“It’s a rite of passage,” Michael mutters to himself as he lifts his flashlight, creeping up the hill on the outskirts of town. “Every Watcher in the academy has to do it, and you’re the first year.” He’s mocking the other students in his class, even as he continues to trudge onwards in the pitch-black night.
Isobel and Max had told him not to bother going, that the Manes property was abandoned and the other Watchers were just luring him there to scare him by popping out of the darkness, but Michael, at seventeen, is younger than the rest of them and he’s got something to prove.
Besides, if there’s nothing there, then there’s no harm in going into the house, finding something to bring back to the school and proving he’s not afraid of a fairy tale.
The house is creepy. Of course it is. The Manes family lived here decades ago, but when the father had turned all four sons into vampires in the same night, it became soaked in tragedy and history, even though the Manes mother had managed to give one of her sons a soul instantly. Now, located a few miles from the Watcher Academy, the first years come here as a rite of passage.
He has to bring something back with him to prove he went, so here he is.
The house is awful and dusty, but Michael creeps in towards the bedroom, wondering which of the Manes boys lived here. He searches the room, approaching the dresser and sights a small piece of cloth that should be easy to get out.
“Come to me, baby,” he says with eagerness, advancing and tugging the handkerchief into his hands.
“Put it down.”
Michael freezes, not recognizing the voice. He glances up to the dusty mirror in front of him, but there’s no one behind him. He shoves the handkerchief in his hoodie pocket, taking the flashlight out of his mouth to turn towards where he heard the voice coming from.
Which is when he comes face to face with a hot guy.
“What the fuck! Where did you come from?”
“I thought I told you to put my shit down.” He reaches into Michael’s hoodie pocket and pries out the handkerchief, emblazoned with AM on the corner. It puts him intimately close to Michael, and it’s close enough to feel the coolness of his skin, the lack of heartbeat, and how stupidly gorgeous his profile is.
Fuck, thinks Michael, fuck, fuck, this is not the time for an inappropriate teenage hard-on.
It’s extra bad because the hot guy hadn’t shown up in the mirror.
“Holy shit, you’re a vampire,” Michael says as he tries to remember the few classes he’s had, glancing around rapidly for anything that could be used as a stake or to immolate him or anything that could save his life. “Are you the one who lives here? Are you Alex Manes?”
“No one’s lived in the Manes house for decades, but every year, the new Watcher kids come up here and I could use the entertainment,” Alex deadpans.
Everyone knows the story of Alex Manes, but seeing him is another thing completely. Even with a soul, half the Watchers are scared of him, as if they’re worried that his bloodlust is going to completely take over.
Fuck, but he’s so hot that Michael is really hoping he can incite another kind of lust.
“I’m Michael Guerin. I’m training to be a Watcher,” he says proudly. “You’re really not gonna send me back to the campus without any proof that I ran into you. Think about what that’d do for my reputation.”
“Most of them don’t stay this long after I spook them. There’s more screaming and fleeing,” Alex comments as he slides closer to Michael. “Why do you need to prove your reputation when you’re clearly braver than them?”
Michael snorts, staring at him in disbelief. “Seriously?” he deadpans. “Man, you’ve been dead for ages if you don’t know how cruel other kids can be.” Alex has turned away, head bowed over the handkerchief and looking like he’s writing something. “I mean it. If I go back without anything, they’re gonna make my life hell.”
Alex turns back around, studying the folded handkerchief in his hands.
“You’re really not scared I’m going to bite you?”
“You have a soul,” Michael replies calmly. “You might, but then I think you’d feel really, really bad about it,” he taunts, refusing to let his gaze slip from where he’s staring at Alex. His heart beats faster, feeling alive and stupid and excited. He wants to stay here and poke at Alex, he wants to ask about his history, and he wants to believe that he’s safe.
That hope is helped along when Alex steps forward and puts the handkerchief into his extended palm, stepping away to leave as if he’s been bested and wants to go with his dignity.
“If you did want to know where I really live,” Alex says, glancing over his shoulder to where Michael is running his thumb over the cross-stitching of the handkerchief. “I put my address on a slip of paper on the inside of that handkerchief. Maybe you might decide to come test your courage there, the next time you’re sent out on a dare.”
Michael watches Alex with fascination as he leaves. He could’ve broken off a piece of the bedposts and staked Alex, but the only thing Alex seems hungry for is to drink in the sight of Michael.
