“Mr. Stede Bonnet,
It is my regret to inform you that as of April 15th, you will no longer be employed by the Watcher’s Council. Your affiliation with the vampire Edward Teach, aka “Blackbeard”, calls your loyalty to the cause into question, and your further involvement with the work of the Slayer is inappropriate.
Due to Bonifacia Jimenez’s insistence and the nature of the US foster system, you will be allowed to remain her legal guardian until she reaches the age of majority. You are in no way to interfere with the new Watcher or countermand their orders in any way.
You are no longer entitled to any benefits provided by the Watcher’s Council, and your access to the archive has been restricted. If you have questions or require clarifications, you are welcome to contact me up to five days after your date of termination.
We wish you best of luck,
Stede tossed the letter on the counter and put his head in his hands. It wasn’t a surprise. Chauncey Badminton had never once backed down from one of his threats, and his loss had been too high to consider he might have a change of heart. But this…it still hurt. It ached even. He’d spent his entire life working to be a Watcher.
“Shit,” Jim said, picking up the letter. “They really did it. I know Chauncey said they would, but I kind of thought he was talking out his ass.”
“Charming language,” Stede sighed.
“I’m a charming guy,” Jim said flatly. “But seriously Stede, I don’t care what the Council says. You’re my Watcher, no matter what. Whoever they send is--”
“Going to be reporting to the Council directly,” Stede said. “And if they report that I’m interfering with their authority, they might decide it’s worth the hassle to have me removed as your guardian after all. Or even get my green card revoked. We have to play by their rules.”
“Damn you for being an immigrant,” Jim joked weakly. They dropped the letter back on the counter, shoulders drooping.
“Foolish, really,” Stede responded. He lifted his head and met their eyes, and then reached out and patted their arm.
“Everything is going to be alright, Jim. Your new Watcher will be perfectly competent, I’m sure. And I will always be here for you. You’re…I love you like my own, you must know that.”
Jim looked away, face flushing, and shrugged. “Yeah, I mean. Whatever. Me too.”
Stede smiled at them. “So then, we’re agreed? Whatever we need to do to keep them from meddling with our family.”
“Whatever we need to do,” Jim sighed. “But I’m gonna complain the whole time.”
“I would expect nothing less,” Stede said. “Now…have you found any new trails?”
Jim made an apologetic face and shook their head. “No, I haven’t. It’s like both Ed and Izzy Hands have disappeared off the face of the Earth. I’ve been by Roach’s five times. If I give him any more money you’re gonna have to declare bankruptcy.”
“Maybe it’s hopeless,” Stede said, his heart wrenching in his chest. “Maybe they’re not even in Sunnydale anymore. Maybe he’s not even--”
“We can’t think like that,” Jim said. “If Izzy was going to kill him, he would have done it right there. Taking a vampire as powerful as Ed away from the scene would have been too difficult to bother with if they were just gonna kill him. Izzy wants him for something.”
“It’s been two weeks,” Stede said. “And no one has managed to find even a trace of them. I’m so afraid for him. Sometimes I even think that…maybe he doesn’t want to be found. And then I feel terrible, because it’s not as if he left voluntarily, but I--”
Jim grimaced. “I’m not…great at the advice talk? That’s more Lucius’ thing. I could call him--”
“No,” Stede said, scrubbing at his face. “I shouldn’t…my only friend my age is missing, which is quite sad, isn’t it? And he’s not even my age, not really.”
“It’s a little sad,” Jim said. “But you need people who appreciate you. If people your age can’t see that, they’re stupid.”
“Well, thanks,” Stede said. “I’m still searching Ed’s house for something Olu can use to track him. The man is surprisingly clean, not even his comb has hair in it.”
“Well, what about your sheets?” Jim said. “The ones he bled all over?”
“Not his blood,” Stede said. “It’s yours. And pig’s.”
“Oh, right. Shit. Well, we’re still working on seeing if there’s a way to fine-tune that demon-finding spell for one specific demon. Or if there’s a spell that can use a personal object instead of DNA--”
“Thanks, Jim,” Stede said. “I know you’re all working so hard--”
“He’s part of the team,” Jim said. “We won’t abandon him.”
“Thank you,” Stede said, his shoulders slumping. “How are the boys holding up? I know Olu was pretty shaken.”
“He’s alright,” Jim said. “I think he feels guilty about leaving Ed behind. I’ve told him that he would have been killed if he stayed, but you know how that kind of thing is.”
“I do,” Stede said. “Ed told him to go find you, and it was really the only choice he could have made.”
“Other than that, he’s fine,” Jim continued. “Lucius has spent the last two weeks downloading everything he possibly can from the Watcher’s Council archive and dating this senior he’s been tutoring.”
“Lucius is tutoring a senior?” Stede asked, surprised.
“Yeah, he’s not the brightest bulb on the tree,” Jim said. “Nice enough, I guess. Kind of a jock but Lucius has been softening him up.”
“What’s his name?” Stede said.
“Pete Black,” Jim said.
“The boy with the lisp?” Stede asked, surprised. He was a bit rough and tumble, not the kind that Stede would have assumed Lucius would like.
“Yeah, that’s the one,” Jim said. “He’s kind of annoying, but Lucius is over the moon about him.”
