Anxiety watched his target carefully as he trailed him through the rainy city streets, hood pulled over his eyes.
The man was carrying a cat-patterned umbrella, the brightness of it contrasting with the grey skies overhead and the dull concrete buildings all around them. He walked with heavy shoulders, eyes down, and mind elsewhere.
Distracted, tired, alone. For a first time hunt, he was the picture of the perfect prey. Anx felt sort of bad about taking advantage of the guy’s obvious bad day, but it wasn’t like he was planning to kill him. There was plenty of humans in the city, which meant plenty of blood. If he was still hungry, he could probably find someone else.
His coven would make fun of him for being so soft, but didn’t it just make sense? With how often they impressed on him the dangers and mercilessness of hunters, he thought they’d make more of an effort to avoid killing people and leaving bodies. Of course, if one was dead, they couldn’t blab about being bitten to the aforementioned hunters, but…
Anx shook his head, trying to refocus. It didn’t matter. He would do what was safest in the moment.
Ahead of him, his target turned into a shortcut between buildings, and Anx let his lips curl with a smirk, hurrying his pace. An opportunity.
He walked after him into the alley, footsteps almost soundless, and his body shifted into a more predatory stance. He gained ground with every step, and was only a few yards away when the man stopped. Anx froze in response, brow furrowing curiously. Had the human heard him?
“Um,” the man said, turning to face him without surprise. He had clear blue eyes that looked a little sorrowful. “Please stop following me.”
Anx drew back a little, surprised, but then mustered up every ounce of menace he had, straightening his spine to loom.
“Don’t worry.” He said, voice gravelly. “I won’t for much longer.”
The man opened his mouth to respond, but Anx was already moving with inhuman speed, slamming into him and pinning him against the brick wall. The cat umbrella clattered onto the ground. The man wheezed, eyes wide, and Anx couldn’t blame him. He was the fastest in his coven, so to a human, it had probably looked something like teleportation.
This close, he could hear the man’s rapid heartbeat, and smell the sweetness of his blood. His mouth watered slightly, and the stranger almost managed to shake him off when he started struggling against his grip. “Let go of me!”
“Hold still.” Anx hissed, drawing in closer and tugging the man’s shirt collar to expose the juncture of flesh between the neck and the shoulder. With how tense the man was, the bite would hurt like a bitch for a while, but Anx thought he’d probably prefer that over a severed artery, so. “I’m not going to kill you, so quit wriggling already!”
Apparently too scared to speak, the man shook his head vicariously, making it impossible for Anx to duck down and bite him properly. He growled, pulling back for a moment, and only had a second to see the man glowering at him, no fear in his gaze, before he was slamming his forehead against Anx’s.
He saw stars, stumbling back, and the man charged him, knocking him to the wet, gravel-covered ground and pinning his shoulders down with strength you wouldn’t find in the average human. A hunter? Anx thrashed, his hood falling back.
When he managed to focus on the man’s face, however, he was met with a stunned gaze rather than malice or hatred.
“Virgil?” The man whispered, and Anx felt a sharp pain ricochet in his head. He snarled, mind aching.
“Who the hell is Virgil?”
Roman paced back and forth in the hall, glancing through the tinted glass of the double sided mirror with every turn.
They had the basement room installed with what essentially amounted to a police interrogation room, although designed for much stronger occupants. Even thralls, who were the ones that occupied the room most often, had superhuman strength and endurance granted to them by their ‘masters,’ and thus needed superhuman restraints to hold them while they tried to track down the vamp responsible.
Of course, the one currently strapped to the chair in that room wasn’t a thrall, as much as Roman wished that was the case. It would have been easier to fix than being turned.
His heart had skipped a beat when he’d answered the phone to the sound of Patton in distress, nearly incoherent through his sobbing. It had nearly stopped entirely when he got to the alleyway and found Patton sat on the ground with an unconscious Virgil, head resting in his lap. Virgil hadn’t recognized his name, and had struggled viciously against any explanation until Patton had been forced to knock him out, and he was still sniffling now, hours later.
Even Logan, who was always the best at keeping his head between the three of them, was stunned into a painful silence at the sight of Virgil’s eyes. Bright, unnatural purple where they’d once been a dark, soothing brown.
When they’d sworn to find their missing companion, alive or dead, none of them had expected to find him like this.
A cool hand settled on to his shoulder, and he paused, drawn back to the present. Logan had entered without him even noticing.
