Actions

Work Header

Flesh and Blood

Chapter Text

One has not known the true torment of hell until one has worked at Wal-Mart.

“Your total is $48.15,” said Patrick, audibly trying to add some feeble level of enthusiasm to his voice. It wasn’t working.

“Did you take off the coupons yet?” asked his customer. She was an aging woman with pink-tinted sunglasses and (terribly) drawn-on eyebrows. She tipped her glasses forward to squint at the numbers on the screen to Patrick’s left.

“Um, yeah, they came off at the bottom.” Patrick pointed.

“There’s only three on there. I had four.”

“Um...You gave me three.”

“I could’ve sworn I - oh, here, it was in my purse.” She handed over the coupon with talon-like acrylic nails.

Patrick looked down at it and said, “Each of these coupons requires a separate twenty-dollar purchase. You already used two, so you’d have to have a sixty-dollar purchase in order to use this one.”

There was a silence. Well, not a silence, per se, because it was a Wal-Mart in the middle of Chicago, and just before dinnertime at that. Other registers beeped and bustled; children screamed for candy; “Don’t You” by Simple Minds played over the loudspeaker for the third time that day. If the job itself didn’t entirely drain Patrick of his will to live, the ceaseless repetition of the same 80’s songs day in and day out sure did.

The woman was still squinting at the screen. Patrick watched as her incomprehension gave way to indignation.

“You mean I...can’t use the coupon?”

“Ah, no, sorry. You can keep it, though, and use it later? It doesn’t expire until - ”

“Unbelievable! That is ridiculous. That small print all at the bottom of these damn ads, scamming an old woman out of all of her money. It’s a damn shame.”

“I’m really sorry,” said Patrick, though he had no control over the font size of the Wonder Bread coupons in Walmart’s most recent ad.

“Oh, you’re sorry. Well, if you’re so sorry, why don’t you take off the two dollars?”

Patrick spluttered for a second before the woman cut him off, thrusting the two loaves of white bread into his arms.

“I don’t even want them. Take them off.”

“Ok, one second, I...ok, there we go. Your total is $44.37.” A receipt spluttered out of the little machine in front of him. “Really sorry for the inconvenience, ma’am.”

The woman rolled her eyes, snatching the receipt from his hand.

“Have a great day,” he said feebly.

Patrick rubbed the bridge of his nose under his glasses as the customer walked away. He’d been getting migraines lately, and this job probably wasn’t helping. He had been working there since he was seventeen, and he’d thought that by now, at age 21, he would have moved on to bigger and better things. He probably would have, too, if it hadn’t been for Brendon…

Well, it wasn’t his fault, of course. It’s not like he had died to condemn him to a life of scanning barcodes and being yelled at by crabby old women. That’s just the way it went.

Not that he was complaining. After working the same job for the last [number] years, he had gotten enough raises to increase his pay grade a lot. By now, it was almost enough to support himself: all he really needed was food, water, and shelter (and repairs to his weapons every once in awhile.) He was also pretty sure he had some type of life insurance, although it probably didn’t cover getting his throat ripped out by a vampire. Still, all in all, it wasn’t terrible (a fact that he had to remind himself of every single day). His other two roommates weren’t as lucky as him. Joe worked at a gas station, and he came home every night smelling like oil and gasoline. Andy worked at a local diner and came home smelling like cooking grease. According to them, Patrick “came home smelling like despair.” If despair smelled like Walmart, then they were probably right, Patrick thought. Even so, both of them paid minimum wage, a fact that he liked to rub in their faces when they got too annoying.

It could be worse, he told himself every day while punching in. You could be cleaning toilets or babysitting two-year-olds. You could be homeless, or a hooker. You have it easy.

He looked at the clock for what must have been the fiftieth time in the last ten minutes. He spent most of his days doing that. It was 4:52. He left at 5:00. Thank god. Even on the days where his job wasn’t particularly unbearable, it was undeniably mundane, especially in comparison to what he did after he punched out. Scanning groceries seemed pretty pointless when he was out killing vampires and saving people every night.

The next customer that came through Patrick’s line was much more tolerable than the angry coupon lady. She was a younger woman with a sleepy baby boy strapped to her chest. She paid for her rotisserie chicken and can of green beans, and said “you too” when Patrick said “have a nice day.” And then it was 4:55 and Patrick put up his closed sign and cleaned his register as fast as he could and got the fuck out before his manager could ask him to work overtime this weekend.

Driving home, he made a mental list of the things he had to do tonight. He had to pick Joe up from the Gas n’ Sip, do a few repairs to the weapons they’d used the night before...oh, shit. It was his turn to do dinner tonight. The first week they’d all moved into the warehouse together, Patrick had spent a whole afternoon creating out an intricate chart that told them all what chores they were responsible for that week (dusting, mopping, organizing their tools, and so on.) They switched off “making” dinner every three days, and though they’d been using the same system for almost two years now, Patrick always forgot when it was his turn. Looks like they were having pizza. Again. Not that either Joe or Andy would be complaining: their diets mostly consisted of pizza, Chinese takeout, and frozen dinners on nights they were feeling really uninspired. According to Andy, “pizza is the perfect food. Contains all the main food groups: wheat, dairy, vegetables, and grease.”

After a few minutes of driving, Patrick pulled into the gas station where Joe worked. He was already outside, leaning against the side of the building with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He almost looked cool until he saw Patrick pulling up and bounded over to his car, his face lighting up like a Christmas tree. It was almost endearing how excited he got every night when Patrick came to pick him up. He was kind of like an overgrown puppy who flipped shit every time his owner walked through the door, even if he had just gone out to get the mail and came right back. Yanking open the passenger door, Joe flopped down on the seat next to him, grinning.

“Hey,” said Patrick.

“Yo.”

“How was your day?” he asked.

Joe rolled his eyes.“You’re such a mom.”

“Can’t help it. Answer the question.”

“It was fine. I don’t know. It was like every day.” He put his feet up on the dashboard. “What’s for dinner?”

“Pizza.”

Joe sighed. “Did you forget it was your turn again?”

“What? No.”

“You totally did. You’re a shit liar.”

“No, I’m not. I was just in the mood for pizza.”

“We just had it last night. There’s still leftovers in the fridge.”

“No, there’s not.”

“Yes there is.”

“Well, it’s probably gross by now. That fridge kinda doesn’t work the best anymore. Remember the incident with the eggs?”

“That was a while ago.”

“So it’s probably only gotten worse. Besides, it’s either pizza or Chinese, and the Chinese place is on the other side of town, and I don’t feel like driving.”

Joe put his head back and did this extended whiny groan that made Patrick wince.

“Stop that. You’re so annoying.”

“Annoying? You know what’s annoying? Having pizza every day for the last four months.”

“Oh, suck it up.”

Patrick and Joe had a relationship that was three-parts arguing and one-part grudging affection. Most days, it was hard to tell if they were best friends or if they really, truly hated each other’s guts. The distinction was sometimes blurry even for them. It was mostly Joe’s fault: well-intentioned bullying was the only way he knew how to show he cared. Patrick wasn’t like that, but he adapted, and they met somewhere in the middle. It was weird, but it worked.

The same could be said about the rest of their lives. All the unusual parts of their lives were condensed into orderly schedules, which made them seem more normal. They got up in the morning, Andy usually being the first one awake, and they had their coffee and went to their respective jobs and got yelled at by their respective customers. They took their respective lunch breaks at around the same time in the afternoon, and when the day was over one of them ordered dinner and they ate together and one of them did the dishes (they had a section of the chore chart devoted to dish-washing, but for whatever reason, Patrick usually ended up doing them on his own. He didn’t mind too much, because he figured it was sort of payback for how often he forgot to pick up dinner.) Then after they were all cleaned up, they went out and killed some vampires and came back and went to bed.

Of course, this wasn’t every day. That would get exhausting. It was usually only a few nights a week, depending on how many cold ones they were able to track down in the area. Sometimes, they went out hunting every night of the week; other times, they would go weeks without hunting once. They were good at finding vampires to kill, but at the same time, the vampires were good at not being found or killed. It kept things interesting.

Soon enough, they were parked outside of their regular pizza place. Joe insisted on going in to order, because he wanted to visit Marie, the cute delivery girl that worked there. He had been trying to get her number for the past year. So far, it hadn’t worked.

“Today’s the day, man, I can feel it,” said Joe confidently.

“Best of luck,” said Patrick.