They shrugged, clearly trying to show how disinterested they were in Lucius’ new beau.
“Well, that’s good,” Stede said. “Love is…love is something we should all strive for. I’ve noticed that you and Olu--”
“Nope,” Jim said, standing up with a jolt. “Not having this discussion.”
“Oh come now, there’s no need to be embarrassed. You’re being safe, I hope--”
“We are not--Olu and I are not anything. We’re just friends!”
Jim’s beet red face said otherwise, but Stede decided not to press too much.
“Well, be that as it may, if things change, just…be safe. We can get you an appointment with the doctor or--”
“I need you to stop before I have to go drown myself,” Jim said miserably.
“Alright, alright,” Stede said, biting back a smile. “No need to get drastic.”
“I need to go slay something,” Jim said, cramming their hat on their head. “And…maybe see if I can beat any news about Ed or Izzy out of someone.”
“Be careful,” Stede said. “And check in. Let me know if you need any help. I may not be your Watcher anymore, but I will always be on your team.”
“I know,” Jim said. “Thanks, Dad.”
Stede perked up. “Dad?”
“We’re not gonna talk about it,” Jim said. “One time thing.”
“One time thing,” Stede agreed, his heart glowing.
Jim left without another word, heading out the garage door. Stede sighed and made a mental note to facetime with Alma and Louis tomorrow. Despite everything, he was feeling particularly fatherly.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six.
There was a steady dripping noise echoing through the room. Ed was using it to count the seconds. It was the only way to distract from the gnawing hunger in his gut. If he thought about it, it hurt so badly he wanted to scream. But he was too tired to scream. He was so fucking tired.
Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight…
The dripping stopped. That was good. But also bad. He couldn’t quite remember…
He drifted for a while, staring at the ground. The ends of his hair were dangling against the floor, mixing with the tacky wetness. Stede would chide him, when he saw. He might even bully Ed into that ridiculously large bath tub of his and wash it for him.
He missed Stede.
He missed his laugh and his smile and his sweet kisses and his warmth. Ed was fucking freezing. He’d almost forgotten what it was like to be cold, but now he couldn’t keep it from his mind. His whole body felt like one large icicle. He wanted his cozy cashmere blanket, or his velvet robe or…
“Look at that,” Izzy said. “Not even enough blood left in you to bleed. That’s pretty pathetic.”
Ed watched his feet approach, too exhausted to even lift his head. He’d forgotten he was upside down, until he saw Izzy right-side-up. He was so fucked in the head. Starving and bleeding out, except a vampire couldn’t starve, not really. He was suddenly aware of the chains wrapped around his legs and ankles again, and the way he was suspended from the rafters.
He kind of wished he wasn’t aware of it, really. It hurt less when he wasn’t aware.
“You ever seen what happens to a vampire when they don’t have enough blood?” Izzy asked, walking an idle circle around Ed. “It’s not pretty, Edward. Not at all. We become nothing more than living skeletons.”
“F-f-fuck off,” Ed managed to say. His teeth were chattering. He wondered if Izzy had some kind of fan pointed at him.
“Real pathetic,” Izzy said. “But you do still have enough of a mind to speak, so I suppose I’ll give you credit for that.”
He crouched down in front of Ed so they were face to face.
“I know you don’t believe me, but I’m trying to help you,” Izzy said. “I got a nice fresh human for you. I even cut her right on the neck, she’s ripe for the taking. All you have to do is drink.”
“No,” Ed said, even as his stomach gurgled at the very thought of it.
“You’re so worried about what your precious little Watcher will think of you,” Izzy said, shaking his head. “When he doesn’t even care that you’re gone.”
“You’re w-wrong,” Ed said. “He’ll come.”
“So much hope for him,” Izzy said, his eyes glinting in the lowlight as he tilted his head. “It’s been two weeks I’ve had you. Two weeks of being such a soldier for this love you claim to have. Two weeks of hanging, of hunger, of pain. And he hasn’t so much as had his witch cast a finding spell.”
Ed’s heart shattered for a moment. It couldn’t be true. He’d lost track of time so long ago, but he’d know if it had been weeks. Wouldn’t he?
“He’s not coming for you,” Izzy said. “He saw the body. He thinks you killed his little friend, and he’s washed his hands of you. A passing fancy. You gave him all your loyalty, all your trust. And one little blip has him tossing you aside. It hurts, doesn’t it?”
An involuntary whimper escaped his throat, and Izzy patted his cheek.
“I know. No one knows you like I do, Edward. No one understands what you need but me. You just have to trust me. I’m trying to save you. You’ve lapsed, but I’ll forgive you, if you just remember who you’re supposed to be.”
“I can’t,” Ed said. He felt tears drip from his eyes and over his forehead.
“You can,” Izzy said.
He looked to his left and jerked his head. A moment later, the smell of hot, rich blood met Ed’s nose, and his stomach growled so hard it made him want to curl up and die. But he didn’t have the strength to curl up, and he didn’t have the ability to die.
One of Izzy’s goons dragged a girl into his view. She was bleeding profusely from the neck, and sobbing hard. He hardly noticed her tears, zeroed in on the steady drip of blood soaking into the collar of her t-shirt. She didn’t look like a person, she looked like food. And he was so fucking hungry.