“Roman.” Logan said, a subtle reprimand in his voice. “You aren’t going to help Patton calm down by working yourself up.”
“Who’s worked up?” Roman said, but his voice came out tense, and the joke fell flat. He bit his tongue, looking at the limp form in the chair before them. Sitting on the wrong side of an interrogation table. “Is there even anything left of him in there?” His question came out soft.
Logan’s hand tightened on his shoulder. “I don’t know. We’ll have to see.” Sensing that this wasn’t enough, he turned to facts instead. “He isn’t feral. He can speak, and he told Patton he wasn’t going to kill him. He may not know us, but studies have shown that memory loss due to disease can theoretically be reversed. Don’t give up.”
“Me? Give up?” Roman took a breath, firming his shoulders with bravado. “There’s no chance of that.”
Logan’s face softened in a manner that would have been a smile on anyone else, but before he could respond, there was a harsh inhale. They both twisted to face the window into the room, watching as Virgil- the vampire came into consciousness with a jolt, struggling to look around and wrestling against the restraints ineffectively. Patton had informed them of his incredible speed, but apparently that didn’t carry over to strength.
“I’m going in.” Roman said, immediately, and Logan sighed.
“Let me get Patton first. He’ll want to be here.”
He left, and Roman stood close enough to the glass to fog it slightly, staring at that familiar face. The vampire was breathing heavily, the way Virgil would during a panic attack, and his eyes flickered around to different spots on the mirror as though searching for something. Roman’s heart ached, and he reminded himself to focus on the things that were Not-Virgil, like his glowing eyes and the edges of fangs he could barely see past his lips.
The purple dye Virgil had maintained so dedicatedly was faded now, the pale strands against his clammy skin making him look washed out. If it weren’t for the brightness of his eyes, he could have been mistaken for a corpse. Roman shuddered.
“We’re here.” Logan announced, and Patton grabbed Roman’s hand like a lifeline, eyes puffy and rimmed with red.
“Hey, Pat.” He drew the soft-hearted hunter into a hug, drawing back after a moment. “Don’t worry. I promise to be as careful as our emo nightmare would demand.”
Patton’s eyes grew even more watery, but he let go of Roman’s hand and nodded. Logan searched Roman’s gaze for a long moment and then nodded as well, tension lining his body. No matter how the nerd proclaimed otherwise, he cared about them. The way he’d worked himself to near-exhaustion after Virgil’s disappearance was a testament to that.
Roman turned to the door, not letting even a smidge of hesitation leak into his body language. Two steps, and an opened door later, he was there. In the same room as Virgil, or, at the very least, Virgil’s body.
The vampire stared at him for a long moment, eyes wide and scared, and Roman closed the door behind him, walking a few steps closer. He could see the way the vampire’s shoulders tensed up, but he didn’t snarl or even hiss, and hope fluttered in his chest despite himself.
“Hey there, Dark and Stormy.” He said, exhaustion making the nickname come out less menacing than he’d intended.
The vampire blinked once, twice, and then-
Roman’s body froze as though he’d been electrocuted, breath catching in his lungs. The vampire- Virgil searched his face as though recalling the features.
“You- You’re Roman. You are Roman, aren’t you?” He asked, voice dropping into uncertainty.
“Yes.” Roman choked out, his throat closing up with the emotion he felt. He remembered. “Yeah, I- Yes.”
Relief flooded Virgil’s face, but only a moment later it dropped away to fearful uncertainty again. He shifted in the chair, restraints chafing against him. “Are… are you going to kill me?” He asked, voice cracking.
Roman moved forwards as though drawn by a magnet, turning the chair away from the table and grabbing Virgil’s hands in his own. “No, god no, Virgil, we wouldn’t-”
He paused as Virgil seemed to cringe in pain, not at his proximity but at his… words? “Virgil?” Another wince, accompanied this time with a snarl, and Roman realized the facade for what it was at the same time that the vampire’s pupils contracted to vicious slits.
He threw himself back, and got a perfect view of sharp fangs snapping shut on air with a click, the vampire having lunged forwards as far as he could in the restraints. Trying for Roman’s throat. There were muffled shouts from the room behind the mirror, and Roman realized that the vampire had faked waking up, had been listening to them talk at least long enough to hear Roman’s name and use it against him.
He rolled to his feet, facing the vampire with a dark expression. The monster was working his jaw after the failed bite. “Ouch.” He muttered, sinking back against the chair in a slouch. Painfully enough, he looked even more like Virgil that way.