A few minutes later, he re-emerged from the shop with their usual (one small veggie pizza for Andy and one extra-large pepperoni for the rest of them.) The look on his face was also their usual.

“Today wasn’t the day?” asked Patrick, trying to turn his amusement into sympathy.

“No.” Joe sounded crestfallen.

“Maybe next time. Everyone has a breaking point.”

“She’s not a prisoner of war, Patrick, Jesus.”

Joe was cranky for the rest of the ride home, but thankfully, the ride wasn’t long. When they got home, Andy was already there, sitting cross-legged on the floor surrounded by disassembled gun pieces. He had this weird obsession with taking apart his weapons and putting them back together in more flashy and less practical ways. He also had an obsession with sitting on the floor even when there were chairs or couches readily available to him. Patrick wondered what it would be like to have two normal best friends. Guys who watched football and graduated from college and objectified women and stuff. He guessed he’d never know.

Andy barely looked up from the gun barrel he was fussing with. “Forget dinner again, ‘Trick?”

“No, I just - ”

“He totally did,” said Joe, throwing the pizzas down onto the kitchen table and heading to his computer. “Kitchen” was a generous term. A more accurate description of the setup was “an electric griddle, a microwave, and a coffeemaker on a card table next to an industrial sink.” An ancient refrigerator was strategically shoved in the corner to cover up the huge rat nest they had discovered a few months ago. It wasn’t exactly a kitchen you’d find in Better Homes and Gardens, but it worked for them. They had all they needed: a machine to warm things up, a machine to cool things down, and a machine to make coffee. The electric griddle was a bonus commodity that Joe’s mom gave him for Christmas one year. For a while, they had considered investing in a toaster, but that was before Patrick discovered the miracle that was making toast on the aforementioned griddle. He was still proud of himself for that revelation.

Patrick grabbed a piece of pizza and collapsed on the couch that had somehow ended up in their kitchen. He was suddenly very, very tired. Dimly, he realized that was probably because they got home at around three last night, and he woke up at seven to go to work at eight. Grand total of four hours of sleep. Andy and Joe were already bickering about something, and Patrick took off his glasses to rub at his eyes.

“I’m going to bed,” he decided out loud.

“Dude,” said Andy, “it’s five-thirty.”

“Don’t care,” Patrick replied, and grabbed another slice of pizza as he headed to his room.

“You’re such a grandma,” Joe called after him.

“Don’t care,” Patrick said again. He was at the end of their hallway, turning the knob of his bedroom door when -

"Hey, ‘Trick, wait!” Joe yelled. “Come look at this!” Patrick groaned quietly, letting his head rest briefly against his door before turning around and trudging back to the main part of the warehouse. Joe was in his “office,” a corner of the warehouse that held his computer and a small family photo on a tray table. He was sitting upside down on his rolling chair, legs in the air, pizza in one hand, spinning back and forth slightly. What is with my roommates and their inability to sit on chairs properly? Patrick thought to himself. Andy got up from his spot on the floor and squatted next to Joe, while Patrick wearily approached him from the side. Joe motioned towards his computer screen with his foot. Whatever was on the computer looked like a homemade, heavily-bedazzled MySpace page. “Found this at work today,” he said. “You gotta see this.” Patrick sighed internally, but obediently started to read. It was about vampires. Of course. What else would it be?

After a moment, Andy groaned.  "Seriously, man? That can't be legit. It’s just an old wive’s tale or something, we don’t - ”
"Pretty much everything we do is an old wive’s tale,” Patrick pointed out grudgingly. He wasn’t exactly sure why he was helping Joe out, seeing as he was the only reason he wasn’t asleep right now. "I’m not giving the author any points for web design, but it might be worth checking out. What’s the main concept, exactly?”
Joe took a disgustingly big bite of pizza and scrolled down, finding his place on the screen. "Okay, so, basically...” He cleared his throat and began to read. “‘Many legends concur that if a virgin boy rides a virgin horse through a graveyard at midnight, during the full moon -’ ”

“He’s the main character of a shitty 80’s slasher film,” Andy finished.

“Bro.”

“And he gets stabbed within the first five minutes of the movie.”

“Are you gonna let me finish?”

“What? Oh. Sorry.”

“‘Many legends concur that if a virgin boy rides a virgin horse through a graveyard at midnight, during the full moon, the horse will balk every time it passes a place it senses vampires.’”


Joe shook his head.  "I don't know what these guys' deal with virgins is, but as primary authority on the subject, Hurley, what do you think?"


Andy shrugged. "I mean...like ‘Trick said, it’s worth a shot. I’m not sure where you’re going to get a virgin horse, but - ”


"The horse wouldn't be a problem, Hurley, don’t you worry. So you’re on board as our abstinent guinea pig?"


"Wait, no, I didn't-"


"Good talk.  By the way, I looked it up. Dandies can fly, even if they can't turn into bats.  So technically , I win."


Patrick smiled as Andy heatedly replied, "You do not!  You said they turn into bats. I said they don't. I win."


"No, sweetheart, you implied that they can’t fly at all. So I'm more correct as far as that goes."

"Bullshit, man. You lost, own up."


Patrick rolled his eyes and walked away, leaving them to their arguing.  The full moon was less than a week away, and if they were going to try Joe’s idea, they needed a horse…

 

Whatever. If Joe was so crazy about this idea, he could figure that out himself. Right now, Patrick was going the fuck to sleep.
***
"You're kidding, right?" said Andy.

"Oh, come on. Twenty-first century horse.  It’ll work just fine.”


Andy hesitated, and then sighed. A noise of resignation that Patrick knew well.  "Okay. You know what? Whatever. If... when it doesn’t work, you’ll be down $400, and I’ll be laughing my ass off. Just so you know.”

They all stood in silence for a moment, staring at the sad-looking heap of refuse that was sitting in the middle of their warehouse. Joe had bought it off Craigslist the morning after they’d all decided to test out the theory he’d found. Patrick wasn’t sure whether or not it was a mistake. Well, they’d find out tonight…”

“Think about it, Hurley,” said Joe. “‘Virgin’ means ‘never had sex,’ right? This motorcycle” - here he patted the peeling seat fondly - “has never had sex. Just like other people I could name.”

“Motorcycles can’t have sex,” Andy pointed out.

“Exactly. So we know for a fact that this one didn’t.”

“That logic is lacking,” said Andy. “But okay. Whatever. Let’s just get this over with.”


"That's my girl.  Don't worry, we'll be right behind you."  Joe revved the motorcycle and motioned for Andy to get on.   


"I hope you're closer behind me than last time,” said Andy, grudgingly pulling on a helmet as he straddled the bike.

“Oh, come on, that was months ago.”

“I still have the scars.”

“Forgive and forget, man.”

“I could have died!”

“But you didn’t. Stop being a pussy.”

“Um, ladies?” said Patrick. “Can we get this started sometime today?”

“It’s not fair, Trohman. I’m always the bait.”


"Not always ,” said Joe brightly. “Just mostly. And for all the right reasons. You’re the prettiest.” He smacked the side of his helmet lovingly and took a step back. “Have fun, don't go too fast, keep your earpiece in.”

"Okay, mom."


Joe blew him a kiss as he turned on his earpiece and rode out onto the street. "Okay, so, it's 11:58, I'm heading over towards the corner of 4th and Freemont.  Can you hear me?"


“Yeah, you’re good,” said Joe, but he seemed distracted. “The motorcycle’s too damn loud, they'll hear it a mile away. What a stupid idea, who suggested that?"

“You,” said Patrick. Joe ignored him. They got into the car, Patrick sitting shotgun, and listened to the static coming through their earpieces. Now that Andy had gone silent, all they could hear was the dull rumble of the motorcycle and the traffic moving around it. Joe bounced his leg nervously.

“Maybe this was a bad idea,” he said, after a minute or so. “I mean, even if it does work, where does that leave Andy? He’ll be all alone in the middle of a nest of vampires that probably just woke up thanks to the motorcycle - ”

“You know, I can still hear you,” said Andy over their headpiece.

“Oh yeah.”

“Has anything happened yet?” asked Patrick.

Before Andy could respond, a groaning buzz, followed by the screeching of tires, filled their speakers.

“You okay? What’s going on?” said Joe. His leg-bouncing had ceased.

“Yeah, yeah, I’m fine, I just - the bike just randomly stopped in front of this alleyway. It’s in front of this old factory. Maybe it’s a fluke, but it looks like somewhere vamps might gravitate to. Dark, abandoned by the looks of it. I think this might actually be working."