He thrashed against his chains, trying to get at her, starving and desperate. She screamed and tried to run, but the goon grabbed her by the hair and dragged her closer. Ed reached for her, his chained hands grasping like a babe reaching for a bottle, and her wet hazel eyes met his.
He froze. Stede had hazel eyes. Stede would never forgive him if he killed this girl. Stede would come for him. With a growl of frustration and hunger, he let his body fall limp.
“Unbelievable,” Izzy grumbled. “You’re not saving her, you know. She’s going to lie here and bleed until she’s dead. The least you could do is not waste food.”
The girl wailed, and Ed met Izzy’s eyes, spurred by a sudden resolve.
“Fuck you, Izzy,” he said.
“Fine,” Izzy said. “Your choice.”
He drew a silver knife from the sheath on his hip and plunged it brutally into the girl's neck, cutting deep. He dropped her to the floor, stepping over her as she thrashed, her blood soaking across the floor and soaking up into the ends of Ed’s hair.
“Looks like you need a little more time,” Izzy said. “That’s fine, I’m a patient man. And I’m always willing to provide encouragement.”
He buried the knife in Ed’s injured side, where the flesh demon had gored him, which couldn’t heal for lack of food. Ed screamed and screamed and screamed until the world went black.
The cafeteria was loud, which made it the perfect place to talk about the seedy underbelly of Sunnydale without being overheard. Usually this kind of conversation would take place in the library, where no student dared to tread, but Stede was there.
“He’s really losing it,” Jim said around a mouthful of pizza. “Like…genuinely I don’t think he’s slept a full night through.”
“Well I certainly wouldn’t, if it were me,” Lucius said. He peeled the lid off his pudding cup and licked it daintily. “He must be absolutely devastated. I mean…Ed’s either dead or evil again, right?”
“Don’t be an ass,” Olu said, kicking his shin under the table. “We haven’t seen Ed at all, and there’s no way he’s just gonna go evil again after everything he did for us.”
“And he looks at Stede like the sun shines out of his ass,” Jim said. “I know what he is and I trust him anyway. Wherever he is, he’s not there because he wants to be. And we have to find him before Stede starts tearing the town apart brick by brick.”
“We’ve looked everywhere we can think of,” Lucius complained. “I don’t think he’s still in Sunnydale.”
“There’s all kinds of hidden places, though,” Olu pointed out. “The tunnels stretch for miles, and there’s all kinds of entrances to and from the mausoleums. And they could be moving him.”
“Then how are we ever meant to find him?” Lucis sighed. “His clothes didn’t have enough juice to power your location spell.”
“Terrible choice of words,” Olu said, wrinkling his nose. “And vampires don’t sweat or--”
A tray slapped down on the table and a chair screeched as it was dragged across the linoleum floor. Pete Black threw himself down in the chair and kissed Lucius on the cheek before slamming another pudding cup in front of him.
“Hey, Babe,” he said. “What’s going on? Looks serious.”
“Oh, nothing, Babe,” Lucius said cheerily. “Trying to figure out where we’re gonna have movie night this week. Jim’s got the biggest tv, but my house never has any parents at it, so--”
“Don’t you live in that big mansion up on the hill?” Pete asked. “Isn’t the school librarian like your dad or something?”
“Legal guardian, yeah,” Jim said, taking another vicious bite of pizza.
“Who knew being a librarian paid so much?”
“It’s family money, sweetie,” Lucius said, patting his hand.
“Still,” Pete said with a shrug. “Sounds cool. Mr. Bonnet’s kind of lame, but he did help me with my English term paper last year.”
“He is kind of lame,” Jim agreed with a shrug. “But I like him anyway.”
Olu nodded in agreement.
“He really is a good guy,” Lucius assured Pete. “And he always buys dinner. Speaking of , why did he text me the other day to ask if you two would appreciate a nice dinner as a date?”
“He did what?” Jim demanded, face going cloudy. Olu blushed and ducked his head nearly under the table.
“He was asking about gift certificates!” Lucius said. “If you guys finally started dating you have to tell me or its entrapment.”
“That’s not even what that means,” Olu protested, while Jim slowly crushed a milk carton.
“And we’re not dating! Why does everyone think that?”
“Because you make puppy eyes at each other when you think no one is looking,” Lucius said frankly. “Are you really pretending you don’t?”
“ Caiete , Lucius!” Jim spat.
“Yeah, shut up,” Olu said. “They’re not inter--we’re just friends!”
Jim pinned him with a look nearly as sharp as their favorite knife. “What did you say?”
“Nothing!” Olu squeaked.
“You said I’m not interested?”
They stared at each other for a long moment, until Pete took a long, awkward sip from his straw. Jim stood up quickly, their chair screeching back across the floor. They grabbed Olu’s arm and dragged him up as well. Finally, they turned and pointed a severe finger in Lucius’ direction.
“Not a word.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Lucius said, grinning smugly.
Jim glared once more for good measure, and then bodily dragged Olu from the cafeteria.
The Sunnydale Whole Foods had a lovely underground parking garage that Stede wholly appreciated. It hardly ever rained in California, but when it did the parking garage protected his expensive dry-clean only sweaters from ruin. During the bountiful sunny days, it protected him from being blinded the moment he stepped out of the store. The problem that he was now realizing was that it also provided cover for Sunnydale’s major predators.
