as the leader of the Guard of Priwen was not the worst outcome. Considering the convictions he had about leeches, there had been a chance he could have had a total breakdown and simply decided to start killing people, seeing it as the unavoidable outcome of his new nature, and Jonathan would have never forgiven himself for unleashing him.
But when Jonathan returned to London, having convinced Elisabeth not to give herself to the flames and encouraged her plan to start anew in the New World, there were still plenty of monsters left to fight and it made sense to do it alongside Geoffrey, who could not fully embrace his powers when in the company of his men and thus in some ways appreciated a vampire ally.
What was a bit less obvious a result of their new companionship was that the third time they went out together to uproot a particularly nasty Vulkod, they ended up getting each other off in the office of the old factory where they’d fought him. Jonathan had drunk so much blood from the Vulkod just to keep himself up during the fight, and Geoffrey was absolutely covered in it, having finished the thing off with a slash of his sword, and as Jonathan collected him from the ground after Geoffrey kicked the corpse off of himself, he grabbed Jonathan’s hand and pulled himself up into a painful kiss that had their teeth knocking together and soon encompassed fangs.
It was quick and dirty and one of the best times Jonathan ever remembered having, in some ways an addendum to the violence and bloodshed in the way they tore and scratched and bit at each other, yet a passion that was not wholly brutal. He liked to feel Geoffrey’s war-torn, scarred body under his hands, the proof it was of a life lived dedicated to an ideal that Jonathan may have found too rigid, but understood to be in the end in service of the safety of the people. He respected, he supposed, that he was the kind of man who could stand up to the hideous, burning, twisted side of Jonathan, that he met him with such vigour and not a shred of fear.
They never spoke about it, not then or the second time it happened or the third, and after the fourth encounter Jonathan stopped counting and simply accepted that it was part of his life that after a job well done, if they had time, he kissed Geoffrey and they dragged each other into the first private space they found. It brought him back down to earth and allowed him a moment longer to be the person that his patients and colleagues shouldn’t see. It was something to hold on to.
“That’s another one off the list,” Geoffrey said, as he grabbed the malformed wolf creature by the ankles and waited for Jonathan to take hold off its massive shoulders before they chucked the dead thing into the sluggish Thames. Black water splashed up and mixed with the blood on Geoffrey’s coat.
“I heard of the myth of the sewer dog when I went into the East End for the first time, but this place has more of them than a kennel,” Jonathan said. Across his face, a slash of claws was closing up so quickly that Geoffrey could watch it, leaving only uneven patterns of half-congealed stolen blood on his skin.
“This place has always been a mess even before the epidemic,” Geoffrey admitted. “No telling what’s lurking under the streets. I still don’t have nearly enough men to cover ground as they should here.”
To make it worse, while Geoffrey was grateful the town wasn’t torn apart by demons anymore, it meant the prior flood of Priwen recruits was growing to a trickle and some of his the newer members were already falling off again, bored or unconvinced of the necessity for hunters now that they could not prove their mettle every single night. People were too complacent, this was not new, but it angered Geoffrey again every time life forced him to grow aware of just how stupid they could be. These people had seen the threat first-hand!
At least that wasn’t something you could accuse Jonathan off; he did not rest on his laurels. When Geoffrey had asked his assistance for a hunt on the remaining sewer beasts in the East End, which were giving his greenhorns here a damn fight for their life, he’d agreed to it, as he usually agreed to tag along for Geoffrey’s missions if they were in service of making the city safer. It was useful, he would admit, to fight alongside someone who didn’t need him to hold back. Seeing him get thrown into the walls hard enough to hear his bones crack on one or two occasions had been pretty damned gratifying, too, considering what the leech had done to him. But since the man had saved London, and becoming a vampire had also given Geoffrey powers he planned to use for good, he did keep Jonathan from getting decapitated all the same.
Then there were their other activities, which Geoffrey preferred not to think too deeply about. He’d never been one to question his desires much, if they were willingly accepted, and Jonathan was the one person in his life left that he didn’t have to lie to constantly. Baring more than the truth before him did not seem too odd.
In the corner of his eyes, he found the morning sun glittering on the gentle waves of the Thames, which made him glance upwards at the sky. Considering Jonathan’s gaze across the soot-stained warehouse rooftops, he was worrying about the same thing that Geoffrey had just noticed. The sky was already blue and purple like a bruise, signalling the beginning of a clear winter day, and his eyes burned at the sight.
“We’re not gonna make it away from the docks before sun’s up. I guess we’ll have to find a sewer or something.”
“The sewers here aren’t safe,” Jonathan said with a shake of his head.
“It’s the East End docks, the whole place is not safe,” Geoffrey answered with a snort. “But it’ll still be safer than getting burnt to coal.”
For a long moment, Jonathan just looked at him, like he was trying to read the answer to some unasked question in Geoffrey’s face.
“I know a place we can stay,” he said, slowly.
“But what?” Geoffrey gave back. The word had been in Jonathan’s tone clear enough. “Spit it out.”
“If I take you there and I find out you sicced your dogs on the place afterwards, you and I will only be raising our weapons against each other from then on, I promise you that.”
“Now you make it interesting. More leech friends of yours? Or progeny?” He watched Jonathan’s expression closely, the way it grew a little tighter. “Are you raising an army, Reid?”
“I didn’t turn him, but he’s under my protection all the same. Come.”
Together, they walked along a narrow passage by the side of a storage building. From the way Jonathan held himself, square-shouldered, hands in fists, eyes straight ahead, Geoffrey could tell he meant business. On the other hand, if he’d not believed Geoffrey would behave in at least in some capacity, he likely wouldn’t have said a word and simply tried to find them a sewer entrance. Jonathan was starting to trust him, and hell, hadn’t Geoffrey done as much when he’d given him of the blood of Arthur? When he’d dropped his breeches before him, at that? It wasn’t a great idea, and Jonathan knew it, too, but it was where they were at.
“What am I going to find there, then?”
“A Skal,” Jonathan said, “a special one. His name is Sean and he’s quite lucid, really just like a normal man, which is what he is to the humans around him.”
“How could that possibly be?” Geoffrey frowned. “I’ve seen Skals all my life. Most of them can barely string words together and they fall apart like cloth dolls. How would he hide that?”
“You underestimate Skals. They are not at all mindless,” Jonathan said. “But it seems like Ekon blood has special healing properties for Skals. It purges the blood of hate in them, quells the rabid hunger that drives them mad, and even stops their bodies from mutating. I think it has to do with the effects the blood has on their metabolism, but I would have to look into it more.”
For a moment, Geoffrey fell silent. He had always considered himself knowledgeable about vampires, but even he had had to admit that becoming one, working with one had changed his perspective on them being nothing but slaves to their brutal base instincts in the end. But those were Ekons – it was not news that they could act like humans if it pleased them, the Ascalon Club existed, after all. Perhaps, he would now allow, some even had a touch of moral fibre, even if they were one and all, including himself, liars to the core in quest of hiding themselves from the world.
But Skals? Even other vampires considered them regrettable refuse and most of them acted barely different than animals. Could the Guard have been so wrong? He would admit that not much effort had gone into cataloguing and researching Skals, if the old scriptures were any evidence, since they were usually easily dispatched through the normal means and not sane enough to build schemes. Even the boffins from the Brotherhood would rather spend their nights talking to elegant, eloquent, melancholic Ekons than mumbling, shuffling corpses.
“So?” Jonathan asked.
Geoffrey lifted his head. “So what?”
“Can I trust you to keep the secret about this Skal?”
Geoffrey looked him in the eye. The fact that a leech was making demands of him was laughable, and just weeks ago he would have spat his refusal in Jonathan’s face. He had to admit, though, that, Jonathan had not led him astray yet since his transformation.
“If he’s not eating the living, then I don’t care about your Skal,” he said, turning to glance across the Thames, where a slow cargo ship belched clouds of steam into the air.
They walked across a bridge towards an open gate of black metal bars set into a brick wall. In the front court of the enclosure it protected sat tents like a military hospital and behind that rose a dilapidated building with the letters Dawson & Dawson Manufacturing written across the front. Jonathan greeted a sour-looking woman holding a bottle of gin as they passed inside through the entrance. There were make-shift beds covering the floors and it smelled like cabbage stew. Jonathan led him past the cabinets with the pots and pans and rusty stove to knock at a door.
A short man in a dark suit that was too wide on him opened up. He had the bright eyes of a vampire that Geoffrey knew so well, but tinged with an uncommon golden hue, and bruises and scrapes on his face as well as bandaged knuckles. If you hadn’t looked at leeches all your life like Geoffrey had, you would have guessed he’d gotten a bit banged up in a fight. The cross that rested on his chest sure as hell made for a good part of the disguise. How could he stand to wear that?
“Ah, Dr. Reid,” the man said, moving aside to let him in. “And… good morning to you, too, sir.” He lifted his eyes to find Geoffrey’s, obviously taking note of his nature as well.
“McCullum,” Geoffrey said, making sure to hold his gaze, while vaguely noting at the back of his head that he didn’t feel the need to keep his eyes on Jonathan at the same time. Not ideal. He shouldn’t get too comfortable with him.
“I’m Sean Hampton,” Sean said, glancing sideways at Jonathan.
Clearly, the fact that Jonathan had brought another Ekon here at the very least confused the ghoul. Geoffrey, for his part, was no less puzzled, even though Jonathan had told him what manner of thing Sean Hampton was. Still, it seemed so unlikely to find a Skal like this. He didn’t even slur his speech, and his movements where small and subdued but precise. Was there no end to the variations of monsters hell had released upon the earth?
“McCullum is the head of the Guard of Priwen,” Jonathan said.
Judging by the look of concern that crossed Sean’s face, this did not exactly serve as a satisfying explanation in itself. However, Sean’s gaze went back to Geoffrey.
“But you are…”
“Thanks to our friend, Dr. Reid,” Geoffrey said, sneering at his Maker. “But if he hoped it’d put me on a different path, no, my believes aren’t so easily changed.”
Sean looked between them. His hand had twitched upward briefly, like he’d suppressed the impulse to grab on to the cross of his rosary.
“I don’t want any trouble in my shelter, doctor. If you think I have done anything wrong, we can discuss it someplace else.”
Something’s off, Geoffrey realised, suddenly. Jonathan had a way of getting into Geoffrey’s head, being his Maker. Whenever he focused too much on one thing, his thoughts were liable to flicker through Geoffrey’s head as well. Sometimes he would lie in bed when he got fractions of formulas spinning in his mind and knew Jonathan was making medicine. He felt it when they fucked, parts of wanton sentences or words spilling over into him, and when Jonathan was in him or Geoffrey in Jonathan, this sometimes created an intoxicating feeling of being not quite sure where one ended and the other began. Fighting, too, could cause this, and there Geoffrey had to make sure he did not let Jonathan’s quick orders to himself distract him. Once or twice, hesitating to sort through their mingled thoughts had earned him a nasty blow. Jonathan was trying to learn to control it, so it had gotten better, but when he was totally preoccupied, it still happened on occasion.
The words doesn’t want his flock to stumble over his corpse that didn’t belong to himself, tinged with sadness and guilt, rang through Geoffrey’s head, and something like I should have been more careful. Not senseless thoughts, but Jonathan wasn’t usually so wrapped up in speaking to someone that it crashed the wall. What had happened between these two?
“Of course not, Sean, I believe you,” Jonathan answered gently. “We’re not here to harm you and I made that very clear to Mr. McCullum.” He glanced at him and Geoffrey just raised a brow. “We just need a place to stay for the day. I am afraid we got stranded with the sunrise.”
Sean’s shoulders sank a little.
“I see. There is a small office upstairs where I sleep. I wasn’t planning on going to bed today, since I have some more work to do, so there should be enough room for the two of you. Ah, you might have to share a blanket, I just put the others I’d washed into the tents...”
“That’s fine,” Jonathan said.
The door opening stopped whatever he’d meant to add. A young woman stuck her head through the gap.
“Dr. Reid! Giselle said you’d dropped by. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”
“No, it’s fine, Miss Paxton. How can I help you?”
It was remarkable, Geoffrey thought, how Jonathan switched from soldier with a hacksaw to that kind favourite-uncle sort of tone which he liked to use on his patients. He hadn’t been able to figure out yet which one was the lie.
“Well, you could help my sister, but I think she’s too proud to ask. If you had just a moment…”
After hesitating briefly, Jonathan finally nodded at Sean and Geoffrey.
“Excuse me,” he said, before he stepped out the door.
This left the Skal and him alone in the room. Silence stretched. Sean glanced back at Geoffrey and attempted something like a smile.
“I’ve been hunting leeches for well over twenty years now and I’ve never seen one like you,” Geoffrey said, eventually.
The smile wavered a little.
“I’m not quite unique. From what I know, though, the others like me are very good at hiding. You wouldn’t be the only one who might not like us, Mr. McCullum. The Ekons aren’t so fond of Skals, either.”
“Yet you’re out in the open as anything here. Risky, don’t you think?”
“I would think it’s riskier to be a vampire who surrounds himself with vampire hunters,” Sean said mildly.
Point taken, he supposed.
“I didn’t want to give up my occupation, either, Mr. McCullum. I like it, and I believe the Lord put me on this earth so I could do my best to help people. My current condition makes it easier in some ways, even, since I can’t get sick.”
“I believe the Lord doesn’t have much to do with either of us anymore, ghoul.”
“Then we’ll disagree on that, sir,” Sean said.
The Skal was polite and soft-spoken, but apparently something firmer hid underneath his bruised hide or Geoffrey couldn’t see him holding his ground like that. He supposed if your faith could survive your transformation into a flesh-eating monster, you did need a backbone. Despite everything, Geoffrey had always been able to appreciate that sort of conviction in people, if you could still call a Skal a person, anyway.
“Are you the only manager?”
“Yes. I have been for a dozen years now, I would say.”
“I’m surprised a place like this can stay open, not just because of leeches, inside or out. I can barely recruit here because everyone’s already split up into gangs and unionists. Don’t they give you trouble?”
Geoffrey himself had grown up in a part of Dublin that hadn’t looked a lot prettier than this one. While most people left the almshouses alone knowing they might one day need their services, you could always count on there being a few bastards who hassled the workers and stole the donations.
“Not so much. The gangs take care of their members, more or less, but a lot of them know me from when they were younger, or yet have family and friends who sometimes need my help. And I have a nickname… the Sad Saint. It’s a bit silly, since I don’t have any claim to sainthood, but I won’t deny it has helped me out. People are too superstitious to do much about me.”