Joe did a little victory dance in his seat, but didn’t say anything aloud, so that Andy wouldn’t be pissed at him. To test his theory, Andy went around the block again The other two listened as the motorcycle sputtered in the same place.  "Yes!  Corner of Fifth and Eighth. Across from the bank. I’ll look around, you can catch up with me, ‘kay?”

"’Kay," answered Joe .  "We'll be there in three."

"Hours, probably," Andy muttered, switching his earpiece off.  After driving a safe distance away, he parked the motorcycle and continued on foot, his hand on his favorite silver knife tucked in its sheath.

The alley wasn’t silent, because nowhere in this city was. Cars passed. A dog barked. Miles away, a siren wailed.  But here, between two concrete walls, everything was muffled: the noises took on a distant quality to them, as though they were underwater. Or Andy was. Or they both were. Anyway, the combination of the quiet and the darkness was getting to him. He jumped as a pigeon warbled from the corner and took off. There was a door around here somewhere, there had to be. Someplace for the vampires to be hiding.

Maybe the motorcycle had just stopped on its own. Who knows where Joe had found it? His hand still on his knife, Andy was turning around, getting ready to go check it out, make sure it had enough gas and whatever -

He let out an embarrassing yelp as a vampire flew out of nowhere and crashed into him, knocking the knife from his grip.  Snarling, it subdued him almost instantly, putting a knee on his chest and pressing him to the pavement.  "You smell amazing, you know," it hissed.

It was a female, a young one. Blonde hair, lots of makeup. Dead eyes.

“You’re a virgin, though, really? I wouldn’t have guessed, handsome boy like you.”

Andy sighed.

“Carden said that any of the hunter’s scouts should be brought to him right away, but surely he’d let me have just a taste ….”

She leaned in further, speaking right against the side of his face. Yeah, no. Andy was not having any of this shit.

“You smell so good…” she purred.

"Thanks,” Andy replied flatly.  “I did just take a shower."

The vampire laughed, and in the split second that her eyes were closed, Andy twisted hard beneath her, managing to shake a different knife out of his sleeve and slash it at her arm. He rolled, grabbing his other silver knife from his side as he did so and plunging it into her stomach. As she recoiled in pain, Andy unsteadily got to his feet.

“New shampoo,” he continued. “Axe hasn’t really been doing it for me lately, so I decided to make the switch to - ”


Suddenly, a bang ripped through the air, and the vampire collapsed, dead, in front of him.  Patrick strolled out from around the corner, closely followed by Joe.  Andy sighed.  "I had it under control, you know."


"Because letting yourself get disarmed and pinned down is a very good thing to do when you have things under control.  That one must have been a guard, which means we're getting close.  We can get through that warehouse the back way if we go around that store next to it.  Come on."  

Patrick started walking briskly across the road and Joe strolled up, sniffing Andy's shoulder.  

"You do smell nice,” he said.

“That’s so gay,” said Andy.

“That’s homophobic!” Joe yelled. Everyone shushed him. “That’s homophobic,” he repeated in a whisper. “‘Trick, did you hear that? Andy’s being homophobic.”

Patrick shot them both a withering look.

"So. Stump,” said Andy. “Are we trying to get in under the radar, or are we kicking open the door with guns a-blazing?”


“I personally vote for the second option,” said Joe.


"We’re gonna try to get in as quietly as we can, scope it out as much as we can before we’re seen. The second they spot us, we attack.”


"Okay. Should we split up?"


"No. That’s what white people in horror movies do. Obviously, warehouse rooms and storage areas are big, so we should all stay at least in the same room if something goes wrong.” No, when something goes wrong, he thought to himself.

“The back door will definitely have at least three guards,” said Joe, “so I say we try the side door over there.” He motioned to a small inlet in the far corner of the alley. In it, there was a rusty door locked shut with an even rustier padlock. “My gun has a silencer, I’ll just- "  

He aimed at the lock and pulled the trigger. Patrick gritted his teeth at the muffled bang, but the doorknob fell off and the door creaked open an inch or so.
"That was really loud.  Now everyone nearby knows we’re here.”
Joe huffed.  "Let me check if my silencer is defective - oh wait, it's not! That's as quiet as you're gonna get, bud."  Patrick shushed him again and they crept forward towards the door, guns out and ready.  Joe signaled to Andy and they flanked Patrick, getting on either side of the door and holding their weapons ready as he nudged it open.  

The door creaked on its hinges, and all hell broke loose.

Dandies, dozens of them, swarming from every corner of the cavernous warehouse room, already armed and ready, like they’d been waiting for the hunters to arrive. It was almost like like they’d been alerted of their presence by the deafening motorcycle engine, or by Joe yelling about homophobia in the alley, or by their doorknob being shot off. Patrick would have to lecture the two of them about that later, but now, it was like he was a different person. He went into drill sergeant mode, yelling orders, motioning forward. Carden was standing on a crate behind the mass, calmly giving orders in a voice that seemed to be coming from everywhere at the same time. Patrick ducked a dagger, rolling on his shoulder and shooting upwards, but the crowd was too big and too violent. They were outnumbered at least ten to one. Joe's gun, still equipped with the no-longer-necessary silencer, was making muffled explosions, and out of the corner of his eyes, Patrick could see the occasional flashes of Andy's silver knife. They had waded almost halfway through the crowd uninjured when somewhere in the corner, out of their weapon's range, a vampire shrieked in surprise and agony.  The three hunters were almost forgotten as the crowd collectively turned, and swarmed on something - someone? - they couldn't see.  More screams rose from that spot, as well as shrieks of "TRAITOR!"  


The three hunters glanced at each other. A pause in the battle wasn’t typical, but they couldn’t dwell on it. Now was their chance: they rushed forward, but Carden had disappeared off of his crate and into the crowd. They slashed and shot and stabbed through the ring around whatever was in the middle, until the dandies seemed to realize that they were losing. They scattered like a swarm of birds, going off in every direction.  

Standing alone was a single figure wearing a dark-green hoodie. He looked at the three of them, smirked.  Casually, he dropped to one knee and pulled a knife out of a nearby corpse.  

Instantly, Patrick raised his gun. The figure, still kneeling, looked vaguely amused. “Is that how you hunters say ‘thank you’?”

As he spoke, his teeth  - no, his fangs - were visible.

Patrick stiffened. “Put down the knife.”

“Put down the gun.”

“I’d rather not.”

The vampire sighed. “Well, then, we’ve hit a wall, I guess.”

Andy raised his hand, and the two men broke eye contact to look over at him. “Sorry to interrupt your masculinity contest, but I have a question,” said Andy. “Who the hell are you?”

“I like that one,” the vampire said, going back to addressing Patrick again. “Very direct. Cool haircut. And to answer your question, I’m Pete Wentz. Nice to meet you all.”

“Nice to meet you too, I’m - ” Andy started to say, but Patrick cut him off.

“You’re a vampire,” he said harshly. “You’re one of them. What are you doing here, killing your own kind?”

The vampire just smiled. “I’m doing the right thing, just like the three of you. I hate those motherfuckers just as much as you do.”

Patrick paused, letting the weight of his words sink into him. The tip of his gun dropped minutely. “I...I don’t understand,” he said.

“What can I say? I’m a complex person. Now, if we’re all done here -”

“We’re not.” Patrick raised his gun again.

“Ooh, I get all tingly when you act all tough-guy like that.” His expression darkened. “But we’re done.” He took a step back. “You’re welcome, by the way.”

He crouched down, and before Patrick could even cock his gun, he had straightened up again and jumped (flown?) right through the fucking window.

That went well, thought Patrick.

They stood there in silence for what seemed like forever, processing what had just happened. The implications of what the vampire had said, of what he had done. The feeling that the encounter left in Patrick’s stomach, forest-green and churning.

“I like him,” said Joe.

Chapter Text

The next day was a Wednesday. It was hot and muggy, typical weather for a Chicago summer, and the fridge had stopped working again (another project for either Joe or Andy: Patrick couldn’t use a wrench to save his life.) The eggs were already starting to smell when Patrick shuffled to the kitchen at 8 to get his coffee. Lately, he’d been taking it black, because it seemed to work faster than it did when he put cream and sugar in it. As long as he fully woke up by eight - the time he started work - he’d be fine.

All was well, besides the fact that he couldn’t stop thinking about the vampire they had met the night before.