He was just slamming his trunk closed when he saw them. Two men pressed up against the far wall, seemingly in an amorous embrace. It was only when he looked a moment too long that he realized the taller of them, with long dark hair, was staring slack-jawed up at the ceiling. If Stede knew nothing else, he could recognize blood-loss shock.
He hurriedly dug into his emergency kit and grabbed a stake in one hand and a cross in the other. He sprinted across the garage, stake raised to get the vampire while he was distracted, but he was much more aware than anticipated. He turned on Stede with a snarl, grabbing his wrist and twisting until the stake tumbled from his hand.
Stede swung his other hand around, striking him across the face with the cross. The vampire snarled and stumbled, and when he looked up again furiously, Stede realized it was Izzy.
“You,” he spat. “Always showing up where you’re not wanted.”
“I could say the same thing about you,” Stede growled. He advanced with his cross, overcome with rare braveness and utterly stupid about it. Izzy flinched but still swung a fist wildly in his direction. Stede’s face exploded with pain as his nose crunched under the assault, but he managed to hang onto his cross.
“Where’s Ed?” he demanded. His voice sounded stuffy and he could taste blood. “What have you done with him?”
“Sorry,” Izzy said coldly. “I’m afraid I don’t recall at the moment. But maybe you’ll see him again real soon. When he’s ready.”
“Ready for what?” Stede demanded.
“To kill you,” Izzy said.
He hit Stede again, so hard it made his ears ring and took him off his feet. He had a moment to mourn the concussion he was sure to have before his world went black.
The lights were bright when he woke, and there was an incessant beeping noise that made him grumble. He waved his hand toward his nightstand, but stopped when something pulled painfully against his skin. He grunted, annoyed, and startled when someone grabbed him gently around the wrist.
“Ed?” he asked, confused.
“No, it’s me,” Jim said. “Fuck, Stede.”
“Language,” he admonished, but it came out a little garbled. His tongue felt strangely heavy.
“I’ll cuss if I want to,” Jim said stubbornly. “I thought you were--”
Stede finally managed to pry his eyes open, and the brightness of the room made him slam them shut again. It was enough to make him understand, though, that he was in the hospital. And that was enough to trigger his memory.
“Ah,” he said, with feeling. “Fuck.”
“Exactly,” Jim said. “What the hell happened, Stede? The guy they found you with was drained, but you--”
“It was Izzy,” Stede said. “Could you turn the lights off?”
Jim’s hand flexed around his wrist and then let go. A moment later, the blinding light through his eyelids disappeared and he sighed in relief. He watched Jim come back to his bedside, where they curled up in the chair they’d pulled close.
“Izzy,” Jim said. “You found him?”
“On accident,” Stede said. “He was having a meal, and I didn’t think…I just tried to help.”
“He knocked you around pretty good,” Jim said. “Broken nose and a mild concussion. They did a scan of your brain, said you’re not bleeding internally, so that’s good. But I don’t understand why he didn’t kill you.”
“He said something about Ed,” Stede said. “About Ed being ready to kill me. Which means…”
“He’s still somewhere nearby,” Jim said. “Maybe even close to the Whole Foods.”
“There’s a bunch of warehouses in that area,” Stede said thoughtfully. “And Shady Oak Cemetery. We should--”
“ We’re not doing anything,” Jim said immediately. “You’re concussed, and lucky Izzy didn’t kill you. I’ll do another sweep and have Lucius see if the underground tunnels have any access to the parking garage.”
Stede wanted to argue, but when he lifted his head he felt like he might puke, so it was pointless. Jim reached over him and hit the call button and then patted his arm again. He was touched by all the casual affection. They must have been really worried.
“The doctor said they’d check you out when you woke up. Determine if you’ll be okay to go home. I’m gonna call Olu so he can sit with you, because I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to sleep with a concussion or something.”
Stede nodded, and then groaned with regret at the motion.
“I wish--” he said, and then stopped. It wouldn’t do any good to ask for Ed, when they both knew he couldn’t have him. Jim knew anyway.
“I’ll find Ed,” they promised. “And I’ll dust Izzy for you.”
“Don’t be too rash,” Stede said. “I want you both home safe.”
“I’ll be fine,” Jim said. “Promise.”
They squeezed his wrist one more time, and then turned for the door.
The rain was freezing cold on his skin, and falling so fast that he could hardly see. But he didn’t need to see, not anymore. The rope had curled where he’d thrown it, and all he had to do now was hold on tight until the thrashing stopped.
He tried not to listen to the sound of desperate gasps, focusing instead on the crash of waves, the clap of thunder, the pounding of rain against stone. But he couldn’t hide the sight from his own eyes. He couldn’t look away from his father’s red face, his enraged eyes, the scrabble of his fingers against rope.
His muscles ached and his heart pounded, and most importantly, rage sang in his blood. Rage and fear which gave him the power to choke the life from his father’s wretched body. He held tight, gasping with the effort, until his father stopped struggling. Until he became nothing more than a body. Then, he dropped the rope and ran.
He was confused when he woke up. It was dark, and though he couldn’t see, he could feel wood beneath his back, and at his sides. When he reached up, he felt wood there too, and panic overtook him.