The entire journey back to the Academy, Michael can’t stop thinking about Alex. He’s fascinated and intrigued and completely swept up in the idea of him.
When he gets back, though, Alex takes a backseat. Right now, he has to prove to a bunch of upperclassmen that he’s not scared of one measly little vampire’s house.
“Look at it and weep,” Michael boasts when he returns to the Academy, shaking out the handkerchief with Alex’s initials embroidered on it. The piece of paper inside it doesn’t fall to the ground.
It can’t, not where it’s sitting securely in Michael’s pocket.
Funny how no one else seems as thrilled as he does, but there’s a begrudging sense of admiration and for the next few weeks, they leave Michael alone.
It means that he can focus on his studies, his craft, and learning how to protect a Slayer. It means that he has time for Max and Isobel, settling in to their new school. And, it also means that he has all the time in the world to sneak off to the address written on a scrap of paper, where he learns that vampires can, in fact, get aroused and exactly what kind of fun happens when they do He learns that Alex’s soul had been given in kindness, not in curse, and he thinks he gets himself a vampire boyfriend.
That probably isn’t going to go over very well.
But hey, what are the chances of him getting a Slayer?
“You think we have a choice?”
“You know they’re doing this on purpose. You know Elizabeth Ortecho has already talked back to them, she doesn’t want her destiny to be pigeonholed in a box. They are giving her to you because they know that you are dating a vampire and they want her to fail. They want you to fail.”
Michael stops threading his fingers through Alex’s hair, staring down at him with a helpless look. He’s been a Watcher for almost twenty years, has been dating Alex for most of them, and it’s an open secret that he’s a Watcher with a vampire boyfriend and to them, it doesn’t matter if he has a soul – it makes Michael a failure.
So when the next Slayer was called up and it wasn’t their intended (a girl named Jenna Cameron), out went the plan, and in came Michael Guerin.
“They want you to fail so that Elizabeth isn’t their Slayer.”
“Yeah, well, they don’t know me,” is Michael’s defensive reply. “What are we supposed to do, Alex? Let her die? No. No, you know what we do. We teach her everything we can, you look out for her at night, and we make her strong. We teach the Council that not having faith in me is their mistake, not who was chosen.”
Alex peers up at him, his fondness clear even upside down, even if there’s still worry on his face. “How are you planning to tell your Slayer that you have a live-in vampire boyfriend?”
Now that is definitely a bridge he intends to cross when they get to it.
“Forget that,” Michael scoffs. “How the hell am I gonna adjust to being a school librarian, with the hours we keep?”
“Endless amounts of coffee,” Alex deadpans, giving him an encouraging nod. “We can do this. I don’t love it, but we can do this. For her.”
“For the Slayer.”
Liz wanders into the library with her books in hand, wondering why there’s no noise. Most days, Guerin’s in here with his books, bent over one of them with his tortoise-shelled glasses, lecturing Liz on the latest slayer lessons or whatever else the thirty-seven-year-old Watcher thinks she needs to learn about. He’s also typically bickering and bitching at her friends for cluttering up his library and making it noisy.
Today, there’s nothing. It’s almost like Guerin’s ideal library state, only he’s not here to see it.
Maria gives her a shake of her head, peering from behind Liz’s shoulder. “This screams murder scene,” she says.
“If he’s been offed, who’re they gonna replace him with? Another stuffy genius?” Kyle snorts.
She doesn’t pay attention to their bickering and sniping, moving deeper inside the library. Liz catches movement out of the corner of her eye, sleek and smooth. “Hello?” she calls out, not sure who else is in the library. Her attention slides back to Maria and Kyle, digging out her stake and approaching cautiously.
The shadow moves swiftly, the pages of books fluttering as her warning, and Liz spins, stake raised and poised to strike.
It’s only her incredible reflexes that stops her from killing an ally – even if it the strangest ally she’s ever had.
“Slayer,” Alex comments evenly.
Liz rolls her eyes. Alex Manes might be a vampire, but after he’d been turned by his father, his mother had instantly ensured that his soul had been put back in. In over eighty years, she’s fairly sure the worst he’s ever done is ruin a couple of Michael’s ties with his teeth – and no, she really doesn’t want to think about the weird part where her Watcher is dating a vampire.
“Alex,” Liz replies, eyeing him. He was turned in his mid-twenties, but his general aura of youth means he can come and go as he pleases at the high school without anyone thinking it’s weird. “Where’s Guerin?”