Pete Wentz, he had said. It was stupid of him to reveal his name to them, but it was a good thing that he did. When he got home from work tonight, Patrick had work to do. He would check the local records, scour the public ones and start hacking if he needed to. He’d look through every database he had access to, and look through his own journals for any mention of either his first name or last name(though neither sounded familiar) in the countless lists of vampires they’d come across in their years as hunters. If that failed, he would resort to looking him up on social media. He hadn’t known him for very long, but Pete definitely struck him as a person who posted selfies on MySpace (another factor working in Patrick’s favor.)

The workday seemed to last forever, a hellish eternity of complaining customers and coupons that wouldn’t ring up and cleanup on Aisle 7, please, cleanup on Aisle 7. Patrick looked up at the clock every minute or so, which probably wasn’t helping. Watched pot and all that. Time always passed slowly at work, but today was worse than ever: multiple times, Patrick wondered if the clock was broken because it was moving way too slowly. He was just itching to get home and find out who the hell Pete Wentz was. It was driving him crazy, the implications of what had happened the previous night. The vampire had known they were hunters, but he didn’t seem to be afraid of them. He had claimed that he hated vampires “as much as they did,” so he went all vigilante on them. Whatever beef he had with the other dandies, it had to be pretty major for him to start killing his own kind. Vampires were slimy bastards, but for the most part, their family ties ran strong. They were better than a lot of humans in that respect. They stuck together even if they didn’t get along, because they knew they needed each other to survive. Any vampire who decided to leave its nest was pretty much fucked. Usually, they starved to death without other vampires helping them find fresh blood. Even if they were able to feed themselves, they became easy targets for hunters. There was no happy ending for a vampire that tried to fly solo. Patrick figured that a vampire who betrayed its own nest was even worse off. Not only would it have trouble finding food and staying away from hunters. It would be hunted and hated by the other vampires as well.

It must be a lonely life. Not that he felt bad for him or anything.

So why did he do it? Patrick’s head spun with unanswered question. Who was he? How did he know about them? When did he start hunting? Were there more vampires like him? Maybe he was one of many, part of some secret society, like the Germans who killed Nazis during World War Two (Patrick felt a little proud of himself as he thought that. The AP Military History class he’d taken in high school was finally coming into use.)

Well, whoever this Pete Wentz was…he would find out. As soon as he got out of this godforsaken store. He looked at the clock again: two minutes had passed. This was a special hell. Patrick tried to busy himself with adjusting the packs of gum and Tic-Tacs on the rack above the belt. He made eye contact with his manager as she passed him and smiled at him. It was no secret that he was her favorite employee: he’d been working at Walmart since forever, and he was good at what he did (better than most of his coworkers, at least.) He always arrived early, worked overtime on the weekends sometimes, never used his sick days…

Abruptly, Patrick turned around. “Um, Vickie?” His manager turned. “I’m not feeling well.”

***
Patrick was still hunched over the computer in the warehouse long after the streetlights turned on. The bluish-white glow of the screen was starting to make his eyes burn, but he was no closer to answers than he was when he started his work hours ago. Frustrated, he wheeled away from the desk, lifting his glasses to rub the bridge of his nose.

It was like Pete Wentz just didn’t exist. He was nobody from nowhere. He wasn’t in the public records in Chicago - or anywhere, for that matter. Patrick went through every database in every city in a hundred-mile radius, but the only person filed under that name had died thirty-two years ago. He tried to contact the other Wentz’s he found in the records, but they either didn’t respond or didn’t know who Pete was. None of the other hunters on the vampire forums knew of him either. He wasn’t even on Facebook.

Somewhere along the line, Patrick decided that the vampire must have given them a fake name. Out of desperation, he grabbed a pencil and paper and started rearranging the letters in the name: Zen Pewett? Enez Twept? Newt Pezet? All the names he came up with it sounded stupid - what kind of parent names their child ‘Newt’? - but he searched them anyway. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t work either. Maybe they had heard the name wrong. Maybe his name wasn’t Pete Wentz, but Peter Vence. Or Pat Wince. Or something. He spent hours searching those names, too, but nothing conclusive came up.

This was impossible: he was looking for a person who he had only met for a few minutes, who he knew practically nothing about. The only thing he’d really told them about himself was his name, and now, Patrick wasn’t even sure if that was real. He was one person among the some two million in this city alone. Chicago was the perfect place to hide. It was like looking for a needle in a stack of needles.
And the worst part? Knowing how much information the vampire could provide them with if they found him, how much good they could do if they somehow banded together. Maybe, if the four of them came together - their practice and expertise plus Pete’s insider knowledge - they could finally find Carden. They could end it all.

Patrick was getting ahead of himself. Even on the off chance that he was able to find him, it’s not like they could trust him. No matter what he he had done, no matter what he believed, no matter how human he seemed...he was still one of them. A vampire. A monster. Just like the ones they hunted. Just like the ones that killed Brendan.

Angry at himself for dredging up those memories, Patrick swiveled back to the desk, turning on the computer again. He couldn’t think about that now. Thinking makes you sad, and sadness makes you stop working, he told himself. We can’t have that. Be sad later. Be sad when this is over.
That’s sublimation, said another voice in his head, the one that still remember the Psychology 101 class he’d taken junior year.

So I don’t want to think about him right now, he told himself. Sue me. Thinking about him isn’t gonna bring him back. It’s not gonna kill Carden. It’s gonna do nothing but make you sad and strip you of your motivation. It’s pointless. You’ll have plenty of time for regrets when you’re old and dying.

That particular thought jarred him a little bit. For some reason, he could never picture himself as an old man, wearing cardigans and going to bingo night at the senior center. Drinking prune juice and taking handfuls of pills to keep his liver going or his heart ticking. The thought kind of horrified him. Maybe it was partially because he’d never really considered his existence outside of his job, never thought about what might come after they finally found and killed Carden. Would they move out of the warehouse, get rid of all their old weapons, find real jobs? Maybe Patrick would go back to school. Maybe he’d find someone new, get married, have kids…

Again, he stopped himself. He couldn’t believe he was even thinking about that, so soon after Brendan died. First off, it was disrespect to his memory; second off, it was stupid. Why was he thinking about all of this now? It’s not like finding Pete was going to solve all their problems. He wasn’t their savior. He was just vampire, one of many, who may or may not be able to help them a little bit. And Patrick wasn’t any closer to finding him than he was when he started his research hours ago. Probably because you’re suddenly all preoccupied with having a white picket fence and two-point-five kids, he thought to himself. You know, you might not even live through this. You might never even have a chance at any of that.

Pushing away that happy thought, he went back to his work, a new sense of resolution settling in his heart. He was going to find him. He was going to find Pete Wentz. He would look through every public record in every town in Illinois, and if that didn’t work, he’d move on to Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, every other city in America. He would tear this damn city apart if that’s what it took.

Later - he wasn’t sure how much later, but it was dark outside now - Andy shuffled out to the main
room of the warehouse. Patrick glanced up at him. “Yo,” he said flatly.

“Hey. Whatcha doing?”

“Trying to find the vampire we met last night. Guess he’s not from around here…”

“Or he’s going by a fake name.”

“Yeah, I thought of that. I’m hoping he’s not.”

Andy leaned against the desk, squinting at the computer screen. Like Patrick, he couldn’t see for shit without his glasses. “Urbandale? Where’s that?”

“City outside of Des Moines.”

“Patrick…” Andy said.

“Look, I have to try, okay? Maybe this is it. The big break we’ve all been waiting for. And if it is, if I find him, if he can help us, then it’ll all be worth it, right? You want this over just as much as I do.”

The other hunter paused. “I don’t know if that’s true.”

“What? Of course it is.”

“Dude, you’re here because of Brendon. I’m here because of you, because you’re my friend and I want you to make peace with what happened. Have a nice, normal life again.” Here, Patrick snorted. “I’m not all jacked up on revenge like you are. Of course I want this over, but...we’re here for different reasons. And I’m afraid that if we find Carden - ”

“When we find Carden.”

Andy sighed. “I’m afraid that when we find Carden, that won’t be enough for you. It’s not gonna bring Brendon back.”

“I know that,” said Patrick.

Another pause. “Okay. I just...don’t want you to beat yourself up over this. If this isn’t the way, we’ll find another way. You know that, right?”

“I know.”

“You should get some sleep.” Andy took a step back from the desk. “It’s, like, two A.M.”

“Woah, really?” He looked at the clock: yep, 2:13. “I guess I lost track of time...I’m just gonna finish up with Urbandale and then - ”

“‘Trick,” said Andy. He sounded just like his mom. “Get to bed. Urbandale can wait.”

