"Wilson lost six more chickens."
Leonard looked up from his breakfast plate, mouth still half full of scrambled eggs. "Six?"
"Len, swallow your food, then talk."
He glanced at his mother with a sheepish expression, before gulping his food down and turning back to his father. "Six chickens at once?"
"So he says," his father replied.
"Six in one day," Leonard said in awe. "And three last week? That's some fox."
"I still say that's no animal's doing," his mother said. "There's a person doing this, I'm sure of it."
"Ellie, who around here would steal Bert Wilson's chickens?"
"Could be a stranger," she replied hesitantly.
David snorted. "Now what stranger comes to town and steals chickens?"
"A chicken thief, of course," she snapped. "Besides, how do you explain the fact that they found no trace of animal tracks?"
"Humans'd leave tracks just like an animal would."
"But, David, humans would cover their tracks," his mother insisted. "Animals wouldn't."
"What about Blue, Daddy," Leonard asked. "Didn't he bark or... anything?"
"There's one of the strange things about all this,” his father replied. His mother leaned in, curious despite her frustration. “Bert told me that the night before he found the chickens missing, Blue came running into the house and refused to go out for the rest of the night."
"Blue's never been scared of any fox!" Leonard exclaimed.
"Nor any man," his father said. "Strange all around." He shook his head. "Bert'll be building up a new fence this week. I told him I'd find out if you mind going over to help after your chores are done."
"No, sir, I don't mind."
"Thank you, son."
"Finish up your breakfast, Len," his mother said. "Eggs are getting cold."
They finished their breakfast, and Leonard took care of his morning chores. Once he'd finished checking on the cows, and feeding their own few chickens and other yard animals, he headed over to the Wilson farm to help out with the fence.
Leonard didn't think much about the chicken thief (whether human or fox) once the fence had been built. Mr. Wilson gave him what he called "ice cream money" (twenty bucks would sure buy a lot of ice cream, even in 1987), even though Leonard tried to give it back. He told Mr. Wilson that his father would tan his hide if he found out he'd taken money for helping a neighbor, but Wilson insisted. Leonard had given the money to his dad, who'd frowned and huffed, and put half away then given the rest back to Leonard to have fun with.
After that, a good two weeks passed before someone reported a missing animal. They were chickens again, and this time they were missing from the Miller farm, which was just on the other side of their own. Eleanor was worried, and Leonard was given the arduous task of reinforcing all the animal pens.
"I'd help you, son," his father said with a sigh. "But it's treating me worse than usual today."
Leonard smiled and squeezed his father's hand. "That's all right, Daddy," he said with false brightness. "You'll be on your feet in no time."
David frowned. "I just hate loading you with all this extra work. You should be enjoying your summer."
"I am," he said. "It's just one day, Daddy. And I'm worried about the animals, too. Besides, I've got another full summer before graduation. By then, you'll be right as rain, and I promise to slack off as much as possible, alright?"
His father laughed, and Leonard got to work - trying to let the memory of making his father laugh shove away thoughts of radiation therapy and the doctor's dire news that chemotherapy might be necessary. He spent a long day strengthening their defenses against potential thieves. By the time he finished everything and got back inside, dinner was already on the table.
"Where's Daddy?" he asked, pulling off his sweaty t-shirt.
"Not feeling well," his mother replied. Her brows were furrowed, and she was clearly worried. Leonard tried to give her a reassuring smile, but his shoulders slumped, and he let out a heavy sigh. She stood up and hugged him tight, sweat and grime and all. "He'll be all right," she said firmly. "Everybody's praying for him, and he's a strong man. He'll be all right."
Leonard squeezed her back and nodded, but didn't trust his voice. After a moment, his mother patted his back. "Go on, wash up and come to dinner. Your daddy says you can stay out tonight as long as you like."
They made the best of dinner - this was the second time in as many weeks that David hadn't made it to the dinner table. Afterward, Leonard was in need of some space, and he was glad he didn't have to worry about curfew. He grabbed his bike and rode away from the house, breathing in the warm, wet summer air, and taking in the sunset.
He stopped at "the field" - an unclaimed plot of overgrown grass, weeds and scattered trees at the end of the main road. It served as a hang-out spot for some of the kids at his high school. It had the benefit of being far enough away from the nearby farmhouses that they could make as much noise as they wanted without disturbing anyone, and there were a couple of abandoned buildings on the lot for kids who wanted to smoke or make out without any chance of being caught. Len liked it because it was usually abandoned during the summertime for more glamorous dives.
He left his bike near the road, knowing it would be hopeless to try to ride through the wild grass and uneven ground. He walked through the grass, out toward one of the abandoned sheds, glad that the moon was bright tonight. He’d forgotten to bring a flashlight. As he approached one of his favorite "thinking" spots about half way in, he heard a soft, strange sound. He slowed, surprised, because he hadn't seen any cars or other bikes nearby. He crept toward the rustling sound, smiling to himself at the thought of springing on one of his friends making out behind the second shed.
Leonard froze when he peeked around the corner of the shed. He was shocked to see a man in his early twenties, sandy hair illuminated by the moonlight, crouched down over a burlap sack. The bag twitched and jerked, and seemed to be the source of the strange noises Leonard had heard. The stranger pulled the bag closer, opening it just a crack. In a swift, fluid motion, he shot his hand into the bag and pulled out a chicken.
Leonard gritted his teeth and held his breath. Mama had been right after all! Leonard didn't move - didn't want to be caught by the thief, and possibly get himself attacked. He watched, and waited for an opportunity to sneak away without being heard.
The young man used his teeth and his free hand to tie off the still-shifting bag, then tossed it aside. The man took hold of the chicken's head lightly in one hand, and kept hold of the main body in his other. Leonard was afraid he might be about to snap the chicken's neck - something he'd sworn he'd never witness again after the first time he'd seen it. For a moment, the man just grinned at the chicken, which confused Leonard. It chilled him, too. There was something... wrong about the man's smile. Then, suddenly, he snapped his head down on the back of the chicken's neck and bit hard. Leonard couldn't suppress a gasp, which was thankfully drowned out by the chicken's sharp squawk. It died the next instant, but the man held it tight, and greedily sucked on its body.
Leonard watched with growing horror, unable to tear his eyes away from the sickening scene. After what must only have been a few seconds, but what felt like an eternity, the man lifted his head from the shriveled body of the bird. Blood trailed down his chin, and he licked his lips. The moonlight glinted on too-long, far too sharp canine teeth.
Leonard felt his stomach lurch at the sight. His mind immediately provided the explanation - vampire - but he balked against the thought, despite the evidence staring him in the face. A second later, Leonard's disgust and shock were replaced by abject terror. The man's eyes fell on him, and his blood-red lips turned down at the corners. His eyes narrowed, and he dropped the withered carcass and began to stand.
That was more than enough for Leonard. The bizarre trance that had kept him frozen in place broke in favor of self preservation. He turned and ran as fast as he could in the direction of the road. He heard movement behind him but was he was too afraid to look back. His entire body was focused on the instinctive need to do one thing, and one thing only - run.
Moments later, he realized that could hear the sound of his own footfalls, and his panicked breathing, but the sounds of running behind him were curiously absent. When he was within sight of his bicycle, he dared to look back, and was startled to see that no one was following him. He slowed, stunned. Could he possibly have imagined...? He turned back to the road, and cried out in shock at the sight of the man... thing in front of him. His momentum threatened to propel him right into the stranger, and he backpedaled so forcefully that he ended up on his back in the grass. He scrambled away, but in less than a second he felt a hand on his neck.
Leonard was lifted with an unnatural ease, and held a few inches off the ground, eye level with the stranger. His vibrant, piercing blue eyes seemed to cut straight through to the center of Leonard's soul, stripping him bare, leaving him feeling naked, vulnerable and more terrified than he had ever been. The eyes glanced away from his face briefly, and the man moved a few steps to one side and slammed Leonard against something hard - a tree, by the roughness against his back. He let Leonard slide down to stand on his feet, but he kept his hand pressed against Leonard's neck, just barely loose enough for him to breathe. Then he smiled, and Leonard felt his blood turn cold. It was the exact same smile he'd given the hapless chicken just before biting down on its neck.
Len slowly shook his head. "Please," he whispered, hardly recognizing his own voice, it was so high-pitched and tremulous. "Please don't kill me, I... I won't tell anyone you're out here, I swear, I-."
He chuckled softly. "Do you really think I care if more food stumbles my way?"
Leonard shuddered, horrified at being referred to as food. "Please l-let me go, ple-"
"Shhhh." He touched his finger lightly to Leonard's lips. Leonard stopped trying to speak, and the man drew closer to him. He shifted the hand that had been against Len's neck, forcing Leonard to tilt his head to one side. Leonard tensed and tried to shove the man away, but he easily grabbed both Leonard's wrists with his free hand and held them down out of the way.
"Shhhh, it's okay," he whispered, now so close his breath tickled Leonard's neck. The man inhaled deeply, then pulled back and smiled down at him, looking him in the eye. "You smell delicious."
Leonard cried out sharply, and struggled fiercely against the vampire, feeling hot tears spring to his eyes when the fight proved futile. He managed to push him away slightly, only to be slammed back against the tree again. He gripped Leonard's hair and jerked his head back roughly. From the corner of his eye, Len could see the man's already long, sharp canine teeth get even longer. "No, no," he cried. " Please don't do it, please, please, I-"
"What are you gonna tell me?" he asked, frowning now. "You're special? You're too young to die?"
"N-no, sir, but-"
"But what?" he snapped, tightening his grip on Leonard's hair. "What is the all-important reason I should deny my instincts and let you go?"
"Please,” Leonard said softly, his body trembling hard, voice tremulous. “Please, sir, m-my... my father's sick, and my mother's not... s-she's older. I'm all they have, please let me go, th-they n-need-"
The man released his head and the smile was back. Leonard straightened, and eyed him warily. The sudden reprieve seemed too good to be true. "Father's sick, is he?" the man asked.
"Yes, sir," Leonard said softly.
"What's wrong with him?"
"Cancer," Leonard said, feeling his throat tighten.
He frowned. "Lukemia?"
"N-no, sir, it's-"
"How old's your mother?"
"Fifty-seven," he answered.
The man smiled again. He patted Leonard's shoulder lightly and said, "Which one of these farms is yours?"
"What?" The smile broadened, and Leonard's eyes widened, as realization dawned. "No."
He gripped Leonard by his collar and jerked him forward. "Where do you live?" he snapped.
"No, no, please, don't hurt my parents, please!"
"Hurt them? I'll be doing them a favor. Do you know what it is to die from a disease like that? Do you know how it is for your mother, watching her husband waste away slowly before her eyes? I can spare them all that."
Leonard recoiled, horrified both by the thought of his parents' murder, and by the vampire's almost casual certainty that his father wouldn't get better. He shook his head, anguished tears blurring his vision. "You... you l-leave my parents alone," he whispered.
"Tell me where you live," he said slowly, staring Leonard down.
Leonard gritted his teeth. "I'll die first!"
"Idiot!" he hissed. "You can, you know." Leonard clenched his fists, sent up a silent prayer and tried to brace himself. Instead of attacking him, the man pursed his lips. "You don't have to tell me where you live," he said darkly. "All I've got to do is ask which one of the farmers has cancer, a teenaged son and a fifty-seven year old wife. They'll tell me."
The man shoved him back against the tree, then turned away as if that was exactly what he planned to do. "NO!" Leonard grasped at the man's sleeve. "Please, sir, pl-" The man jerked his arm back, throwing Leonard off balance. He fell to his knees and clutched at the hem of the man's shirt, not bothering to try to stand. He felt a wild sense of desperation come over him. Tears were already streaming down his face, but his body began to quake and his chest heaved with uncontrollable sobs. He felt a sickening tightness in his chest, and a horrible, wrenching sense of nausea at the thought that he had unwittingly set this creature on his family. "Don't hurt them, please, I'll do anything!"
"What the hell do you think you could possibly offer me?" he snarled.
Leonard opened his mouth to answer, but the truth was, he had no idea what he could offer. He shook his head helplessly, and the man gave a wry chuckle. He yanked Leonard's hands off his shirt and shoved him back again, then stalked away toward where Len had first seen him. Defeated, Len slumped down, dropped his head into his hands, and cried. He wanted to go home - to crawl into his mother's arms and just weep. But the thought of facing his parents right now made his stomach churn, and the sobs got louder.
Several minutes passed before he realized that someone was standing over him. "Hey!" Leonard looked up in time to see the man raise his foot. He kicked Leonard in the side, shoving him down harshly. "I'm talking to you!" Leonard sat up and edged away, looking up at the scowling man. "You want to save your parents?"
"Yes, yes, I-"
"Get up." Len got to his feet and the man advanced on him. "I'm sick of feeding on fucking chickens and possums and shit," he hissed. "I want human blood. And like I said, you smell delicious." Leonard swallowed hard, but resisted the urge to back away. "I'll make you a deal. I'll stay away from your parents. From everybody in this whole fucking town, in fact. But in return, you agree to give yourself to me indefinitely."
He did back away then. "W-what does that..."
"You come here and let me feed off you when I want. Once a week should be enough, but if I want more, you come when I call you."
"H-how will I-"
"I'll get word to you. Believe me."
Leonard shuddered. "And if... if I agree, you swear you won't hurt my-"
"That's what I said, isn't it," he said with a glare. "You do your part, and I'll do mine. Is it a deal or not?"
Leonard took a deep, shaky breath. He felt a little less frantic, but he was still frightened and sickened by the proposal. And how could he trust a vampire to keep his word? Weren't they supposed to be soulless, evil creatures? "C-could I ask you something, sir?"
"What?" he snapped - impatient.
"What made you change your mind?"
The man's eyes narrowed. "You looked pathetic sitting there curled up in a fucking ball crying your damned eyes out, that's what. Made me sick to my stomach."
Leonard lowered his eyes and took another breath. He'd felt sorry for him. Mean as he sounded, the vampire had taken pity on him, and that meant he couldn't be entirely evil, right? Leonard gritted his teeth. There wasn't much choice, either way. Pure evil or only mostly evil, it didn't much matter. He was going to kill Leonard's parents if he didn't agree. Leonard looked up again. "I... I'll do it," he said.
"Good." He smiled that predatory smile, and his fangs extended again. "You start now." His hand shot forward, and before Leonard could blink, the man had his hair in an iron grip. He jerked Len's head back, and smiled down at him. Leonard gritted his teeth and forced himself not to struggle. The man leaned forward slowly, bringing his lips close enough for Leonard to feel his breath again. He shuddered, and the man pulled him closer, in a sickening, twisted version of an intimate embrace.
Leonard shut his eyes when he felt the first touch of the man's mouth on his neck. His wide, full lips grazed Leonard's skin, and he could feel the man smile. Leonard shuddered, feeling another twinge of nausea. The bite was sharp and sudden, and it hurt more than he expected. Len gasped, as the man took his first pull, and he seemed to feel his blood draw itself toward those two focal points on his neck. A surge of panic welled up in him - a sudden fear that the man would simply kill him and go off to kill his parents afterward, mingled with a purely instinctual need to get away from this inhuman creature. He struggled, but the vampire simply held him tighter and continued to suck on his neck.
He took two more long draws, then the suction stopped. The man licked Leonard's neck slowly - almost tenderly - and Len felt the nausea spike again. He licked Leonard for several more seconds, then let out a groan of pleasure. "Damn, you're good," he whispered. A whimper escaped Leonard's throat, and the vampire released his hold on Len's hair and broke the embrace.