Geoffrey had to laugh. God, it was ridiculous, wasn’t it? A Skal saint. And yet – if the place was anything to go by, it seemed to work out so far. He wondered what Carl would have said about all this. He probably would have wanted to burn the whole shelter to the ground. Geoffrey might wonder if Carl would be disappointed in him, talking to this Skal, but considering what Geoffrey was now… well, he knew the answer to that. Carl had called him his son then, but he’d be in the flames, no doubt about it.
The door opened up again, admitting Jonathan back into the room. He looked quickly between them.
“No, I didn’t eat your ghoul while you were away,” Geoffrey said.
“I can show you the way to the office now,” Sean offered.
He led them up a set of metal stairs that clanged loudly under their footsteps. They followed him to a small room stuffed with shelves and a desk. It was a narrow passage through the door and as Sean stepped out, he accidentally brushed up against Jonathan’s chest and flinched. Jonathan apologised, a frown on his face as he turned away.
Definitely something going on there.
They pulled their boots and blood-stained cloaks off before inching together on the slim mattress, the flimsy blanket stretched across them. Though Geoffrey had slept shoulder to shoulder with a lot of men in small hide-outs and on stake-out missions and in the camps at war, and he had been balls-deep inside Jonathan just a few nights ago, this felt strange. Rare that you wondered if trying to initiate sex would make things less awkward, but he didn’t know what it would be like, having to sleep in the same bed after, and besides, Jonathan looked miles away.
Sean knew that he should go to find Reid and ask for his assistance. It was the sensible thing to do, since Reid rarely refused to help anyone, and besides that, what other choice did he have? Though a vampire himself, he was not nearly strong enough to take on one of these wolf creatures, and approaching the Guard of Priwen recruits might have meant pushing his luck too far in case someone recognised him for what he was. Besides, most of those men looked young and inexperienced and Sean did not wish to send them to their death. Their leader, granted, knew of him now, but though he had been more accepting than Sean had feared he would be, he knew neither how to reach him nor how far he could trust him. Reid was both his best and only option.
And yet, Sean hesitated, and apologised to God for doing so. Every minute he didn’t take the heart to make his way to Pembroke, that thing which prowled the beach west of his shelter might attack an innocent. But if it was counting sins he did, being close to Reid always put more on his list, too, for his affection for him had long shot past everything appropriate. He was not quite sure how he could at once resent a man and like him so dearly, hate something he’d done to him and be grateful for it, wish him to be close and yet be relieved when he wasn’t.
All that was selfishness, though. He wanted to protect himself when he should be protecting his flock, and since he had seen the monster now and had a way to get rid of it, it was what needed doing. At four in the morning, Sean had managed to dry the tears of Mr. Farley, who’d just lost his wife to the flu, checked that all his more serious patients were sleeping soundly, and then finally made his way towards the Limehouse Docks from where he could cross the bridge to the Pembroke Hospital vicinity. The wind blew hard that night, carrying snowflakes that stung like needles, and he kept an eye on the ground for any human-sized shades crouched on the ground. The shelter was full, but there would always be a spot for those who might not otherwise survive until morning, even if Sean had to start stacking them soon.
At the bridge, Sean found himself facing two tall men approaching from the other side. Priwen patrols had as of late been stationed at these crossings, but as he closed in, he saw that they were not McCullum’s helpers, but, in fact, McCullum himself followed closely by Reid.
“It’s the Skal saint,” McCullum said, halting before him. He was not quite as tall as Reid, but he still looked down on Sean.
“Good morning, Mr. McCullum,” Sean said, lifting his chin a fraction to meet his gaze properly and holding it. Close to twenty-five years at the docks had taught him that picking a fight with men like McCullum was stupid, but cowering before them just meant making yourself look like an easy target. To his surprise, though, the corner of McCullum’s mouth twitched. It wasn’t a mocking smile, more genuine amusement mixed with a bit of surprise. Sean wondered if McCullum knew what Sean was trying to do.
“Good morning,” Reid said, and Sean just remembered to stop staring at McCullum and quickly nodded his head at him, a little sheepish.
“If you have a minute to talk, Dr. Reid, there is something I need your help with.”
“Of course,” Reid said.
“I spotted another of these poor wolfmen by the beach when I went to visit one of my customers who I’ve been told has been bad off,” Sean answered. “I know you have sometimes fought off these creatures if the need arose.”
Reid and McCullum exchanged a brief glance.
“Then we’re looking for the same thing,” Reid said. “We have been going after these wolves for some nights now. There seem to be an awful lot of them at the docks, more than there even were during the epidemic.”
“Show us where you saw the beast. We’ll take care of it,” McCullum added.
“Thank you. There is a pub at the beach where people regularly leave without all their senses, I was worried they’d be easy prey.”
“But you went to the beach on your own?” Reid asked.
Sean waited for the men to catch up with him before he turned back towards the Limehouse Docks. They were an even sadder sight than usual now – so many windows boarded up or dark like dead eyes, their inhabitants lost to the flu or the epidemic.
“I don’t die so easily.”
“But you also went alone into William Bishop’s den when you were still a human,” Reid reminded him.
“I had to at least try to help him.”
“I’m pretty sure you’re wasting your breath, Reid. Your Skal seems stubborn,” McCullum said, not sounding much like he thought it was a bad thing.
“He’s not my Skal.”
“You were the one who gave him blood, though, weren’t you?”
Reid glanced away and McCullum stared at him like he was trying to burn a hole in his skull with his gaze alone. Sean swallowed his curiosity about the strange moment between them. Perhaps McCullum just objected to the creation of Skals who could blend too easily into human society, but Reid did not seem like the man to him who would seem contrite about having done it. He’d been insistent enough that it was necessary, after all.
“I am beholden to Doctor Reid in a way,” Sean said carefully. “But my Maker was a friend of mine who unfortunately was lost to the rage of the epidemic, as so many were.” Harriet had then killed the majority of those unfortunate souls who’d found refuge with Old Bridget, for which Sean could not help but feel responsible sometimes, even if he knew that there was nothing he could have done if even Old Bridget had not seen the signs of what Harriet was. “There is much still to do, so I am very glad you two are here to help with these wolves at such great cost to your own safety.”
“Well, it’s just what I do,” McCullum muttered. “And the Doctor… what about you, Reid? Did you get a taste for killing in the war?”
His voice was mocking, but not sharp enough to make Sean think he was truly looking to insult Reid.
“I know what it’s like to have your life torn apart by vampires, too. I just happened to be one of them,” he said.
The way he looked at McCullum again seemed to imply some deeper meaning. Sean wondered about that small word ‘too’. A terrible encounter with a vampire would be a good reason to follow as brutal a path in life as McCullum had done. They seemed to know each other well, even though you’d expect them to be at each other’s throats after what Reid had done to the hunter. And what must really be going on in McCullum’s head? Was he as stoic about his change as he seemed to be? Was Reid as calm and resigned as he sounded?
“I’ve never gone this way,” Reid commented, as Sean took another turn in a labyrinth of narrow passages between houses, off the main street and back behind the old Tilling Warehouse and past a defunct factory.
“It’s the fastest way to the beach, but it’s best you know the area a bit before you attempt it, or you might get turned around.”
“Better stick to the big streets without a guide, then, Reid. I’d bet you hadn’t ever set a foot in the docks before you were dropped down here by the undertakers, and I’m assuming that’s the only way you ever considered coming – dead or not at all,” McCullum mocked.
“Oh, really? I suppose it’s better than an insinuation that I used to come here in life for unsavoury purposes,” Reid answered with a feigned impatience that was almost playful.
“What about you?” he said, seizing Sean up. “Did you come to the docks willingly? You don’t sound like you were born here, a Sheáin.”
“That’s the first time you used my name,” Sean said. In the Irish address, too, and probably just to prompt him to give up his history by demonstrating he suspected Sean wasn’t a local, but it was a step up from just being called an unfriendly nickname.
“It took him a bit with me, too,” Reid provided.
“Don’t get too used to it, leech.”
“Now that’s just hypocritical.”
McCullum ignored him and turned back to Sean. “Well?”
Sean knew he could have simply refused, since he owed McCullum no report of his life. However, he decided to extend an olive branch.
“I moved to London at fifteen, on my own. I was doing the wage slips for a whiskey distillery in Southwark, since I knew my numbers, and lived in a small boarding house a few blocks from here with some other boys, dock workers most. This place is a second home to me.” He cocked his head. “Now may I ask how you came to London, if you weren’t born here?”
McCullum considered him for a long moment. “I was adopted, more or less, after vampires slaughtered my family. The man who took me in helped me kill the ones that had turned.”
“I’m so sorry, sir,” Sean said honestly.
“For what? Them being killed, or me turning murderer?”
“I’m sure both has weighed heavily on you. You must have loved them, after all.”
McCullum was silent for a moment, then shrugged.
“Brought me closer to Reid, anyway. We have both killed a vampire sibling. Almost poetic. I assume fate means something to you, Skal saint.”
Shocked, Sean looked up at Reid, who frowned at McCullum. That couldn’t have been more than a month or two ago, could it? Reid had once said he hadn’t known about vampires until he’d become one, so how would he have hunted his sister before that?
“I had no idea…”
“I turned my sister in a haze when I first woke up as a vampire. I had to put her down eventually. She couldn’t bear what she’d become and was taking lives,” he said quietly.
“May God protect her,” Sean answered. “That must have been awful.”
Lord, what horrific tales they were. Not that Sean was under any impression the human world was so much more cosy, he did live at the docks, after all. Still, to hear what these men had gone through tore deep at his core. So many vampires seemed ready to leave their humanity behind – and the thinking ones, too. Ekons were not like most Skals, who were only barely aware, they still had the full use of their faculties and yet chose to murder, anyway. But then, didn’t so many humans do the same?
A hand brushed his arm and Sean glanced at Reid, puzzled at the touch, and still much too sensitive to it. At his look, Reid pulled back his hand, expression unsure.
“These things are in the past.”
“You needn’t comfort me after what happened to you, Dr. Reid. Sometimes, it’s just hard to consider the injustices people have to suffer.”
Reid gave a slow now.
“Are you crying?” McCullum asked, perplexed.
Sean blinked, feeling a tear drop fall loose from his lashes. He was, a bit. Well, he had always been prone to it. He wiped his face with the back of his hand and looked ahead. Not much further to the beach now.
“Don’t you think the things you both told me just now are worth crying over?” he asked softly.
“I’ve given up on tears long ago,” McCullum muttered, turning his head away.
Sean looked at the back of his head for a moment. He had met many people like him. They were hard and strong. When the pressure grew too big, most of them broke before they bent. None would have wanted protection, and yet you had to find ways to afford it to them, too, for they were often the ones who had suffered the most brutal blows even if they would not show it. And then there was Reid, ever working, always just on the go to somewhere else, from soldier to saviour of the city in under a month, and Sean wondered when the last time was that he had stood still and breathed and thought of the things he’d lost.
As he was contemplating this, they stepped out onto the street that led down to the beach, which laid covered in snow, cold and dark. He turned to Reid and pointed his fingers, but as he opened his mouth, whatever words he’d wanted to say where drowned out by a thunderous howl.
To his right, McCullum threw back his cloak and revealed a long sheath strapped to his side from which he pulled an old-fashioned longsword. Sean stumbled out of his way just to bump into Reid, who had produced a sharp wooden stake from some pocket.
“Get out of the way,” Reid ordered him, pressing his free hand against Sean’s chest.
Not being in the way was regrettably the only thing Sean could contribute to the fight, so he did as he was told, fleeing to the end of the alley. By God’s mercy the beast was not interested in him, since two men very willing to engage it stood closer by. He cringed as he saw Reid flung sideways by the swipe of a paw, but McCullum was right there bringing his sword down on the extended limb, and he wondered if Reid had challenged the creature so brazenly to keep its attention on him. He was certainly more careful now as he dodged around another lightning-quick attack and rammed the stake deep into the beast’s side.
Even though Sean knew the creature was dangerous and had seen the mangled corpses its kind left in their wake, he found himself flinching as he heard it whine in pain. Bloody claws shot from Reid’s free hand and McCullum dragged up his sword into its soft belly. Sean looked down at his feet. He was very grateful for them helping out because by God, he didn’t think he’d have had the heart or the stomach.
There were rapid footsteps, shouting. Sean lifted his eyes and stared straight into burning eyes full of rage and pain. He had no idea how the creature had covered the ground between them so quickly or why it had taken note of him, but despite the human face having shifted to be near unrecognisable, he was struck painfully by how much the look in its eyes reminded him of William Bishop as he was rambling on about his thirst and drinking from his wrist, and Sean stood in frozen terror.
McCullum appeared next to him as if out of thin air with a hint of black smoke following. He grabbed Sean roughly around the chest and threw him around, forward onto the ground, falling on top of him. The sword clattered on the cobblestone. As the air was punched out of Sean’s lungs, he heard McCullum groan against his ear. Blood dripped down on the patch of snow by his shoulder.
McCullum sat up, still pulling Sean with him, between him and the monster like a living shield. Sean heard another inhuman shriek and a thud. As he dared to look, he saw the creature curled on the ground, Reid standing over it with McCullum’s sword bloody in his hands.
“Good Lord,” Sean whispered.
“Are you two alright?”
Reid lowered the blade and stepped up to them. Only now did McCullum’s steel band grip around Sean’s chest lessen. Sean felt his own heart racing. He turned to McCullum. There was a nasty gash at his throat, but it was already closing.
“Like a rabbit before the snake!” he groused at Sean. “What were you just standing there for, saint?!”
“I’m, I’m sorry,” Sean stammered.
McCullum waved his hand and got up, pulling Sean with him by the fabric of his sleeve.
“You did show us all the way to the beast, at least,” he muttered.
“Sean,” Reid tapped his shoulder to get his attention.
“I’m not hurt,” Sean said quickly. “Mr. McCullum took the blow.”
“Yeah, no fussing for me, Reid?” McCullum drawled.
“Oh, you’ll be fine,” Reid said, brushing dirt off McCullum’s shoulder. Another look passed between them as Reid’s hand remained on McCullum’s arm for a moment. Sean was too unsettled to form a final thought about that.
He looked down at the corpse at their feet and made the sign of the cross. Poor creature. You could never tell who they’d once been if they ended up like this. Another lost soul people might wonder about for the rest of their lives; or perhaps one no one at all would miss. Either way it was tragic.