Patrick opened his mouth to protest, and then closed it again. He hadn’t realized how exhausted he was. Groggily, he shut off the computer, stumbled to his room, and collapsed on his bed sideways. He fell asleep instantly.

***

Work was hell, more so than usual. When Patrick got off at five, he went home, finished up with Urbandale, and then Johnston, and then Fort Dodge, and then Boone, and then Ankeny, and then god knows how many stupid small towns in Iowa after that. He went to bed around two. And then he got up at seven and did it all over again.

Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. And still, Patrick was no closer to finding Pete Wentz than when he was when he began. He and the boys went on a few small hunts, but nothing major, and nothing that felt important. Joe and Andy could probably tell Patrick was distracted: he was going through the motions, but his heart wasn’t really in it. When they got home, he wiped down his weapons as fast as he could and retreated to the computer. The other two hunters backed off and let him do his thing. By now, they knew better than to interrupt him when he had his mind set on something.

But even Patrick had to admit...this was getting exhausting. He was getting an average of five hours of sleep every night, and with each passing day, finding the vampire seemed more and more unlikely. Maybe Andy was right. Maybe this wasn’t the way.

Maybe it was time to give up on this.

Chapter Text

There was a long-standing agreement between the three hunters that Andy’s primary function in the group was to be the bait.

He could argue with it, he could complain about it, but the fact remained relentlessly. Whenever they needed someone to draw vampires out of a building, or towards a certain location...it was always Andy. No one knew what had brought this arrangement into existence, but somewhere along the line, it had happened, and now, it was just a fact. The sun is hot. The earth is round. Master of Puppets is the best album by Metallica. And Andy Hurley is the bait. In the beginning, he had put up a fight, whining to the others about how they should take turns. Once, he suggested that they vote: after all, this was America. Amused, the others had consented.

“All in favor?” Patrick had asked. He and Joe both raised their hands.

“All opposed?” Feebly, Andy raised his.

“Two to one,” Joe said. “Honestly, Hurley, what did you think was gonna happen?”

That was years ago. By now, Andy had resigned to his fate as being the damsel-in-distress whenever they needed him to be. He still complained out of habit, but he knew nothing was actually going to change. So when Joe and Patrick informed him they needed his “services” later that night, he just gave them a nod and a resigned sigh.

“Perfect,” said Joe. “Oh, also...you’re not gonna be alone.” He clapped him on the back and smiled in such a way that made Andy suspicious.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked.

“You know my sister’s friend, Meredith?”

“Uh, no…”

“Sure you do. The cute one, skinny, dark hair - ”

“Oh, yeah, her.”

Joe grinned harder, making Andy frown more. “You, my friend,” he said, “have a date tonight.”

Patrick, who had just wandered into the kitchen in search of something not-spoiled and semi-edible, laughed at the look of horror-slash-betrayal on Andy’s face. “What the fuck, dude? I don’t want that! I don’t even know her - ”

“You’ll get to know her!” said Joe. Patrick opened the cupboard and looked through the mishmash of cans and condiments there.

“Why is this necessary on any level? Is it not enough that I’m putting my life on the line so you can kill some stupid vampires, you have to torture me while I - ”

“Oh my god, Hurley, you are such a drama queen. Calm down. Meridith is cool. You’ll like her. Maybe things’ll go really well and we’ll need to find a different guy to ride our virgin horse, if you know what I - ” Here Andy punched him on the shoulder. “Ow! Dude, I’m just trying to help. Strapping young fellow like you, it’s about time you found a girlfriend.”

“Never asked for your help,” he said irritably. “Why don’t you go find somebody for Patrick if you’re such a matchmaker all of a sudden?”

There was a silence. Quietly, Patrick closed the cupboard door. The implications of what Andy had just blurted out seemed to be dawning on him: he stopped talking and reddened. “Sorry,” he mumbled.

“It’s fine,” said Patrick quickly. He hated the looks his friends were giving him now, hated the fact that they felt the need to walk on eggshells around him, never daring to mention Brendon’s name or even acknowledge his existence. “So when is this all going down?” he asked, desperate to change the subject.

Joe shot him a look that said Thank you and replied, “Well, Andy’s gonna be picking up his date at around six-thirty, they have reservations at Olive Garden at seven - ”

“Olive Garden, really? That’s classy.” Andy’s face was still a little red, but he tried to pick up their typical banter to recover from his blunder.

Joe ignored him. “So I’d say they’ll be making out in the backseat of the car at around eight-thirty.”

The other man snorted. “Yeah, right.”

***
They were making out in the backseat of the car at eight thirty-four. Joe’s timing was immaculate. The air was warm and stagnant; crickets chirped and Chicago glowed below them. Overhead, the moon was a strange shade of reddish-orange, casting a golden glow over everything under it. How romantic, Patrick thought. This particular hill was an infamous one, one on which many a young couple went to do the dirty on summer nights. To be fair, it was pretty perfect location for type of activity. The hill was out of the way, but easy enough to find if you knew where you were going. It plateaued at the top, where there was a large, flat, grassy clearing surrounded by bushes. It was the perfect setting for the beginning of a horror movie: a young couple parked up on top of a secluded tree. Something shuffles in the bushes. They’re too busy making out to notice it. Then, bang! The window breaks. Boy is dragged out of the car. Girl is screaming. Slash, slash, slash.

 

It happened more often than one would expect. Every few months or so, a couple would go there and then never be seen or heard from again. This went on for almost the entirety of 2003. The police assumed it was either a serial killer or a kidnapper, and initially, the three hunters had no reason to doubt this. After eight months and more than a dozen young victims, the police issued a notice and closed off the road to the hill to prevent any more disappearances. But they never found the real root of the problem. This wasn’t for lack of trying; rather, it was for lack of evidence. At the scene of the crime, there was quite simply nothing to go off of. There were never any footprints on the ground, never any fingerprints on the car. Sometimes, the car’s windows were broken, but there were no weapons on the scene. One time, in late May, the only fragment of evidence that the police had to go off of was a trail of blood that went from the couple’s car off the side of the hill.

Initially, the stories of these brutal kidnappings/murders caused a buzz. The stories were all over the newspapers, interviews of the victims’ family members and speculations from the police and the like. But when the police decided to rope off the path leading to the hill, that was the end of it. People lost interest almost immediately, unbothered by the fact that the criminal was never apprehended. After all, this was Chicago. The occasional unexplained homicide was pretty much the norm here.

Unlike the general public, Patrick, Joe, and Andy were still interested in the resolution of this case. According to Joe, “it has to be dandies. I mean, no tracks, no fingerprints, no weapons? No bodies either. Come on. Vampires are the only thing that make sense.”

“It’s not always dandies,” Patrick had pointed out. “I mean, it could just be some crazy serial killer dude like the police said, and we could be walking right into his known serial-killing lair.”

Joe just rolled his eyes. “What, Patrick, are you busy tonight? Got a hot date? We can reschedule for tomorrow if you’ve got other plans.”

He didn’t. When did he ever? So, like white people in a horror movie, the three men sidestepped the barriers at the bottom of the incline and driven to the top. Almost immediately, they were greeted by a small pack of dandies. Obviously, the vampires had been waiting there for a dumb (and delicious) young couple to pick off for an easy meal. They hadn’t been expecting three adult men armed with silver bullets and wooden stakes. They picked them off easily as Joe gloated.

Ever since then, they had been going to the hill pretty regularly. There were never a ton of vampires there, but there were usually enough to keep them occupied between bigger jobs. They’d sit up there listening to the radio a few nights every month, eating pizza in the car and waiting. They typically ended up killing four or five vamps before calling it a night. It wasn’t much, but every dead dandy was a little success.

Recently, they hadn’t been going there as much. As they got better at hunting throughout the years, they no longer had the need to fill the gaps between real jobs with busywork. Patrick wondered why Joe had suggested they go there again tonight, but then it dawned on him: he was just trying to get him out of the warehouse. For the last few months, Patrick had spent every waking moment doing one of three things. He was either at work, killing vampires, or trying to find Pete Wentz. He could tell that this was Joe’s way of getting him to relax a little bit. Sure, it still technically fell under the category of “vampire-hunting,” but it was the closest thing to a break that Patrick had had in weeks.