Leonard took a shaky step back. He brought his hand to his neck, and was shocked when he could feel no wetness - no blood staining his fingertips. There were two points on his neck, but they didn't feel like raw cuts. "H-how did you-"
"I can secrete high levels of protolytic enzymes," he answered. "Helps us conserve little morsels like you." Leonard lowered his eyes, shrinking under the man's gaze, that literally regarded him as little more than a piece of meat. "What's your name, boy?"
Leonard hesitated, but there wasn't any point in hiding. The stranger was right. All he had to do was ask, and look reasonably decent when he did, and he'd have dozens of helpful people directing him to good old Mr. McCoy's property. "It's Leonard," he said.
"I'm Jim," he said, extending his hand. Leonard frowned at the incongruously normal gesture. Still, he didn't want to antagonize the man, so he reached out slowly and let Jim shake his hand. "There's my bond on it," Jim said seriously. "Your parents are safe. You just come here when I call you, and they'll stay that way."
Leonard nodded. "Okay," he said softly. "When..." He cleared his throat. "When do you want me to come back?"
"Week from today," he replied. "That can be our little standing date." He smiled, apparently amused by the analogy. "Every Saturday night."
"I... what if I can't get out?"
The smile was gone again, just as quickly. "What are you, in prison?"
He let out an exaggerated sigh and rolled his eyes. "What time do they go to bed?"
"Around ten thirty," he replied.
"Fine. Get here by midnight," he said. "But don't fuck with me, Leonard."
"No, sir, I'll be here."
"You'd better be." Jim turned away, and Leonard began walking toward his bike. "Oh, and one more thing."
Len paused, fairly cringing at the thought of further conditions being added to this agreement. He turned to face the vampire. "Yes, sir?"
"Please don't get any cute ideas about gathering the villagers and coming back here during the day with stakes and crosses and all that bullshit. That kind of shit really pisses me off, and a lot of people will lose their lives, you understand me?" Leonard nodded. "Great!" He smiled broadly, and licked his lips. "See you next week."
Leonard turned away, feeling the heat of shame rise to his face. He made his way back toward the road, wanting to get away as quickly as possible, but progress was more difficult than he'd anticipated. He felt light-headed and queasy, and he knew it wasn't just from blood loss. He felt as if he'd just shaken hands with the devil himself. Maybe I have. Leonard dropped suddenly to his knees, and his body ejected what remained of his dinner. When he stopped heaving, he stared at the resulting mess, unable to move. His limbs shook, and he felt tears forming again. What have I done? Oh God, what have I done?
He told himself that he'd saved his parents. Maybe he'd even saved the whole neighborhood. But part of him still felt that he'd betrayed some deep, immovable principle - like he'd committed the utmost blasphemy by letting that creature feed off his lifesblood. And all for the selfish purpose of saving the lives of the people he loved - people who were destined to die eventually. Would God excuse such blasphemy from a boy who simply couldn't imagine losing his parents yet?
Leonard struggled against the still-present nausea, and forced himself to stand and keep moving. He was in no condition to ride, but when he reached his bicycle he walked it slowly back toward home, trying to keep from thinking about anything. He was weak with exhaustion by the time he got home. His mother had left the light on for him, and there was a small piece of cake on the kitchen table, covered over with a clear glass bowl so he wouldn't miss it. He sat down heavily at the table, and his eyes filled with tears. Right or wrong, there was no way he could have chosen differently tonight. There was no way he could have let that creature come near his house, and his aging, caring, beautiful parents.
He scrubbed at his eyes, wiping away the tears, though he couldn't blame himself for feeling just a bit mushy and sentimental at the moment. Leonard didn't think he'd have an appetite, but he knew he should try to eat the cake, since his mother had been thoughtful enough to leave it for him. He pulled off the cover, and his stomach growled at the sweet smell of his mama's baking. He finished off the slice in three bites, pressing his fingers to the few crumbs left on the plate and eating those as well. He opened the fridge and took a long chug of milk, straight from the jug. Then he quietly washed his plate and went to bed.
Leonard frowned at his reflection. He looked pale, and slightly drawn - tired. There were two small points on his neck - not holes, but wounds that looked like they were in the final stage of healing. His skin was slightly bruised around them. He was grateful that whatever healing properties the thing had, they'd made the bruising less noticeable, but he still had no idea how he planned to explain it to his parents. He still remembered the sound beating he'd received for coming home with a hickey at the tender age of twelve. He was older now, but he still didn't dare claim it was something like that. He wasn't even seeing anyone, and his mother's sharp eye would catch that it didn't look like a hickey anyway.
He settled on falling from his bike. He'd fallen a couple of times last night, and he could feel a slight sting from scrapes on his legs. That would work for now. He wasn't sure what he planned to do "indefinitely". He sighed and swallowed hard against the lump he could feel forming in his throat. Indefinitely. He'd promised to come at this man's call, potentially forever. If not forever, then at least for as long as his parents were alive. And then, he'd probably have to keep coming to him or be threatened with death himself.
His stomach churned, and he splashed his face with cold water and tried to force his mind off of the future. He had a week before he had to worry about seeing the man again. Unless he was called early.
Before he had time to think, Leonard's stomach lurched and he vomited into the sink. His stomach pressed in on itself again and again, forcing whatever was left of the cake and milk, along with bitter, stinging bile, up and into the sink. When it finally stopped, Len held his breath, afraid to move lest his stomach start up again. There was a tap at the door.
"Leonard? Sweetheart, you okay?" He tried to tell his mother he was fine, but could only seem to sigh shakily and groan. "I'm coming in." The door opened, and he turned toward her. His mother gasped at the sight of him. "My God, Len, what's wrong with you?"
He shook his head, unable to keep the tears from his eyes. "Don't know," he croaked out.
"Come on, sit down, honey." She guided him gently to the toilet and put the cover down. He sat on the fuzzy, teal cover and leaned forward, shuddering under the soft touch of his mother's hand. "You didn't get rowdy last night, did you?"
He shook his head at his mother's euphemism for getting drunk. "N-no ma'am. Just felt sick all of a sudden. I'm feeling a little better now." His mother let out a disdainful "harrumph", but the nausea was dwindling, and after a few more seconds, Len sat up and managed a wan smile. "Sorry if I scared you."
"You eat something funny, last night? Couldn't have been the cake, could-"
"No, Mama, it wasn't the cake. That was delicious, by the way, thank you for leaving it."
"'Course, honey. You sure you're- what on earth happened to your neck?"
Leonard felt the heat rise to his face, and he lowered his head. He let out what he hoped was an embarrassed chuckle. "I fell off my bike last night," he said. "Musta hit a twig or something, I guess, because these were pretty sore." He raised his hand, but couldn't quite make himself touch the two points.
"My goodness, Len," she said, lifting his head and inspecting the wounds. "If you'd fell much harder you could have cut right into the skin! You need to be careful riding around in the dark."
"Yes, Ma, I will."
"Listen here, you still look pretty green. You need to stay home from church?"
"No," he said, more sharply than he'd intended. He forced himself to get the desperate look off his face. "No, I want to go. I... wanna be there for Daddy."
Eleanor smiled and kissed his forehead. "All right, son," she said. "But if you start to feel sick again, you tell me right away, hear?"
"I will," he said.
She fussed over him for a few minutes more, putting a little Neosporin to his neck and forcing him to take Pepto Bismol for the nausea. He washed away the weirdly-sweet taste with a little bit of breakfast ("not too much now!"), and got dressed for service.
Leonard had never been so present at a regular church service in all his life. He said hello to his friends, but he stayed with his parents, rather than breaking off and sitting with friends as he sometimes did. The preacher's sermon was on faith, and Leonard listened intently - so focused that his father even patted his leg, and raised his brows in confusion, mouthing "okay?" Leonard just nodded and gave his dad a smile.
His mother had spoken to the preacher last week and requested a prayer for David, and after the sermon was over the preacher led a long prayer for his father, for strength fighting his cancer. The parishioners surrounding them laid hands on his father, and some put their hands on him and his mother as well, squeezing their shoulders and patting backs in encouragement. Leonard was grateful for the overflow of support. He needed it more than ever before. He prayed fervently for his father's healing, and he prayed with equal fervor for his family's safety from the vampire, and for forgiveness for... whatever holy law must be violated by letting a vampire drink your blood.
When the prayer was over, he felt lighter and happier than he had in some time. They had lunch with the Millers, and except for the sudden tension in his gut during the brief discussion about the recent theft of Mr. Miller's chickens, he felt pretty good. It wasn't until he got home, tossed off his Sunday shirt and tie, and his father noticed the wound, that he felt his mood drop again. His mother spared him telling the lie again, by explaining that he'd fallen the night before, but Leonard was concerned. The "I fell off my bike" excuse certainly wouldn't work a second time.
When, after a long day of socializing with neighbors and stuffing himself full of Sunday dinner, Leonard settled in for the night, he got to work on a plan for deceiving his parents on a long-term basis.
In the end, it was Cary Grant who provided the solution. Wednesday evening, Eleanor sat down with a bowl of popcorn and a bottle of soda (his mother, with soda!), and settled in to watch "To Catch a Thief". Leonard and his father watched it with her, since clearly coffee and cake would not be forthcoming until Cary and Grace's adventures were resolved.
At some point during the film, it dawned on Leonard that Grant spent much of the film wearing a scarf around his neck, tucked into his shirt. "Ma, what's he-"
David snickered, and Len laughed, rolled his eyes and watched the rest of the movie without interrupting. When the movie was over, he decided against asking what kind of scarf it was after all. His mother launched into a gushing chatter about how wonderful Cary Grant was, fit to put any teenaged girl to shame. His father teased that she wished she'd married Cary Grant instead, and that led to the most disgusting display of reassuring and kissing and snuggling that Leonard had seen in a long time. He was glad they were happy and all, but it still drove him to escape to his bedroom for the night.
The next day, he hitched a ride into town with Bert Wilson. In exchange for loading his truck with wood and a few other supplies from the hardware store, he received fifteen dollars in "icecream" money. He shoved eight into his pocket to give to his father, and headed to the local library. He found a book on Golden Age movie stars, and checked the section devoted to Cary Grant. In the captions of one of the pictures, he found a note that Grant was wearing one of his favorite ascots. Leonard checked out the book, as well as a few others that had pictures of Grant, and took them over to one of the local clothing stores.
He asked a chatty young woman about ascots, and showed her the picture of Cary Grant. "Oooh, classy," she said with a smile. "You would look like a dream in one of those. Now, we don't have the official ascot ascot, but we've got some things that can pass for one."
"There's an official one?" he asked, following her through the racks.
"Oh yeah, just looks like a scarf, but it's shaped kind of like a short, fat tie. There's two fat ends and a skinny middle, and you tie it kinda like- here we are!"
She gestured triumphantly at a rack full of girly looking scarves. "Um..."
"Yeah, this is the best we have. But look, there's plenty in here that you could use." She spent less than a second scanning the rack, and brought forth a dark, paisley scarf in browns and muted blues and greens. "This'd go great with those hazel eyes of yours. And this'd probably turn your eyes green if you wanted," she said, picking out another scarf that was a forest-green color. He stared at it in amazement - he'd been so sure there'd only been pinks and purples on the rack.
"Thanks a lot, miss," he said brightly. "These'll do for a start."
"Sure thing, honey. Now, you know how to tie a regular tie, right?" Leonard nodded. "Okay, well this is almost the same. You just have to..." She took one of the scarves and folded it at the center. "You want to start by doing that, so the ends are fatter than the middle. Now you just put this around your neck, and you do it almost like a tie, but you keep the long part out." She tied it on her own neck, moving slowly so that he could see. "See there? Now, if I had a jacket, or a collared shirt, I'd just tuck it in there."
Leonard smiled. "That's perfect," he said. "Thanks again."
"Sure thing, hon." She went on her way, and Leonard took spent all of his half of the money on the two scarves. He spent the next couple of hours back at the library, reading as much information as he could find about Cary Grant. By the end of the day, he knew more than he thought he ever wanted to about Grant, a few other actors and actresses he'd worked with, and the golden age of Hollywood in general. The information was fascinating, and he found himself getting excited about his new "pretend" obsession more than he thought he would. Before long, he was notified that the library would close in only a few minutes. He checked out several of the books he'd found most interesting, and hitched a ride home with Everett Miller.
Everett (a twenty-seven year old version of his father) asked him about his books, and Leonard spent the entire trip home discussing the things he'd learned about his new favorite star. Everett seemed amused, and Leonard was pleased by the interaction - it was a chance to "practice", and an opportunity to spread around the idea that he was taken with the star, so that it would look completely natural when he started dressing the part. When he got home and explained about the money, his father was annoyed that Leonard had accepted the money, but since it was Mr. Wilson, he let it go and put the second half of the money away.
Leonard spent the rest of the week learning as much as he could about Cary Grant, asking his mother questions, and sporting his new fashion accessory. His parents seemed amused by his new fascination with the old actor, and his mother even helped him teach him to tie the ascot once he'd folded it to the proper shape. She proclaimed that he looked "dapper", though his father declared that he looked like one of the "disco kids", and seemed concerned that Leonard would be teased. Leonard only laughed, and assured his father that as long as he stayed away from bellbottom jeans, he'd be fine.
The week went by quickly - almost too quickly for Leonard. He managed to enjoy himself for the most part, but the thought of Saturday night loomed over him like a dark cloud. As the day drew nearer, Leonard slowly limited his activities, and spent more time around his parents. He felt a protectiveness of his father, which must have shown, because David asked him several times if everything as going alright. He assured his father that everything was fine, and proceeded to spend further time with him just sitting and talking to his father, and playing the odd game of Chinese Checkers with him.
That Saturday, after a good day with his parents, Leonard pretended to get ready for bed. His mother and father turned in at around ten o'clock, and Leonard went into his room at around the same time. He lay in bed with his eyes open, staring at the ceiling of his bedroom, and trying to keep from thinking about what he had to do, while simultaneously looking at the clock every ten minutes.
At around eleven thirty, Leonard got out of bed and quietly got dressed. He put on some jeans to help protect his legs, since he hoped he wouldn't have to make any excuses for bruised knees and scratched shins tonight. He put on a button-down shirt, and decided to go ahead and make use of one of his scarves, since he had no idea who he might come across on the way home.
He decided against taking his bicycle. He wouldn't be able to ride it on the way home, and he didn't want to risk waking his parents by making too much noise with it anyway. He glanced around the room once he was dressed, as if to be sure he wasn't forgetting anything. Like your sanity? He sighed and ignored the derisive voice in his head, left the room and snuck out of the house.
Leonard resisted the urge to slow his pace when he arrived at The Field. He checked his watch (had the foresight to bring a flashlight this time), and it was only five minutes to midnight. Walking had taken longer than he thought it would. He'd have to leave a little earlier next time - he couldn't risk... He shuddered and shook his head. He didn't want to think about what might happen if he came late.
He walked quickly toward the second shed, where he'd first seen the vampire, hoping fervently that the man wouldn't be there and knowing that he would. He'd only gotten about ten feet from the shed when the door opened, and the creature stepped out. Leonard froze and his grip on the flashlight tightened reflexively.