The silent scratching at the back of his head that had returned a few nights ago, reminding him of all the flesh on those dead bones, wasn’t helping his nerves, either.
“Thank you,” he said, his voice still weak.
“You saved Sean.”
Jonathan disentangled himself from his sheets, grabbing the shirt which had been discarded on the ground. The red welts Geoffrey had scratched into his back were vanishing quickly. Geoffrey could get resentful when Jonathan won their play-fights, but he’d be lying if he claimed he didn’t enjoy getting fucked by him, too. He just didn’t say it out loud.
“Would you rather I’d let him die? That thing could have bit his head off,” he said, arms folded behind his back.
“I’m just surprised that it mattered to you. He is a Skal.”
Geoffrey could have said it mattered to him because it mattered to Jonathan, which was a little bit the truth, and the part of it he liked least.
“I guess there’s no denying he’s helping people,” he muttered. “I looked into him a bit, since I’m not quite as trusting as you are, but no one seems to have a bad word to say about him. If he weren’t there, there’d just be more people out on the streets at night and that’d add to the pile of bodies in the Southwark pits.”
Jonathan closed up his shirt, long, pale fingers moving quickly and efficiently up the row of buttons. Geoffrey followed their ascent and saw the mocking quirk of Jonathan’s lips as his hands had arrived at his collar.
“You like him.”
Geoffrey scratched the stubble at his chin, which was growing too long. “He’s a queer fellow. First goddamn Christian vampire I’ve ever known, and too soft a heart for a man, let alone a Skal.” Not the worst thing in a person, though, he’d admit. People always expected he looked down on the kind and the meek because he was neither, but those people who wouldn’t grab a gun themselves were the ones Geoffrey had dedicated his life to keeping alive – if only Sean were still alive. “But I have to admit he’s got some guts, even if he’s useless in a fight. Maybe I could like him, until he starts eating people, at least.” He glanced sideways at Jonathan. “Are you ever going to tell me what happened between the two of you, then?”
Jonathan stiffened and looked over at the skeleton that stood by the side of the bed for some godforsaken reason. Geoffrey could see that one being Jonathan’s or Swansea’s idea of interior design, they were both odd enough for it.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“You two are skittish as alley cats around each other, and I’ve got a head full of regrets every time you get a minute to look at him. What did you do?”
Slowly, Jonathan pulled on his socks, for want of something else to do to dodge the answer, Geoffrey suspected. He sat up now that it seemed they’d be talking for a bit. Looking up at someone had never been his way.
“I made him drink my blood.”
“I got that far,” Geoffrey said.
“He didn’t want to. He was convinced God had made him this way and changing it would have been going against His plan.”
“I’m guessing you didn’t just ask him nicely to reconsider.”
“I’m sure you have noticed how, if you want to, you can move people to do or say things just by talking to them.”
Geoffrey had. He’d used it on a couple of guards who were too old and experienced not to at least suspect a leech when they saw one. It worked pretty well. Jonathan’s blood was strong, strong enough to make Geoffrey a formidable traitor.
“That worked on him?”
“I don’t think it would have if I hadn’t had the right thumbscrews. I learned a few things about him asking around the docks.” Jonathan glanced out the window. “I asked him if being abandoned in front of an orphanage was God’s plan for him.”
“Or if God planned for him to be raped by a priest there. He struggled a bit after that, but I ordered him on his knees to drink, and he did...”
“Bloody hell, Reid.”
There was cruelty, and then there was that. And Sean still wore that rosary? No wonder turning Skal hadn’t fazed his believe in God.
“I had no choice!” Jonathan snapped. “You didn’t hear him. The blood of hate was clearly in him, he’d have done something he would have hated himself for eventually.”
“Oh, come off it, Reid, no choice? He’s a hundred forty pounds wet and I’ve seen his fighting prowess. Tell me you couldn’t have grabbed him and forced your blood down his throat. You did it to me,” Geoffrey added, bitterness tingeing his voice. “I think you wanted the handsome saint getting on his knees for you. You do seem to like that sight in men. Guess you just couldn’t break me as well as you did him.”
He’d expected Jonathan to punch him or shout at him, but he just sat there, terror crossing his face.
“No,” he said, like he was trying to convince himself, running a hand through his hair and leaving it wild. “No, I don’t... at least, I didn’t before. I was angry.” He lowered his hands. “I’ve been angry ever since I climbed out of that mass grave. I wanted him to just listen and do what had to be done, and I wanted you to listen, too, since you never would give me a chance to speak!”
Perhaps it would have been good to have Sean here, Geoffrey thought, as he looked at Jonathan sitting there with his head in his hands. He wanted to say something, but what advice could he possibly give? He’d been feeding off his own rage for years to fuel his motivation to cut heads off leeches begging for their lives and looking a whole lot like humans for all the world while doing it. His response to being turned was just to think of it as another weapon in the arsenal and never look back. It’d be a farce for him to attempt to soothe anyone. He doubted Jonathan would even want to hear it from him.
But all things considered, it was no surprise he’d managed to hit Jonathan so deeply on the first try, exposing the wounded, raw, unsightly part. Takes one to know one, after all.
“Mr. Hampton! I think your assistance is required.”
Sean looked up from the carrots he was slicing at Ichabod standing in the door to the shelter. He had just been contemplating who he’d ask to taste the food tonight, since he could never say if something was too salty or bland these days, when all human food just tasted like mud, but judging by Ichabod’s face, something more important did indeed need his attention.
“What’s the matter?” he asked, already getting up.
“Someone wounded. A man brought him here – McCullum, his name was.”
His heart jumped briefly, but Sean just nodded his head, thanking Ichabod as he walked past. McCullum was Reid’s friend from the Guard of Priwen, who he now might also owe his life to despite the fact that when first meeting, he’d been convinced McCullum would have happily fed him into a woodchipper just to be safe if it had been all the same to Reid. However, when Sean glanced out into the yard, his attention drifted quickly from the captain of the guard to the young man hanging off his side.
“Good evening, Mr. McCullum. Who is this?”
He came closer to take a look at the figure, who glanced up timidly at him out of black-brown eyes. Congealed blood had matted his wiry black hair on the left side of his head. Sean had never seen the man before, so despite his shabby clothes, he probably wasn’t from the docks.
“A recruit of mine. We were staking out the place and had a nasty run-in,” McCullum told him, shifting the young man’s weight a little. “He hit his head badly. I would have brought him to a hospital, but that is a long way off.”
“Of course.” Sean scanned the tents, called to mind who was here, then turned left and moved a tent flap to reveal three empty cots. One had just been relieved off a corpse last night, another victim of the flu, and was stripped bare, but either of the other would suffice. “Lay him down on a bed with blankets,” Sean said. “I’m no doctor, but I can take a look if it’s just a wound from a fight.”
He helped McCullum lay down the young man and pulled off his shoes before he stepped up to the front of the bed.
“I’m Sean Hampton, the manager of this shelter. What’s your name, sir?”
The young man hesitated.
“Well?” McCullum prompted him. “You were just babbling about your girl a while ago, Roger, I know you can still speak.”
“His eyes are so bright, chief. Is he...”
Before Sean had even a moment to feel fear, McCullum snorted.
“Don’t be daft, boy. Does an Ekon have bruises and cuts like that?”
“No,” Felix muttered. “They heal.”
“And does a Skal wear a suit and call you sir?”
“Does he look like a Vulkod or a beast?”
“Of course not.”
“There you go, then. Mr. Hampton is a friend of the guard. Say your name and apologise to him.”
Properly chastised, Roger wore a contrite look as he turned his unfocused gaze back on Sean.
“Roger Hill, sir. Sorry about that, sir. As the chief said, I did hit my head. I’m seeing ghosts.” His eyes caught sight of the cross dangling from Sean’s neck and it seemed to give him some relief. “Sorry,” he said again.
“Don’t be,” Sean answered, wondering if Geoffrey too felt guilty for making the man doubt his own quick wit like that. “I just fell ill a while ago and it left me looking a bit unusual. It’s not contagious, though, thank the Lord. Would you let me see your wound?”
Roger turned his head and Sean folded the clotted tuft of hair out of the way. It was a laceration, but it didn’t look to be more than skin-deep and had already stopped bleeding. He excused himself to get a wet cloth and clean the wound, after which he applied some antiseptic.
“I think you were lucky, Mr. Hill. But you’ll want to take it easy for a bit, anyway,” Sean said as he grabbed a blanket and spread it out over Roger. “You are welcome to rest here as long as you need to. I doubt you’ll want dinner so soon, your stomach might be upset, but you can have some leftovers in the morning if you feel better.”
“Thanks, Mr. Hampton.”
The last of Roger’s doubt had bled out of his voice and he looked honestly grateful just to close his eyes. McCullum took a long look at him before he pushed out of the tent after Sean, following him into the shelter, where Sean sat down on the stool before his heap of carrots again.
“The young man has keen eyes,” he noted as he picked up his knife.
“And not a bad brain in his head.” McCullum sat down on the edge of a cabinet by his side. “If I hadn’t kept those thoughts in check, he’d go and tell on me eventually.”
It didn’t surprise Sean that McCullum sounded proud of the young man.
“I don’t mean to send my guards your way,” McCullum added, “but I really didn’t know where to go with him.”
“It’s perfectly fine. Pembroke is closest and such a long walk would only have put a strain on the man.” His knife went down on the wooden chopping board again with a practiced flick of Sean’s wrist. “And if you covince them I’m just an ordinary human, they won’t be a danger to this place, for which I thank you.”
“It’s at least easy with you,” Geoffrey said, thoughtfully. “Since you’re different.”
“Have you gotten a lot of trouble yet?”
“I’ve squeezed the thought out of people if I had to. I’ll continue to be the head of the Guard of Priwen.”
Sean glanced up at him. Geoffrey’s face had grown hard.
“You are not like the murderous vampires you want to kill?” he guessed, trying to understand the way Geoffrey justified his own existence.
Geoffrey laughed. “You’re wrong. Reid, that’s a leech with a smidge of honour, even if he has his lapses. Swansea’s at least got blood bags to keep him in check, and me, failing that. Then there’s you, Skal saint, anyone could make a case for you. Me? I’d stake me to the wall if I met myself. Only way to be sure.”
The dark amusement fled his voice as he went on, leaving only something resigned. Sean sat the knife down and turned properly towards him.
“Surely that’s not true, Mr. McCullum.”
“Surely it is,” he gave back, sarcastically mimicking Sean’s tone. “We’re all liars, creatures of deceit. If we weren’t, we’d have to live as recluses in the woods. And I was a killer long before I became a leech. Now I drink from the ones I fight. If I stop fighting, whose blood would I take?”
McCullum grabbed a potato off the heap Sean had prepared and took a knife from the counter, too. It seemed to Sean like he was searching for an excuse not to look him in the eyes.
“I can’t guarantee I wouldn’t feed among the innocent because I don’t think any leech can, and those who think they do are arrogant and more likely to fail.”
It had to be difficult, Sean thought, being a vampire hunter who had such set notions about vampires, and now being the very thing he despised. Geoffrey had killed people in his own family, he’d said so himself, a sibling if he remembered right. Had they been killers? How did he think of it now that he himself was a vampire and hadn’t thrown himself onto a blade? More and more, the perpetual simmering irritation he read in McCullum’s face seemed to him like the snarl of a dog with a thorn stuck deep in its flesh.
“But you are aware of the danger and what a terrible thing it would be to kill an innocent. I have faith you would not take a life lightly.”
“I don’t even remember what it’s like,” McCullum said, hacking pieces of peel off the potato, “not fighting. Not killing. The last time I wasn’t in a war, I was twelve.”
“You think that maybe it doesn’t make such a big difference, what Dr. Reid did to you,” Sean realised. “If you were a human and the world became a place without strife, you would have been lost, too?”
“Thank God that’s never going to happen, huh?” McCullum muttered.
“You must not think that way. A human, or even a vampire, is not only a weapon with one use.”
“No, Priwen is King Arthur’s shield, which I think is traditionally part of the armour, not a weapon,” McCullum said dryly. Sean could well see Geoffrey was dodging the point he was trying to make with his semantic games, but decided he would not let him go like that.
“Is it?” Sean answered. “Oh, your group chose a nice image, then, sir. The Lord is described as a shield in the Bible quite often, too. ‘He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.’ I just think that people who are drawn to protect others like that can’t have too much bad blood in them, even at their worst.”
McCullum looked him up and down and huffed a quiet breath. “I can almost believe you believe that.”
“‘Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.’”
“So you never waver?” McCullum asked, handing him the peeled potato before picking up another.
“Of course I do. I am just a man, Mr. McCullum,” Sean said, cutting the potato into pieces which he dropped into the big pot. He tried not to burden anyone with his own concerns if he could avoid it, for God would always listen to him, after all. However, he had a feeling that McCullum would find it easier to accept his own pain if Sean did not pretend to be untouchable. And perhaps, yes, sometimes he did lack a human response to his troubles. “Though I have known about vampires for a long time, some days, when I do not have time for prayer to ground me, I still feel like reality is slipping through my fingers. It’s a frightening world to be thrown into.”
“Are you afraid of Reid, too?”
Sean looked up from his work in surprise. He had not foreseen this line of questioning.
“I’ve no horse in this race, but he means you no harm.”
Sean wondered why McCullum had brought it up. Was he trying to soothe him, or doing a favour to Reid in some form by saying this? One might think either was a strange idea, but he also figured that McCullum had some softness under that hard shell, and what he had seen of Reid and him had spoken of a greater familiarity, perhaps even some sort of tenderness.
“No, he doesn’t.”
Fear did not describe the unholy mess of feelings inside Sean, anyway, and having it prodded by McCullum was so unexpected he did not quite know what to make of it. These thoughts had always been between him and God, he’d never had to put them into real words.
“You certainly act like you think he does.”
“I’m… it’s not that. Doctor Reid has helped me, even if I disagreed with it at the time, but he saved my life, and he was always very friendly to me otherwise. Maybe some things have left me confused, but I would really consider him a very good man...”
Sean stopped himself when he noticed he was rambling, which was not at all his usual manner, and his face felt warm. He got up and fingered at the old stove for no particular reason, stirring the still cold water in the pot, to escape McCullum’s questions.
“So that’s how it is?”