He felt it, too. As he allowed himself to de-tense a little bit, he realized how ridiculously, unbelievably tired he was. Still, it felt good to be able to just sit for a while, not greeting customers, killing things, or hunched over a computer screen. He and Joe had staked out in the bushes surrounding the clearing on the hill, armed and waiting. Well, maybe “armed and waiting” was too generous a term. Yeah, both of them had their weapons, but they weren’t exactly standing sentry. For the most part they were just standing on their tiptoes to look over the bushes at the couple going at it in the back of the Chevy, making the occasional remark on Andy’s kissing techniques.

“Too much tongue,” Joe whispered. Patrick nodded somberly.“It’s like a train wreck,” he agreed. “I don’t want to watch but at the same time I can’t look away.”

They were so engrossed in this sight that they didn’t even notice three vampires, one male and two females, slinking towards the car. It was a still, quiet night, and their movement did not disrupt the calm: they moved silently, like snakes through the grass. Patrick was the first to catch a glimpse of them. He saw the one out of the corner of his eye, silenced the other hunter with a hand signal, readied his weapon. He took a step forward, as silent as the dandies.

“Now?” mouthed Joe. Patrick shook his head. “Wait,” he mouthed back.

They waited, but not for very long: once they were close enough, the vampires leapt onto the car, one on the roof, two on the sides. The girl - Matilda? Melissa? - was screaming, the sound coming out muffled. A window broke: the male vamp had punched straight through it. Goddamnit, our insurance company is gonna hate us, thought Patrick. The dandy was about to barrel through the shattered window when Patrick turned to Joe and hissed, “Now!”

The girl was screaming like a banshee. Patrick couldn’t remember her name for the life of him. One of the vampires was standing on the hood of the car, growling like an animal. Still in the bushes, Patrick took aim, pulled the trigger...and nothing happened. His goddamn, motherfucking gun was jammed. “Seriously?” he muttered to himself. He hadn’t even bothered to check it beforehand: he was getting lazy. Pointing the gun at the ground, he pulled back on the trigger with all his might (maybe something inside was just sticking?) Still, nothing. He slammed his hand on the side of the nose in desperation. A screw fell off.

Meanwhile, Joe was shooting for the male who had broken the window. His weapon was working fine: he pulled his trigger and out shot a Trohman-Hurley-Stump-Patented-Electro-Net (Joe’s title, not Patrick’s.) The net tangled the vampire up and sent him, convulsing, to the ground. In a second he was still.

Enraged, the female on the hood of the car leapt for Joe, snarling madly. The man raised his weapon again, but there was a hint of uncertainty in the way he moved. Patrick should have already gotten this one, and he knew it. The look of confusion on his face only increased when something (someone?) jumped (flew?) out of the bushes and landed on the dandy.

In a haze of total bewilderment, Patrick came out of the bushes, still clutching his nonfunctional weapon. The figure that had landed on the vampire was a man, slight in stature with dark hair. And he was beating the absolute shit out of the dandy. He had no visible weapons, no guns, no knives, no holy water, but he was tearing the girl apart. Joe and Patrick just watched, shocked into inertia. Inside the car, Andy and...Michaela? Marissa? Her name started with an M, that was certain. Anyway, Andy and M-chick were watching too, peering out the window of the car. Andy looked mildly intrigued; the girl looked traumatized.

Patrick couldn’t blame her. Even for him, it was startling to watch. The man had straddled the vampire and was punching her in the face, over and over, until all that was left was a bloody, squirming pulp. When that was all said and done, he reached down to her throat. Oh boy, thought Patrick. He watched as he tore out her jugular with his bare hands, and threw it, still pulsing, onto the ground next to them. Andy’s date let out a strangled cry. Poor kid, Patrick thought. I doubt that one date is worth the years of therapy she’s gonna have to go to after this.

At this, the man got to his feet. His hands were dripping blood. Unconsciously, Patrick tightened his grip on his weapon. A human being should not have been able to hurt this vampire as much as this man had. Usually, going hand-to-hand with a dandy was a recipe for disaster. Even the weakest vampire could kick the ass of a bodybuilder, easily. No part of this made sense. Maybe he had a weapon that they couldn’t see, silver-coated brass knuckles or something like that. Or maybe...

The man turned around. Dark-rimmed eyes, black hair all over his face. And...fangs. For a brief moment of confused stupidity, Patrick didn’t recognize the man. His mind reeled for a fraction of a second - why do I know this guy? - and then -

Oh shit.

“You call yourselves hunters?” Pete Wentz snarled.

Idiotically, Patrick took a step forward. He didn’t even knowing what he was trying to do. His heart was beating harder than it had been during the fight itself. Here he was, the guy he’d been obsessing over for the past four-and-a-half-months, the one who apparently didn’t exist anywhere but real life. This was the ultimate irony. Patrick had spent countless hours over the last fourteen weeks trying everything he could to find this one vampire. And here he was, standing right in front of him, out of nowhere, unexpected, sweaty and panting a little bit. It was like the universe saying, “fuck you, buddy.”

Patrick caught the vampire’s eye. The moment they made eye contact, the dandy’s face hardened, and then he was jumping - flying? - right off the side of the goddamn, motherfucking cliff.

The universe’s middle fingers seemed to be increasing exponentially in Patrick’s direction.

For a second, no one said anything. The crickets chirped. M-girl cried quietly. Patrick felt so frustrated and shocked that he felt like doing the same. He felt like jumping off the cliff right after the vampire, but he held himself back. Joe was looking at him sideways: whatever-the-fuck Patrick was feeling must have been showing on his face. Andy, on the other hand, was oblivious. He cranked the window down and stuck his head out of it.

“Next time, you be the bait,” he said.“That was horrendous. I could’ve at least had my weapon, I don’t understand why I wasn’t allowed to - ”

“It would’ve freaked Meredeth out,” Joe replied, not taking his eyes off of Patrick. Meredeth! That was her name.“That’s a massive red flag. Boy with a rifle in the back seat? Yeah, no.”

“I’m pretty sure she’s scarred anyway,” Andy pointed out drily. Here he turned away from the window and went to put his arm around his date, talking to her quietly. He was either telling her the truth about what they do, or making up some bullshit about what she’d just seen. Probably the latter. Meredeth seemed like a nice girl, but not necessarily one who could handle the concept of real live man-eating monsters roaming her city.

“You okay?” Joe asked Patrick. He snapped out of his trance; he’d been staring into space off the cliff, thinking. “What? Yeah, yeah, I’m good…”

“You don’t look good,” Joe replied. “That must have come as a shock to you. I mean, all those weeks of research and not being able to find him, and then he just shows up on our doorstep like a -”

“Yeah,” said Patrick, trying to shut him up. He knew Joe was just trying to make him feel better, but it wasn’t working. It just made him feel worse, making him feel his failure and incompetence all the more. Pete Wentz would be their way out of this mess, their savior, Patrick just knew it. The intel he might have, his insane fighting abilities...they needed that on their side if they ever wanted to put an end to Carden for good. They had crossed paths twice now, and Patrick still knew nothing about him. He didn’t know if he’d be willing to join them; he didn’t even know if they’d ever see each other again. He was like the sand in the bottom half of the hourglass, slipping through his fingers and impossible to fully catch. He was maddening.

“I just need to get home,” said Patrick, becoming aware that Joe was still staring at him. “We need to find him. If tonight didn’t prove that…” He trailed off. “I’m not done with Idaho yet, I’m just going to - ”

“Dude,” said Joe gently. “You gotta put the research on hold for a while, okay? It’s not good for you, and it’s not doing anything. Even you have to admit that. You’re not any closer to finding him than you were five months ago.”

“Four-and-a-half months ago.”

“Whatever. My point is...you gotta quit for now, okay? We’ve already crossed paths with Wentz twice, ‘Trick. Both times, he knew what we were doing, and he was trying to help us. If he had just stumbled on us by accident, that would be a different story. But he didn’t. He cares enough to help us out, that’s obvious. I don’t think he’s just gonna drop out now. Not while Carden is still breathing.” Joe paused, thinking. “I dunno, man, I just...I can’t help but think we’re gonna be seeing him again. People like that don’t just disappear. We’ll see him again, and when we do, we’ll figure everything out. Third time’s the charm, right?”

“Right,” Patrick replied, unconvinced.

“You guys done?” Andy called from the car. “Meredeth wants to go home.”

“I don’t blame her,” Patrick replied.

“Are you getting a second date?” Joe asked in a stage whisper as he climbed into the driver’s side. Both people in the back seat glared at him.