How had he…
He’d been on his ship. There had been a man, someone who wanted to meet with him. Hornigold. Another pirate who had been interested in establishing some kind of alliance and then…
He couldn’t remember. Why couldn’t he remember? And where was he?
He pushed upward desperately, looking for any kind of knob or latch or…anything that might let the light in. But he was trapped in a box. Jack’s idea of a stupid game, probably. He pounded the ceiling, trying to push the lid off, but it was latched firmly. He’d have to break out, and he didn’t really have the room.
He lifted his leg, the one with the good knee, and kicked hard. Wood splintered, and something rushed down into the box with him. Perturbed, he struck out with his fist next. His skin split against the rough grain of the wood, but he hardly even noticed. He struck again, managing to crack it. And dirt fell onto his face.
Against his will, he let out a yell of terror. He’d been buried alive. He was buried alive! He needed to get out, get out, he was going to run out of air, he was…
He lashed out, clawing at the hole he’d created, tearing through the wood like paper, splinters under his skin and nails. Dirt hit him in the face, in his mouth, up his nose, gritty into his eyes and he dug and dug and dug.
It was a miracle he didn’t suffocate. He wrenched himself upward, inch by wretched inch. He clawed at the Earth, desperate as always to save his own life. The dirt was unforgiving, pressing against him, claustrophobic and smothering. He screamed, choked on dirt, and his hand broke free into cool air.
“Edward,” his mother said.
She was standing in the doorway, hand clenched around the knob. Her cloak was clutched tight around her, eyes wary as she looked at him.
“Hello, mum,” he said, “Long time.”
“Yes,” she agreed. “I didn’t expect I’d see you again.”
“Well, I’m here,” he said. “Invite me in.”
She squeezed her cloak a little tighter and took a step back. He pressed against the barrier keeping him out and breathed in deep. He could smell her fear and it was delicious.
“What’s the matter with you?” she said. “Are you drunk?”
“No, mum, just really hungry. Let me in.”
“No,” she said, pressing the door closed. “I don’t think I will. I don’t like…whatever you’re on, I don’t like it.”
“Don’t shut me out, mum,” he said quickly. When she hesitated, he added, “I’ve never felt better in my life. I’ve grown past the place where god put me, I’m more now. I can have anything I want, all the fine things. And you can too. Just invite me in, and I’ll share it with you.”
“Edward, you’re scaring me,” she said.
“It’s not scary,” he insisted. “It’s exhilarating. Mum please. Let me in.”
“No,” she said once more. He bared his teeth when she slammed the door shut in his face. “Go away, Edward! Don’t come back!”
He tore his teeth through the soft, lovely throat of the man who had kissed him so amorously. It tasted divine and he drunk deep and greedy--
He watched Izzy roar with triumph as he snapped the neck of the Slayer and followed her down to the ground, drinking deep before the blood went cold--
He stalked the woman down a long alley, making just enough noise to keep her heart-rate high. She started walking faster when she heard the noise of life at the end of the alley. He watched. Waited. And right before she thought she was safe, he grabbed her. Her screams were like music--
There was a handsome blonde man sat alone at the other end of the bar. He smelled like flowers and had a sweet little smile. Ed watched him, hungry and intrigued. He was going to ruin him--
“Wake the fuck up.”
Ed groaned as the impact of Izzy’s boot against his gut tore him from his dream. It hurt so much it almost went back around to the euphoria of painlessness.
His stomach gurgled loudly, and then the smell of blood hit him. It was fresh and delicious and most importantly of all, it smelled like Stede.
“What the fuck did you do?” he demanded. He was still cold, but at least the rage inside him felt almost like warmth.
“Went to visit your little boyfriend,” Izzy said. “He makes you weak. Now you don’t have to worry what he thinks of you, because he’s not thinking at all anymore.”
Ed’s heart, unbeating for so very long, tore in his chest.
“You’re lying,” he said.
“Nope,” Izzy said smugly. “And you know I’m not. You can smell him, can’t you? And that prissy cologne he wears. I’ve got to say Edward, his blood was particularly sweet--”
Ed snarled angrily, summoning a reserve of strength he didn’t even know he had, and tried to grab him. Izzy had long-since learned, though, and he wasn’t close enough. He stood there and watched as Ed thrashed until he couldn’t anymore, and then he sank down into a crouch in front of him.
“Oh Edward,” he said softly. “He really did a number on you. But things are different now. He’s gone, and you can go back to being what you’re meant to be.”
“Just kill me,” Ed said dully.
What was the point in fighting? Why should he hang on, if the reason he’d found to keep going was gone?
“Don’t be a fucking twat,” Izzy said. “I did this for you. Now you’ll get better. And hey…I even saved you a bite.”
He extended a fist, wet with a spatter of Stede’s blood, and rubbed it carefully over Ed’s lips. Ed couldn’t stop himself from snaking his tongue out and licking it up immediately, even as he hated himself for it. He was just so damn hungry, and it tasted so good…
Izzy laughed and patted his cheek patronizingly. Ed snarled and turned his head quickly, biting his hand viciously. The laugh turned into a shriek, and when Izzy yanked his hand away he left his pinky finger behind. Ed spit it out at his feet.
“You bastard,” Izzy spat, cradling his mauled hand against his chest. Against all odds, he looked euphoric. “You fucking asshole. I knew you were still in there somewhere.”
