He’s immeasurably grateful for the sun going down. It’s hard to sleep when it shines through the arched opening next to him, lighting up the dark interior, throwing the big, empty dungeon in sharp relief. Harder still when the sun passes across the stone floor and he has to push himself into the corner, to keep the rays from touching him. He’s often as not bare-legged, forcing him to tuck his legs in tight for hours, waiting for the sun to pass. At least he has a shirt, though it’s thin and billowy, to protect the rest of his body.
More than once he’s made the mistake of giving in to his exhaustion, letting his body go lax with the sun in the sky, letting the chains around his wrist take his weight, only to be awoken by his skin burning and bubbling where his legs had fallen into the light. He’s lucky he reacted so quickly, otherwise he may have been left with something more permanent than a few light scars across his knee and thigh.
He used to enjoy the sun, as much as he could down here. The cold bothered him but the sun chased it away, and it helped mark the passing of his days, though he’d long lost track of just how many that had been.
However, he doesn’t prefer the darkness. Doesn’t like what night time brings. He hears the squeak of the door opening at the top of the winding stairs as the sun’s light becomes only a faint purple memory through the window. He can’t hear the person’s steps, but he watches the corridor leading out of the dungeon closely, wondering what it will be tonight.
Tension coils tight in his stomach, but he’s too tired and hungry to do more than clench his fists, careful to avoid touching the silver chain and shackles around his wrists. At least he has the shirt sleeves as a buffer between them and his skin. They keep his arms stretched above him, bolted into the wall behind him. Just high enough that he can’t sit comfortably without his knees under him to prop him up, but can’t stand fully without being bent over almost backwards.
He’d once tried to pry the bolt from the stone, in the first week he’d been here. Ripping his fingers bloody and raw, losing a few nails. It was a long time ago, and the last time he’d tried he’d discovered the bolt was made of silver too. He hasn’t tried since.
The woman who turns the corner is slim and blonde, wearing nothing but a sheer blue shift. Her pale, bare feet move easily over the rough stone as she comes to stand before him, looking down at him blankly. In her right hand is a knife, its blade flashing silver in the faint light.
He’s heard Kamski call her Chloe—but then, he’s heard Kamski call her sisters Chloe as well. He doesn’t know the difference between them, doesn’t know if they really are all named Chloe, or if Kamski simply calls them that.
They don’t seem to care either way. Don’t seem to have any preference beyond obeying Kamski’s commands. He’s tried to talk to them when they come down here alone like this. Tried to find out who they are, why they follow him. They never say anything useful.
He’d given up on that, too.
This Chloe watches him for a moment, and he knows what she’s about to do. Knows what’s coming, what this night will bring. She raises her empty hand, and Connor braces himself as the knife comes up too.
She doesn’t make a sound as she drags the blade across her palm, but Connor can’t help his own. The smell hits him. The hunger he’d pushed to the back of his mind lurches forward and he groans. It’s not as fresh as it would be from a human, not as potent, but he hasn’t eaten in a week. He can feel saliva building in his mouth and he clenches his teeth against it, pressing himself back into the wall instead of forward as his body demands.
He shuts his eyes, but it does nothing to save him from the smell filling his head, the sound of it dripping steadily where he knows Chloe is tilting her palm. Letting it puddle on the stone. She stays there for a long time, unmoving.
The smell settles in his nose. He forces himself to unclench his hand, feeling around blindly, until he touches the cold metal. He hisses, head rocking back, cracking against the wall at the pain that shoots through his palm, cold and burning. He releases it quickly but the pain lingers, stinging across his fingers when he clenches his hand. It clears his head a little, forces himself to focus on something other than the tantalizing smell.
He cracks his eyes open, watching blearily as Chloe lowers her hands. The puddle of red at her feet draws his eyes, but he forces them back up. Makes himself watch her blank face. Without a word she turns and heads back through the arched doorway. Leaving Connor alone again, but not for long, he knows.
This is Kamski’s favorite game. Riling him up, leaving him hungry and wanting so he won’t be able to resist as much when it’s time to feed. Before long, Kamski will come down here with some unsuspecting human.
He tries not to think too far ahead, tries not to think of what’s to come. Forces himself to ignore the blood seeping into the cracks between the stained stones. The pain in his palm pulses in time with the slow beat of his heart, but the hunger gnaws at him.
He leans back against the wall, closes his eyes, and tries not to think of the taste of blood on his tongue, sweet and sharp.
The gothic-style mansion commissioned by the Kamski family more than a hundred years ago is supposedly based on their ancestral home in Transylvania. It’s more akin to a castle than a mansion in Hank’s opinion, but no one’s asked. He’s done his research on the family since he first became aware of the recent disappearances in the nearby town. Elijah Kamski is the current heir, though Hank did not run across any pictures of his parents. That could be by accident or by design, but in his line of work coincidences are rare and he’s learned to trust his gut.
“Wow, this where you live? Never would have guessed given the dive you picked me up at,” Hank says, and it’s not hard to lay on the appreciation.
As the trees give way to the open lawn, the towering castle, glimpsed in brief flashes as they wound through the forest, comes fully into view. It’s a beautiful structure, well taken care of over the years—no signs of crumbling stone, no overgrown shrubbery, no dilapidation as far as Hank can see. Though it’s dark, Hank doubts the shadows are hiding any disrepair. Its spires disappear into the dark sky and there are windows lit along the front with a soft orange glow. If Hank didn’t know any better, he would think he’d been transported to a different time as his truck noses along the narrow driveway to the front gates.
“I simply know what I like, and where to find it.”
His voice is deeper, richer than Hank had expected when he’d first been approached in the bar. Hank had been hunched over his drink at a table with his back to the wall, watching the locals as they came and went. Trying to find the right jackass who would look at him the wrong way, or say the wrong thing, so he could make another impression.
It’s been his routine in this place for the last two weeks, and he can’t say he didn’t enjoy it. There was definitely something cathartic in getting drunk, finding the meanest, most volatile bastard in the place, and having a good old knock-down, drag-out bar fight. His knuckles are still bruised and bloody from the last one, and he hasn’t lost yet.
“Least now I know you’re not gonna murder me for my organs,” Hank says jokingly.
Kamski gives a small, close-mouthed laugh. Hank wonders if they’re both thinking of the irony.
While disappearances aren’t so uncommon, the string of them, starting a year back, has gained some notice, at least among those who look for such things. People who put together the clues and then put out the call for help in certain circles. Hank just happened to be the first to answer that call, and, he thinks, it’s lucky he did. He perfectly fits the criteria of those gone missing. Men, age 22 to 60 at the latest. A certain type. Men with criminal records, men who were just passing through, and men who were known to start fights. Men who wouldn’t be missed, for the most part, and yet their disappearances had been noticed, and connected.
He made a name for himself as a trouble maker the moment he got here. A loud mouth, quick to anger. Made sure it was known that he’s got no one and nothing. It’s been a close call with the police more than once, but he always makes sure the other man throws the first punch. He knows law enforcement, knows how to toe the line without going over.
When Elijah Kamski came to him, wearing tight black pants and a sleek vest over a loose white shirt, Hank tried to wave him off. He hadn’t recognized Kamski then. But Kamski just ignored it, slid into the booth next to him, pushing a drink across the table. By the time Hank realized he was being propositioned, Kamski already had a hand on Hank’s thigh, fingers rubbing the inner seam of his worn jeans suggestively.
He’d said, in that surprisingly rich voice, “You look like you could use some company.”
Hank was ready to write the guy off, tell him to go find his kicks somewhere else, but something about those piercing blue eyes and his sharp smile had Hank’s hackles up.
“I don’t think you could handle me,” Hank finally said, dredging up some of the charm he’d had two decades ago. It miraculously didn’t fall flat, and Kamski looked at him hungrily as Hank raised the glass Kamski slid him to his mouth. Pretending to drink.
“That’s alright. I have a friend. I think between the two of us, we can manage.”
Hank weighed his options and decided, what the hell. Best case scenario, Hank gets a weird threesome, worst case scenario he’d found the ones behind the disappearances.
When the man had finally introduced himself, after Hank offered to drive them in his truck, the certainty had cemented itself. Elijah Kamski had been his first suspect on learning about the town and the family’s long history, and there’s no doubt in his mind he’s being led to his death.
The gate to the castle opens at their approach, revealing a courtyard with a four-tiered fountain bubbling with water at its center. Hank pulls around it to the wide front steps leading up to doors twice his height and cuts the engine. Kamski is out before Hank can even open the door, taking the first step up and pausing to look back for Hank.
Who reaches into the bed of his truck for a heavy duffel bag. Kamski raises an eyebrow, and Hank decides playing the presumptuous asshole is the best option. “Need my overnight bag,” he says with a cocky grin, hefting it over his shoulder. It’s old, frayed, but sturdy, and far heavier than it looks. Packed with a cushion of clothes to make it seem as innocent as possible.
Kamski seems to accept this, and Hank follows him up the steps. The doors open before they even reach them, and when they step inside they’re greeted by a trio of blonde women in blue dresses who look like triplets, standing in a row. One of them holds a tray with two wine glasses on them filled with a deep red liquid. She offers it to Kamski first, who waves it away, and then to Hank.
Hank pulls out his flask, shaking it in answer, twisting the top and taking a brief sip. It tastes like nothing. The woman returns to the line, waiting quietly.
“The ‘friend’?” Hank asks, giving them a once over. Barefoot, smooth, pale skin. Bright blue eyes, almost empty. Kamski hadn’t mentioned three, only one.
“Oh no, these are the help,” Kamski says, dismissive, walking further into the wide entrance hall.
Hank follows, looking over his shoulder at the three women. One of them moves to close the door and Hank returns his attention to Kamski.
The entrance hall is wide and high, the floors a polished marble that Hank can’t help feeling like he shouldn’t be stepping on with his dirty shoes. There’s a huge staircase at the back of the hall, rising to the next floor, splitting off in different directions, but Kamski heads to the left of it, towards an open arch leading into a hallway.
Here the floor is covered in a thick, red carpet. Paintings and tapestries dot the walls, and Hank gives them brief glances as they pass by, but they’re pastoral scenes and portraits of people Hank doesn’t recognize.
“So what’s this friend of yours like?” Hank asks, taking a few quick strides to return to Kamski’s side. “Anything like you?”
“I don’t want to ruin the surprise,” Kamski says, glancing at Hank from the corner of his eye.
“Oh yeah?” Hank asks, grabbing Kamski’s shoulder, pressing him back against the wall, right next to an oil painting in an ornate, gold frame. “Maybe I want a preview.” He’s still got the flask in his hand, and he takes another sip, spinning the top back on quickly and shoving it into his pocket.
The liquid is lukewarm on his tongue. He holds it there as his hands slip around Kamski’s waist, cupping his ass, squeezing as he slots himself against the man.
“Impatient,” Kamski says with a note of amusement. He presses a thigh in between Hank’s, rubbing against Hank’s crotch, and if this were any other circumstance, it might actually get a reaction out of him. But all he feels is revulsion. He may not have proof, but he can feel it in his gut. The being rubbing against him, hands roving up Hank’s sides, isn’t human, and his skin crawls at the thought. “I can’t have all the fun. My friend is waiting,” Kamski says, completely unaware.
Hank doesn’t answer beyond a vague hum, dipping his head, finding the smooth, cool skin of Kamski’s neck. He presses his mouth to it as he grinds their hips together. There’s no pulse beneath his lips. It’s possible Hank can’t feel it—he’s keyed up himself, aware of Kamski’s fingers digging into his back, the face next to his, inches from his own neck. He can barely hear over the pounding of his own heart, and he can’t help the way he tenses. But he knows he’s not wrong. He knows it. He just has to prove it before he lets this go any further, one way or another.
Kamski’s hands find the front of Hank’s jacket, and he can feel himself getting pushed away. It’s now or never. He opens his mouth against Kamski’s neck, letting the water trickle over his lips.
The skin hisses and bubbles where it touches, and Hank can feel it burning hot against his mouth where once it had been cold.
Abruptly the hands at his chest shove and he’s flung backwards, hitting the opposite wall, slamming into a painting that rattles and bangs against the wallpaper. He doesn’t lose his feet at least, managing to stay upright as he reaches into his jacket.
“A hunter,” Kamski says, clutching his neck, glaring at Hank from across the hall. “How ironic. Chloe!”
He doesn’t get a chance to say anything else as Hank finds the handle of his revolver. It flashes in the light of the hall and the wallpaper explodes where Kamski had once been. He swings around, trying to line up a shot as Kamski’s back disappears down the hall, but there’s suddenly a dark mist coalescing in front of him. He takes the shot, but Kamski is faster, gliding through a nearby door almost too quick to see, and the wood frame splinters.
Then the mist is taking shape, a hand wrapping around Hank’s forearm, and one of the blonde servants forms, her beautiful face twisted in a snarl baring canines sharper than any humans. She lunges and Hank drops, trying to wrench his arm free. Her grip is stronger, forcing his arm up, keeping the gun pointed away. Her other hand shoots out, grabbing Hank around the throat, slamming him into the wall. His duffel bag digs into his back.
She hisses wordlessly, blue eyes flashing red in the telltale sign of bloodlust, and Hank’s free hand scrabbles at his neck, where a plain gold chain hangs. He fishes it out as she leans in close, shoving it against her face and praying to a god he’s not sure he believes in.
The crucifix burns the moment it touches her cheek, blue veins bursting along her skin, and she releases him with a screech, pressing a hand to the spot and spitting at Hank. Her form melts back into that dark mist and it disperses into the air vents, leaving the hall empty for the moment.
Hank tucks the cross back into his shirt, panting as he gets his breath back, neck aching where her inhuman grip had nearly crushed his throat. He was lucky. A crucifix doesn’t work on a vampire unless they were a true believer before they were turned. It’s much more likely to work on older vampires, but knowing the difference between them is difficult. This was a blind shot in the dark, as this job often is, but thankfully it paid off. For now, anyways.
She’s not dead, and he still has to find Kamski, take care of these monsters while he can. Four against one is bad odds, the worst Hank can recall ever having been in, but it’s a distant concern. The odds don’t matter. This is his job, his only goal, and he’s going to kill them or die trying.
He swings his duffel bag onto the floor, looking up every few seconds to make sure the hall is clear as he moves quickly. Inside, beneath the layer of old shirts and socks, he finds a half-full box of silver rounds. He slides two into the chamber of his revolver before closing and holstering it, and from within the duffel he pulls out a single barrel, pump action shotgun.
He zips the duffel back and slings it over his shoulder, flicks the safety off, double checks that it’s fully loaded, and pumps the slide as he rises to his feet.
It’s quiet as he moves carefully but quickly down the hallway, until he reaches the shattered door frame Kamski disappeared through. He finds another hallway with a set of stairs at the other end through an open door, leading down. It’s empty at first glance, but as he steps through a shadow falls over him.
He throws himself forward, tucking into a roll, and when he comes back up with the shotgun in front of him, one of the blonde servants is lunging. The barrel flashes and an explosion thunders through the hall, but the shotgun is knocked sideways and she takes a swipe at him with wicked claws.
His jacket catches the brunt of it, but then she’s on him, hissing in his face, pupils thin slits as her claws rake at him. He swings the shotgun, slamming it into the side of her head once, twice, three times, until she falls back screaming. He doesn’t think, barely aims, the shotgun recoiling against his shoulder as more thunder rolls through the hall even as she dives out of the way.
Blast after blast, following the blur of her blue dress as he tries to pin her with even a single shot. Canvases are ripped apart and vases explode in a shower of shards. She’s like a wild beast, and Hank realizes he’s not going to be able to hit her like this. He follows her with the barrel, waiting until she’s by the door he came through, before taking off in the opposite direction.
His heart is in his ears as he pounds towards the dark stairwell. Behind him he hears a frustrated, animal growl, and a second set of feet pounding after him. He’s not going to make it, and even if he could, it’s just as likely she’d toss his ass down the stairs and break his neck.
At the top of the first step he comes to a halt, grabbing the banister against the stone wall to keep his momentum from carrying him down. He swings around with the shotgun. She’s right in front of him, arms raised, howling. He squeezes the trigger.
The blonde woman jerks, her shoulder disintegrating as silver buckshot tears her open. She screeches, rearing back, clutching at it, and before she can make another disappearing act like her sister, he squeezes the trigger again. Her stomach opens in a bloody bloom. She crumbles to her knees, keening, wrapping her arms around herself.
Hank takes aim, watching her carefully as she falls to her side, mouth opening on a hissed, “ Elijah, ” that dissolves into wet coughing. Until her noises die down, and she stops moving, blue eyes open but unseeing.
Hank checks the dark stairwell and the other end of the hall before dropping the duffel and digging more shells out. He reloads it quickly, and when he stands again, faces the stairs leading down into the depths of the castle.
The stone stairs curve as they go down, none of the decadence of these upper halls present, and Hank stares doubtfully. It would be suicide to go down there alone, to face at least three more of these monsters, and he hefts the duffel higher. It’s not like he hasn’t been chasing his own death these last five years. Plenty of close calls that he’s miraculously avoided. If he meets his end here, destroying these monsters, it will have been worth it.
From his pocket, he pulls a small flashlight, and he thumbs it on. He pumps the shotgun barrel, listening to the satisfying click, and takes the first step down.
It’s completely silent but for his own breaths, echoing sibilantly. The air grows colder as he descends around the twisting spiral staircase. It’s shorter than he anticipated, and before he knows it the space is opening up before him. The walls are bare stone, with columns dotting the place. To his left is an archway, leading deeper into the dungeon. Beyond it is faint, blue light, and he turns slowly with the flashlight pressed along the barrel of the shotgun.
Something slams into him from the side and he yells in surprise, stumbling, nearly losing his footing on the uneven floor. Another body slams into him from the other side, knocking his grip loose. The flashlight falls to the floor, spinning wildly, illuminating Kamski and another blonde servant in brief flashes as they surge towards him.
Hank ducks, striking out with the shotgun, and feels it connect with something. One of the servants, who hisses. Claws rake up his side, under his thick jacket, and Hank bites down on a yell as pain flares up his torso.
“You shouldn’t have come here, Hunter,” Kamski says, amusement in his voice.
Hank swings towards the source of the voice and the room is illuminated in a flash as the barrel explodes. Stone shatters and sparks and he turns, having lost track of Kamski and his servant. His flashlight is a few feet away, and he takes a slow step towards it.
A body barrels into him, knocking him flat on his back. He brings the gun up, holding it between him and whichever vampire has him. The flashlight falls on them, illuminating the steely face of a blonde woman, and she bares her fangs, both of them struggling with the shotgun. He braces himself, then abruptly lets go. It slams into his sternum, knocking the breath out of him, but his hand scrambles for the pistol at his hip and she howls as he brings it around and slams it into her temple.
Her skin burns as she falls off of him, and he shoves himself to his feet just in time to be picked up and slammed back down against the stone. His head bounces and stars flash in his vision. He brings the pistol up, trying to aim again, but a hand grips his wrist tight, fingers digging into bone, until he drops it with a cry.
Kamski smiles down at him, looking perfectly calm. “You’re very crafty, I’ll give you that, Hunter. Did you come here knowing who I had, or of your own agenda?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Hank growls, hand flexing beneath Kamski’s hold. He feels something cold leaking into his shirt.
“Well, that is amusing.” Kamski leans close, his breath metallic and icy across Hank’s face. “Just a wayward hunter who happened to find me, for no purpose other than to slay a monster. Is that right?”
“You’re damn right!” Hank spits. “You and your servants are done feeding off these people!” His fingers grope along his jacket, searching.
“Are we?” Kamski says, amused. “I would rethink your words, considering the position you find yourself in.”
“Oh yeah? Maybe you should rethink yours, asshole.” His fingers find cold, wet metal, and he rips it out, swinging around towards Kamski’s face. A hand comes up, catching his wrist, but holy water splashes from the busted top and Kamski shouts as it lands across the side of his face and begins to sizzle.
The weight pinning Hank lifts suddenly, and he rolls towards his shotgun, finding it and surging to his feet, panting and swinging it wildly in every direction.
Just the sound of his breaths ricocheting off stone and the beam of the flashlight carving a circle of light against the far wall. He leans down for it slowly.
Something sounds through the wide archway behind him and he jerks around, abandoning the light. There’s no one beyond it, just that faint blue glow, a little brighter than before. He takes a slow step, wincing at the noise of his boot against the stone, however slight.
As he approaches, the room beyond becomes a little clearer. Moonlight shines in through some window he can’t see, casting deep shadows around the edge of the room. There’s no gathering mist or shifting of wings, but Kamski and his servants could be anywhere, and he keeps his steps measured and quiet. Shotgun raised.
He’s tense as he passes through the arch. The room is wide, columns dotting it. Anything could be hiding in here. He spares a glance to the right wall, with three windows spaced along the length of it. They must be just barely above ground and he wonders at the purpose of that.
He continues on, reaching each row of columns, sweeping from side to side. Nothing jumps out at him. No Kamski. No servants. There’s no movement or sound beyond Hank, who slowly relaxes. If Kamski was going to attack he would have done it already. Hurting him must have been enough for him to decide to retreat, for the moment. It gives Hank a little time to plan his next course of action, reload, and prepare.
He turns back towards the archway he came through, passing through the columns, still wary, but less so now that the room is clear. Only when he’s halfway through does he hear another sound, like metal on stone.
He freezes, eyes darting from shadow to shadow. Taking a step forward, finger tight against the trigger. Sweat drips cold down his back.
It sounds again, and on the heels of that clinking, something softer. A wordless noise.
Hank turns towards the window, eyes straining against the moonlight, and makes out a flash of silver in the corner, concealed by the deep shadows there. It shifts, and he comes closer, lowering his gun slowly as he passes through the moonlight and makes out exactly what’s hidden there.
Or rather, who. The man kneeling in the corner sways slightly, arms raised and locked in place by the bright shackles around his wrists, looped through a ring set into the stone above him. He looks like he’s kneeling, but the longer Hank looks, he realizes the man is practically hanging by his wrists, eyes closed. His knees against the concrete are the only thing keeping him from hanging completely limp.
Dark hair curls over his forehead, and thick lashes rest against his cheeks. He’s young and handsome, and clean despite being locked down here. Hank wonders if he was recently taken. If this is what Kamski and his servants have been doing with their prey—bringing them down here and locking them up to feed at their leisure.
With a short look around, Hank kneels before the man. It doesn’t look like he’s breathing, and Hank raises two fingers to the man’s neck to check for a pulse, fully expecting that he’s too late.
The man’s eyes open, slowly, and Hank freezes with his hand inches from that slim neck. They blink blearily, sliding around the stone floor blankly before finding Hank’s knees. Traveling up his body. Hank finds he’s holding his breath as they make their way up, until he’s staring into dark, dazed eyes.
They’re both silent, the man’s eyes roving Hank’s face before moving past him. Looking around at the room, and Hank watches the realization crossing the man’s features—his eyes widen and his mouth drops open and his gaze settles back on Hank in disbelief.
“Where?” the man croaks, voice strained and groggy. “Kamski?”
“Not here,” Hank says, and finally drops his hand where it had been hovering by the man’s face. Shit. A captive. As much as he wants to head back upstairs and find Kamski, now he’s got a bigger problem. He can’t leave the man—Hank could die trying to fight those monsters, and then the guy would be stuck down here until they came to fucking eat him.
“Where?” he asks again, a little stronger, a little more urgent. “Is he dead?”
“No such luck,” Hank mutters, pushing to his feet and leaning forward to get a look at the cuffs around his wrists. The guy flinches and Hank throws up his hands. “Woah, hey, I’m just seeing what I have to work with. I don’t have a key, I’m gonna have to see if I can break these.”
He reaches out, slow, and the guy sits up a little straighter, giving some slack to the chain. Hank takes one of his wrists, turning it, examining the silver cuff. It’s got a padlock on each manacle, holding it shut, and relief courses through him.
“Hold tight, kid, I got just the thing,” Hank says, slinging his duffle bag down and unzipping it.
“Where is Kamski?” the guy says again, staring around the room, shoulders tensing. “How did you get in here? Where are the Chloes?”
“I dunno,” Hank says, digging through clothes until he grasps a solid handle. The bolt cutters come out awkwardly, a dirty shirt clinging to them. “Got him with some holy water and he took off. Guess the, uh, Chloes went with him. Except for one. Silver buckshot to the chest. She’s definitely down for good.” When he turns back wielding the bolt cutters, the man obligingly turns his wrist out, and Hank smirks. “How long you been down here, kid?”
It’s a tight fit between the bars of the padlock, but the kid is stronger than he looks, holding his wrists steady as Hank gets the teeth around one and clamps down.
“I don’t know,” he says slowly, dark eyes angled up, watching Hank work, unflinching even when the metal creaks above him. “I lost track of the days. I’d say nine months or so, but that’s a conservative guess.
“Nine months? Longass time to keep a human.” Hank grunts and strains, hunching with tense shoulders as he squeezes the handles of the bolt cutters together. “Why’d they keep you so long, kid?”
“I’m not a kid. My name is Connor. Connor Stern.”
The metal gives with a thunderous snap but Hank hardly hears it. The man— Connor lowers his hand, staring at it, flexing his fingers as the manacle hangs above him, knocking against the stone.
“Stern?” Hank says in disbelief. “ The Connor Stern?”
Connor nods, completely serious.
“Holy shit,” Hank breathes. He’s heard the rumours—everyone has—of a fellow hunter who got killed a year back. The man was an esteemed hunter, well-known among their kind, from a family who’s hunting tradition stretched back to before the pilgrims came to America. No one knows what did it, only that he disappeared and was never seen by his family again, and only something very strong and smart could have done it. “You’re supposed to be fucking dead.”
“Clearly that is not the case,” Connor says, and tugs on the remaining manacle pointedly.
With a shake of his head, Hank moves the bolt cutters into place, locking them around the padlock and bearing down. After a few moments of strain it gives with a loud snap, and Connor pulls his wrist free, instantly grabbing at the stone wall, pulling himself up. Almost immediately he stumbles, and Hank reaches out without thinking, grabbing his arms, catching him before he can hit the floor.
Connor flinches and Hank says, “Woah, woah, careful there, you’ve been down here a long time, kid.”
He’s light in Hank’s arms, and cold, but that’s no surprise. He wonders when the last time Connor ate was, if he might be sick from being down here, or otherwise hurt. It’s hard to get a good read in the moonlight, but the front of Connor’s shirt is stained with something dark, and in the open collar Hank can see a few marks, but he can’t tell if they’re wounds or not.
“I’m perfectly fine,” Connor says, pulling away quickly.
“If you say so,” Hank says doubtfully, watching carefully to make sure Connor doesn’t stumble again. For the first time, he notices something he probably should have the moment he saw Connor, but it didn’t register until now, looking Connor up and down as he sways slightly on his feet. “You—don’t have pants,” he says blankly, staring down at the bare white thighs practically glowing in the moonlight. Connor’s crotch is barely covered by the long hem of the billowing shirt he wears.
Connor freezes, mouth opening and closing, before saying, “That’s correct.” His voice is empty of any inflection, and Hank abruptly turns around and drops to his open bag to hide his sudden embarrassment.
Digging through it, he finds the first pair of pants he can, some jeans that are probably way too big for Connor. When he pushes himself to his feet and offers them out, he’s careful to keep his gaze above the waistline. He waits with his eyes turned away while Connor pulls them on, using the wall for balance.
He’s not used to there being prisoners in these kinds of situations, and it changes things. It was bad odds before, and Hank accepted that, but with a victim, there’s no way Hank can justify continuing on, especially not with someone who’s been captured for over a year. When he’s sure Connor is a little more clothed, Hank says, “Alright, we need to get out of here before those fuckers come back. Doubt a little holy water is gonna keep Kamski down for too long.” He leans down to shove the bolt cutters back into his bag, tossing the clothes he’d rifled through on top as well.
“No,” Connor says, and Hank looks up sharply.
“I said no. I can’t leave until Kamski is dead.” Connor stares him down, his face shadowed but eyes oddly bright, catching some stray reflection.
Hank closes his bag and stands slowly, not breaking eye contact. “Kid. That isn’t happening. He’s too strong for just the two of us, especially if he decides to come at us with the two blonde freaks at the same time. Top it off, you’re in no condition to fight, you’ll just be a liability.”
“I’m more than capable of taking care of myself,” Connor says stiffly, obviously offended.
“That why you got caught in the first place?” Hank bites back.
Connor’s eyes narrow. “I was caught by surprise in an ambush. Now I am more than aware of what Kamski is capable of. With the two of us, we should be able to take them out.”
“No. Not a chance. This was bad enough when it was just me, I’m not babysitting your ass in the middle of a fight—then we’ll both be killed for sure.” Hank is acutely aware that the longer they stand here arguing the more dangerous it becomes. They’re letting themselves be sitting ducks for when Kamski regains his strength and decides to exterminate the rats in his basement, and he can already see Connor gearing up to argue. “Look, we don’t have time for this, we’re leaving. You’re too weak to be running around trying to fight monsters right now, you’ve been a fucking captive for over a year!”
“I am perfectly fine,” Connor says, cold and calm. “If you have a weapon I can borrow, we can take them out tonight.”
Hank wants to scream in frustration, but at the same time, he gets it. If he were in Connor’s situation—hell, his own situation isn't too far off, when it comes down to it—he’d be foaming at the mouth to get revenge on the monsters that have held him for so long. So he forces himself to take a deep breath, to keep his voice down as he says, “Kid, now isn’t the time for your revenge fantasy. We need to get out of here now.” Without waiting for an answer Hank hefts the bag over his shoulder, gets his shotgun under one arm, and grabs Connor with the other.
He feels Connor twitch, the tense of his muscles as he tries to pull away, but Hank gets a good grip on his arm and yanks him towards the shine of his flashlight through the arch.
“Let me go. If you won’t take care of Kamski, I will stay and do it myself.”
Hank ignores him, shaking his head as he bends down to grab the flashlight and shove it into Connor’s hands. “Hold that,” he says tersely, and then continues on with Connor in tow, pulling him up the steps.
Halfway up he feels the kid slowing, dragging Hank back. He tenses, thinking Connor’s about to try something stupid, but when he turns to look he finds Connor leaning heavily against the stone wall, the flashlight loose in his fist, his brows drawn tight together.
“Hey, you alright?”
Connor’s mouth drops open slightly and after a moment he nods. “Fine,” he says, but it sounds strained and Hank wonders if he’s going to have to carry Connor out of here. But Connor presses off the wall and nods to keep moving.
Hank shifts his grip, more worried now about Connor passing out than trying to run off and fight three vampires alone. Gets one arm around his back and under his arm to hold him up, just in case, and is surprised when Connor doesn’t argue. In his other arm he holds the shotgun at the ready as they continue up the stairs. It’s awkward, but it’ll have to do. These monsters are too fast for his pistol.
At the top of the stairs the blonde vampire still lays, unmoving. Connor looks down at her as they move past, face completely blank. For the first time, it allows him a good look at Connor, and he sees now what was hidden in shadow and moonlight.
He’s pale, almost deathly white, undoubtedly from his time down in the dungeon. His neck is peppered in old scars, white dots in pairs, and Hank has no doubt what those are from. But none of them are fresh, and Hank wonders why they stopped feeding from Connor. Bored of the same dish every night? Do monsters like that even discern a difference in blood?
The neck of Connor’s shirt is an open v that reaches almost to his sternum, wide and billowy like the sleeves. It’s clearly from a different time, much like this whole castle. On the front, over the left side of his chest, the fabric is stained a dark red. He can see more scars there, old, pale and faded, probably from his time as a hunter, if Hank had to guess. He’s got more than a few just like them himself, after all.
He forces himself to look away and stop ogling, stepping over the body on the carpet and down the hallway. It’s eerily calm as they trace the path Hank took here, into the next hallway, past the spot where Hank found out for sure that Kamski was a vampire, into the wide, elaborate entrance hall. They’re both tense, looking around for any sign of the monsters who inhabit this castle, but it’s quiet.
The front door is heavy, and Hank almost wonders how the little blonde servant managed to move it by herself, until he reminds himself of what she is. It takes Hank several long seconds, muscles straining, to get the door open with just one hand. Connor is quiet, jaw tense, looking around at the entrance hall warily.
“What, not gonna try to run off now and fight them yourself?” Hank asks sarcastically.
“It would be better to take care of them now,” Connor says, stiff. “Before someone else gets killed, or they relocate.” But he doesn’t fight as Hank drags him out into the cool night air.
“Yeah, well, it ain’t happening with us and you know it. Besides, you know these things’re territorial, they won’t leave for too long if they don’t have to.” If Connor can’t even shrug Hank off, there’s no way he’s going to be able to fight a centuries old vampire and his servants.
Connor must realize it too, because his shoulders slump. “I have to—” he starts, but doesn’t finish.
The truck is right where Hank left it, and he drags the passenger door open and helps Connor up before shutting it. He looks back at the open door of the castle as he rounds the front, half expecting to see Kamski or one of the blondes standing there, but it’s still empty. He throws his bag in the bed of the truck and swings into the driver’s seat, slamming the door. It cranks with an unhappy grumble, and Hank wastes no time throwing it into drive and flooring it.
He flies down the driveway, fully prepared to slam into the gates and blow them off their damn hinges, but they’re still wide open from when he and Kamski had passed through them earlier. He tries not to think too hard on that, that they’re somehow doing exactly what Kamski wants instead of making a clean escape.
It all feels too easy, and his gut churns as he rides through the forest on the dark, two lane road with his new passenger.
“We should get you to a hospital,” Hank says, startling Connor from the tense quiet and his own worried thoughts.
“No,” Connor says, calmer than he feels. His pathetic little heart beat picks up minutely. “I don’t require a hospital, and they would ask questions we can’t answer if we did go.”
Hank huffs but thankfully doesn’t argue, and Connor takes that as a victory. He has a few minor wounds, and the exhaustion plaguing him, but nothing he’d be able to explain to a doctor. Especially not the scars. Not the silvery ones ringing his wrists or the ones undoubtedly covering his neck. He raises a hand, pressing it to his chest, over the open wound beneath his shirt.
As a hunter, Hank knows and accepts that at least, but it doesn’t relax Connor. He watches the side mirrors, and the shadowy trees flying past, waiting for some sign of Kamski or a Chloe to come barreling out of the darkness.
Nothing happens, and uneasiness prickles down Connor’s spine. Over a year in captivity, only for Kamski to just let him go without a fight? Something doesn’t add up, but Connor is having a hard time seeing the bigger picture. He’s spent too long in the dark.
The trees give way to suburbs, and suburbs to the edges of a small town Connor doesn’t recognize. He’s never seen Kamski’s castle from the outside, or where it resides. He doesn’t even really know where they are, having been taken here after he lost the fight, unconscious of his surroundings. Hank is quiet the whole time, glancing over at him every now and then. Connor meets his eyes each time but doesn’t say anything. The only thing he wants to say is to tell Hank to turn around, to go back to the castle, to Kamski, but he knows that’s not going to happen, so he doesn’t.
Eventually Connor sees the neon sign of a motel coming up on their right, and Hank pulls into the cracked and littered parking lot. A few scattered cars line the building, and Hank pulls into an empty spot free of surrounding cars. The window of the room in front of them is lit up, and Connor sees the curtain shift and the shadow of movement.
He tenses, but Hank sees the motion and laughs. “Don’t worry, just my dog, Sumo.”
“I like dogs,” Connor says, a small smile twitching across his lips. He hasn’t seen a dog in a long time, and he’s suddenly looking forward to it with everything he has. He wonders what kind of dog it is, if it’s soft, if it will like him. He’d always wanted one, but Amanda had never—
He cuts himself off at the thought. He can’t think of her right now. Not yet. Not until Kamski is dead.
The moment Connor steps out of the car, deep, booming barks fill the air, even from behind the door.
“Hey! Sumo, chill the fuck out!” Hank calls, fumbling with the key at the door.
Connor is right behind him, a shiver running up his spine. The door opens and Hank shouts as a big Saint Bernard barrels at his knees, trying to get past, only to be trapped against the frame as Hank catches him. Connor freezes, the smile dropping from his face at the furious snarling and barking. Sumo fights against Hank to get at Connor, jowls snapping and dripping.
“Sumo! What’s gotten into you! Move, back up!” Hank shouts, leaning down to grab the dog’s collar and wrestle him inside. “Hold on!” The door slams shut behind him, leaving Connor standing beneath the neon purple lights.
There’s still barking from inside for a minute, and then it abruptly cuts off. Connor crosses his arms, suddenly wishing he had something more solid than this flimsy shirt Kamsky made him wear and pants that are too big for him. After a moment, the door opens again, and Hank gestures him in.
“Sorry, I think he can smell that place on you. You know how dogs are, they don’t like the smell of those monsters.”
The smell of those monsters. Connor enters cautiously and spots Sumo standing at the end of the nearest bed, a leather muzzle wrapped securely around his snout. He growls as Hank closes the door behind Connor, but doesn’t make a move towards him.
“He’s trained, don’t worry, he’s not gonna jump on you. Once he gets used to you he won’t care,” Hank says, moving around Connor and shooing Sumo into the corner where a dog bed sits. Sumo goes to it, laying down, but his head swivels to follow Connor.
“I hope so,” Connor says, heart heavy. He’s always loved dogs, and it seems like such a simple thing to be upset over, but he can’t help the sinking in his chest. He’s always wanted one, a hunting partner to keep him company and help him detect vampires as Hank is obviously doing, but now that can’t happen.
He’s still standing by the door when Hank comes to him, holding out a shirt and some sweatpants. “Here, something that might fit a little better than,” he gestures at Connor.
Connor takes them and heads to the bathroom on the other side of the room. He has to pass the dog bed on the way, but true to Hank’s word, Sumo doesn’t move. Just watches him, growling low in his throat.
The bathroom is small, and a little dingy. The bulb casts a yellow light on the stained porcelain sink. It’s a wholly different sight from what he’s used to in Kamski’s castle. Lavish washrooms with clawfoot tubs that Kamski had forced him into.
He shakes his head, focusing instead on the the soft, worn fabric in his hands. Something else he hasn’t encountered in while. Even being on his feet for so long is almost disorienting—he feels like any moment cold hands will land on his shoulder, force him to his knees.
He needs to go back. He could take Hank’s shotgun, he knows it’s in the back of Hank’s truck. He paid attention to the signs and turns, he could find his way to Kamski’s castle again with ease. He imagines it, standing there holding the soft clothes. Imagines storming the mansion all on his own, and being captured immediately. Returned to the dungeon, strapped in silver, punished.
The wound on his chest aches.
Hank is right—he’s useless in a fight right now—but he needs to kill Kamski. He has to. Before anyone—thinks he’s anything other than completely human. Because he is human. He’s not any different than the person he was before. He’s still Connor Stern. He’s human.
His stomach clenches and he ignores the gnawing hunger.
The sweat pants are loose, but much more comfortable than the oversized jeans. The shirt is plain, black, made of thin cotton. He pulls off the old shirt Kamski had put him in and pulls the new one over his head quickly, avoiding the mirror. The old one he tosses into the trash under the sink.
When he leaves the bathroom, he finds Hank perched on one of the two beds, on the side between them. He’s changed into shorts and a blue shirt with a sports logo on the front. A red bag sits next to him, open, spilling bandages and cotton balls and bottles of antiseptic. Connor pauses and Hank glances at him, eyeing him up and down, before patting the bed next to him.
“Come on, kid, let’s get you patched up.”