The man smiled and beckoned him silently. Leonard forced himself to walk forward. "Well, well, look at you. All dressed up for our little dinner date, huh?" Leonard grimaced, but the vampire just laughed. "Come on, kid, I'm starving." He gripped Len's arm and pulled him roughly inside, slamming the door behind them. Leonard couldn't hold in a frightened yelp when the man yanked his flashlight away. "What's wrong?" he asked, shutting off the beam. "You're not afraid of the dark, are you?"
"N-no, sir," he whispered shakily. Not the dark. You. Of course, at that particular moment, it felt like a lie. The shed was almost completely dark - the broken windows (all two of them) had been covered over with something dark - black bags or dark paper - and what little bit of moonlight came in through the few tiny cracks between the wood slats of the walls wasn't enough for Leonard to see anything by.
"Mmmm, I think you might just be," he said softly. "I can hear your heart pounding." Leonard couldn't hold back a whimper, and the vampire chuckled again. Len felt a hand reach up slowly and firmly grip his hair. His head was forced back, his scarf was removed, and he soon felt the soft touch of those lips on his neck. He braced himself for the bite, but still couldn't keep from letting out a hiss of pain when the creature's teeth broke his skin. He squeezed his eyes shut, feeling his fear lessen by a fraction - since his eyes were closed, it didn't matter so much that the room was completely and utterly dark.
Leonard felt the same, sickening pull as his blood seemed to flow toward the vampire. This time, when the vampire got to his third pull, Leonard tried to move away, but the man tightened his grip and continued to suck. Leonard felt his terror growing, again convinced that the vampire was going to kill him. His attempt to struggle was a feeble one, easily thwarted by the powerful creature. When the sucking finally stopped, Len felt light headed and sick to his stomach. The slow, almost sensual licking that started right after the sucking stopped didn't help. His body shuddered uncontrollably, and he shoved against the man to no avail.
When it finally stopped and Leonard was released, he took one step away from the man, but collapsed almost immediately. "Fuck!" The man crouched in front of him, and Leonard tried to push away, but he was so dazed he wasn't even sure his arms were moving. Two cool fingers were pressed to his neck, and the man sighed with what sounded like relief. Leonard felt relieved himself. Even if the man only cared because Leonard was an easy meal, if he was relieved it meant Leonard probably wasn't going to die.
Still, he trembled uncontrollably, and he was grateful when the man turned on his flashlight and pressed it into Leonard's hand. Len gripped the flashlight tightly, mildly unnerved by the way the light shook. A moment later, a blanket was thrown over him, and pulled up to his chin. The man looked down at him, a slight frown on his face. "You'll be fine," he said. "Got carried away, I guess. Haven't eaten all week. But you'll be okay. Just lay there for a minute."
Leonard nodded, but didn't try to speak. The man walked away and sat down on the floor of the shed, a few feet away. Leonard shut his eyes and waited for his limbs to stop trembling. Slowly, he began to feel better, and eventually, he lay still on the floor, breathing hard, and feeling exhausted through and through. He sat up slowly, and the creature stood up and walked over to him. "You alright?"
"Yes, I think so, sir," he said weakly.
"Don't stand up yet, just sit there for a little bit longer."
Leonard did as he was told, not really liking the idea of standing up anyway, just then. After another ten or twenty minutes, during which the two of them sat in silence, not exactly looking at one another, the vampire nodded at him. "Try now."
Leonard got up slowly, and though he was shaky on his feet, he didn't fall or feel the need to faint. "Okay. I... guess I'm ok."
The man nodded. "Fine. I'm not going anywhere, so if you need to wait, you can."
"It's okay, I... I can make it."
Leonard walked slowly to the door. The moment he pushed it open, he heard the man's voice again. "Come back Wednesday."
Len froze, and couldn't stop himself from giving the man a horrified look. "But... I..."
The man glared and stood up suddenly. "I said you come when I tell you to, and you agreed!" he snapped. "You backing out?"
"No, no s-sir, I just-"
"You wanna come here when I'm half starved again, and risk me taking too much?"
"No!" Leonard raised his hands in a conciliatory gesture, made nervous by the vampire's threatening posture. "I'll be here Wednesday, sir."
The man seemed satisfied, and he turned away, scooped up his blanket and took it toward the far end of the shed. Leonard walked home slowly, snuck into the house, and went straight to bed.
When he arrived the next Wednesday night, Leonard was almost as nervous as he had been the last time. He assumed the vampire wouldn't take too much, but he was concerned all the same. He'd been so sick Sunday that his mother had insisted he to go the doctor to get checked out. The doctor had proclaimed he was anemic, which was unusual for an active, healthy country boy. When his mother went into mild hysterics, the doctor insisted that it wasn't completely unheard of, gave Leonard some iron pills and told him to get lots of protein, and lots of rest, and come back for a checkup in a week's time.
Eleanor was beside herself with worry, and fussed over Leonard for two days straight. He did start to feel better after shoving down a few hearty meals, and getting lots of sleep. But he also began to resent the vampire for causing this - for making his mother turn into a bundle of worries, and for taking her attention away from his father, who really needed the support much more than Leonard did. That was what he told himself, anyway. But walking back to the old shed in the darkness, clutching his flashlight tightly and worried that it would be snatched away again, Leonard felt that he could use all the moral support his mother and father could possibly give him.
Again, the vampire came out to greet him, before he felt like his footsteps should have been heard. The man's mouth quirked up in a dry smile, and he beckoned Leonard to come closer. Leonard drew near slowly, and the man took him by the arm and pulled him inside. Leonard was grateful that the man seemed uninterested in his flashlight this time, and let him keep it. The man reached up and slowly pulled away Leonard's semi-ascot. He tilted Len's head back, and the feeding began.
This time, the man was much more conservative. He took three long swallows, like he had the first time, then "sealed" Leonard's wound in the usual way. Leonard felt light headed, but he didn't feel the need to collapse as he had before. "Sit down," the man said.
Len sat on the floor, keeping the flashlight pointed toward the ceiling, to give some semblance of lighting to the shed. There was a small cardboard box against the wall that hadn't been there before. The man... Jim... caught him looking at it and walked over to it. "Got some stuff for you," he said. The man pulled out a small jar of apple juice, and a candy-bar. Leonard stared at the items in surprise, almost afraid to touch them when the man offered them to him. "Look, you want them or not!" Jim snapped after a second's pause.
"Yes, sir," Leonard said hastily. "Thanks."
Mollified, the man sat down on the floor a few feet from Leonard. They were silent for a while, and Len ate the food, letting himself relax and regain his strength for a while. "How old are you?" Jim asked.
"Sixteen," Leonard replied softly.
"Hm." He was quiet for a moment more, then said, "Got plans, Leonard?"
"Plans. You know, life plans? You got something you want to be when you grow up?"
Leonard looked down at his empty juice bottle, feeling self conscious. "I want to be a doctor. Maybe... maybe find a..."
"Cure for cancer?" Jim asked, a slight grin on his face.
Len glared fiercely at the man, unable to stop the angry tears from springing to his eyes. "What the hell do you care, anyway?!" he snapped. Jim's face registered shock, followed immediately by fury. Leonard was afraid, but he was pissed off, too. How dare this creature ask about his life, to ridicule him - especially when he'd wanted to kill Leonard's father in the first place. "Why are you even talking to me like we're buddies or something! I'm nothing but an easy meal to you!"
Jim jumped to his feet, glaring in absolute rage, and yanked Leonard to his feet. Len cringed, but the man didn't attack him. He shoved Leonard out the door, so hard he fell to the grass. "Saturday," the man said darkly, then slammed the door.
Leonard was nervous for the next few days. He stayed inside, except for when he had to do his chores, or when his parents went out. When they left the house, he went with them, worried that the vampire would change his mind about their deal because Len had been foolish enough to yell at him.
Nothing bad happened from Wednesday to Saturday - nothing more than a few worried glances from his parents, who seemed to be concerned that his anemia was affecting his mood. He never tried to change their minds or assure them otherwise. After all, in a way, he supposed they were right.
Len made it out to The Field a little early on Saturday. He kept his tread quiet, knowing that the vampire would still be aware of his presence before he actually got to the door of the shed, but feeling the need to move slowly and quietly all the same.
Sure enough, Leonard was about two yards away when the shed door burst open. Len froze - the vampire didn't stand in the threshold and wait for him with that smug smile, like he usually did. He rushed toward Leonard, a fierce scowl on his face, and Len was forced to fight hard against the urge to run. The man grabbed him by his hair and yanked his head back roughly. He ripped the scarf away and bit down hard on Leonard's neck. Len screamed. The pain was excruciating - much worse than it had ever been before. He tried to struggle, but the vampire growled and roughly yanked Len's hands down, crushing his wrists together in his powerful grip, putting even more pressure on Leonard's neck.
When the suction started, it felt like white-hot fire ripping through his body before coursing through those two agonizing points. He felt a sense of urgency and panic, like the blood was moving too fast - too much. There wouldn't be any left for him!
After what may have only been seconds, but what felt like hours, the vampire pulled back. His eyes were hard and cold as he stared down at Leonard. He opened his mouth, exposing his gleaming fangs. Slowly, saliva began to collect, swirling and mingling with the angry red of Leonard's blood, and dropping down from the fangs. Repulsed, Leonard tried again to pull away, but the vampire snarled, and gripped his arms so tight, he thought his wrists would snap. Len squeezed his eyes shut, and moments later, he heard the vampire spit, and felt the slimy liquid against his neck. His stomach lurched with a violent wave of nausea, but still the man held him tight. He released his vice-grip on Leonard's hair, and smeared the spittle onto his wound, then held his hand tightly over the wound for several seconds. Then, he shoved Leonard roughly to the ground, turned and walked back into the shed without a backward glance.
Leonard lay still in the uncut grass, his breaths hitching through choking sobs, waiting - praying for the pain and nausea to pass. His entire body ached, and his neck felt like someone had stuck a hot poker into him and left it there. He sorely regretted having lost his temper before. He'd had no idea that the vampire had somehow been making it easier for him before - or that there was a way to make it so horrific.
He wasn't sure how long he lay on the ground, but eventually, the pain lessened enough for him to move. He rolled over and slowly got to his hands and knees before he was forced to stop again. The nausea got worse, and he threw up - the lurching setting fire to his insides all over again. When he could, he searched for his scarf, got slowly to his feet, and stumbled his way home.
It took over an hour to get home at the slow pace he had to take. Once there, he took two aspirins, even though he doubted they could help with the harsh pain in his neck, and the aches all over his body. Exhausted though he was, it wasn't until after he'd seen the orange and purple light of dawn creeping through his bedroom window that he finally fell asleep.
His father patted the seat beside him on the couch. "I want to talk to you a minute."
Leonard swallowed and tried not to cringe, but he sat beside his father right away. "Somethin' wrong, Daddy?"
"Well, that's what I wanted to ask you. We're worried about you, son. The anemia isn't going away, and the way you've been the past two days? You're mother's plain terrified, and I'm not doing much better."
Leonard lowered his eyes. He'd been so sick and sore that he hadn't been able to move from his bed until Tuesday morning. He could tell his mother was frantic, but he'd been too dazed to even pretend he was all right for her sake. "I'm sorry to worry y'all, Daddy," he said. "But I'm... I'm okay, really."
"Leonard, now that is a bold-faced lie, and I know you couldn't look me in the eye and say that."
Len felt the heat rush to his face, and the wound on his neck pulsed and throbbed with the rush of blood, like punishment for the lie. "I'm sorry, Daddy, I..."
"Listen to me, son," David said gently. "I think I have an idea what may be troubling you." Leonard looked up sharply, and his father gave him a gentle smile. "Seems like this got started right around when we were told I might have to start chemotherapy. Now, Doctor Fine says anemia can be caused by stress. Not eatin' right, worryin' yourself-"
"Now, let me finish, son," his father said softly. "I know you don't want me to fret about you. I'Il bet you've been keepin' a lot of your own feelings inside, thinkin' I've got my own worries, and you don't want to add stress onto me and your mama by lettin' it show through. Is that about right?"
Slowly, Leonard nodded his head. His father might be a little off the mark with the exact reason for Len's condition, but it had all started because Leonard had been worried about his parents. "But... I... I still don't want you to worry, Daddy," he said. "It's-"
"Now, listen to me, son," David said, putting a hand on his son's shoulder. "I know you're trying to be strong - and you are strong, son. You've been shouldering all your burdens alone. But you're our son, Leonard. You are our top priority, y'hear?" Leonard nodded, feeling tears begin to trail down his cheeks. "I'd never put my own worries above helping you through yours. If you get nervous, or start feeling depressed about all this, I don't want you keepin' it all bottled up. You come talk to us, alright?"
"Okay," he said softly. He wished he could tell his father the whole truth - that there was a monster on the Field who had a hold on Leonard, and he'd dared to make the monster angry. But there was nothing he could do - even if his father believed him, his first thought would be to rush down there in the light of day and kill the vampire. But Leonard didn’t know what was true or false about vampire stories - why would he have ever needed to know? If his father went down there and the part about vampires sleeping through the day wasn't true, he'd be killed, and it would be Leonard's fault. No. He was in this alone, and the thought of presenting himself to the vampire to be tortured twice a week for the rest of his life brought sobs to his chest.
David pulled Leonard close and embraced him. "Listen, Len. I know you're scared. But we're in God's hands, son, and there's no trial he'd ever give you that you can't handle. Just remember, you don't have to try to handle it all on your own."
Leonard nodded and squeezed his father tight, allowing himself to be comforted by the strong embrace. He was touched that his father would put his own troubles aside for him, and he wanted to repay that by being just as strong in return. He was still nauseated by the idea of going back to the Field, but he shoved the thought of it to the back of his mind. He didn't have to go there now, and now, he wanted to do his best for his father. It was good to know, too, that if the stress of everything started to wear him down, he could come to his father without necessarily divulging the truth about why he was upset.
Leonard sat up after a few minutes, and smiled. "Thanks, Daddy," he said. "I feel a lot better."
"That's what I'm here for," his father said, patting his arm again.
For the rest of the week, Leonard did his best to appear cheerful around his parents. He still stuck close to them for the most part, but he forced himself to go off and do other things that he usually did during the summer. He couldn't do anything too strenuous, because he was still weakened by his last encounter with the vampire, but he went to town with friends and had pizza and chocolate soda, and laughed when his friends teased him about his "fancy schmancy scarf". At home, he threw darts with his father, and had a Cary Grant marathon with his mother, with videos from the library collection.
As Saturday drew near, putting on a brave face became more and more difficult. He didn't want to go. God, he didn't want to go. But there was no choice. Now, more than ever, Leonard firmly believed that if he didn't show up, he'd be signing his parents' death warrants, and his own. But the thought of going back terrified him, and the memory of that night began to haunt him no matter how much he tried to shove it to the back of his mind.
It wasn't the lengthy aftermath, or the worry he'd caused his parents that upset him the most. Even the pain hadn't been the worst part, though it had been more horrible than anything Leonard had ever felt before. No. The worst part was the feeling of being spat on, then roughly shoved to the ground after the vampire was done - used and discarded, literally like so much trash. Or, he thought grimly, like so much meat.
Leonard came up with a plan. It wasn't much of a plan, really, but it was the best he could do, and he prayed that it would work. Late Saturday night, after his parents had gone to bed, Leonard wrapped up the few items he'd gathered together and rolled them into his old sleeping bag. The sleeping bag was still plush and comfortable, and he hoped his parents wouldn't notice its absence. He tied the bag together, then crept out of the house, hefting his bundle on his back.