The dark look on Alex’s face should be scary, but she knows him. She’s seen him feel bad about draining a rabbit for its blood, because the thing was so cute.
“That’s what I came here to ask you about. Why the hell is my husband acting like his fool seventeen-year-old self?”
Liz gapes at him.
There’s a few things there to process. “Husband?” Maria blurts out nearby.
“Dude, you were with him at seventeen?” is Kyle.
Liz focuses on the more problematic part of all this. “How do you know Michael’s acting strangely?”
That’s how they get dragged to the Wild Pony, where a local band is playing tonight. The floor is packed with adults making out, grinding, and wearing ridiculous clothes. Liz stops for a moment to try and forget the image of their principal doing body shots off the mayor’s assistant, wondering what the hell drug everyone is on.
Alex keeps walking through the crowd to get to the back of the club, where Guerin has been cuffed. Or, he was, because now he’s sprawled on the couch with a pair of unlocked handcuffs attached to his wrist, a bobby pin sticking out of his teeth, and him wearing a mischievous smirk. Gone are the glasses, his curls are wild, and he’s eyeing Alex with intent.
“You’re not supposed to leave me after you get me locked up,” Guerin says.
“Guerin,” Alex says calmly. “Your slayer is here.”
“Hey sweetheart,” Guerin says instead of paying attention to Liz, patting the space beside him. “C’mere and do a shot with me.” He grins as he tips his head to the side, curls falling with the movement as he eyes Alex with intent. “Remember how much you like it when you drink me after I’ve had some tequila?”
Liz shoots Alex a disbelieving look, like she can’t believe that at any point, he’d been charmed by this. From the long-suffering look on Alex’s face, it seems like he doesn’t need the ball-busting. She also gets the feeling that if he could blush, he would be.
“What the hell is going on here?” Maria asks.
“That’s what I want to know,” Alex says sharply, leaning down to grab something from out of Michael’s hand. “Guerin,” he says evenly.
“Manes,” Guerin replies cheekily, tangling their fingers together and yanking him into a straddle in his lap. Liz instantly tries to avert her eyes because no, no, no, no, that’s her Watcher, that’s not someone she wants to think of as being sexually active in any way, especially not with a vampire, nope. “Come on, sweetheart, just drink a little.”
“Do not do that,” Liz snaps. “One look at his face in vampy form and he’ll be dead, Guerin.”
“Spoilsport,” he mutters.
Liz shakes her head, deciding there and then that she’s never going to complain when Guerin gives her an assignment or loads too much responsibility on her shoulders.
The thing in Guerin’s hand looks like a chocolate bar, of all things, which Alex sniffs, recoiling before he puts down the chocolate, as if it’s burned him. “Someone’s enchanted this,” he says, a look of disgust on his face. “Whatever it is, it’s clearly making the adults of Roswell act like the simpering idiot children they are.” He looks down at Guerin, shaking his head. “I was a fool when I was younger.”
“You were my fool,” Guerin says sweetly. “And I was the luckiest teen in the world when you kissed me inside the museum and gave me a home for the first time.”
Whatever qualms Alex might be having about Guerin’s personality reversion, that clearly pierces through. Suddenly, Alex doesn’t have any resistance as he slides down into Michael’s lap, straddling him as he wraps his arms around his neck, making out right in the middle of the Pony.
“Ugh,” says Liz.
“I don’t know,” Maria replies, “I think it’s sweet.”
Liz doesn’t want to even think about Guerin as anything remotely close to a sexual being, which is why she can’t bear to look at this. It’s lucky that something distracts them almost instantly.
“I recognize that wrapper.”
Liz could kiss Kyle for the way he distracts her from watching her Watcher make out with a vampire (it’s like a car crash, she can’t look away). She seizes on his comment, looking at him picking up a wrapper from the ground. “What? What is it?”
“It’s the candy from the fundraiser the football team was having,” he says. “I just sold all mine to Guerin, because he said he’d buy it all if I shut up about the football team’s stats and got back to research.”
“So we need to figure out where it came from!” Liz is so happy for a lead that she could cry. She looks back, trying to decide if she should try and split up Guerin from Alex, but they’ve progressed to dry humping, and Liz is starting to wonder if Alex didn’t eat some of the candy after all.
The sooner they fix this, the sooner that’s fixed.
Though, if they’re married, she has to wonder how much of this happens behind closed doors and they’re just normally mature enough to know better than to do this in public.