“I’m perfectly fine,” Connor says, unmoving.
“You sure say that a lot for someone who’s definitely not fine,” Hank grumbles, patting the bed again. “Come on, I saw the blood on your shirt, let me look it over and then you’re off the hook.”
Connor raises a hand to his chest, over the left side. It stings when he puts pressure there, and already the shirt is growing damp over the spot, the fresh blood hidden by the dark fabric. Still, he shakes his head, moving to sit across from Hank on the unused bed. Sumo looks at him as he passes, making a low, menacing noise when Connor comes too close.
“I appreciate your concern, but I’ll be alright. It’s nothing serious, it should be fine in a few days,” Connor says, dropping his hand into his lap. More than that, he doesn’t want Hank, or anyone, to see it.
“Then it won’t hurt to make sure,” Hank says.
“If it’s fine, why are you trying to hide it?” Hank snaps, glaring. “Thought you were some kind of renowned hunter? You should know better about this shit. Even a small cut can turn deadly around these creatures.” His voice rises in anger and he gestures with a packet of antiseptic wipes. “You just got out of there, are you so eager to put yourself into the fucking ground just cause you’re embarassed about a little cut?”
Every word stings unexpectedly because it’s true. As an experienced hunter, he should know better. Shouldn’t have gotten caught in the first place. He wasn’t careful enough, wasn’t fast enough, let himself be led into a trap just because he’d been so sure he could make it out. This is his fault.
The fight runs out of him. It’s just a few cuts, it doesn’t matter if this stranger sees. He won’t be able to tell anything about what happened from them, and it won’t hurt Connor any to have them bandaged.
“Fine,” he says, and Hank rolls his eyes but looks relieved.
“Good. Better than you getting a fucking infection.”
Connor’s fingers find the hem of the borrowed shirt. He hesitates, aware of Hank’s expectant gaze, before taking a breath and pulling it over his head. It doesn’t matter. It’s just a few marks. They don’t mean anything.
He lets the shirt puddle in his lap, fingers tangled in the cloth. He meets Hank’s gaze briefly, but the startled look has him dropping it quickly. Instead, he finds his eyes unwillingly drawn to his own chest. There are scars of all kinds marring his skin, from the life he led before being captured. Each one is a mark of his own failure to be careful, to keep ahead of the beings that would hurt innocent people. Something his family never failed to remind him of. But it’s the marks he received from Kamski that have shame burning through him.
Most of them are healed, already scarred. Bite marks and claw marks and knife wounds. Much of what they did to him healed, and after a certain point it wasn’t even an issue. It’s the wound over his chest that’s the exception.
Right over his heart, a reminder of who he belongs to.
The skin there is burned around the knife marks, a few drops of blood beading up. Connor’s hands clench in the shirt and he looks at the floor instead.
“Uh. Shit,” Hank mutters.
Connor tenses as Hank stands and moves to sit next to him, the bed dipping as Hank draws his leg up and turns to face Connor.
“Okay, I’m just gonna clean it up real quick. This is gonna hurt.”
“I’m aware of how this works,” Connor says flatly.
He keeps his face turned away, and the first touch of a warm hand on his chest startles him. He grits his teeth, feeling hot and sick. With his shirt off, the smell of blood is filling his nose. Even though it’s his own, he can’t help the way his stomach clenches. He digs his fingers into his leg through the shirt and pants, pinching himself.
Something soft and cool touches his skin, sliding over the marks, and he doesn’t make a sound, but it’s a near thing. It stings through his chest, the antiseptic seeping into the wound like a knife. He thinks of Kamski holding the blade over his unmarked skin the first time. The water running off the blade, hissing against his sternum, making Connor cry out in pain. The way it burned deep in his chest when Kamski made the first cut.
“Damn. Fucker must have used a used a heated knife,” Hank says, voice soft, sympathetic.
Connor doesn’t correct him. Doesn’t say it had been a silver one, doused in holy water. That Kamski refreshed the scar every week to make it thick and legible. To make it permanent.
Eventually, Connor manages to turn his head back, to watch Hank work. Focusing on that instead of the memories of Kamski swimming in his head.
Hank’s hand is big as it holds the tiny, damp cotton ball. He runs it gently over the wound, turning the white cotton pink, revealing the angry red flesh beneath. He goes through several while cleaning the wound, and Connor thinks he should say he can do it himself. He can clean it. But it’s easier to let Hank work, to watch the hands dab burn cream onto the end of a cotton swab and run it carefully around the edges of the letters.
He steals a glance at Hank’s face as he works, the lined brow scrunched in concentration. Blue eyes pale and steady. He’s older, rough and handsome, but the worry and kindness on his face is almost unfamiliar, especially towards Connor, a stranger. Connor looks away before he can be caught staring, something in his chest squeezing tight.
No one has cleaned and dressed his wounds in a very long time. Not since his training in first aid as a child. Independence is one of the cornerstones of the Stern family, and part of Connor feels guilty that he’s once more failing to live up to his training, but another part is relieved and grateful. And guilty of his thankfulness.
Useless sentimentality, Amanda seems to hiss in the back of his mind.
“Thank you,” he finally manages, tongue thick and dry in his mouth.
Hank huffs, glancing up at him and back down at his work. “Well, you weren’t going to take care of it, so someone had to.”
“I meant for rescuing me,” Connor says. “But thank you for this, too.”
“Oh. Yeah, no problem. That’s kind of our job, after all.” Hank shrugs as he peels the backing off a large, square bandage. He presses a pad of gauze to Connor’s chest and seals it in with the bandage. “There you go. All done. We’ll check it tomorrow, see how it’s doing. In the meantime, I’m gonna grab us some food and then I’m hitting the sack.”
Connor sits up straight. “Kamski—”
“Tomorrow, kid,” Hank cuts him off. “We’ll figure out a game plan in the morning, right now I need some food and some fucking sleep, and I’m sure you do too.”
His stomach doesn’t growl, but Connor feels the ache low in his belly. The thought of having anything to ease the hunger sounds very appealing, and he nods slowly.
“Great, you sit tight, I’m heading across the street to grab something from the diner. Any preferences?” Hank stands, snatching keys and wallet off the nightstand between the two beds.
Even something like greasy diner food sounds good to him at the moment, though he’s used to a much healthier diet. Before being caught, that is. His diet since has consisted of—
“No. Anything will do,” he says quickly, shaking his head.
“Right. Be right back.”
It takes twenty minutes, and in that time Connor turns on the tv, watches three minutes of reality shows, and then turns it back off. He examines the small motel room, with its faded and wrinkled yellow wallpaper. He looks at the bags at the end of one of the beds, one spilling clothes, the other closed up, but presumably carrying more hunter gear.
He thinks about grabbing it, going back to Kamski’s castle.
Sumo stares silently at him from his dog bed the whole time.
He’s still there when the motel door opens and Hank comes in with two paper bags turning dark at the bottom with grease. Wordlessly, Hank hands him one, and Connor says his thanks as he opens it and picks out a wrapped burger from inside.
It smells strange, and his first bite tastes even stranger. Too strong, the oils and condiments heavy in his mouth, overwhelming. But he’s hungry, and he forces himself to chew. He finishes it soon enough, moves on to the fries. They’re no better, the salt nearly burning his tongue and the fried starch rough on his tongue, but he puts each one in his mouth mechanically. Forcing himself to eat it all.
This is the only food he needs. Something solid, something real. Burgers, fries, and the bottle of water Hank digs out of his bag and tosses his way. It’s normal, it’s what people eat, even if he can’t remember the last time that he did this. Can’t remember when his last real meal was, because it was almost a year ago.
Even when the fries are gone and his belly is full, he’s still hungry.
End of the first scene hints at noncon, last scene, which begins with a double dash "--" is more explicit.
He struggles up from unconsciousness with a headache pounding against the front of his skull, beating like a prisoner trying to break through.
“Awake finally?” A smooth, deep voice asks from somewhere in front of him, and Connor blinks slowly, vision blurry, thoughts a confused morass.
“Niles?” he murmurs. Is he at home? His vision focuses, but it’s hard to see in the dark. He’s upright, for some reason, kneeling on a rough stone floor. His mind reaches back, searching for where he was before, what he was doing—fighting, he thinks. Fighting some kind of monster, a vampire, but what happened next?
“Niles?” the smooth voice says, amusement brimming around the word. “Your brother, I assume. No, unfortunately for you, I’m not your brother. My name is Ellijah Kamski.”
There’s some light because his eyes are slowly adjusting, his thoughts swimming towards cohesion. He gets a foot under himself, trying to stand, but he’s yanked suddenly back by something around his wrists, and he finally realizes his arms are raised above and behind him. The clink of chains is loud when he yanks on them, and panic floods through him as he finally pieces his thoughts together.
He’d gotten word of a possible vampire and gone to investigate the area it was said to inhabit. But it had been a trap. He’d been ambushed the moment he’d stepped into the abandoned house. Swarmed by more of them than he’d been warned about, taken down almost instantly.
He shouldn’t be alive, and his eyes finally find the being standing before him. Kamski is pale as a ghost, hair pulled neatly back into a small bun. It’s hard to tell what he’s wearing, but he looks like he came out of an 18th century painting, the style all wrong, too old.
His eyes flash briefly, a deep, vibrant red, and a chill goes down Connor’s spine.
“Where am I?”
“In my home, Connor,” Kamski says, a smile curving his lips. “I saved you, as it were. They would have torn you apart, but I graciously convinced them to spare you and give you to me.”
“Did you set that trap?” Connor asks, trying to remain calm. What does one of these monsters want with him?
Kamski doesn’t answer right away, drawing closer, reaching out with one gloved hand. Connor jerks his head away, but quick as a snake Kamski grabs his jaw and forces his gaze forward. “My associates were interested in taking care of the Stern boys. They decided to put out the word, to draw you in. It’s a shame the Stern family insists on operating independently—we could have had the whole family down here. But they’re happy for now with having just one out of the way, and I get to finally see one of you up close.” The hand turns his head from side to side, and Connor strains to resist, but the grip is like iron, the force moving him inhuman. “I’d just love to see what makes you tick.”
“They’ll find you,” Connor says, glaring up at Kamski’s amused face. “If you don’t release me, they will hunt you down.”
“Oh, my associates are counting on that,” Kamski says with a laugh. “Should they follow your trail, they’ll find quite a warm welcome waiting for them. But don’t you worry about that now. Right now, you should be worried about why you’re here.”
Wariness slips down into Connor’s chest, wrapping around his lungs, squeezing at the predatory look Kamski is giving him. “Why? What purpose does keeping me alive serve?”
“My own amusement, of course. You’re fascinating—all that tenacity and fearlessness. You don’t even flinch to look at me, knowing what I am.” Kamski leans in close, cool breath ghosting over Connor’s cheek, making him shiver. “I can’t wait to break that.”
The hand on Connor’s jaw jerks his head up, and he cries out as Kamski leans in, sharp teeth piercing Connor’s neck. He feels all four, the lower ones burying deep, holding him steady. He rattles the chains, pulling against the thick cuffs around his wrists as wetness slips down his neck. He tries to kick, but Kamski seats himself across Connor’s lap like a lover, sucking against his neck.
He’s never been bitten before, never allowed one of these creatures so close, and disgust fills him at how easily he was overpowered. At the being stealing his blood, lapping at his neck like an animal. In minutes he’s lightheaded and his struggles slow. Vision spotting, a darkness within darkness dancing across his eyes, until he’s hanging limp in his chains. He’s sure he’s going to pass out, that Kamski is going to drain him dry, but before that can happen Kamski is pulling away, looking down at Connor with a relaxed, content expression. He runs a tongue over his teeth and lips, licking up the red smeared there
Exhaustion pulls at Connor, as if he’d run a ten mile marathon, and his vision swims again. He can barely keep his head upright.
Kamski is leaning in again and Connor can’t even pull away. Hands on his belt, smoothly undoing the buckle. They force his pants down, make him straighten his legs out to drag them off of him. He kicks weakly, but Kamski ignores it entirely.
The stone is cold against his backside, wrists straining, arms growing sore the longer they take his weight. But then even colder hands are gripping his thighs, pulling them open and Connor is too weak to struggle as Kamski leers down at him and—
For once Hank is up relatively early, roused from sleep by his own body’s demands. He doesn’t remember closing the curtains, but they’re drawn tight over the windows, and he flips on the bedside lamp and examines the clock It’s nearing noon, but that makes it an early day for Hank, used to nights on the hunt. Even though exhaustion pulls at his eyes and insists he returns to bed, he has to piss like a racehorse and his stomach rumbles. Sumo sits up from the corner slowly, sad eyes watching Hank from behind the muzzle over his snout.
“Sorry, buddy,” Hank mumbles sleepily, pausing on the way to the bathroom to take Sumo’s head between his hands and give him a few good rubs. “I’ll take that off when you can behave around the kid.”
Sumo huffs and lays back down while Hank shakes some more dry food from a small bag into Sumo’s bowl and fills his water from the bathroom sink. The muzzle gives enough room to eat at least. He decides he’ll shower later, take care of the necessities first.
The diner across the street is twenty-four hours, and the food last night was just the right amount of grease and fat that Hank is craving it. He takes care of business and shoves on his shoes, slouching like some rough beast towards Bethlehem as he crosses the highway in the same clothes he slept in.
Breakfast is still on the menu, and none of the few diners give him even a second look as he orders enough for two to go, as well as a large coffee while he waits. It gives him plenty of time to finally start feeling human again, and he sips at the coffee and looks out the large windows towards the motel.
The kid—not really a kid, but a damn sight younger than Hank if he had to guess—was still sleeping peacefully when he left. If he’s up, they’ll start talking game plans, and he can tell already Connor’s not gonna like what he has to say. They can’t fight Kamski on their own and they need backup. Hank got lucky, that’s all it can be called. If Kamski and his servants had decided to take him on all at once, it’s unlikely he would have survived.
It’s weird that Kamski captured Connor instead of just killing him, but if Hank had to guess, he’d say it was a way of taunting Connor, a hunter. Those initials cut into Connor’s skin with a blade hot enough to burn. The way Connor wouldn’t, or couldn’t, look at them for a good while. It makes Hank’s skin crawl. There were other signs on his body of further torture, older torture, and all speaks to the creature wanting to torment Connor with his failure to kill him first.
Hank’s hand clenches around the foam coffee cup too tight, and he barely avoids spilling it down his front. Whatever reason Kamski had for keeping Connor, part of it was undoubtedly the power and control. The hunter becoming the prey.
He’ll have to check the wound when Connor wakes up, probably re-bandage it. Same with his own cuts and scrapes he’d received in the fight. He’d gotten them all bandaged up while Connor took his time in the bathroom—nothing too bad, thankfully, but his side aches where one of the blonde servants had scratched him up good.
When he gets the paper bags of food he gets a refill on the coffee and then heads back to the motel. Surprisingly, Connor is still asleep. Or maybe unsurprisingly, considering this is probably the first time he’s slept in a bed in over a year. Hank sets Connor’s food on the bedside table and digs into his own, a bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit and a waffle as big as his head.
Connor still hasn’t woken by the time Hank finishes eating and the clock is trending towards afternoon. Hank eyes the still form beneath the blanket for a few moments, sipping the last of his cooled coffee. The tuft of hair sticking out from underneath is dark brown, and that’s all Hank can see of him. He’s on his side, and the rise of his shoulder and slope of his waist are serene and unmoving.
He’s not breathing.
Panic jolts through him and Hank rises suddenly, setting the coffee down on the bedside table, crossing the small distance between their beds in a single step. His hand hovers over that thin shoulder, heart pounding, and then he grips it and shakes roughly.
“Connor?” he says, uncertain. “Connor, are you—?”
The body beneath shifts, the blanket tugging up, off of the head of brown hair. Hank draws back, feeling relieved and stupid in equal turns when Connor blinks up at him, squinting through gritty sleep against the lamp light. His eyebrows draw together in confusion, and then he sits up suddenly, eyes wide, looking around himself.
“Uh, sorry, you’ve just, uh, well,” Hank stumbles for an excuse that doesn’t involve him thinking Connor had died like a paranoid idiot. “It’s getting late in the day, thought you might like breakfast?” Hank gestures to the bag on the shared bedside table
“Oh,” he says quietly, still looking around like he can’t quite believe where he is. “Thank you.”
“Yeah, no problem.”
While Connor slowly reaches for the bag and pulls out the same meal Hank had gotten for himself, Hank whistles for Sumo. The big dog lugs himself up from the bed, and Hank doesn’t miss how Connor pauses in unwrapping his biscuit to watch Sumo pass. Sumo, for his part, glances at Connor too, but at least isn’t growling at him.
“Be back in a minute,” Hank says, hooking a leash to Sumo’s collar and leading him out into the parking lot.
There’s a spotty patch of grass to the left of their room before a chain link fence cuts the property off from the strip mall next door. Sumo sniffs through it for only a moment before dropping down into a squat, and Hank pulls his phone out of his pocket, browsing the news as he lets Sumo lead him around.
It’s getting colder, the yellowing leaves dropping off branches, leaving bare, desiccated limbs behind. For the moment, with the warmth of the day still on him in this little patch of grass, it feels good, though night time leaves him pulling on his jacket and turning the heat up a little.
Sumo is happy to be outside, given space to move, and eventually Hank decides to loop the handle of the leash around his truck’s trailer hitch and let the dog enjoy it for a bit. It doesn’t give him much room, but Sumo happily walks around the back of the truck, watching the cars going by on the highway and sniffing at the gravel.
Inside the motel room, Connor is done with his breakfast, sitting on the end of the bed and staring at nothing, looking lost in thought. Hank digs through his bag, coming up with the first aid kit, and Connor finally looks up when Hank drops down next to him on the mattress, looking at him expectantly.
“It’s fine,” Connor says immediately, a hand coming up, covering the spot where the initials sit underneath his shirt.
“It’ll be more fine if we change the bandages.”
They share a challenging look, Connor clearly considering Hank, weighing their stubbornness against each other. Connor relents with considerably less quarrel this time, thin muscles tense as he lifts his shirt enough for Hank to peel back the bandages. The wad of gauze sticks to the wounds when he pulls it off, but to Connor’s credit he doesn’t flinch or make a sound, though he steadfastly looks away, a muscle in his jaw jumping.
Hank cleans it quickly, too aware of everything about Connor. From his smooth, cool skin to the fingers curling in his pants leg. The letters aren’t much better than yesterday, the skin raw and red, seeping blood still. Hank gives it the same treatment—antiseptic and burn cream on the damaged skin to help ease the ache.
He can’t help noting the other marks on Connor’s torso. More bite marks and burn wounds and cuts that are shiny and freshly scarred rather than old and white. Dappled, puckered skin around his ribs that look like burn wounds, much like the ones around the letters. He’d seen them last night too, but was too focused on making sure Connor couldn’t get an infection to really look. Now though, he can see which were from previous hunts, and which were definitely from Connor’s time with Kamski, and the latter outnumbers the former.
When Hank covers it with a fresh pad of gauze and another bandage, he pats Connor’s arm lightly, letting him know he’s done. Connor drops the shirt without looking at it, but at least he relaxes some.
Since Hank’s already got the first aid kit out he twists to the side, lifting his own shirt. From the corner of his eye, he catches Connor looking at him in alarm as he peels his own bandages up, one hand coming up to cover his mouth. The bandage is bloody but the cuts themselves aren’t bleeding.
“You okay?” Hank asks, pausing with the bandage in his hand to make sure Connor isn’t suddenly going to hurl on him.
Connor nods, but his eyes are locked onto the bandage as he says, “Yes, I’m—” He doesn’t finish his sentence, standing abruptly and walking quickly towards the front door, his pale face stony. It closes quietly behind him, and Hank stares at the door for a good minute, processing the odd reaction.
Maybe not so odd. He was a fellow hunter before, but after a year in captivity with a vampire it shouldn’t be a wonder that maybe he’s got some issues now, especially with the sight of blood. Kid’s probably got a case of PTSD after whatever Kamski put him through, and Hank frowns at the thought as he continues cleaning his own wound.
He’s so young, at least compared to Hank. So young to be faced with this kind of shit. Makes something in Hank ache in sympathy.
He finishes up cleaning and re-bandaging his cuts and follows Connor outside. The sun is well on its way to setting behind the motel, casting a deep shadow. Connor is standing under the awning in the shade, and Sumo has come around the side of the truck to stare at him, making that low growling sound. Connor is standing stone still, watching Sumo.
“Hey, Sumo! Stop that, don’t growl at Connor, he’s a damn friend,” Hank says, and the growling stops as Sumo looks at him, droopy eyes questioning. “Sorry about him. He’ll warm up eventually.”
“It’s fine,” Connor says, which seems to be his mantra.
“Yeah. Anyways, I was thinking about what we should do about Kamski.” Hank’s hands find his pockets and he leans against the brick wall next to the window.
“We need to go back,” Connor says, quiet. “We can go in during the day, when he’ll most likely be sleeping. One of the Chloes will stay awake, keep watch, but the others—the other, now—will sleep too.”
“Look, I know you wanna get revenge, or whatever, but we need backup. I got lucky with the holy water, scared him off for a bit, but that won’t happen again, and you’re still too weak.” Connor turns his head sharply and Hank raises his hands. “No offence, but you just got out of there. Even if you can walk now, they’re gonna be prepared for us.”
“Do you have people in the area we can contact?” Connor asks, looking out over the parking lot. “We should do this as soon as possible.” A light breeze tousles his hair, the strands falling in his face. He pushes them back quickly, but for a moment he looks even younger, his brows pinched, a frown tugging at his lips.
“Actually,” Hank says, a lightbulb going off at Connor’s words. “I don’t, but I know where we can get some help.”
Connor turns to him, one eyebrow raised curiously.
“Your family. We should get you back to them anyways, let ‘em know you’re still alive. They’ve got the experience and force to take on a powerful creature like Kamski. We’d be killing two birds with one stone.” As Hank speaks, the sudden eagerness in Connor’s expression vanishes. “What? What’s wrong with that idea?”
It takes a minute, Connor staring out at nothing, jaw working. “That will take too long.”
“It’s not like they’re gonna pack up and run,” Hank says, frowning. “Creatures like Kamski don’t do that. They stake out a territory and make it theirs—you should know that. We got time to gather resources and give ourselves a fighting chance.”
Connor is silent again, arms coming up, crossing in front of him. Hank hopes he’s talked some sense into Connor, but after a moment, Connor says, “I’d rather not get my family involved.”
Connor gives him a look Hank can’t quite parse. Beneath the blankness there’s something painfully scared in his just slightly too-wide eyes and parted lips. “They’re likely conducting their own hunts regardless. I don’t see them halting their business to come help with my failed one.”
“Kid, of course they’d help you. They’re your family, and they think you’ve been dead for a year. Why wouldn’t they?”
But Connor turns his head away, expression smoothing again. He shakes his head and says nothing, and Hank stares at his temple, at a faint scar, faded and white, marking some old wound. He’s kidding, right? Hank doesn’t know much about the Sterns, but what family wouldn’t be ecstatic to find out their lost son is still alive?
“Look, the least we can do is try,” Hank says carefully. “Whether they want to help or not, they need to know you’re alive.”
“We could do this ourselves,” Connor says curtly. “You managed to kill a Chloe on your own.”
“Yeah, one on one. We’re not likely to be facing them one on one next time,” Hank bites. “Kid, why the hell are you so insistent on trying to fight him without backup when we can go in with a force that actually stands a chance?”
As soon as the words are out of his mouth Hank is struck by the familiarity of the sentiment. Connor’s not looking at him, doesn’t reply, but his gaze drops to the ground, almost guiltily. It’s what Hank had done, what Hank was still doing. Going into situations he didn’t care if he didn’t have a chance in.
It would make sense, after what he’s been through. Wanting to destroy what hurt him, no matter the cost to himself. Even if it was his life. Maybe even especially if it was that, so he wouldn’t have to live with it all afterwards. Shit.
The silence stretches on, tense as a bowstring, and Hank wishes he could say something, talk Connor down from these feelings, but he hardly knows what to tell himself, let alone a kid who’s just been held captive and tortured for a year. Nothing ever really gets better, as far as Hank’s seen, it just doesn’t fucking stop. Time keeps moving. If Connor had his family to support him, though, that could actually make a difference.
“Look,” Hank says, half-way to giving voice to these thoughts. He swerves at the last second, self-consciousness holding him back. They’re practically strangers, it’s hardly Hank’s place to try and give Connor advice on not killing himself. “I’m gonna start packing up. No point hanging around, and I still vote your family is our best bet. Unless you know someone else, that’s the plan.”
Connor doesn’t look at him, shoulders drawing up into a tight line, nodding his head once. Hank takes it for reluctant acceptance and heads back into the room, and after a moment, Connor’s soft footsteps follow.
There’s not much to pack. This is the longest he’s stayed in one place, but even then he hasn’t bothered making it more homey. Dirty clothes he tosses in the bag with the shotgun, to be cleaned at the next stop they make. Clean clothes are a matter of just shoving them back into the bag they’re all spilling out of.
Before he can get to that, Connor picks up a hoodie from the pile of clothes, a thick gray thing with some old band logo on the front. “Can I borrow this?”
“Sure, knock yourself out,” Hank says, waving a hand carelessly, but mentally making a note to stop for Connor to get some clothes. Kid can’t keep running around in Hank’s oversized pants, and it is getting colder. Better to be prepared.
It doesn’t take long to pack—Hank makes sure of it. Wherever he goes, he’s ready for a quick escape just in case. If it means he never puts down roots, well, it’s because he has no roots to put down anymore anyways.
Before long Hank is handing in the key at the front desk. Connor sits in the cab of his truck, swimming in that gray hoodie, the hood pulled up over his head. Sumo paces in the bed of the truck, muzzle gone now that they’re separated and Sumo isn’t barking his head off again. Hank climbs into the driver’s seat and cranks it, then, glancing over at Connor with his arms crossed and head tilted down, Hank turns the heat on some.
Connor shoots him a small smile, just a short quirk of his lips that Hank is almost convinced he only imagined, before ducking his head again until the only thing Hank can see of him is the tip of his nose.
They pull out of the lot and onto the highway with the sun behind them, streaking the sky in front of them gold and pink. They have to head east a ways, to Michigan, where the Sterns make their home. It’s a long fucking drive, and one Hank hasn’t made in years. Must be fate that has him heading back there now, and all he can do is grit his teeth. This is why he became a hunter, after all. To slay these monsters, make sure as few families get hurt by them as possible.
If that means going back to Michigian, then so be it.
First though, he pulls up to the next store he sees, a little dollar store. Hank gets out and gestures for Connor to do the same. “Come on, kid.”
“What do you need to buy?”
“Not what I need, it’s what you need. We got a few days before we hit Michigan, and I’m not going to make you spend it in my old shit. Grab a couple changes of clothes and whatever else you need, I’ll buy it.” Hank says as they step into the bright fluorescent interior.
Connor falters. “I don’t have any way to pay you back at the moment.”
Hank just waves a hand. “Not looking for you to pay me back. Grab what you need.” He makes enough with these hunts when people put out the call. Not very lucrative, but it keeps him and Sumo fed and warm when it matters. Besides that, he’s got savings to pull on consisting of his retirement fund. He’s not in dire need of money by any means, and it certainly doesn’t put him out any to get Connor some clothes that fit.
“Oh. Well then, thank you. I appreciate it,” Connor says, eyebrows pinching, looking almost lost.
“Yeah, don’t mention it.”
He follows Connor over to the single aisle of cheap clothes and, for lack of anything better to do, watches Connor pick out a couple of plain, long-sleeved shirts and jeans. With Halloween a week gone more than a few of the clearance shirts have cheesy jokes on them, or images of witches and pumpkins. Connor glances at each one, and Hank can’t help smiling at the silly cartoons.
The shit people turn their worst nightmares into the make them less scary has never ceased to amuse Hank, and he thinks about buying one of the shirts himself. One with a zombie, arms out, wrapped in yellow paper in front of a tiny graveyard. There are hoodie and sweatshirts, too, and Connor pulls one out to inspect it, a deep navy with a purple cartoon bat in front of a pale yellow circle meant to be the moon. His lips quirk briefly, and Hank’s sure he’ll add it to the small pile of clothes, but he stuffs it back amongst the rest of the jackets and moves on. Hank glances at it as he walks past, at the price tag advertising it for 75% off, then follows.
Connor had pulled the hood down when they came into the store, and his hair curls across his creased forehead as he checks the tags. He’s kinda cute.
“Gonna go grab some stuff,” Hank says quickly, and stomps away before Connor can reply, shaking his head at himself. Kinda cute? What the fuck is he, a twelve year old? His face feels hot and he runs a hand through his hair, nervous for no reason. Not like Connor could hear his stupid thoughts.
He distracts himself in the medicine aisle, grabbing bandages, antiseptic, cotton balls, ibuprofen, and anything else he can think of to refill his first aid kit. He goes through the damn thing quick, especially with a third being to take care of, and ends up needing to go and grab a hand basket so he’s not juggling a dozen items at once. On his way, he also spots a cheap flask sitting in a bucket of clearance items. He throws it in the basket too, glad to have gotten a replacement so quickly.
By the time he finds Connor again, the kid’s moved on from the clothes and is inspecting a pack of metal nail files in front of a wall of nail and eyelash products. He glances up at Hank’s approach and starts to put them back, but Hank holds out the basket.
“You want ‘em? Go for it.” If the kid wants to indulge in a little self-grooming that’s more than fine with Hank.
Connor adds it to the basket, and Hank gestures for him to add the clothes as well. It’s getting heavy, but he figures they’re about done anyways.
“Anything else?” he asks as they head towards the register.
“Just one,” Connor says, with a slight question to his tone.
Hank gestures him on, and watches as Connor finds a spinning rack of sunglasses. Only when Hank’s sure Connor is suitably distracted does he head back to the clothing aisle. The hoodie is exactly where Connor left it and Hank snags it from the hanger, folding it up and tucking it under the rest of the clothes piled on top, before going back up front.
He’s just in time as Connor settles on a pair of aviator glasses, looking at himself only briefly in a thin little mirror before turning back towards Hank.
The big lenses are an opaque black, and they look good on him, though they hide his sweet brown eyes, which is a shame in Hank’s quiet opinion.
Connor takes them off, slips them on top of the clothes in the basket, and nods. “I believe that’s all I need.”
They check out, the uninterested girl at the counter barely saying a word as she bags the items and gives the total. Back out in the lot Connor pulls the hood over his head. The sun has settled behind the trees and deep shadows fill the lot. Sumo paces in the back of the truck, and Hank gives him a pat on the way to the cab.
Then they’re off again, pulling back onto the highway, watching the little town where Kamski makes his home disappear in the mirror.
If he had to guess he’d say he’s been here a month, but that’s a conservative estimate. The days can be measured by the sun gliding down the wall and across the floor, and yet they slip away from him so easily. It’s hard to keep track with how often Kamski drains him, leaving him weak and barely cognizant.
Drained of blood and—fucked, he thinks bitterly.
He often passes out, and doesn’t know how long he’s unconscious for. Sometimes it’s still dark when he wakes and Kamski is gone, but he has no idea if it’s the same night or another night altogether. The passage of time is slippery.
Even when he doesn’t feed, Kamski is down here often. At least during these visits Kamski is content with only brief touches. Sated by the last encounter and waiting for Connor’s strength to renew so Kamski can feed again. Looking only to make Connor squirm. He feels as if he’s being tested during these visits, and he’s not sure what results Kamski is looking for, but he never seems displeased, only amused.
Occasionally Kamski’s blond servants, all of which seem to be named Chloe, will come with food and a key. He’s seen the opulent upper halls long enough to be lead through them to the bathroom, where he’s allowed to bathe and relieve himself. Twice, he’s attempted to use makeshift weapons—shower curtain rod and shards of the mirror he broke with his fist. Both times, weakened by hunger and exhaustion, he’d been almost powerless to fight off the three creatures at once.
Kamski had been displeased then, and the back of Connor’s legs ached for what was probably a week afterwards with the caning Kamski had given him. It’s not the only fun Kamski has found in hurting him, but it’s the most physically painful so far, and he hasn’t attempted escaping again.
Not yet, anyways. If another moment presents itself, and he’s sure it will, he won’t waste it. Creatures like Kamski are always so sure of themselves, positive they know how everyone around them thinks and behaves. That he’s the only one seeing the complete picture while everyone else stumbles around blindly.
It reminds Connor of his mother, in a way, and it’s a cold thought.
Between these moments with Kamski his hours are empty and endless. He tries his chains, but they’re bolted into the wall, and the shackles are thick. He doubts even a creature like Kamski could break out of these, but it doesn’t stop him grabbing the chains, setting a foot against the wall, and pulling until his hands burn. He turns to the bolt in the wall, prying with his nails and fingers, leaving streaks of red on the stone. It doesn’t budge and the window, as close as it is, is unreachable.
He never hears Kamski’s approach, never aware of him until the light of his candle begins to creep down the stairs. Slumped in his shackles, Connor always straightens as the soft glow suffuses across the stones. He won’t be caught looking defeated and vulnerable, not if he can help it. He gets his knees under him and sits upright even as they protest the rough floor, scraped red and raw.
He brings a candle in a brass holder with him, though he has no need of the light. It’s for Connor’s sake, so that he’s forced to look on his captor, to know Kamski’s face. He likes to talk, to touch, to comment on Connor’s beauty. How lucky he is Kamski decided to keep him. He’s sure Kamski is trying to influence him in some way, and he doesn’t want to hear the creature talk about him like this, but he can’t not listen either. It’s in his training to always look for information to help him against his foes.
“You’re a rare specimen, Connor. Not many humans have been privileged to live long in my presence. I couldn’t pass up the chance to have a Stern here, and to have such a beautiful one at that?” Kamski’s eyes rake up and down Connor’s body, and he can do nothing to hide himself from that piercing gaze. “Haven’t you ever wondered what it would be like, to become like me? Powerful, unstoppable. You could fulfill your family’s mission so easily. Any creature would bow to such power. You would make an excellent creature of the night, Connor. Not to mention—young and beautiful forever.” The smile that spreads across Kamski’s thin lips is salacious.
Disgust shivers down Connor’s spine and his stomach churns. “I will never be like you,” he says, voice hard and flat.
Kamski continues as if Connor hadn’t even spoken. “It would be fitting, considering how many of us you have already killed. To have a taste of what you fear. We can show you what a monster truly looks like.”
Connor latches onto that, trying to take control of the conversation, drive it somewhere useful, away from this topic. Clinging to his instincts as a hunter. “Who’s ‘we’? I assume they’re like you. Are you they’re leader, or do they just entertain these whimsical fantasies to keep you out of the way?”
Anger flashes across Kamski’s face, brief as a shadow, before knowing amusement follows, and he chuckles. He obviously knows Connor’s intent, knows his barbed questions are as much to get information as they are to provoke Kamski. If he would only slip up, say anything useful, the moment Connor gets out of here he can return with his family and tear this nest apart. Find these associates of Kamski’s and do the same to them.
Kamski’s mouth opens on some flippant, circular response, but he suddenly pauses. Staring at Connor, eyes lighting up in a way that has Connor’s shoulders tensing.
“You could meet them for yourself, since you’re so interested,” Kamski says. His smile is sharp as silver. Uneasiness settles somewhere in the pit of Connor’s stomach. “My associates will be quite interested in getting a look at you. See how powerless I’ve made you. They’ll be delighted to play the hunter, for once.”
“I’d be happy to put a face to the creatures I’ll be destroying later,” Connor bites out.
Kamski tuts softly. “Still so certain this isn’t the end of the road? Since your family never came looking for you, I thought you’d have given up on that.”
His expression must betray some of his surprise because Kamski laughs.
“Oh, I was so sure I told you,” Kamski mocks. “They never even looked into your trail. All the traps my associates laid went to waste.”
Connor says nothing. Can’t say anything past the knot in his throat. Of course his family prizes independence and working alone, but they must have looked for him. His own mother and brother wouldn’t have given up on him that easily.
“Look at you,” Kamski says, a note of awe in his breath as he crouches before Connor, fingers catching his chin. Connor tries to jerk away, but the grip tightens painfully, and a gloved thumb brushes his lip, pulling the soft skin down. “You really are quite special, Connor.”
“And you’re quite deluded.”
Sighing in disappointment, Kamski stands, his hand leaving Connor only to find the belt of his breeches. Undoing the buckle and the front, until he’s got his cock in hand, stroking it as he stares at Connor.
Sickness wells up Connor’s throat, and when Kamski takes a step forward, Connor presses back against the wall. The vampire wastes no time, fingers curling in Connor’s hair, jerking him forward. His superior strength easily overpowers Connor’s weak resistance, and Kamski presses Connor’s face to his half-hard cock.
“Come now, Connor. Fight all you want, but this is inevitable.”
He tries. Holds his mouth shut, nose flaring with each heavy breath. Kamski has never done this while he was coherent enough to resist, always waited until Connor was nearly unconscious, dazed by blood loss.
Kamski doesn’t let his resistance go unpunished. He lifts Connor’s head by the hold in his hair and backhands him across the face. The ring on his finger scrapes his temple and Connor bites down on the inside of his cheek. Kamski does it again and again, until Connor sees stars and tastes copper.
When he doesn’t give in Kamski releases him with a frustrated jerk. Connor sags in the chains, head spinning, trying to pull himself together. But a hand closes around his chin and Kamski hisses into his face, “If you don’t cooperate, Connor, I’ll break this pretty jaw and take what I want regardless.”
He wants to snap back, to shove the creature off, but he’s so tired and so powerless. Looking up at Kamski’s expectant face, he bares his teeth. He shouldn’t give in, should just let Kamski break his jaw if that’s what he wants, but he needs as much of himself intact if he wants any hope of getting out of here. Kamski’s fingers squeeze in warning and all Connor can do is let his mouth fall open slightly with a glare.
Pleased, Kamski’s hold lessens, stroking Connor’s face as he steps between Connor’s spread knees. His cock bumps Connor’s lips, presses in past his teeth. Connor thinks of biting down, but a vampire’s skin is much tougher than a human’s, and he suspects he’ll only earn that broken jaw if he does.
Bile rises up his throat, and he swallows it down. There’s no taste of sweat or sourness. It’s cooler than the inside of his mouth. The soft skin slides across his tongue and Kamski makes a pleased sound above him. Connor closes his stinging eyes as a hand grips his hair and moves him.
Neither of them make a sound. He can feel Kamski’s eyes on him, watching intently as the cock grows to full hardness on his tongue. His arms strain above and behind as he’s pulled forward, until his shoulders ache. He breathes shallowly through his nose, containing the disgust and mild panic wrapping around his throat.
He tries to imagine how he’ll kill Kamski when he finally escapes. Drive a stake through his heart or pour holy water into his mouth. A silver bullet between his eyes. Tries to lose himself in the fantasies as Kamski works himself lazily into Connor’s mouth. It doesn’t work as well as he’d hoped, not with Kamski’s freed hand stroking across his cheekbones and jaw.
When Kamski comes, he draws himself out of Connor’s mouth, stroking his cock as thick strings of it land across Connor’s mouth and nose. Connor flinches back, but the hand in his hair holds him in place as Kamski finishes across his face with a satisfied sigh.