When he got closer to the shed, Leonard shifted the bundle so that he was holding it in front of him - he wanted the vampire to see it right away. Even with that little bit of semi-protection, he felt vulnerable and afraid. His arms shook, and his breathing felt ragged and raw.
Too soon for Leonard, the shed was in sight. Moments later, the door opened and the vampire stormed toward him, the same fierce expression on his face that he'd had the last time. Len's trembling increased, but he stood his ground. The man stopped about a foot away from him and looked at his bundle. "What the hell is that?"
"It's s-some... s-stuff I th-thought maybe... you could use," he stammered.
The man narrowed his eyes, and Leonard held his breath. Eyes still fierce, the vampire grabbed Leonard's arm and shoved him toward the shed. Len stumbled along, wincing when Jim violently threw the shed door open and yanked Len inside. He snatched the flashlight away from Leonard and shoved him to his knees. "Open it."
Hands still shaking, Leonard untied the bands and unrolled the sleeping bag. Looking at the contents now, as Jim scanned them with the flashlight, Leonard suddenly felt that his meager peace offering was pathetic and laughable. What could a vampire possibly need with any of this stuff? The vampire was silent, and Leonard feared that he was equally unimpressed. Finally, the man spoke. "What the fuck is this shit?"
Leonard cringed, too nervous to look up at him, and he fidgeted nervously with the sleeping bag ties. "It's... I th-thought... maybe, since you're out here, and there isn't m-much to do... Well... I brought th-the... my r-radio and some batteries, and... I f-found my extra flashlight, and... some books, and the c-cards for... well in case you... get bored. And the s-sleeping bag... I..." He swallowed hard, unnerved by the man's continued silence. "I... I know it's n-not much, s-sir, but... I just..."
The flashlight suddenly went off, and Leonard gasped and drew back. He heard the other man's footsteps, sure and swift in the darkened room. A moment later, Leonard was pulled to his feet and shoved against the wall of the shed. "No, please," Leonard whispered, feeling the man force his arms behind him. "Please d-don't do it like last time, sir, please. I... I'm s-sorry about-"
"Shhhh." Leonard shuddered, remembering the way the vampire had shushed him that first night. The man leaned close, pressing Leonard hard against the wall. Leonard could feel the tickle of his breath on his ear. "You yelled at me," he said softly.
"Shhhh." Leonard clamped his mouth shut. "You brought me that stuff to make up to me, right?" Leonard nodded, not sure if he was allowed to speak yet. Suddenly, Jim tightened his grip on Len's wrists and pressed his other hand hard against Leonard's throat. Cringing, Leonard struggled futilely to get away, but Jim only gripped him tighter, shoving him forcefully against the wall. "You think I'm your goddamn wife or your girlfriend or some shit?" he hissed. "You think you can just abuse me then bring me some fucking presents and wipe it away?!"
"No, no, please... I... w-was j-just... t-trying to... I'm s-sorry, s-sir, please I..." Leonard's words swiftly degenerated into incoherent sobbing. The vampire's painful grip on his wrists and the hand on his throat, hard and strong enough to snap his neck, were suddenly too much for Leonard. He felt his panic increasing. Trembling from head to toe, he tried to edge away, his sobs growing frantic when he wasn't able to move even an inch.
"Shhh." Jim stroked Leonard's neck gently, and hushed him again. "Shh, it's okay. Listen to me. Listen." The vampire shook him once, and Leonard struggled to quiet down, holding his breath to stifle the sobs. "You listening?" Leonard nodded. "I wasn't laughing at you that night," Jim said. "I was laughing at life. Fate, maybe. Not you. I've lived a long time, Leonard. I've seen a lot of death, and caused my share of it, too. I was thinking about human resilience. I was thinking about how, even though I could kill you any time and you know it, you've still got those big hopes." Jim was silent for a moment, just breathing, with his face next to Len's. Finally, he said, "You shouldn't jump to conclusions, Leonard. Okay?"
"Okay," he whispered shakily, too frightened to care that the tears could clearly be heard in his voice.
"Good. I'm glad we had this talk." Jim stroked his neck gently again, though his other hand still gripped Leonard's wrists tightly. "I like you, kid," he said softly. "Fucked if I know why. Maybe it's your smell." He pulled back, and Len could feel the man's eyes on him, even though he couldn't see anything except a vague shadow. "I showed you how bad it can be," Jim said. "Let me show you how good it can be."
The vampire suddenly let go of Leonard's wrists. Leonard stood still, afraid to move, even though he wanted to bolt out of the room. Jim touched Len's hair, and Leonard cringed, bracing himself for the grip. Instead of grasping him, though, Jim merely stroked him, running his fingers gently through Leonard's hair. Leonard was confused, and for a moment he felt even more nervous, but as the gentle stroking continued, he allowed himself to relax. Jim murmured softly, barely audible words, but they made Leonard feel incredibly soothed and comfortable. He closed his eyes, feeling the slightest bit drowsy. His trembling stopped, and he let out a contented sigh.
"That's good," Jim whispered, still in a soothing, almost sing-song tone. "That's nice, Leonard. Now. Give yourself to me. Lift up your chin, and let me have you." Leonard felt, at the back of his mind, that there might be something strange about the words Jim used - something that should frighten him. But he felt so good, and so peaceful, and he didn't want to mess things up by making the vampire angry again. Whatever the niggling concern was, it wasn't strong enough to overpower the urge to give Jim what he wanted. Leonard tilted his head back, and Jim made a sound somewhere between purring and growling. "Good," he whispered. "Good boy, Leonard."
Len soon felt the tender touch of the man's lips on his neck. He felt so comfortable and calm he couldn't even seem to brace himself for the bite. There was a brief pinch on his throat, and soon, the feeling of comfort increased - Leonard felt warm and light, almost as if he were floating down a stream on the warmest day of summer. He drifted on the feeling, more calm and peaceful than he'd been in weeks. A while later, there were soft, gentle kisses on his neck. Leonard arched his head back further, leaning toward the kisses. The kisses stopped, and there was a low chuckle from the vampire. Leonard heard himself whimper - felt his body strain toward the vampire. He wanted the kisses back - needed them. A moment later, the warm kisses were back, along with gentle licking that sent a warm, slow tingle down Leonard's body. There was no sense of revulsion now, and the tingle he felt, though something like arousal, wasn't urgent enough to jar him from his mellow, contented state.
Eventually, he felt his body tilting back. He blinked drowsily, but still couldn't see anything. He felt himself lifted up, and held lightly in the vampire's strong arms. He leaned his head against the man's chest, closed his eyes, and let sleep take him.
Slowly, Leonard blinked, and looked around him. He was lying on his own sleeping bag, and the vampire was beside him, playing an odd card game Leonard had never seen before with the deck Leonard had brought him. Leonard's flashlight was on the floor, pointed at the ceiling, bathing their part of the room in low light.
Len rubbed his eyes, and the vampire looked over at him. "How do you feel?"
"Fine, sir. Great, actually," Leonard said, almost surprised by how good he felt. His neck was a little sore, but not nearly as bad as it usually felt. He was thirsty and still a little drowsy, but other than that, he felt pretty damn good.
"Good," the vampire replied. He glanced at Leonard, and there was a small smile on his lips. "And Leonard? I think you can start calling me Jim, now," he said. "You've shared yourself freely with me. I think we can officially say we know each other on a first name basis."
Leonard felt himself blushing, and he wasn't even exactly sure why. Something about the concept of "sharing himself freely" had... connotations. He decided against worrying about it just then. Even though he still felt peaceful, he hadn't forgotten the pain and terror of the time before. The vampire seemed to be in a good mood, and Leonard intended to keep it that way.
Len sat up slowly, and Jim got up and dug inside his cardboard box. He pulled out a juice box and a package of cookies and brought them over. "You should eat," he said. "You feel good, but you'll still be light-headed if you try to stand up."
"Thanks," Leonard said, taking the food. "And... thanks for... for not hurting me this time."
Jim nodded and sat down in front of his cards again. "Thanks for the stuff."
"You're welcome," Len said. "I... I didn't mean it to come off like-"
"Don't worry about it," Jim said with a wave of his hand. "It was a good thought, I was just pissed."
Leonard nodded and looked down at the box of juice. "Why was it so easy this time? I read vampires can hypnotize you. Is that true? Is that how-"
"How I tricked you into giving yourself to me?" he asked sharply, looking up with anger in his eyes.
Leonard shook his head nervously. "N-no, sir, I didn't mean tricked," he said. "I… I'm just... trying to understand."
Jim seemed to relax again. He went back to his cards for a few moments before speaking again. "Some of the older ones can literally hypnotize, but the person usually has to be weak and easily swayed by regular means. Some who are old enough and powerful enough can hypnotize humans whether they're strong-willed or not. I don't have that kind of power. I just helped you calm down." He looked up at Leonard, eyes piercing. "Your decision was your own. And yes, if you give yourself willingly, then I have the power to make it good like that."
Leonard nodded slightly, still on edge. "So... but before, I did it willingly, didn't I?"
"No," Jim said. "Not really. Before, you did it out of fear. You did it to save your parents. This time, you did it because you wanted to."
They were silent for a few minutes, while Leonard slowly ate his food and Jim resumed his curious game. Then suddenly, Jim said, "Ever played poker?" Len shook his head. "Well," Jim said with a smile. "Prepare to experience one of America's greatest traditions."
The next week, going to the Field didn't seem like the walk to his death that it had felt like the last time. He was still nervous about being around Jim. Naturally, there was the chance that Jim automatically going back to the old way of doing things, and Leonard was unsure how to ask him to do it the "good" way again. Then, there was the fact that Jim seemed to be very touchy and quick to anger, which meant staying on his good side was a difficult task. But even still, his absolute dread of the place was gone.
When he reached the shed, Jim came out to greet him, but instead of standing at the door and leering, he gave him a friendly smile. "Come in."
Leonard stepped inside and looked around in surprise. The room was lit by Leonard's spare flashlight. His sleeping bag had been supplemented with a large pillow, and the blanket Jim already owned was folded at the foot of it. There were two lawn chairs in one corner of the room, with an overturned wooden crate between them. The radio sat on the crate, turned to a classical music station. "Wow," Leonard said.
Jim laughed. "I'm a regular Suzie Homemaker, right?"
Leonard chuckled. "Guess so. It looks good."
"Right." He smiled again and said, "Okay, what's first? Cards or dinner?"
Leonard suppressed a shudder, still managing to keep the half smile on his face. At least he was being offered a choice. "Well, last time I think I was at a disadvantage with the poker game. The blood loss made me-"
"Bullshit!" Jim said with a laugh. "That wasn't blood loss, you're just a horrible liar. But whatever, we'll play cards first."
Jim sat down at his make-shift table, and gestured for Leonard to sit down across from him. Jim dealt, and they began their game. As before, Leonard was pretty pathetic at poker. No matter how still and serious he kept his face, Jim always knew when he was bluffing and when he wasn't. After his fifth loss, Leonard let out an exasperated sigh. "I don't get it! It's like you're psychic or something!"
Jim laughed gleefully and Leonard glared at him, which only seemed to delight him all the more. "Okay, okay," he said, when he'd finally calmed down enough to speak. "I guess I'm not exactly being fair."
"So you are psychic?"
"No, not exactly," Jim said, still grinning. "But I have heightened senses. I can tell when you're anxious - I can hear your heart beating, remember?" Leonard swallowed, but kept his good-natured "indignant" face on. "That and I'm a lot older than you are - I've had some time to learn to read other signals."
"Uh-huh," Leonard said thoughtfully. "So, how old are you?"
"Twenty-five," Jim said. Leonard frowned. He painted himself as such a sage, but if he was only... "Or two hundred eight, depending on how you look at it."
Leonard's eyes widened. "So... you were born..."
"Seventeen seventy-nine," he answered. "And I was turned at twenty-five."
"Wow, that's... a long time."
Jim shrugged. "I suppose so. The man who turned me was born before the bubonic plague."
"Yeah." Jim frowned and shuffled his cards.
Len watched his hands moving for a few moments, fascinated by how graceful they seemed. He'd seen the man brutally gripping a chicken and sucking it dry, so to see the same hands casually shuffling a deck of cards was mildly bizarre. Those same hands had been around his neck more than once, too, which made his stomach churn. Think about something else. "So..." He cleared his throat. "If you've been alive all this time, I'd think you'd be a millionaire by now."
Jim gave him a wry chuckle. "Amassing riches attracts attention," he said. "And one thing you don't want when you never age and you kill to live is attention."
Leonard swallowed hard. Changing the subject hadn't been as successful as he'd hoped. "Guess that makes sense," he said aloud.
"Not to say that I've never been wealthy," Jim said. "But things change, and right now, I just happen to be on a downturn. I came down here because I figured no one would look for me in a place like this - tiny farm town."
"Are people looking for you?" Leonard asked nervously.
Jim shrugged. "Maybe. I'm not sure, but if they are, they won't look here." They were silent again, but Jim's mood seemed to have darkened. He shuffled the cards roughly, pounding them onto the table and scowling at them as if they had offended him in some way. Leonard found himself tensing, and he jumped when Jim suddenly slammed the cards down on the table and stood up. "I'm hungry!"
Leonard stood up right away, but his fists clenched nervously, and he found he couldn't look at Jim's face. "Okay. But..." He raised his eyes until he was looking somewhere around Jim's chin. "Can we do it like... like-"
"That's up to you," Jim said, his tone more gentle this time. He moved closer and Len didn't edge away. Jim reached out and touched Len's arm, stroking gently. Leonard felt himself start to calm down, and Jim gestured to the sleeping bag. "Lie down," he whispered.
Leonard moved to the sleeping bag, feeling his heart start to pound even though he was supposed to be growing calmer. He sat down on the sleeping bag and looked up at Jim, knowing that his nervous would have been obvious to anyone, much less a person with Jim's preternatural senses.
"It's okay," Jim said, kneeling beside him. "C'mon, lay down." He pressed his hands against Len's chest, but didn't force. Leonard lay back resting his head against the pillow. Jim leaned over him and Leonard's breaths quickened. "It's okay," Jim said again, stroking his hair. "Everything is okay." Jim leaned down, and despite his nervousness, Leonard lifted his chin, offering his neck to the vampire.
Jim began with the same slow, soft kisses that he had before. Leonard felt a soothing, warm sensation flowing over him, and he leaned into it, closing his eyes and allowing himself to enjoy the sensation. He barely felt the pinch of Jim's teeth before the warm, calm feelings increased and he knew that Jim was taking blood. Once again, there was a vague feeling - the ghost of a feeling - that he should be concerned, but the warmth and beauty and safety he felt overrode everything, making the concern seem utterly insignificant.
Soon, the gentle kissing and licking began again. This time, the feeling of arousal was much stronger than it had been before. That worried him a little, but not enough to keep him from leaning into the kisses. Before long, and without consciously deciding to do so, Leonard wrapped an arm around the vampire. Jim didn't protest, and when Leonard tried to pull him closer, Jim allowed himself to be drawn in.
Soon, the "healing" began to seem more like a passionate necking session. Part of Leonard wanted to stop - shove Jim away and work out why or how he could possibly have these feelings with a man. Another part of him just wanted the good feelings to continue.
In the end, Len didn't try to stop it. He justified it by blaming Jim's fickle temperament. He couldn't risk upsetting the man now - not when they were getting along, and certainly not now that he knew how awful things could be when Jim was angry.