Sean remained silent because he didn’t know what he would agree or disagree to. The way McCullum looked at him made Sean feel like he wasn’t wearing any clothes. Lord, this was difficult. So many things were hanging sideways in precarious balance these days, his feelings for Reid, his control over his hunger – that memory of how well flesh had tasted mixed with a much stronger longing for the sweet blood of an Ekon –, and McCullum was helping none of them. But for how shortly he’d known him, he still found him fascinating, this suffering Ekon vampire hunter hurting on his own blade.
“I will leave you to your flock,” McCullum said, putting another peeled potato on the counter together with the knife before he rose to his feet.
Jonathan slammed the door of the room shut and hissed a curse under his breath. The scent of blood was everywhere. The man who had stumbled in through the back entrance, dragging his broken leg behind him, was bleeding out into a dirty storage room bed. By some cruel twist of fate, of course, none of his colleagues were here to assist him because a street north a house had collapsed and buried a dozen poor souls which now had to be pulled out of the rubble and taken care of. He’d meant to go himself before running into the man. Maybe there was a nurse left, but how would he explain why he wasn’t helping the patient himself, being a doctor? There was a point to which he could control himself, but not in the presence of this much living, pulsing blood. He’d almost lost it that time in Dorothy Crane’s clinic already, he would not tempt himself again. God be damned, the man would lose his leg at this rate! And it would be easy to help if it wasn’t for this affliction.
He stormed into the hallway hoping to find a staff member, or perhaps even a patient who was lucid and strong enough to at least lend a hand. He’d have to think of his justifications later, they were not as important as the man’s health. On his wild dash, he found himself almost ramming into a man, who saved himself jumping backwards.
Jonathan stared at him.
“Sean? What are you doing here?”
Sean gave a regretful smile.
“Poor Mrs. Fishburn fell down the stairs and broke her ankle. I visited her…” His sentence petered out as he watched Jonathan’s face. “Is everything alright, Dr. Reid?”
“How much does blood affect you?”
Sean drew his brows together.
“Blood? Not much since you gave me to drink, and I was never tempted by it as much as an Ekon.”
“One of my patients needs help and I can’t… please come with me,” Jonathan implored.
After barely giving him time for half a nod, he dragged Sean by his arm, not willing to let go off the one hope he had of saving the man, and then released him before the door.
“I will tell you what to do. We must save him together.”
Sean stepped inside and hurried to the man on the bed. The whole left leg of his trousers was drenched in blood. Jonathan should have stood by Sean’s side to assess the damage, but the thought of watching the blood well out of the wound, touching it, leaning over to get a closer look… no, he just couldn’t.
Carefully, Sean shifted the man’s leg, lying it flat to fix the unnatural angle at which his knee stood. The patient had lost consciousness now, Jonathan could tell, which was really for the better. Sean gripped the halves of the man’s trouser leg where they were split and ripped them apart without pre-amble to get a better look at what was underneath. Good, Jonathan thought. Sean might not have experience in a hospital, but his work at the poor house seemed to have given him the same streak of pragmatism Jonathan saw in most older medical personnel.
“The wound is at the thigh,” Jonathan said, because how could he not have noticed? “Is there swelling or bruising around, or does the leg turn oddly there? Is the thigh bone fractured?”
For a moment, Sean ran his hands over the man’s leg.
“I don’t think so?” he said. “It’s broken at the knee, for sure, but the wound on his thigh doesn’t look like the kind that’d break. It’s so even. Probably from a blade?”
That was a relief, at least.
“Grab one of the towels off the shelf and press it on the wound. I will be right back.”
Jonathan turned on his heel and ran into the adjacent room to throw open a supply closet. A tourniquet sat on the shelf, and he also grabbed a couple of needles, a spindle of catgut suture, and an antiseptic. That done, he filled a bowl of water at the sink. When he returned, he looked over at Sean with the towel in hand.
“How bad is the bleeding?”
“Take this. It’s a tourniquet. Have you ever used one?”
“No,” Sean said, concern written over his face as he came over to take it off Jonathan’s hands. “What’s it for?”
“You use this to constrict the blood flow to the wound. It has to be applied at the right spot and with the right pressure or it can lead to nerve or tissue damage.”
With a look of concern, Sean ran his finger along the band of the tourniquet.
“What if I do it wrong?”
Jonathan hoped, at least. This was less than ideal, with him not daring to go within ten feet of his patient, but it was all they could do for now and he needed Sean to keep his nerve. Fortunately, he seemed to see the necessity and finally nodded and turned back.
“Put it around his leg above the wound.”
Sean lifted the man’s leg carefully into the sling of the tourniquet, pulling it past his broken knee and over the gash. He looked back at Jonathan for advice.
“Try to get it at the slimmest part of his thigh, then pull it tight,” Jonathan said.
Sean’s brow was furred in concentration. He grabbed the loose part of the tourniquet after he had positioned it, then pulled. This reminded Jonathan of some of the questionably safe treatments he himself had had to apply in the field. They should have used a pneumatic tourniquet, but one just broke two nights ago and Tippet had set the other two aside for an operation in the morning. Sometimes, Jonathan felt like he’d never left the French trenches, working in a London hospital at the tail end of an epidemic. There was so much to do.
Again, Sean covered the wound with the towel, turning to look at Jonathan. Catching his gaze, he gave him an uncertain smile and Jonathan had the feeling that he was trying to cheer him up, despite the fact that he looked plenty worried himself. Apparently, his thoughts must have shown on his face. Jonathan felt his heart seize at the gesture.
Sean lifted the cloth after a long moment.
“It stopped,” he said.
“Good. Now wash and disinfect it. Have you ever done that?”
“Yes, plenty,” Sean said, relieved, as he took the necessary supplies from Jonathan’s hands.
Jonathan had a moment to breathe as Sean got to work. He really did seem quite practiced in that. With the location of the night shelter deep in gang territory, it was no wonder.
“Have you sutured a wound before?” he asked.
“No, I only patch clothes…”
“It’s better practice than nothing,” Jonathan answered and held up the tools. “These tweezers are called tissue forceps, you can grab the flesh with them. Disinfect the yarn before you use it, don’t push in too deep and try to put the needle holes directly opposite of each other on the wound, then make a knot on top when you have pulled the thread through. After that comes the next pair of stitches, and the next, until you’ve covered the whole cut.”
Sean nodded his head along with his explanation, holding on tightly to the needle. Jonathan watched in silence as Sean started to put what he’d just heard into practice. He did lose his grip on the needle sometimes, inexperienced as he was, and Jonathan remembered what his first suturing experiments on pig’s belly had looked like well enough to guess Sean wasn’t making the cleanest stitches. Still, an ugly scar was a fair price to pay for keeping your leg.
“I think I’m done, Doctor,” Sean said, eventually.
Jonathan dared close in on the patient, now that most blood in the room was dry and dying, not as appetising. Indeed, the line of stitches looks scraggy, but functional enough, and the patient was breathing steadily.
“That was good work, Sean,” Jonathan said, honestly, and grabbed him by the shoulders as relief flooded through him. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you make an excellent nurse.”
Sean looked a bit flustered as he smiled. He didn’t seem to mind the touch at all.
“You gave all the orders…”
“Not everyone could have followed them as well.” Jonathan shook his head. “I must really get this hunger under control somehow, even if it’s just for minutes at a time. I have to. Things like this cannot happen.”
“You did help the patient,” Sean said gently. “Having made enough friends to be sure of assistance when you need it is not the worst substitute for being able to solve every problem on your own.”
A friend – Jonathan would like to believe that was true. He didn’t have many left in this world. There were Edgar and Elisabeth, but Elisabeth had already fled the city and it was anyone’s guess if they would meet again. Geoffrey was, well, Jonathan couldn’t say, but he was something else than a friend, much less and much more. Sean could be a friend, even if unreasonable parts of Jonathan’s libido were determent to drag his feelings over a line Jonathan was sure Sean would not wish to cross. A friendship was the very best thing to hope for and he would be happy to treasure it.
“Am I interrupting something?”
Jonathan dropped his hands from Sean’s shoulders at the sound of Geoffrey’s voice. The flicker of guilt he felt was unreasonable. He owed Geoffrey no loyalty, after all, and Geoffrey himself looked more surprised than angry. He also looked like he had gotten into a bad fight.
“What happened to you, Mr. McCullum?” Sean asked, eyes wide.
“Had a bit of an argument with a few of your feral brothers. I won, but I need something to drink.”
He glanced at Jonathan. It was an agreement they had made to keep out of sticky situations to feed each other when the need arose. It was better that two vampires had each a reasonable amount of blood in them and time to acquire more sustenance humanely rather than to keep one starving and risk the consequences. Besides, even Geoffrey shouldn’t hurt like this.
“Alright, then,” Jonathan said, glancing at the patient. He was still out like a light. “Come in. We’ll do it here, quickly. I don’t want to leave this patient alone right now. Is the floor outside still empty?”
“Like a graveyard.”
Sean stepped back as Geoffrey approached and Jonathan moved to position a shelf between them and the patient, just to be sure. Jonathan saw Sean looking at how he fumbled with his collar, pulling it asides so Geoffrey had access. Sean’s throat moved as he swallowed.
“I should – I’ll be on my way,” he said. “You don’t need me anymore.”
Before Jonathan could even say goodbye, Sean was out the door. He sighed.
“I think the sight of me giving anyone blood still troubles him. It’s a trauma.”
“Really? You thought that was fear in his eyes?” Geoffrey leaned down to Jonathan’s neck. “I saw something else.”
“Well, come on, Doctor, you wanted to ride, put your back into it – God!”
Geoffrey groaned as Jonathan slammed himself down on him, short-circuiting his brain for a moment. He needed to collect his errant thoughts before he could do as much as roll his eyes at Jonathan’s shit-eating grin.
It was a bit different tonight. They usually only did this after they’d fought side by side. But just as Geoffrey had been about to leave, Jonathan had tapped him on the shoulder and told him his colleagues, who were just returning with some dusty and frightened-looking people in tow, said they had the situation under control, and didn’t Geoffrey want to come up?
There was no law that said they could only fuck after a joined battle, was there? It always felt good and that was all the justification you needed. Geoffrey grabbed Jonathan by the hips and angled himself on the bed for a few quick, shallow thrusts, the kind he knew Jonathan enjoyed.
“Like that?” he asked smugly, when the doctor gasped out.
“You really do love finding the pressure points,” Jonathan muttered, his fingernails digging into Geoffrey’s chest.
“I know all about your pressure points.” Geoffrey licked his lips, following a sudden inspiration that had sat at the back of his mind since he’d come to Pembroke tonight. “Like Sean Hampton.”
Jonathan stopped in his movements, staring down at Geoffrey.
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“Don’t be obtuse, Jonathan. I know the way you look at men you fancy. I know the way you look at me, after all.”
Jonathan contemplated him, tongue flicking out of his mouth to lick his lips.
“Are you jealous?” he asked. “Why, that’s new.”
Geoffrey wondered if he should’ve been. It was not like Jonathan was his true lover – and yet he doubted he would have liked to find him mooning over that lickspittle Strickland or one of the nurses. In fact, the thought filled him with more anger than he had any right to feel. No, there was something else at play here.
“I get it, about the saint,” he said.
He’d dismissed him at first, interesting just for what he was, not who, but by the time Geoffrey had ended up spilling his guts about things he barely wanted to think on, much less talk about, over carrots and potatoes, Sean had gotten stuck in Geoffrey’s head, too. He had a way of handling people.
Jonathan stared down at him and Geoffrey could see the interest bright in his eyes, even though he looked confused.
“He’s handsome enough still.” Geoffrey pressed his fingertips into Jonathan’s flesh and Jonathan drew in air as the crescent marks appeared and quickly smoothed out again. He twisted Geoffrey’s nipple between his fingers, making him growl in turn. “I bet Skal skin shows bruises a bit longer than ours. You’d like that. You keep marking me up, but it never holds... made your own bed there, Jonathan.”
“You’re projecting,” Jonathan muttered. He’d started moving his hips again, finally.
“Did he look good on his knees?”
“I wasn’t thinking about...”
“Don’t play coy with me, Reid, I’ve got my prick up your arse and your blood in my mouth. What have we two got to be embarrassed about?” Geoffrey asked roughly.
Jonathan, who liked to pretend he was so much more well-mannered than Geoffrey knew he could be, bit his shoulder hard.
“He looked good,” he muttered. “And he got into it. He made noises like I gave him something else to suck on than just my wrist. I had to pull my arm away.” Jonathan shivered. “I feel dirty saying that.”
Geoffrey imagined the scene before him, as Jonathan had fantasised, not as it had happened, with Sean’s head buried in Jonathan’s lap, gagging on his cock. His hips twitched up into the heat of Jonathan’s body.
“You underestimate the saint. You should’ve seen him when I asked about you, he blushed so deeply. I think he liked it well enough.”
Jonathan huffed, meeting Geoffrey’s thrust. “He told me he’d never kneel before anyone but God.”
“Yeah? Awfully specific thing to say, especially after he’d already made it a lie. I’m pretty sure he’s worried if you asked nicely, he’d fall before he had a chance to think about it. I’d like to watch you fuck his mouth, anyway, but if he’d wants to lie on his back for it, I bet that would look good, too...”
Jonathan groaned, grasping for purchase on Geoffrey’s shoulders. He was going harder now, deeper.
“What would you do with him?” Jonathan gasped out.
For a moment, Geoffrey called the image of Sean into his head before him, one hand clasped around the rosary, his odd yellow eyes raised to meet Geoffrey’s with that soft smile.
“Bend him over one of your workbenches.” He chuckled. “It’s always the good Catholic boys who like to have an arm twisted behind their back while you give it to them rough. But who knows, maybe he wants a go at me, too.” Geoffrey laughed breathlessly. “I’d have to let him win, though, not like you bastard who puts me face-down when I don’t pay attention.” He licked his lips. He was getting close, and so Jonathan couldn’t gloat, he grabbed his cock to get him off, too. “Maybe we could have him in the middle. Him sucking you off, me inside him, us kissing over his back...”
His own voice was trailing off into breathless panting even as Jonathan seized up and spent himself over his fingers. He grit his teeth as he grabbed his thighs, keeping him down on him with that image in his head, and the amazing feeling of Jonathan around him, and came just seconds later.
Jonathan sat on him gathering his breath for a moment.
“That was shameful,” he muttered.
“You’ve killed people, leech, but this is where you draw the line?” Geoffrey asked, rolling his eyes. “He’s not actually a saint, you know?”
Jonathan brushed a strand of hair out of Geoffrey’s face. “That’s still no reason to use him for our amusement.” A brief pause. “And if you tell him about this, I will strangle you.”