Ed snarled at him again, trying to catch his gaze. One little lick of blood wasn’t much, but maybe it was just enough energy to--
But no, Izzy turned away from him.
“I’ll go get you some dinner,” he said. “And you’ll fucking eat it.”
Lucius didn’t answer his phone until the third time that it started ringing.
His parents weren’t home, and Pete was over, and he was busy entertaining! And Pete was very, very good at making out.
But finally, after the third round of rings started up, he sighed and lifted his head.
“Sorry, Babe. Gotta get that.”
Pete shrugged and rested his hands against Lucius thighs, stroking up and down in a way that made his whole body shiver. He grinned innocently when Lucius shot him a chastising look.
“Someone better be dying,” he said, rather than hello.
“Stede was attacked,” Jim said flatly, and Lucius blanched.
“What?” he said. “He’s not…actually dying, is he?”
“No,” Jim said. “But only because he’s stupidly lucky. It was Izzy. Stede caught him drinking a guy near the Whole Foods and got his ass beat about it. We need you to figure out if there are any access tunnels to the underground in that parking garage.”
“Can do,” Lucius said, standing up off of Pete’s lap and hurrying toward his laptop. “And Stede is…?”
“Going to be okay,” Jim said. “He’s got a concussion and a broken nose, but I checked him for bites while he was out. He wasn’t bitten. Vampires aren’t usually known for their restraint, so Izzy wants him alive for some reason.”
Lucius glanced toward Pete, he was leaning against the back of the couch and watching him talk. He smiled and finger waved, and Lucius shot a smile back.
“Listen, Jim, I’ve got Pete over here--”
“Well, send him home,” Jim said. “This is the first lead we’ve had on Ed in weeks.”
“Yep,” Lucius said. “Right of course. I will do that.”
“Call me about the tunnels,” Jim said, and then hung up.
“Right,” Lucius said to air. “Of course.”
He turned to look at Pete, who was still watching him with that sweet, dopey expression of his.
“Something’s come up…” he started.
“How come you guys never told me you know about vampires?” Pete interrupted.
Lucius nearly swallowed his tongue with surprise, blinked a few times in rapid succession, and then said, “I don’t know what you mean?”
He wasn’t sure it was convincing, since his voice went up an octave.
“Babe, I could hear both sides of the conversation,” Pete said. “And also I heard you guys talking about it in the cafeteria earlier. Werewolves have very good senses of hearing, you know.”
Lucius blinked at him some more.
“I’m sorry?” he squeaked.
“I mean, I get it, it’s kind of a thing we don’t really talk about in Sunnydale, but I figured that I was kind of getting in on the friend group and everything--”
“Wait,” Lucius said. “I need you to go back to the werewolf part.”
It was Pete’s turn to stare.
“Yeah,” he said slowly. “You know, how…I am one. And my whole family is? We talked about it.”
“We did not!” Lucius squawked. “When?”
Pete tilted his head in confusion. “Sweetie, we went on our full moon camping trip and you guessed, remember? You called me a big bad wolf and howled and it was just so cute. And I was so touched you didn’t make a big deal out of it, but eventually I figured out that Jim’s the Slayer and--”
“I was joking! ” Lucius cried. “It was a joke! I didn’t know werewolves are real!”
“Oh.” Pete visibly wilted. “I just thought that it didn’t matter to you.”
Lucius stepped toward him, immediately feeling bad about the kicked puppy-- oh god --look on Pete’s face.
“It doesn’t!” he said. “I mean…it’s new information! Very new and I’m going to have to freak out about it, but…it doesn’t matter. You’re not like a movie monster running around killing people on the full moon or anything.”
“Of course not,” Pete said. “We learn how to control it as kids.”
“Then it’s fine…great even!”
Pete grinned at him shyly. “I love you,” he said.
Lucius’ heart fluttered in his chest, and he hurried over to kiss him.
“I love you too,” he said. “Really I do.”
They laughed and kissed each other, again and again until Lucius almost felt dizzy. And in that moment of euphoria and surprise and elation, a thought occurred to him.
“Hey…can you track someone by scent?”
Breaking into Ed’s house to steal a shirt wasn’t even hard. The guy didn’t lock his doors, and werewolves didn’t have the need to be invited, so they just waltzed on in and searched through his wardrobe. Pete passed up several things that he claimed smelled too much like Stede, before finally settling on a purple short-sleeved t-shirt.
Then, they drove to the Whole Foods parking garage and Pete buried his face in it and gave it a good sniff, in a way that looked pretty pervy to the untrained eye. Lucius tried not to be weirded out by the absolutely canine way his boyfriend sniffed the air, his nose twitching almost comically.
So his boyfriend was a dog. He could totally deal with that. Freak out later, rescue mission now.
Lucius followed after him, a hastily-carved stake in one hand and a cross made of two lashed together sticks in the other. He had no intention of fighting any vampires all on his own, but just in case they were ambushed, he wanted to have a weapon.
“I can smell him here,” Pete said thoughtfully. “But…it’s really distant. Like someone who has spent a lot of time with him was here and left his scent behind, not like he was here himself.”
“Can you follow it?” Lucius asked.
Pete sniffed around a bit, walking in a circle, and then perked up and headed along the stretch of wall. They walked until they came to a manhole cover just inside the garage entrance, and Pete pointed down.