“Next time,” Kamski says, releasing Connor to tuck himself away. “I’ll let you meet my associates, but I don’t think you’ll thank me for it.” He doesn’t say anything else as he picks up the candle and moves through the archway towards the stairs, leaving Connor in the dark, skin crawling and face dirtied.
extended noncon scene begins with double dash
They drive through the night, well into the next day, sometimes riding in silence, sometimes chatting quietly about nothing. Connor is curious about his savior, asking anything that comes to mind. His question about Hank’s taste in music is quickly answered when Hank turns up the radio and a heavy metal song comes on. He asks about Sumo, and finds that Hank named the dog Sumo because he was the runt of his litter. Connor looks over his shoulder through the little window in the cab to see Sumo sitting with his head propped up on the side of the truck, watching the trees fly by.
Staying in the shade is difficult, but the hoodie and glasses make it a little easier. When the sun rises in front of them Connor turns to the side, the hood tucked close across his cheek, and pretends to sleep. It doesn’t take long for pretending to give way to actual sleep however. With the sun blazing into the cab, sudden exhaustion pulls at Connor’s lids, and he slides down into unconsciousness.
He sleeps for a long time, until a sharp pain in his fingers drags him out of it, and he jolts up, jerking his hand out of the sunlight. Beside him, Hank startles at the sharp movement, glancing over at him then back at the road.
“You alright there?” he asks, and Connor tucks his hand into the hoodie’s front pocket.
“I’m alright. Just a dream,” Connor says quickly.
He turns to the side again, raising his hand to inspect it. Gentle curls of smoke rise from his reddened fingers. A few moments more and his skin would have curled and dissolved. He pulls the ends of the sleeves around his hands and tucks them into the pockets. Hank gives him a curious look as he faces forward again. At least the weather is turning cool so it doesn’t seem so out of place.
“You wanna talk about it?” Hank asks, glancing over at him again, eyebrows drawn up in what Connor can only describe as worry. “You were talking in your sleep.”
That startles him, and he stares, frozen, wondering what he might have said. What Hank could have heard. He remembers he dreamed, vaguely, but the details faded quickly with the distraction of his burning hand. He could have said anything, but Hank doesn’t look angry or afraid, just mildly curious and, again, that strange worry. As if he cares.
“What did I say?”
Hank’s eyes don’t waver from the road, and he just shrugs. “Couldn’t really make it out. You just mumbled some.”
Relief courses through Connor, but he holds it in, turning back to the road before them. The sun is high in the sky, coming in through Connor’s window more than Hank’s. His fingers hurt, and he wishes he had some water to run over them and take the heat out.
“I don’t remember,” he says truthfully. “I didn’t mean to disturb you. I wasn’t aware that I talked in my sleep.”
Hank snorts. “Doubt a little sleep talk is gonna disturb me, kid. Just, you know, sounded a little like a nightmare.” Shaking his head, Hank shrugs again, looking embarrassed. “Ignore me, I’m just talking to talk. I’m gonna stop for some food here in a bit, let Sumo out to stretch his legs. You got anywhere you wanna eat? Anything you’ve been craving since you got out?”
He’s grateful for the subject change, but the thought of food makes Connor’s stomach twist, and the hunger that had faded into the background surges forwards again. Even after the breakfast Hank brought him yesterday the hunger never left him. He can feel the weight of the food in his stomach still, and the thought of more is both appealing and repulsive.
“I have no preference,” Connor says.
“Come on, nothing? Not one thing you missed while that asshole had you locked up?” Hank asks, quirking a disbelieving brow. “Pizza, burgers, steak? Nothing?”
“Not really,” Connor says, thinking of the dinners he had with his family when he was young, when Amanda was still training them. They had been carefully prepared for them growing up, meant only as another stepping stone to becoming better hunters. The food Chloe brought him in Kamski’s dungeon had been bare bones. Bread, fruit, water. The basics to keep him alive, clearly store-bought only for his sake. And not for long.
He tries not to think of how long ago his last meal was, until Hank found him.
“Come on, what did you eat before? Don’t tell me you didn’t have a favorite food,” Hank says, and Connor can’t help but smile slightly at his teasing tone.
“I didn’t,” Connor says, and Hank shoots him a disbelieving look. “My mother, Amanda, made sure my brother and I ate healthily when we were growing up. We had special meals that covered our dietary needs, but it was often bland.”
“So, what, you just never ate anything else?”
“We had strict diets, and I was used to it. When I went out on my own, I saw no need to change what worked.” He didn’t eat for enjoyment, only to keep himself healthy and energized.
Hank whistles, long and low. “Damn, kid, no offence, but that’s kinda sad. You’ve never even had, like, ice cream?”
It’s not like Connor doesn’t know what ice cream is, he’s just never had the opportunity to try it. Even at social events with his family, Connor steered towards the healthier options. The burger Hank bought him, and then the egg biscuit in the morning, are the unhealthiest foods he’s ever eaten, and so far from what he’s used to. The taste of them overpowering in a way he’s never experienced before, as if his tongue has become sensitized.
“I’ve never had an interest in trying, I suppose. No point.” Maintaining his health had been far more important. Trying things like ice cream hadn’t even been on his radar.
He winces as his teeth scrape the inside of his lip, raising a hand and then lowering it quickly.
“Well, shit, next stop I’ll get you some. Least you’ll be able to say you’ve tasted it.”
Hank continues to ask him what Connor has and hasn’t eaten as they drive, keeping on the lookout for exits. There’s a lot he hasn’t, and each one that Hank asks him about and he says no to, Hank shakes his head in faux-disgust.
“Hot dogs! Never had a fucking hot dog! Did you live under a rock?”
They do find an exit that Hank deems suitable eventually, going through the drive-thru of a fast food place. Hank doesn’t even give Connor the chance to pick, ordering for him and adding an ice cream cone on top of it, to Connor’s amusement. They eat in the parking lot as Sumo roams the grass lot next to the restaurant, in the shade of the building.
The amusement sours a little when he takes the first bite of the chicken sandwich Hank passes to him. It would taste good, he can see the appeal, but the bun tastes like pure grease on his tongue and the easier to handle chicken is soon buried beneath toppings. Each bite only makes his hunger grow, a gnawing ache that demands more, and despite the strong taste he ends up eating it quickly, then the french fries in the bottom of the bag, and the cup of chocolate ice cream. That, at least, soothes the cacophony on his tongue, the soft serve cleaning his palate. There’s an artificial element to it, like a plastic water bottle, but it’s better.
Yet it does nothing but add to the weight in his stomach.
He can feel Hank watching him after a while, and Connor looks up, raising an eyebrow.
“Told you you’d like it,” Hank says, raising his own burger.
Connor only manages a weak smile as he finishes off the small cup.
He doesn’t want to think of how hungry he is, no matter how much he eats. He keeps accidentally biting his lip and tongue and cheek, and the blood in his mouth doesn't taste right, but he sucks at the small cuts anyways.
They stop at a gas station as the sun sets behind them, and Connor borrows the attendant’s key and lets himself into the dirty, badly lit bathroom while Hank pumps gas. Kneeling over the toilet, he doesn’t want to think about what it means that he vomits everything he’s eaten since Hank found him.
When the sun goes down Hank pulls into the nearest motel they can find. It doesn’t look much different from the last motel—two beds, tacky wallpaper, yellow lights. Connor is grateful to be inside, his back sore from spending most of the day sitting in the truck and twisting to avoid the sun without raising suspicion. Hank seems to share the sentiment, groaning as he drops down onto the bed, passing Connor the bag of burgers and fries he’d ordered before they found a place to bed down.
Sumo growls as Connor passes him to sit on his bed, but at least he doesn’t bark, and Hank calls a tired, “Good dog.” He unshoulders his bag, unzipping it and pulling out a tall, square bottle that he uncaps and takes a deep draught from.
“That’s not healthy,” Connor says, caught by surprise, frowning as Hank lowers the bottle and heaves a heavy sigh.
“Yeah, well, life ain’t healthy, kid,” Hank says, dismissive. “Hand me one of them, will ya?” He holds a hand out until Connor passes a burger to him. He wastes no time in unfolding the paper and tucking into it.
Unwrapping one of the burgers, Connor can only stare down at it as his stomach ties itself into knots. It looks appealing, despite the sheen of grease on the bun—the smell of cooked meat fills his nose and his mouth waters. He takes a hesitant bite, and though it’s juicy and hot, it takes everything he has to swallow it down.
He’s so hungry.
It would be ungrateful to let this meal go to waste, but Connor’s next bite is small, and he takes a long time chewing it, wincing when his teeth pinch the inside of his cheek and reopen the cut there. Copper touches his tongue and he shivers.
On the other bed, Hank is not as reserved, wolfing down the burger quickly and stretching between the two beds to dig through the bag for another. Sumo’s eyes are trained on Connor, and without thinking, Connor tears off a piece of bun and meat and tosses it to him. With a start, Sumo sits up and snaps it out of the air, and Hank laughs.
“Sorry, Sumo, I’ll feed you in a minute, I swear,” Hank says, peeling back the wrapper of his second burger. He takes another deep pull from the bottle before taking a bite.
Connor’s lips lift as Sumo stays sitting, watching Connor intently, raising his nose as Connor holds up another torn off piece. An underhanded toss, and Sumo deftly catches it, seeming to swallow without chewing. He shuffles forward and continues staring at Connor’s hands as they tear off a piece.
He can’t enjoy the food, but at least someone can. Even if this is the only positive interaction with Sumo he can get, it’s something, and his smile only grows as Sumo continues wait patiently between throws. Connor takes a few bites every now and then, to seem as if he’s still eating, but most of it is going to Sumo.
A year ago he couldn’t have imagined this—being rescued by a hunter who didn’t even know he was there, and sitting on the bed of a motel feeding the hunter’s dog. He knows how he got here, but how did Hank? It’s annoying that Hank would not go back and fight Kamski with him, and yet kept him when it would have been much easier to just turn Connor out and let him return to the fight alone.
He’d known hunters like that. He had been trained that way—that the mission was all that matters, and the only one responsible for completing the mission was himself. It’s efficient, it means they never lose a target, and Hank should know that. It’s frustrating that his priority doesn’t seem to be the creature at all, and Connor doesn’t understand why.
It’s irritating. It’s intriguing. Hank is gruff but kind. He didn’t have to help Connor out like this, take him in and feed him and clothe him. It’s not the kind of thing life-long hunters do, in Connor’s experience, which means Hank became a hunter later in life. He’s got the training needed, he knows how to deal with these creatures obviously, but he doesn’t have the attitude.
“You haven’t been a hunter long, have you, Hank?” Connor asks, tossing another bite of food to Sumo. “A few years, by my guess.”
On the other bed, Hank grunts into his burger. “Bout five, give or take. How’d you know?”
Connor smiles to himself. He’d been right—not someone born into the business, but not an amateur by any means. “You don’t have the same attitude many others do. Well,” he corrects himself. “You certainly have the audacity for it, but any other hunter would have turned me loose by now.”
“Yeah, well, guess I’m not any other hunter.”
“It’s rare for people to join this lifestyle,” Connor says, pretending to take a bite of his burger. It’s quickly growing cold, and he tears the burger in half while Hank isn’t looking and tosses the bigger piece to Sumo. “What made you become a hunter?”
It’s silent for a bit, Hank’s shoulders going tense. He takes another deep swallow of whiskey, not looking at Connor, before finally saying, “I have my reasons.”
It’s not much of an answer, and he still wants to know more. “What did you do before?” He can’t imagine Hank was an office worker, but he’s clearly a smart man with plenty of experience.
“I was a police officer. Worked my way up to lieutenant,” Hank says, finishing off his burger and crumpling the wrappers together. There’s pride in his word, but it’s swallowed by the next sentence, voice dropping. “Then shit happened and I found a new job.”
“So you had an encounter with a creature before you were fully aware of their existence,” Connor says, reasoning it out in his head. “Something that compelled you to leave your job. Did someone you know get hurt?”
The glare Hank shoots him is furious, and he says, terse, “You sure ask a lot of questions. Hey, I got one for you—why did Kamski keep you so long instead of killing you?”
Connor’s mouth snaps shut and he barely notices his teeth slicing open the soft skin inside his mouth again. There are lies he could tell, but they don’t come. He’s cold down to his bones and his fingers are nerveless around the remains of his food.
“That’s what I thought,” Hank snaps, a slight slur to his words.
They don’t talk for the rest of the evening. Hank goes into the bathroom and Connor throws the rest of his food to Sumo, who eagerly swallows it down. When Hank comes out, changed into soft plaid sleep pants, he sets out Sumo’s dog bed and waters him. The silence is tense, and Connor knows he should say something. He overstepped when Hank was clearly uncomfortable with the line of questions.
He can’t make himself speak. Hank tosses the bag with Connor’s clothing purchases onto his bed without a word and then crawls under the blankets of his own, facing away from the other bed. Guilt churns Connor’s stomach, but now it would only be worse to interrupt Hank when he’s clearly trying to ignore Connor and get some rest.
Despite the long day of travel, he feels wide awake, and he sits quietly on his bed, watching Hank’s breath even out into actual sleep. After a while, Connor digs through the plastic bag of clothes until his fingers close over cardboard packaging. The metal nail files are sharp tipped, with plastic handles. He strips the cardboard open and pulls one of the three files out, throwing the rest in the bag. At least now Connor will be able to do what he needs to do without the chance of being questioned, and he gets out of bed quietly, glancing over at Hank to make sure he’s fast asleep.
Sumo stands up as Connor passes, but he doesn’t growl until Connor chances reaching out. The low sound makes Connor flinch back, and he hurries into the bathroom, closing the door behind himself. He shouldn’t be so hopeful. Animals are smart, they have a good sense for what someone is, what they’re capable of.
The light above the sink glares down at him. His reflection in the mirror is pale, washed out—deep shadows beneath his eyes and a pallor over his skin. He looks like a corpse, and when he opens his mouth, he can see the points of his canines. They’re not noticeably sharp, not to someone who doesn’t know what to look for, but the inside of Connor’s mouth stings and oozes blood.
He raises the file, and in the reflection he sees his fingers trembling minutely. Feels the ghost of a gloved hand cupping his jaw, supple leather over a steel grip. The file flashes silver as he turns it lightly, and he forces himself not to falter as the cool metal brushes his lip and meets the enamel of his tooth.
A deep, animal howl startles him, and he freezes as barking starts up in the other room. Lowering his hand he turns towards the door, opening it slowly. The growling and baying is louder without the door between them, and Connor steps out with dread prickling up his spine.
Sumo is on his feet, staring in the direction of the motel room door, head snapping forward with each booming bark. A dark mist is seeping through the cracks around and beneath it, swirling towards them. On the bed, Hank rolls sleepily, and Connor barely has time to shout, “Hank!” as he rears back.
The first figure forms in a blonde whirlwind and Connor slashes with the nail file, catching a Chloe across the face. She doesn’t make a noise as she rears back, clutching her mouth, and Sumo leaps at her back, growling and sinking his teeth into her shoulder. More dark mist comes together, claws slashing towards Connor, and he barely ducks them, swinging up with the nail file and missing.
“W—What the fuck!” Hank shouts, finally coming awake, jolting upright and scrambling down the bed to where his bag sits at the foot.
The first Chloe is still struggling with Sumo, trying to shake him off, but Sumo is persistent, a constant low growl in the back of his through as he shakes his head and rips at her shoulder. The second Chloe slashes at Connor again and he catches her hand with the file, shoving it through her open palm. Blood drips down his fingers as she rips her hand back and his nose flares, zeroing in on the fresh blood.
It’s enough of a distraction that he’s not prepared when she lunges at him, but it knocks him out of his trance, and they grapple as she tries to reach for his throat, hissing in his face.
“Connor!” Hank shouts as she drives him back towards the bathroom.
Over her shoulder, he can see Hank with the shotgun, swinging it between the two Chloes, unable to get a clear shot. The Chloe with Sumo on her back crashes into the TV, knocking it to the floor in a shower of sparks and broken glass, and Sumo yelps. Connor’s Chloe turns her head at the sound, and Connor takes advantage of the distraction, releasing one of her arms and plunging the nail file into her stomach.
He drags it to the side, slashing her open with all of his strength, and the sound that comes out of her mouth is inhuman and enraged. She clutches at her stomach, holding the wound as blood soaks her blue dress, and Connor plants a foot in her stomach and kicks her away from him.
A sound like thunder rolls through the small room, deafening, and she chokes, eyes going wide and disbelieving. She drops to her knees, blood blooming across her torso from the buckshot, and Hank cocks the shotgun, taking aim.
Diving past the dying servant, Connor wraps his arms around Sumo’s heaving sides, dragging the big dog off with a strength that surprises even him. Chloe turns with a silent snarl, and thunder rolls again. The wallpaper and desk behind her explodes as she dissolves into black vapor.
“Kid!” Hank shouts. “Let’s get our shit and get out!”
Connor sets Sumo down, who scrambles across the carpet barking up a storm, following the black mist where it sinks back through the cracks around the door. He jumps up on his hind legs, scratching at the door, shaking it with his furor.
The Chloe on the floor by the bathroom hisses, trying to stand, but the silver buckshot is burning her from the inside, and smoke pours from her open mouth. She clutches at Connor’s leg, claws sinking in, and Connor’s foot shoots out, connecting solidly with her face. She releases him with a cry of pain and Connor rushes to help Hank grab the bags.
Outside, the yellow sodium lamps illuminate people peering out of their rooms, some talking on their cellphones. They waste no time, tossing their bags into the back. Even Sumo, who rushed out to the edge of the lot, barking at the sky, runs back at Hank’s shouted command. He leaps into the bed of the truck and they peel out of the parking lot with sirens in the distance.
“Fuck!” Hank curses.
Connor stares out the back window, watching the motel until it disappears behind the tall pines. There’s no sign of the other Chloe, or of Kamski. Just the moon, bright above, in a cloudless night.
“Think they might be after you, kid,” Hank says, running a hand across his face and through his rumpled hair. “Jesus, that was close! What the fuck do they want with you? I thought vampires stuck close to their territory?”
“I don’t know,” Connor says, finally turning in his seat, facing forward. The road before them is dark, lit only by the high beams of the headlights leading the way. “He seems to take pleasure in defying expectations, but I don’t know what he could possibly gain from chasing me.”
“Maybe he knows you’ll go to your family. That he’s not strong enough to face you all together?”
It makes sense. Without his associates, Kamski is only so powerful. He wouldn’t waste time going to them, wouldn’t dare debase himself by begging for help. His best chance to keep his territory safe is by making sure Connor can’t get to his family.
So why does it feel as if he’s being purposefully driven to them?
Kamski doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty, not where Connor is concerned at least. Three against two would have been overwhelming odds, they could have been taken easily, yet they weren’t. Kamski chose to stay out of the fight. Was it from a sense of self-preservation against two trained hunters, or something else?
Or maybe it’s Connor’s own paranoia about what awaits him at home.
His mother and brother, renowned hunters, more than capable of identifying a creature like Kamski. Of knowing when one of them is in their own house.
They’re being chased now, and at any moment Kamski could find them and swoop in to finish things off. Connor has to kill him first, has to end him before anyone can find out what happened to him. He has no chance out here, alone, with just Hank. If Kamski tires of playing with his food, they’ll have no chance.
A weight settles in Connor’s stomach. “I would prefer if we simply dealt with Kamski ourselves, but I can tell you won’t allow that,” Connor says. “And as you said, much as I don’t want to admit it, I can’t take him on by myself.”
Hank breathes a sigh of relief. “Yeah.”
“I would still prefer if we find someone else. But until then, it seems we have no choice.”
“See? What did I tell you,” Hank says, glancing over to give Connor a victorious look. “You need your damn family if we wanna be able to face them. It’s exactly what Kamski’s afraid of, and that means he’s probably gonna try and stop us again.”
Connor can only nod.
The creature takes great amusement and pleasure in tearing what sounds he can from Connor’s throat. Biting him, draining him, scratching his flesh, whipping and caning him, taking him over and over until Connor is limp with exhaustion and too drained to even shake his head.
He wonders when Kamski will tire of this. There’s no purpose, nothing he wants from Connor other than to see him hurt and to satisfy his own sadistic purposes. Connor doesn’t want to believe that his family has given up on him, but it’s getting harder and harder to hold onto that hope.
He tries not to wonder which visit will be his last. When the boredom will set in and Kamski will lose interest and finally end him.
He tries not to hope for it.
It’s weak of him. Amanda would scoff at his failing and tell him to quit being so self-pitying. They’re made of sterner stuff. If he can’t withstand this, then his life, his training, is a waste.
But he’s so tired and hungry. His body aches with even the smallest movements, especially his back. There’s been no chance for another escape, but Kamski had turned Connor around in his chains and told him he just liked the sound of Connor’s voice. The crack of the whip across his back had eventually been drowned out by his screams.
Every now and then Kamski mentions his associates. “They’re quite eager to see what I’ve done with you, Connor. It takes them a while to gather—can’t be too careful, after all. But I think it will be worth the wait, don’t you?”
Connor tries, in these moments, to get more information from Kamski, but the creature only smiles knowingly, sometimes caressing Connor’s cheek.
“In due time.”
He tracks the days the best he can, thinks perhaps another month has passed when the three blonde servants come for him with Kamski sweeping behind. Connor thinks, this is it. They’re finally going to kill him. Kamski has lost interest and is going to make room for some other human to occupy his dungeon.
Kamski produces the key to Connor’s cuffs and passes it to a Chloe, to Connor’s surprise. Maybe they don’t want to finish him off here, where it will be harder to clean up the mess.
With all four of them surrounding him, he doesn’t dare make a break for it. Not yet, not down here, where he’ll be so easily overpowered. Chloe lets the locks drop to the floor as she releases him, and gestures him to stand. He does so on wobbling legs, hissing through his teeth as his shirt shifts across the wounds on his back.
He’s weak, but he forces himself to move as the Chloes circle him and Kamski leads the way to the stairs.
They take him up into the lavish hallways, leading him down a familiar path, and he schools his expression, doesn’t let his confusion show when they stop in front of the bathroom the Chloes take him to every now and then. He can’t help a surreptitious glance at Kamski, but Kamski is as unreadable as ever.
“Go on, get him ready. We don’t want to waste the evening.”
The bathroom is clean white tiles and gold fixtures. They herd him to the clawfoot bathtub at the far end of the bathroom, already filled with steaming, clear water. Hands grab his shirt, pulling it over his head, blinding him for a moment. Then he’s being directed silently into the tub as Kamski watches.
The short baths they normally allow him are cold and quick. They give him only a few minutes to scrub what he can from himself with a cloth and a bar of soap, and then to dry himself off and pull his shirt back on. This is different, and his heart pounds where he stands in the warm water as he watches two of the servants gather around the tub.
“Chloe,” Kamski says, touching the filthy rag of Connor’s shirt with the tip of his glossy black loafers. “Burn this, would you?” Chloe nods without a word, crouching down to grab the rag and leave the room. “Chloe,” he says again, and one of the two standing by the tub turns her head slightly in his direction, as if they all know which Chloe he’s speaking to at any given moment. “Fetch him some clothes from my rooms. Something nice but simple—it wouldn’t do to ruin something more valuable.”
She nods and follows her twin out of the room, leaving only Kamski and the last Chloe.
“What’s this about?” Connor asks, resisting the urge to cover himself when Kamski turns his sharp gaze on him. “What are you planning?”
“Is it so wrong to want to keep my little toy clean?” Kamski says, taking a step forward.
As if on cue, the Chloe standing by the tub puts a hand on Connor’s shoulder, pressing him down. He resists, glaring back at Kamski as he says, “I am not your toy.”
An amused tilt of lips is Connor’s only answer as Kamski stares at him silently.
The sharp sting across his cheek is surprising, and Connor gasps, nearly falling from the force of the blow. He catches himself against the wall behind the tub, cold fingers slipping across the tile, barely keeping himself upright as his head spins.
“Let’s begin,” Kamski says, and this time when Chloe touches Connor’s shoulder, pushing him down, his knees buckle beneath the force and water sloshes up the sides of the tub.
Chloe’s movements are quick and efficient, and Connor hates that a part of him admires that. She grabs his wrist, holding his arm out, swiping a soapy cloth up the length of his arm. Her grip is iron-tight and Connor’s tug against her grasp goes unnoticed. Kamski peels his gloves off and joins her at the tub, tipping Connor forward with a hand at his nape and running it across the wounds on his back.
He sucks in a sharp breath, holding it captive in his throat so no noise can escape. He can’t see Kamski’s face from his position, but when Kamski rubs the cloth down his back again, deliberate, Connor knows he’s trying to provoke a reaction. He bites the inside of his cheek and thinks of training with is family. Thinks of the trainers Amanda had hired knocking him down to the mats of their gym and keeping him down with sharp blows to his back with wooden staves.
Cool breath washes over the top of his spine, and Connor’s skin prickles with a barely contained shudder. Lips, icy and dry, press to his shoulder blade, against a lash mark he can feel oozing blood. A tongue snakes out, tasting him, his blood, and Connor doesn’t flinch, but it’s a near thing.
Chloe cleans him, scrubbing the blood and dust of the dungeon from his skin, while Kamski touches. Beneath his hands and tongue, Connor’s skin grows hot and his heart pounds with embarrassment and shame. Chloe gives no indication that she notices or cares, but Connor burns with having a witness. Kamski’s hand slides down his back, over the cuts and welts, into the water. Tickling the top of his ass, sliding a finger between his cheeks. He grips the side of the tub and grits his teeth, but Kamski doesn’t do more than tease, making soft, thoughtful noises.
The cloth in Chloe’s hand runs across his chest, his legs, between his thighs. She doesn’t blush or shy from cleaning him thoroughly, and the mechanical nature of her movements eases him somewhat. When she’s done, together they pour water over his head from a cup and lather his hair, then pour more water over him. The bathwater is growing a dingy gray, with ribbons of pink floating from small wounds.
By the time they’re done, both of the other Chloes have returned, one bearing a folded piece of clothing, the other a towel. The one with the towel steps forward, replacing her sister, and Connor is made to step out of the tub as she brushes the soft, dry cloth over his skin.
Kamski steps into his space when she moves to his back, and Connor starts as the creature leans forward, capturing his mouth in a cool kiss, probing at his chapped lips with his tongue. He turns his head, but a hand grips his chin, forcing him back, and sharp teeth nip at his bottom lip before a tongue runs over the blood that wells there.
“Don’t forget who you belong to,” Kamski says against his mouth, and Connor can’t contain a scowl.
“You don’t own me.”
He expects another slap, another punishment, but Kamski merely steps back and nods to the Chloe holding the clothes. She unfolds the piece and Connor is met with a white silk shirt with a laced up front. She holds it out for him, and Connor takes it, pulling it on, glad that she doesn’t try to do it for him, and glad to be at least a little covered in Kamski’s presence.
The Chloe he thinks helped bathed him approaches with a strip of dark leather, and Connor tenses when she reaches up and wraps it around his neck, securing it at his nape with a clasp. At that, Kamski’s smile widens.
“What is this for?” Connor asks, reaching up to tug at the leather collar. Kamski’s constant reminder that he’s owned, that he’s this creature’s, are grating, but it also has him on edge. Kamski hasn’t shown this amount of care before to whether Connor is clean or clothed in more than ripped rags.
“A reminder,” Kamski says simply.
“A reminder of what?” Connor insists, pulling away when one of the Chloes approaches, putting a hand on his arm. “I’m tired of these games. Tell me what is going on.”
Sighing, Kamski shakes his head and begins to leave the bathroom, and the Chloe grabs his arm in her unbreakable grip and follows, until Connor has no choice but to walk or be dragged. He has no doubt she will drag him, and that Kamski will be very irritated if it comes to that. As much as it would please Connor to irritate Kamski, it would mean another punishment, so he keeps pace reluctantly.
The other two Chloes peel off in a different direction, and Connor watches them disappear through a swinging wooden door. He gets a brief flash of chrome appliances, a modern looking kitchen, and then he’s being lead on.
That just leaves Kamski and a single Chloe, and his eyes dart around the branching hallways they cross and the stairs they climb, looking for a window or any route to the outside he could take advantage of. He could make it out against only two—a small possibility, but it’s the best chance he’s gotten so far.
It’s as he’s caught up in his racing thoughts of escape that Kamski leads them through two white double doors trimmed in gold into a large room. The walls are much the same, a soft white with golden trim, oil paintings of men and women in 18th century dress hanging on the walls. A hearth on the left wall is alight with a small fire, the mantle decorated with curios, and the chandelier hanging from the ceiling glitters with light.
But what catches Connor’s eyes, more than the thick curtains framing several dark windows on the opposite wall, are the men lounging around the room. Men in finery matching the garb of those in the paintings around them, holding delicate-stemmed wine glasses. Whatever conversation they’d been having pauses and every eye in the room turns to Connor.
He doesn’t even realize he’s frozen in his tracks until a hand at his back pushes him forward into the circle of cushioned chairs, sofas, and chaise lounges. Heads turn to follow him, and he straightens, staring back, meeting each eye in challenge. Pointed teeth poke from behind several smirks, and Connor suppresses the urge to cover himself again.
“As you can see, gentlemen, Connor here is doing quite well under my care.” Kamski’s smooth voice catches everyone’s attention as he comes to stand beside Connor, placing a hand on his shoulder. “He’s a lovely specimen, with many talents. I thought you might like to partake. It’s only fair, considering what our kind have been through at the hands of humans like him. Many of you have lost much to the Stern family in particular.”
Connor eyes the men around them, rigid beneath Kamski’s hand. More than a few nod, and several eyes dart to him with a flash of red. These are vampires who’s broods his family have undoubtedly taken out. Patriarchs, which makes them old, proud, and powerful. Bearing a grudge not just against hunters, but against his family, and him the closest available target, defenceless. Weak.
“I must admit, I was skeptical, but this plan of yours is sounding more and more appealing,” one of them says, dark gaze raking down Connor’s bare legs.
He matches it with a baleful glare. “What plan is that?” he asks, switching his gaze to Kamski’s.
“It sounds like he could stand to be taken down a few more pegs anyways,” another of them says, laughter low and haughty.
“Yes, he hasn’t quite learned his lesson yet. But that’s what you gentlemen are here for.” Kamski’s hand leaves him, and then touches the back of the leather collar. Connor hears a metallic click close behind and a tug. “Please, be my guests.”
He’s jerked backward, choking, hands flying up to pry at the leather. It digs into his throat and he goes down, palms and knees stinging across carpet before a man with long blond hair in a dark suit. A leather leash loops around the man’s gloved hand, and when Connor pushes himself up to stand, glaring, he’s yanked back down with a quick, sharp jerk.
“Now now,” the man says with a sharp grin. “I know where we’d all prefer you.”
“And I know where I’d prefer you,” Connor says, shoving up again regardless, straining against the pull of the collar. Dust in the sun would be a start.
His neck aches the longer he resists, and the man’s small grin turns to a frown. It’s all the warning he gets before the next violent tug, the strength of something inhuman and irresistible in it. He buckles, stumbling, and the man’s next pull has him landing between spread legs.
He struggles against the hand that grip hair, skin burning with humiliation as he feels the shirt ride up over his back, putting him on display. The man undoes the front of his pants one-handed, and even though he knew it was coming, that there could have been no other reason for this display—the collar, the leash, his lack of clothes—it doesn’t stop him from blanching as the man presents his soft cock and drags Connor against it by his hair.
Above him, the conversation resumes as if he’s not even there, but he can’t focus on it. The man grips his jaw casually, squeezing until pain lances through him and he’s forced to open his mouth or feel it break. Then he’s pulled over the cock, feels it pressing into his mouth, against tongue and teeth.
He shoves against the man’s legs, neck screaming with the effort of trying to pull against an inhuman strength. Until a sharp swat against his back, over the wounds there, makes him flinch and shudder.
“Behave,” Kamski’s voice says above him. “My guests expect quite a bit from you, and you know what will happen if you disappoint.”
He does know. He’ll be killed, and part of him thinks—maybe that would be better than this disgusting display.
But that would mean Kamski and these monsters win, and Connor can’t let that happen. All that matters is the mission, and his mission is to escape and to kill these creatures. He will not let them win. He refuses, even if it means that for the moment, he is at their whim.
It’s what he tells himself as the flesh swells in his mouth and the man encourages him to move with painful tugs to his hair. As his gut churns with revulsion and he’s forced to move on his own, to bob his head and pleasure the man’s cock willingly.
He tries to tune into the voices around him, to pay attention to their words, and not the way he tongues at the man’s cock and closes his lips over it.
They talk business, or what sounds like business. Company names and places that Connor takes note of, repeating them to himself.
CyberLife. Newport. Providence Hospital. Harper University. Stratford Tower. Spokane. Baltimore. Glendale. Detroit.
The last makes him tense, and the hand resting on the back of his head eases him up as the man above him says, “It’s a good thing the Stern family has no idea what’s right under their noses. Isn’t that right?”
He wants to snap back, but the implication that there’s a nest of vampires in his very own city, that they are completely unaware of, blankets his mind with shock. How could they be so close and not know? How does Amanda not know?
The leash changes hands and he’s tugged across the floor. He tries to stand, to ease the humiliation of being dragged around, but a foot lands on his back, across the lashes, and he can’t stop the small noise he makes as he’s forced back to his hands and knees.
“Now, now,” a deep voice says. “Stay just like that.”
He crawls the rest of the way, feeling the weight of too many eyes on his backside. He tries not to think of his family, what they would think of this display. It doesn’t matter—they’re not here, and when he gets out, they will never know about this.
The one now holding the leash has dark, salt-and-pepper hair—the oldest looking of the lot, but certainly not the oldest going by his dress, which looks as recent as the 1920s. He’s already unzipped, stiff cock jutting from his slacks, and he wastes no time in urging Connor down as the conversation resumes again.
It goes like that, handing the leash off to someone else who wants a turn, forcing Connor to crawl across the circle and between their spread legs like a dog. Taking cock after cock in his mouth while they talk business like he’s not even there. At least none of them ejaculate in his mouth, but dread coils beneath his ribs when he focuses on it too much.
Things take a turn when one of the men tells him to stand. He does so, knees popping, the skin of them an angry red from kneeling so long on the carpet. The man urges Connor down across his lap, his breeches undone. He doesn’t even take his gloves off, pressing leather-clad digits against Connor’s lips until he reluctantly opens his mouth.
They delve in, swirling around his mouth, thick and bitter and soft, playing with his tongue and pressing against his throat. He tries not to gag, thinks about clamping down with his teeth and doing as much damage as he can even as his jaw aches from being held open for so long.
The talk doesn’t stop, and Connor does his best to listen, but it’s distracting when the man removes his fingers and draws Connor down against his chest, reaching behind. Connor tenses as soft, wet leather touches the top of his ass, pressing between his cheeks, to his hol.
“No,” he chokes out as they press against his hole, digging in.
Laughter rumbles through the chest beneath his. “Yes, dear boy.”
His fingers dig in against the front of the man’s suit as they push in, and he smothers a gasp as fire shoots up his backside. Heads turn in interest, the conversation quieting some, and Connor wants to die as another noise escapes him.
The man works him open with his gloved fingers, and it doesn’t get easier, not even when someone passes him a bronze container of liquid that he tilts over Connor’s ass. He shivers as the cool, slick oil slides over his skin, and the fingers scoop it up before resuming preparation.
Connor dares a look at the windows, thinks about shoving off this man’s lap and making a break for it—but beneath the pale moon he can see the silhouettes of tree tops, and he remembers how many flights of stairs they went up. He does the math in his head as a distraction, calculating the height of each floor above ground level, how many floors they went up, and knows that even if he survived the fall, it would not be without severe damage. Damage that would hinder his escape and make it impossible to run.
His thoughts are interrupted when he’s shifted, the fingers finally leaving him, but quickly being replaced with something else, something slick and blunt.
He can’t make himself relax, even knowing that will only make it hurt worse. As the man presses in, he turns Connor’s head to the side, baring his neck. Connor flinches at the prick of fangs sinking in at the same time as the cock at his ass, and he tries to shove away despite himself, but it’s too late.
The man laps at the blood flowing from Connor’s neck and hands grasp his waist tightly, pulling him up and then dragging him back down on that cock. The stretch burns and he crams the noises building in his chest back down his throat the best he can.
“Not too much, Edward,” someone says, and the teeth at Connor’s neck release but the hands moving him down on that cock don’t pause for a moment.
“Of course,” comes the dignified huff, as if he’s nearly committed a faux-pas. “But he does have an enticing taste, I must say.”
The man leans in again, and Connor can’t stop the shocked cry as the man bites into his neck anew, and then again in a third spot, high up by his jaw. The man’s breath shortens and his hands move faster, the sound of the cock in him growing obscenely loud, until the man raises him up suddenly, the cock leaving him all at once. He feels more than sees the warm come hitting his thighs and limp cock as the man strokes himself to completion.
At least it wasn’t inside him, Connor thinks weakly, but he’s sure that won’t last long.
The collar tugs him in another direction soon enough, to the man sitting on the chaise lounge. He urges Connor up onto it, down on his back, as if he’s just another of Kamski’s guests. Like this, Connor can clearly see all the other men as they talk. Most with their cocks hanging out of their pants, a few palming them idly as they speak, keeping their erections up. Kamski has taken an armchair close to the fire, one leg crossed over the other, as he speaks to the man next to him. His eyes dart to Connor as if sensing him, lips thinning into a smile before Connor looks quickly away.
The man who has Connor drapes his legs over the man’s lap, tugging his knees apart. His auburn curls seem to float atop his head, giving him an almost boyish look, if not for the sharp, crimson gaze that pins Connor in place.
His hands probe between Connor’s thighs, finding his wet, open hole and plunging in without fanfare, drawing a gasp from Connor. At the same time, fingers curl around his soft cock, rubbing the come into his skin as he strokes firmly. The fingers in his ass are relentless, searching, until Connor chokes and bucks at the electric heat that zips through his groin and has him hardening in the man’s grasp.
His eyes sting as he realizes what the man is doing, and his voice comes out thick and strained as he says, “Don’t touch me.”
“But you’re already enjoying it so much,” the man says, fingers pressing against Connor’s prostate, rubbing and massaging it relentlessly. “Consider it a reward for being so willing and eager.”
“I’m not—” His voice cuts out as the man’s fingers squeeze around the base of his cock, painfully tight, and he claws at the cushion beneath him.
“Mind yourself,” the man says, a dark warning in his tone, before his grip lightens and pets Connor’s cock as if in apology.
It doesn’t take long at all before the man has Connor’s cock pearling precome, and his hips writhe as the man’s fingers apply steady pressure to that spot inside him. His thoughts grow hazy with the approach of his orgasm, and the skin of his chest and neck and face burns with shame as he bucks against the fingers on pure instinct.
He’s almost there, gasping as he nears his peak, and then the fingers abruptly pull out of him, and his cock is released, leaving him twitching and panting and confused as the collar pulls at him suddenly from another direction. He falls off the chaise lounge, to the laughter of those around him, legs fuzzy and weak as his aching cock bobs between his legs.
He’s dragged up into another lap, back against the man’s chest, facing the guests. The one on the chaise lounge lowers himself where Connor once laid, stroking himself with an arm behind his head as he watches, lips twisted in amusement. Teeth close around Connor’s neck and the man urges his thighs together around the cock between his legs. Like this he can’t move much, but the man doesn’t seem to care, rolling his hips slightly, fucking Connor’s thighs as he drinks deeply.
He grows lightheaded, and the man spills across Connor’s legs with a satisfied noise before Connor is pulled away.