Jim licked him and kissed him, growing more passionate with each passing moment. He gripped Len's hair - firm, but not painful this time - and the tension sent a thrill shooting through him. Leonard grasped at Jim's shirt, breathing hard as the tension built within him so much that he didn't have any more room for worries or justifications. There was only heat and yearning and clutching and breathing. Finally, the tension reached a fever pitch, and a moment later, there was a tell-tale dampness at his groin.
Jim held him tight, and continued to kiss him for a few seconds more, before he let out a sound somewhere between a growl and a scream, and his grip tightened almost painfully. A moment later, he, too, relaxed. He lay beside, and half on top of Leonard, and the two of them just breathed. As the moments passed, the comfortable haze began to abate, and Leonard began to actually think about what had happened. Technically, he'd just... with a man. Or... a male, anyway. What did that mean? Was he...
"You're worrying," Jim said quietly. He rolled slightly and propped himself up on one arm. He looked down at Leonard with a serious expression, something akin to concern. Leonard opened his mouth to speak, but he had no idea what to say. Jim patted his shoulder gently. "It's okay," he said softly. "If... when you do it this way, it's natural for your body to react. It's like an instinct. You don't have to think of it as anything more than that if the concept bothers you."
Leonard relaxed a little and Jim smiled. Len assumed that he'd noticed some change in Len's heart rate or some minor change of expression. Jim patted Leonard's arm again and said, "But as to that concept. When..." He paused, almost like he was searching for the right words. "When you live long enough, certain boundaries don't seem as important as they used to - or even as they still are to people with such transient life spans."
He looked Len in the eyes for a brief moment, then laid on his back and stared at the ceiling. Leonard took the statement in, but refused to allow himself to analyze anything. He edged a fraction closer to Jim, so that their hands were touching, and joined Jim in his study of the shed's ceiling.
For the next several weeks, Leonard spent every Saturday night, and most Wednesday nights with Jim in The Field, learning more about poker, and card games no one played anymore like "whist", and "faro", and later, giving himself to Jim. Jim stayed in a pleasant mood almost all the time - apparently, it was better for Jim, too, when the blood was given freely. He was patient, and friendly to a fault, and it seemed that the only thing that could bring his mood down was thinking about the vampire who formed him, or of the people who might or might not be looking for him. Leonard quickly learned not to ask Jim about people he'd known, or much about his past at all, and after a while, he no longer felt like he was walking on eggshells when he came around Jim.
For the first few nights after their discussion, Leonard had struggled not to think about the "event" too deeply. Thinking about it made him feel uncomfortable and set him on edge. He told himself it didn't matter that he had counted the days until he would see Jim again. It didn't matter that he'd awoken three separate nights to physical reminders of his vivid dreams of lying close to Jim, head tilted, neck exposed, Jim's mouth firmly attached, and their bodies pulsing together in physical bliss. Instinct, he'd told himself. It was instinct.
But the week after, when he'd lay on that sleeping bag, waiting with his arms open - welcoming, but not beckoning - he knew that there was no use denying it any longer, not even to himself. He wanted Jim's touch. Wanted the closeness, the mouth on his neck, and all the feelings that came with it. So when Jim's hand began to seek his skin, and to rove lower on his body, he didn't try to stop him. When his own hand seemed to move of its own volition to Jim's body, he let the hand do what it wanted. And when they began helping each other along to that fever-pitch of tension, he didn't allow himself to think about what the world might believe was right or wrong. It felt good, it didn't hurt anyone, and it certainly didn't involve anyone else. It was their time, and to him, it was something beautiful.
About two weeks before school was scheduled to start, Leonard paused on his trek toward the shed, at the sound of raised voices coming from Jim's "house". "You are!" came a female voice. "You're being so stubborn!"
"And why shouldn't I?" Jim shouted back. "You know what, maybe you should try minding your own goddam business!"
Leonard crept forward, stopping behind one of the larger collections of shrubs and trees, where he could watch without being seen. He was curious about why they were arguing, but thought it might not be the best idea to startle them by just walking up to the fire. The new voice belonged to a slim Black woman who appeared to be in her early twenties - maybe a couple years younger than Jim. She had an angular face - hard but beautiful features - and her long hair was straightened and pulled back into a tight braid. She was well-dressed, wearing dark jeans and a black turtle-neck. She was a striking figure compared to the way Jim looked in his well-worn clothes - the same grayish pants and shirt Leonard had seen him in that first night.
The two continued yelling at each other - Jim was a stubborn, pig-headed fool, and the woman was a nosy, pig-headed busy-body. Their fury was fairly terrifying, and Leonard kept as still as he could while he watched. He already knew what Jim's anger was like, but this was obviously a subject much deeper and more upsetting than the things Leonard had done to annoy him in the past. Now, Leonard was sharply reminded that, while Jim had once been human, he was not so anymore. He moved as Len had seen angry humans move - his jaw was clenched, his eyes blazed, and he punched the air furiously with his finger to accentuate his points. But there was an intensity to his movements that Leonard had never seen before. His whole body seeming to take part in the discussion - like a magnification of the angriest, most infuriated body language Leonard had ever seen.
The woman was no better. Her entire body also seemed to be involved in the discussion - the rage and frustration coming through loud and clear in every movement. Len was glad he had decided to stay in the shadows.
"What the hell are you even doing here?" Jim snapped.
"Did he send you here?!"
"You know better than that," she said sharply. "He's a hundred times more stubborn than you!"
Jim glared, throwing his arms up in an exasperated gesture. "Then what makes you think he'll let me in, even if I wanted come back?"
The woman sighed. "He loves you, Jim! You're his-"
"I know what I am to him, Nyota," he shouted. "I know what he did to me, too! I know what he said!" He paced furiously on the far side of the small fire, and Len cringed again at the absolute fury in his face. "I thought you of all people would be on my side!"
"I am, Baba," she cried. "I am on your side, why do you think I'm here? I hate seeing you like this! Living out here in bumblefuck Georgia, in a creaky old shed, living on vermin!"
"Why do you assume I'm living on vermin?"
"There's no word about mysterious disappearances in this place, and it's too small for you to have settled long if you're actually feeding on humans. What else could you be doing?"
"You'd be surprised," he said. Leonard stifled a chuckle, wondering if their... "partnership" was supposed to be a secret. "Look, I-"
"Wait," she said softly, holding up her hand. "What's that?"
"What?" Jim asked, on alert in an instant.
Leonard shuddered, chilled by their animal-like senses. Less than a second later, they both looked in his direction. Jim smiled slightly, but Nyota scowled and her body tensed. Leonard felt his heart start to pound furiously in his chest, and the woman focused her gazed directly at his eyes, even though she couldn't - shouldn't - be able to see him.
Len felt a sudden, violent, paralyzing sense of terror. The woman crouched, so subtly he didn't think he would have seen it if every nerve and cell in his body had not already been focused on her. The rest was a blur of heart-pounding fear. Now, he didn't have the shock of disbelief to give him pause as he had when he'd first seen Jim. He also had no time to think about calling to Jim for help. His brain functions had been instantly reduced to the barest, most primal sense of self preservation - his body carried the message, where his mind couldn't: she wants to kill me, and I don't want to die.
Leonard ran away from her as fast as he could. He heard sounds - footsteps, Jim's voice - but he couldn't understand anything except his own mind screaming get away. The worst part was, he knew he couldn't. She would outrun him, she would bring him down, and she would devour him. He glanced behind him, and immediately wished he hadn't - the woman was no more than a couple of feet behind him. He didn't even have time to look ahead again before she vaulted, slamming him to the ground. The struggle was little more than a formality - a vain attempt to push her away, followed by his arms being gripped tightly, and his body being shoved back against the ground again.
Leonard stared up at her, his eyes wide, his breaths rasping and shallow. He heard Jim's voice again, and this time he understood the words. "Ny, stop!" She didn't listen, or maybe she couldn't hear through her own rage. She jerked Len's head roughly to one side, snatched the scarf away and gasped. The woman stared down at him for a split second, in pure amazement, before she was suddenly slammed away in a blur of gray and black.
Leonard slowly turned his head, too afraid to move more than that. The two vampires tumbled and struggled with each other for a few moments, before Jim finally ended up on top. He snarled at her, baring his teeth, and the woman closed her eyes and lifted her chin to expose her neck. "Okay," she said softly, mingling the casual phrase with the body language of a defeated animal. "I didn't know he was yours."
Jim glared at her for a second longer, before getting up and coming over to where Leonard lay. "You okay?" he asked, helping Len to sit up. Leonard nodded, too breathless to speak. "Sorry about that," Jim said. "She's a friend, she just..."
"It's okay," Leonard said. He saw something moving over Jim's shoulder, and couldn't stop the cringe when he saw Nyota approaching.
Jim squeezed his arm reassuringly, and the woman picked up Len's scarf and handed it to him. "Sorry," she said, much as if she'd stepped on his toe.
Leonard took the scarf with a shaking hand, and Jim patted his arm. "C'mon, sit by the fire." He did as he was told, and Jim went inside the shed, sending Leonard into a silent panic. Did he just leave me alone with this killer?? The woman sat down across from him at the fire, and watched him. Although her expression was indifferent, Leonard was nervous, and the shuddering in his body was certainly wasn't caused by the late-night summer breeze.
A few awkward moments later, Jim trotted out and sat beside Len. "Here," he said, handing Leonard a small bottle of Jack Daniels. "That'll make you feel better." Len took the alcohol, and Jim tossed a package of cookies to Nyota, then opened a package himself.
"I can't believe you have a thrall!" the woman said, ignoring the snack.
Jim sighed. "I knew you wouldn't like it. But-"
"It's not right, Jim! It's too much like slavery!"
"It's not like-"
"Kill them, leave them or turn them, isn't that what we-"
"Look, I know what we talk about," Jim snapped, silencing her for a moment. "But this isn't that kind of situation. It's not like the old-worlders, he has a choice!"
She rolled her eyes. "Oh, right! So he just came up to you and said, 'hey, can you feed off me whenever you want'?"
"Of course he didn't! So you forced him! Jim-"
"I told you, it's not like the-"
"It doesn't matter," she snapped. "It's wrong, and you know-"
"What?" he cried, his face and his voice so filled with rage that Len edged away from him. "What the fuck do I know, Nyota? I know that I decided to join society again and suddenly everybody thinks they're fucking qualified to run my fucking LIFE! Between you and him-"
"Jim, I didn't-"
"-can't get a fucking break! And you, of all people, I thought would have some fucking faith in me!"
"But instead, you're in my territory, condemning me for wanting to have some company without-"
"- through a fucking approval process! Why did you even come here anyway??"
"I wanted to see how you were!" she cried. "I was worried and-"
"Well, you've seen, so you can leave now."
She frowned again. "Please, I... I don't want to fight with you, Baba," she said. He continued to scowl, and the woman sighed and lowered her head. "All right. Okay, I'll-"
"You don't have to go," he said, still speaking tersely, but with less fury. She looked up at him, face still somber. "You know... okay, so it wasn't by choice at first . But he gave himself to me of his own free will. Didn't you?" Leonard nodded nervously. "I don't like slavery any more than you do, and you know that. But you didn't even ask him what he thinks before you..." He sighed and glanced at Len. "Why don't you ask him now, hm? What do you think, Leonard? You want me to kill you?"
"You want me to leave you alone?"
"No," he replied, surprised by how quickly he'd answered the second question. A month ago, the answer would most certainly have been yes.
"And now old are you," Jim asked.
"Sixteen," Leonard said hesitantly. "Why does-"
"Well?" Jim said, looking pointedly at Nyota, as if he'd made his point.
Apparently, he had, because the woman conceded. "Okay, Baba, okay," she said. "I'll leave it alone." She glanced at Leonard for a second, and said to Jim, "I'm glad you found someone."
"Thank you," Jim said, finally seeming to relax. He leaned back and shook his head. "So, you still with Chilli Bowl?"
There was a twitch from the girl, and suddenly, Jim had his hand in front of his face, fist closed on a large stone. Leonard gasped. "Holy-"
Jim laughed uproariously and tossed the stone over his shoulder. "Was it something I said?"
"Asshole," Nyota announced. "You're an asshole."
He chuckled again. "Okay, okay. Are you still with that charming young beau you met in the most amazing moment of your life?"
"Why don't you shut your fucking face," she snapped, but she was smiling. "And yes, we're still together. And Hikaru turned that boy he found, too."
"You're kidding! He couldn't have been more than-"
"I know! I think he must have lied about his age to Hikaru, too, but Chris saw through it of course."
Jim shook his head, and Leonard took another sip of whiskey while listening to the fascinating conversation that passed for gossip among vampires. "Risky," Jim said. "How'd Chris take it?"
"He was pissed," she replied. "He was going to expose him, but he let it go. I think it's mostly because it was so soon after you left. He doesn't want everyone thinking he's an unreasonable hardass."
"He is an unreasonable hardass."
Nyota chuckled and rolled her eyes. "Okay, Baba. Sure."
"What-" Len cringed when the woman glared sharply at him. She relaxed a second later, and Jim patted Leonard’s arm encouragingly. "W-what does 'baba' mean?" he asked softly.
"It means 'father' in Swahili," Nyota answered.
Len's eyebrows rose, and Jim nodded. "I turned Ny back in '59. Eighteen fifty-nine," he clarified.
"Yeah, we go way back," Jim said smiling.
Leonard felt a sudden surge of jealousy, and he struggled to quell the feeling before the other two noticed any change. The feeling confused him. Why should he be jealous? How could he feel possessive of someone he really barely knew, and who had come into his life as a murderer of the worst kind - a monster who spared him to hold him hostage in exchange for his parents' lives. Still, the feeling was there all the same. He envied this woman - envied her closeness to Jim. Envied the years - over a hundred years that she'd known him.
"So," Nyota said, opening the package of cookies Jim had given her before the argument started. "How long have you known..."
"Leonard," Jim said. "Sorry, Leonard McCoy, Nyota Uhura; Nyota, Leonard."
"Nice to meet you, ma'am," he said.
She smiled, and nodded. "Nice to meet you, too. Sorry again about the mix-up."
"It's okay," he said.
"I've been down here about five months," Jim said. "But I met Leonard close to three months ago." He popped one of the cookies in his mouth, and Leonard stared, suddenly realizing what he was seeing.
"Hey, you... you eat food?" Leonard asked incredulously.
"Sure," Jim said. "Guess I haven't been in the mood for it the past few weeks, but I eat when I feel like it."
"But... I thought..."
"What, that we only drink blood?"
Nyota giggled, and Jim shook his head. "No. Look, you eat candy, don't you?" Jim asked.
"Well, there you go, so do we. Except everything we used to eat is like candy - no nutritional value, but some of it tastes good." Leonard smiled, more pleased than he expected to be to share something with Jim as mundane and human as junk food.
They talked a little more, about people Len didn't know, and events he didn't understand, until Nyota finally said she had to get going. "You have a place to stay?" Jim asked.
She nodded. "I've made arrangements. Jim... would you at least consider-"
"No," he said sharply. "Not now. And I don't want them to know where I am."
She signed, clearly disappointed. "Don’t worry, I won't tell anyone," she said.
"Thanks, Ny. It was good seeing you."
"Good seeing you, too." With a nod to Leonard, she stood and stepped away from the fire.