“It’s this way, I think. Should we go get Jim?”
“No…” Lucius said, shaking his head. “I don’t want to bother them if we’re wrong. Let’s see if we can get an actual scent on Ed first.”
Pete nodded and leaned down to lift the manhole cover right out of the ground with a grunt of exertion. Lucius whistled lowly and fanned himself.
“Hot, babe,” he said. Pete grinned at him.
Down in the tunnels, Pete buried his face in the shirt again and then nodded and started walking.
“This way,” he said. “I’m sure of it.”
Together they walked, the only lighting flickering ominously. They passed by what felt like a hundred crossways, turned down halls, skirted dangerously close to a connected sewer line that confused Pete’s nose for a few minutes, and then finally came to a stop when they reached a large square room.
It looked as if someone had made a hidey-hole of it, and with how long they’d walked, Lucius figured it made for a pretty good bad-guy lair. There was all kinds of weapons hoarded there, and a duffle bag with clothes spilling out. There was even a half-played game of solitaire laid out on the ground. In the middle of the room, there was a rickety-looking ladder that led further down underground.
“The scent goes down there,” Pete said, glancing downward. A low groan sounded from below, like someone in pain. Lucius froze for a moment, afraid someone was coming, but after a long moment no one came for them.
“Maybe we don’t need Jim afterall,” Pete continued. “Maybe we can be big damn heroes on our own.”
Lucius hesitated. It was safer to get Jim. He wasn’t much of a fighter, and he had no idea how many vampires Pete could take on his own. If he could take any at all.
“It would be a real cool way for me to join the team,” Pete said enthusiastically. “Finding Mr. Bonnet’s kidnapped boyfriend and all.”
And he had a point there.
“Well…alright,” he said. “I’ll sneak down really quiet-like and see if he’s down there. You stand guard up here.”
“You got it, Babe. Nothing will get past me!”
Lucius kissed his cheek and started down the ladder as quietly as he could. As soon as he hit the ground, he regretted going alone. This was stupid. This was how people in horror movies got killed! He had just made the decision to turn around and head back up when he heard a low moan.
Against his better judgment, he peeked over his shoulder, and he gasped loudly at what he saw. Hanging upside from a chain on the ceiling was Ed. He was in his vamp face, and his long hair was dragging on the floor, which was coated with what looked horribly like dried blood. He was pale and almost dry-looking. Not quite mummified, but closer than anyone conscious should be.
He was also cut open in several places, though there was no blood running from anywhere so far as Lucius could tell. He was sliced from elbow to wrist on each arm, and his side was broken and oozing where the flesh demon had taken a bite out of him. It seemed as if he’d been stabbed a few times there as well. Overall, it was a rather horrifying presentation, and Lucius was torn between crying for him and throwing up.
Ed’s eyes were open, but they seemed unseeing, and he didn’t react as Lucius crept close to him. Only when Lucius crouched in front of him and tapped his cheek did he react, snarling and snapping his teeth like a wild beast. Lucius shrieked and fell back from him.
“Babe?” Pete yelled.
“I’m fine!” Lucius called back. “Just…startled.”
He picked himself up and looked back at Ed, whose eyes were focusing on him now.
“Lucius,” he said, lisping a bit around his extra teeth.
“Ed,” Lucius said fervently. “We’ve been looking for you everywhere. You look awful!”
Ed looked at him, his face still slack and almost unfeeling. It was kind of eerie.
“Kill me,” he said. “Please.”
“No way,” Lucius said. “Stede would hate all of us.”
“He’s dead,” Ed said, almost pitifully. Lucius suspected he’d be crying, if he had any liquid left in him.
“What? No, he’s not,” Lucius said. “He’s hurt. Izzy hurt him, he’s in the hospital. But I spoke to Jim an hour ago and he’s totally alive.”
Ed looked at him searchingly, his eyes surprisingly focused now. “If you’re lying to me--”
“I wouldn’t lie to you,” Lucius said. “Not about this.”
“Oh,” Ed said. The blank look on his face took on some purpose. “In that case…I need your help.”
“Obviously,” Lucius snorted. “What do you think I’m here for?”
Ed nodded, and for a moment, his bright yellow eyes seemed so deep. Like bottomless wells of light, calling him in.
“Come here,” Ed said. His voice sounded almost dreamy and…strangely alluring. Like every word out of his mouth was the most important and compelling thing Lucius had ever heard.
Lucius crept closer to him, until they were nearly touching.
“Now crouch down and let me bite you,” Ed said.
Something in him jolted at that. It seemed like a really, really bad idea. But Ed was just asking for help, and he found himself moving before he’d even really made the decision to do it. He took a deep, shaking breath, and Ed said,
“Thanks, kid. I’ll make it up to you.”
And then all he felt was pain. It felt like being stabbed, which he supposed was pretty accurate. But worse than that, somehow, was the feeling of pulling inside him. Like everything in him was rushing in one direction toward his neck, being pulled out of him by the suction of Ed’s mouth. He struggled, realizing suddenly that Ed had hypnotized him, but he was already too weak to fight him off. If he’d ever been strong enough.
He let out a small sob and pried at Ed’s fingers, slapped at the side of his head, but Ed just dug his teeth in harder and growled. He wasn’t going to stop. He was going to drain everything Lucius had in him, take everything he didn’t even have the chance to offer. A hot tear fell down his cheek.