“Roman!” The door to the room was flung open, and Patton launched himself at Roman, checking him over and hugging him. Logan trailed in after him, resigned to the loss of secrecy, and stood between them and the vampire.
“Sorry, Pat.” Roman responded, still staring at the vampire with narrowed eyes. “He fooled me.”
“I thought… He fooled me, too.” Patton admitted, turning to face the familiar stranger in their midst. The vampire tilted his chin up defiantly, but his hands were clenched into trembling fists. “You… you really don’t remember us, huh?”
The vampire looked surprised at being addressed for a moment, before catching himself and baring his teeth with a hiss. “Whoever you think I am, he’s long gone. And I’m not telling you anything. So just get it over with.”
Patton buried his face in Roman’s shoulder again, and so Logan was the one to respond. “Get ‘it’ over with? What exactly do you think we’re going to do?”
“The same thing hunters always do to us?” The vampire responded, incredulous. “Whatever you’re going to use to kill me, just do it. Even if I was willing to tell you shit, I don’t know anything important, so torturing me is pointless.”
Patton clung to Roman harder, but all he could think about was the way Virgil had referred to vampires.
Us, he’d said. He thought of himself as a vampire, had no doubt been told how evil and cruel hunters were, didn’t even know that he’d been one only a few weeks ago. Roman felt a boiling hatred in his stomach, not for Virgil, but for the vampires that had stolen him. The vampire that had replaced him.
“How many people have you killed?” He asked, voice low. Patton’s grip became painful, and Logan inhaled sharply through his nose, no doubt irritated with his rashness.
The vampire squinted at him. “Are you stupid? I just said I’m not answering shit.”
“How would I use that information against other vampires?” Roman countered, unfaltering. “How about this: if you answer, you get to eat.”
“Roman….” Logan said, frowning. Roman turned to him, eyebrows set stubbornly.
“What? Are you going to leave him here to starve until he goes feral?” Logan looked away. “I didn’t think so.”
The vampire ran his tongue over his fangs, staring between the three of them with something like bewilderment. “You won’t believe me.”
“Try me.” Roman challenged.
“None. I haven’t killed anyone. He,” Here the vampire looked to Patton, “was my first solo hunt.”
Patton pulled away from Roman, staring at the vampire with heartbreak written all over his face. “You told me… you weren’t going to kill me. Back in the alley.”
The vampire stared at him for a long moment, face unreadable. Then, he turned his head to the side and a cruel sneer spread across his face. “Yeah, well, I just wanted my prey to stop struggling. Not my fault you believed it.”
The three of them exchanged shocked gazes of recognition at the tell, making the vampire shift with uncertainty from where he was watching them from the corner of his eye.
“You’re right.” Roman finally said, his heart twisting painfully as the vampire kept his head tilted away. His eerie eyes flicked to the side in the same tic Virgil always had when he was lying. “I don’t believe you.”
Whatever memories he had lost, Virgil was still in there somewhere.
Roman had to believe that.
Patton worked his spatula back and forth, gently prying the last cookie from the baking tray and setting it onto the baking rack. He glanced at the clock, seeing that it was time for him to check in on Virgil.
He’d volunteered to be the one to play guard, and despite their concern, Roman and Logan had eventually acquiesced. The two of them weren’t subtle, at least not to Patton. Logan ran off to go scour the field journals and supernatural research logs in his study for any information on memory loss, and Roman had secluded himself in the gym to train. Patton pitied the punching bag that received his anger today.
Still, he would let them have their time alone to process and plan. It made things easier for him, too, not having them hovering over his shoulders while he did this. Patton balanced the cookie dish on one hand and grabbed a bag from the fridge with the other, bumping the door closed with his hip.
From there, it was easy-peasy for him to walk down the stairs and peer into the holding room, making sure that their resident vampire was still there and not in the middle of an escape attempt.
Virgil was, in fact, still strapped to the chair, though Patton could see grooves in the wooden armrests where he’d dug his sharp nails in. Beyond that, his position hadn’t changed much, and he was staring at the two-way mirror suspiciously.
Patton trotted across the room and tucked the bag under his arm to knock on the door leading into the hold. “Knock knock!” He said, for good measure.
There was a long pause. “Come in?” The vampire answered, bewildered tone just like Virgil’s when a pun when over his head. Patton unlocked the five bolts on the door and pushed it open, poking his head in.
“You’re supposed to say who’s there, silly!”