The next man, standing by the windows, makes Connor brace himself over the back of a chair as he fucks into him. He lets his head drop to the chair, shuddering as his prostate is jolted against, closing his eyes so he won’t see the string of precome dripping to the floor. The man rucks Connor’s shirt up over his back, touching the wounds none-too-gently, making every one of Connor’s breaths hiss out of him, right up until a hand closes over his throat, clamping just above the collar. Connor chokes, hand flying up, grasping at the man’s wrist, too human and already too weak to even try and pull it off. His vision darkens as panic eats at his air.
When the man comes, he slams himself deep inside, grinding against Connor’s ass and filling him with a liquid heat. Then he’s pulled away, gulping lungfuls of air, knees and hands tripping over themselves until he’s dragged onto another lap.
The room spins around him in a dizzying dance, and he loses track of who’s had him and who hasn’t. How many of these creatures have come on him, or in him. The touch his throbbing erection, teasing him to the brink of orgasm. Someone’s mouth closes over the top of Connor’s cock and he shudders and is sure he’s going to come, but they pull away before he can, biting at his thighs, tearing at his skin, finally forcing another cry of pain as they lap at torn flesh and muscle.
They get more violent at that, and someone else tears into the thin flesh of his wrists. Another slams him into the coffee table and holds Connor around the ribs as they piston in and out of him. The grips his too tight, too harsh. He feels something crack, screams as his next breath lights a bonfire in his chest.
He doesn’t even feel when the next man finishes, has long stopped being able to listen and comprehend what they’re saying around him. He tries to hold what information he already has in his head.
CyberLife. Newport. Providence Hospital. Harper University. Stratford Tower. Spokane. Baltimore. Glendale. Detroit.
His throat feels thick, his heart lodged in its base, and every breath in whistles and raises something metallic and wet in the back of his mouth. He’s losing too much blood, he thinks blearily, and, on the heels of that thought—he’s going to die.
The chandelier wavers above him, doubling and tripling as wetness slips down his cheeks and over his dry lips. A hundred shatters into a thousand and he shuts his eyes at the tug of the collar.
His movements slow, and he slumps against each body that pulls him to them. Too weak to hold himself up, let alone fight. The moon has disappeared from view outside the window, and he thinks of that six story drop as someone drags their nails across his lashes and opens each one up.
His mother would be so disappointed in him. She would rather he die than let himself be so degraded, and he can’t help but agree.
He should have jumped. Should have faced the risk of killing himself rather than letting these creatures do it for him.
The carpet is rough beneath his cheek, and it takes him a moment to realize that there are no more hands on him, or cocks in him. No tug against his throat pulling him in a new direction. There are still voices around him, but they are indistinct, and his eyes are swollen and heavy. He lays there, consciousness fading in and out, blood bubbling in his throat and pooling in his mouth.
A hand on his shoulder startles him, and he coughs and gags as he’s rolled onto his side and the fire in his ribs and lungs flares. Blood dribbles over his lips, and someone lifts his head, tilting it to the side as he shakes and retches. His throat clears and the hacking subsides, and his head is turned forward again, chin tilted against his chest. Something cool, the edge of a glass, is pressed to his lips, and warm, metallic liquid runs into his mouth.
He can’t turn his head away, barely clinging to consciousness. It trickles down his throat, a tickle that makes him need to cough again. The glass disappears, and a pair of cool, familiar lips replace it. A tongue presses in past his slack jaw..
His eyes crack open, and he makes out the shadowed features of Kamski, eyes narrow and knowing as he kisses Connor, making sure the thick liquid goes down.
teeth stuff this chapter
He drives for an hour, head pounding like his own personal metal band has set up shop in his skull to practice, stopping only once at a deserted gas station where he runs in and buys some snacks and fills up the tank again.
“You bought gas a few hours ago,” Connor says, leaning out the truck window to watch.
“We need to cover as much ground as we can to make sure they’re not on our trail, and I’m not risking running out of gas in a tight spot,” Hank mutters tiredly, leaning against the metal frame and reaching behind him absently to pat Sumo, who noses at his shoulder. Exhaustion hangs weights beneath his eyes and his shoulders slump the longer he stands here. He barely got half an hour’s worth of sleep, and he’s feeling all eighteen of those waking hours in his back and shoulders.
The possibility of having Connor take the wheel doesn’t even occur to him until Connor’s voice pulls him from his tired stupor. “Allow me to drive, Hank.”
He opens his mouth to argue—he’s used to long nights and days on the road—and then his mouth just keeps opening, a yawn cracking through his jaw. It somehow leaves him even more tired than before, and he rubs a hand across his aching eyes. “Fuck. Why not?” He digs the keys from his jacket and tosses them, and Connor catches them one-handed with a pleased look, disappearing back through the window. His silhouette slides over the bench seat as Hank puts the pump away and reaches into the bed of the truck.
When he climbs in, he tosses the plastic dollar store bag he grabbed between them, as well as the first aid kit, and points to the ragged front of Hank’s old hoodie hanging off Connor’s frame. “Take care of that before we get going.”
Connor puts a hand across the slash marks, as if confused, before saying, “They weren’t that deep. She barely grazed me.”
Hank eyes the dark stains around the holes skeptically until Connor relents with a quiet sigh. In the flourescent lights of the gas station, Connor hooks his fingers under the hem and pulls the hoodie up over his head, taking the shirt beneath with him. Hank should turn away, give Connor a little privacy, but he’s worried about the scratches and it’s not like he hasn’t already seen Connor without a shirt.
There’s blood smeared on Connor’s skin, and Hank winces at first, until he finally makes out the three puny little scratches stretching across Connor’s stomach. Despite all the blood, it looks more like a cat scratched him then a vampire, and Hank’s eyebrows shoot nearly to his hairline in surprise.
“Oh. Well,” Hank says blankly, mildly embarrassed about doubting Connor’s word. “Uh. Guess you were right.” WIth Connor’s track record in caring for his other wounds, Hank feels at least a little justified in wanting to make sure. And he’d been positive the scratches must be deeper, but maybe the hoodie and shirt had provided some protection.
“I appreciate your concern,” Connor says. “I should clean up and change anyways, or we may draw unwanted attention.” Using the torn shirt and a water bottle Hank hands him, Connor clears away the blood, or as much as he can. The bandage covering the initials on his chest is clean, which means it’s probably not bleeding anymore, which is good.
Hank should look away now—the kid’s clearly got a handle on it, and he’s exhausted—but he still finds his eyes drawn to the soft skin of Connor’s flat stomach. He wants to touch it, and he shakes his head at the thought. Connor’s attractive, no bones about it, but Hank can’t let himself wander down that path. No point, this partnership is only temporary after all.
He busies himself with digging through the plastic bag of clothes. The hoodie with the bat on it comes to hand, and Hank grins as he hands it and a long-sleeved shirt over to Connor. Connor passes the bloodied shirt to Hank in exchange, and he tosses it in the floorboard to be dealt with later. Only after Connor has pulled on the shirt does he realize what Hank has handed him.
“Hank, did you pick this out?” Connor asks, and his voice is strangely blank.
“Uh, yeah. Saw you looking at it, figured you might like it. It was on sale, so,” Hank shrugs.
“I see. Thank you.” Connor doesn’t move for a moment, staring down at the bat in front of the big yellow moon, face waxy beneath the fluorescents. His lips lift slightly in a thin smile that looks more deprecating than pleased, and only then does it hit Hank exactly what kind of bad joke he’s probably handed Connor.
“Ah, shit, sorry, Connor. Just saw you looking at it and thought you wanted it, wasn’t really thinking.” He reaches for it, ready to roll down the window and toss it in the trashcan next to the pump, but Connor pulls it out of reach.
“No, it’s fine,” Connor says, meeting Hank’s eyes, and his smile turns a little more amused, his eyes a little brighter. “I was just surprised, that’s all. Before I was captured, I enjoyed this type of thing.” He flattens the hoodie out over his lap, showing the screen printing. “I didn’t wear clothes like this, of course, but I enjoyed Halloween and the various… creative interpretations of supernatural beings. I have a collection of supernatural non-fiction books at home. They’re fascinating.”
“No shit? What, like books about UFO kidnappings and chupacabra sightings?” Hank asks, and laughs at the nod he receives. Connor certainly doesn’t seem the type, but then again, that kind of shit is genuinely hilarious considering most people don’t even know what’s really happening around them. “You’ll have to show me when we get there, I love that shit too.”
“Yes. Amanda never approved of my fascination, but I’d be happy to show you.” There’s an excitement to Connor’s voice that Hank hasn’t yet heard. “You’re very thoughtful, Hank. Thank you.”
The sincerity of Connor’s words surprises Hank, and he leans back against the seat feeling hot for no good reason all of a sudden. “Nah, you needed some clothes, that’s all,” Hank says, waving a hand when Connor’s look softens to something that makes Hank’s gut flip. “Just, drive dammit, let’s get out of here.”
“Of course.” Connor nods, slipping his arms into the hoodie and pulling it over his head. He takes a moment to straighten it, smoothing a hand over the screenprinting, as if it’s not just some cheap clearance rack hoodie, and then cranks the truck. “The more time we waste here, the higher the chance Kamski will find us again. We should keep moving.”
“Wake me up when you need to rest, kid,” Hank sighs, folding his arms and leaning against the door. “And try not to fuck up my truck.”
He was sure he would be too wary to fall asleep right away, meant to keep an eye on the kid and make sure he wasn’t some maniac on the road, as unlikely as it seemed. But the swaying of the truck as it pulls back onto the highway, the hum of the engine, and the sound of the radio tuning to some classical station send him down quickly.
He wakes what feels like moments later to a gentle nudge and a soft, “Hank, the sun is rising. Do you want to find a motel?”
He rises out of sleep like a creature from the swamp, bleary and incoherent as he looks around at the faint light coming over the horizon. Not quite sunrise, but close.
“Yeah, fuck. Just, uh—how far away is the next town?”
“It’ll be another sixty miles, but—” Connor hesitates, glancing over. He doesn’t say it, but the kid’s gotta be exhausted too.
“Shit, thought you were gonna stop me when you needed a rest. Didn’t expect you to drive all night, Connor.” Hank runs a rough hand through his hair, shoving up from the door and trying to wake himself a little.
“It was no problem. We needed to put distance between us and Kamski’s servants, and I wasn’t as tired as you seemed to be.”
“Well, still, we’re in this together, Connor. Means we work as a team,” Hank says, and blinks at Connor’s look of surprise. He’s too tired to comment on it though, and they have a more pressing matter anyways. He can see that Connor is fading, eyes drooping and voice soft with exhaustion, even if the kid seems reluctant to admit it. “Now’s as good a time as any to stop, since they won’t be able to track us during the day.”
He looks out at the scant trees around them as they fly by, searching for a likely spot. He could switch with Connor and drive the next hour, but Hank’s used to the outdoors, and camping means they’ll be able to bed down sooner, and pack up sooner. It only takes five minutes more before he’s tapping Connor on the shoulder and pointing to a dirt road coming up on their right.
“Hey, take that turn.”
The dirt path leads through the woods a short ways before ending at a rusted metal gate crossing the path with a No Trespassing sign hanging off it.
“Drive around it.”
“The sign says no trespassing.”
“Yeah, which means privacy.”
Connor gives Hank a doubtful look, but dutifully pulls into the grass and circumvents the pathetic little gate. They drive a little while longer, until they can’t see the highway behind them, and then Hank has Connor pull over on the side of the path.
“What are we doing out here?” Connor asks as Hank opens the door and climbs out.
There’s a faint chill in the air and the world is still bathed in shadows, the sky fading from navy to a lighter purple in the east. The driver’s door creaks open and Connor appears on the other side of the truck, moving away quickly when Sumo crosses to where he’s standing and bares his teeth in a growl. Hank frowns and whistles sharply, and Sumo’s head drops, tail curling between his legs. Damn dog is still too wary of Connor, and last night probably didn’t help either, putting those creature’s scent all over him again.
From a distance, Connor watches curiously as Hank reaches into the truck bed and grabs one of the rolled up sleeping bags he keeps back here. He tosses it to Connor, who catches it in his arms and stares at it, and then back at Hank.
“Hope you don’t mind a little camping trip,” Hank says.
Connor’s eyes dart around the trees and the dirt road back the way they came, as if any moment Kamski and his servants would come rushing down it. “This doesn’t seem like the safest place to stop.”
“Don’t worry, sun’s almost up. They’ll have gotten somewhere nice and dark to wait out the day.”
“I know,” Connor says, almost defensive, but he still keeps holding the sleeping bag, head on a swivel and an uneasy air about him.
It takes Hank pulling another sleeping bag out, glad for once he decided to bother with a spare, and unrolling it across the grass close to the tree line. Only then does Connor do the same, choosing a spot nearby. Sumo hops down from the bed, the rim of his dog bed between his teeth, and Hank calls the dog sharply to his side, where Sumo sets the bed down and curls up on it immediately.
Hank unzips and crawls into his own sleeping bag, already halfway to dreamland again. From the opening, he can see Connor doing the same, pulling his hood up and pulling the flap of the bag over him like a shroud. Hank manages a few more minutes of consciousness, watching the way Connor goes still, probably passed out the moment he closed his eyes.
He’s a strong guy. Surviving for a year in Kamski’s clutches, used as a blood bag for those leeches if the scars on his neck are anything to go by. Getting marked like cattle. Hank’s never seen any of the Stern family before, but the stories people tell certainly don’t cover the sheer force of will that must run in their blood. If Hank had met Connor before he found this life, he never would have thought someone like Connor would have been able to survive that kind of situation and come out the other side still fighting.
He can’t help but wonder morbidly what else Kamski put Connor through. Hopefully nothing as bad as the scarification, but some of those marks say otherwise.
He doesn’t even realize he’s fallen asleep again until he’s swimming up from unconsciousness, blinking awake to a purplish sky and the realization that he slept all fucking day. He shoves up, rubbing his neck and the mild kink in it. Fucking hurts to turn his head to the right now. Figures.
There are only a few faint rays of light peeking through the opposite trees, leaving their little patch of grass and road in shadows. He turns slowly, and spots Connor sitting on his sleeping bag. He raises a hand, tossing something in Hank’s direction, and Hank startles but Sumo snaps it deftly from the air, smacking down on whatever it was.
“Good evening, Hank,” Connor says, tearing apart one of the gas station muffins Hank bought the night before. Sumo misses the next piece and has to chase it, sniffing through the grass. “Would you like a muffin? I’ve already eaten, but there’s still a few left.”
Hank presses the heel of his palm against one eye, rubbing the grit out. His tongue is a thick piece of sandpaper in his mouth and his voice comes out a tired croak. “Yeah. Some water would be good too. Or better yet, Jack Daniels.”
“I’d advise against the latter. Considering your lifestyle, alcohol is an unhealthy and dangerous vice.” He frowns suddenly, and says, “It occurs to me that you may have still had some alcohol in your system last night, and I allowed you to drive.”
Rolling his eyes, Hank rises to his feet, stretching his hands to the sky and letting out a roaring yawn before planting his hands against his lower back and giving it a good pop. “You didn’t allow anything, it’s my truck and my life. Forgive me for not stopping to let you fucking breathalyze me.”
“You show a gross lack of care for your own safety, Hank,” Connor says matter-of-factly. “That kind of oversight can be deadly in this business.”
“Connor? No one gives a fuck, least of all me. Just toss me some damn water already.” What a way to start the day. Night. Whatever. Already getting grilled about his drinking habits. He takes back every charitable thought he had about Connor, the kid’s a pain in the ass and he’ll be glad to be rid of him once they finally take care of this mess.
He lets down the tailgate of his truck, the suspension creaking as he sits on it and drinks deep from the water bottle Connor tosses him. It’s just barely cooler than lukewarm and feels like heaven on his throat, and he sighs deeply when he’s had his fill. Connor rises from his sleeping bag, the gas station bag in hand, and takes a seat next to Hank, offering one of the muffins from it.
Taking it, Hank rips the plastic open and devours it, barely tasting the stale blueberry and too squishy bread. The next one Connor hands him disappears just as quickly. It makes him feel a little more awake and human, if still grouchy. Everything hurts, from his neck to his ass, and he wants nothing more than to crawl back into the sleeping bag and pass out for a week, but they still have a ways to go.
“We shouldn’t linger too long,” Connor says, though he makes no move himself to get up.
“Yeah, we’ll get moving soon, just give me a minute,” Hank says, taking another long swallow of water to wash away the aftertaste of the meager breakfast. His curiosity, dampened since the brief argument the night before and their subsequent flight, comes back to him. “Hey, Connor. Why are you so against going to your family for help? You know they have to be missing you, right?”
Beside him, Connor tenses, and then sighs, looking down at his hands folded neatly in his lap. “I’m quite sure they don’t miss me, Hank.”
“Come on. You can’t know that.” Hank nudges his arm slightly, frowning at the resigned tone.
“I do though. When I was with Kamski—” Connor’s mouth snaps shut and his lips thin, nostrils flaring as he takes a deep breath. The urge to reach out and put a steadying hand on Connor’s shoulder is overwhelming, and he gives in without a thought, fingers barely brushing Connor’s shoulder. Connor flinches, a full-body jerk that has Hank drawing back as if stung.
“Shit, sorry. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to. I’m just too curious for my own good,” Hank says quickly, putting his hands in his lap to keep from trying that again. A surge of anger rushes through him at what Kamski has done to the kid that means he can’t even accept a friendly touch. Cutting him off from human contact even once he got free of that dungeon.
Straightening, Connor says, “No. If we’re going to my family’s, you should know what to expect.” Connor takes a deep breath, steeling himself. “While I was with Kamski, he made it clear that they never came looking for me.” He must see Hank gearing up to argue against taking the word of one of those creatures, because he shakes his head. “I don’t believe he was lying. They had hoped my brother or mother would follow my trail and fall into another trap, as I did. They never did—Kamski wouldn’t have felt the need to lie about that. If they had followed me and escaped or killed those lying in wait, Kamski would not have hesitated to rub their superiority in my face.”
The self-loathing in Connor’s words is painfully familiar and surprising, and Hank’s hands clench in his lap for want of some way to comfort him. “Hey. You never know. Maybe they couldn’t find your trail?” He knows it’s a long shot even as he says it, and Connor’s already shaking his head.
“My mother trained us to be independent, but not foolish. We always relayed our location and destination to each other.” Connor smiles wryly. “I’m only saying this to warn you that I don’t know what kind of reception we’ll receive—my mother is quite strict and we weren’t raised like normal children. Everything we’ve done has been for the sake of this.” He gestures at himself and around them. “I’m sure she cares for us in her own way, but my failure won’t be taken lightly. She’ll see it as a failure of herself and her teachings, and she does not take failure well.”
“What do you mean?” Hank asks. “She’s your mother, Connnor. There’s no way she won’t be relieved.”
Connor considers this, eyebrows pinching together. “Perhaps in the way you would be relieved to find a tool you thought lost. I know you have certain expectations with regards to how a normal family would welcome a missing member, but I can assure you, Hank—it won’t be like that.” He says it so solemnly that Hank wants to laugh to lighten the mood.
“Why don’t you call them?” Hank says, taking his hand off Connor’s shoulder to pull out his cell. “Let ‘em know you’re alright. Then you can see for yourself, right now.” He offers it to Connor, who gives it a brief glance before his eyes flick to Hank’s face. “What? Don’t remember their numbers?”
“If—” Connor’s throat bobs on a swallow and his voice is uneven. “If we must go, we have a better chance of receiving a welcome if they aren’t prepared for my arrival.”
He’s worried, Hank realizes belatedly, lowering the phone. Connor’s worried that they’ll turn him away, worried about his family’s reaction. Beneath the veneer of logic and reasoning is an anxiety that his family won’t want him back for failing, that they didn’t search for him because they didn’t care. Everything clicks into place about Connor’s reluctance to return to them, and Hank wishes he could reassure Connor somehow, but the only reassurance he’d find would be to see for himself that his family does want him.
“Alright,” Hank says, nodding. “We’ll see when we get there.”
“What about you, Hank?” Connor asks.
“What about me?”
“What’s your family like? Are they aware of your involvement in this life?”
It’s an innocent question, but Hank’s stomach turns to lead at the mention of his family. He wants to hop off the tailgate and start gathering their stuff, ignore the question completely until Connor takes a hint. He wants to dig through his bag and find the bottle of whiskey he keeps on him and quench the sudden dryness of his throat.
It’s not Connor’s fault. He’s just curious, and Hank can’t blame him, especially after he sat here and bared his own worries about his family. It’s just—hard.
“I had a wife, and a son,” Hank says, and the past tense burns behind his eyes as potent as it ever has. “My son got snatched up by someone. Drained. Murdered. I was on the force, but they wouldn’t let me on the case—too close to it. So went after the guy solo. Tracked the leads and hunted for months. I found him, but I also found all this.” He gestures as Connor had around them.
Stumbling into this world had been surreal. Finding the man who murdered his son gorging on another helpless victim in an abandoned house that reeked like a bloated corpse. Superhuman in strength, easily taking every bullet Hank put into him and shrugging them off. He had been lucky a hunter had also been on the creature’s trail, and came to Hank’s rescue—stabbing the creature to death with a stake while it was busy trying to tear into Hank.
“I tried to tell my wife about it, about what happened to our son. I sounded like a fucking loon to her, and it was probably too much on top of, you know, the grief. So she left, but I don’t blame her. I barely even noticed. I retired from the force and me and Sumo have been on the road ever since.” It’s such a pathetic little tale, and old too. Five years and he still can’t get over seeing Cole’s lifeless, bloodless body with those puncture marks on his neck. Waking up from dreams where Cole calls for him, screaming for his mommy and daddy, while a strange creature drinks his life away.
“I’m sorry,” Connor says quietly. “That must have been terrible.”
Hank shakes his head. “Yeah, well, that’s why I’m out here. Trying to make sure these monsters can’t ruin other people’s lives.”
He startles at a soft touch on his shoulder, head whipping around. Connor’s hand is light, like the touch of a cloud, and he nearly pulls his hand back. But Hank sees Connor’s jaw set and the fingers squeeze, a surprisingly solid grip. “You’re a good man, Hank.”
“Nah, kid. Just doing my job,” Hank says, going for casual, but his eyes burn again. It’s been so damn long since he’s told anyone this, and just as long since he’s felt such easy compassion in return. Coming from Connor, reaching out when he couldn’t accept the same in return, it feels all the more special, and he wishes he could reach up and touch that soft hand. It’s a dumb, sentimental feeling, and he shakes his head and gives a hard sniff. “Alright, enough of this heart to heart shit. Let’s get going.”
They’re only a day’s drive from Michigan, and his home, and with each passing mile Connor’s anxiety ramps up. He wants to believe that they’ll welcome him, that they’ll be relieved that he’s okay, and that they’ll tell him they had no idea what happened to him. Yet he can’t recall a time where that has ever been the case.
He remembers going away on long hunts before, clearing out nests and following trails. A vampire in Maryland put up a particularly vicious fight when Connor found its nest and it tried to hold a little girl hostage. He’d gone in alone and it had—pleaded with Connor, trying to beg that it just wanted to leave, that it wanted to find the vampire that turned it in the first place and he could be human again. That it didn’t want to hurt anyone. Hard to believe with all the corpses piled in its den.
Even with support from local hunters who didn’t know what to do with the creature, he’d barely gotten out of there alive. He’d convinced it to let the girl go and take him instead, and he’d shoved a stake through its heart as the creature grabbed at him and tried to tear him apart. When Connor finally got back to Michigan with scars thick across his side, Amanda had looked at him with pitiless eyes after his report.
“Let those be a reminder of your carelessness, Connor. You did well preventing a casualty, but if you cannot defend yourself from even the most pedestrian of these creatures, then my training is a waste.”
There had been no sympathy or understanding in her voice, and she’d swept from her office without a look back, leaving Connor to hobble to his room on his own. His brother, Niles, had shown at least some concern, but underlying it had been his own admonishment.
“I hope you’ll be more careful in the future. You know better than to attempt to negotiate with these things. You would have done just as well with your rifle if you’d thought to bring it with you.”
It had been a success in the end, albeit a messy one. This was not a success. This was a massive failure, and though he and even Niles had tasted smaller failures before—vampires that got away or casualties they were not quick enough to prevent—this was more than all of that combined. He’d allowed himself to be captured, and worse—
The blonde creatures words echo in Connor’s head, telling Connor he could be human again. Amanda had dismissed it as untested when Connor told her, but now Connor clings to it. It’s his only hope.
He winces as his teeth scrape across his inner lips, tasting copper, no longer tangy and fresh but stale and recycled. It makes his stomach growl lightly, and he’s thankful for the low jazz music playing on the radio to mask it. It had been the only thing Connor and Hank had managed to agree on when it came to music. The metal Hank liked grated on Connor’s ears, and the classical Connor preferred put Hank to sleep, or so he claimed. He wouldn’t have thought a man like Hank interested in anything resembling jazz, but Connor found himself slightly charmed when the song started up and he found Hank humming along.
His hunger is only growing worse, especially when he’s reminded of it. His chest is a hollow cavern and his skin is tight. He knows he’s probably getting paler, and if he doesn’t eat something soon, he won’t have a choice. He shudders at the memory of that unthinking darkness, driven by pure instinct and animal hunger.
In their makeshift camp, waking after the sun had lowered and not even trying to eat the muffins Hank had bought, he’d considered a brief hunt through the surrounding trees. A rabbit or a squirrel, if he could catch one, might be adequate. His mother always told him that animal blood was never enough to sustain a vampire, that eventually their lust for human blood would overwhelm them, but if it staved off that point any longer it was worth a try.
He’d waited too long though, and Hank had awoken, and his chance had slipped by.
Beneath the anxiety of what his family will say when he arrives back home is the worry that he won’t make it that far. Of course all vampires are monsters—look at what they did to Connor, and to Hank’s son. Hank is a seasoned hunter in his own right, and if he notices any discrepancies with Connor it’ll be easy for him to put two and two together. He wouldn’t hesitate to destroy Connor, and Connor wouldn’t blame him, especially after what he’s been through.
Hank sends him a smile as another song starts up. The world around them is dark, lit only by the yellow crescent in the sky seen in brief flashes between heavy clouds. The drums and saxophone and the singer’s raspy voice fill Connor’s chest and he wishes this moment could last forever. He’s never had a friend before, but he likes the way Hank talks to him. Not as a student or an inferior or a captive—as an equal.
He’d like it if Hank was his friend. If Connor didn’t flinch back from every slight touch just because he felt, in those brief moments where his subconscious jerked the reins from his hold, that it was Kamski’s hand on him.
If he kills Kamski he can have that, but not until then. That will fix everything—it will mean proving to Amanda he’s not incompetent, it will mean getting rid of this curse, and it will mean he can have his life back and finally stop thinking about that dungeon and the constant, familiar hunger.
Their ride is smooth and interrupted only by bathroom breaks and gas station runs. Connor hadn’t managed to avoid Hank’s eagerness in getting Connor to try something new at their last food stop. The hot dog topped with sauerkraut, onion, and spicy mustard and the thick potato wedges had been nearly unbearable going down.It sat heavily in his stomach and he purged them at their next stop in the gas station bathroom, thinking of something sweet and tangy to fill the void instead.
When he comes out with a clean face and no sign of what he’d done, Sumo watches him from the bed of the truck, following Connor around the side as he goes to his door. He considers holding his hand out to let the dog sniff him, and shakes his head at the ridiculous idea. No matter how much he feeds Sumo, the dog knows better.
“Good boy,” Connor says, and Sumo’s ears perk and his brow raises as he looks at Connor. If Connor does lose control, if they don’t manage to deal with Kamski before then, at least he knows Sumo will protect Hank without reserve. It’s a good thing, even if Connor’s chest aches at the thought of possibly hurting either of them. “You’re a very good boy. Hank’s lucky to have you.”
They continue on until the sun peeks slowly. Connor pulls his hood low, but he can see the weariness on Hank’s face and thankfully they stop for the day at a motel. It’s a two story structure with a parking lot enclosed by the square of rooms, which shadows them from the rising sun and means Connor doesn’t have to keep his hood up the whole time. Hank comes out of the front office grumbling, waving his keycard at Connor.
“They’ve got an open room, but there’s a problem,” Hank mutters, reaching past Connor, who’s leaning against the passenger door, to grab a few bags from the truck bed.
“What’s the problem?” Connor asks, straightening, smoothing the front of the ridiculous hoodie down automatically.
“One bed,” Hank says wryly, and hefts one of the rolled up sleeping bags out of the back. “Come on.” He whistles for Sumo and the big dog leaps out of the back with the dog bed in his teeth and follows Hank to the set of stairs leading to the second floor.
Connor grabs Hank’s other bag, as well as the small plastic bag of his own clothes. It’s getting stretched and worn, but it works for the moment.
The room is a little nicer than the previous motels they’ve made their stops in, clearly a busy place that can afford to keep itself up-to-date. The walls are painted a soft gray rather than dry wallpaper, and the television boasts streaming services, with a small note taped to the corner with the wifi password.
The single bed is nice and clean, big enough for two, and Connor shakes his head as he sees Hank rolling out the sleeping bag on the floor between the bed and the window.
“I’ll take the floor, Hank,” Connor says quickly, moving to Hank’s side.
Hank tries to wave him away, saying, “Nah, I’m used ti it, and you’re young. Better if you don’t fuck your back up like me.”
Connor’s already putting a hand on Hank’s shoulder, grabbing the sleeping bag with the other and pushing Hank firmly towards the bed. “I insist. You’ve done quite a lot for me already, and it’s no trouble for me to take the floor. Besides,” he says, cocking an ironic smile. “I think I’m used to far worse.”
The sleeping bag falls from Hank’s hands and he stares at Connor, mouth dropping open, before a surprised laugh bursts out of him. “Shit! That’s fucking awful, kid! And completely unfair, shouldn’t that mean you deserve to sleep somewhere nice for a change?” His voice is tinged with disbelieving laughter.
“Provided my family welcomes us into their home, we won’t want for luxury, I can assure you that. One night on the floor in a motel is hardly the end of the world for me, considering we slept outside only yesterday.” That had been close too. He hadn’t anticipated sleeping outside in broad daylight. It was lucky he’d been able to fit himself completely inside the sleeping bag or Hank would have figured him out before he even had a chance to stop Kamski.
Hank huffs but doesn’t resist Connor’s nudge towards the bed. “Fuck. Fine, if you wanna kill your back, that’s your problem then.” It makes Connor smile a little more at Hank’s concern, unnecessary though it is.
Straightening the sleeping bag, Connor makes sure the curtains are firmly shut and turns to find Hank pulling out the first aid kit and sitting on the edge of the bed. His hand flies up to the patch of bandages below his shirt, and he knows Hank will want to check on it. Before Hank can gesture him to sit down, Connor goes to him and reaches into the red bag himself, plucking out a clean bandage and an antiseptic wipe.
“I’m going to take a shower,” Connor says quickly, scooping up his bag of clothes on the way and shutting himself inside the bathroom before Hank can comment.
His heart is in his throat for no reason. It’s not like Hank could force Connor to let him check it, but he can’t risk making the man suspicious. Connor turns on the shower, letting the water warm up as he goes to the mirror. The light here is brighter than the last bathroom, a clean white that doesn’t make him look so washed out.
He sets the bag on the counter and digs through it for one of the nail files he’d tossed in there. Shiny and clean and silver.
Not real silver, just some cheap metal.
He was interrupted last time, hasn’t had a moment alone since to do what needs doing. Ignores the thought that he’d backed out before anything had really happened.
Opening his mouth, he leans close to the mirror, raising the file and setting it against his upper right canine. The sting of his cuts have already faded, all of them closed up within the hour, but soon what’s noticeable to only him will become visible to everyone. There’s a sharpness to his teeth that Hank is bound to recognize given enough time.
With a sure hand, the file slides over his tooth and it resonates in his skull, a deep, grating sound that sends his heart racing. He expects the cold burn against his lips and tongue and gums, jerking away, raising his free hand, feeling somehow disoriented when nothing yanks back on his wrist.
He freezes, staring at himself in the mirror, mouth hidden behind a trembling hand. It takes a moment for him to reorient himself, to remind his hands and mouth that he’s in a bathroom in a motel and he has to do this. No matter how uncomfortable it is, he has to. If nothing else, it will make him less of a danger if he loses control.
Lowering his hand deliberately, he grips the edge of the counter. The hammer of his heart strikes his ribs as if to knock them loose. Pressing the file back against his canine, careful not to brush his lips, tongue flat against the bottom of his mouth, he braces himself.
The taste of leather fills his mouth, pressing his tongue down, wedged against his jaw to hold him still. The feeling of metal just behind his teeth, stretching him open, preventing him from biting down. His throat itches with the tickle of his own blood and his head rings with each pass of the file.
His hand is shaking and numb, legs locked against the cabinet. The file clatters into the sink and Connor doubles over it, breathing hard and fast, trying to shake away the hand gripping his jaw and the thick straps digging into his cheeks.
He needs to get over this. There are bigger things at stake than his personal feelings. He needs to take care of this, to give everyone, especially Hank, an edge in case things go wrong.
He can’t make himself look in the mirror, can’t find the strength to pick the file out of the sink.
One more day, he tells himself. He can last that long. One more day to get it together and force himself to take care of this. His teeth are growing too sharp, but as long as he’s careful no one will notice. Tomorrow night he’ll have to do it though, whether he wants to or not.
He waits for his breathing to slow, for his vision to stop spinning. He shouldn’t be so relieved, and again he thinks of his mother. Her disappointment in his growing inability to put the mission first.
She won’t know. By this time tomorrow they’ll be at the Stern family manor, and he’ll do what needs to be done then, provided his family does welcome them. Maybe being somewhere familiar, somewhere he knows is secure, will give him the resolve he needs. For now he’ll continue acting as if nothing is wrong, and hopefully Hank won’t see through him.
The file returns to the bag, and Connor divests himself of his clothes. The scratches from the Chloe are gone completely, and he peels the old bandage over his wound away. He looks at the initials over his heart briefly, only to confirm what he’d already known—the wounds have closed up, no longer leaking blood, no longer even scabbed. Already turning into thick white scars from the silver.
He looks away and gets into the shower. It doesn’t hurt anymore, at least, but he definitely can’t let Hank see how quickly it’s healed up when days ago it was an open wound.
The warm water does nothing for his racing, anxious thoughts over his growing instability and worry for seeing his family again. Over Hank possibly discovering his secret. He scrubs at his skin and can’t help but think of his last proper bath in Kamski’s home and what had awaited him afterwards.
This feels like that. The calm before the storm. As if the moment they reach the front gates Amanda and Niles will storm out and renounce him as a—
He shakes his head, water dripping into his eyes. They won’t be able to tell. His paleness he can attribute to a year in the dark. He can hide his teeth until he gets a moment to deal with them. Nothing will give him away as long as he’s careful.
When he’s done with his shower, he puts a new bandage over the scars and throws the cotton swabs and antiseptic pad in the trash with the old. Maybe he’s just being paranoid, but if Hank should look, he’ll think Connor cleaned his wound at least. Another layer to the illusion of his humanity, another lie. He ignores the guilt that clenches his gut.
Hank, thankfully, is already done checking his own wounds and reclines on the bed, watching the news. Sumo is buried in his food bowl and when Connor passes him, the dog doesn’t even look up.
“Hey,” Hank says, voice serious. “Hold on a sec, come sit down, I wanna talk.”
Connor pauses over the sleeping bag, mind whirring, a surety that Hank somehow knows filling him like ice water. Taking a slow step towards the bed, Connor sinks onto the edge slowly, back straight, schooling his face. “What did you need?”
With a heavy sigh, Hank’s gaze flicks over Connor. “Look. When we get to your family, can you give them a chance? You know them better than I do, but I know a thing or two about losing a son. Makes you a different person. If my son—” Hank hesitates, and Connor’s relief at the unexpected topic turns to a dull ache for this man in his chest. “If Cole could see me today, I don’t think he’d recognize the man I am now. I could be wrong.” Hank holds up a hand, as if to forestall any arguments. “But you being gone might have changed them too, and I hope you’ll give them a chance to explain.”
He wants to tell Hank that he’s wrong. That Connor has a hundred anecdotes about Amanda’s training and teachings that proves that any loss Amanda felt would purely be for the waste of time and resources on someone who’d failed her. But Hank’s words are heartfelt, they come from a deep familiarity with grief and loss, and Connor finds he hopes Hank is right.
Instead of arguing, Connor nods once. “Alright. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Statistically speaking, there’s always a chance for unlikely events to take place.” He can’t resist the small joke, and is rewarded with a short laugh in return.
“Your jokes are fucking terrible,” Hank says, raising his hand as if to touch Connor’s shoulder, then seeming to think better of it. He drops it to his lap, shaking his head with a smile. “Your sense of humor sucks, kid.”
“Sorry, Hank,” Connor says, without an ounce of remorse. “You seem to be rubbing off on me.”
“What! Since when do I tell shitty jokes?” Hank throws his hands in the air. “Kids these days got no respect.”
“I take issue with that,” Connor says, letting a touch of annoyance show through. “I’m not a kid you know. I’m thirty years old.”
“Thirty? Shut up,” Hank says with a grin, and when Connor continues to stare at him, it transforms into astonishment. “Wait, what? You’re seriously thirty years old?”
“You look like you’re twenty-four at most. Fuck.” Hank leans back against the headboard, studying Connor’s face intently. “I never would have guessed. Still, I’ve got twenty years on you, so that’s basically a kid by my count.”
The absurdity of the statement and Hank’s surprise strikes Connor far funnier than it should, and a laugh bursts out of him. It shocks him how light he feels all of a sudden, the cloak of worry sloughing off his shoulders. He can’t remember the last time he laughed like this—maybe with Niles, he can’t be sure. The last time he’d felt so relaxed in general, no tight coil of disquietude sitting like a primed grenade in his hands, was well before Kamski ever laid eyes on him.
Gradually, his laughter fades, and self-consciousness steels over him. Hank’s mouth is open in clear amazement and he stares as if seeing Connor for the first time. It’s not like he’s had much occasion to laugh in a long time, and Connor worries suddenly if it sounds stupid. If he sounds stupid.
“What?” he asks, when Hank continues to just look at him.
“You should do that more often.” As if catching himself, Hank starts, a red heat filling his cheeks. “Uh, I mean, just don’t think I’ve actually heard you laugh before.”
Something in Connor’s stomach twists, and for once it isn’t the hunger that’s been plaguing him, but he has no idea how to identify it. It’s warm and nervous all at once. “I suppose I haven’t had much reason to laugh lately,” Connor says. Until Hank found him, every waking moment was either filled with a numbing despondency or anger or fear. Even after, the weight of his secret and the need to find Kamski have been all-consuming.
“Yeah, I guess so,” Hank mutters, running a hand through his hair. “Sorry.”
“No,” Connor says quickly, turning so he’s further on the bed, to better face Hank. “I have you to thank for having a reason to laugh. If you hadn’t found me and pulled me out of that place—” He can only shrug stiffly. He’d had thoughts down there. Ideas of how he could end it, if given the opportunity. Killing a vampire was difficult, but the silver cuffs around his wrists had been a looming option.
“Ah shit, don’t thank me, I just happened to be there. Could have been anyone else who decided to look into those disappearances.”
“I suppose, but I’m glad it was you,” Connor says sincerely. Any other hunter wouldn’t have fought Connor, not with the reputation the Sterns had for being the best. They would have let Connor run right back into the jaws of his enemy, and there’s no telling what new cruelty Kamski could concoct for Connor’s almost escape.