“Welcome again to my shelter, Dr. Reid, Mr. McCullum.”
Sean hoped he managed the kind of smile he would have given any two visitors. If he’d thought his growing interest in McCullum, who had proven himself to be so much more than a brute, was in any way helping with his latent obsession with Reid, he had fooled himself. All it had done was make him dwell on the brief instances of intimacy he had witnessed between them, feeling like a naughty child watching through the keyhole. The meaning behind those moments was perhaps just a figment of his imagination; and if it was not, it was surely a private matter between the men, and another good reason not to have his thoughts twisted around them.
“Sad Saint,” McCullum said, with a nod.
“Good evening,” Reid answered, and for some reason he looked embarrassed for just a brief moment before he managed to rein his expression in.
Sean led them back into his office and closed the door to hide their conversation from prying ears. When Reid and McCullum travelled together, it was usually not on business meant for humans to know about.
“To what do I owe your visit?”
“My guards heard there was another beast attack around here,” McCullum said.
“Yes, so did I, but I can’t tell you much more than that. I only know it was in Southwark down by the mass graves. One of Edwina Cox’s boys lost an arm, poor man. It’s only with the Lord’s blessing they escaped at all.”
Thoughtfully, Reid glanced over at McCullum. “It really is a plague of them. Where are they coming from?”
“Beasts don’t usually procreate this fast. Their victims are unlikely to survive and they don’t think much beyond the next bite. I don’t understand, either,” McCullum answered, clearly frustrated by the fact.
“It’s a good thing you are here to help, but it does only barely seem to stem the tide. I have asked one of our mutual friends, Dr. Reid, but she doesn’t know what the origin of all those beasts could be, either. However, now that so many of hers have been killed, she says her eyes and ears are not what they used to be in that lower part of town.”
“Talking in riddles now?” McCullum asked, raising a brow.
Sean gave a polite smile. Though McCullum had proven himself to be helpful when he wanted, Sean was more careful with Old Bridget’s secrets than his own. She would likely have no trouble evading McCullum, but he owed it to her not to give away her information lightly.
“This friend values her privacy,” he said.
“And she is quite knowledgeable about the city, so if she wouldn’t know, who could?” Reid asked.
With a shake of his head, he pulled up a chair at the table, glancing at the ground. However, his posture straightened almost at once.
“What is that?”
Sean followed the way Reid’s gaze went and felt his stomach drop. A half-eaten rat laid where he had left it earlier this evening. He had kicked it under a shelf after one of his flock almost ran the door in and he had to drop his food unceremoniously on the ground. From the way Reid looked back at him, Sean could guess that the guilt was written on his face. He didn’t even dare look at McCullum. A moment ago, the presence of these two men had only worried him because of the foolish thoughts they caused. Now, he was not sure if he would leave the room alive.
“Have you been eating flesh again, Sean?” Reid asked, walking towards him.
Reflexively, Sean took a step back – and was stopped by the wall that was Geoffrey McCullum behind him.
“Only rats,” he stammered. “And just twice so far... it’s not like before, it’s a manageable hunger.”
“That’s what they all say,” McCullum rasped, too close to his ear.
“I’m sure you wouldn’t want to be a danger to your flock. Why did you not speak to me so we could find a solution?”
Sean felt a surge of annoyance at the question, even through the growing fear. “Do you remember what happened the last time?” he asked, pushing away from McCullum by taking a step towards Reid. The movement seemed to surprise the doctor so much that he actually backed off a bit. “I appreciate that you’re worried, Dr. Reid. I am, too. But I know the danger now, and I do not have the blood of hate in me anymore. If I in any way feel that I could be at risk of hurting someone, I will not hesitate to throw myself into the fire.”
“I can’t allow that, Sean,” Reid said, voice a little louder.
“With all due respect, it’s not your decision!”
Reid stared at him with his jaw clenched and his brows drawn, but exhaled after a tense few seconds of silence and shook his head.
“I’m not trying to run your life, but you are immensely important to this community and I will not let you go so easily.”
For a moment, Sean was not sure if Reid was really talking about his flock now, or if some more private concern had surfaced in his voice. Surely just his imagination.
“I don’t want to abandon them, but if I can’t guarantee their safety, I’m no good to them, either.”
To them, or Reid, or McCullum, or anyone. He’d just be a monster.
“Alright, if you two can stop planning the funeral for a moment?”
Sean and Reid looked up, equally surprised, at McCullum, who seemed a lot calmer than Sean had expected.
“The way I see it, when you fed him your blood, Reid, it held for what. Two months? Three? Not a bad average. I’m hungry more often. If that’s all the Skal needs to stay decent – you know two Ekons, Sean. You won’t have to kneel for it anymore, either. Just ask.”
If Sean hadn’t been worried about more important things, he would have asked how in God’s name McCullum knew any kneeling had been involved.
“You would give me your blood?” he asked, instead.
McCullum’s eyes flashed at him.
“I can kill you right now if you’d prefer that, but if my blood does the job of keeping you peaceful just as well, why not? I understand there are some... issues between you and Reid on that account. Maybe you want to take a look, Doctor, to see how else it can be done.”
This time, it was Sean and Reid who exchanged a glance. Reid looked as unsure as Sean felt. It was likely the one thing that would rid him of this gnawing hunger, though, and where flesh was something the animal in him was mildly interested in, the rich taste of Ekon blood that had filled him so completely was what he truly longed for.
“I’m ashamed to say me drinking blood is not pretty. I am not in full control,” he said, feeling embarrassment take over.
“We’ll keep an eye on you,” McCullum said, and it didn’t even sound like a threat. “Right, Reid?”
Sean felt his nerves flare.
How would they do this? He doubted McCullum would offer him his throat, like Reid had done for him. He would just lean over his hand, probably. The heavy cuffs of his cloak were hiding his wrists right now. With his head all turned to blood now, Sean could suddenly almost see it, red and pulsating in the two men bracketing him.
McCullum fingertips brushed his cheek. It was a touch more gentle than Sean was sure McCullum would have admitted to being capable of. He turned his head to look at him.
“Relax, Skal. Nothing happens. You just feed. Reid and me do it all the time.”
This said, he brought the index and middle finger of his left hand to his own mouth and bit down hard. Sean could smell his blood and feel his insides flip as he shifted from one foot on the other, suddenly filled with a current of energy. McCullum was still cupping his face, which could have been to hold him in place or for some other reason he did not understand, and at this point Sean could not care less, either. He just wanted to taste him.
It was not like the first time he had fed when he opened his mouth and allowed McCullum to push his fingers into it. The sudden blissful numbing effect was still there, like a bottle of whiskey on an empty stomach, but the whole world didn’t break apart around him. He could still see McCullum’s face close, never taking his eyes off of him, and his hand was gently cradling his head as Sean started sucking the blood from his fingers, sip after sip.
“Reid likes watching you drink,” McCullum said conversationally, after a while of leaving Sean just to indulge.
The deep warning rumble in Reid’s voice was obvious. Sean turned his gaze on him as much as he could with his head fixed in place. Though displeasure had entered his expression, Reid was staring, his whole body tense where he stood. They were both so focused on him as he swallowed down and Sean was ashames, but at the same moment a feeling long buried resurfaced, that fluttering curiosity of much younger years, when he had at times idly wondered what it would be like to be wanted by someone who had no evil intentions for him, before he’d buried that part of him in honour of chastity and to protect himself from the demons lurking as memories.
He could have walked away, he was strong enough to leave the source of blood this time, when already the strength of it was filling him. He was sure if he’d sent Reid or even McCullum as much as a dirty look right now, they would have left him alone, too. Perhaps for his sanity he should have, but instead, he lowered his gaze and concentrated on the fingers in his mouth, his tongue lapping at the small wound. McCullum’s breath hitched. The fingertips of his other hand ran along the shell of Sean’s ear, which suddenly seemed to contain all the nerves in Sean’s body. Reid seemed utterly transfixed. One of his hands had settled on McCullum’s outstretched arm.
It was long moments before Sean pulled off, and McCullum let him go, his thumb brushing down over Sean’s lower lip to catch saliva or blood spilling over, or at least that was what Sean thought he was doing as the rough drag of his fingertip made his stomach tingle.
“Better?” McCullum asked.
“Yes.” Sean lifted a hand to his mouth. “Ah, thank you. I’m not hungry now.”
“Let’s hope it keeps.” McCullum turned to Reid. “We should go on, see if we can’t find the wolf.”
“If you have trouble again, please just talk to us,” Reid said, his voice pitched a bit lower than usual. His hand brushed Sean’s as he walked past him. McCullum smirked when he threw a look back over his shoulder.
Sean watched them leave, entirely unsure of what had just happened.
“Told you,” Geoffrey had said, as they had marched out of the shelter gates, and for once, Jonathan had been forced to leave him the last word because he had not known what to respond. For the next few nights, the image of Sean turning his gaze on him, watching Jonathan watching him, before focusing his attention back on Geoffrey’s fingers with his eyes half-lidded, had stuck with him like a series of photographs. It had all been uncomfortably enticing, but that was the moment in which Jonathan had been convinced that Sean had not just been an accidental participant, that he’d been in fact entirely aware of the effect he had on the two men. The temptation of exploring that was as deeply seated in Jonathan as a barbed hook.
He really was a mess.
But as much as his more intimate feelings tried to take over his mind, when he next turned his steps towards Sean’s shelter, it was the last thing in his head, drowned out by the rush of fear he’d felt when he overheard a woman telling Pippa that some crazed dog had attacked Mr. Hampton’s shelter down by the docks.
When he approached, he saw the torn-down tents in the yard. Ichabod Throgmorton was talking excitedly to a few men Jonathan didn’t know. Lottie was trying to calm down a young woman who sat crying on the ground. Even Edwina Cox and her shadow Booth Digby lingered by the gate, giving him dark looks as he passed. Tom Watts was putting toppled crates back up.
In the crowd, it took Jonathan a moment to spot Sean, who was walking through the chaos with a toddler in one arm and a torn pillow in the other. By his side was Geoffrey, leaning in to talk into his ear. Sean caught side of Jonathan first.
“Dr. Reid! Oh, the Lord sent you right now.”
“By way of town gossip, perhaps.” Reid gave a quick nod to Geoffrey. “What happened?”
“Another one of these beasts came by while I was out talking to Enid Gillingham. I just saw it run back and followed it for a spell. I think I know where it went down into the sewers, but I had to come back here, and I doubt I could have done much about it, besides.”
“Is anyone hurt?”
“Not too badly.” Sean smiled slightly. “Apparently, Ichabod scared it off with a few gun shots. He didn’t hit, though.”
Jonathan couldn’t keep a breath of laugh in despite the situation.
“Imagine that. Our vampire hunter!”
“It must be young if that’s enough to frighten it. Most of these creatures run towards the noise of a fight,” Geoffrey said. “Who is this Ichabod? He’s not part of the Guard...”
“I would hope not,” Jonathan murmured. “Where did the beast disappear to?”
“It was down the alleyways, but I better show you.” He put the pillow down on a fallen tent and turned. “Miss Paxton?”
Giselle looked up and then frowned in displeasure as Sean handed her the child.
“Would you please take care of little Margaret for me? I think you sister’s talking to her mother and I have two men here who want to capture that awful creature.”
“Alright,” Giselle muttered, holding the toddler as one might a small wet dog.
“God bless you,” Sean said, undaunted by her glowering as he looked around. “Tom’s here, thank the Lord. He can hold things together for a moment. Follow me.”
As they passed out of the din of the crowd of Sean’s agitated customers, the howling wind took over, filling Jonathan’s ears. It had been dark as night since two in the afternoon, and even now at five in the morning, it didn’t look like sunrise would come anytime soon. The thick dark clouds were heavy with snow.
“You could have gotten in trouble following that thing through streets like this,” Geoffrey said as Sean lead them through a spiderweb of alleys. “If it had caught your sent downwind...”
He was chastising him, but Jonathan wondered if he was simply frustrated with Sean because he was worried.
“It was in my shelter. I can’t allow this to go on if I can do anything about it.”
“Stubborn fool,” Geoffrey muttered.
“I don’t plan on fighting it alongside you,” Sean said, obviously attempting to gentle the waves. “But I have to do my part, too.”
Geoffrey opened his mouth, but caught Jonathan’s glance.
“Are you going to pretend that’s not one of the reasons that you get it?” he asked quietly.
His own unfortunate attraction to Sean Hampton had started, after all, when he heard him still fighting for William Bishop’s soul while the man was currently drinking him dry. Of course, he had criticised him for that bravery, too, but he already knew that Geoffrey and him were a lot more alike than they liked to pretend. It was why he understood Geoffrey’s grousing even though they both should know Sean was too willful to listen.
Sean threw them a confused look, but Geoffrey just raised a brow at Jonathan.
After another turn, Sean stopped at what looked at first glance like a dead end to Jonathan before he saw a narrow set of stairs to the left. They had to walk in single file to get down it; the wolf must have really squeezed through. There was a sewer entrance that split into two tunnels in the darkness. Sean walked in a ahead, the two of them following.
“I think it must have gone left. Yes – I heard something crash.”
He kicked at a broken crate on the ground that laid spread out over the floor.
“Perhaps it’s a den-”
Geoffrey’s last word was lost in the high-pitched squeal of rusty steel moving. Jonathan froze and shot around, but by the time he was back at the gate, it had already released from its clasp and rattled down to the ground. Suddenly, they stood in the dark. Even Jonathan’s eyes needed a moment to adjust.
“That’s promising,” Geoffrey growled.
“A beast did not do this. They do not play around with gate controls,” Jonathan said.
He heard the whisper of steel against leather. Geoffrey must have drawn his sword.
“Oh no,” Sean said quietly.
“You stay behind. And silence, someone is obviously listening in,” Geoffrey hissed at him.
Jonathan grabbed his hacksaw and the stake Charlotte had given him, and then dug through his pockets. He’d had a habit of scrounging weapons from where he found them when he first turned, but now his arsenal was pretty full and he had stacked most of it in a crate in his Pembroke office. All he had left was a sharp little dagger you could slip into your sleeve.
“Take this,” he told Sean, pressing it into his hand and closing his fingers around the handle when Sean opened his mouth, holding Sean’s fist closed for a moment longer than he needed to.
“I don’t know how to use this in a fight.”
“It’s still better to have something than nothing.”