Virgil stared at him, head tilted slightly, before visibly remembering that he was supposed to be a big, scary vampire. He scowled pointedly. “Oh, whoops. How could I forget that jokes are the most important part of a kidnapping?”
Patton chuckled, slipping into the room and closing the door behind him. Logan would be furious at him for entering a room with a malignant vampire alone with no backup, but this was different. This was Virgil.
“Are those cookies?” Virgil asked, one eyebrow raised in disbelief. “You know I’m a vampire, right? Did the ‘trying to murder you’ thing just go right over your head?”
“The cookies are mostly for me.” Patton admitted as he came closer, setting the dish down on the table. Virgil pressed against the back of his chair as he approached, hard enough to make his joints pop loudly, and Patton’s heart ached at the fear in his eyes. “It’s important to eat something after having your blood drawn, after all!”
He carefully pulled the bag out from under his arm, setting it on the table next to the cookies. The deep red of the blood inside made his stomach twist unpleasantly, but he was well practiced in ignoring such things by now, and picked up a warm cookie to distract himself.
Virgil’s eyes flickered between the blood bag and Patton, his wariness not quite concealing the hunger in his gaze. Memories or not, though, this was still Virgil.
“I told you I don’t have any information.” He said stubbornly, and if his arms were free, Patton got the impression that he would have crossed them defensively.
He hurried to finish chewing before he spoke. “Oh, that’s okay. This isn’t a bribe or incentive or anything, I just thought you were probably hungry.”
“Oh, and you’re in the habit of feeding vampires out of the goodness of your heart?” Virgil bit out, frowning so severely that Patton worried his face might get stuck that way.
“I do when the vampire in question is my best friend and clearly doesn’t want to hurt anybody.” Patton answered without missing a beat. Virgil’s face immediately scrunched up with pain, and he couldn’t help but reach out to the vampire. “Virgil? Are you-?”
“Don’t call me that.” He gritted out through clenched teeth, right arm straining against the chair’s metal cuff as though he wanted to lash out. He glared, daring him to move his hand closer. “I’m not your friend.”
Patton slowly withdrew, feeling his eyes grow a little hot despite himself. He pushed the sadness aside firmly, somehow managing to speak without his voice cracking. “What would you like me to call you, then?”
Virgil stilled, caught off guard, and watched Patton for a long moment with those eerie purple eyes. “… Anx.”
“Anx.” Patton tested the word out and felt like it fit the sharp edges of this lonely version of Virgil. “I’m Patton. Are you okay, Anx?”
“Oh, just peachy.” Anx smiled sarcastically for a moment before letting it drop. “I’m tired of playing this game, hunter. Why don’t you just kill me already?”
Patton took a deep breath, exhale coming out shaky. “Anx, we’re… we’re not going to kill you.”
“Yes, you are.” Anx said with utmost certainty. “I’m dead as soon as you hunters finally get it through your thick skulls that your friend is gone. He’s not coming back, ever. Might as well cut out all the bullshit and just get it over with now.”
The very idea of Virgil being gone, lost to them maybe not in body but certainly in mind, was enough to make Patton lose what little appetite he had left. He’d have to take the cookies to the others later. He swallowed thickly.
“I… I hope that’s not the case, but… even if that is true, and you really won’t ever remember or care about us the way he did, we’re not going to kill you. That’s not… We don’t do that.”
“Do you even hear yourself?” Anx asked, frustrated. “Of course you do! You’re a hunter. Your job description is literally to kill monsters.”
Patton shook his head. “Our job is to help innocents, Anx. Even the ones that aren’t human.”
The vampire shook his head slowly, as though in disbelief, before looking pointedly away. Patton sighed. He picked up the blood bag, holding it up. “I won’t bother you anymore after this, but you should eat.”
For a moment, he thought Anx would continue to ignore him, but the vampire sniffed once and couldn’t help but eye the bag with a mixture of hunger and recognition. “That’s really your blood.”
“Sure is!” Patton wasn’t surprised the vamp could tell. “I’ve got Type O blood, the tasty kind! I’ve gotta say, though, with vampires around it can be a real… pain in the neck.”
Anx took a beat to comprehend the joke, face blanking. “Ugh, that was awful.”
He grinned, not missing the way Anx’s lips pressed together in the same way Virgil’s did when he was trying not to smile. He offered the bag again, and this time Anx leaned forwards to bite into it, grimacing at the cold but sucking the bag dry nonetheless.