“Yeah, well, guess I feel the same. Glad I could find you, Connor,” Hank mutters, looking away, eyes roving everywhere but Connor’s face. There’s an embarrassed tint to Hank’s cheeks again, nearly hidden beneath the beard, and Connor feels his own face growing hot. “Alright, enough of this sappy shit. I’m going to fucking sleep.”
“Of course,” Connor says, resisting the urge to press a hand to his face and feel the heat there. “Have a good night, Hank.” He stands, moving to the sleeping bag.
“Uh, you sure you wanna sleep on the floor?” Hank asks, and Connor looks over his shoulder. “Plenty of room here.” Hank pats the bed with a teasing smile, and Connor—know it’s just a joke, but part of him wants to take Hank up on the offer. Surprise him with a yes and crawl into bed next to the big man. He’s always slept alone, and he wonders what it would be like to sleep next to Hank. If Hank would throw an arm over Connor and hold him against that solid chest as he slept.
On the heels of that thought is the phantom of fingers on his body, the shadows of hands and tongue and teeth against him. The way Kamski broke him over and over, relentless. Using him any and every way he could, for the sheer novelty of it, until Connor didn’t feel human anymore. Couldn’t, in truth, say he was one.
The fantasy shrivels. He’s too ruined. Hank would never want to be near him if he knew what Connor was, and it was just a joke regardless. He doesn’t need to get caught up in feelings for a man he just met.
Managing a short smile, Connor says, “I’ll be fine in the sleeping bag. Good night, Hank.”
Hank gives a quiet good night as he pulls the blankets up over himself, and Connor flips the lights, plunging the room into darkness save for the faint glow of morning sunlight beneath the curtains. Crawling into the sleeping bag, Connor covers himself fully with the flap and tries to banish the anxiety creeping up his limbs and filling his chest again, flushing the weightlessness away.
His thoughts tick in circles like clockwork, taking him back to the moonlit dungeon. Being cracked open like a snail to reveal the vulnerable, aching parts of him. Kamski’s sharp smile as he held Connor’s face and guided him by the hips and taught him how to be a monster.
He knew what he was the moment he woke again in the dungeon. No aches, no bruises, no bleeding wounds. No evidence of what had happened to him, not even the fractured or broken ribs he’d sustained. Kamski came eventually, without a candle. He didn’t need one, after all, and now neither did Connor.
Straining at the chains, ignoring how the cuffs around his wrists suddenly burned when the sleeves of the shirt he’d been dressed in were tugged out of the way, Connor lost the control he’d been fighting to maintain since he got here. He raged, shouted, threatened. It didn’t make Connor feel better, didn’t change what had already happened. He’d had the blood of a vampire poured down his throat, and now he was one of them.
Kamski bore it all with an air of disinterest, and when Connor wore himself out, Kamski approached the fledgling slumped in his chains and only then Connor notice the glass in his hands and the dark liquid therein. The smell hit him like a brick, sweet and alluring, filling his nose, and Connor recoiled as he realized what it was.
“Drink,” Kamski commanded, and when Connor turned his head away from the glass as it was brought to his face, Kamski grabbed him by the jaw. A familiar position, Kamski squeezing until Connor felt like his jaw would break. But Connor had strength he hadn’t before, and he jerked his head back and then forward, snapping at the fingers of Kamski’s hand.
His teeth tore easily through the leather of Kamski’s glove. He felt the give of flesh between his canines, the resistance of bone and something metallic and stale filling his mouth that brought forth a sudden surge of hunger. Something slammed into the side of his head and glass rained down around him. He gasped at the sudden pain and Kamski’s fingers came free of Connor’s teeth.
The wrath in Kamski’s eyes had been enough for Connor to know he’d made a mistake, but he didn’t regret it as he spat Kamski’s blood on the stone at his feet. He would never willingly drink a human’s blood—he’d rather die first. Without another word, Kamski left, but Connor doesn’t let his guard down after that. Kamski isn’t likely to give up so easily, and Connor is quickly proven right.
The next night Kamski returns with a Chloe.
“I gave you a rare gift, Connor,” Kamski chides as Chloe approaches with something leather in her hands. “And you return my generosity with threats and an attempt to harm me.”
Even with only the faint moonlight, Connor can see as clear as if it were day. Kamski’s finger is already healed, a new glove pulled over it, showing no signs of Connor’s brief attack. “Unfortunately, I think you’ll live,” Connor says, contempt pouring from every word.
“True. While your stunt did no more than ruin a fine pair of gloves, it did make me realize that I’ve also given you far too much power.” Kamsi nods at Connor and Chloe approaches, hands pulling apart until Connor can see what she carries clearly.
A strap of leather connected to a metal ring. He tenses as she reaches for his head, and before Connor can snap at her as he had Kamski, the creature calls, “I’d be careful if I were you, Connor. She’s not as nice as I am.”
It gives him pause. Being killed might be better than enduring whatever Kamski has in store. Better than being one of these things. But logically that would be failure. That would be letting Kamski win, as he keeps doing, and they won’t kill him anyways. Only find some other way to hurt him.
He has to endure. One more of Kamski’s tortures. How bad could it be? After what had happened last time, could it get much worse? He’s already one of them, already had the worst that could happen done to him. Still feels the hands on his body, hurting him and draining him until he was nearly dead.
One more, he tells himself, and holds still when Chloe reaches around his head. The leather fits against his cheeks, the ring bumping his mouth. She touches his lips and he hesitates beneath her blank stare, uncertain. She pushes the metal ring between his lips and he opens his mouth, feels it slide back behind his front teeth, pushing his jaw open wider. She wedges it in against his bottom teeth and the leather band tightens around his face, digging into his cheeks.
When she steps away, Connor is left with his mouth gaping, the ring of metal fixed behind his teeth, jaw stretched almost to its limit. It’s uncomfortable, and he expects it to begin aching quickly, but to his surprise it doesn’t. Until he remembers why. That his body has new limits now. With enough time it may hurt, and he wonders if this is his punishment. Tame compared to the other things he’s endured, but irritating all the same. Drool is pooling quickly in his mouth.
“I can’t allow you to become too powerful, but I would prefer you didn’t wither away to nothing. We’ll have to find a nice medium, however I don’t believe that will be a problem.” Kamski steps up to him and crouches, pulling something flat and silver from the pocket of his coat.
It looks like a knife, pointed, with an ornate silver handle that reminds him of the silverware his family owns, but the flat of the blade is uniformly rough. Connor flinches when Chloe’s arm locks around his head, one hand gripping the strap of the gag.
“Hold still, Connor, this will sting,” Kamski warns, bringing the flat instrument to Connor’s open mouth.
It touches his lip as Kamski sets it against one long canine, and Connor makes a sound as it stings. Real silver. Then it grates across his tooth with no warning, the sound of it echoing through his skull like an engine. His sound of surprise is interrupted by the wordless yelp as the file brushes his tongue. Then it’s gone as the file drags backwards, out of his mouth, across his top lip. It burns like a brand, and his head jerks even in Chloe’s iron grip. She tightens around him and the file goes back and forth, see-sawing over his tooth in an endless grind that fills his head. Each touch of the file burns anew—it’s impossible to get acclimated to the pain.
Saliva drips from Connor’s open mouth. He can’t contain his flinches, and soon blood drools over his chin as well. He can taste it like he’s never tasted it before, somehow bland, none of the metallic taste he would expect.
He’s dead, he reminds himself. He’s already dead, his body has just been tricked to life by these creatures.
It doesn’t stop, and he can do nothing to stop it. He doesn’t know if it’s better or worse than everything that has come before, just knows that the searing pain and the steady grinding fills him and leaves no room for thought.
There’s a brief pause as Kamski takes the file away and the sudden silence within is staggering. Connor is panting, he realizes—panting and making a soft sound. A thumb smooths over his canine, and Kamski says, “How cute.” Then the file is set against his bottom canine and it starts again.
Kamski files down all four fangs, taking his time, pausing between each to inspect his handiwork. The constant throbbing of silver burns, the way he can’t control himself, tense and constantly flinching, is exhausting. Kamski has to hook his own fingers into Connor’s cheek to help hold him still, supple leather digging into his gums. By the time they release him Connor is nearly incoherent, and he slumps in his chains.
Kamski is there, taking Connor by the chin. Connor goes rigid, prepared for more, but Kamski says, “I don’t relish doing this, but I can’t say I don’t enjoy you like this. Beautiful and helpless. We’ll have to do it again every couple of weeks. They grow back so fast.” The pointed tip of the silver file touches Connor’s face, tracing a curve against his cheekbone that stings. “You won’t refuse me again, Connor. I’ll make you drink, whether you like it or not, because you’re one of us now.”
Shaking his head slowly, Connor pulls away, and Kamski lets him. Whatever Kamski does to Connor, he can’t make Connor drink. He wants to shout again, but the inside of his mouth throbs and he doesn’t want to hear his meaningless cry echoing off the walls.
“Darling,” Kamski says with a tsk. “You don’t have a choice.”
double dash indicates incoming noncon
The Stern home is an austere mansion that could rival Kamski’s in splendor. A Renaissance Revival style, two stories, cut off from the rest of the world by a gate and a tall stone fence that circles the property. A shimmering blue pond lies beyond, barely visible in the morning dark.
The sight as they pull up to the gates makes something in Connor’s chest clench uncomfortably. He hasn’t seen this place in over a year, and while previously it had always been a safe haven to return to after missions, to tend his wounds and train, now it crouches ominously like a great beast, jaws open and waiting for the wrong person to step through.
The sun won’t rise for another hour, but his family has always kept early and long hours, often up before the crack of dawn. The truck putters up to the gate, and Hank gives Connor an impressed look.
“Shit, Connor, I didn’t realize you were fucking loaded,” Hank says, a tinge of awe in his voice.
“My family does more than hunt vampires, Hank,” Connor says, amused. “Amanda, my mother, owns a robotics company that produces machines for many sectors of the economy. It’s part of what keeps us well connected and lets us follow leads that most other hunters can’t.”
Hank gives a low whistle. “Damn. You’ve got it made. Resources and power. No wonder every hunter knows the Stern name.”
Shaking his head slightly, Connor says, “It’s more than just resources and power. Our training has been intense and lifelong. Being a hunter has been a family tradition stretching back to my mother’s great-great-great grandfather. We have the knowledge of how vampires and other creatures think and behave, the limits of their powers at different stages of their lives, how and why they’re affected by certain things.”
“Well, guess that means you’ve earned your reputation.” Hank rolls down the window and Connor’s hands clench in his lap. “You sure they’ll answer this early? Maybe we outta come back when it’s day time.”
“They’ll both be up by this time, it’s whether they’ll be here that is in question,” Connor says, eyes sweeping the grounds. He almost hopes they’ll be gone on some mission, or business trip, but that would leave Connor and Hank back at square one—on the run with no way to fight in case Kamski is still on their tail.
Shrugging, Hank presses the intercom button on the stone post of the gate, and it beeps. There’s silence, both of them watching the small panel and the cluster of holes where the speaker is. Connor’s heart is in his throat, a rough beat he can feel pulsing behind his eyes.
It crackles, and a familiar, rich voice says, “Can I help you?”
Hank shoots him a grin that Connor returns weakly before leaning out the window and saying, “Yeah, the name’s Hank Anderson, I’m a hunter. Found someone I think you’ve been missing.”
Above the speaker, the eye of a camera comes to life, the lenses shifting into focus. Hank leans out of view and Connor stares into the black void, wondering what Amanda must be thinking as she views his face through the window of this beat up truck after so long.
“I see,” the speaker says finally. “Come in.”
Before them the gates retract and the truck rolls forward. The path up to the house isn’t long, but it’s more than enough time for Connor to examine Amanda’s neutral response from every angle, trying to guess at her thoughts. She’s always been a tightly controlled woman, sparing smiles very rarely. It could be displeasure, or it could be her own way of holding herself in check. If Hank noticed anything amiss, he doesn’t comment on it. They’re quiet as they reach the end of the driveway, pulling around in front of the doors.
“Finally home,” Hank says, and an elbow nudges his arm briefly before the door creaks open and Hank climbs out. Connor is slower to follow.
Yes, he’s finally home, and yet somehow he still feels Kamski’s claws around his jaw. His hunger hasn’t abated once today, growing all the stronger. The inside of his lips and his tongue sting with small cuts. The sun is just beyond the horizon.
There’s no relief in being here, and as they climb the short stairs and approach the doors at the top, Connor doesn’t know if he should ring the bell or let himself in. His can’t help thinking of the old belief that vampires couldn’t enter a home they hadn’t been invited into.
“Well? Go on,” Hank says, and Connor reaches for the door handle. It clicks open.
The foyer is clean white marble, with a set of stairs to the right, rising up over their heads. It’s still dim, the only lights the small, gold sconces lit at a half-glow on the walls. A chandelier hangs from the ceiling, and Connor had forgotten it existed until his eyes land on it and he thinks—for a moment—of glittering light hanging above him and being slammed into an oak table and feeling his ribs crack in his chest.
“Connor,” a voice calls, and his head turns sluggishly away from the memory to find the mirror image of himself appearing through a polished wooden door to their left.
“Niles,” he says, frozen on the spot as his younger twin approaches with a small, welcoming smile. Behind him, Hank makes a sound of surprise. Niles pauses in front of him, and Connor can’t help but notice the slight distance, polite, as if Connor were a stranger.
“Welcome back,” Niles says, a hint of warmth creeping into his normally cold face. They were never physically affectionate, weren’t raised that way, but Connor can barely resist the urge to throw his arms around Niles. He wants—to be held, to be hugged by his brother, but the distance Niles keeps feels impersonal and Connor doesn’t know how to cross it.
There are solid steps above them, the click on marble of tell-tale short heels. Connor looks up, to the top of the staircase, and finds Amanda looking down on them as she descends.
“Connor,” she says, her strong voice carrying easily. “I see you’ve finally returned to us.” Her face is nearly unreadable, voice neutral. Sunrise is still half an hour or more away, and yet she looks as radiant as if she’d just stepped away from a dinner party as she joins them beneath the chandelier. With a red shawl around her white blouse, braided hair done up in a careful, tight style, and white jewelry shining in the low light, she’s an austere vision that commands attention.
Next to her, and Niles in his tailored gray suit and black shirt, the line of his shoulders clean and sharp, Connor feels self-conscious in the silly hoodie with the bat and moon across the front and dollar store jeans. The difference between them could not be more stark.
Amanda notices it too, if the flick of her sharp gaze over him is any indication.
“Amanda,” Connor says with a polite nod, straightening, hands finding each other behind his back by instinct. “I’m glad to be back. I’ve—” He wants to say he’s missed them both, but he’s not sure the sentiment will be returned. He can feel his hopes being dashed the longer she stands there waiting for him to speak, as if talking to a business associate she hasn’t seen in some time rather than her son. “I hope I didn’t worry you,” he finally settles on, and his tongue is dry and ashen.
Finally she takes a step forward, putting a soft hand against his shoulder that Connor doesn’t know what to do with, can barely keep himself from flinching. “For a time we thought you lost. It’s good to see that’s not the case. I take it Mr. Anderson here is the reason for your return?”
Nodding, Hank steps forward with a hand out. “That would be me. Just Hank is fine.” Came across him following a lead out west, locked up in a dungeon if you could believe it.”
She takes it in a brief shake before clasping her hands together in front of her. “I’ll have to hear the full report tomorrow. I’m afraid I’ll be gone for the day taking care of some company-related business. I was just about to leave, but Niles will be here for a short time.”
It’s the usual schedule Amanda keeps—full with the company and Niles helping her or going out to help on a hunt. It shouldn’t surprise Connor that they wouldn’t interrupt it for his return, because they’ve always maintained their schedules rigidly in the past, and yet it does. He was gone for over a year, presumed dead, and yet he feels like an inconvenient visitor. He doesn’t know how he expects Amanda to act, can’t imagine anything other than her restrained welcome, but he wants something more. He wants to know she cares.
Finally, Connor forces himself to unstick his tongue and to push his disappointment away. “Of course. I’ll be happy to give my report to you at your earliest convenience.”
“Make yourselves at home. I’ll see you tomorrow, Connor.” She gives Connor and Hank a polite smile, then nods to Niles as she slips a hand into the pocket of her white trousers. She turns away, pulling out a slim compact, popping it open as if to check her makeup as she moves away.
It’s very odd, and Connor can’t help but stare at her reflection in the small mirror curiously. He’s never seen her do that before, not in front of guests. She would never risk anything that would ruin the illusion of her absolute control over herself and those around her. She runs a finger over the skin below her lips, as if to wipe away a smear of gloss. Then the compact tilts enough for her eyes to meet Connor’s in the mirror, and her gaze narrows. With a sharp snap, she closes the compact and climbs the stairs, and Connor tears his gaze away.
“It’s good to see you again, Connor,” Niles says, hands behind his back, much like Connor’s. “And good to meet you, Mr. Anderson.”
“Come on, Hank is fine,” Hank says, something uncomfortable in his voice, and Connor feels hot embarrassment flood him. Hank saw all of that. How easily Amanda dismissed his return, how cold his family is. Is this what he looks like to Hank? He suddenly wants to examine every conversation he’s had with the man, to know if he’s been so indifferent.
Niles nods and says, “Hank, of course. If you’d like, you can grab any belongings you need and bring them up. There’s a guest room next to Connor’s old room.”
“Uh, actually, we have a dog with us, too. Is he allowed in the house, or—?”
“Yes, provided he’s trained, he’s welcome as well.”
Connor helps Hank with the bags and Sumo sticks close to Hank’s side, pulling his bed along and looking around, nose wiggling with each deep sniff. Niles leads the way to the second floor, and halfway up the stairs Connor stumbles, dizziness sweeping over him. He grips the bannister, vision swimming, stomach clenching with hunger. It’s the first sign of his growing instability, a familiar sign, and disquiet fills him.
“Connor?” a voice asks, hesitant, and Connor didn’t realize he’d closed his eyes until he’s opening them on Hank’s concerned face. From the top of the stairs, Niles watches, quiet but interested.
“I’m okay,” Connor says quickly, straightening. “Just felt a little dizzy.” It’s the truth, and Hank’s hand, hovering worriedly between them, withdraws slowly.
They continue up, Niles pointing out bathrooms, the library, the study—giving Hank a brief tour like he’s one of the many business partners Amanda invites in order to persuade them into some deal. It doesn’t take long before they reach Connor’s room, the door to one of the many guest bedrooms only a few feet away.
He hadn’t realized how eager he was to see his own room, and his own bed again, until a hand lands on his shoulder. He barely contains his flinch at the suddenness, head snapping up.
“Before you go in, you should know, we donated many of your belongings when you didn’t return to us,” Niles says quietly, eyebrows creased in regret. “You know how Amanda is—no time for sentiment.”
The words strike through Connor like a lance, and he drops his hand slowly from the door knob. “Oh,” he says, and doesn’t know what else to say. He didn’t have much, certainly didn’t have things like childhood toys or posters on his wall, but he’d had books he’d picked up on hunts, trophies, the sleek suits he favored. It hadn’t occurred to him that Amanda would get rid of them, shouldn’t concern him so much that she did, but his chest aches.
He hears Hank make a sound of surprise, and can’t bear to look at him. Schooling his face, trying to keep the disappointment and hurt off, Connor opens the door and steps through, flipping on the light. His room had never been exceedingly decorated, but it had been decorated. Now, his trophies of past hunts are gone—the first stake he’d carved himself and used to kill a monster, the fangs that had been collected in a small jar, the bat wings that had been preserved and framed on his wall, among other things—it’s all gone.
The pictures he’d had, of Amanda at an awards ceremony, himself and Niles after graduation, and the others, are nowhere in sight. He’s sure if he opens the dresser drawers and the closet, he’ll see his clothes have been removed as well, donated in one of Amanda’s charity drives.
There’s a bookshelf on the opposite wall, by the curtained windows. Most of his books have been cleared away—he can tell already which ones. The paranormal books that Connor used to read with amusement, fascinated by how the average person thought the world of the supernatural worked. Amanda had always disapproved, and he can see they’re gone now, leaving only the classics she’d had them read in their schooling.
He tries not to wonder how soon after they lost contact with him did they decide to scrub his presence. Niles is right, it’s always been Amanda’s way, and it’s what she’d taught them. No room for sentiment.
But if Niles had been the one to disappear instead, would she have removed his things so easily? He’d always been the stronger of the two of them, the one to come out of fights less scraped up, the one with the higher success rate. She’d always had her sights set on making Niles her successor to the company when she passed. She’d always favored him, not as a slight to Connor, but as a matter of course because he was superior. Connor had never taken it personally, but he’d always tried to make her proud, to measure up. Would she have treated Nile’s disappearance differently than his own?
Hank would tell him he’s not being fair. He hasn’t had a chance to speak to her yet, hasn’t gotten to ask her or Niles what happened. It could have been their way of coping, for all Connor knows. He has to give them the benefit of the doubt.
“It’s good to be home,” he finally manages, and gives Niles a weak smile.
“Good to have you home.” Niles pats his shoulder and then gestures to Hank and the next door. “The guest room is right here. I’ll leave you two to get settled in—I can imagine you’ve been driving all night and need the rest. If you’re thirsty or hungry, you’re welcome to the kitchen, or the chef will be by at six to start dinner. I have some errands to run for Amanda, so I’ll be gone most of the day, but I’m sure Connor will be happy to show you around.” He gives a nod and leaves them, and Connor stares after him, feeling empty at the short welcome and stupid for expecting anything else.
“Shit,” Hank mutters when Niles disappears from sight. “What a load of pricks. They act like they don’t even care. What’s the matter with them?” His voice grows as he speaks, agitated. “They thought you were fucking dead and they just throw your stuff away? What kind of welcome was that?”
“It’s fine,” Connor says. “Amanda isn’t one for sentiment, and neither is Niles. Neither am I. We weren’t raised like that.”
“Connor,” Hank starts, and then sighs heavily. “Hey, you know what? Come have a drink. I think we could both use it.”
Connor looks at the meager books on his old shelves, where the ones he’d wanted to show Hank used to sit. The clean bedside table, and the pot of silk flowers on top of the dresser. “Okay.”
Doesn’t think about how it looks no different from the guest bedroom when they step inside it.
Hank lays some food down for Sumo, and Connor fetches water for him from the bathroom down the hall. Waiting in front of the sink for the dog bowl to fill, another wave of lightheadedness washes over him, and he has to clutch the sink to keep his balance. He needs to rest, he knows. That will stave it off a little longer. He also needs to take the nail file and finish what he can’t seem to even start.
Instead, he waits for the spell to pass, for the hunger to subside just a little, and returns to Hank’s room.
The curtains are pulled to, a habit Hank must have noticed Connor had and done for his sake without even knowing why, and only the lamp next to the bed is on, leaving the room in a soft, yellow glow. Connor would never know that daytime was growing just outside the window if not for the fatigue pulling at his limbs. Hank had changed into a simple gray shirt and some lounge pants. Sitting on top of the blankets, a bottle of whiskey in one hand, Hank waves for Connor to join him.
It’s oddly intimate as Connor toes his shoes off and climbs up next to Hank, mirroring him and leaning against the headboard. The bottle tips in his direction, a silent offer, and Connor takes it and, because he has nothing to lose, takes a deep, unflinching drink. It stings against the new cuts on his inner lip and tastes like pure gasoline on his sensitive tongue. He knows he’ll regret the need to purge it later, that it won’t affect him the way it would a regular human, but he doesn’t care. Maybe some placebo effect will make this all seem less painful.
“Damn, I thought you didn’t drink,” Hank says, taking the bottle back when Connor lowers it.
Wiping his mouth, Connor says, “I don’t. I’ve only really had wine before.” His lips twitch. “At wine tastings.”
Hank laughs into the bottle as he takes a swig. “Figures a hoighty-toighty family like yours only drinks alcohol just to spit it out. Waste of some damn good wine, I bet. What’s their problem, anyways? Why aren’t they ecstatic to see you?”
“Amanda is…” He searches for a way to explain. “She’s always been like this. She values hard work and success, and has no tolerance for failure. Being a hunter is a dangerous business, as you know. People die all the time, and she’s always taught us that our priorities are to save people, but not to become emotionally attached to them. That includes each other. We’re tools meant to help save people from vampires, and forming emotional attachments just gets in the way of that mission.”
It’s quiet for a long minute, long enough that Connor finally glances at Hank, trying to gauge his reaction. The man’s brows are screwed together, outrage coloring his face. “Connor, that’s completely fucked up. You know that, right?”
“It works for us.”
“Does it? Look at where I found you, Connor. Their detachment left you to rot in Kamski’s dungeon.”
“I want to give them a chance,” Connor says, looking down at his hands, folded in his lap. “You said I should.”
“That’s because I didn’t realize how completely fucked your family is. Connor, when we got here, I thought they’d throw a fucking party, that they’d dogpile you for hugs and ask what the hell happened.” Hank gestures wildly with the bottle, near shouting. “Not that they’d throw you in a room and say, sorry, we have plans today, see you tomorrow. ”
Connor can’t help watching Hank intently as he talks, something warm filling him at Hank’s indignation on his behalf. He wants to think his family does care, that they’re just going about it in their own way, but it makes him feel better knowing that he wasn’t the only one disappointed by the lukewarm reception.
“It doesn’t matter,” Connor says, because in the end it doesn’t. They’re here, and once Connor gives his report, his family will know the whereabouts of Kamski, and the information he has on those other vampires.
CyberLife. Newport. Providence Hospital. Harper University. Stratford Tower. Spokane. Baltimore. Glendale. Detroit.
That’s what matters. The mission.
“It does matter,” Hank insists, waving the bottle pointedly. “I just fucking hate seeing the way they treated you. They don’t even know what you’ve been through. They just act like you’re some asshole off the street, like me. It’s not right.”
“It’s okay, Hank.”
“It’s not,” Hank insists, slouching down against the headboard. “Just wish they could see what I see. You’re fucking amazing, Connor.”
Hank’s eyes meet his as he speaks, and despite the dim light, Connor can see them clear as day. A pale, angry blue. He traces Hank’s features with his gaze—the long line of his nose; his thin lips; his coarse, gray beard—to the pale skin of his neck. Connor watches Hank’s head tip back, revealing more of his thick throat, bobbing as he drinks.
A heartbeat thuds in Connor’s ears, steady and strong. His mouth is suddenly dry, and he can’t tear his eyes away from a vein that spreads like a lightning bolt across the side of Hank’s neck. He can almost see it pulsing with life, knows the blood inside will be warm and tangy and sweet.
Snapping, right in front of his face, pulls him suddenly from his reverie. He jerks back to himself, mouth falling shut and teeth scraping the inside of his lip.
“Hey, Connor, you okay? Zoned out on me,” Hank says, brow now creased in worry instead of anger.
Always for him. He doesn’t deserve that worry, not after what he was just thinking. “Yes. I was lost in thought,” Connor says vaguely, and takes the bottle when it’s offered again.
The whiskey sits heavy in his stomach, but he doesn’t refuse the bottle as they pass it back and forth. It does nothing for him, but he can see the effects on Hank coming on, fueled by exhaustion. It’s late for them, the glow of sunlight around the curtains enough for Connor to know the sun has fully risen.
“Tonight, I’d like to show you something. After you’ve had some rest.” After the sun has fallen is what he means. Possibly the last chance Connor will have on the odd sleep schedule they—or rather, Hank, was forced to adopt on their journey. From here on, he doesn’t know how long he has before someone notices that he hides from the sunlight.
“What is it?” Hank asks, attentive and curious.
“My mother tends a garden. It’s very beautiful at night. She loves gardening, and after a storm tore through her last one, Niles and I designed a new one for her.” It’s one of his favorite memories, and he smiles softly.
“Yeah, I’d love to see it.”
“She went on a long business trip oversees, and we designed and put together the garden ourselves. When she came home she was annoyed and exhausted, but we insisted on covering her eyes and guiding her outside. When she saw the garden, she smiled this beautiful smile. It was the happiest I’ve ever seen her, and I had been part of it.” She’d been so happy, teeth showing in a grin that she’d covered primly with one hand before thanking them. “I’ve never been able to put that kind of smile on her face again.”
“Connor,” Hank says, softly, and Connor realizes his eyes are stinging.
“I’m sorry, I don’t know why I said all of that.” Connor passes the bottle back and runs a hand over his eyes. They’re not wet at least.
“I’m glad you did,” Hank says, raising his hand as if to touch Connor’s cheek. It wavers and then he drops it, shrugging. “Sometimes people can be good people without being good mothers.”
He supposes Hank is right, but it doesn’t stop the ache in his chest. He was a good hunter, he had a good reputation, but it hadn’t been enough. Nothing had been enough, and now nothing would ever be enough. Not now that he’d been captured by one—and worse, turned.
The topic turns to something lighter, something to take his mind away from everything, and for that Connor is grateful. It still lingers, a tug in the back of his mind, but it’s nice to listen to Hank talk about his old coworkers and some of the cold cases they faced that he now suspects had an element of the supernatural to them.
As the morning begins to wear on Hank slumps further and his slur thickens, and Connor catches himself staring at other parts of Hank as they talk. The inside of his wrist, where a thick vein runs alongside his tendon. It makes Connor’s mouth water, watching it pulse faintly. When he realizes, he tries to look elsewhere, to focus on the conversation, but then he catches sight of Hank’s crossed legs. His shorts ride up, revealing his thick, muscled thighs, and Connor can see the veins there too, knows from experience how rich in blood they would be.
He can almost feel the hand against the back of his head, holding him down until his hunger overcame him.
Everything he’s eaten rises to the back of his throat, and he looks away.
A tired silence falls before long. Hank caps the bottle, only a fifth remaining, and sets it on the nightstand. They’re both exhausted, and Connor knows he should go to his room and sleep, but he doesn’t want to. It’s so cold and sterile, and he doesn’t want to leave the warmth and comfort of Hank’s presence. He feels much better now than he did to start, and yet he knows he should go. Should stop bothering Hank, after all the trouble Hank has gone through for him, and let the man rest.
“Hank,” Connor starts, and then freezes as a weight presses against his side. Hank’s eyes are closed, face slack, breaths soft. He’s dead asleep, and Connor stares down at him quietly, heart thudding.
Carefully, tentatively, Connor presses back. Resting his weight against Hank’s side, tilting his head lightly to lean it against Hank’s. He can hear the thrum of a beating heart, slightly arrhythmic, but strong, and he forces the hunger down and just listens to the calming beat.
He’s never been able to just relax with someone like this. To chat quietly about nothing important as they drink, to have them fall asleep on him. It’s always been training, reports, talk of more training, business, missions. Niles was the one person he was closest too, but now Connor can’t be sure that still holds true, and their relationship never looked like this.
They were quiet with each other, able to hold entire conversations without a spoken word. Now Connor has no idea what Niles is thinking—or Amanda for that matter. It’s like he’s lost the ability to understand his family in the year he was with Kamski.
It’s just another thing Kamski took from him, and he closes his eyes against the thought, turning his nose against Hank’s gray hair. It’s soft, and the smell of sweat and some generic scent of shampoo fills his nose. It’s nothing special, it’s probably what Connor himself smells like, but it’s good.
He should go back to his own room, should let the man rest comfortably in his own bed. Instead he lets the sounds of Hank’s body lull him into a dreamless dark.
No one comes into the dungeon for two weeks. Not to feed him or water him, not even to taunt him. He tries to take his mind off of his hunger, to think of other things, but there’s so little to distract. At least he sleeps through the day, waking only when the sun happens to touch him and dragged to consciousness by the burning of his skin.
At night, he has no company but his own thoughts, and he spends the time thinking of his training. Of what he’ll do to Kamski if—when he finally gets out. How he’d like to take a stake to Kamski’s heart. It’s an old fantasy, but he lets it occupy his mind as much as possible just so he won’t think of the gnawing ache behind his ribs.
He sometimes thinks, if he could only harness the power that other vampires demonstrate, he could make his escape. Turn into a dark mist, or a bat and escape these chaskles—but he’s far too weak to manage it, no matter how he strains or meditates or focuses. He thinks sarcastically that it’s a severe oversight that his training didn’t cover using a vampires powers, only how to combat them.
It takes so long for anything to happen that he’s beginning to wonder if Kamski left him here to rot despite his threat. Until the sixteenth night of his isolation, when loud, raucous singing startles him from his reverie. It’s an unfamiliar voice, nothing like Kamski’s calm, measured tones or the Chloes’ constant silence, and he sits up straight, heart hammering, wondering—a rescue?
He nearly calls out, but then he hears that smoother voice saying, “Just down here,” and his voice catches.
The singing gets closer, but the lyrics are incomprehensible, slurred and off-tune. The singer rounds the corner, and Connor understands why in an instant—he’s drunk, stumbling and being guided by Kamski’s sure hand on one shoulder. There’s an arm around Kamski’s waist, and Connor can see the faint irritation in his face that smoothes away when he lays eyes on Connor.
“Here we are,” Kamski says, and the man—young, early 20s, blonde and good looking in a leather jacket—finds Connor with bleary eyes and grins.
“Damn, fine looking piece of ass you got here, ‘lijah,” the man says, and Kamski lips dip in a scowl that disappears quickly.
“Of course. And as I said, he loves a bit of force. Go ahead.”
“What?” Connor says, eyes widening as the man fumbles with his belt and zipper. “Sir, this man is very dangerous, I’m being held here against my will. You need to leave immediately, call for help.” Even as he says it, he can see none of his words are getting through. The man is either too drunk, or doesn’t care, and even if the man did run, Kamski wouldn’t let him get far. He’d kill this human before he could reach the stairs. It doesn’t stop Connor from trying, stomach turning as the man pulls out his soft cock and approaches Connor.
“Please, this isn’t what it looks like, I need help,” Connor says, as calm as he can manage, turning his face away when the man gets between his legs and shoves his cock against Connor’s mouth.
“Give you all the help you want,” the man mumbles, grabbing Connor’s hair, but his grip is too loose to do much, even in Connor’s weakened state. “Come on, baby.”
“Yes, Connor, don’t disappoint,” Kamski says, his form blocking out the dim light coming through the window. A stronger hand twists in Connor’s hair, dragging him forward, his resistance easily overpowered. “Open up, or I’ll make this very unpleasant.”
He’s done this before. Many times now, and despite the disgust and humiliation welling within, Connor does as Kamski says. It’s one more dick, it shouldn’t matter at all, but the revulsion of another person witnessing this, of them participating in his debasement, makes something in him crack. He feels hot shame prick at his skin. His hands clench uselessly as a sweaty, dirty cock slides across his lips and tongue.
“That’s right, baby,” the man sighs, hand clenched around the base, stroking lightly. Connor hopes the man won’t be able to get an erection, that he’ll be far too drunk.
No matter how unhelpful he is, how his tongue recoils from the sour taste and he nearly gags, the cock grows in his mouth. The man rolls his hips, pressing into Connor as much as he can. It thickens slowly, and Connor wonders if the man is going to finish in him and then—
Against his tongue he feels a pulse. Connor’s thoughts quiet, dampening down beneath the quick beat. It’s fluttery, teasing, and he presses his tongue to it, barely aware of the rancid taste. The thin vein along the bottom of the man’s cock is flush with blood, and he closes his lips around the appendage, sucking against it as if he could pull it out through the man’s skin.
“Fuck,” the man groans, and he shoves in all the way, into Connor’s throat, which spasms against the intrusion, makes him gag. But Connor doesn’t even think of trying to pull off, drool dripping down his chin as he sucks and laps at the man’s full cock. Only thinks of the slide of that vein across his tongue and how he wants to pierce it and drink from it.
“Ah, fuck, teeth,” the man hisses, and the hand in Connor’s hair tightens, yanking him back, the cock leaving his lips with a wet pop.
He’s dizzy with a want he’s never felt before, and Connor strains against the grip, mouth open, baring his teeth.
“God yeah, you want more, babe?” the man asks. He shakes his cock, shiny with Connor’s saliva, rocking slightly on his feet.
Before he can move in close again, Kamski says, “Now, now, we haven’t even gotten to the fun part.”
Connor comes back to himself as he’s pushed back on his ass, shoulders straining as his backside barely brushes the stone floor. The horror of what he’d felt, the desire as he’d sucked on the man’s cock, rushes through him, and his gorge rises, but there’s nothing in him to throw up. His thighs are spread and he doesn’t even fight it, too busy pushing down the sickness and burning mortification.
He doesn’t want this. It’s not him. It’s the monster they’re trying to turn him into. He doesn’t want to be in this room with Kamski’s wet, gloved fingers pressing into his hole and the man stroking his cock eagerly with one hand on the wall to keep him steady.
His mouth waters and his tongue feels the echo of a flitting pulse.
“What are you playing at?” Connor asks, twisting uncomfortably as Kamski stretches him open. The leather feels strange, too thick, and his heels dig into the stone. As familiar as he should be to it, it never gets easier. It’s only worse with the drunk stranger standing watch, waiting for what comes next.
Kamski’s smile is guileless, and the back of Connor’s neck prickles uneasily. “Just having a little fun, fledgeling. You seem to be enjoying yourself.”
His face burns and he glares. “I know you want me to give in. I’m not doing it. I’m not a monster.”
“Are any of us really monsters? We’re just doing what we must to live.” Kamski’s fingers thrust slowly, steadily, crooking, and Connor jumps as he presses against something that sends heat coiling through his gut. “Is a snake a monster for eating a mouse?”
“That’s not the same. You make the choice, you hurt these people.” Connor turns his attention away from Kamski, to the human. Meeting his eyes, trying to make the man understand. “This isn’t a game. You’re in danger, you have to call for help.”
The man laughs and nods his head. “Yeah, yeah, don’t worry, I’ll be your Superman, babe. Man of steel right here.” He thrusts his hips and nearly falls over, legs wobbling.
“Are these truly the people you want to save?” Kamski asks, and his fingers massage that spot inside of Connor, pressing against it insistently. Thick arousal surges through Connor. He grits his teeth as his cock twitches.
“He has no idea what you are. He’s innocent.”
“Innocent,” Kamski says, a laugh in his voice. “So innocent he’d ignore your cries for help for the sake of his pleasure.”
“He’s a human.” Kamski’s tone suggests that explains everything.
“You were human once,” Connor bites out, trying to ignore the growing hardness between his thighs, how Kamski’s fingers twist just so and his gut roils.
Kamski’s lips curl at the reminder, and he says nothing, thrusting more forcefully, until Connor can’t get any words out around his panting breaths, thighs trembling and cock fully hard. He tries to tell himself it means nothing, that he can endure this. Kamski finally pulls away, the gloved fingers leaving Connor with a wet sound. It’s both too soon, and not soon enough.
The man takes Kamski’s place eagerly, kneeling between Connor’s bent legs and grabbing a handful of his ass, pulling him up into his lap.
“Don’t do this,” Connor says, flinching when the man’s blunt head probes at his open hole. “I don’t want this. Please stop, please.”
“Hey, shh, shh, relax baby, I’ll take care of you,” the man croons, and his cock head presses against Connor’s rim. It gives way easily, and the slide of the man filling him tears a sound from Connor’s throat, a soft whine.
“Stop,” he croaks, but the man grabs Connor’s ass more securely and starts moving, ignoring him. “Stop, stop this, please.”
“Shiiiit.” His groan is long, drawn out. The man’s eyes close and his mouth falls open, head tilting back as his hips piston.