"Oh, and Ny?" She looked questioningly at him. "If you're hungry, this town is off limits, ok?"
With a brief glance at Leonard, she smiled. "Aye, aye, sir," she said, giving Jim a playful salute. A moment later, she disappeared into the night.
Leonard stared at the place where she'd been standing, as if he could understand how she'd seemed to vanish into thin air just by looking hard enough. "Come on," Jim said, getting to his feet and stamping out the fire. "Let's lie down."
When school started, Leonard continued to see Jim as often as possible. He warned Jim that the Field was often used as a hang-out for local school kids, but Jim seemed unconcerned. Leonard found out why soon enough. Before long, rumors started going around school that The Field was haunted. More than one student reported that they'd heard supernatural-sounding voices near the shed, and one story had it that three boys had braved the voices and tried to go farther in, only to be shoved forcefully to the ground, even though no one besides themselves was there. It wasn't long before Leonard's friends talked about other, "safer" places to hang out after school.
As the weeks passed, the family grew more and more concerned for David's health. Family members came by almost every week to sit with them, and talk to David. Leonard was glad to see them, but the visits frightened him, too. They made him feel too much like his family was coming to pay their last respects.
The chemotherapy was taking its toll on David, but though the cancer seemed to have slowed at first, their doctor said it was spreading again. David was too tired and weak to handle the farm work. He refused to let Leonard drop out of the football team, and they talked about hiring a hand to help. Mr. Wilson flatly refused to let them do it when they were already so strained paying the medical bills, and he "loaned" them one of his own hands to help with the farm. He refused to take money, but he did accept the pies, cakes, and casseroles that Eleanor heaped on him.
Jim was sympathetic when Leonard told him his troubles. He felt strange pouring out his fears and anxieties to a man who'd lived to see two centuries, and who'd been ready to kill his father a few months before. But Jim listened to him and encouraged him to keep hoping, and he was there with a shoulder when the tears that Leonard had been holding back in front of his parents finally came gushing out.
Finally, after nearly nine months of battle, it became clear that David was losing against the disease. Dr. Fine gave him the option of discontinuing chemotherapy, and David chose to do so. He stayed in the hospital for a while, but soon, he announced that he hated the sterility of the hospital, and he wanted to be at home. Leonard stayed with him as much as possible, horrible as it was to see his father so ill. He knew he had limited time, and he wanted to spend as much of it as he could with him. They talked a lot during these times. Sometimes, they talked about nothing - just random things. Chicken hatchlings, fence mending, Len's teachers. Other times, David talked about his hopes for Leonard, and his wishes.
Eventually, Leonard began to notice the pain. His father tried not to worry him, but as things got worse, he couldn't hide it anymore. Soon, Leonard could overhear his mother talking to relatives over the phone about hospice care. She brought it up to David, but he was skeptical. "I don't want to be so out of it that I don't know who anyone is. I don't want to go that way." Eleanor respected his wishes, but it was difficult to see his father struggling so much.
On one particularly bad night, after Eleanor had gone to her weekly card game (David had insisted), Leonard went in to check on his father, only to find him sitting up in the bed, tears streaking down his face. "Daddy?" he whispered, hurrying to his father's side. "What's the matter, Daddy, what is it? Is it-"
"I'm alright, son," he said, though his voice was strained. "I'm... it's just treating me worse than usual today. I..." He brushed at his tears, but when he looked up at Leonard, they flowed again. "It hurts so much, Leonard," he whispered. "I... I don't want to lose you early, but... nights like this..."
His lip quivered, and Leonard's vision blurred. He took his father's hand. "I... I'm so sorry, Daddy," he said in a quavering whisper. "I wish..." He couldn't continue, but his father nodded.
"I know, Len. I know it. Let's just... hand me one of those pills, and just sit with me a while, son." Leonard helped his father take a pain pill, then pulled up a chair and sat beside the bed. David took hold of his son's hand again, and they sat without speaking until it seemed David had finally drifted to sleep.
Slowly, Leonard pulled his hand away and crept out of the room. He was nearly beside himself by the time he got to his room. He'd never felt more frightened, or more alone in all his life. He sat on his bed, clutched his pillow to him, and wept. He wished he could call his mother, but he didn't want to interrupt her one night away from this misery just to tell her he was afraid to lose his father but hated seeing him in pain at the same time.
Was this what Jim meant? How hard it was to watch someone waste away? He squeezed the pillow even harder. He wished Jim were here. It still seemed strange, but Jim was a good listener, and pillows couldn't put their arms around you. But he couldn't leave the house to go to the Field - couldn't leave his father while his mother was away. He sat back on the bed, leaning against the headboard, and tried not to think about anything.
A few minutes later, he was started by the sound of tapping on his window. He gasped, and frowned at the window. What? He stood up slowly, and jumped again when the tapping started - a sharp rap against the window. He opened the curtains and yelped. Jim was outside, looking calmly into the window. "Jim?"
He smiled, and motioned for Leonard to open the window. He did so, and Jim rested his hands on the windowsill. "Hi."
"How... how did you find me? Did you-"
"I've known where you live for a while now," Jim said. "But I came tonight because you called me."
Jim smiled. "I felt you call me. Were you thinking of me a few minutes ago?"
"I... yeah," he said, stunned. "You... said you weren't psychic."
"I can't read your thoughts, but you're my..." He hesitated, as if he wasn't sure what word he wanted to use, then shrugged. "You're mine in a way. We're connected because you share your blood with me. I know when you're feeling any strong emotions, and I know when you want me near you." Leonard stared at him with wide eyes, breathing hard. "Can I come in?"
Leonard opened his mouth to answer, then stopped suddenly, remembering the legend about vampires not being able to enter a house without an invitation. He was nervous, but ashamed of his own hesitation. "I..."
"Len," Jim said. "It's true, I can't come in unless you invite me. But here's a secret most people don't know. You can uninvite me any time. We're kind of like regular people in that way."
Leonard smiled, and shook his head, feeling even more embarrassed. "Jim, I didn't mean-"
"It's okay," Jim said. "I understand. But I'd never hurt your family, Len. I gave you my word, remember?"
Leonard nodded, and stepped back. "Come in."
Jim smiled and lifted himself effortlessly through the window, like a gymnast hopping over the horse. "So, what's wrong?" he asked. "Your father?"
Leonard frowned, and felt the tears springing to his eyes again almost immediately. Suddenly, the mysteries of sharing blood, and not-exactly-psychic connections seemed very unimportant. He nodded and sat heavily on the bed. "He's getting worse," he said softly. "It's getting... harder for him."
Jim sat beside him on the bed. "I'm sorry to hear that," he said. "Need to talk about it?"
Len shook his head slightly, not even sure what he wanted to say to Jim. Instead, he leaned close, and Jim put his arm around him. In spite of his reluctance, soon, Leonard was telling Jim everything - the pain his father was in, his father's worries about hospice care and not being lucid enough to be with his family, his own fears. "I don't want him to die like this," Leonard said. "Hurting, and..."
Jim nodded. "I can..." He cut himself off, and shook his head, squeezing Leonard a little tighter.
"You can what?" Len asked, feeling like he knew what Jim was going to say.
"I could... help. If you wanted. But..."
Len shuddered, reeling from the enormity of what Jim was suggesting - the idea that he could give the word, and Jim would end his father's suffering - but also end any chance for them to talk to him, or be with him ever again. "I..."
"I'm sorry," Jim said suddenly. "I shouldn't have said it. It's not fair to put that kind of burden on you."
Leonard looked up at him and managed a smile. "You're trying to help me," he said. "But... I... I'm not sure I have the right to make that choice. My mother..."
"Right," Jim said softly. "Of course."
They didn't speak any more that night - Leonard just leaned against his strong chest, and enjoyed the feeling of Jim's arm around him. A few minutes before the car pulled up, Jim announced that his mother was almost home, and he should go. "Do you want..." He didn't finish the question, but lifted his chin just a little.
Jim's eyes gleamed, but he shook his head. "Not tonight," he said. "Be with your family tonight, Len." Leonard nodded, and Jim went to the window. "Remember. If you want to uninvite me, just say, 'James Tiberius Kirk, you are not allowed inside my house'. Okay?"
Len nodded, and he slipped out and vanished from sight. Leonard shut the window after him, spent an hour or so with his mother (who arrived about three minutes later), then went to sleep.
A few days later, David and Eleanor sat down with Leonard, and David told them he was ready to give at-home hospice care a try.
Eleanor arranged everything, and made it clear that, above all, David wanted to remain lucid and able to communicate with his family until the very end. They were visited by a barrage of doctors, nurses and counselors who discussed every aspect of the process with them. All the people coming in and out, and all the deep, heartfelt conversations were overwhelming to Leonard. It felt wrong discussing the potential loss of his father with strangers, no matter how qualified they were. The more he discussed it, the more real and horrifying it all felt.
For a while, though, his father seemed to be doing better. He was more cheerful, and the pain wasn't nearly as bad as it had been before. But after a few months, he seemed to take a turn for the worse. He refused to talk to the nurses and counselors, and he demanded he be taken off the strong pain medication. One evening, he spent hours in his room alone with Eleanor. When she came out, her eyes were red and shining, and she asked Leonard to go inside.
The conversation that ensued was one that Leonard knew would stay with him forever. David didn't expect to live much longer - not more than a week - and he wanted to take the time now to explain to Leonard all that he wanted for him and how much he loved him. "I may sound cliché, Leonard, but... I'll always be with you. Everything I've taught you. All my love for you. It'll all still be here. Do you understand that, son?"
Leonard could only cry and nod his head. His father reached for him, and Len embraced him - careful not to squeeze too tight, and hating that he had to take care. He would have stayed with his father all night, but David told him to go to bed so he wouldn't get a crick in his neck from sleeping awkwardly. He asked for one more pill before Len left, and Leonard could see that the strain of hiding his pain was affecting him. He gave him the pill and left the room.
Leonard was only a little surprised when, ten minutes later, there was a tap on his window. He opened it, and Jim came lifted himself noiselessly inside. "He'll be gone soon," Len said, his lip trembling.
Jim nodded. "I know." He opened his arms, and Leonard hugged him tight, feeling like Jim's strong embrace was a shield against all the emotions welling up inside.
They stayed that way for what seemed like hours. Finally, Leonard forced out the words that had been struggling to come almost from the moment Jim came in. "I... I d-don't want him to be in pain anymore," he choked out.
Jim took a deep breath, and tightened his hold on Leonard. "I know," he said again, in a barely audible whisper. "I know you don't." Nothing more. He didn't promise to make the pain stop, or give Leonard any reassurances. He just held him tight for a few more minutes, then held him slightly away from him to look into his eyes. "You should get some sleep," he said softly.
Leonard nodded, suddenly feeling exhausted beyond belief. He let Jim guide him to the bed and carefully tuck him in. He was asleep before Jim left the room.
The next morning, Leonard's mother woke him gently, but when he opened his eyes to look at her, he was surprised by the tears streaming down her face. Leonard sat up immediately, and his mother squeezed him tightly to her. He returned the embrace, feeling like the wind had been knocked out of him. She didn't have to say anything for him to know what happened, but he found himself asking all the same. "Is he..."
She nodded. "Yes, honey," she said, squeezing him tighter. "Yes, he's gone. He's gone." She held him even tighter, almost making it hard for him to breathe, but he didn't care. He squeezed her back just as hard. His chest heaved with silent sobs that finally erupted when his mother stroked his back and murmured that it was okay to let go.
What followed was a haze of emotions, interrupted by "things we have to take care of". There were a thousand insignificant things that seemed to magnify themselves in his mind because they had happened Today - the day he lost his father. A bird started twittering the second he looked toward his father's bedroom. Two of the kids from school were racing each other on bikes past the house as if they didn’t know. But of course, they didn't. His own hands refused to stop trembling for more than an hour, no matter how hard he clenched them. Everything that was important to his father seemed to draw him in - his favorite arm chair, his coffee mug, his hat hanging on the stand in the hall - there was hardly anything in the house that didn't remind him of his father.
Leonard felt compelled to go into the room and see his father. Eleanor said he didn't have to, but he had to see - had to know. There was a slow and steady feeling of dread growing in his gut that there would be two obvious points in his neck, and the bruising Leonard had seen on his own neck so often over the past months. He knew that he'd as much as asked Jim to release his father from his constant pain, but there was still something terrible about it - something indescribably wrong about being the agent of his father's death, no matter how many times his mother chanted that he was in a better place.
Hands still shaking, Leonard opened the door to his father's room, nearly cringing as he stepped inside. His father lay in complete stillness, tucked into the covers with his eyes closed, just as if he were asleep. The only indication that he wasn't sleeping was how utterly still he was - not even the most shallow hint of movement from his chest to indicate he was still breathing. His mother stood in the doorway, and he was glad for her comforting presence as he moved slowly toward the bed. He still had the impression that his father was sleeping - like if he could just shake him hard enough, he would wake up.
Leonard's eyes were drawn inexorably to his father's neck. He was nearly weak with relief when he saw no marks on his skin. Part of him was aware that Jim could easily have picked a different, less obvious spot, but he shoved the thought away. He told himself that he wouldn't have regretted it if he did see marks there, but still... he felt relief all the same that it wasn't staring him in the face now. He stood looking at his father for a few minutes, breathing in and out, knowing that this would be the last time he saw his father as he usually was - casual and comfortably at home - ever again. Finally, he turned away from the bed and went directly to his mother's open arms.
Leonard didn't see Jim again until a week after the funeral. After his mother went to sleep, he made his way to the Field. He found Jim inside, sitting in one of his lawn chairs, reading a book. He looked up and gave Leonard a small smile, beckoning to him to come inside. Len sat next to Jim and looked at the book - Dracula. Leonard was surprised. "Did I give that to you?" he asked, thinking he must certainly have been panicked when making his little package for Jim if he'd included that book.
Jim shook his head. "Got it from the library," he said.
"Is... is it... accurate?"
Jim smiled. "Some things are, some things aren't," he said. "And I think... well, the Old-Worlders are probably creepy enough to live this way, and powerful enough to transform into animals or control wolves and all that, but people as young as I am can't usually do all this. Then again, lots of things that hurt him don't hurt us, so..." He shrugged. "It's definitely a work of fiction, but it's a classic, and I like it."
"Even though they get him in the end?" he asked.
Jim shrugged again. "He wasn't exactly a nice guy," he said. He shut the book and set it down, then looked deliberately into Leonard's face. "How are you?" he asked softly.
Leonard sighed. "Okay, I guess. Sad."
Jim nodded. "I'm sorry for your loss," he said.
Leonard tensed, feeling his stomach clench slightly at the words - the ritual words that everyone he'd seen since his father's passing had seemed compelled to say - from someone who lived forever. Someone who... "Did..." He forced himself to look Jim in the eye. "Did you..."
"Do you want me to answer that?"
Leonard gritted his teeth, and felt his eyes starting to sting. "I... yes," he said at last. "Yes, I want to know."
Jim closed his eyes for a moment, then looked at Len and took a deep breath. "Yes," he answered. "I helped you to sleep, and then I helped David to move on."
Leonard felt his hands clench automatically, and realized he was holding his breath. He'd promised himself that he wouldn't be upset - wouldn't be angry. But now, he felt a jumble of emotions - anger, guilt, relief, fear - and the tears he'd been trying not to acknowledge began to flow. "You... I... s-shouldn't... I d-didn't have the right."