Jonathan fell in next to Geoffrey. The two of them being on the prowl in some shadowy tunnel was a normal night as he knew it now, almost comforting in it familiarity, if it hadn’t been for Sean’s silent steps behind them. No matter, they could not change it. Together, they’d be strong enough to keep him out of harm’s way. They had done it before, and hopefully Sean had learned from last time. Jonathan’s focus needed to be on what laid before them.
This part of the underground network went fairly straight-forward. All side-entrances had been nailed shut or were covered with iron bars. It didn’t surprise him that Old Bridget had not known about things going on here, what with so few Skals left to tell her about it. They were descending down slippery stairs, wet tunnels, and muddy pathways built by the edge of canals of soiled water. But for the squeaking of rats, it was a quiet walk.
Their path ended in front of a metal door. Jonathan tried the handle.
“It’s locked alright,” he muttered. “What now?”
“I doubt the beast locked up after itself,” Geoffrey answered.
The handle moved out of Jonathan’s hand as the door opened. He stepped back, brandishing the hacksaw. Before him stood a tall, blond man in a bespoke grey suit with the piercing eyes of an Ekon and a friendly smile on his lips.
“Jonathan Reid! I should have expected you. You poke your head in a lot of business these recent nights.”
“We’ve met before,” Jonathan realised.
“Well, in a manner of speaking. I’m not a prominent member of the Ascalon Club, but I did take a quick look at your introduction ceremony,” the man said. “Baron Waldegrave is my name. And this would be Mr. McCullum.” His smile grew wider as Geoffrey frowned. “What, you think the Ascalon Club didn’t collect any information on your gaggle of thugs? Though I have to admit, I did not expect you to be one of us...”
“I doubt you’ll get to tell on me,” Geoffrey said, stepping closer.
Waldegrave ignored him in favour of taking a look through the gap between their shoulders at Sean.
“Now what’s that?”
“A friend, Your Lordship,” Jonathan said icily. “Who would not be here if you hadn’t locked us in. Leave him out of the conversation.”
“But it’s a Skal who looks at me like he quite knows what I’m saying. How fascinating. I see maybe we have similar hobbies after all, Dr. Reid. I, too, love to experiment with the limits of our kind.” He stepped back to let them in. “As for locking you in, I have noticed people asking around for my little workshop, so I figured it was better to meet you now.”
As Jonathan walked inside behind Geoffrey, he froze after just a step through the doorway. A sewer beast sat chained to the wall, tearing at the massive iron links as he entered, growling.
“Don’t mind him,” Waldegrave said with a dismissive wave of his hand and locked the door behind them.
“Dear God,” Sean whispered, grasping the cross on his rosary.
Jonathan thought he had also been looking at the wolf, but his gaze went to the other side of the wide hall of a room. Following it, Jonathan saw what had upset him so. A half dozen corpses laid spread out on workbenches. A couple were still at least vaguely human, but some so far mutated it took Jonathan a moment to recognise them as such. He saw swollen heads with hideously deformed faces, elongated arms with bones sticking out of the flesh which seemed to have somehow grown beyond the capacity of what the skin could hold, mouths choked with fangs, hands blown up overly large with broken claws sticking out of the middle of the palm and the wrist.
“What in the hell are you doing down here?” Geoffrey snapped.
“He’s making beasts,” Jonathan said. That’s what these pitiful creatures were, attempts that hadn’t panned out. It would be easy enough with an Ekon at the helm. He was probably capturing people, perhaps mesmerising them, and then tainting them with the blood.
“A doctor would recognise it, yes. It’s an experiment, as I told you. You see these creatures so rarely in the city that I was delighted to find them here recently. Of course, then you had to go and spoil the fun, Doctor.”
“Fun? London was in chaos!”
“London’s always in chaos. I’ve been alive for 400 years and every once in a while one likes to see something new around here.” He let his gaze wander over Jonathan and Geoffrey. “But you worry about the living, I suppose. You’re both young, you haven’t even lived a full human lifetime yet. Trust me, eventually everyone you knew in life will die, you will have to pick up another identity, and another, and a hundred years later it will be difficult to look at a human being and remember they were once the same species as you. At least you are free to make your own amusements in the world after that, though...”
“This stops now,” Geoffrey decided, extending his sword. “I don’t care about the justifications you have for yourself, leech. You’re just a common killer.”
Jonathan had sometimes been frustrated with Geoffrey’s blunt approach, but in this instance, he could only agree. He would not stand here listening to someone rhapsodise about murder. Even if some part of him feared Waldegrave could be right, that perhaps eventually his good-will would run out and he had the potential in him to be a monster, it was not the voice in his head he chose to listen to. It couldn’t be if he wanted to prevent it.
“I had a feeling you would say that, Mr. McCullum.”
Waldegrave was across the room in a flash and unlocked the beast from its chain, getting quickly out of its way. The group of Jonathan, Geoffrey, and Sean contained more beating hearts on a spot, more blood, and the wolfman threw himself forward at them.
“Run!” Geoffrey snapped at Sean, and this time, he did. However, Waldegrave cut off his way, backhanding him across the face with such explosive force that it took Sean off his feet.
Geoffrey was on Waldegrave at once, which left Jonathan alone to deal with the beast. Young it might be, he thought, but no less terrifying, and without looking behind himself, he knew Geoffrey would have his hands full handling an ancient vampire who had apparently had no qualms about luring the people who had killed his creations into his lair. Someone who had stayed alive this long was unlikely to just be arrogant.
Beasts were strong and fast and mindless, which allowed Jonathan to get a few blows in between the creature’s swipes, but made it hard to say what the beast would do next. He expected the claws and was almost toppled as the monster lounged at him instead. Jonathan managed to turn out of the way of the snapping jaws, but the full weight of the creature crashed him into some sort of metal console, and he heard it crack behind him, mixing with the sounds of his ribs breaking. The pain was abysmal and it was only with a blood-fuelled burst of strength that he managed to escape the wolf at all. As he turned on his heel again, he saw from the corner of his eyes that Sean must have gotten back on his feet and had fled into the furthest corner of the room, well out of the way of combat, with his back to the wall. It was not great, but it was the safest place. Geoffrey was on the backfoot in his own duel, stumbling out of the way of bloody claws that reached for him so fast Jonathan could barely follow them with his eyes, and he had no time to help, for the monster was charging at him again.
He had to end this quickly, before Geoffrey got overwhelmed or Waldegrave had the idea to up the pressure by going for Sean. It was just a beast, he’d fought dozens. Jonathan dodged another swipe and dragged his hacksaw along the creature’s thigh before jumping deftly out of its way. It was bleeding out of three gashes now, already growing sluggish. The scent of blood and the sight of his compatriots fed Jonathan’s own rage and allowed him to ignore the excruciating pain in his torso and the rattle of his breath that indicated his lungs had been pierced by broken bone. One more good slash across the face, just now that it had extended forward...
It was, Jonathan realised, as he went down, the wound he himself had given the creature at its leg that caused it to switch so suddenly from one foot to the other, noticing it couldn’t put its weight on its right. That was how the hacksaw only ended up brushing its side and Jonathan stumbled, momentum carrying him forward. The creature pivoted and lunged, jaws closing around Jonathan’s leg and wrenching his ankle ninety degrees sideways, with cracking bones and snapping tendons. Jonathan had too little air in lungs filling with blood to scream, but in a last ditch effort, he managed to throw his upper body around and sent out a bloody spear that pierced the creature through the eye and the brain.
Its maw went slack, and with a convulsion, it sacked onto Jonathan’s legs.
He had a second to feel some sort of relief through the agony when he heard a crack and hoarse yell from the other end of the hall. Geoffrey was on his back, with Waldegrave standing crouched above him, holding his sword. He smiled pleasantly as he plunged it downwards, staking Geoffrey to the wooden floorboards by the shoulder with his own blade. Geoffrey spat curses and blood.
Jonathan groaned as he tried to get up, but his foot was burning, and blood was dripping over his lips, too. Though he could feel his bones realigning, shifting inside his flesh, splinters being consumed, muscles fibres and flesh twitching, he could not even get to his feet, and if he had managed it, his ankle would have ensured he wouldn’t be walking.
“You were strong for a human, Mr. McCullum, but for now you are still a fledgling,” Waldegrave said, leaning heavily on the sword, which made Geoffrey scream in pain. The sound went through Jonathan like a bullet. He had to get up, he had to... if Waldegrave took the sword and put it through Geoffrey’s heart...
Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted movement. When he turned, he saw Sean. He had grabbed a piece of broken wood out of the heap that were now the examination tables – Geoffrey and Waldegrave must have destroyed them in their fight – and was slowly walking towards Waldegrave. Fear was written on his face almost as deeply as determination. Waldegrave didn’t seem to have noticed him. Jonathan could only stare.
The splintered piece of wood came down hard on the back of Waldegrave’s head, breaking on impact. Even when possessed by the blood of hate, Sean had still been so mild that Jonathan had never been quite able to see the physical strength of other vampires in him even knowing it had to be there. It was present now, as sudden and obvious as a strike of lightning.
Waldegrave shot around and Sean stood there with the short piece of wood in hand. It seemed to be as far as his plan went to draw attention to himself, and Jonathan grit his teeth as Waldegrave circumvented Sean’s clumsy attempt at sidestepping him by grabbing him by the throat and lifting him off the ground. The wood fell as Sean grasped at his wrist, trying to give himself purchase if not free himself.
“Can’t you wait your turn when your betters are talking?” He gave him a rough shake. “If I had any say in it, the Ascalon Club should have rotted out mistakes like you decades ago instead of leaving you to clog up the sewers like so much rubbish down the drain. At least the beasts have some animalistic dignity to them...”
Sean dropped a hand and with a skip of his heart, Jonathan wondered if it was because the strength was going out of him as Waldegrave squeezed his throat shut. God, if Sean could hold out half a minute, a minute more, the blood would have healed him...
Sean reached into his pocket. It was just for a brief moment that Jonathan saw the steel of the knife he’d given Sean blink in the light of a gas lamp before Sean rammed it into Waldegrave’s side.
Waldegrave interrupted himself with a hiss, anger twisting his face. He let Sean drop down, putting him in a headlock as he pulled the dagger out of his own flesh. A careless move even against an amateur like Sean, Jonathan realised, immediately, as Sean opened his mouth and bit the arm Waldegrave had put before his face.
Waldegrave tried to shake him off, but for all his admiration of the noble beasts, the blunt teeth of Skals were no less made to rend flesh. Sean simply held on, like a well-trained hunting dog, and when Waldegrave finally managed to tear him off and fling him to the ground, it was only with a spray of blood following. Sean spat a chunk of flesh and torn cloth on the floor just before the tip of Waldegrave’s black dress shoe caught him in the chin and send him sprawling.
“Insolent creature!” Waldegrave shouted, as he began to kick Sean in the face, in the stomach, wherever he could reach, following these blows with a handdful of sharp, bloody spikes that grew from the floor just as Sean raised a hand to defend himself.
Much like Waldegrave, Jonathan had focused on Sean, so that he only just noticed that Geoffrey had managed to get a hold of the blade and rip it from his shoulder, sitting up as he gasped shallow breaths. Jonathan tried to raise once more himself and found his foot carried his weight now and his lungs worked properly. He stumbled to Geoffrey’s side, dragging him to his feet. Waldegrave had his back turned to them.
“How is your shoulder? Can you lift the sword?” Jonathan asked quietly.
“For this? Oh yes. Keep him still for me.”
Geoffrey grasped the handle of the sword, baring his teeth, fangs sharp, and moved quietly to close the distance. Sean’s groans and the thuds of the blows masked his footsteps well. Waldegrave only noticed him when he stood at two arm’s length away, and Jonathan stretched out his hand and focused on the blood that flowed in Waldegrave’s veins, rushing on until Jonathan made a fist and it all stopped dead in its tracks, his heart unbeating. As Waldegrave stood paralysed, Geoffrey rammed the sword through his back into his chest, piercing the heart with deadly precision. Waldgrave’s body toppled backwards when he pulled the sword out and he brought his arms down again and again, hacking his head off like a woodsman with an axe. Jonathan had never quite seen the fire burn in his eyes like this.
“Bloody leech,” he panted, when the head was well off Waldegrave’s shoulders.
Jonathan sank down by Sean’s side. Sean had watched Geoffrey through his fingers, but lowered his hands when Jonathan approached. It was an odd sight. He’d seen Sean wounded before – Skals always were, really –, but not looking martial. There was blood all over his mouth and in his beard.
“I thought you were dead,” Sean said in a quiet voice. “You were lying so still. And I’ve never heard Geoffrey... McCullum scream like that. It was dreadful.”
“We will not be killed so easily,” Jonathan promised, dragging Sean up to sit. His throat had a half dozen marks, strangulation, red bruises, lacerations.
Geoffrey’s hand brushed against Jonathan’s neck in a caress before he ran it through Sean’s hair, then slowly dragged it back across Sean’s cheek before resting it on Jonathan’s shoulder.
“The controls are shot. I crashed into them when I fought the beast. We will have to find another way out,” Jonathan said, standing at the dented console, pulling levers and turning cranks that gave no resistance.
“There is a door over there.”
Geoffrey pointed past the chaos of the mutilated corpses and broken tables. Sean was standing over them, his lips, covered in blood as they were, moving in silent prayer. Geoffrey watched him for a moment before he walked over, clasping his shoulder as Jonathan moved past them and tried the door. It opened.
“Time to go,” Geoffrey said.
“Yes,” Sean answered, uncertain, looking over the carnage before he turned his eyes to Geoffrey. “Are you all right? I thought he was going for your heart at first...”
“So did I, but it seems he wanted to play. With Jonathan flat on his back, I guess he thought he’d gotten rid of every threat.” Geoffrey grinned at Sean. “That was not a bad show for a saint.”
“Oh, no, I hope I never have to do that again. I was just so worried about the both of you.”
Sean sounded honest but keyed-up, unsteady, and Geoffrey could guess why. He believed that Sean had good in his heart and that he really had only been trying to protect them; but you didn’t tear a piece out of someone without feeling some of the fire of the fight in you.
“Scared of your own courage?”
Sean pulled at his rosary.
“I didn’t know I could be this good at hurting someone. I don’t know that I like it, but... if I weren’t, what would have happened to you?”
“Violence is a tool, not a moral action,” Jonathan said from the door, glancing again at the mutated corpses. “It can be used for good, you just have to find out what that is.”