The man’s cock presses against his prostate with each pass, and Connor twitches and grabs at his chains, trying to pull himself off. He doesn’t want to feel the pleasure, doesn’t want Kamski to see the way his cock leaks a thin string of fluids as the man pounds into him. The silver burns his fingers and palms, pushing down into his bones, until he’s forced to let go with a sharp cry.
“God yeah, baby, yes!” The man is nearly incoherent.
Connor’s eyes flit around the dungeon, at the dark corners that used to be invisible to him, the dust gathering on the columns in the room. At Kamski, who stands suddenly, walking around behind the man, a strange glint in his eyes as he watches them. Intent.
It’s clear the man isn’t going to last much longer, his movements quick and forceful. To this man Connor is nothing but a place to dump his semen. Connor’s cock bobs heavily, begging for a touch. He wants to close his eyes and look away, to ignore the heat building in him at the relentless thrusts against that spot inside, but Kamski holds his gaze like a helpless bird.
It takes far too long, Kamski’s bright eyes boring into him knowingly. The slap of skin on skin is loud, obscene. The dark stones are close around him and he’s panting, heels digging into the floor, trying to push away even as the man pounds into him and his cock throbs. His vision trembles and darkens as he’s pushed over the edge, come spurting over his stomach, dick twitching with each pulse.
“Shit yeah, come on, that’s fucking hot.”
Tears prick at Connor’s eyes as the man praises him, hips losing rhythm, and then Kamski reaches forward, something silver flashing in his hand. Hot liquid spews across Connor’s face and chest at the same time something warm and wet fills him. The man freezes and a hand flies up to his neck, to the thick runnel carved into his throat, and blood spouts from his mouth like a fountain and bubbles from his neck.
It drips into Connor’s mouth, thick and warm and tangy. He feels a surge of panic, and then it’s gone. The hollowness in his chest expands, filling his mind, and he lunges to the end of his chain, doesn’t even feel the steady ache in his arms and shoulders anymore. His mouth finds warm, sweaty skin and he licks into the gash, lips sealing against the wound. Blood slips over his tongue and his teeth scrape at the man’s skin. The man gasps and writhes, trying to fight. A fresh gout of blood rushes down his front as he gurgles a scream, and Connor sucks it up greedily.
Sharp and sweet. It fills his nose, his mouth, his stomach. The man’s movements slow but Connor barely notices. He’s so hungry, and as much as he eats it doesn’t feel like enough. His mouth is slippery and his blunted teeth can find no purchase, but something props the man up, holds him still, and Connor tastes soft, wet flesh and thick cartilage and fresh, red blood.
A wave of energy burns through his limbs, his exhaustion melting beneath the intensity of it. He feels so alive, electrified, and his movements become stronger, his dull teeth fighting to sink into the weak flesh beneath, to tear open the wound. He’s still hungry, still needs more—more blood, more power, more, more more more.
The throat disappears, the weakly pulsing freshets gone. He strains, snapping his jaws at nothing, nearly blinded by his instincts. He can still smell the blood, cooling rapidly. Barely registers the other being in the room except as anything other than a threat stealing his prey. He wants to tear the thing apart for taking what’s his, for denying him food and power and—
“Remarkable. A hunter from birth, and yet just a few short weeks unfed and you so easily turn on your fellow man. What did I tell you, fledgeling?”
The words catch in him, fishhooks reeling his thoughts up as if from deep water. The body lying on the stones before him seems to come into focus for the first time. The man’s neck is a bloody mess, the slit torn open by Connor’s frantic feeding, face frozen in a pale rictus of fear. Connor registers wet warmth dripping from his open mouth and over his chin, the sharp taste on his tongue. His shirt is soaked in a mix of blood and his own come, and he feels something sticky and thick dripping from his hole. He doesn’t even remember the man’s cock leaving him.
A sound wrenches from deep within him, and Connor shoves himself back against the wall, panting, shaking his head. His chest heaves and he wants to retch. His wrists tug at the chains, rattling them, and he says, “I didn’t mean to—”
“Of course not,” Kamski says. “You were just hungry, as any creature is, and I delivered you a meal. Don’t worry, he won’t be missed. I’d say you even did the world a service here tonight.”
“No,” Connor says, voice breathless and thin. “No, I didn’t want to. You forced me to do this.”
“Did I?” Kamski asks, one brow raised in challenge. “Or did I merely present an opportunity? You reacted to it, Connor. You didn’t resist.”
He can’t say anything, eyes glued to the corpse, to his mangled throat. Connor did that. He lost himself to his bloodlust, he did the one thing he said he wouldn’t. He would rather die than drink a human’s blood, and yet here he is. He was too weak to resist, too pathetic to hold it together, and something wet slips down his cheek, cutting through the gore. He’d thought it couldn’t get any worse. That Kamski couldn’t find a way to hurt him any further.
He was wrong.
His chest is tight, every breath funneled through the pinpoint of his throat. He barely hears Kamski speaking. All he can focus on his what this means. He’s no better than them. He’s no better than the creatures that made him.
The blood pools in the cracks between the stones, dark as tar.
Evening falls and Connor wakes to a dark room, alone. It’s disorienting, and he sits up, staring at the clean, egg-shell walls and wondering where Kamski has taken him, why he isn’t in the dungeon, if he can make a run for it—
The morning, and the days preceding it, filter in. Slowly, he relaxes, pressing a hand over his chest, and the letters beneath his shirt. He’s okay. He’s home. He’s not in Kamski’s manor, Hank took him from that place.
There’s no sign of the other man, and he realizes that his lap is full of blankets that must have been pulled over him. The other side of the bed is empty, but the blankets are pulled back. It makes him feel strange, knowing Hank cared enough to tuck him and make sure he was comfortable rather than move him. It’s a good feeling, a cottony soft lightness inside. The lamp is off, the only light a thin strip of yellow beneath the door.
He’s warm, and though he wishes Hank were still in bed—that Connor had awoken first and been able to enjoy the quiet presence of the man so close—he’s content. He almost wants to lay back down, drowse some more, but the sleepiness is wearing away.
He finds the bag of his clothes by the door where he set them and pulls out a change, then hesitates. He’s home now. He could go to Niles’ room, borrow some clothes he’s more accustomed to. It may be evening, but he won’t be sleeping until the sun rises. Though he has nowhere to go, it’s strange being dressed so casually in this house.
The cartoon vampire bat on his hoodie is familiar. Cheap and silly, a facsimile of the horror of real vampires. It shouldn’t amuse him, but much like the books he used to pick up on his travels, it’s fascinating to see how the unaware make sense of the unknown creatures just beyond their doorsteps. How they make it more palatable, and celebrate it even, on occasion.
Amanda has always found his interest in these things frivolous. It just reminds him of his empty shelves, cleared away for the mundane classics. She won’t be here for another night, and Nines has never cared. He takes the last pair of clean clothes from that brief shopping trip only days ago.
In the shower, a dizzy spell hits him. He wants to blame it on the heat and moisture, but with it his stomach cramps and he shivers, ravenous. He tries not to think of how he bites at his lip, deliberately, and sucks on the small cut. It’s stale, lifeless, and he doubles over, a groan caught in his throat.
It takes a while for it to pass, and by the time it does he feels exhausted, as if he hadn’t slept at all. He stumbles getting out of the shower, limbs weak and heavy. Lightheaded, he dries himself off, stopping every now and then to brace himself against the sink.
He pulls the hoodie back over his head when he’s finally dressed. It’s safer to have some protection from the sun, just in case, and he—likes it. It’s comforting, and he likes that Hank gave it to him. That he and Hank share this sense of humor. The thought helps turn his mind from the hunger, and he feels a little better after a moment. Strong enough to walk out of the bathroom without leaning against the wall.
He wonders if he should just return to his own room instead, decides he should grab the bag of clothes and do just that, but when he enters it’s to find Hank sitting at the desk, a tray of food on top, and another chair pulled up to it.
“Hey, Connor, I wasn’t sure if you’d be up so soon. You sleep like the dead, you know that?” Hank says, patting the chair. “Glad I brought some food up just in case. That chef of yours was nice enough to make us some steaks and veggies.”
Ignoring the surge of anxiety at the joke, Connor joins Hank at the desk. He’s touched Hank thought of him, brought him food, but at the same time, it’s a chore to pick up the fork and knife and carve at the thick steak on his plate. It’s all undoubtedly cooked to perfection, the center rare when Connor’s knife opens it up, but the meat is too much on his tongue and there’s something about the blood that’s off.
Or rather, there’s a quality to himself that is now off, that has changed how he tastes and experiences things definitively. He knows what his body wants, what it can no longer process. This delicious meal is going to waste on him, because he’ll just have to purge it later, along with the alcohol he indulged in fruitlessly.
It makes dinner with Hank quiet, solemn on his part, and Hank must catch on, because he starts to talk about how he almost got lost going to the kitchens and how their chef, Kara, is a sweet lady. Connor doesn’t wonder if she’s Hank’s type. It doesn’t matter. Shouldn’t matter. There’s only two ways this can end—they kill Kamski and he can finally return to being a normal human, and Hank returns to his life on the road, or they discover what Connor is before he gets a chance and they kill him themselves.
After dinner, Connor leads Hank down through the mansion and out onto the back terrace with Sumo in tow. There, the garden he helped build is lit in breathtaking moonlight. There are lanterns hanging from poles, lining the various clean, stone pathways that meander throughout. A large pond is at its center, with a rowboat tied to a small dock. They’d talked about putting an island in the middle of it, even drawn it up in their initial blueprints, but in the end decided it was too impractical, and would take too long before their mother returned.
Connor still wishes sometimes they’d done it anyways, but the end result is still beautiful, and Hank whistles his appreciation.
“Did all this yourselves, huh?”
“We had help,” Connor admits, leading Hank down the path from the house. “Contractors and professionals. But we did what we could and stayed involved in the process. We planted most of the flowers ourselves.”
Around them, lining the paths, are flowers, plants, and carefully trimmed shrubs. The summer flowers have all gone dormant, their flowers long gone, but the annual fall flowers are well and alive. Pansies, asters, chrysanthemums, celosia, violas, as well as a plethora of other plants less spectacular to look at, but which still compliment the natural beauty of the flowers.
Sumo rushes past them, throwing himself into the shrubs and sniffing frantically at every plant and flower, turning in circles.
“Sumo,” Hank starts, but Connor holds up a hand.
“He’s fine. Let him look.”
Connor’s not worried about Sumo damaging the plants. They’re hardy things, and it’s not like his family can’t afford to have them replanted or replaced. Besides, the excitement on Sumo’s face as he sticks his nose into red and yellow petals, his tail a furry fan behind him, makes it worth it. He wishes he’d had a chance to have a dog before all of this. A companion like Sumo, big and protective and friendly
There’s a bench by the dock, sturdy, iron. It looks out over the pond, where the shadows of koi flit and flicker beneath the still water. They’re nearly to it when Connor’s knees go weak, and he stumbles as a wave of gnawing, ravenous emptiness washes through him. He feels faint, and a large hand catches his, an arm folding across his back.
“Hey, shit, you alright, Connor?” Hank asks, pulling him upright.
“Fine,” he manages, tongue loose, but his legs refuse to cooperate.
Wandering closer, Sumo shifts back and forth on his front paws, looking uneasy, whining as Hank hefts Connor up and pulls an arm across his shoulders. Fear surges through Connor, that Sumo’s instincts to protect will win out over his training, but Sumo does nothing but follow, looking up at them both and making a distressed noise in his throat.
“He’s worried,” Hank says, guiding Connor to the bench.
Connor rather doubts that, but he says nothing as Hank helps him down. It’s a relief to sit, and he slumps against the backrest, breathing shallowly. The food he’d eaten sits uneasily in his stomach, churning. It’s happening more frequently, a bad sign. He doesn’t have long, and he thinks of the flimsy file buried in his bag of clothes.
Putting a few inches of space between them, Hank sits too. “You’re worrying me, too, Connor,” Hank says without looking at him. “You’ve been cleaning your wound, right? I don’t want you getting an infection just because you’re not taking care of yourself.”
“I’m alright, Hank,” Connor says, sitting up straighter, though his vision spins slightly. “I’m sure it’s just the relief of finally being home.” He keeps his voice carefully casual, trying not to think too deeply about the lies. There’s no relief in being here. No need to clean his wound carefully because he can no longer get sick. The only thing bothering him is an insatiable emptiness.
“Yeah,” Hank sighs, though there’s doubt in that one small word. “Just—if there is anything wrong, you can tell me. I know I’m not the most, uh, sensitive guy, but if you wanna talk,” he gestures between them, glancing over at Connor and then away again. Connor’s not sure what to make of his expression. Soft and worried and embarrassed. “...I’d be happy to listen,” Hank finishes, voice hushed.
It makes Connor smile despite everything. Beneath Hank’s gruff and bitter exterior, the man has never failed to be kind to Connor, even when Connor fought him.
“I appreciate it,” Connor says, because he does. But he can’t share this with Hank, even if he knew how. His outburst only hours ago, about his mother and this very garden, had been impromptu and mortifying. He used to have a tighter grip on his emotions, never would have gotten so upset over something as trivial as that before escaping Kamski’s. Everything is slipping beyond his control.
A silence falls between them as they look out over the pond. Sumo walks slowly down to the edge, once he’s assured Connor isn’t going to lose control, and peers down at the fish that swim up to greet him. The reflection of the curved moon is bright and beautiful, casting a pale white light over the flowers. Amanda has been keeping it well-tended since Connor last saw this place, but that’s no great surprise.
Hank rests an arm on the back of the bench, just behind Connor’s shoulders. It’s casual, clearly not meant for anything other than to relax, but Connor is hyper aware of it. Can almost feel the warmth of Hank’s skin, even through the jacket. There’s no reason to do it, but Connor tips back against the bench, and the curve of a thick forearm.
He takes a deep breath, and another, and after a moment Hank shifts. Connor keeps his face still as Hank sits up slightly and the arm slips away. There’s a pang of disappointment between his ribs, and he smothers it. Entertaining these simple flights of fancy are dangerous, considering his possible fates. Better this one be clipped before it gets too high.
Keeping his eyes trained firmly on the small ripples in the water, Connor nearly startles when a big hand closes over his shoulder, and a warm weight settles firmly against his upper back. His fingers curl against his thighs and he can’t help glancing over. Hank looks as nervous as Connor feels, staring off at some spot in the garden, a dent between his brows. His bright blue eyes slide over to meet Connor’s, a silver-flecked brand burning into him. Though Connor knows this is a bad idea, he shouldn’t encourage it, he finds himself leaning in against Hank’s side. Not much, but just enough to feel the heavy in-and-out of Hank’s breaths against him.
All the doubt and regret falls to the side, just for a bit, as Connor and Hank sit side by side in the moonlight.
They take care of various chores as the night wanes. Finally putting their clothes through the wash and giving Hank a refill on his holy water from the Stern’s abundant supply. Hank voices his opinion often through the night that they need to stay up through the day, finally get their sleep schedules back on track. He’s not wrong, and Connor knows he should do it to help maintain the illusion of his humanity, even if being awake during the day poses a huge threat to both his secret and himself.
However, by the time the sun begins to rise, Hank is already snoring on his bed, having fallen asleep propped against the headboard while they talked quietly. Connor gets up from the desk chair where he’d taken a seat and eases Hank down into the bed proper. In spite of the weight and height Hank has on him, Connor has no problem moving him, even weakened as he is from not feeding.
When Hank is settled, the blankets pulled up over him, Connor watches him for a moment. He never mentioned the arm, doesn’t know how to take it from the man—a friendly gesture, a confirmation of their growing camaraderie, or something more—but he can have this, at least. This quiet moment in the semi-dark. There’s no sounds in the mansion beyond. Nines is likely in his room, getting ready for the day, and the chef has probably arrived to prepare breakfast. Amanda will be back soon, and she’ll want his report eventually.
Hank breathes softly, his chest rising and falling in a steady rhythm. Like a magnet, Connor’s eyes are drawn to the skin of Hank’s neck. The thrum beneath his skin, the blue lightning bolt of a vein, the spot he knows the blood is thick and sweet and plentiful.
The taste of salt on his tongue is almost tangible, is tangible, and a short bark, startlingly loud, has Connor rearing back from Hank’s still form. One hand presses to his mouth, where the taste of Hank’s skin lingers on his lips, warm and inviting. He hadn’t even realized what he’d been doing, hadn’t noticed the spell falling over him, and he stands frozen for a moment, heart pounding. Sumo stands on his dog bed, staring at Connor, whining, and Connor moves away from Hank quickly, not daring to look back as he shuts the door behind him and goes to his own room.
The curtains in there are parted slightly, and he closes them before the morning sun can fully peak through, then climbs into bed. His hands shake, and he clenches them tight, folding in on himself beneath the thick blanket, pressing them to his forehead as if in prayer.
He can taste blood in his throat, feels the ghost of a hand in his hair, holding him still for someone’s use. The give of torn skin beneath his dull teeth. The gurgling screams being drowned. There had been so many. Always Kamski waited until Connor was at his hungriest, most desperate. Bringing those men in from the nearby town, letting them touch Connor, until Kamski got bored of the spectacle. Until he cut their throats and Connor lost control, the frenzied bloodlust sweeping him up in a grip impossible to break.
Tonight, he promises himself. Tonight he will use the file. He won’t allow himself to hurt anyone, especially Hank. It’s just discomfort. Kamski did it dozens of times. What’s one more by Connor’s own hand?
His thoughts follow him into sleep, into dreams of men fucking him with their throats slit and their stomachs torn open. One after another, and in the dream Connor doesn’t care—revels in it. In the viscera and gore coating his body, in the way the men split him open on their cocks as blood pours into Connor’s open, waiting mouth. Until the last man is brought to him, and Kamski puts a knife to Hank’s throat, and Connor thinks dizzily that something isn’t right, he never wanted this, he didn’t want to become one of these monsters, Kamski can’t kill Hank, he can’t kill Hank —
He’s barely aware of his surroundings when he scrambles up from his bed, tangled in the blanket. He tears himself free and stumbles from the room, knocking into someone.
“Connor?” he hears, but Connor pushes past, stomach roiling. He barely makes it to the bathroom before he’s bowing over the toilet, guts heaving.
It’s disgusting every time, but there’s a cold comfort that there’s no blood in what comes up. He hasn’t fed his urges, hasn’t given in since—since Kamski. On his own, he’s been good, he hasn’t hurt anyone.
There are footsteps in the doorway, too light to be Hank’s, and Connor tries not to tense as he heaves slowly. He forces himself to his feet before he’s ready, ignoring the spin of his vision. Flushes the toilet and goes to the sink to wash his hands and rinse his mouth out. Only when he’s done does he meet his twin’s gaze in the mirror, and the mild concern in it.
“Connor, are you alright?” Niles asks, but the concern is belied by his stiff posture, the eyes that dart around Connor’s face searchingly.
“Yes, I’m fine,” Connor says, for what must be the hundredth time this week. Doesn’t wonder when it will finally start to be true. “Did you need something?”
“Mother wants to see you. It’s time,” Niles says.
There’s a flutter of disappointment in Connor’s chest, that of course Niles didn’t want to just talk to him, to check on him, and Connor pushes it aside, straightening his hoodie. He hadn’t even realized he’d worn it to sleep again, and he checks the front for any stains, but it’s thankfully clean.
“Of course. I’ll be there in a moment.” He should at least change out of the rumpled clothes he’d slept in and into something that will please her, but Niles shakes his head.
“She doesn’t like to be kept waiting, you know that.”
It’s true she doesn’t, but somehow it makes Connor uneasy as Niles turns without another word, obviously expecting him to follow.
“We should get Hank,” Connor says, moving quickly to catch up. “He’ll want to tell his side of the story.”
“It’s not necessary,” is Niles simple answer, and he doesn’t slow.
Amanda’s office is down two more hallways, past Niles and Amanda’s rooms. The double doors are ornate wood painted white and gold, and when Niles gives a brief knock, they slide open on silent tracks. Inside, Amanda is seated behind her desk, shuffling through some paperwork in front of her computer. She looks up, tamping the papers against the desk to straighten them, and sets them down neatly by the keyboard.
“Niles, wait outside. I’ll call you if I need you.”
From the corner of his eye Connor sees Niles nod and step back through the doors, which close behind him automatically. Tension ratchets up Connor’s spine. His hands find each other behind his back and he steps forward beside the chair in front of Amanda’s desk, as he had always done when making his reports.
“Where would you like me to start?” Connor asks, and he sees a small hint of approval in her face as she rests her hands on the desk and examines him.
“From the beginning, Connor. How you were captured, and how you survived.”
Straightforward, simple. He can do this, and he takes a deep, controlled breath. He doesn’t have to go into detail, doesn’t have to tell her everything. The relevant parts will do, especially what he learned.
“When I acted on the tip we’d received from our source out west, I was met with an overwhelming force of vampires. More than was reported, and more than I could deal with by myself. I was caught by surprise and knocked out.” He should have been dead. No time to even get off a single shot, or to swing his stake. “When I woke up, I was being held in the dungeon of a mansion by a vampire named Elijah Kamski. I couldn’t escape.”
His mouth feels dry and his lips sore where his teeth scrape. “I was held for a month or two by my best guess. Kamski held a party to… show me off to several of his acquaintances.” His voice trembles lightly, and he swallows thickly. “Leaders of separate covens who had orchestrated the ruse. They had hoped that you or Niles would follow my trail and fall into their traps as well, but you never did.”
He wants to ask what happened, why they didn’t come for him, but he holds it in, fingers digging into his palm. “During their party, I heard several names—places and companies that these creatures had made their home and were using to hide in plain sight. Two of them are in Detroit, Amanda.”
He expects some reaction to this news. More, at least, than the same inscrutable look. The windows behind her face the east, and her garden. The sky is dark, no hint of the sun. Still, it feels suddenly stifling in the room, until she finally breaks the silence.
“CyberLife was one of the companies. Stratford Tower was the other, the broadcasting network is—”
“I don’t mean that. What else happened while you were with Kamski?” Amanda says impatiently, eyes narrowing on Connor.
“Nothing else important,” Connor says, shoulders so tight he feels like they might snap. “Kamski kept me in the dungeon the rest of the time, but while I was there I saw them and I heard them. I know them by sight, I have locations.”
“Connor,” Amanda sighs, in that ever-weary tone, as if he were a child in need of scolding. “I don’t have time for this. Tell me what happened.”
“This is what happened. I saw the leaders of these covens and we know where Kamski lives. We can do something about all of them.”
She waves a hand. “Stop this foolishness and just tell me what happened. ”
“Why won’t you listen to me?” Connor bursts out, frustration like a storm brewing through him. “I am trying to tell you important information. We can take Kamski and every one of them down.” He takes a step towards the desk, hands falling to his sides, fingers digging into his palm hard enough to leave dents in his skin. This is important, it’s the entire reason Hank brought him so far.
She stands with a suddenness that startles him, and calls out, “Niles!”
He has no idea why she’s calling Niles in, why she wanted him to stay outside in the first place, and Connor whirls as Niles enters the room, something gripped in each hand. A shiver runs up his spine and his eyes snap up to meet Niles’. They’re cold, hard as flint, and Connor takes an unsure step back.
“Control yourself, Connor. We don’t make deals with monsters.” Amanda’s voice is bitter as frost.
Connor feels the ice of it creeping over his neck, numbing him as Niles holds the stake in one hand and the silver cup of holy water in the other.
“How did you know?” Connor asks, feigning a calm he doesn’t feel. His neck moves on a rusty hinge to face Amanda. She hadn’t been here, and Niles had hardly been around for that matter, either. Was he so obvious? Had they told Hank? His pulse quickens at the thought and he feels sick again.
“A silver mirror, Connor. No reflection,” she says, something disappointed in her voice, as if Connor were foolish for not realizing.
“We don’t have any,” he starts, confused, before her hand dips into her pocket and pulls out the small, compact mirror he’d seen her use only two days ago. It feels like so much longer now as she pops it open and he sees nothing in it but the smooth wall behind him.
“Do you think I’d be so foolish? Never tell anyone everything. I’ve survived this long being careful, Connor. As I taught you to be—or so I thought.” The derision in her voice hurts more than Connor cares to admit, and he grits his teeth.
Of course. One of her many lessons, and somehow he didn’t think it applied to them, that Amanda would have secrets from the family she expected to follow in her footsteps. “If you knew, why did you allow me to stay here?”
Amanda looks at him, her dark eyes unreadable, before they look down at her desk. Her shoulders move with a near-silent sigh, and when she looks up again, there’s something almost sad there. Sad and tired. “I’ve lost many people to these monsters. I couldn’t help my failings in wanting to keep my former son alive.” She sets her jaw, eyes narrowing, and the brief vulnerability is gone, tucked away again as if it was never there. “Useless sentimentality.”
It’s the closest Connor has ever seen her to being so human, and he grasps at it. “I’m not like that. I haven’t had any blood since—since Hank freed me. I haven’t hurt anyone, I came back home for help in destroying them.” He hates sounding so pathetic, how he’s forced back a step when Niles points the stake at him in warning, but he has to make her understand. “If we kill Kamski I can be human again. It’s not too late.”
“It’s far too late, Connor,” Amanda says, moving around the desk to stand by the corner, fingers braced lightly on the wood. “You’re one of them, and for all I know, you could be working with Kamski now. We suspected a trap when you didn’t return. It would be just like those vile things to attempt to use you against me.”
“But you didn’t even try! You left me there!” There’s pressure behind his eyes, the electrical storm in his body growing. “If you had looked you might have stopped this! You could have prevented me from—” He can’t say it, anguish tightening his throat. It’s too late, he’s being irrational, he knows it, but he just wants them to listen.
“I’m being kind by not killing you where you stand before you can hurt anyone else,” Amanda snaps, lips thinning with her patience. “I know you would not have been able to stand before me without attacking me wildly if you hadn’t fed in all that time. Tell me, did you enjoy sucking the life from those innocent people?”
“It wasn’t by choice. I was made to do it!” Connor’s voice raises, near to shouting, and Niles stiffens, stepping smoothly between Connor and Amanda. His heart drops into his stomach. “Please, Niles, you know I wouldn’t. You know me, we’re brothers, I wouldn’t betray you.”
“I—” Niles’ gaze darts to the side, brows creasing in sorrow before he seems to steel himself and meets Connor’s eyes squarely. “I’m sorry, Connor. I don’t want to do this, but you know we can’t trust a vampire. Not even you.”
“I’m your brother,” he says, and he’s horrified by how his voice cracks.
The words hew through muscle and bone, splintering and shredding whatever they touch. Niles’ cold face doubles and trebles before him, and something wet slides down Connor’s cheek.
“You have five minutes to vacate my home. If I ever find out that you’ve attacked a human, I’ll atone for my mistake of letting you go by hunting you down and killing you personally.” She’s matter-of-fact, as if she isn’t telling one of her sons how she’s going to murder him in the future as she steps up next to Niles, reaching for the stake in his hands. She takes it in her smaller fingers, turning it, and presents it to Connor hilt first. “Do the right thing, Connor.”
He stares helplessly, throat too tight to say a word. With numb hands, he reaches for the carved wood and takes the square end. It’s smooth in his hand, hours of practice making Niles well-versed in how to carve one quick and efficiently.
“The clock is ticking, Connor.”
He turns, slow and mechanical, and leaves Amanda’s office.
He hardly registers the clean white halls around him, mind strangely blank. The door to his room looms in front of him before he realizes it, and he’s halfway to opening it until he remembers there’s nothing in there for him. Even his bag of cheap clothes is in Hank’s room.
Inside, Hank is seated on the bed, shirt lifted up over his side. His bandages are lying on the bed in a pile, next to the open first aid kit. He’s running a clean wipe over the neat scratches, still raw, and Connor’s nose flares as the smell hits him and his head spins.
Blood. Barely there, the wounds scabbing over, and yet for a moment it’s all he’s aware of. Fresh blood, exposed. His stomach cramps and rumbles.
Hank gives an absent, “Hey,” attention focused on cleaning his wound, until Connor catches himself on the door, trying to ward off the want that floods him.
“You alright, Connor?” Hank asks, voice raising sharply, going still at the sight of him.
Connor’s mouth opens, then closes again. He should tell Hank. He should confess the dangerous secret he’s been keeping this whole time. The real reason Kamski kept him so long, why he’s been having these weak spells. He lets himself imagine Hank’s reaction. The anger and betrayal. The way Hank would jump up from the bed and demand to know why the hell Connor didn’t tell him sooner. How he’d probably reach for his gun.
“Shit, Connor, what’s going on? The fuck do you have a stake for?”
He can’t explain, doesn’t want to. Doesn’t want to see the trust and friendship they’ve built crumble. He can barely speak through the tears and the gnawing hunger drawing him to Hank. Instead, he leans down and grabs the bag by the door. The clothes they had put through the wash are sitting folded on the edge of the desk, and Connor goes to them, trying to ignore the scent of blood filling his nose and mouth. He shoves them into the bag carelessly then into his shoes, setting the stake down long enough to tie the laces quickly.
“Connor?” Hank’s voice has gone sharp with worry, and he’s getting up. Connor can’t let him get close, can’t take the sweet smell. “Connor, talk to me, what happened?”
He grabs the stake and the bag, doesn’t even look back as he leaves the room. He can hear Hank calling for him, asking him questions he can’t answer. The scent is a pall over him, clinging to his clothes, filling his empty chest. His mouth waters and fresh cuts in his mouth ooze but it only makes the hunger grow.
The house he grew up in is so quiet and empty, the only sounds his footsteps as he takes the stairs down to the foyer two at a time. Niles is waiting at the open front door, the holy water still cupped in one hand. He looks as if he wants to say something, one hand raised as if to touch him.
Connor slips past without a word, dodging the hand as it tries to land on his shoulder. He doesn’t want to hear anymore threats or belated platitudes, but more than that, if he looks at Niles, he knows what he’ll see. Not his brother—or the man that used to be his brother—but the pulse of a vein in his neck.
He pulls himself up onto the tailgate of Hank’s truck, lightheaded and weak. The toolkit is right where Hank left it, and Connor pops it open and digs inside. He doesn’t think Hank will mind, not once his family—once Amanda and Niles tell him what Connor is. Pocketing what he needs, he drops to the ground, stumbling as his knees give out. He grabs the back of the truck, breathing hard, feeling Niles’ eyes on him.
It would only take a second to charge Niles and overpower him, hold him down and pierce his neck and drink, just a little, just enough to hold the hunger at bay. His mouth is thick with saliva as he imagines the rush of blood over his tongue and the give of flesh. The urge is nearly overwhelming, and he bites his tongue and pushes off from the truck into a stumbling run, eyes trained on pavement as it becomes a blur beneath his feet.
It’s cold and shadowed, the last light of the sun faded behind the trees. The gates are open, and Connor flies through them at a gallop, faster than any human can move. Every step away from his home, and away from Hank, echoes hollow in his chest.
But they’re right. He’s a danger to them, and growing more unstable. It doesn’t matter what he wants anymore. He’s going to do the right thing.
Fumbling with the bandages, Hank manages to finish slapping them on and jerks his shirt back down. Sumo is standing on his dog bed, whining and shifting from foot to foot, distressed. He knows something is wrong, that Connor is upset. Their bags are still mostly packed, and Hank thanks old habits as he shoves the clean laundry into one and zips it up. It still takes far longer than he’d like to pull on his shoes and jacket, and with a command Sumo steps off his dog bed and picks it up in his mouth.
The look on Connor’s face replays in his mind over and over, from the moment Hank finally looked up and realized something was wrong. Connor’s cheeks had been wet, distress written across his brows, shoulders taut as a bowstring. Unwilling, or maybe unable, to say a word to Hank’s questions. Gathering his few belongings, with that stake in his hand. Unease and worry make Hank’s movements ungraceful and thunderous as he stomps down the stairs with Sumo in tow. He has no idea what Connor’s going to do, but he’s not letting the kid go alone.
At the bottom he turns and pauses at the sight of Niles, a glass of water in one hand. He’s staring out the open front door, doesn’t even turn to look at Hank as he approaches.
“Hey,” Hank barks, no doubt in his mind that this shitty family is the reason for Connor running off. “Where’s Connor? What the hell is going on?” Behind him, with the cushioned dog bed between his teeth, Sumo growls low in his throat as if sensing Hank’s anger.
Niles finally deigns to look at him, face neutral and unreadable. “Connor isn’t welcome here anymore, Mr. Anderson.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” Hank pushes past the man, staring, straining to see a hint of Connor. Beyond the light of the front door, the lawn is dark and silent.
“You should watch your back around him,” Niles says, and Hank wheels around, ready to punch the infuriating blankness from Niles’ face.
“What the fuck is wrong with you!” he shouts, finally knowing the meaning behind seeing red. The disrespect, the indifferent welcome after all the shit Connor’s been through is galling. They’re treating Connor like a leper, as if he wasn’t a fucking victim of that piece of shit Kamski, kicking Connor out of his own home. “Ever since we got here—” He cuts himself off with a sharp shake. Shit. They don’t have time for this. Connor couldn’t have gotten far, as long as he sticks to the road, Hank will be able to find him.
He stomps down the stairs and throws his bags into the back. Sumo hops up into the bed, and Hank jerks the door open and then slams it behind him with more force than necessary. The truck sputters and roars, and when Hank backs up to turn around, the headlights illuminate Niles still standing at the door like a statue.
Then Niles, the house, and its garden are disappearing into Hank’s rearview mirror as he slams on the gas. The gates are already open at the end of the long driveway, and he glances back only once after passing through to see them sliding shut.
He wishes he’d had more time to curse them out, to speak to Amanda directly and demand an answer to their behavior, but Connor comes first. He has to force himself to slow down, turning on his high beams, afraid he’ll miss Connor or worse, hit him in the panic of trying to reach him.
The two-lane road is lined with thick trees that shadow the blacktop. Hank’s only a few minutes behind Connor, at most, and yet there’s no sign of him after five minutes. He glances around at the darkness between trunks, but there’s no way to tell if Connor wandered in there, and if he had, Hank would have passed that point already, surely.
“Come on, Connor, where the fuck are you?”
Five minutes turns to ten, and he’s beginning to have serious doubts. He should turn around, check the forest. He’s already kicking himself for not rolling down the window and calling for Connor as he drove, and just as he’s slowing to a stop, a dark shape in the long grass on the side of the road catches his eye.
He rolls forward until he’s close enough to make out the cheap plastic bag of Connor’s clothes. His door creaks open, and Sumo jumps out before Hank can even say a word, hurtling ahead of him to the bag and digging his nose against it. Hank jogs up, looking around for any sign of the kid. There’s only the tall weeds and the edge of the trees, dark and foreboding.
“Connor!” he shouts, a fist of worry clamping around his heart and squeezing tight. “Connor!” His yells echo into nothing, leaving only the rumble of the truck’s idling engine and Sumo sniffing through the grass towards the treeline.
Fuck. He has no idea what the hell Connor is thinking. The fuck did Niles mean for Hank to watch his back? What the fuck happened back there? He can’t stop thinking about the sharpened stake in Connor’s hand. Hopes to god Connor isn’t doing something stupid or dangerous out here just because he’s upset.
Sumo’s loud, deep bark startles Hank, and the dog stares at him over his shoulder, poised at the treeline. Hank goes to his side, flicking on his phone’s flashlight, lighting up thickets of undergrowth that peter out into impenetrable darkness. Connor is in there somewhere, hurting, all alone.
“Shit. Alright, Sumo, go!”
Sumo takes off with Hank at his heels. With Sumo at the lead, pausing every now and then to make sure he’s on the right track, it’s slow going shoving through the brushwood. Thin branches scrape at Hank’s face and catch in his clothes, and the light of his phone isn’t enough to find the fallen longs hidden beneath drifts of dead leaves. He curses liberally when he stumbles to his knees, and has to call Sumo back so the dog won’t just leave him behind.
When he pulls himself up, his knees ache, but he barely spares them a thought. Sumo whines and paces until Hank orders him on.
“Connor!” He keeps up a steady call for the kid, in case Sumo loses the trail. Out here, there’s no signs of anyone else, no sounds other than them bumbling through the brush. Not even an owl or opossum. Just them and silence, and the hair on the back of Hank’s neck raises the farther they get, until he glances back the way they came and can’t even see the shine of his truck’s headlights through the trees.
He finds he doesn’t give a fuck. Even if someone were to come along and steal the damn thing, which he highly doubts this far outside of Detroit, the only thing that matters is finding Connor. He keeps as close behind Sumo as he can, screaming his lungs out for the kid and batting thin limbs out of his face.
“Connor! Connor, where are you!”
He doesn’t know how long they’re tromping through the forest, doesn’t care about that either. Sumo’s nose has always been reliable, and he doesn’t slow, doesn’t lose whatever scent he’s tracking, until he bounds off faster than before, and Hank curses.
“Sumo! Hold! Sumo!” For once, the damn dog doesn’t listen, and Hank picks up speed, branches scraping across his cheeks and jabbing him in the chest. Only after he nearly falls through a tangle of bushes does Hank catch up with the dog, stopped in his tracks, staring at a figure crouched on the ground beneath a cluster of pines.
Hank swings the phone light towards Connor, but the tension coiling in his gut only winds tighter at the way Connor is folded over, face hidden. His sides heave, and he’s making a low noise, almost animal-like.
“Connor!” Hank rushes forward, dropping to a crouch next to him. The scent hits him then, less than a foot away, and the bottom drops out of his stomach. Coppery and cloying. “Shit, Connor, where are you hurt? Come one\, talk to me.” His hands are steadier than the freight engine of his heart, and he touches Connor’s trembling shoulder as lightly as he can, trying not to startle him. “Hey, it’s me, it’s Hank. It’s okay, Connor, just tell me what’s going on.”
Slowly, dream-like, Connor turns towards Hank, eyes downcast. Red drips over his lips and down his chin, as if he’d bitten himself bloody, and Hank follows Connor’s gaze, almost afraid of what he’ll see. His hands are clutching something, fingers dirty and covered in blood. Carefully, Hank takes Connor’s clenched hands, and Connor lets him. Lets Hank pull them apart with no resistance.
In Connor’s right, Hank is startled to recognize not the stake, but a pair of pliers from his truck’s toolkit. He glances up at Connor’s pale face, the dark red smeared over his skin. Back down at the other hand, saying softly, “Connor?”
It folds open like a flower in his palm, revealing four bloody canines, long and sharper than any human’s. He’d recognize a pair of fangs anywhere, and his head jerks up to stare wide-eyed at Connor’s shadowed face. Connor’s dark eyelashes lift, face turning upward to meet his gaze.
In the gloom, the brown irises glow a deep, burning red. Unearthly, demonic. The light of hell, people used to say. When the vampire was at its basest, most bestial nature, craving blood and beyond saving. With a mouthful of blood, he doesn’t even look human.
As if a doorway has just opened in Hank’s mind, understanding filters in, shining a light on every strange quirk Hank had explained away. The scratch Connor received from the Chloe, so much thinner than Hank had first thought, but that was thanks to the supernatural healing abilities of vampires. The way Connor preferred the curtains closed when they slept through the day, and always had his hood up, hiding from the sun. That first fucking night, when Hank had thought Connor wasn’t breathing—because Connor hadn’t been, not conscious to pretend anymore that he was human.