She decides she’s not going to bother dwelling. “Come on, let’s go.”
Once they get into their research, it doesn’t take long to turn over a few stones with the few adults left. Isobel had sniffed with annoyance when they turned up to her place and asked if she’d eaten any of the chocolate.
“If I’m going to break my diet and eat chocolate, it’s for good stuff, not that,” she says, flicking the candy bar, but squinting at it. “I think this company just bought the warehouse outside of town, though,” she says. “You might want to start there. It’s definitely witchcraft,” she guarantees. “I’ll brief the other Watchers and see what we can do about containing Michael.”
“Thank you,” Liz says emphatically. “Seriously, thank you.”
Once they get to the warehouse, the rest falls into place after some old-school spying and eavesdropping. It turns out that a witch with a grudge against the Watchers in Roswell had enchanted the candy, intending to turn her and all her fellow adults into irresponsible idiots while he worked his magic and tried to make a power grab.
Noah Bracken hadn’t been too happy when Liz broke up the coven in the middle of a spell to amp up the power of the chocolates.
“You made me see my Watcher’s nipples,” is her annoyed snap, when Noah asks why she won’t let him get away with it. She grabs the bust of Janus that the witches have been channelling the spell into, smashing it to the floor in a thousand little bits that shatters the spell just as quickly.
She’s not sure what to do with a witch, but she doesn’t get a chance to figure it out. Noah and his coven flee in the chaos before she can call Guerin and ask for help. Given the derision on Noah’s face when she’d mentioned Watchers, Liz suspects that it won’t be the last they see of him.
Maybe next time, Liz won’t be so traumatized as a result of his revenge scheme.
The next morning, Guerin’s back in the library. He’s wearing a turtleneck and a pair of sunglasses, scowling like the crotchety old Watcher Liz knows and loves. “Had a fun night, Mikey?” she asks sweetly, teasing him with a name that she knows he despises. She leans over to flick at the turtleneck a little. “Maybe a little nibble or two got you on the neck?”
“How much do I have to pay you to never mention what happened again?”
Liz shakes her head. “Trust me. After today, if we never talk about it, I’ll be the happiest slayer around. Now, can we please go back to killing things that go bump in the night instead of you bumping them in your Chevy?”
That is the absolute last she’ll say about it, she swears.
Or maybe it comes up once more, because when Alex turns up to talk about the threat of the coven in the town, he’s not wearing a scarf, which means she sees all the marks on his neck. “I didn’t know vampires could bruise from a hickey,” she blurts out, forgetting the whole ‘moving on’ part.
Alex stares her down, unflinchingly. “My husband has very determined teeth and I’d like to never talk about it again.”
“Next time, wear a scarf,” Kyle complains from where he’s buried his face in a book.
Guerin smiles at Liz as he wraps his arms around Alex’s neck from behind, nuzzling one of the marks as he whispers something against the cool skin that she suspects might just be, I love you, I’ll take care of you, I’ll make it all up to you.
Just this once, she’ll let him have it without teasing him relentlessly.
Tomorrow’s a new day, though, and there’s plenty more to tease him about then.
two years later
The sun has yet to go down, but Michael can hear movement in the back of the library, where the tall shelves create a shadowy effect and he glances up towards the source of the shuffling, listening for the familiar foot falls to place who it is. It’s no surprise that it’s his erstwhile husband, here to grovel.
“I hear you,” he says absently, flipping the page of the latest book he’s been reading, trying to find out what demon Liz had run into, digging out a bookmark so he could slide it in, to mark his place.
Moments later, Alex comes skulking out of the shadows, head bowed, looking sad and pathetic.
“I wanted to apologize.”
Michael waits patiently, because he hasn’t heard an actual apology yet, and he’s not planning to give Alex any leeway until he hears it. The fight they had last night had been one of their worst, though not the worst, but Michael has opinions.
“I’m sorry that I want to turn you before you get too old and we look ridiculous.” It’s not a great apology and Alex seems to understand, because he inhales deeply and then reels himself back. “It’s your decision about when you want to be turned and I’m sorry I called you stupid for not wanting to do it now.”
Michael is thirty-nine years old. He knows that mentally, he wants to do this before he turns forty, but he’s also been waiting on Liz to graduate. Now that she’s in her senior year and with plenty of college opportunities awaiting her, Michael thinks he can start to look at his own future.