"What about David's rights?" Jim asked softly.
Leonard gasped. "He knew?" Jim nodded, and Len felt his gut twisting again. "Was he afraid?" he asked in a barely audible whisper.
"No. He wasn't afraid at all. He... do you want me to stop, Len?" The tears were streaming down Leonard's face now, and he could feel himself trembling, but he shook his head. Even so, Jim stood up, took Leonard's arm and pulled him over to sit down next to him on the sleeping bag. "He thought he was dreaming, I think," Jim continued. "Or maybe he thought I was Death - like a version of the Grim Reaper. He asked me if it was almost over, and I told him yes. He seemed relieved to me, but then he said he felt guilty because he'd be leaving you and your mother." Leonard started to cry aloud then, and Jim reached out hesitantly. Len let himself be pulled close and turned his face to Jim's chest. "I told him that the two of you wanted him to be at peace. I... I told him God would take care of you. Then I told him to close his eyes. I took the IV's away and I did it in the holes there. It didn't hurt," he assured Leonard. "When it was finished, I put the IV's back and I left."
Leonard held onto Jim's shirt and cried into his chest with almost the same fervor that he'd cried with his mother after she'd told him his daddy was gone. Jim held him tight and talked softly to him - too soft for Leonard to understand - rocking him gently. Eventually, Leonard calmed down and forced himself to sit up. He was shocked to see that there were tears in Jim's eyes. "You cry?" he asked softly.
Jim let out a quiet chuckle, and nodded. "If you prick us, do we not bleed?" His voice was gentle, and Leonard didn't feel any sting of embarrassment for having asked the question. Jim's face grew serious. "Are you still angry with me?"
Leonard was shocked for an instant, then remembered the heightened senses - the non-psychic understanding of so much Leonard thought couldn't possibly be obvious. He shook his head. "No. I'm not mad. I..." He stopped - he couldn't bring himself to thank Jim, either. Finally, he just turned around and leaned back against Jim, allowing himself to relax and just feel safe in Jim's arms.
After about a half hour spent in silence this way, Leonard felt Jim pull him even closer, and begin softly kissing the back of his neck. That familiar, lovely soothing calm came over him, and he reached back and put a hand on Jim's head, guiding him (or being allowed to guide him) forward toward that special spot. He felt the sharp teeth touch his skin, and there was not the slightest sense of fear or anxiety - only anticipation of the beautiful, warm floating feeling, and the incredible intimacy that was to come.
Life without David was difficult. Leonard struggled through what seemed like an endless stream of family visits, which were even worse now than when his father was still alive and ailing. Each visit was a reminder that his father was gone. They were filled with support for Len and Eleanor, which helped in a way, but it was still difficult. He was glad there were friends and relatives to support his mother, but he wanted to be alone with her, and eventually, the hordes of family members became frustrating to him. His mother began to notice his restlessness, and she told him to go out on his own if he wanted. He felt bad for leaving her, but there were times he just couldn't take it, and he left and spent time with Jim at the Field. Jim let him talk about his father as long as he wanted, and he talked about his own father and how hard it had been to lose him. And when Len wanted to change the subject, Jim seemed equally willing to talk about whatever else Leonard wanted to discuss.
Over the next few months, Leonard felt himself growing even closer to Jim than before. Jim was his shoulder, his ear, and his strongest support. Len didn't think he would have had the strength to support his mother when the weight of everything finally began to crush her and wear away her own strength if it hadn't been for Jim's help.
As the weeks passed, Leonard found himself turning the conversations with Jim toward vampires. He wanted to know what it was like to never age. "Did you have any friends before? I mean, was it hard to watch them get older? What about technology and the time? Was it hard to adjust? How do you deal with regular people? Do they start to notice that you don't age?"
Jim seemed happy to answer the questions at first, but soon he began to change the subject before Leonard was ready to stop. He seemed to grow sullen more quickly, and if Leonard pressed him to answer questions, he'd snarl and snap, and Leonard would be forced to back off.
About four months after David's death, Leonard visited Jim one evening, and the moment he walked into the shed, he knew something was wrong. Jim hardly smiled when Len walked in, and his face looked grim. "I'm glad you're here," he said, though he looked anything but. "We need to talk."
"Okay," Leonard said slowly. "What about?"
Jim looked at him for a few seconds, then sighed heavily. "This isn't going to be easy, but..." He gritted his teeth. "Leonard. I have to leave."
Leonard stared at him, slack-jawed. "Wh- what? Why?"
"It's difficult to explain," Jim said. "But... please, I want you to know, I don't want to leave. But... there's a..." He trailed off, clearly struggling to find the right words. "Now that your father-"
"WHAT? What the hell are you talking about," he said, the shock starting to give way to hurt and anger. "Are you telling me this has something to do with my daddy's death?? That's-"
"Please, Leonard, try to understand!"
"I can't! What's there to understand, anyway? You're abandoning me! Isn't that obvious?"
Jim shook his head. "Look, Len, I have to go. I don't want to, but-"
"But you have to be allowed to live your life," he said. "There are... rules-"
"There's rules against murder, but you do that, don't you?" Len hissed. Even though he was taking about vampires killing in general, he knew that Jim might connect it with killing his father, and he didn't care.
Sure enough, Jim seemed stung. He frowned. "Will you listen to me? You're young, and you need time! You need time to really grieve for your father. I've stayed too long already, but I didn't want to abandon you right after you lost him, and-"
"Oh, but four months later is perfect timing, is that it??" Len shouted.
"Leonard, listen to me!" Jim's pain was turning to fury, and Leonard found himself cringing, even though he was equally furious. "You must be allowed to live your life," Jim repeated. "It's hard to be around someone who never ages when your mind is on your own mortality, which it usually is when you lose someone close to you. The concept of immortality becomes an obsession, and you never get past grief - you never focus on living. I can't be the cause of that, do you understand?"
Leonard shook his head slowly, even though he did understand what Jim meant. He felt himself starting to calm down. He was still furious, but he no longer felt the need to scream. He knew Jim was right about the growing obsession with immortality. Lately, Leonard had felt a strong desire to ask what it was like never to die - if it was true that drinking Jim's blood would make Leonard immortal.
Understanding or not, he was still furious and hurt at the idea of being abandoned. Leonard stood as still as possible, but his hands were clenched tightly, and he knew that his body was vibrating enough for Jim to see it easily. "So what happens now?" he asked, his voice sounding hard.
"I'll find somewhere else to live, and when a few years have passed, I'll find you."
Leonard couldn't hold back the derisive laugh. "Right. You're going to wait for me?"
"Yes," he said firmly.
Leonard shook his head, feeling the tears starting again. "You're going to find another person who's already old enough, and you're going to be with them, and you're going to forget about me!"
Jim shook his head, and moved closer to Leonard. "That's nonsense, Leonard," he said. "Waiting for you to grow up is nothing. It'll feel like eons, because I'll be apart from you. But even if I have to wait a decade or more, what is that to me? I've been alive over two centuries. I'll wait."
Leonard had felt an almost wild sense of sorrow and outrage at the thought of having to wait for Jim for over a decade. The tears flowed freely, and he glared fiercely at Jim. "You're taking a big risk, you know that? You say you'll wait, but what if something happens? What if I die before you find me again? What if-"
"Len, I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can-"
"You don't even like those people!" he shouted. "Why are you trying to follow their rules? You-"
"Because some of their rules make sense, Leonard. I... you'll understand-"
"What, when I'm older?" Jim started to speak again, but Leonard cut him off. "NO! No, you just... just go if you're going to leave me! You don't have to bother to look for me in thirty years or whenever it is you decide you finally want me, either! Just-"
"NO!" He was shaking harder now, and his vision was blinded by tears and rage. "James Tiberius Kirk," he said, feeling a twisted sense of satisfaction at the stricken look on Jim's face. "You are not allowed inside my house anymore."
Jim gritted his teeth, then sighed heavily and lowered his head. The look of utter defeat seemed so out of place - like a man as strong and amazing as Jim couldn't possibly... shouldn't be able to look like that. The feeling of satisfaction turned quickly into shame. He took a hesitant step toward Jim, and the vampire looked up at him, the sadness still in his eyes. It was Leonard's turn to look down.
"I know this is hard," Jim said softly. "And I'm sorry. This is my fault, and I'll understand if you hate me for a while. I got... close to you, even though I knew if we... I knew I'd have to leave you once your father passed away. I'm sorry, Leonard." He heard Jim approaching him, and he didn't pull away when Jim embraced him. He wrapped his arms around Jim's strong torso and squeezed so tight his own arms hurt. "If... when enough time has passed... I'll know if you really want me to stay away."
Leonard nodded, but he couldn't bring himself to speak for a while. When he finally forced himself to look up at Jim's face, he saw the striking blue eyes glistening with tears, and the shiny trail down his cheeks. "Can you... can we do it one more time before..."
Before he finished the question, Jim was pulling him close. He lifted Leonard off his feet, tilted his head toward Leonard's neck and breathed deeply. "God, how I'll miss this scent." He latched himself onto Leonard's neck, but not with his teeth - he kissed him, and sucked on him, exactly as if he had every intention of making a hickey there.
Len gripped him tightly, feeling almost dizzy with excitement at being so lightly lifted in air, and greedily and hungrily kissed. Finally, he felt Jim's sharp teeth press into him, and the wild giddiness reached a new height. He clutched Jim's hair with abandon, knowing it was almost impossible to hurt him, and lost himself in the simple, glorious act of giving himself to Jim.
When the haze of passion lifted, Leonard was lying on the sleeping bag, sweaty and exhausted, and not even sure when he'd gotten there. Jim was beside him, staring at the ceiling, jaw clenched tight. He smiled when he noticed Len looking at him, but Leonard could see that his eyes were sad. "You have to go?" Len whispered. Jim nodded. Leonard closed his eyes, then slowly forced himself to sit up. Jim sat up, too, and they sat looking at each other for a few more minutes, neither apparently willing to be the first to say goodbye. Finally, they stood up, almost at the same time. Leonard opened his mouth, but "goodbye" still wouldn't come out.
"I'll see you later, Leonard," Jim said.
"Sure," Len said, and there was no bitterness in his voice this time. "See you, Jim."
The first few weeks after Jim left had been the hardest. He felt abandoned, and that, coupled with the loss of his father, was extremely difficult to bear. However, the pain of Jim’s departure had faded, and eventually, Leonard had come to terms with what Jim had done. Of course, he couldn’t know for sure how things would have been if Jim had stayed with him, but he could imagine having lost himself in the desire for immortality and losing sight of everything else. As it was, he was glad that he’d been fully present to see his mother through her grief, and to be supported through his own.
His high school graduation had been a bittersweet occasion. He felt the absence of his father strongly, but his mother reminded him how proud his daddy would be that he was walking across that stage, and he was able to get through the day without crying too many times. He went straight on to college, and then to medical school. He treated his education as an homage to his father, and he worked with what he hoped was the same level of dedication that his father had shown, toiling in the Georgia fields to provide for his wife and son.
It wasn't until after he'd graduated medical school that Leonard even gave a hint of a thought to his love life. He'd managed to brush aside his mother's hints about him needing to "settle down", because he was far too busy getting an education, and learning how to combat America's number one killer. Once he finished school and started his own practice, a private GP with a specialist in cancer treatment, he found still other reasons for not getting out there and giving his mother some grandchildren. Medicine took too much time. Maybe when he was no longer bogged down with student loans. Maybe when his patient list decreased a bit. Maybe later.
Leonard never really admitted that he was waiting for Jim. He was too rational for such romantic flights of fancy. But while his professional life was excellent, his mother, and most of his friends seemed to think that his love life left something to be desired. He was a “terminal” bachelor, no matter what he might say about work and loans and this and that and the other. One or the other of his friends usually brought up his singlehood around other people’s wedding anniversaries, and were told to mind their own damn business.
There had been a few prospects - private ones. They were usually men that resembled Jim in some way, and they didn't last long. Once, Leonard had tried to go the complete opposite route, and he’d gone ahead and succumbed to the advances of a dark-haired woman. But the brief affair with Jocelyn had been the closest he’d come to “getting serious”, and he’d broken things off with her before any talk of marriage could be brought up. He was able to satisfy his physical needs with these people, and a small part of his emotional needs were met as well, but it was not enough. Nothing could compare to the level of deep intimacy he'd shared with Jim.
Leonard thought of Jim often. When things were difficult for him, he remembered both his father's advice throughout his life, as well as what Jim had said about human resilience, and he pushed through. When he felt lonely, he thought of the times he and Jim used to spend, talking about life, or resting in each others' arms.
Now and then, Leonard got the feeling that he was being watched by someone. It was a strange feeling – something he could never really explain, but that was as definite and recognizable as his regular senses. Sometimes, he imagined that it was Jim watching him. Once in a while, he felt almost certain that it was Jim, and he found himself turning swiftly, fully expecting to see Jim standing behind him. Each time, Jim was not there, and he felt disappointed, but he never felt any sense of bitterness. He wasn't waiting for Jim, after all. No, that was preposterous. It was ridiculous to believe that some knight in blood-stained armor was going to come slinking out of the night to claim him. No. He wasn't waiting for Jim. He was just waiting for the right person to come along.
The closest Leonard came to seeing Jim was on a summer evening in his last year of medical school. Leonard was at a medical conference in Los Angeles for the weekend, and he got that "someone is watching" sensation while walking toward a Starbucks near his hotel. He turned, expecting to see no one, as usual, but was stunned to see a tall, slender man with straight dark hair, skin so pale it almost looked green in the streetlights. He froze, startled, because the man was hardly ten feet away, but Leonard hadn't heard any footsteps. The stranger was wearing a dark suit that appeared to be made of wool - far too warm for the season. He wore a charcoal gray scarf, and a dark gray, short-brimmed fedora to match.
He approached Leonard, and the doctor stood perfectly still, even though he felt the strong desire to run. He told himself he was waiting because it seemed clear that the other man wanted to speak to him, but in retrospect, he felt that it must have been fear, or something else that had held him there.
When he was close enough to be heard, the other man raised a gloved hand to his hat in greeting. "Good evening," he said, his voice deep and slightly gravelly without being unpleasant. "Leonard McCoy, correct?"
"Y-yes, that's me," he said, clearing his throat against the nervousness he could hear in his voice. He adjusted his ascot nervously - he'd never gotten out of the habit of wearing them after Jim left - and the man's eyes followed his hand, focusing on his neck for what felt like a few seconds too long. "Do we know each other, sir?"
The man shook his head, looking back at Leonard's face. "We are not acquainted. However, I attended your seminar on Compassion in Cancer treatment, and I would like to discuss a few points with you. May I trouble you for a few minutes of your time?"
"Uh... certainly, Mr..."
"Grayson," he said. "Mr. Alexander Grayson." He pulled off a charcoal leather glove and extended his hand. His fingers were long and slender, and immaculate, as if he'd just had a manicure. Leonard shook his hand - a firm, quick shake.
"I was... just about to get some coffee," he said, trying to quell his nervousness. He felt that there was something dangerous about this stranger, but he couldn't pinpoint what. But he didn't want to seem ridiculous, or paranoid, and they'd be in a public placed. "Care to join me?" he said.
"That would be acceptable," he said.