Hank throws himself back, heels slipping on dead leaves, the phone falling from his hand. He reaches beneath his jacket and is met with empty air where his pistol usually is. It’s in the fucking truck with his bag and every weapon he owns, thrown there in his haste to chase after Connor. He’s out here with one of these monsters and he’s completely fucking defenceless.
But Connor doesn’t move from his crouch. If anything, he curls up tighter, hiding his face again, and that low sound starts up. A strange, panting whine.
“Holy fuck. You’re a fucking vampire,” Hank breathes, and beneath the shock is a surge of anger, and betrayal. “All this fucking time. You were one of those things!”
Connor flinches as Hank’s voice rises to a shout, hands closing over the teeth. A dozen instances flash through Hank’s mind, of all the times he’d been vulnerable and oblivious to the creature in front of him. Sleeping in Connor’s presence, eating with him, getting drunk in front of him. Any of those moments Connor could have overpowered him and killed him, and Hank would have been at his mercy.
Connor had fucking played him. Kept it a secret, so that Hank would, what? Take him away from the vampire that had been holding him captive? But no, that doesn’t make sense. Connor had fought him on that, had wanted to go back and kill Kamski. His head pounds with an oncoming headache, and he runs a hand through his hair, watching Connor closely for any signs of movement or fight.
He should leave now, while he has a chance, while Connor isn’t fighting—except Hank’s paralyzed by his racing thoughts. Can’t stop thinking of the Connor he’d gotten to know. That couldn’t have possibly been a lie. What would have been the point? What could Connor have gained by sticking around Hank and getting to know him? Talking about jazz music and his family and the garden?
Shit, he has no idea what to believe. Connor hadn’t wanted to go to his family, had been worried about their reaction to him, convinced they wouldn’t be happy to see him. He’d certainly been right, but it had been more than just his failure. He’d known they would figure out what he was. But if he knew, why come with Hank? Why had Kamski kept him locked up, chased him, tried to kill him?
No, this is what got him into this in the first place. Letting his guard down, refusing to see the truth just because of a pretty face with a sob story. This could be another lie, another way to get Hank’s guard down—but he can’t see how or why. All he knows is his instincts, instincts born from his son being taken from him by these very creatures, are screaming at him to kill Connor before Connor has a chance to hurt anyone else.
The crunch of dry leaves shakes Hank from his spiralling thoughts as Sumo moves past him hesitantly, ears perked.
“Sumo, hold,” Hank says, not wanting his dog anywhere near Connor. It hits him suddenly that Sumo had tried to warn him the first time Hank pulled up with Connor. God, Hank had even told the kid that dogs hated the smell of vampires, that he probably smelled Kamski on Connor.
Without a pause, Sumo keeps going, to Hank’s chagrin. “Sumo! Stop! Hold!”
Sumo reaches Connor before Hank finds the sense to make a grab for him, and Hank half expects it’ll set Connor off, or that Sumo will take a chunk out of Connor.
To his surprise, Sumo lowers his head, pressing his snout to Connor’s jaw and leaning against his side. Connor goes quiet, his noises winding down to nothing as Sumo rubs his nose over Connor’s cheek and ear. He dips lower, pushing under Connor’s arm, until Connor turns suddenly, wrapping his arms around the big dog and burying his face against Sumo’s fur. His shoulders tremble harder as Sumo seats himself, letting Connor hold him, making not a sound of protest or fear.
Hank’s resolve crumbles.
He looks so small and vulnerable, more so even than when Hank found him in Kamski’s dungeon, half-naked and chained to a wall. Every defence stripped away, wrapped around Hank’s dog like a lifeline, bloody hands still clenched around their prize.
He can’t imagine the Connor he’s gotten to know being a monster, he just can’t. Not the same guy who nearly cried talking about the garden he helped build for his mother, who protected Hank from the Chloes, who likes the same stupid shit people come up with to explain the mysteries of their world. Connor, who looked so peaceful when sleeping, who fit against his side like a missing puzzle piece, who stole Hank’s pliers and pried out his own fangs when his family kicked him out.
“Fuck. Fuck. Fucking fuck me, goddammit!” Hank screams, and the sound bounces around the dark trees and makes Connor’s shoulders jump.
He shouldn’t be thinking like this. His son was killed by one of these creatures, they’re all heartless monsters who only look out for themselves. Living off the blood of innocent people, killing others so that they can live and become more powerful.
Except Connor hasn’t fed from anyone since Hank picked him up. Hasn’t had the opportunity with the close quarters they’ve had to keep. He can’t stop thinking of the wet fangs in Connor’s shaking hand, the pliers white-knuckled in his other. The way Connor has been stumbling lately, looking sick and dazed. Starving himself, Hank realizes. He could have just drained Hank and killed him at anytime, stolen his truck and his weapons and set off after Kamski for whatever revenge he wanted.
He didn’t, though. He wanted to do it the human way, even though he’s not human anymore. Went with Hank back to his family, despite the dangers it presented, and did everything he could to look like a regular person.
If these creatures are capable of humanity, why the fuck did Cole have to die? Hank squeezes his eyes shut against the thought. It’s so much easier to believe that they’re not, especially after seeing his boy drained of blood, so small and lifeless. The grief like a tidal wave that swept through his life and tore everything apart. No one who could do that to an innocent child deserves to be called anything other than a monster, and he’s seen plenty of them in the years since.
Why, then, is Connor so different? He can’t be. He can’t. Because if he is, that means there are more like him. There are others that aren’t horrible fucks that would kill innocent children, that all vampires aren’t soulless beings, and Hank’s not ready for that thought. It’s a betrayal to Cole’s memory, thinking that the creatures responsible for his death could be anything other than soulless devils.
He could go back to his truck. Grab his shotgun, his pistol, a stake. Come back and end Connor. He needs to harden his heart, but the shivers wracking Connor’s frame, the way he holds Sumo tight and Sumo accepts it, even welcomes it, worms through the cracks.
The problem is, he just can’t see a monster. All he sees is Connor, looking so small and terrified, resisting what he’s become with everything he has.
Hank stops thinking, stops running in circles like a dog chasing its own tail. Before he realizes it, he’s picking up his phone and then taking Connor’s hands in his. Peeling them open and taking the pliers and the fangs, dropping them into one of his pockets. Connor is tense beneath Hank’s hands, and when Hank drags one arm over his shoulder and fits another arm under Connor’s knees, Connor finally starts to move. Pushing against Hank’s chest, shaking his head, eyes shut tight and mouth moving silently with words Hank can’t make out.
“Hey, stop that, alright?” The words aren’t as gruff and curt as he’d meant, softened by Connor’s growing distress. Hank swallows thickly, doesn’t let himself think too much about his next words, or the truth in them. “It’s okay. I’m not gonna hurt you. Come on, I’m getting us out of here.”
As Hank hoists Connor up and starts walking back towards the road with Sumo at his side, Connor’s noises don’t stop, but they change. Confused, and every now and then Hank can make out a word. “No,” or “stop,” or “please.” He’s nearly incoherent by the time the truck’s headlights become visible through the trees, and Hank knows what that means.
Connor is starving, too weak to even fight a human, too out of it to know what’s going on. A vampire in this state is at their most vulnerable and easy to take out, and Hank thinks, briefly, of his revolver. The chambered silver slugs.
The thought vanishes quickly. He can’t. Not to Connor. He knows he can’t, and he doesn’t know how that makes him feel, so he shoves that thought aside and carries Connor out of the woods.
There’s a red hot metal wire pushed through his jaw, wrapped tight around it and pulsing with heat. He flinches every time his tongue finds the bloody holes there, but he can’t stop. It’s stale but it’s blood and he wants more, needs more, it’s not enough. His eyes are open but the world spins around him, dizzying, and so he shuts them again. Someone is speaking, but he can’t understand what’s being said.
He’s so hungry, and he thinks he should get up, he needs to fix that, he needs to feed.
He doesn’t move.
The rocking motions around him are almost enough to lull him to sleep, except for the gnawing of his empty stomach and the throbbing places in his jaw. He’s on his side, cheek pressed to cool, cracked leather. Someone is with him but his thoughts are caught in quicksand, pulled away before he can latch onto them.
He’s just so hungry.
Eventually the motions stop and he just lays there in the sudden quiet, trying to work his eyes, to get his hands under him. He does, wincing in the sudden bright light, shying from it on instinct, but it doesn’t hurt. Too white, too clean. He thinks he must be in a car—in Hank’s truck, but something about that seems wrong. There’s no sign of Hank, and he drops down to the seat and closes his eyes again.
Arms push under him, lifting him, startling him from his stupor. Part of him knows that’s bad, but his ears pick up the quick beat of a panicked pulse, and he shifts towards it. There’s no resistance as he presses his nose to a warm neck, smells sweat and fear and worry. His tongue darts out, tasting the rabbit beat, feeling it in his tongue. He presses his teeth there, but it’s all wrong, he can’t pierce skin.
The holes in his jaw ache.
It’s Hank holding him, Connor realizes suddenly, some of his thoughts finally escaping the quicksand. It’s Hank, he has to stop, he’s losing himself.
He pushes at the broad chest against him, and words come hard. “Stop… Hank…”
The reply rumbles through Connor’s chest, deep and commanding. “Connor? Shut up.”
He does, because talking is too much effort, pain searing through his mouth. He doesn’t stop trying to get away, though Hank curses as he fumbles with something, clearly struggling to hold Connor and maneuver at the same time.
Did Hank take him back to Amanda, Connor wonders, panic surging through him. His eyes snap wide as Hank gets the door he was fumbling against open, stumbling into a dark room. It’s nothing like the Stern estate. Connor’s sharp eyes pick out worn carpet, peeling wallpaper, a tv with metal rabbit ears, two beds. He’s never been in this room before, but something in Connor loosens as if he was home.
With the door open so Hank can see, Connor is set on the bed before Hank flips the light on and goes back outside. Connor’s eyes slip closed against a ripple of lightheadedness, and he hears the quiet jingle of Sumo’s collar until a wet nose touches his hand. It’s comforting and wrong but Connor can’t bring himself to move.
The door shuts with a solid click, and two heavy thumps follow, the bags being tossed to the floor. Connor listens to Hank moving around the room, but the sounds start to fade after a while, merging into a white noise.
Blood drips onto his tongue and the violent craving returns. The memory of a deft hand slicing open a thick neck flashes before his eyes. The gush of red and how he strained at the chains, teeth and tongue capturing as much as they could to sate him with the feeling of the man still inside him.
The bed dips at his side and a hand pushes under his head, lifting him. Something wet and cool touches his mouth, running across his chin. Warm fingers brush his lips, and he opens his mouth for them, but they disappear. The wet cloth wipes over his cheeks firmly, washing away the scent of old blood. He reaches up, catching the hand as it moves over his jaw, tongue darting out to lick at the rough fingers.
His hand is shaken off, the wet cloth moving to his other cheek, but Connor takes it again. His teeth scrape the skin, tongue searching for the beat of a pulse.
“Connor,” the man says above him, and Connor thinks Kamski must have told the man his name. His tongue tastes water and thin blood and he catches the hand as the man pulls away again, lips pressing against the palm, sucking, trying to take it in.
“Connor.” The voice is stronger, more stern, and Connor forces his eyes open but everything is a blur. A shadow eclipses the light, looming over him. “Connor, hey, can you hear me?”
Why is the man wasting time talking to him? He finds the strength to lift a leg and hook it around the man’s back, dragging him down, pressing their groins together and rocking weakly. There’s a sharp intake of breath above him, and Connor whines as the man shoves himself up. He just wants the man to hurry up and get it over with. Do what he came here to do and stop torturing Connor with this facade of gentleness.
But the man won’t. He keeps running the cloth over Connor’s aching jaw and down his neck, stealing his hands away when Connor reaches for them. It’s tiring, and Connor’s movement slow, until he stops trying. It’s almost hypnotizing, the steady motions.
The bed creaks and the man leaves, and Connor wonders what changed. Why Kamski hasn’t used him, hurt him, tortured him worse. Why is he lying down?
The smell of something sweet drifts to him on cool air, and the bed dips again. Saliva fills his mouth as it gets strong, closer, sharper. It touches his lips, wet and warm, trickling into his mouth. It fills his senses—the taste strong and healthy, the sound of a pounding heart just slightly offbeat, the touch of his lips and tongue against a thin slit.
“That’s it,” the man rumbles, and Connor whines back, licking and sucking. Finally drinking, finally getting to eat.
first scene contains noncon
They keep him hungry. It becomes a familiar pain, and the only routine Connor can rely on. Weeks of hunger, until he’s dizzy and limp and can’t resist when Kamski brings another unsuspecting man from the nearby town. He wonders, sometimes, when someone will pick up on the disappearances. If his family will be contacted, or some other hunter. But Kamski doesn’t seem the type to make many mistakes, and he pushes the faint hope away.
The prolonged starvation make it easier to force feed him. In those moments, when the blood hits his tongue, Connor can’t resist. Kamski always seems to know just when to do it—so that Connor’s too weak to fight his instincts, but not weak enough he can’t feed.
His teeth take weeks to grow back, lengthening and sharpening until they tear the inside of his mouth open. He never has them long enough to get used to them, to make it easier to bear. Kamski and Chloe come down with the gag and the silver file, and Connor should know better than to fight, but sometimes he does anyways. Snapping at their fingers, twisting from their grip. Often he’s too weak from hunger to do much, but it lights a brief fire in him. Shakes him from his stagnation for a moment, gives him something to focus on.
It doesn’t last.
He thinks of the silver cuffs, his wrists protected only by the thin material of the shirts Kamski allow him. How he could bend himself backwards and wrap the chain around his neck. Let it end him and this pathetic existence.
It would be giving in, part of Connor whispers. That would be letting Kamski win, and he refuses. He tells himself he’s stronger than that, but it’s hard to hold onto in his weaker moments.
Moments where Kamski brings these men in and finds new ways to break Connor down. When he’s delirious with hunger, too far gone to remember or care about his morals and teachings, concerned only with filling the ravenous hollow inside.
The men lean in close as they fuck him, bouncing him on their cocks, but the bites Connor leaves on their sweaty necks and shoulders arent enough to feed. He doesn’t have the strength to pierce skin with his dull teeth, and they laugh and mark him back and tell him how good he is. He has to wait for Kamski’s help. Wait for Kamski to bleed them so Connor can finally eat.
It makes him burn with horror and shame when he’s full and coherent. Remembering the desperate way he threw himself at some of the men, how quickly he opened his legs so they would come in close, drawn in by the tantalizing thrum of rushing blood. Wanting them to hurry because he knew what came after.
Not always, though. Kamski catches on, and it becomes part of his game. Waiting for the man to finish, drawing him out of reach, killing him and leaving him to bleed out on the stone floor as punishment for trying to rush things. Connor strains at the chains, howling and snarling with hunger, shoulders nearly pulled from their sockets.
Sometimes Kamski gags him beforehand, the metal behind Connor’s teeth propping his jaw open wide, so that when Kamski makes the kill, Connor can’t drink. Can only press his mouth to the wet skin, tongueing at it, unable to get what he needs. Kamski likes to slip his fingers into Connor’s open, drooling mouth, between the metal bars. Rub the growing edge of his fangs, smear a stripe of blood against the back of Connor’s throat. Connor wants to bite down so badly his jaw creaks and aches.
The worst is when Kamski drips the newest victim’s blood on his own skin. Baring himself and painting his neck and shoulders with a gloved hand dipped in red. He’ll slide in where the man once was, into Connor’s messy, gaping hole, and Connor lets him eagerly because it means getting close to that sweet smell. Pressing his mouth to Kamski’s shoulder, licking it up like an animal as Kamski makes pleased noises beneath him.
Connor is mindless, straining for every little drop. There’s no shame, no inhibitions. Those are the moments when Connor truly feels inhuman.
The cut isn’t that deep, but it stings as Hank applies the antiseptic. No longer bleeding, it’s simply an irritated red line in Hank’s wrist, over the cluster of blue veins. He’d been very careful not to cut his tendon, and all he can do is hope it’s enough. Connor is quiet on the opposite bed, still slightly out of it.
The last hour replays in Hank’s mind in fast forward. Driving Connor to the motel with him nearly passed out on the bench seat. Carrying him inside and getting him cleaned up. Hank’s face colors as he thinks of Connor’s hot mouth on his fingers, nipping at his skin, as if to suck them in. Or the way he’d hooked a leg around Hank and ground their crotches together with a soft little whine, like something straight out of Hank’s wet dreams.
Connor was clearly too far gone to understand what was happening, what he was doing. Hank doubts the kid even knew who Hank was, eyes wet and faraway as if he was seeing someone else. It perturbs Hank, makes him think of finding Connor in Kamski’s dungeon wearing nothing but a loose, billowy shirt. The possessive initials burned into Connor’s skin.
He shakes his head, wincing as the antiseptic seeps into the cut, and fetches a roll of medical tape from the first aid kit.
Maybe he’s going crazy. Feeding a fucking vampire, helping him get stronger, just because somewhere underneath the scars and old wounds Hank heart still bleeds for others. He wants an explanation though, to see Connor’s eyes when he’s together enough to tell his side of the story. Maybe it’s a stupid idea, but he can’t bring himself to hate Connor, though he knows he should.
Sumo, laying on the dog bed, which he had dragged between the beds under Hank’s disbelieving eyes, jumps up at a brief sound from Connor’s still form. Hank looks up as well, winding the tape around his wrist one final time before tearing it with his teeth and pinning it in place. Brown eyes crack open, rolling to look around the room, eyebrows rising and knotting together.
He sits up with a suddenness that makes Hank tense, unsure if he should reach for his pistol or not, but Connor only sits with his legs splayed, mouth parted. His eyes, wide and alert and present, dart between Hank, Sumo, and the door, before flying back to Hank. Abruptly, his face smooths and he swings his legs over the edge, but as Connor’s hands come together in his lap, Hank sees how they tremble. How his eyes don’t stop moving, and his shoulders form a rigid line.
It’s infuriating how Hank’s heart twists in his chest, because despite his best efforts, Connor is obviously scared, and yet he hasn’t booked it. Expecting the worst, and yet gearing himself up to endure it anyways. Hank can’t help wondering darkly whether it was Kamski or Amanda who taught him that.
There are a hundred questions building in Hank’s chest, begging to burst out of him, but he can’t bring himself to say a word. He just doesn’t know where to start. The silence between them builds ever thicker as they watch each other.
With a gruff impatience, Sumo takes a step forward, disturbing the tense scene, and puts his head on Connor’s knee. Eyebrows twisting in surprise, Connor raises a hand to pet Sumo, and then seems to think better of it, catching it in his lap again and looking to Hank instead.
The first words between them come tumbling out of Connor’s mouth. “I know you must be angry. I’m sorry for lying to you, but I couldn’t see any other way.”
Hank knows he should be angrier, he should hate Connor for lying, for putting them in danger by keeping such a secret—but somehow, he doesn’t. He knows, without an explanation, why Connor did it. A week ago, Hank never would have shown mercy to Connor if he’d known. He’d have shot Connor down in that dungeon and left the corpse to turn to dust.
It’s everything else he doesn’t understand, and he supposes he’s just gonna have to pick something to start with, because Connor’s face is growing tenser by the second the longer Hank says nothing. The last thing Hank wants, and it’s surprisingly easy for him to admit this, is for Connor to panic and leave.
“I’m not gonna lie and say it was easy finding out the way I did,” Hank starts, and Connor’s face is impassive but the air around him turns guilty as his shoulders roll slightly forward. “Shit, Connor, do you know how fucking worried I was?” He runs a hand over his face, trying to get himself on some kind of track. “What the hell happened? Why did you run off like that?”
A shadow passes over Connor’s face at the question, and he looks down at Sumo, still sitting with his head on Connor’s knee. “They knew as soon as we arrived. My mother had a silver mirror on her. She tested me without us even noticing.” He winces, but his face smooths out again.
It’s not exactly a revelation. Hank had expected as such, Niles’ warning and Connor’s worry taking on a different light once he knew, but part of him is disturbed and he can’t pinpoint why. Maybe the ease with which they suspected their own family, when Hank hadn’t found a single reason to suspect anything in the short time he’d known the Connor.
“If they knew, why didn’t they just kill you on the spot?” Hank says, internally wincing at his own bluntness. But he needs answers, and this might be his only chance to get them before Connor decides to take off.
“Useless sentimentality,” Connor says, a bitterness to his voice that sends a shiver down Hank’s spine. “She wanted to, I’m sure, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She told me—she wanted me to—do the right thing. She hoped I would do it myself.” His mouth twists into a parody of a smile.
The shock of Connor’s words leaves Hank utterly breathless before anger rises up to fill the gap. “She— She told you to—? After all this time. Her own child—” He can’t make a complete sentence, and he runs a hand through his hair, tugging hard, trying to get himself under control. “Fuck her. Fuck her and fuck your brother.”
Connor stares at him, uncomprehending, and the look only makes Hank angrier at the bullshit Connor’s been fed all his life. If Cole had come back in any way, shape, or form, Hank wouldn’t have given a fuck. Vampire, werewolf, a fucking ghost , it doesn’t matter, if he could see his son again, he would never turn Cole away like that. He would have done everything in his power to keep him safe from anything. He can’t imagine casting aside his own kid.
“I’m sorry,” Connor says, uncertain, and slight pain flashes across his face, so brief Hank almost thinks he imagined it.
“Connor,” Hank starts, and deflates with a heavy sigh. “You got nothing to be sorry for. Your family is fucked up, alright? Just—where you ever planning on telling me? Or was waiting until you were so out of your mind and starved you couldn’t speak the plan?”
“The plan was for you to never know,” Connor says quietly, fingers twisting in his lap. “The only way to turn a vampire human is to kill the vampire that turned them.”
Oh. Shit. “That’s true?” Hank asks. He’s heard it, sure, every hunter has, but he’s never met a single vampire that’s wanted anything other than to kill and feed. Never given it more than a passing thought that maybe every time he kills one of them he’s dragging another soul out of damnation.
“It’s untested,” Connor admits. “We’ve never had an opportunity to confirm it, and Amanda would rather we kill them quickly than risk lives by trying to prove it.”
“But you think it’s true. That’s why you wanted to go back and fight Kamski so damn bad,” Hank says, understanding flooding him. “You wanted to kill him before anyone found out, especially your family. Even if they suspected, there’d be no way for them to prove it.”
Connor nods. “Exactly.” Another wince.
“But why did Kamski turn you in the first place, if he was just gonna keep you locked up? What was the point in all that?”
“For his amusement, and because he wanted to give a hunter a taste of their own medicine. He was disappointed he couldn’t draw my family into another trap with my disappearance. I don’t know if he would have turned them or killed them, but I was his experiment. A test to see how I would fare after turning me into one of them and forcing me to feed on humans. A chance to become the hunter.” His voice is soft, empty, and when Connor falls into silence he reaches up and runs a hand over his mouth, brows a pained furrow.
His jaw must be killing him, and Hank stands, moving around the bed and going to the sink. He feels Connor’s eyes on him, but neither of them speak as Hank grabs a cloth, filling it with ice from the mini fridge next to the sink, holding it out to Connor as he returns to his seat.
Connor hesitates, eyes darting between Hank’s gaze and the cloth, until Hank sighs and leans forward to shove it against Connor’s still hand.
“Thank you,” Connor says, lifting it, pressing it to his cheek. His lashes flutter, pink lips parting on a relieved sigh, and Hank forces himself to stare anywhere else.
“Sure,” Hank grunts, feeling embarrassed for no reason.
He doesn’t know what to say about what Connor told him. It makes sense now, that all those people disappearing, the reason Hank had come to that town in the first place, had been taken to feed Connor. The disappearances had only started sometime after Connor had been taken, probably when he was turned. The little scars peppering Connor’s neck, closed over and white because vampires can’t feed from other vampires. It’s strange that Kamski would be so careless in taking humans when he must have been so careful before in feeding himself and the Chloes, but maybe the excitement of his catch had him letting his guard down.
All of this is so fucked up, and Hank can so easily see how Connor’s upbringing and Kamski’s fuckery have closed off every option for Connor but one. Trying to deal with it all himself, with no options to turn to. Hank can’t say what he would have done in Connor’s situation—
No, that’s a lie.
He knows he would have killed himself the moment he could, if he had been as alone as Connor must have felt. He wouldn’t have been able to stomach becoming one of the creatures that took Cole away from him. Would have rather died.
Yet here he is, talking to a vampire, after helping said vampire, and he hasn’t fully come to terms with what that means about every other vampire. He’s not ready to think about that yet. All he can focus on is the here, and now, and Connor.
“I just got one more question,” Hank says, then hesitates, face growing hot, but he forces himself to plough on. “When I was cleaning you up, why were you acting so, uh—weird?”
He can see Connor knows exactly what Hank’s talking about by the red that stains his cheeks. His shoulders tighten beneath the soft hoodie, and his gaze drops to the floor, where Sumo has finally given up and lays at Connor’s feet.
“I’m sorry about that,” Connor says stiffly. “While Kamski held me, I initially refused to feed when he wanted me to. He punished me for my disobedience by filing my teeth down and starving me until I was too frenzied to stop myself.”
“But that doesn’t really explain…” Hank gestures wordlessly, too embarrassed to put words to what Connor had done.
Connor’s fingers clench around the cloth, and the snapping of ice is sudden and audible, making Hank jump. The look on Connor’s face is so ashamed, so guilty , Hank nearly says nevermind, but Connor starts speaking before Hank can open his mouth.
“It was part of Kamski’s game, and how he convinced the men to come with him. He would let them have sex with me and cut their throats.” Connor’s voice is flat, lifeless, as if reciting from a textbook. “He found many ways to make it more entertaining for him, until I couldn’t resist. Until I welcomed it just to—to eat .” The last word roils with self-loathing and guilt, welling up from beneath the facade of indifference.
“Shit.” It’s inadequate, doesn’t come close to describing the horror of what he’s feeling at those words, but it’s all that comes out.
Bile burns in the back of Hank’s throat. His eyes feel hot and pressurized. He can’t help imagining the horror of being turned into a creature he’d been raised all his life to hate, being punished and raped for some monster’s amusement. Forced to participate in his own torture or suffer more. He can imagine all too easily how Connor, out of his mind with hunger, would have been helpless to fight his instincts or the men in such a weakened state.
The worst part is the shamed color of Connor’s face, two spots of red high on his cheeks, and the barest hunch of his shoulders. As if he expects disgust from Hank for what happened, or blame for being a fucking victim. The guilty air around Connor makes something in Hank ache. Connor’s time with Kamski was worse than Hank had ever imagined, and th fact that Hank can recognize the self-blame in Connor’s posture and empty tone makes any remaining feelings of anger and betrayal fall away.
Connor is just another victim, the same kind of person that Hank swore to protect when he gave up his life for the road. It doesn’t matter that Connor’s a vampire, because he clearly would rather hurt himself than anyone else. The four pointed teeth clicking in Hank’s pocket like pennies is proof enough.
More than that, the long evenings spent traveling across the country are all the evidence Hank thought too subjective to take into consideration. He was still a person, and it wasn’t acting, wasn’t pretending. There was no way to fake so much of himself when Hank had spent years seeing through these creatures’ lies. Connor loves his family, even if they didn’t afford him the same care. He likes classical, the most boring music on the planet, and jazz. He doesn’t see the point in eating ice cream even though Hank has never met a single person who didn’t like ice cream, but he tried it for Hank. He has nightmares and shies from touches he doesn’t instigate. He likes healthy foods and disapproves of Hank’s drinking, but he’s not immune to wanting to forget, wanting to drink his problems away.
He thinks of Connor passing the bottle of whiskey back to Hank. How Hank had felt like a high schooler tilting the cool glass to his mouth and thinking of Connor’s lips on it only moments ago. Hank had passed out, but when he awoke, it was to Connor’s weight against him, face soft with sleep. He could have gone to his room, wasn’t too shitfaced to find his way as Hank had reasoned at the time.
Now he knows better. Connor had chosen that, and chosen to lean against Hank’s arm in the garden, and to pull his own fangs. Those were human choices, human emotions. Connor may not be physically human anymore, but he wasn’t an inhuman monster like Hank would have so readily believed only a week ago.
It makes Hank sick to think of what Connor has been through. A shaky feeling deep in Hank’s bones. His fists are balled so tightly against his thighs they ache, teeth gritted. Connor takes one look at him before dropping his gaze in a hurry, and Hank wonders what expression he must be making.
He realizes, abruptly, that he would kill for Connor, and it’s looking like that’s not such a tall order.
“I’d like to ask you a question,” Connor says, and at Hank’s rough noise of assent, continues, “Why didn’t you kill me? Why did you bring me here and feed me?” He switches the ice to the other side of his jaw, nostrils flaring. “I know how you feel about… about creatures like me. Why did you do that?”
He’s probably been wondering that this whole time, and Hank doesn’t know what to say. He knows why, but saying it out loud seems suddenly impossible, with all his own feelings wrapped up in them as they are. But Connor’s still scared, still doesn’t know what Hank is going to do to him, and Hank can’t stand the thought of Connor being afraid of him. Thinking he’ll turn his back on him like his family.
His tongue is thick and clumsy in his mouth, but he forces the words out, halting and awkward. “I couldn’t. Not after everything. It’s obvious you don't wanna hurt people. Why else would you have ripped your own teeth out? When I saw what you were, what you really were—” He takes a deep, fortifying breath. “I just couldn’t. Cause you were still you.”
“I’m dangerous,” Connor cuts in, but Hank can’t help a snort of laughter at the cheesy line.
“You think I don’t know that? I know good and well what this means, Connor,” Hank says wryly.
Connor nods, but there’s still a hint of doubt. “Where are you going now?”
Blinking in surprise, Hank says, “We gotta kill Kamski, don’t we?”
It’s Connor’s turn to look surprised, eyes widening minutely, freezing on the spot. “You still want to help me? Why?”
“It’s the right thing to do, and it’s my job,” Hank says, shifting uncomfortably, hoping with Connor’s superior senses he can’t tell how quick Hank’s pulse is suddenly racing. It’s the truth, but not the whole truth. There’s another reason squeezing at the shredded pieces of what he used to call a heart, brushing off the dust and cleaning old wounds.
“How? Kamski could be calling backup. Without my family and their resources, we might not stand a chance.”
He’s right. It’s why Hank had wanted to go to the Stern’s in the first place, why he’d insisted they needed the help. Even Connor had seen reason and agreed, despite the risk it posed. But that’s not an option anymore, and Connor isn’t taking one crucial factor into consideration—himself.
Hank just shrugs and says, “We’ll figure it out.”
The ease with which Hank accepts everything is startling, and scary. Connor doesn’t know what to do with the newfound freedom, still struggling between his instinct to try and hide everything, and the knowledge that he doesn’t have to anymore. He doesn’t have to worry about Hank questioning his habit of sleeping during the day, doesn’t have to hide that he doesn’t need food.
When Hank asks to check on Connor’s wound, Connor is hesitant. It’s not like Hank hasn’t already seen it, but he doesn’t want Hank to think about the hands that have touched him. It’s a frivolous thought. Hank already knows. It’s not as if Connor can take back what he said and erase the knowledge. Hank will always know what Connor gave into. In the end, Connor lifts the hoodie and shirt and lets Hank inspect it.
Hank is gentle when he lifts the bandages, and though the letters are healed over and scarred, he takes a bottle of lotion and rubs it into the raised letters. It’s so different from the touches Connor grew used to. There’s no demand in it, just a steady patience. Connor can see the question in Hank’s eyes as he cleans it. Why this one has scarred over.
“He used a silver knife and holy water,” Connor says, face turned towards Sumo, still laying on the dog bed at his feet. The hands on his chest pause, and he can sense the sudden tension.
“It will probably scar then,” Hank finally says, something stiff in his voice.
He’d known that was true, but hearing it confirmed is still a punch to the gut. Even if they manage to kill Kamski, there’s no way to erase this reminder of what happened.
“We’ll pay him back,” Hank murmurs, and he makes a point of meeting Connor’s eyes and telegraphing the palm that lands on his knee, squeezing lightly before returning to work.
Somehow, it helps.
He’s glad his hoodie didn’t get ruined by blood. He hadn’t been particularly careful when he planted the pliers in his mouth and twisted with all his strength. All he’d been conscious of was trying to debilitate himself before the hunger took him over completely. There hadn’t been room for much else, drooling blood as he clamped them around another tooth and tore a hole in his gums.
He hadn’t expected Hank to find him, let alone take him back. Hearing Hank’s voice, shot through with rage and betrayal, had shaken Connor from his haze for a few moments, but the memories are dream-like, as if seen through a crystal ball. He’d expected a stake through the heart, a silver bullet in the brain, not—
Kindness. Understanding. Help. Not from the man who’s entire life had been ripped away from him by monsters like Connor.
It both doesn’t fit at all with the image Hank projects, and yet fits right at home with what Connor has learned about him. A heart of gold hidden under years of grief and pain. It’s strange to think that Hank took him in and helped him, after knowing each other for only a short week, when his own family had thrown him out. Perhaps he’s being unfair, but the sting of their rejection hasn’t had time to fade. Amanda’s words still echo in Connor’s ears when he pulls the blankets over his head as the sun rises.
“Do the right thing, Connor.”
He wants nothing more than to do the right thing, but he doesn’t know what that is now. Killing one of those monsters is the right thing, even if he’s doing it for selfish reasons, but what comes afterwards? Should he go back to his family and see if they’ll accept him?
The idea of crawling back to them burns like bile in the back of his throat. Even if he wants it, he’s not sure he deserves it. Amanda was right when she accused him of feeding, forced though it was at first. In the end, he always begged. He doesn’t think he can go back to them. Not until he atones for what he’s done, and that’s assuming he doesn’t die in the attempt. Kamski will be prepared, he must know they’re coming.
Maybe there is no afterwards. Not for the likes of him.
The evening after, and the following nights, are almost like before. Sometimes Connor catches Hank looking at him, and every time Connor expects a light of anger or distrust in Hank’s eyes.
It’s never there.
Hesitance, maybe. A nervousness Connor has never seen in the man, but it doesn’t stay. He talks to Connor as if nothing has changed. Watches tv and groans at the basketball game, explaining the finer points of his favorite team and how their games often turn out. It’s not particularly interesting, but Connor finds himself fascinated by how eager Hank is. He ends up watching Hank more often than not, the play of expressions across his face as his team scores a shot or fails to protect their basket.
More often than not, Hank will glance towards him and meet his eyes, holding Connor’s gaze for seconds at a time. Connor can’t look away. His superior eyes can pick out things he’d never thought to look for. The hint of light green in the connective fibers of his irises. The dips and crags of laugh lines, barely hidden by his beard. The gap between his two front teeth revealed in a small smile.
It’s riveting, and Connor doesn’t quite know what to do with the fact that Hank seems to be taking him in too. Examining Connor’s face like a map, tracing paths that only Hank can see. Connor wonders where it’s leading him.
The ache in Connor’s jaw subsides, the wounds closing up. Kamski never pulled his teeth, only kept them filed, so Connor calculates it will take twice as long for them to regrow. He wonders how many time he’ll have to pull them before he doesn’t have to anymore.
They haven’t talked about their next step yet. The first time Connor tried, exhausted still from the stress on his body, Hank had told him he wasn’t moving for a week at least.
“The more time we give him—”
“Is more time for us to prepare as well. We’re both worn out, and you’ve just come off a diet of McDonalds and starvation after the world’s shittiest family reunion. Give yourself some time, Connor.”
He doesn’t want time, as much as his body takes the rest gratefully. He’s no longer hungry, his stomach doesn’t ache with hollowness, and the dizzy spells have stopped. But it’s a reset on his internal clock as far as Connor is concerned. Every moment they sit here means he gets closer to that precipice again. To being frenzied and too hungry to hold himself back. Willing to do anything to eat again.
He tries not to think about it, because Hank needs the rest, and he doesn’t want to be ungrateful for the help.
It’s pushed so far to the back of his mind that when Hank takes a seat on Connor’s bed nearing four in the morning with the first aid kit, unraveling the bandage on his wrist and pulling a pocket knife from his jacket, Connor sits frozen.
“Hank?” he finally says, as Hank rips open an antiseptic pad and runs it over the blade. “What are you doing?”
Hank’s movements slow, and he looks at Connor with that uncertainty, caught in brief flashes before, as if Connor has done something unexpected.
“You need to eat. It’s been a few days,” Hank says slowly.
“I’m fine,” Connor says. “I don’t have to for a while.”
Shaking his head, Hank sets the wipe aside and taps the inside of his wrist with the point of the blade. For no reason, Connor’s heart rate spikes at the motion. He wants to rip it from Hank’s hands.
“The more often a vampire feeds, the stronger they become. You need all the strength you can get, Connor. Especially if we’re gonna go up against someone like Kamski.” The confidence returns to Hank’s voice the more he talks.
“I’d rather not,” Connor says, shifting uncomfortably. “It’s not necessary, we have tools at our disposal.”
“We’d be at an advantage if you were at your full strength. I know you don’t want to give into this, but you’ve proven you’re not a monster, Connor. You’re not—stealing from me, or hurting me. I’m offering.” Hank raises his hand, and his bared wrist, pointedly.
It’s like Hank took one look and saw straight through Connor to the heart of the matter. His fingers curl against the sheets, pulled up over his legs as they watched TV. It’s something he hadn’t even realized was on his mind until Hank pointed it out, and suddenly it’s right there at the forefront. The fear of hurting Hank to help himself. The selfishness of the act.
“You don’t have to do that, Hank.”
“I know.” Hank’s eyes drop from Connor’s, looking over at Sumo, fast asleep between the beds. “But I want to. I don’t like the thought of you not eating. You need this, and I want to give it to you.”
Connor’s throat constricts, trying to hold back the sudden emotion welling up from within. He can’t seem to stop thinking of his family. Neither of them would have ever dreamed of offering such a thing to him, and yet Hank offers it so easily. As if it’s nothing to cut himself open and let Connor share in the force that helps sustain him.
“You’re right,” Connor says, trying to keep the strange feeling from showing on his face or in his voice. “I don’t want you to hurt yourself on my behalf.”
Sighing, Hank nods, before drawing the blade across his wrist in a quick, controlled motion.
“Hank!” Connor says, nearly shouts, reaching out to grab the knife, but the deed is done. Lips lifted in a smirk, Hank lets Connor take the blade and put it on the bedside table before cupping his wrist carefully. “You shouldn’t have done that, it’s incredibly dangerous!”
“Well, too late now.” As if the matter is out of his hands, Hank shrugs. “What’s done is done. You’re not going to let my sacrifice go to waste now, are you? I took off precious skin cells for this.” He offers his wrist again, the clean cut, not quite the length of the scabbed over cut above it, welling blood and already dripping down his arm into Connor’s cupped hands.
He can smell it, a vivid, tangy scent that makes his mouth water despite not being hungry yet. He tears his gaze away, but Hank is looking at him, eyes soft.
“I can’t,” Connor says, and his voice is oddly hoarse.
“Take your time,” is all Hank says. He doesn’t move, holding his wrist steady in Connor’s hands. His skin is warm, and Connor’s heart pounds in his ears.
He’s never been conscious like this, and he hesitantly raises Hank’s arm. Never been so present. Every time he’d ever fed, his mind had been empty of thought. A wild, desperate animal pushed to the brink. Now he can control himself, but as he bows his head and presses his lips to the thin wound, he’s careful to keep his teeth away from Hank’s skin. He doesn’t want to take any chances, even without his fangs, of hurting the man who saved him.