“Let’s discuss the philosophy of it when we’ve left this sorry place behind,” Geoffrey said, pushing Sean towards Jonathan with a hand in his back. If it was all the same to them, really, he could do without mentioning it again at all. This Waldegrave was a cut below the rest when it came to leeches, but it wasn’t wholly untrue that it was easy to start thinking of yourself as different from humans, and the predilection for violence and deceit was inherent in the condition. He’d rather not consider what brave men would have to stand up to himself in 400 years time, when his own humanity was spent.
“It’s such a shame they won’t be buried,” Sean said, through Geoffrey’s thoughts.
“I agree, but there are only mass graves for people like them these days. It’s barely worse down here,” Jonathan answered quietly.
Geoffrey glanced sideways to see if Sean would start to cry again, but his face looked blank. There was a point beyond tears, he supposed, and that was when you were covered head to toe in blood and didn’t know what of it was yours anymore. It was why Geoffrey hadn’t cried in a long while.
Ahead of them, Jonathan was picking their way through the sewers and Geoffrey decided to leave it to him. Jonathan always had a good sense for these sort of underground places. It was just one of the tasks inherent to hunting in London that they had split wordlessly between each other, each bowing to the other’s greater skill when appropriate.
The draft was just a breeze at first, but grew sharp and gave a shrill whistle once they turned another corner. The iron bar door had been thrown open by the wind, but outside the sewers, a snowstorm raged across the town.
“We should probably wait this out, though we might have to spend the day in the sewers,” Jonathan noted, looking where the sky would have been if the racing snowflakes hadn’t covered it.
“That sounds about right.”
“I want to leave, please,” Sean said quietly.
For a moment, Jonathan looked at him, then sighed, glancing at Geoffrey next in a manner that was almost apologetic. Geoffrey knew what would come next. In Jonathan’s defence, Geoffrey had to admit that Sean really could make his bright vampire eyes look very soft and pleading.
“Well, I think I know where we are. There’s a place we might be able to stay...”
“Go on, then. You’re obviously weak to a handsome face,” Geoffrey answered flatly.
Jonathan glanced at him as he raised his collar to the wind.
“That must be why I never listen to you...”
Geoffrey boxed his shoulder and Jonathan managed something like a smile. He really did have a nice one. No surprise he shared it so rarely, though.
The wind was liable to blow them off their feet, but at least no one was around to question why three men crawled out of the sewers covered in blood. Jonathan took point again and led them through the storm before they finally stood in front of a wall without windows. Geoffrey was about to ask him what the hold-up was when Jonathan pointed upwards to a small wooden balcony.
“This is where we need to go!” he shouted against the wind.
“Is there a ladder?!” Sean asked.
“I’ll help you,” Geoffrey said, putting his good arm around Sean’s middle. “Hold on!”
Before Sean had a chance to ask why, he jumped, easily carrying them both up. Sean’s gasp of shock came when they were both already on solid ground again.
Jonathan landed next to them and unlocked the door that had KEEP OUT scrawled in huge white letters over flaking red paint. They stepped into an abandoned room. Dust laid on the old furniture and the ceiling was damp and full of black mould spots, but there was a bed and the icy wind was kept out. Now it was only miserably cold because the blood on his clothes had been frozen stiff. Sean, still in his arm, shuddered and rubbed the dry blood off his lips.
“We should all get out of our clothes,” Jonathan decided, forcing the door shut. “They’re wet. We won’t fall sick, but it’s not comfortable. Besides, I would have a look at both your wounds.”
“I’ll be fine,” Geoffrey muttered, mainly because the one time he had allowed Jonathan to fuss with him after a fight, when he’d sat there in silence with Jonathan’s hands gently searching his body, it had been very difficult not to say stupid things. “Ekons don’t need doctors. Maybe have a look at the Skal, at that, I don’t know how it holds with them.”
“You took some very bad hits yourself, Dr. Reid,” Sean answered. “Wouldn’t you rather rest first? I will heal in time, I always do, I noticed. It just takes a while.”
“You are not very good patients,” he said.
“But at least it seems I was right about the bruises on Skals, so perhaps I’m a better doctor.”
A slim smirk stole on Geoffrey’s lips as Jonathan gave him a warning look. Sean looked between them, once more obviously aware he was missing something, but when neither of them would explain, he stepped away from Geoffrey’s loose, one-armed embrace.
“There’s a sink in the other room, I will check if it works...”
He leaned the door shut behind himself. Geoffrey waited a moment to get undressed, distracted by the sight of Jonathan shrugging out of his cloak, his shirt, and stripping down to his underwear before he stacked his clothes in a corner of an old desk.
Sean opened the door again wearing only his trousers, the rest of his clothes and shoes bunched in his arms. He’d scrubbed off the dried blood as best he could. His gaze flickered towards Jonathan and quickly lowered again.
“The water works,” he said, needlessly, since they had obviously heard it run.
“I will go clean up then,” Jonathan said.
Geoffrey kicked off his shoes and got rid of his cloak in the bathroom, even with the door open. It was pretty funny, in truth, to see how Sean was trying desperately to look at anything but them, and when Geoffrey grunted in pain as he had to twist his arm back to pull off his shirt and the sound caught Sean’s attention, he so quickly averted his gaze again that Geoffrey struggled not to laugh through even through the ache. He pulled down his trousers.
“Where is your underwear?” Jonathan asked.
“You’ve seen this before,” Geoffrey gave back, shaking his head at Jonathan’s moment of primness, and splashing too-cold water on his skin.
He wandered back into the main room once he’d cleaned himself fully. To Sean’s credit, when he did look, what first caught his attention was the massive, ugly wound on Geoffrey’s shoulder where his flesh was still knitting back together.
“My Lord, it looks like he could have severed your arm,” Sean said, stepping closer.
“That might have been the least thing he’d have done to me. I guess I owe you my life now.”
“No, sir, you and Dr. Reid saved me, too.”
Sean lowered his gaze meekly and then caught sight of the fact that Geoffrey was in fact entirely naked. He raised his eyes very quickly.
Geoffrey laughed at him.
“Do I have anything you don’t?”
“No...” Sean breathed out and looked to the side, but there stood Jonathan, also mostly naked and watching them closely. Sean stepped back and they all stood in silence for a moment.
“It’s still cold,” Jonathan managed, finally. “Sadly, I don’t think the stove works.”
“So we share the bed,” Geoffrey said. “Like back in the war. You had those nights, too, didn’t you, Reid? Huddling in the trenches?”
“Most soldiers I was with did have breeches, though.”
“You didn’t fuck most soldiers you were with, I hope. Or were you that exciting to be around during the war?”
Jonathan glowered at him.
“I should perhaps... there is a sofa in the other room, I think. It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to lie with a couple,” Sean said quickly.
“Oh, come on, saint. We three have done inappropriate things before.”
Geoffrey looked at him with a challenge in his smile and saw the shame rise in Sean’s eyes.
“I – I didn’t know then you were Dr. Reid’s man.”
Geoffrey laughed, maybe a little too loud, but when he was about to tell Sean he was no one’s man, he knew then it was a lie, and so he only shook his head.
“Well, I might be the closest thing to a man Dr. Reid has,” he said, glancing at him. “He’s not faithful to me, though. He likes a Skal... but I forgive him. It’s a sweet one.”
“If it’s only me, then why do you keep bringing him up, McCullum? I think you’re the one who isn’t faithful. But I, too, understand.”
“I don’t want to aid in adultery,” Sean said.
“Because you shouldn’t, or because you don’t want to?” Geoffrey asked.
Sean cleared his throat.
“Is it adultery if everyone knows, and everyone wants it? And we’re barely a couple?” Jonathan posited.
Running a hand through his short hair, Sean closed his eyes.
“I don’t think the bible covers that...”
There was a trace of desperate humour in his voice, evidence of his uncertainty, and Geoffrey took the chance and dragged him in by his arm.
“We’ll only get colder standing here. Come.”
And Sean did.
They got in to the bed to the right and left of Jonathan, all stuck under the same heavy blanket. Sean left a gap between himself and Jonathan, but Geoffrey laid shoulder to shoulder, thigh to thigh with him.
“How did you two... ?” Sean asked into the silence.
“Usually in moments like this,” Jonathan said. “Passion, I suppose.”
“We fuck after we fight together. It’s sort of a ritual,” Geoffrey added.
“Just in those moments?” Sean asked, curiosity apparently overcoming his embarrassment for a moment. “Never because you just like each other?” His head rested on the bunched up pillow, peering into Geoffrey’s eyes past the column of Jonathan’s throat. “Or always because you just like each other?”
Geoffrey didn’t dare glance up at Jonathan and instead leaned over him, grabbed the back of Sean’s neck and pulled him into a kiss. He was three broken bones too tired to have this conversation, though it dawned on him someday he might have to.
Perhaps for now he didn’t need to be so worried about his humanity. Locked in with these two men, it was easy to feel like a confused young fool in love, no day smarter than perhaps eighteen. It would be a long while, it seemed in the moment Sean’s mouths met his and he found Jonathan’s hand wandering along his side, that this would be anything but remarkable, and suddenly he could not imagine being like Waldegrave anymore. He didn’t hate everybody, in fact he liked the two of them too much: Doctor Reid, so decent and contrite about his anger, an emotion Geoffrey had long allowed to become part of his personality, and Sean, the gentle priest whose mouth still tasted like blood. It might not be the purest reason to stay on the straight and narrow, but it was enough for now, even if he conceded that if the two of them were taken from him, he might just succumb to his rage.
Geoffrey’s tongue was in Sean’s mouth, like his fingers had been a few nights ago, and Sean was breathlessly leaning in. Jonathan could only stare at them, mesmerised even if he knew that Geoffrey was mostly just shutting Sean up, and perhaps a bit glad for that, because it had been too long a night to face the fact that Sean was right. He petted Geoffrey’s back, along the length of his spine as he liked it, and covered Geoffrey’s hand resting on the back of Sean’s head.
“Reid’s turn,” Geoffrey said into Sean’s mouth and nudged his face to turn around.
Sean swallowed, but before Jonathan could reassure him that he needn’t do it if he didn’t want to, Sean pressed their lips together, more eager than skilful, heart-breakingly earnest. He could still taste Geoffrey on him, that hint of tobacco that was always on his lips, even now that he was a vampire, and the realisation sent a lightning bolt straight to Jonathan’s libido.
His chest still hurt, and he didn’t dare cup Sean’s face because there was a big bruise blooming on his jaw. From the corner of his eye, he saw that Geoffrey’s wounded arm was shaking with the effort of moving. Even under the blanket, it was still bitterly cold. And yet, Geoffrey was licking his lips with a grin and Jonathan could feel himself growing hard just from the evidence on Sean’s lips that he had kissed Geoffrey before him, and the tentative way that Sean nipped at his lips and stroked Jonathan’s arm, small gestures that carried so much anticipation.
He would have ignored it if not for the fact that Geoffrey suddenly shifted his leg against his middle and Jonathan had to break the kiss with a sharp inhale of breath.
“Knew it,” Geoffrey said, smugly.
Of course he did. Geoffrey had some sort of map directly to his subconscious, Jonathan was sure, but to be quite honest, it had not taken a mind-reader this time.
“What?” Sean asked, breathlessly.
“For a holy man, you are quite talented at tempting people. Especially the good doctor,” Geoffrey explained.
“Don’t pretend you are an impartial watcher just because you cannot use your free hand well right now.”
To Jonathan’s surprise, Sean did not budge from his position pressed against his side, but just turned his head to look at Geoffrey.
“It’s not fair to put it all on me. When you came into my office, you were the ones who twisted my head all around.”
“I can at least say it was not planned, in our defence, since we didn’t know you would need blood. But I won’t blame Geoffrey alone,” Jonathan admitted.
“You really can’t,” Geoffrey muttered and took Sean’s hand, gently dragging it down the line between Jonathan’s pectorals, avoiding his black-and-blue ribcage. “We’d know it is a lie.”
Sean shifted a little.
“I’ve never...” he began.
“Yeah, I figured. It’s not difficult, you’ll see.”
After watching Geoffrey’s face for a moment, Sean nodded his head.
Jonathan bit his tongue to keep himself from making a very undignified noise. He couldn’t see their hands, as they were now covered by the dirty blanket, but he could feel their fingertips moving down over his stomach and through the trail of hair. Sean had his head inclined, looking downward, briefly drawing his lower lip between his teeth with a look of concentration that was rather endearing. Geoffrey’s head lolled against his own shoulder as he was still propped up on his elbow, gaze turned up at Jonathan.
Their hands slid under the soft fabric of his underwear and Geoffrey settled Sean’s palm against the thick length before peeling Jonathan’s underclothes down. Jonathan could tell the game excited Sean, too, if what he felt pressed against his hip was anything to go by.
Jonathan hauled Geoffrey up into a kiss, mindful of not pressing onto his shoulder. There were a hundred things he should worry about, he was sure. Was he ruining his friendship with Sean, or whatever it was he had with Geoffrey? The returning thought that violence sent him too easily into Geoffrey’s arms was present as usual. Waldegrave’s creations still stood as testaments to a deeper rooted evil in the city and possibly his own soul. But finally, the thoughts all dissolved under Sean’s cool hand and Geoffrey’s eager mouth and he allowed them to go.
He realised that Geoffrey was stroking his own cock, an awkward movement impeded by the way his wounded shoulder wouldn’t turn properly forward, and Jonathan reached down to help him out. He drew in air hard enough to bother his bruised ribs when Sean started rubbing the head of his cock with his thumb. Sean looked up at Jonathan, obviously gauging his reaction, and Jonathan smiled.
Despite the pain, Sean’s fumbling hesitation, Geoffrey’s stiff movements, Jonathan was driven relentlessly to the peak by the men’s combined efforts. It was not the aggressive force with which Geoffrey and him usually pushed each other, but a mellow sort of intimacy, and while he liked the other, needed it at times, this was something he realised he’d been missing.
He came over Sean’s hand while kissing Geoffrey’s throat and holding Sean punishingly close to his side. Geoffrey’s cock was heavy against his fingers, slick with precome. There were too many hands on Jonathan to really settle, too many sounds, too many sensations, and so he remained on a high for a moment, toes curling under the rough, stiff fabric, breath hitching, coming down like a staggering aircraft. Sean was watching him hungrily with wide eyes. It was as new an expression on him as the flash of white-hot anger Jonathan had seen when he’d crashed the wood over Waldegrave’s head, but it went away when he caught Jonathan’s eyes, growing tinged with shame and affection both.
“You want to move a bit, Reid?” Geoffrey asked.