Patton tried not to breathe too deeply with the scent of iron thick in the air, thinking about cats to keep himself from getting nauseous. He’d seen the cutest, fluffiest tabby cat in a neighbor’s window the other day, being absolutely perfect and delightful…
Distracted and trusting, he didn’t see the loose cuff on the left side of the chair until there were inhumanly cold fingers wrapped around his arm and sharp teeth digging into his wrist a heartbeat later.
He cried out in pain, bag falling to the ground and splattering what little blood remained across the floor, and then his world went dark and hazy around the edges.
Anx waited until Patton’s eyes had gone glassy and dull before loosening his jaw and pulling away, leaving the human standing with a vacant look on his face as his wrist dripped blood on the floor.
“Shit. Uh, put pressure on that.” He said, his tongue darting down to clear away the blood on his lips as Patton pressed the sleeve of his sweater to the bite. The lack of spurting meant he probably hadn’t hit an artery, but better safe than sorry. Every human he’d ever met was so fragile.
Luckily, their fragility had left them to underestimate Anx’s own resilience, exemplified by the last several hours he’d spent digging into the wood around his left wrist to weaken the bond. He pried at the other cuff now, the force of both hands enough to pull the metal from the wood with a crack, and then he was on his feet. Free.
Well. A step closer to free. He stepped closer to Patton, hearing the steady thudding heart of a human under thrall. His own headache matched the rhythm.
“How do I get out of the house?” He asked, hoping that his allure was strong enough. Some humans had wills strong enough to resist talking, even under thrall.
To his surprise, Patton barely flickered an eyelid before speaking. “Up the stairs, through the kitchen, and out the front door.”
Anx frowned. That was too easy. “Where are the others?”
This answer came slower this time, like Patton had forgotten how to form the syllables. “They’re not in the way. They won’t catch you leaving.”
“That’s not what I asked.” Anx said, curious despite himself. He knew enthralling a human meant they would either tell the truth or not speak at all, but Patton seemed to be using a curious loophole. “Where are they in the house?”
“Not in the way.” Patton echoed, and then bit down on his lip hard enough to split it, staying silent. His heart rate increased slightly.
Anx nodded once, almost to himself. “Okay. Alright, whatever. Even if they do end up seeing me, I’m fast enough to get away.”
“You’re pretty fast.” Patton murmured in agreement, despite the fact that Anx hadn’t asked a direct question. He squinted at the hunter suspiciously, a little freaked. Some humans were chatty under thrall, but they generally didn’t sound as coherent as Patton. More like they were drugged, really.
“Sit in this chair and keep pressure on that bite. And, uh, don’t come after me.” He watched as Patton settled into the chair, not bothering to restrain him. He’d wasted enough time as it was.
Patton’s bright blue eyes followed him unerringly through the mirror as he hurried out of the tiny room, bolting all the locks shut and then scaling the steps two at a time to find himself in a… surprisingly normal-looking house. He’d have never guessed they had an interrogation basement if he hadn’t just been in it.
Sure enough, just past the kitchen was the foyer and front door, and neither of the other humans were in sight. Anx forced himself not to get too excited, still waiting for the other shoe to drop, but he quickened his pace regardless and hurried out the door.
It was that strange half-dark of early morning, and the city was a line of buildings on the horizon. Far away, but with his speed it wasn’t much of an inconvenience. Even better was knowing where the hunters’ hideout was in case of future kidnappings. Anx let himself grin at the fresh air. He was out.
Two yards from the door, he hit a barrier like a wall, crackling against his skin and nearly whiting his vision out with pain. He fell back, staring at the lawn ahead of him. There was nothing particularly incriminating, just a simple ring of-
A ring of hawthorn bushes, ankle high.
Though he’d never been told by others in his coven, he somehow knew the plant’s placement was intentional, arranged to protect the house from vampiric detection or invasion. And now it was keeping him stuck here, unable to even touch the offending brambles.
Anx took a deep breath. It was fine. He’d get Patton to dig up a gap in the bushes and slip right through. He just had to be fast. He tugged on the connection between him and the enthralled human, waiting for a long moment.
Patton didn’t get any closer. Anx frowned for a moment, and then resisted the urge to bang his head against a wall when he realized that the human was locked in that interrogation cell by Anx’s own hand.
Anx turned back to the house, his headache growing worse. He’d just have to do this the old-fashioned way, and go get Patton himself. By willingly going back into a hunter’s den.
What could go wrong?