His tongue laves across the cut, cleaning it up. It’s different like this. He can taste it without it consuming his thoughts. It’s sharp and bitter, but not unpleasant. Like a strong coffee, with the metallic taste of iron underneath. His lips seal over it, the enzymes of his saliva doing their work. Making it harder for the blood to clot, letting it flow freely against his tongue.
Hank makes a sound deep in his throat, a shiver that Connor can feel in Hank’s arm working through him. From the corner of his eye, Connor can see Hank watching raptly. No wariness on his face, only an absolute trust that Connor won’t hurt him. It makes Connor’s heart ache, and he closes his eyes, sucking lightly on the skin around the cut, encouraging more blood to well.
It doesn’t take long before Connor feels full and sated, and when he pulls away, he’s quick to take the antiseptic pad Hank had used on the knife and run it across the wound. It should clear away his saliva so that the blood will clot properly.
“Hey, I got it,” Hank says, trying to take his hand back.
It doesn’t budge in Connor’s grip. He feels stronger than he ever has, able to easily keep Hank’s arm captive as he takes the roll of bandages from the first aid kit and presses a fresh pad of gauze to the cut.
“I know,” Connor says, holding the pad in place as he wraps the wound up. “But I want to.” It’s barely an echo of the kindness Hank has shown Connor, but it’s all he can do. Hank lets him, arm relaxing in Connor’s hold, until Connor clips the bandage in place and releases him.
Hank packs the first aid kit up and tosses it towards the bags at the foot of his bed. It misses, to Connor’s amusement. Then they’re sitting quietly together, the tv muted. The fullness and contentedness is a strange feeling to associate with drinking blood. He knows he shouldn’t be enjoying this in any capacity, that what he’s doing has destroyed lives, including his own, but somehow Hank makes it easy.
“Thank you,” Connor says, but the words are inadequate.
“Ah, don’t worry about it,” Hank says blithely, waving his wrapped hand. “You need it, and it wasn’t so bad.” He seems to realize something, and he looks away, face pinking beneath his beard.
It makes Connor’s heart beat harder, and as Hank sighs and moves to stand, Connor captures his wrist again, holding him still. Hank gives him a curious look, making a questioning noise, but his weight settles back on the edge of the mattress. Connor swallows thickly, feeling breathless for a moment, not sure exactly what he’s doing.
“You okay, Connor?” Hank asks.
He nods wordlessly, thoughts racing and going nowhere. He doesn’t let go, and Hank turns towards him, one leg sliding up on the bed, bent between them. He opens his mouth as if to ask something, and then closes it again, a look of uncertainty crossing his face. Connor tugs on Hank’s arm, lightly, and Hank leans in, but Connor doesn’t let him stop there. Reeling him in slowly as Connor meets him in the middle.
The bristles of Hank’s moustache tickles Connor’s face, and his lips are chapped and dry against Connor’s mouth. He doesn’t close his eyes, meeting Hank’s own as they widen in astonishment. A hand lands on Connor’s shoulder as if for balance, or to push Connor away, but it just sits there, fingers curled over the bone.
A mistake, Connor thinks, fingers suddenly trembling, releasing Hank’s arm and pulling back. He had misread— everything , and let his own feelings cloud his judgement. He shouldn’t have done that.
“I’m sorry,” he starts, blinking rapidly, face hot as coals.
But then Hank is leaning in again. “I’m not.” Hank’s voice is low, breath warm over Connor’s face, and then he’s kissing Connor again and Connor stops breathing.
The hand on Connor’s shoulder slides up to cup his neck, and Connor follows the motion, tilting his head, lips parting beneath Hank’s. His heart feels like it’s stopped in his chest, like everything in him has taken pause for this. The rough, calloused fingers against his nape, and Hank’s tongue against his. Even his thoughts have quieted as he touches Hank’s chest, palm flattening against his heart. It’s beating strong and sure beneath Connor’s hand.
His other hand catches Hank’s arm again, pulling as he leans backwards, and Hank follows until he’s on his knees between Connor’s legs, one hand braced beside Connor’s pillow. Their mouths part briefly, but Connor lifts his head and steals another kiss, pulling Hank back in. It feels unreal as Connor’s fingers find the waistband of Hank’s shorts, slipping past the elastic.
He could pay Hank back like this.
He hasn’t misread the signs. Hank does want him, and Connor thinks he wants Hank too, but this isn’t about what Connor wants. He’s used to paying with his body, and at least it would be with someone who doesn’t want to hurt him. Someone who cares.
He cups Hank through his boxers, feeling the give of something impressive beneath. Massages it with his palm and hooks a leg around Hank’s knee to pull him closer. Doesn’t even realize he’s stopped kissing until Hank breaks away suddenly and grabs Connor’s wrist.
“Connor,” Hank says, voice a breathless rumble, lips shiny with their shared saliva. “Hold on, maybe we should slow down.” There’s worry in Hank’s eyes.
“I’m fine, Hank,” Connor says, leaning up again, but Hank turns his head to the side, looking pained even as he does so. The unexpected motion stings, and Connor doesn’t resist when Hank tugs his hand free.
“Yeah, I know,” Hank says, but there’s doubt in his words. “I just—” He heaves a heavy sigh through his nose, and rolls to the side, dropping down on the bed next to Connor. Carefully, as if testing the waters, Hank reaches over Connor, resting his hand on Connor’s waist and pressing lightly. Despite his misgivings at the situation now, Connor acquiesces to the silent urging and inches closer, turning on his side.
“You don’t want to have sex with me,” Connor says bluntly, and Hank sputters.
“Hey, hold on— I didn’t say— What? You can’t just say that shit!”
It would be amusing if it didn’t hurt so much. Maybe Connor’s too tainted now. Not only by what he is, but by what they did to him.
“It’s true, isn’t it?” he says, staring at the collar of Hank’s faded blue shirt.
“Connor,” Hank says, something heavy in his voice. “I’m just worried. After what you told me, you know, it’s kinda hard not to think you’re just doing this because you feel like you should.”
The words, loosed like an arrow, fly true. Connor closes his eyes, taking a steadying breath, unneeded though it is. Feeling the sharp ache spread between his ribs. Hank has a knack for knowing what Connor is thinking, seeing the worst parts of him. He hates it. He loves it.
“I do want it,” Connor says, steeling himself. “I like you a lot. More than I expected to. I do want this, with you.” He raises a hand between them, fingers curling in his shirt, over the place where Kamski marked him. It seems to burn. “If it were to thank you too, would that be so bad?”
“Don’t get me wrong, Connor.” Fingers touch Connor’s chin, tilting his head up until Connor meets Hank’s eyes. They’re so serious, a stony blue. “I feel the same way, alright? But I’m not into making this about payback or feeling like you owe me. I’m too old for that shit, and too much of a sap. I don’t want you to think about anything we do together like that. Like the kind of stuff they did to hurt you. Okay?”
There’s a fierceness to Hank’s words that shakes Connor, and the grip Hank has on his arm squeezes, as if he could press the words into Connor’s skin. Connor finds he’d let Hank, if he could. Hank is right, and it shames Connor to realize it. Trying to push Hank into that role, as if Hank would ever want to hurt him or expect compensation for his help. Not even in the forest had Hank raised so much as a hand to Connor, when his lie had come to light and he was too weak to fight. Hank is a better man than that, and maybe that’s what makes this so much harder. Every open palm is the expectation of a hidden blade.
“Okay,” Connor says, voice tight. Somehow it feels good to say, and a tension he hadn’t even known he’d been carrying melts from his shoulders. “But I don’t want you to leave. If that’s alright.”
Hank’s expression softens, and Connor’s stomach flips as he’s pulled closer, until he’s right against Hank’s chest. “Think I can do that. It’ll be morning in a few hours. When you wake up, we’ll finally start planning on how we’re gonna kick Kamski’s ass. How about it?”
Against the warmth of Hank’s chest, Connor says, “Yes. I’d like to finish this as soon as possible.”
Maybe there is a future for him when this is over. If he can survive, if they can kill Kamski, maybe he won’t be alone again. It’s a comforting thought, and even though the sun isn’t near to rising yet, the sound of Hank’s breaths, the thrum of his heart in his chest, is enough for Connor to close his eyes and lose himself to.
Sometime a little while later, the shifting of the bed and Hank gently moving out from beneath him stirs Connor.
“Just gonna take Sumo out, I’ll be right back,” Hank whispers, and he snaps his fingers.
Connor listens to the sound of Sumo’s collar jingling and Hank gathering the leash. The door opens and closes quietly, and Connor closes his eyes again, pressing his face into the pillow. His thoughts drift lazily, looking forward to Hank’s return, and how he’ll climb back into the warm spot next to him. He wants Hank to press up against him again, feel those big arms around his side, fingers against his spine.
Eventually the door opens again, and Connor smiles to himself at the footsteps crossing to stand at the foot up the bed. And then frowns.
It’s the silence that snaps his eyes open. The empty quiet. There’s no sound of Sumo’s breaths, no word from Hank. His ears strain, sharper still since he fed, and the sound of a heartbeat is steady in the room, but there’s none of that faint arrhythmia. It’s eerily still, and Connor sits bolt upright, the blanket tucked over him falling to his lap.
Someone is standing at the foot of the bed, and in the next instant Connor is on his feet, the words out of his mouth faster than he can process. “Where are they?”
Kamski’s eyes gleam in the dull light. The old-fashioned clothes are out of place even next to the corded phone and rabbit-eared TV. An ornate vest over a billowy white shirt, breeches tucked into a pair of tall black boots. His gloved hands are tucked behind his back. It’s been less than fourteen days since Connor saw him, and yet it feels like much longer. It’s almost dizzying standing here facing the one who held him captive for so long, in a place as mundane as a motel room on the outskirts of Detroit. Maybe this is all a dream.
The panic eating at his throat says otherwise.
“I’ve missed you, Connor.” Kamski’s voice is smooth and rich. Amused.
“Where are they?” Connor says again, hoping it’s not obvious that his eyes are darting around the room, looking for something he can use. Hank’s bag is at the foot of his bed, spilling clothes on the floor. The first aid kit is a little further, unmoved from where he’d tossed it. There’s nothing that would be of use, unless Hank’s revolver is in that bag—nothing that Connor can get to before Kamski.
“If you care so much for their safety, then I assume you won’t cause any trouble,” Kamski says, and from behind his back he produces something that gleams in the lamp light. Two silver shackles, connected by a short chain, swinging from one finger. Connor goes cold at the sight of them, a shiver knocking down his spine.
“What do you want? What have you done to them?” Connor demands, backing up, reaching behind him and feeling the top of the bedside table. There’s the base of the brass lamp there.
“I’ve done nothing—yet. That could change, of course, if you aren’t interested in cooperating. Chloe is right outside with them.”
Connor’s eyes flick to the window, but the curtains are drawn tight, as always. “You want me to go with you? That’s all?”
“That’s it,” Kamski confirms. “Nothing too difficult. We’ll even feed you later—I know how obstinate you are about getting what you need. You must be so hungry.” His voice is filled with a grating mock-sympathy.
He knows what Kamski means by that, and he bites down on a scathing reply. Kamski doesn’t know he’s fed already. That he has some strength in him. Maybe he can use that to his advantage—but no, not until he knows Hank is safe. If he tries anything, and Chloe really is out there with Hank and Sumo, she won’t hesitate to act.
“Show me that they’re safe first.” It would be so easy for Kamski to lie, to say he has them when he doesn’t, or that they’re in danger when they’re already lying dead somewhere, pale and bloodless. He searches Kamski’s face for a hint that he's been caught out, but the vampire only smiles.
“Of course. Simply put these on, and I’ll show you that your dear hunter is perfectly fine.” The cuffs sway slightly as Kamski holds them out for Connor.
Connor’s fingers curl around the base of the brass lamp, and in his mind’s eye he imagines the force and speed with which he’d need to swing to successfully distract Kamski long enough to reach the bag first. Even then, there’s no guarantee that he’ll find what he needs in it, and by that time it will be too late to go for the other bag. On top of that is the implicit threat to Hank. Kamski always makes good on his threats. The scar over Connor’s heart, the reason Connor is standing here at all, speaks to that.
He doesn’t want to go back with him. If he puts those silver cuffs on, there’s little to no chance he’ll be able to break free again. Serendipity brought Hank to him. It won’t bring him twice.
But he can’t risk Hank. His very being burns against the notion, and Connor releases the lamp and takes a step forward.
“Okay,” Connor says, and holds his hands out. “I’ll go with you. Just show me they’re alright.”
“You and your fondness for humans,” Kamski tuts, shaking his head as he opens the cuffs. “I was hoping your family would teach you a lesson, but you’re as stubborn as always. You’re lucky I find it so endearing.”
The words sink in, spreading a numbness up Connor’s arm. “You wanted me to go home,” Connor mutters softly. “You knew what would happen.”
“I wouldn’t say I knew for sure,” Kamski says, but there’s a certain smug tilt to his features that suggests otherwise. “I was simply interested in seeing how things played out. Whether she would welcome you back, cast you out. Whether they would come together or fall apart. Amanda is a stubborn woman—I can see where you get it from. It appears that she is stuck in her ways. Unable to accept her son despite how hard he fought. A shame.”
There wasn’t one outcome Kamski had wanted—every outcome benefited him in some way, and Connor’s stomach drops as he pieces them together. If Amanda had accepted Connor, she would have been forced to examine her actions against any vampire they came up against thereafter, even if only in her mind. Questioning if everything she knows is wrong, if there is a chance for creatures like them to redeem themselves. If Niles had opposed her decision to reject Connor, it would have torn them apart. She likely would have cast them both out, and the reach of the Stern family would be significantly reduced. As it is now, their reach is still impacted, and perhaps Kamski was even hoping it would push Connor to return to him.
It’s like Connor has turned over the rock he’d been standing on this whole time and found it hollow and plastic. He was never on the run, he was being herded like cattle. And now Kamski is back to collect the wayward member of his flock.
The numbness is cut through by fire. The silver cuffs, thick, a third the length of his forearm, clasp tight around his wrists. He sucks a sharp breath through his teeth, trying to jerk them away, but Kamski grips tight, pulling Connor back and sliding the locks through the loops, sealing them shut with a finality that rings in Connor’s head.
“Show me them,” Connor demands, pushing every other thought away. It’s too late now to do anything about what’s already happened. He’ll just have to move forward with care, and his first step is assuring Hank and Sumo’s safety. Whatever comes after is secondary.
He doesn’t think about dusty stone walls and men too drunk to realize what they’re dealing with. There’s no room for that now. He survived it once, even if the thoughts of using the silver cuffs, so identical to the ones clasped around his wrists now, had started to become more and more appealing.
“Yes, of course,” Kamski says, and steps to the side, gesturing Connor ahead of him. As if they were acquaintances going out for an evening, instead of captor and captive. As Connor steps past, Kamski’s hand darts out, pressing against his chest, and Connor freezes. “That’s quite an adorable article. Are you coming to accept your fate?”
It takes a moment for Connor to register what exactly Kamski means. Only when the fingers caress his chest pointedly does Connor remember he’s still wearing the hoodie that Hank bought him. He shoulders past the outstretched had wordlessly, skin crawling beneath the fabric with the ghost of those stroking fingers.
The silver shifts against his skin with each step, a fire that will never extinguish. The sleeves of his hoodie bunch around the top, too tight for them to slip under and provide any protection. All he can do is clench his teeth as he raises both hands to turn the doorknob.
Outside, the night is much cooler. A black car, it’s windows tinted and impenetrable, sits on the edge of the lot, lit by flickering orange-yellow sodium lights. He sees past them easily, to the dark field beyond the lot where they walk Sumo each evening and morning. Hank is there, and Chloe, just as Kamski promised. Despite the distance, Connor can see clearly the knife she has poised to his throat as he kneels in the grass before her, the shackles around his own wrists. There’s a white and brown lump only a few feet away, unmoving where it lies. Connor’s heart thunders in his chest.
“The dog is perfectly fine,” Kamski assures, a hand coming to rest on Connor’s shoulder and urging him forward. “Go on. I’m sure you want some final words with your dear hunter. You don’t have long, though.” Beyond the scene in the flat field, past the trees, a streak of pink lights the sky. Sunrise is a matter of minutes away.
He feels like a ghost as he passes through the lot, somehow not really there, but Hank’s eyes are solid on him. He looks desperate, like he wants to say something, but the knife tightens in preparation and his mouth flattens. Connor sees it all from miles away, every step slowed down. Hank isn’t going to escape this. Not if Connor lets Kamski take him away. Chloe will slit his throat and they won’t even see fit to drink his blood. They’ll leave him to bleed out while they take Connor back to that dungeon, or some new hell.
He picks up speed, into a soft jog, needing to get to Hank. Mind racing for some solution. Maybe he can bargain for Hank, promise to be obedient, and not fight if they let Hank go first.
Hank’s mouth forms a word, soundless, but Connor sees it all the same. Run.
Run. He can do that.
He reaches the edge of the grass, damp strands tickling his bare feet, and then the distance between them is gone in less than a second. Chloe’s head snaps to the side beneath Connor’s fists, the chain searing her cheek. A howl breaks the night air.
Hank rolls, and Connor follows Chloe, fingers twined together, bringing them down again, pushing Chloe back to give Hank some distance. “Hank! Go!” is all Connor has time to shout, and then his voice chokes off as Chloe slams her palm against Connor’s neck and rakes at him with her claws.
There’s roll of thunder, brief and startling, and Chloe throws herself back and turns on Hank.
“Yeah, that’s right!” Hank shouts, and between his chained hands is his revolver, glowing in the moonlight. “Come on! I wanna see if I can go three for three on your clone ass!”
She hisses at his taunting, lunging towards Hank, and before Connor can react, something barrels into him and he goes flying. He hits the ground rolling, and when he pushes himself up, Kamski is standing over him.
“So stubborn. I’m starting to question what I see in you.” Kamski’s tone is displeased, and there’s a small glare to his eyes as he looks down at Connor. “You’re risking one of you’re precious innocent humans —”
Connor’s hands closes around Kamski’s ankle, tired of his pointless gloating, and he yanks with all his strength, but Kamski is quick to react. Faster than the human eye can track, he strikes out with his sharp claws, gloves gone, and Connor is forced to roll away or be skewered. He shoves himself to his feet in time to swing and miss with his shackled hands as Kamski dodges and kicks him solidly in the stomach. Nausea fills him, but he forces himself to keep moving, being pushed back as he drops beneath Kamski’s swinging claws and tries to keep out of reach.
The thunder of Hank’s gun goes off again, and Connor chances a glance at him. They’re being herded together again, Chloe stalking Hank like a leopard in the long grass as he swings the revolver. Their hands are a weakness rather than strength right now.
Claws catch Connor across his stomach, taking advantage of his momentary distraction, and he lets himself stumble back further, hands rising to touch the shredded fabric and slick blood, wincing. Not deep, but painful all the same. He senses Hank at his back, his quick breaths, the slight shake in his voice as he says, “You alright, Connor?”
He whips around before he can give himself time to second guess, shoving Hank around. The man spins with a startled yell, and the gun goes off in his hands. Connor feels the heat of the bullet against his cheek, doesn’t have time to think about the close call as he shoves his hand into the inside of Hank’s jacket. He hears the sound of their hunters closing in at once, but he’s just as fast.
The flask cap breaks beneath his inhuman grip, and he tosses Hank flat and spins. Kamski is closer, and the splash of holy water catches him clean across the face. He jerks away, hissing, and Chloe falters in her tracks as her leader clutches his eyes and folds in half.
“Hank! Your cross!” Connor doesn’t have time to see if he received the message, as Kamski throws himself at Connor with a fervor unseen before. His face boils where the water touched in a horizontal splash, skin bubbling red and one eye closed tight.
“You’re testing my patience,” Kamski hisses, voice low and dangerous, striking out one after another in a relentless tide that Connor ducks and knocks aside. “Think very hard about what you’re doing, fledgling. You know what I can do to you.”
He knows, intimately. He knows that should Kamski take him as he plans, there will be no relief. That this monster will use Connor until well past his breaking point. But Connor has to buy Hank the time he needs to get away, because otherwise these two will tear him apart.
The world becomes a blur around them as they move faster and faster. His body hits and breaks limits he’s never dared test before. It feels like sparring with Nines in fast forward, all his well-practiced maneuvers hitting with ten times the force and speed. His wrists are caught in a tight band of molten pain, but he can’t let himself focus on it for even a second.
Nor can he chance too many glances at Hank, but the pistol report roaring over the field is a comfort. Kamski grows more and more frustrated as Connor continues to match him, the strikes he gets in shredding the loose fabric of the hoodie but doing no real damage. He may have more experience as a vampire, and more strength, but Connor has more experience fighting them. He’s used to going against creatures that could break him over his knee, used to facing the speed and unmatched ferocity, except now he has some of that in him too.
The few hits he returns to Kamski are keenly felt, and Connor takes full advantage of Kamski’s blind spot. Already the skin on Kamski’s face is healing, the bubbles sinking back, but his eye is still tight shut. Connor’s advantage won’t last long.
They have to end this. The clouds are turning orange where the highest leaves meet the sky. They don’t have much longer, or Connor won’t survive the night.
It’s the explosion of the revolver and Chloe’s screech of pure pain and fury that draws Kamski’s attention for a brief moment.
It’s all Connor needs. He lunges in that split second. Kamski’s eyes dart back to him, arms rising to catch Connor’s outstretched hands, but they’re not where Kamski anticipated. Connor is past him, bare feet digging up wet dirt and grass, pivoting. He slams into Kamski’s back before he can whip around, and Connor’s arms come down against Kamski’s shoulders before drawing tight.
Immediately Kamski struggles, claws digging into Connor’s forearms, but the short silver chain pulled taut against Kamski’s jugular, digging in and sizzling against his pale flesh, isn’t going anywhere. The sides of Connor’s hands, the meat of his palms, burn with how tight he’s pulling, both of them swaying as Kamski fights to free himself without touching the cuffs themselves.
It gives Connor a moment to assess Hank’s situation. Chloe circles him, and Hank has the cross in one hand and the gun in the other, held in front of him barely four inches apart thanks to the chain between them. There’s a bloody, burning hole in one thigh that turns her predatorial strut into a dragging limp. No less dangerous for it, though.
“Hank!” Connor shouts, praying he doesn’t distract him and give Chloe an opening. “Go! Run!”
“Fuck off, Connor! I’m not fucking leaving!”
She makes as if to lunge and the pistol goes off again, but she throws herself in a different direction. Four shots total. Only two left in the revolver.
“You’re too weak to kill either of us,” Kamski says, voice tight with the silver against his skin, but sure. “And your hunter won’t last much longer. I’m going to rip his head off, and I’m going to feed it to you. First his tongue, then his brain, and lastly his eyes. Do you want that, fledgling? Because I’m going to give it to you.” The fury in Kamski’s voice sends ice water cascading down Connor’s shoulders.
He can’t hold Kamski like this forever. Before the silver does enough damage to kill Kamski, he’ll either gather the power to transform or Hank will run out of rounds. When that happens, Chloe won’t hesitate in ripping him apart, and then Connor won’t last against the two of them. There is no running anymore. This is the end of the line.
He shifts towards Hank and Chloe, keeping Kamski between them, but already his heart is sinking.
“If we stop fighting, let him go and I’ll come with you,” Connor says, voice empty, throat tight.
“You’re pushing your luck, fledgling. I already offered this to you and you threw it into my face. Why should I?” Kamski asks, but he’s gone still in Connor’s arms, and his claws loosen the barest bit. Blood drips over his skin, staining the hoodie.
“I won’t fight you anymore. I’ll do whatever you say, go where you want. Just let Hank go,” Connor says, trying to hide the desperation in his voice. This has to work.
Chloe has stopped in her tracks, head tilted just the barest bit towards them, listening.
“Connor! Don’t you fucking dare!” Hank shouts, but his eyes don’t leave Chloe. “Come on, kid, there’s always another way. You know that. I don’t want you doing this for me!”
“I’m sorry, Hank,” Connor says, almost too soft to hear. He can’t stand to look at the rage on Hank’s face, or the dawning hopelessness. Then, softer, so only Kamski can hear, “Please.”
“Very good,” Kamski says, and nods. “You didn’t hold up you’re end, but I’m a man of my word. He’s safe from us.”
“Stop! Leave him the fuck alone, you assholes!” Hank turns the gun abruptly on Kamski, and Connor’s heart constricts, but Chloe doesn’t take the opening, never one to question Kamski’s orders.
“Hank, stop. It’s too late. He’s right. I’m glad you found me. I’m glad I got to spend the last of my time with you. I’m sorry it had to be like this.” Connor says, forcing himself to meet Hank’s eyes, shining faintly in the early glow. He hopes none of the doubt he feels shows on his face, tries to project only the thankfulness he feels that he got to spend the last of his hours with someone who cares for him. Time is up. “Goodbye, Hank.”
His grip tightens, flesh sizzling anew, and jerks Kamski around with all his strength. Sunlight breaks over the treeline, and Connor pulls them, stumbling backwards into the full breadth of it. Kamski screams, a blood-curdling howl that Connor feels in his bones. He ducks his head, holding Kamski with all of his strength, unable to move for fear of Kamski slipping away.
From the corner of his eye he sees Chloe transforming, or trying to. Her hands and wrists turn to a dark mist in the air, but the animal noises she chokes on are telling. Her short, blue dress is no protection as her legs crumple, skin peeling off in flakes. “Elijah!” she screams, and the mist returns to her body, reforming her hands and then immediately darkening again and breaking apart.
Kamski voice dies, and Connor can’t see, but he feels the shape beneath his arms crumpling inward, and his chained wrists come together around nothing as ash explodes into the morning air.
“Connor!” Hank shouts, sprinting towards him, but Connor can’t respond as his skin ignites. Kamski is dead, he’s dead but Connor is still burning.
His hoodie is too shredded to provide any protection and he lets himself drop as fire tears across his body. His knees hit damp grass and his vision darkens around the edges. The last thing Connor feels as the remains of his power burn within him is Hank’s big hands catching him. A shadow falls across his body and Connor closes his eyes. The echo of Hank’s voice fades to nothing.
The house at the end of the street is exactly the same, bar an overgrown lawn threatening to eat the sidewalk, and the paint peeling from five years of neglect. The windows are dark with dust and it looks like a ghost house. Sumo, head resting on a shoe box, lifts up from the bench seat, tail slapping Hank’s arm excitedly at the sight.
He asked his ex keep an eye on the place, told her it was hers if she ever needed somewhere, but it looks like that need had never come to pass. He climbs out of the truck, Sumo jumping out after, and slides out the shoe box. He grabs his bags, swinging them both over one shoulder, and follows the dog up to the front porch.
Dark, heavy clouds hang low in the sky, obscuring the pale sun. Thunder rumbles in the distance, the air thick with the clean smell of ozone. Exhaustion deadens Hank’s limbs, makes every step shuffling and slow, weighed down even more by the heavy bags under his eyes. He thinks he could sleep for a week, but he’s not sure if he’ll be able to. The last few days have been sleepless and hard.
The key slides home without a hitch, and he pushes into the dark of the living room. Stale air greets him, and the dead silence of an abandoned home. Everything is as he left it, from the empty beer bottles glinting from the kitchen counter to the book left facedown on the coffee table. He flips the light switch, and sighs when nothing happens, remembering he turned the breakers off before he left. Throwing his bags down next to the door, he kicks it shut behind him, then carefully sets the box down on the couch. His jacket he shrugs out of and hangs on the coat rack, before heading deeper into the house. Sumo trots ahead of him, stopping to sniff at the floor, at the door to the bathroom, at Hank’s room.
The garage is crowded with junk, but the fuse box is right next to the door. He leans in, flipping the breakers one after another, each solid click echoing loudly. When he heads back down the hall, he stops at the thermostat and the hum of the air conditioning coming on spreads through the house.
In the living room, he flips the switch again and his vision is flooded with light. It’s almost too bright and cheery as the sky grumbles outside, and Hank tosses himself down on the couch next to the shoe box, watching Sumo wander back into the room to inspect the furniture. He sighs, rubbing a tired hand over his eyes, feeling grit come loose. He should sleep, but his mouth feels dry. A drink first, and maybe he’ll be able to rest.
It’s what he’s been telling himself every day, and yet he always ends up with half a bottle gone, watching tv on mute, cheeks wet.
Leaning forward, bracing his elbows on his knees, Hank lets his head sink into his hands. He doesn’t know what he could have done differently, but the thought haunts him all the same. If he hadn’t gone to walk Sumo alone, if he’d kept a better eye out, if he’d reacted quicker when Sumo turned his nose to the air and started growling. But they’d been on him before he could react, materializing out of the dark, the cold edge of a knife pressing to his throat as Kamski took Sumo out. He shudders at the memory of watching Sumo’s body fall limp to the grass with barely a sound.
He doesn’t know how he could have convinced Connor to run instead of fight. At least Hank had made sure he had his revolver and holy water, but it had barely been enough to hold off the Chloe in such a wide space while also trying to watch Connor’s back. If he’d been faster, smarter, maybe he could have taken Chloe out and helped with Kamski, but he’d been torn between two fights, scared Kamski would whisk Connor away right under his nose.
If he’d been faster, maybe he could have reached Connor in time, to stop the sunlight from touching his skin. Hank can still feel Connor’s body shrinking to nothing beneath his hands, leaving him clutching the torn, bloodied hoodie. He’d been in shock, shaking his head, muttering the same word to himself over and over. “No, no, no no no.”
Finding that Sumo was still breathing had been the only relief. He’d left shortly after that, unlocking his cuffs with the key he’d dug from Kamski’s clothes. The bundle of what was left of Connor tucked in his arms. He had to avoid the motel owner asking what the hell was going on, the sleepy people peering out of rooms at the noise of gunshots. They left before the cops could be called, and found another place to hunker down, one where the desk attendant didn’t bat an eye at Hank’s stumbling, broken words, putting it down to a drunk needing somewhere to crash.
There wasn’t anything he could do for Connor. It was too fucking late. Everything he had left of the kid could fit in a fucking shoe box, and Hank scrubs a hand roughly over his face, teeth clenched tight, jaw and throat aching with unsaid words.
They hadn’t had enough time. Barely five days to themselves, thinking they were safe just because they’d reached Detroit. Of those five days, only a few hours of the closeness Hank hadn’t dared to think he could have.
He should have known better. He fucked up by getting so attached, but he can’t change it. Wouldn’t change it, even if he could. Deserves all of the guilt, the pain, the grief. Someone has to mourn Connor, cause god knows no one else on this earth will.
A sound, soft scratching, reaches Hank’s ears, and from the corner of his eye he catches movement on the sofa next to him. His head snaps up, heart suddenly in his throat. Sumo looks over at him with sad eyes before returning to nudging the shoe box, and Hank lets out an explosive sigh.
“Shit,” he mutters, shaking his head, trying to push away the feeling of foolish hope.
There’s whiskey in one of the cabinets. He knows there is, left there for if he ever decided to return. The Hank of five years ago had known he wouldn’t break his newfound habit so easily.
He sees no reason to stop now.
A loud bark startles Hank, and he tenses, one hand tucking into his jacket, touching the handle of his revolver. “Fucking come on, give me a break,” he groans. Kamski is dead, all of his Chloes are dead, who else—?
He stares at Sumo, halfway to his feet. Sumo stares at the shoebox, ears raised slightly, and barks again. He doesn’t stop barking, staring dead at the little box, and slowly Hank lowers his hand from his gun.
“Sumo,” Hank says, and the dog gives him another look but stops barking, though he turns back to the box, ears still tensed with expectation.
Lowering himself back to the couch, Hank picks the shoebox up carefully, and Sumo follows as he sets it in his lap. Sliding the top off, he sets it aside and peers into the beaten cardboard.
On a bed of navy cotton and polyester lies the small bat he’d picked out of the ashes in the field. Hidden in the shadows of Connor’s torn hoodie, beneath Hank’s body, it hadn’t been breathing, hadn’t moved. It had been dead, lifeless, but Hank couldn’t bear to leave him.
Now its softly furred wings twitch and Hank stops breathing, fingers curling against the box so tight it bends beneath his hands. The bones stretch weakly, its little feet curling. Small, brown eyes blink up at him, and its mouth stretches open on a yawn. Hank counts four empty holes where it should have fangs and feels faint. He’s dreaming, he must be.
It squeaks, a soft little sound, and Hank forces himself to let go of the box so he can reach in. Gently, he scoops the bat up, feeling the little hooks of its claws poking at his thumb. Sumo bounces on his front paws, mouth open in a panting grin.
Hank almost can’t believe what he’s seeing as the bat hooks its wings around Hank’s fingers and looks up at him, letting out another miniscule squeak. But as he sits there, staring down at the round, pointed ears and the soft, downy fur, the bat begins to change.
It’s a weird transformation, one Hank has seen before, but that is no less strange. The creature in his hands grows, the fur receding, bones stretching. Hank doesn’t care. He’s riveted, watching the little animal snout become a human nose, the skin freckled and dotted with little moles. The wings seem to grow and shrink at the same time, the webbing coming together as the bones compact themselves into a different shape, until pale human hands clutch at Hank’s own.
The body that leans against his chest, the weight that settles on Hank’s lap, is too good to be true. Hank is speechless as Connor’s form relaxes against him, completely naked.
“Hank,” Connor says, and his voice is rough, exhausted.
“You little shit,” Hank breathes, and he shakes his hands free of Connor’s grip just to grab those bare shoulders and pull Connor tight against his chest. “Oh fuck, I thought— You were fucking dead, Connor, you were dead.” His voice shudders and cracks as cool arms slip around him, turning into the embrace.
“I’m sorry,” Connor murmurs against Hank’s neck. “I didn’t plan that.”
“A little fucking warning would have been nice,” Hank huffs despite Connor’s words, turning his face against Connor’s mussed hair, cupping the back of Connor’s neck. Tears slip over his cheeks and he sucks a shaky breath in, trying not to break. “Jesus, Connor, I thought I was too late. The sun was right on you, I saw your skin just—dissolving.”
“You know I couldn’t warn you,” Connor says, voice gaining a little strength. “I wasn’t really thinking. I knew if I became smaller it would minimize my contact with the sunlight, and with the tall grass and my clothes, I might be relatively unharmed. It used more energy than I thought it would.”
Hank barely hears the explanation, nose pressed to Connor’s throat. Connor is alive. He is alive, and he’s here, in Hank’s arms, talking as if nothing happened, as if Hank hadn’t thought him dead for days now.
“Just give me a minute,” Hank says, and Connor falls quiet.
He holds onto Connor, feeling the solid weight of him, the cool skin under his hands, the soft breath tickling Hank’s neck. He hears snuffling, and in his arms Connor jolts, and finally Hank looks up and loosens his hold on Connor a little, accepting that his eyes just aren’t going to be dry enough for a while yet. Paws on the couch beside them, Sumo is standing up and sniffing at Connor, wet nose poking him and tail going a mile a minute.
Connor smiles, reaching back to rub the dog’s head, and Sumo leans into it with an excited whine.
“He missed you,” Hank says, and when Connor looks back, his smile softens.
“How long was I gone?” Connor asks, and then looks around, scanning the house. “Where are we? Is this your home?”
“Yeah, it’s my old house. You were out for a while, Connor. A few days. I thought you were dead. You didn’t move, didn’t breath, never woke up. I tried to feed you but—” He’d pricked his finger that first day, hovering it shakily over the small bat’s unmoving face. Nothing had happened.
Hands curl around Hank’s face, tilting his gaze up to Connor’s. It’s full of regret and pain. “I didn’t mean to worry you. I’m sorry.”
“Jesus, don’t give me that look,” Hank mutters. “I know you couldn’t do anything, I’m just so damn relieved you’re here.”
“I am too,” Connor says, leaning in. Hank’s heart jumps like a rabbit’s as Connor’s soft lips press over his, and he grabs Connor impulsively, pulling him close, returning it with a fervor. The slide of Connor’s mouth, the warmth of his tongue against Hank’s, is a comfort he hadn’t known he’d missed after only one shared kiss. It’s like the end of a long day, like setting down the baggage of worry and grief he’s been holding for so long, longer than he’s even known Connor. It’s like coming home.
His hands find Connor’s chest, thumb brushing the thick scar there. He pulls away, looking down at the initials, thicker than any of Connor’s other scars. White ropes spelling out two letters, a disgusting stamp of ownership.
One of Connor’s hands drops to cover it, his eyes flicking away. His mouth opens as if to say something, and then closes without a word.
“It’s okay,” Hank says, though he knows it’s not, but he can see the shame and self-recrimination building as Connor’s expression flattens. “It doesn’t mean anything anymore. That piece of shit is dead.”
“He is,” Connor agrees. “And I didn’t change back. I was wrong.”
“Oh,” Hank says, realization washing through him. “Shit. I didn’t even think—” He’d forgotten all about Connor’s idea to kill Kamski and return his humanity, too consumed by grief and drink in the aftermath of everything. “I’m sorry,” Hank says uselessly.
But Connor just shakes his head, a wry smile turning up the corner of his lips. “I should have known better than to trust a vampire.”
“Nothing wrong with a little hope,” Hank says, taking Connor’s hand away from his chest. “To me, it doesn’t matter what you are. I’m just glad to have you back. Got kinda used to having a partner on the road, you know?”
“Even like this?” Connor asks, eyes full of doubt. “As a creature that has to drink the life of others to survive? A monster?”
“Connor, this is gonna sound cheesy as fuck, but right now I don’t care.” Taking a deep breath, Hank steels himself before meeting Connor’s eyes squarely. “If you’re a monster, you’re the best damn monster I’ve ever met. There’s no one I would rather share my life with than you.”
Hope breaks through the clouds of uncertainty, and Connor says, “That is quite cheesy, but I can’t say I don’t feel the same. I would really like to continue on with you, but there are a few things I need to take care of first.”
“First, I believe I need some clothes.”
“Oh.” Hank resolutely doesn’t look down, and he reaches blindly over his shoulder to the musty blanket hanging over the back of the couch, dragging it awkwardly forward to offer to Connor. Connor takes it with an appreciative smile, draping the fabric over his shoulders.
“Second, Kamski wasn’t the only one who,” Connor hesitates, and his hand rises as if to cover the scar before falling against Hank’s chest instead, gripping his shirt. “Kamski had associates. I met them, briefly, when I was turned.” His voice turns bitter at those words, and Hank doesn’t need to know details more than that. He already wants to tear apart anyone who put that bitterness in Connor’s voice. “I know locations and companies. Not all of them, but enough key ones that I don’t think it would be hard to locate the others. It will be very dangerous, and—”
Connor blinks. “Excuse me?”
“I said okay,” Hank repeats.
Hank nods, and Connor looks down at him quietly.
“Okay,” Connor says, and then ducks his head, lips trembling, eyebrows drawing together. It must be all hitting him at once, and Hank’s chest aches for Connor.
“C’mere.” Hank leans up, planting a kiss on Connor’s wrinkled brow, then the dampening corner of his eyelids, and finally on his mouth before resting their foreheads together. He takes in the sight of Connor here, his light freckles, the smattering of moles, the darker flecks in his brown eyes. This is someone he could fall in love with. “We’re gonna kick their asses, okay?”
Connor’s laugh is breathless and thick with tears as he nods, and Hank thinks falling in love with a monster isn’t that scary at all.
Thank you again to Alex, my wonderful partner for this RBB, who basically let me go hog wild and do whatever the fuck I want! I hope you all enjoyed this very cheesy ending lmfao!