Chapter Text

Weeks droned on slowly, like flies buzzing over a dead body. Per Joe’s advice, Patrick was making a conscious effort to stop thinking about Pete. Every time his name popped up into his head, he shut it down, forcibly turning his thoughts to something else. It was shockingly difficult to hold himself back from going straight to the computer after getting home from work. His research had become such a habit, an addiction, almost. Now, he found himself with way too much free times in the evenings.

Coffee was basically the only thing keeping Patrick alive. He’d always had an affinity for it, but now, it too was an addiction. It got him through the endless grueling workdays, and the long nights of either solitude or hunting. As much as he hated to admit it, that’s what life was now: “getting through.” At least until Pete popped up again.

He was the best chance they’d had in months...years, actually. If he had any kind of information on the dandies, any at all, that would make all of this obsession worth it. The boys had virtually no leads on Carden; they hadn’t for months and months. They’d been killing vampires here and there, finding an occasional nest, but they were no closer to reaching their end goal than they had been at the beginning. If they could get information out of Pete, figure out where Carden lived, find out his weaknesses...maybe all of this could be over.

Patrick mentally scolded himself. Stop thinking about it, he told himself. Joe’s right. He’s gonna show up again eventually. Just a matter of time. He re-adjusted his hands on the steering wheel; he was driving home from work. Obsessing over it isn’t gonna help you. He switched on his turn signal. Earlier that day, he had decided that, instead of getting coffee at McDonald’s like he usually did after work, he was going to Ipsento’s, a fancy hipster joint along the main drag. Give yourself little things to look forward to. That’s what his old therapist had told him. Well, she wasn’t wrong: the promise of some actually well-made coffee got him through the day.

Every time he had a cup of coffee (which was often), he thought of his choir teacher in high school, Mr. Cody. He used to talk all the time about how coffee ruins your throat, yelling at everyone and anyone who dared to bring a thermos into his classroom. Patrick smiled at the memory as he pulled into a parking spot and turned off the car. Mr. Cody would be horrified at the amount of coffee he was imbibing nowadays. He’d always told him that his voice was amazing, that he had “potential to be something truly great.” Yeah, right. Patrick popped open the car door and entered the coffee shop.

As soon as he stepped through the door, he almost swooned. It smelled incredible, a perfect blend of coffee and caramel and creamer. The aroma almost made up for the people in attendance. All of them were hipster-type-twenty-somethings who craned their necks to look at Patrick when he came through the door.

He got in line, surreptitiously scanning the shop as he did so. He had a weird preoccupation with people-watching. Between that and your obsession with Pete, you’re basically a stalker, he thought to himself. To be fair, it was an interesting hobby, especially in a city like Chicago. Lots of creeps and weirdos. And you’re one of them, he thought. His eyes roved over the people in the shop - a girl with blonde bangs and freckles, a kid writing in a notebook in the corner, a guy with dark hair wearing sunglasses inside. Douchebag. Patrick’s eyes settled on this last one. He could only see the bottom half of his face, but...wait a second, is that -

His stomach plummeted. Oh my god.

“I can help the next customer!” the girl at the counter called.

Completely outside of his body, Patrick felt himself moving forwards and stopping in front of the counter. Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god. “Hi,” he said. He didn’t know what to say after that. He was reeling. There was an awkward silence.

“What can I get for you today?” the girl said, after a beat.

“Coffee,” said Patrick. He reddened instantly. “Sorry. Um..yeah. Sorry. A double espresso? Please?” He handed over a ten and looked at the barista helplessly.

“Okay,” she said. She looked mildly concerned as she gave him his change. “What’s your name?”

“Pete Wentz,” Patrick blurted out. Oh my god you are such a fucking moron why did you just -

“Alright, Pete, your order will be ready shortly.”

“Okay. Thanks.”

Hating himself, Patrick walked over to the wall and leaned against it to wait. God. Now what? He should just leave. He could get coffee somewhere else. His espresso couldn’t be good enough to make up for the emotional trauma he was undergoing while standing here. Pete still didn’t see him. Probably can’t see anything because of those stupid fucking sunglasses. He would just have to go up to him and sit down and why was this making him so anxious? He felt almost naked without Andy and Joe (and his weapons.) He had the silver pocket knife he always carried, but other than that, he was unarmed. Plus, being out in the open, in public, in front of all these stupid judgmental hipster assholes…if anything happened, there would be dozens of witnesses. Even if nothing happened at all, there were dozens of people who could be eavesdropping on them, taking in their conversation which would no doubt be about vampire-killing. Everything about this situation made him want to just run. His fight-or-flight instinct was screaming at him to just get up, go out the door, start the car, and leave.

He glanced over at Pete again. He was wearing a black hoodie with a little white bat on one side. Vampires have their own merch now? That’s it. He was leaving. He couldn’t do this. He propelled himself away from the wall he was leaning against and started for the door. As he was leaving, a voice rang out over the din of the hipsters and workers yelling over each other.

“Double espresso for Pete Wentz!”

Patrick stopped in his tracks. Never before had he craved death more than he did right now. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Pete looking up, confused. Why does stuff like this always happen to me, Patrick wondered. He was standing in the middle of the coffee shop, too awkward to even move a muscle. God hated him, that’s what it was. The big guy was out to get him, to put him into situations so horribly uncomfortable he’d eventually just drop dead.

“Double espresso for Pete Wentz?” the barista repeated.

Patrick was wheeling around as Pete was getting up from his seat. They both stopped when they made eye contact. Shitfuck. The whole coffee shop seemed to go silent, as though all the hipsters were struck dumb by the sheer awkwardness of this situation. Now what?

“There you are!” said the barista triumphantly. She came out from behind the counter and gave Patrick his coffee. On the side of the cup, the word Pete was written in sloppy handwriting.

“That’s....that isn’t mine,” he tried feebly, but the girl had already left.

“That for me?” asked Pete.

“I’m...I wasn’t,” Patrick stuttered. Ever the intellectual.

Pete grabbed the cup out of his hands and sniffed it. He sat back down at his table; Patrick stayed standing, paralyzed. “This better not be one of those pumpkin spice things. Those are nasty. Miserable excuses for coffee.” He took a sip and grimaced. “Okay, that’s even worse. Jesus, how do you drink that shit?” He handed his drink back to him. “You gonna sit, orrrrr…?”

Jerkily, Patrick sat down. Probably a bad idea: it was harder to defend yourself when seated. Then again, he might not have to. Pete seemed oddly at ease, and besides, they were in public, so he might be less likely to try anything. This thought comforted him a little bit, but he was still on edge as the vampire continued to talk.

“So, ‘Trick, what brings you here on this fine evening?” When he didn’t reply, Pete’s voice sharpened a bit. “Let me rephrase that: how the hell did you find me here?”

At these words, Patrick almost laughed. He hadn’t found him at all; it was just random chance. Pete thought he was some fucking secret agent or something. Maybe that was a good thing, though. He could use that to his advantage, keep Pete on edge by making him think he knew more than he really did.

“Doesn’t matter how I found you,” Patrick said. He was feeling a weird amount of confidence now; that didn’t happen often. Maybe he was just trying to overcompensate for the whole accidentally-using-Pete’s-name-instead-of-his-own-name-for-his-coffee-order-because-he-was-so-obsessed-with-him thing.“What matters is that you’re gonna sit here and answer my questions and not be a dick about it.”

Pete curled his lip into a condescending smile. “Why would I do that?”

“Because you’ve seen what we - what I - can do. I wouldn’t hesitate to kill you just like I’ve hundreds of other vampires.”

“So I’m nothing special?” He leaned across the table, his face cold. Patrick’s sudden burst of self-confidence was disintegrating rapidly. “Please. We both know that’s not true. You know I’m different, and you know you need me if you ever want to get rid of the dandies for good. Killing me is not an option. It’s an empty threat and to be honest, it’s kind of insulting. I have done nothing besides save your and your friends’ asses. Twice now. Not that I’m keeping track or anything.” He sat back, took a sip of coffee. “You should be thanking me, but no. Instead you’re treating me like you own me, like I owe you something. News flash: I don’t. Never have. So, Mr. Stump, I’m going to say this exactly once, and if you take issue with it, you can find yourself another vigilante, and he’s not gonna be as skilled, as knowledgeable, or as devastatingly attractive as I am.” Now he leaned forward again, inches away from Patrick’s face. His breath was warm and coffee-scented.

“I am not your bitch. I am no one’s bitch. If I choose to help you, that’s my choice, not yours. So you can stop pretending like you have any kind of control over me, and then we can talk.”