“You’re always going to look younger than me,” Michael points out, taking off his glasses to polish them, sliding them back on his face as Alex approaches, tenderly sliding his finger over the arm of the glasses.
Alex pouts slightly. “You won’t need these after I turn you.”
“No,” Michael agrees. “Maybe I’ll still wear them at my husband’s request.”
“I just need to know why,” he pleads. Michael understands, too, and that might be his fault. He has his reasons, he has Liz in mind, but he’s never told Alex, because he never thought that it would be such a bother. “I have the soul spell ready, so the instant after I turn you, we’ll put the soul in you so you won’t feed on anyone,” he insists. “I have a blood supply ready, and our house is already outfitted with everything we need.”
“Baby,” Michael sighs, reaching for Alex, wrapping an arm around his waist to tug him in. “When you turn me, I won’t be able to come to work anymore. I’ll have to quit my job here at the library and as a Watcher, and I know we’ve been establishing a business on the side, but I want to be here for Liz until she graduates. She’s my slayer.”
No one had truly trusted him to be a Watcher, especially not when everyone at the academy had discovered he had a vampire boyfriend, but he’d taken a role designed to fail and excelled. Sure, Liz had died the once, but they’d brought her back to life and now she’s about to graduate.
She’s going to fight demons at a college level, soon.
Alex settles into Michael’s lap, his fingers drifting up and down Michael’s neck, over the tendons and muscles, tickling him slightly.
“It’s just Liz, then? It’s not me?”
Michael gives Alex a worried look. “You think I’m backing out of eternity with you?” He scoffs, shaking his head. “I married you and I know the vow ‘until death do us part’ probably didn’t have people like us in mind, but I took it seriously.” He reaches up to slide his thumb over Alex’s furrowed brow. “I’m not worried about how ugly you’re gonna find my vamp face, I’m not worried about surviving on rabbit blood, I just…”
Liz is his slayer and he loves her like family.
“I need to be here, in this library, until she’s done with school.” He eases up to kiss Alex, trying to reassure him, because he doesn’t want him to worry that he’s suddenly going to love him any less.
That would be impossible.
“We’ll make a date after graduation,” Michael promises, leaning in for soft little kisses, chasing after the first. “I’ll enjoy a last meal as a human, we’ll get up to some funny business, and then, you can turn me and do the spell,” he promises. “Deal?”
Alex looks slightly chastised, but nods. “Deal.”
“That’s my vampire,” Michael praises as he digs his fingers into Alex’s hair a little harder to kiss him, eagerly encouraging Alex to slide into a straddle, despite the fact that they’re in the library of Roswell High, and not their own private home.
Privacy isn’t guaranteed, which is made clear when the doors swing open.
“Hey, Guerin!” Liz’s voice calls out. “Any news on that demon? I got a graduation dance to plan for and if I’m gonna be multi-tasking, I want to get a head start on …” She comes to a stop when she sees Alex in Michael’s lap, wrinkling her nose and covering her eyes frantically. “Oh ew, no,” she pleads. “You both have your pants on, right?”
Michael laughs as he wraps his arms around Alex’s waist.
“We’re decent,” he promises.
Liz peers at them through a tiny crack in her fingers, staring at them suspiciously like she’s not so sure. “I don’t think you ever are,” she says, and grabs the book out of Michael’s hands. “Is this my guy?”
“That’s the one. Take backup,” he warns. “Maria, for sure, in case you need a spell.”
“What about Kyle?”
“Sure, the demon could use a snack,” Alex snarks.
Liz gives him an impatient, annoyed look, but takes the book with an eager smile. “Thanks Guerin,” she says. “Bye Alex,” she says in parting, “You two should behave! Students actually do use the library sometimes!”
She makes plenty of noise as she leaves, but Alex goes right back to what he’d been doing before, prying Michael’s glasses off to kiss his way back down his neck. “She’s lying,” he teases, softly brushing kisses against the spot where Michael knows he’ll one day bite down and turn him. “I’ve never seen a single student in here studying.”
“I ah,” Michael pants, “guess this place has a reputation,” he moans. “All kinds of dangerous things roaming around, you’re safer studying at home.”
Alex grins as he eases back, and smiles so brightly that Michael knows they’re definitely done fighting. “Damn right, I’m dangerous,” he says, with the cutest little pleased smile.
Is Michael going to argue?
Hell no, he’s got better things to do – and right now, he is the better thing to be done.