Jonathan had no idea what Geoffrey was planning, but he inched back, allowing Geoffrey to urge Sean to clamber across Jonathan’s lap to lie between them. It should all have been very awkward in a bed barely big enough for two, but the slide of warm bodies was comfortable.
Geoffrey opened Sean’s breeches and Sean laid still for just a moment before he helped, sliding them off with his underwear, his middle hidden under the shadows of the blanket. Geoffrey kissed him before he turned him around to face Jonathan. The surprise on Sean’s face had Jonathan smiling.
“What are you planning, McCullum?”
He was teasing, but he perhaps a bit worried that Geoffrey would push it too far too quickly with Sean, who had never even handled one man on his own accord. Perhaps the two of them could play so rough that they pushed in with no preparation, heedless of pain because they knew they healed quickly, but Sean was not so experienced.
“Just getting comfortable,” Geoffrey claimed. “Lift you thigh a little for me, would you, saint?”
“Please don’t call me saint right now.”
But he listened and Jonathan watched as Geoffrey pushed his cock between Sean’s thighs. Well, that was better. He did keep expecting Geoffrey to do things he was too smart to do, or too decent, even though he should know better by now.
Sean gave a shaky breath and Jonathan leaned in to kiss between the bruises on his chest as Geoffrey began pushing between his thighs. It was a slow rhythm that shook Sean’s body, pressing it into Jonathan’s, and Jonathan came closer to keep Sean trapped between them, allowing Sean’s cock to press into Jonathan’s stomach. He was red-faced and breathless, and when Jonathan took one of his nipples into his mouth, he made a noise like a whimper, his hand clinging to Jonathan’s shoulder. There was barely any room in the press of bodies to push one hand between them, but Jonathan managed, rubbing his palm against Sean’s cock before teasing the head of Geoffrey’s manhood as it pushed between the flesh of Sean’s thighs. Geoffrey drew in air and Jonathan returned to lavishing Sean’s chest with attention until Sean closed his arms around Jonathan’s head and held him in place, breathing erratic, eyes screwed shut, overwhelmed. Jonathan freed himself enough to give a gentle nip at his collarbone and that plus Geoffrey biting his neck had Sean moaning softly, almost noiselessly, before burying his face in Jonathan’s hair. Geoffrey followed him over the edge shortly after, rutting between his legs and into Jonathan’s hand.
Jonathan used the blanket to clean them, since it was already ruined and they would all need a bath the next night, anyway. Sean was shivering, and he backed off a little, waiting for him to open his eyes again. However, the moment he did, Sean extended his hand to Jonathan, silently begging him close again. Flattered, Jonathan kissed him and then Geoffrey, who peered past Sean’s shoulder. To give Sean a tender kiss after sex seemed just right, and perhaps he had wanted to do the same with Geoffrey for a while. Since Geoffrey didn’t protest, Jonathan didn’t have to think about it too hard, and when he settled in next to them, he was pleasantly exhausted and not just in pain, and sleep claimed him too quickly to think about what they had done.
He woke after what seemed much too short a time when at some point he realised the spot next to him was empty and cold. Geoffrey’s hand stretched out, his shoulder apparently healed, over the distance between them on the mattress, touching Jonathan’s arm. Obviously just waking up himself, Geoffrey blinked against a dim stripe of orange light. Jonathan rubbed his eyes and turned around.
Sean stood by the door, which he’d opened a little. Through the gap, Jonathan could see the pink evening sky behind big chimneys and a thick white blanket of snow on the rooftops. The storm had abated during the day, but the air was still cold. His attention was quickly diverted by Sean, though, who was still naked as God had made him, and Jonathan’s gaze idly followed the curve of his spine ending in a dip over the swell of his backside, the thighs which had looked so good around Geoffrey’s cock, the slender muscle shifting under his bruised skin.
“You’re going to get us burned to a crisp,” Geoffrey growled, lifting his head a little. “It’s barely evening. Close the door and get back in bed.”
Sean flinched and looked over his shoulder, a fleeting smile touching his lips. He shut the door.
“I’m sorry, I thought you were still asleep.”
“I was,” Geoffrey muttered.
Sean crept into the bed on Jonathan’s side and he grasped Sean’s arm.
“God, you are cold,” he said quietly. “Come here.”
Jonathan close the distance between himself and Geoffrey, who moved his arm to throw it over Jonathan’s middle, watching as Sean clambered back into their bed. Sean halted where he sat for a moment before Jonathan pulled him down, but he still resisted leaning against his side.
“Are you feeling alright again, Dr. Reid?” Sean asked, eyeing the ribcage that had still carried so many bruises when they went to sleep. It looked perfectly fine now, the skin pale and unmarred.
“You don’t have to use his title in bed. It will only go to his head.”
“Yes, I’m fine, Sean, thank you for asking,” Jonathan answered, raising a brow at Geoffrey, who had after all wordlessly put his arm around Jonathan’s chest, and who may have done so even if it was still hurting, and whom Jonathan may likely not have pushed off regardless. “It won’t be a problem to put some pressure on it.”
Sean’s weight sagged slowly against him, just in part. He was obviously trying to keep anything but his chest from touching Jonathan for decorum’s sake. Geoffrey grasped Sean’s wrist resting on Jonathan’s chest.
“Your arm is better, too?” Sean asked.
Geoffrey nodded his head, rolling his shoulder back.
“As good as new. At least one good thing about being a leech.”
“Are you hurting?” Jonathan inquired, looking at Sean.
“Oh, it’s nothing so bad. I’m more worried about the people at my shelter. After the chaos last night, I left them alone for a whole day…”
“Tom Watts was there,” Jonathan reminded him. “You said yourself he would know how to handle the situation. He seems like someone who has his head on straight.”
“That’s true,” Sean admitted.
“We’ll bring you back and you can say you got swatted by the beast before we got it. Reid treated you. It’s an easy story.”
Sean nodded his head, his beard scratching Jonathan’s shoulder. Jonathan liked the feeling, and that of Sean’s hand and Geoffrey’s resting on his chest intertwined. In that moment, with both these men who had struggled against him in their own ways resting defenceless and comfortably against him, there was something like forgiveness, or peace.
It could be a beginning, Jonathan realised. Everything else he’d done so far had felt like an ending. Ending the epidemic, ending Mary’s suffering, and then he’d stood there with only a reticent and likely just as frightened Geoffrey to hold on to and no plan where to go with his life now that everything had come down in flames and, after putting out the fires, he sat in the rubble. This, in time, could grow into something, even if it was a bit odd. But why should a vampire care about the morals of his era? In that much, Jonathan felt his mind could survive splitting off from humanity to find a happiness which would allow him to coexist with the world, by creating a small space of his own shared only with these men. He closed his eyes, listening to the quiet breathing of his lovers.
“Thank you for leading young Ida down. She has been much better these last few nights. She barely cries now.”
Old Bridget looked out over the dark water at the beach, the wind rustling her dress and headscarf. She had always reminded Sean a little bit of pictures of the Mother Mary in moments like these, even all those years ago when she had only shown up at the corner of his vision, gone in the shadows before he had time to even try to speak to her.
“Poor girl,” he said. “May God protect her.” He turned to her. “I have to say, though, I didn’t expect there to be half a dozen Skals again already…”
“There’s enough foolish Ekons and mindless creatures of our own kind to make sure that there will always be Skals,” Old Bridget said and turned to him, smiling slightly with watchful eyes. “Though for our survival, it is quite useful that Dr. Reid and you have the young hunter Ekon wrapped around your fingers, Sad Saint.”
Sean almost dropped the sewer key he had been playing with as he looked at her, heart beating fast. She just kept smiling as she walked to the edge of the water, waiting for Sean to follow.
“Did you think I wouldn’t notice? The hunter and our saviour spend a lot of time around the shelter, and you smile more these days than I have ever seen before.”
At a loss for words, Sean just looked at her. She had been a friend for long enough that he did not want to lie to her face, but he could hardly confess to her that he had a union with two men. One would have been considered a problem by most people.
“You needn’t worry. I have lived too long to deny anyone to take what happiness they can,” Old Bridget said after a moment.
“It’s kind of you to be so understanding,” Sean answered, relieved.
“Of course. Besides, it is necessary to have a friend of an Ekon in our situation.”
Sean wondered, not for the first time, who Old Bridget fed on. Old and wise and good as she was, though, it didn’t surprise him that an Ekon had been convinced to keep her safe. Those were delicate and private matters, of course, considering the effect blood had on them. Sean knew he himself was very spoiled. Jonathan and Geoffrey would feed him blood so much more often than he needed it, simply because he liked the taste and they indulged him, and perhaps because they liked watching him drink.
“I am very lucky,” he just said.
“Yes, but…” Old Bridget straightened the cloth over her head. “Would you allow me to say something personal, Sad Saint?”
“You should be happy, but remember also to be careful. These men don’t need you as much as you need them. If you all break apart, you will be the one with his humanity on the line, not them.”
“You’re certainly right,” Sean said mildly.
Objectively, she was. However, he didn’t think that the connection Jonathan and Geoffrey shared was something that could be torn asunder without doing significant, lasting damage to both men, either. His own admiration and affection for them was not based on the fact that they fed him, even though he was grateful for their help, and it was not just their blood that made him depend on them. And, if it was not hubris to say so, he liked to think they saw something more in him than a charity case.
He was the only one who might lose his life, but not the only one who put something significant of himself on the line, and fairness rarely factored into these things. They came as they were, and he put himself at God’s mercy as to how it would turn out.
“You seem fine with that,” Old Bridget answered.
“I admit I have little experience with romance, but I know enough of love to say that it always invites the possibility for catastrophic damage.”
Old Bridget shook her head with a smile and pulled her own key out of a fold of her dress.
“That it does. At least you know what you’re doing, then. Take care, Sad Saint, of yourself and the fledgling Ekon Dr. Reid, and the hunter, so he doesn’t come down here eventually.”
“May God protect you and yours, Old Bridget. And say hello to Ida for me.”
Sean waited for the gate to close before he walked up the steps to the wooden walkways above the beach. It was another cold, windy night, but the snow had melted last week and it started to feel a little bit like spring. It made his walk through town more pleasant not to shiver with every step.
He was to meet Jonathan and Geoffrey on the roof of a house in the West End, a quiet place Geoffrey had found to survey the area and showed them some weeks ago to so they could have somewhere to enjoy privacy outside of locked rooms at times. Sean’s weight made the old wooden stairs groan as walked up four flights and then found the hole in the ceiling on the topmost floor and jumped up. Geoffrey and Jonathan had taught him how to focus his strength and catapult himself forward faster and higher than a human being. He was not as good as his Ekon friends yet, and stumbled a little as he landed.
Jonathan greeted him with a quick peck to the cheek and Geoffrey glanced over his shoulder, cigarette in mouth, and lifted a hand to wave him over. Sean couldn’t help but smile as he saw them. There was always such light in him when he was with them. Perhaps he was making excuses for his own sins, but considering he had shared blood with both men and was bound to them by the strength of his true emotions, he didn’t think he was out of line in considering it a union, and as such, he thought his love for them sacred in some way. After all, in Matthew, it said that a married pair would become no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate. And was there any more literal way to become flesh of another’s flesh than to drink their blood?
“You’re getting better,” Geoffrey said.
“I practice sometimes, but I told you it would take a while. I’m not a fighter. Speaking of that…”
Sean reached into the pocket of his jacket and held his hand to Jonathan. He had brought the razor-sharp knife which he’d collected from the ground of Waldegrave’s terrible torture chamber those few months ago, before they had fled the place.
“I always mean to give it back to you and forget it. It has been sitting by the side of my bed for all this time.”
“I think that’s where it should stay,” Jonathan said.
“But it’s yours and it looks like a good dagger,” Sean protested.
He’d seen the way Jonathan treated his weapons. He would switch out their blades and handles, sharpen the metal and tinker with individual parts. They were well-balanced and made to suit him.
“Yes, which is why you should keep it.”
“If you are not putting that knife back in your pocket, I’m getting you a shotgun from the weapons locker at the old theatre,” Geoffrey said, flicking the cigarette off the roof onto the wet street. “Listen to Jonathan.”
“If you two insist… thank you.”
He’d never liked it, having weapons, but perhaps they were right. He might need it for protection – not of himself, but of those he cared for, which was just as he had used it before. When he put it back in his pocket, he considered that he would not have felt comfortable with it as short as half a year ago. Perhaps they had made him grow a little bit of an edge, these two. Was that a good thing?
He sat down next to Geoffrey on the ground, gently bumping their shoulders together to collect one of his warm, open-mouthed, toothy kisses. Jonathan sat down to Geoffrey’s other side. You could see much of West End here, its narrow, orderly brick houses and wide streets. It looked cleaner now that the epidemic was coming to an end, back to its old stately self. Sean didn’t know this part of town too well and he doubted he ever would, but in the distance, even the docks looked peaceful for now. As Geoffrey and Jonathan picked up a conversation about a Priwen guard who had ended up in Pembroke Hospital, Sean found himself brushing across his rosary and then instead grab the handle of the knife his men had convinced him to keep as he looked up at the sky. It had been such a long time since he noticed that the night could be quite beautiful, but right now you could see every star as bright as diamonds.
“Well?” Geoffrey asked him.
Sean flinched. “Pardon?”
“Would you come speak to my guard tonight? She’s a proper Catholic, I think she’d enjoy some hand-holding from someone pious before her operation in the morning.”
It was just like Geoffrey to sound dismissive of the wish when he was the one finding help for her. There could, ironically, probably be no better leader of the Guard of Priwen than him.
“I’d be happy to, but you know I’m no priest.”
“Good, because I think most priests don’t approve of former prostitutes who patrol the streets at night with a revolver in hand. That might be an awkward confession there.”
Sean chuckled quietly and glanced at Jonathan.
“Are you going to be in the operation theatre?”
“I will just set up the blood transfusion so Strickland doesn’t end up building an experiment into it and let him take it from there,” he said. “With Ackroyd there to rein him in, they should manage it just fine, until I find some way to train myself… but this is a compromise for now.”
There was always something to do for people like them, Sean thought, glancing at the two men sitting by his side. Even eternity didn’t seem to enough time sometimes. The thought could have been tiring, but these nights he was rarely flagging and having to ask God to make him stronger. He could draw as much fortitude as he needed from their presence, and the more he thought on it, he was convinced that it was surely God who had sent the two vampires to him so they could light each other’s ways in the darkness.