Patrick swallowed. Well, that could’ve gone better. Pete was still occupying his personal space bubble, their faces mere inches apart. His sunglasses were really bothering him; not being able to look him in the eye made Patrick nervous. Of all the things you could be thinking about right now, you’re focused on that? Really?

“Can you - can you take off the glasses?” he blurted out. Whoops.

The vampire let out a surprised laugh. “That’s all you have to say for yourself?”

“Only douchebags wear sunglasses indoors.”

Raising his eyebrows, he flicked off the glasses and set them down on the table. He had hazel eyes with dark circles under them. Patrick was noticing all the wrong things. “Better?” he asked sardonically.

“Yeah. Sorry. I, uh…” He lapsed into silence. He had no idea what else to say. This was not going like he wanted it to go.

The vampire sensed this, and almost seemed to pity him. Again...not how he wanted this to go. “How about we start over? Strangers in a coffee shop. You just sat down across from me. You bought me a coffee, and although it is disgusting as hell, I appreciate the gesture. Thanks.”

“That wasn’t for you,” said Patrick.

“What? Dude, you ordered it under my name.”

“Yeah, that was kind of an accident. I, uh...I was thinking about you. How I was gonna find you,” he said quickly. “The barista asked for my name and I just blurted out yours. Stupid. I didn’t even see you in the corner there, it was a complete coincidence.”

“Well, you sure know how to make a boy feel special.”

Was he...was he flirting with him? No. No way. As soon as the idea popped into Patrick’s head, he pushed it away, almost chiding himself for even thinking it. That would make this night altogether too weird. Pete was straight. Straight as an arrow. One thousand percent heterosexual. This was just his way of being over-assertive, and cocky, and annoying. He’d probably deduced that Patrick was gay (it wasn’t hard to tell), and he was trying to make him nervous by hitting on him. Well, it wasn’t gonna work.

“Yeah,” said Patrick shortly. “Alright, stranger, I have a question for you: what’s your deal with killing other vampires?”

“Damn, you’re not much for chit-chat, are you? That’s alright by me. Cutting right to the chase, I can dig that.” He grinned; Patrick didn’t. Seeming a little stung, Pete went on. “I’m....they’re monsters. Just because I am one doesn’t mean I don’t know that. I’ve lived with them for years; I know what they’re capable of. The things I’ve seen them do…” He trailed off, eyes set on the wood of the tabletop. “It’s like most of them have forgotten that they were ever human. That’s the only difference between me and them. I remember; they don’t. They’re just animals, devoid of any kind of love or morals, driven only by the desire to feed. And...I get that. It’s scary, but I understand why they are the way they are. It’s so powerful, the hunger, the bloodlust. I’m always so fucking hungry, all the time, no matter what I do, no matter how much I eat. I’m like a goddamn teenage boy again. In the first few weeks after I turned, I was eating whole pizzas and gallons of ice cream trying to get myself to feel full again. Once I downed an entire birthday cake by myself like it was nothing. It felt like nothing, too: when I was done, it hadn’t even made a dent. I was still ravenous. Eventually, I got used to the sensation. What else could I do? It’s miserable, yeah, but it’s just a feeling. It’s better than turning into one of them.

“I drink animal blood instead of human blood. And before you ask, no, I don’t kill cows or rob veterinarians or anything like that. I buy it online like a civilized person. There’s quite a market for that shit, you’d be surprised. It tastes disgusting, but it gets me by. That’s all that matters - getting by.”

He paused, as if considering whether or not to tell Patrick something. He must have decided against it, because he cleared his throat and changed the subject.

“Anyway. I kill them for the same reason you kill them. They’re monsters and they put people, good people, in danger. Simple as that.”

“So...that’s it, then?” said Patrick suspiciously. He knew it wasn’t. “You just...you just kill them out of your own good will?”

“Is that hard for you to believe? I’m offended.” He put a hand over his heart, pantomiming an old lady about to faint. Patrick was unamused. “Look, it’s...let’s just say I’m personally invested in the cause.”

“The hell’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means I wasn’t always like this. I’m not a pureblood; I was bitten when I was a kid. In that one moment, they took everything I ever had: my past life, the person I used to be. All my hope for a future. And...and my…” He trailed off, looking down into his coffee.

“And your what?” asked Patrick, after a pause.

“Forget it,” Pete muttered. “It doesn’t matter. I’m a vampire who kills vampires, remember? It doesn’t matter why I do it, it just matters that I do. Just take what you can get, dude.”

“I’m not just trying to...look, it’s a sensitive subject, I get that. We all have our shit. But if we’re going to work together, I need to know why - ”

Pete’s jaw tightened and he set his coffee down on the table with a thud. “No, you don’t,” said Pete. “ You don’t need to know anything. My past is none of your goddamn business. Drop it, okay? Let’s move on.”

Mood swings much? thought Patrick. Every time Pete went off at him like that, he got more and more nervous about the prospect of working with him. He was exhibiting all the warning signs: snapping at random, refusing to talk about his past. Wearing sunglasses indoors. That alone is some sociopathic shit.

What the hell had Patrick gotten himself into? Everything about this situation screamed get away from him. Take your overpriced coffee, run to your car, and drive off into the sunset. Find someone else to obsess over. Pete was like the creepy white boy in Heathers: clearly mentally unstable, and yet the main character goes for him anyway. So that makes me Winona Ryder, was Patrick’s first thought. His second thought was, that was the single gayest thing you’ve ever thought.

His internal monologue came to a screeching halt when he realized that he had been staring directly into Pete’s face for the last thirty seconds or so. Shaking himself off, he broke eye contact and looked down into his cup.

“Sorry. Zoned out,” he said by way of explanation.

“Was that what that was?” said Pete. “Don’t worry, I liked it.” He grinned.

God, I wish he’d stop doing that, Patrick thought. It kept putting him off, making him lose his train of thought. I’m pretty sure the last thing you were thinking about was Winona Ryder -

He cleared his throat, trying to collect his scrambled thoughts. “So. Uh. If you don’t want to talk about the past, let’s talk about the present. What do you do with yourself, other than kill vampires?”

Pete stopped to think, then laughed a little. “Now that I think about it...not much. I don’t know, I...I used to have a job. I delivered pizzas. Not too glorious, but it paid the bills. I got fired a little over a year ago. It was a long time coming, too; I went to high school with the manager, so he cut me some major slack. Too much, honestly - he kept giving me raises because he knew how much I needed it. Turned a blind eye every time I snuck a pizza home with me, because he knew that’s the only thing I had to eat. Anway, it got to a point where he couldn’t ignore it anymore. I stole more food than I made, and I kept missing shifts because of my real work. Haven’t gotten around to getting another job since then.

“My landlord was not as lenient as my manager. She always hated me, and she jumped at the chance to kick me out. What a bitch. I was able to pay the rent for a little while after getting fired, but then I was out on the streets within a few months. It was inevitable, I guess. Since then, I’ve been living off of charity and credit card fraud.” He paused, considering. “Mostly credit card fraud.”

“So...what, you’re just living on the streets?” Patrick felt an unintentional stab of pity, which he quickly repressed.

“Nah, I still have my car.”

“So, yes, you are living on the streets.”

“No. I’m living in my car. I have the car as a buffer between me and ‘the streets.’ Please try to keep up.”

A short laugh escaped from Patrick. He quickly cut it off and regained his poker face. Pete raised his eyebrows, amused. “Ah, so it does have a sense of humor. Amazing.”

Patrick mentally chided himself for letting his guard down. That one positive affirmation seemed to fuel Pete, even more so than his coffee. Now eager, he leaned across the table, still grinning. He looked like an excited puppy; it was ridiculous. “Now what? We covered the past -”

“Not really -”

“And the present. So now all that’s left is -”

“The future,” said Patrick. An idea, a very, very stupid one, was beginning to form in the corners of his mind, like a sea monster rising out of the ocean in a low-budget 80’s horror movie. No, he told himself. No, no, no, no. That is a stupid decision. You do not make stupid decisions. Stupid decisions get people killed, or bitten, or both.

He could feel the sea monster rising up to his lips and pushing through them: he couldn’t control it. It was like he had two split personalities. There was normal Patrick, the Patrick that was guided by logic and reason. Then there was the other Patrick, who just spoke his mind no matter how idiotic it was. Once again, his rational mind and his impulsive mouth were on two different wavelengths.

“Do you want to stay with us?”