“Help,” he managed to whisper. “Pete--”
His vision started to tunnel, and his fingers started to grow cold, and the last thing he was aware of before the darkness took him was the sound of feet stomping down the ladder.
Ed was lost in the euphoria of food. Sweet, delicious, hearty blood, rushing past his tongue and down his throat. Part of him was aware that he was supposed to be taking this slow. He was supposed to savor it, be careful, but he was just so fucking hungry. Savoring a meal was stupid anyway.
He only remembered why he’d been trying for restraint when someone punched him in the face.
With a gasp, he tore himself away from Lucius, feeling a million times better than he had just a few minutes before. A squat teenager with a receding hairline was dragging Lucius away from him, glaring dangerously the entire time.
“Who the fuck are you?”
“I’m Pete, the guy who’s gonna kill you!” he spat. “If Lucius is dead--”
“He’s not dead,” Ed said, listening closely. “His heart is still beating, but it’s slow. You should get him to the hospital.”
Pete hesitated, clearly torn between getting Lucius out of there and trying to fight Ed. Ed wasn’t entirely sure he could take him at the moment. He could smell the wolf on him, and Ed certainly wasn’t at his best. If Pete decided to fight him, there was a good chance all three of them would die.
“You can fight me, or you can save him,” Ed said. “Make your choice.”
Pete scowled at him and lifted Lucius up over his shoulder.
“You’ll get yours later,” he said. Then, he turned and sprinted for the ladder.
Ed watched him go, gathering his strength. Finally, he took a deep breath and lifted himself in a crunch, roaring in agony as the wounds in his body stretched and pulled and started to ooze blood again. He grabbed the chain and gave it the mightiest yank he could muster, and it broke free from the ceiling, dropping him to the floor.
He groaned for a moment, laying there as he tried to gather himself again. He had to get back to Stede. He had to see him, hold him, kiss him.
He had to get back to Stede.
“Can I get you anything else?” Olu asked fretfully.
Stede was laid out in the first floor guest room, as Olu had been too afraid to try and help him up the stairs. In return for not getting to sleep in his own bed, Olu had brought him a stack of books, several bottles of water, a few pieces of fruit to snack on, a bucket to throw up in, and some soft pajamas.
He’d sat there and talked to Stede for three whole hours, insisting that he couldn’t fall asleep. And he was ready to camp out all night and make sure Stede didn’t have an aneurism or something every two hours. He was surprisingly mother hennish, and Stede couldn’t pretend that he didn’t appreciate it.
“You’ve done very well by me,” Stede said. “I’m truly grateful, Oluwande. And really, you don’t have to watch over me all night, I’m sure I’ll--”
“I’m not going to let you get a brain bleed so I can get a full night’s sleep,” Olu said stubbornly. “I’ll sleep too, I’ll set an alarm and…”
The front door slammed shut, and he stopped. Stede looked at him questioningly, and then called out, “Jim?”
There was no answer, and Stede found himself tensing. Vampires couldn’t enter uninvited, but such rules didn’t apply to other kinds of demons. Olu stood up and crept toward the doorway, peering around the corner carefully. Stede saw the expression of shock cross his face moments before he said,
“Oh my god .”
“No need for that kind of language, mate. I’m hurting enough.”
Stede scrambled out of bed, his legs like jelly, and stumbled into the hallway. The moment he laid eyes on Ed, his Ed, he let out a shaking sob. He looked absolutely wretched, covered in wounds and old blood and god only knew what else.
Stede didn’t even care. He threw himself into Ed’s arms, punching a broken noise out of both of them as they collided, arms wrapping around each other. Ed pressed his face into Stede’s neck and clutched him with shaking arms.
“Shit, love” he said. “It’s so good to see you.”
“You too,” Stede responded, already crying. “I thought I’d never see you again, my dear, my darling, I’ve been so afraid.”
“I’m here,” Ed said. “I’m here. Not going anywhere.”
Stede let out a wet sob and clutched at him as Ed started to pull away.
“Gotta let me go,” Ed said, looking him in the face and smoothing his hair back. He ran a very gentle thumb along the edge of the bandage on Stede’s nose. “You smell like blood and I’m literally starving, love.”
Stede pulled back, if only to make him more comfortable. He wasn’t afraid that Ed would hurt him.
“There’s blood in the freezer,” he said. “We can heat it up…”
“I’ll get on it,” Olu said. “Give you two a minute.”
He scooted past them and headed for the kitchen. A moment later, the sound of a pot clanging onto the stove rang through the house.
“I’m so sorry,” Stede said. “I’m sorry we couldn’t find you. We looked everywhere we could think, we never gave up, but--”
“It’s okay,” Ed said. “Really, it’s fine. Lucius and his friend found me. Helped me out a bunch. I just…I needed to come see you right away.”
“Lucius and his friend?” Stede asked. “But how…”
“I’m not sure,” Ed admitted. “But they found me and helped me.”
“None of that matters right now,” Stede said, smoothing his hands over Ed’s jacket. “Let’s get you cleaned up. Olu will get you some food and everything will be okay.”
“Right,” Ed agreed, kissing him oh-so-gently. “Everything will be okay.”