Leonard frowned slightly at the man's wording, but walked with him into the coffee shop. Len ordered something characteristically sugary and horrible for him, and Grayson ordered a large green tea with no sweeteners. They sat at a table, and Grayson pulled off his hat to reveal shiny, jet black hair, cut in the most severe bowl cut Leonard had ever seen. Leonard smiled slightly, remembering Jim joking with Nyota about her boyfriend, "Chilli Bowl". He gasped suddenly, staring at the man. Could he...
"Is something wrong?" Grayson asked.
Leonard forced himself to relax. The man was so mild-mannered and calm, it didn't seem possible that he could be a vampire, no matter how strange he seemed. "No, nothing," he said. "I thought... maybe I recognized you, but no, I was mistaken."
Grayson nodded, unconcerned, and they began talking about the latest in cancer research. At first, Leonard was still a little nervous about the other man, but soon, the conversation took over, and he found himself forgetting his anxiety in favor of his scintillating conversation with the stranger. Grayson was well spoken, intelligent, and he seemed to be quite well-versed in the latest medical research. He knew a lot about general medicine as well. It was exciting for Leonard, a twenty-four year-old medical student, having managed to impress an older gentleman who was as well-versed in medicine as Grayson was.
After about an hour of discussion, and nursing their respective drinks, Grayson said, "My wife has a keen interest in human physiology as well. I believe we may have overstayed our welcome here. Would it be acceptable if I asked you to join us for dinner? We are staying at a hotel near the convention center."
"Er..." He suddenly felt nervous again, but he brushed it off. The man was just being hospitable, and he was interested in keeping the conversation going. "Well... sure, that'd be nice, thanks."
The man gave him a small smile, and pulled out a cell phone. "My dear," he said. "I have asked one of the doctors from my convention to join us for dinner. I hope you don't mind." He paused for a moment, then nodded. "Excellent. We will join you within twenty minutes." He put the phone away, and looked up at Leonard. "Shall we?"
Leonard nodded. He tossed his cup and walked along with the man. His hotel was a short walk from the coffee shop, on the same block as Leonard's hotel. He invited Leonard upstairs. "No doubt, she will need a few moments to complete her dressing ritual, as most women do."
Leonard laughed, by now used to the man's particular way of talking. "Sure, no problem." They stepped into the elevator, and as the door closed, Leonard felt a sudden fear - a sense of terror that was completely inexplicable. He swallowed hard, and clenched his fists together. Grayson looked over at him, concerned.
"Are you ill, Leonard? I was not aware you were claustrophobic."
"Neither was I," he whispered.
"We are almost there."
In the last few seconds, of the ride, Leonard felt himself calming down. He dabbed at the sweat on his brow and stepped quickly out, glancing back at his new acquaintance. "Sorry, that's never happened to me before."
"No need to apologize," he said, stepping past Leonard. "Follow me."
Leonard fell into step just behind the other man. When they came to the right room, Alexander unlocked the door and the two men entered. "My dear?" Alexander called.
"Yes, I'm coming Alex." Leonard gasped, and took a shaky step back. A second later, Alexander's wife stepped into view, graceful, beautiful, and completely terrifying. "I can't wait to meet your-" She stopped, gasping herself when she set eyes on Leonard. She was exactly as he remembered - small, slender, with long, dark brown hair, this time flowing loose down her back.
Len shuddered, remembering her powerful hands jerking his head up and ripping away his scarf. He took another, quicker step away from them, ready to run. Before he could take another step, Alexander's hand snapped toward him, moving so fast Leonard barely blinked and the hand was gripping the back of his neck, dragging him easily back toward the center of the hall. Leonard cringed, bent double by the other man's forceful arm. At first, he was too frightened to move, but a second later, he started to struggle fiercely against the other man. Grayson snarled, a chilling, bestial sound, and tightened his grip on Len's neck so much that Len cried out in pain and terror, sure the man was going to crush his throat.
"No, Spock, stop!"
Grayson froze immediately, but didn't take his hand off of Leonard's neck. "Explain," he demanded.
Leonard heard footsteps, and soon saw small black boots approaching them. "We can't," she said softly. She began speaking in another language. Leonard couldn't recognize it, but he wasn't sure if it just wasn't something he recognized, or if he was too panicked to focus. His head was pounding, and his heart raced. He heard her say what he thought sounded like "Kirk".
A second later, the hand holding his neck loosened its grip slightly, and he was pulled upright. He dared to raise his eyes and look at Alexander... Spock, whatever his name was. The man was glaring fiercely, his nearly-black eyes smoldering with fury. His fangs were extended, bared and ready to strike. Leonard swallowed hard, struggling not to puke. Grayson slowly released Leonard's neck, and straightened his own gray jacket. His features transformed from terrifying fury to the mild-mannered man he'd spoken to in the coffee shop. The fangs retracted slightly. "I apologize for my error," he said. "I was not aware that we had a mutual acquaintance."
He paused, exactly as if he expected Leonard to respond - like this was just your every-day misunderstanding. "I... 's no p-problem," he stammered, trying and failing to adopt the same nonchalant manner. "I..."
"Sorry, Leonard," Nyota said, stepping toward him. He jumped, and she stayed still, but smiled at him. "It's okay, we won't hurt you."
"Th-thank you," he said to her. "Thanks for..." She nodded.
"Our conversation has been fascinating," Spock said sharply. "But I'm afraid I must ask you to leave now, Leonard. Your presence is... unsettling at the moment, and I will need to make other arrangements for dinner. I hope you understand."
"Perfectly," Leonard answered in a hoarse whisper. He nodded toward Nyota briefly, then backed quickly out of the room, hands trembling so badly he could barely manage the doorknob. He left the hotel at a staggering run, not stopping until he got back to his own room, and locked and barricaded the door behind him.
He sank to the floor, shuddering violently, so nauseous he thought sure he would vomit this time. Nothing ever came up, but his stomach tied itself in knots, and his head pounded incessantly. He knew he was going into shock, from how close he'd come to losing his life that night. He reminded himself of the physical reactions his body was going through, and tried to regain control by forcing himself to think objectively about the symptoms as if he were working with a patient. Slowly, he felt the tremors calming down, and he was able to stand and get himself a drink. He downed the tiny bottle of alcohol that came with his welcome basket. He sat down heavily on the bed, since all the chairs in the room were piled up against the door.
Len lay back on the bed and stared at the ceiling, pulling the coverlet over him to combat the chill that he knew was also his body reacting to the sudden fear. Once the shock had worn off a bit more, he began to wish he could have asked Nyota about Jim. Not that he could have hung around, exactly, with her husband declaring himself "unsettled" by Leonard's presence. He shuddered again, trying to get rid of the image of the man's terrifying face. It wasn't until dawn that Leonard finally relaxed enough to fall asleep - or rather, that exhaustion finally forced him to lose consciousness. Even then, he had nightmares about having his neck snapped, and his blood drained by an intelligent, polite monster, and his charming, beautiful wife.
Needless to say, he was far more skittish around strangers than ever before, for several years after that. And even when he grew confident enough to speak to strangers again, he never accepted any invitations from anyone he didn't know well. It was years before he traveled away from Georgia for any other medical conferences, despite several requests for him to speak. Eventually, though, the fear of attack faded, especially when years passed, and no one bothered him again.
After medical school, Leonard started a local practice, affiliated with one of the local hospitals. As the years passed, his practice became well-known and well respected in the surrounding communities, and Leonard made a (small) name for himself as a general practitioner with a specialty in early detection and initial treatment of cancer. He still thought often of Jim, but he kept himself busy with his practice, and tried to live each day as it came to him, not dwelling too much on the past, and not worrying too much about the future.
Leonard made a note in the system, then smiled at the young woman. "Feeling better, Miss Hall?"
She nodded, smiling, and blushing just a bit. "I feel so silly now, coming here in a panic."
"No need to feel that way," he replied. "It's better to get it checked out and find out it's nothing but hormones than sit on something and have it turn out to be serious, right?"
The young woman nodded again. "Well, thanks so much, Dr. McCoy."
"You're welcome," he replied. "Now, have a good evening, and I'll see you in a couple of months for your physical, right?"
She rolled her eyes playfully, but nodded. "I'll be here."
Leonard smiled at her again and left the room. He entered his last few notes for Miss Hall's visit, then handed the charts off to his nurse to file. "Soon as you're done, why don't you go on home, Chris?"
She smiled. "Going to get your weekly dose of poison again?"
He made an indignant sound and ignored the question. Instead, he went back to his office, took off his white coat, and pulled on his regular jacket. He tied his forest green ascot back around his neck and checked in the small mirror. He nodded in satisfaction. He certainly had no need of them anymore, but Leonard had grown fond of the little fashion accessory. He liked the way they looked, and they reminded him of home, in a few different ways. "A regular little Cary Grant," his mother (rest her soul) would have said.
Leonard breezed past Christine, bidding her goodnight, but not giving her the chance to hound him about his choices. Once outside, he took in a breath of fresh air. Somehow, he managed to be the only doctor he knew who couldn't stand the smell of doctor's offices. Air conditioning, cleaning solution and medication, with the occasional scent of blood, all melded together to make this...odor that no amount of Glade Scented Plug-ins could really mask for Leonard. He was grateful that at least he had his own practice, and he only had to deal with the even more unnerving smell of big hospitals once in a while.
Len hopped into his car, whistling some random song that had been stuck in his head since early afternoon. He was uncharacteristically chipper, but Saturday evening was finally here. No appointments tomorrow, and he hadn't had to tell anyone bad news all week. It was definitely cause for a celebration. He tooled into the more active part of town, flipping through radio stations to find something catchy enough to drive the other stupid song out of his head.
By the time he reached his destination, he'd managed to get "Sugar, Sugar" by the damn Archies out of his head, only to have it replaced by "Private Eyes" by damn Hall & Oates. What was the radio trying to do to his weekend?
Len got out of the car and made his way into the small, comfortable coffee shop, laughing slightly at himself. He'd left his twenties behind a while ago, but even so, most guys his age were out clubbing on Saturday nights, or getting drunk to prepare for the time-honored tradition of staggering down the street singing loudly and off key, disturbing the folks on the residential streets. Len on the other hand, planned on getting a large, almost unforgivably frilly, caffeinated thing, complete with whipped cream and some kind of sugar-rich drizzle, then sitting around in the windowed area watching people walk past.
The young lady at the counter smiled at him. He recognized her from the last two times he'd come around, and he returned the smile and greeted her warmly. "Hey, Lisa."
"Hi, Doctor. Going for Mocha Madness again?"
He chuckled, and glanced at what he'd come to refer to as the "guilty" part of the menu. "Nah, this time, let me try that caramel thing."
"Sure!" She rang him up for the ridiculously-named coronary in a cup, and gave it to him along with a chocolate-filled croissant. He could practically see his favorite nurse wagging her finger at him, but it was only once a week, dammit. Chris could mind her own damn business.
Len picked up a random section of newspaper that had been abandoned on one of the tables, found a seat close to the window, and settled in for his weekly ritual. He was only three bites into his croissant, and a few paragraphs in to an article about music programs in public schools when he felt someone watching him.
He paused, evaluating the feeling. Ever since his... encounter with Nyota and Spock, Len had been careful to pay attention to his body and mind when he felt that odd sensation - to identify whether it felt dangerous, or simply curious. Maybe it was a byproduct of having been hunted for food like a wild animal more than once in his lifetime, but the sensation was strong whenever he felt it, and he did his best to obey his gut instincts. The sensation had actually alerted him to would-be muggers once, and he’d managed to escape from danger without getting hurt.
Len slowly put the paper down and looked out at the street. He saw nothing unusual. The regular amount of passers-by strolled down the street, and nothing seemed out of place. He looked around at all the faces in the coffee shop, but they were the regular crowd – about half of them were here every Friday, just like Len, and the others didn't seem to be paying any particular attention to him.
He tried to shrug off the feeling, and forced himself to try reading the article again. He didn’t want to seem paranoid, and he was in a safe, public place. Maybe it was nothing this time. Len stared at the newspaper, but he was too distracted to focus on the words. The odd sensation was still there, and he suddenly found himself thinking about Jim. It wasn't unusual for Jim to come to mind when he felt someone watching him, but this time it didn't feel like a passing memory. This time, Leonard couldn’t stop thinking about Jim. He felt a strong desire to see Jim again, to talk to him, find out how he’d been doing, if he’d gone back to live with Nyota and the other people that were mentioned that night. And, most of all, if Jim had really waited for Leonard all these years, or if he'd found someone else and settled with them.
But even as the thought crossed his mind, the sudden memory of Jim's large hands clutching his arms rushed back to him. The muggy warmth of Georgia summer nights, mixed with the smell of dust, wild grass and Jim, came to him with unbelievable clarity, and he felt his breaths quickening. He felt a sudden, almost overpowering desire to feel Jim's arms around him again – to experience that warm, safe, intensely intimate sharing that was so much more powerful than anything he'd ever felt with anyone else.
Len shuddered violently, and shook his head, forcing himself back to the present. He looked around the small shop, feeling sure someone must have seen his sudden discomfort. His face was warm, but aside from a few sidelong glances from the patrons closest to him, no one took any particular notice of him. Leonard dropped the newspaper on the table, tossed a couple of dollars down as an extra tip for whoever would have to clean up his half-finished coffee, and hurried out of the shop. He felt mildly guilty for not finishing the food – wasted money and wasted food combined were like a double sacrilege to the farmer's son – but he couldn't force himself to stay in the room any longer, and he'd completely lost his appetite.
He sped away from the room, not even turning when he heard his favorite barista call out to ask him if he was okay. Unsettled, he walked quickly away from the shop. He hoped a quick walk would help clear his head.
He left the car at the coffee shop and walked quickly down the street. It was still fairly light, though the sun had gone down past the line of buildings. He glanced at the various shops along the road, but never stopped at any of them. The uncomfortable sensation of being stared at was still there, but now it was compounded by the fact that he was moving. Being followed was worse than being watched. Len glanced around him several times, but never saw anyone suspicious.
Leonard soon grew frustrated by his own sense of paranoia, and the fact that no one seemed even the tiniest bit interested in him. No one turned quickly away when he happened to look at them, no one ducked behind any walls – there was nothing to explain it, but Leonard couldn't make himself calm down.
Finally, Leonard ducked down an alleyway, moving quickly and impulsively. The alley was wide enough for a car to drive down, and it wasn't a dead-end, so he didn't feel as if he were trapping himself. But if someone was following him, they wouldn't have the rest of the people milling around the street to hide behind.
Leonard strode down the alley as if he had every bit of business there – walking with confidence and pretending he wasn't straining hard to listen for the sound of footsteps behind him. He heard nothing, and after getting about half way through the alley, he sighed and gave in to the temptation to look behind him. There was no one following him.
Len shook his head. Must have been a false alarm. He found the thought strange, because the feeling of being watched had been strong, but Len attempted to shrug it off. He was a little embarrassed to have been so concerned, and he didn't want to go back the way he'd come, lest someone notice him looking like he was lost. He turned back with the intention of finishing his walk through the alley and rounding the block to get back to his car.
He jumped the second he turned, startled to see the silhouette of a man standing not ten feet away from him. He wore a long, dark coat, black slacks and a dark, broad-brimmed fedora, and he leaned casually against the wall, facing away from Leonard.
Len felt his heart racing, and he struggled to calm down. The man seemed to have materialized out of thin air - Leonard had heard no footsteps, and the stranger leaned against the wall as casually and still as if he'd been standing there for hours, not as if he were just getting settled after racing into the alley while Len's back was turned. What the hell?
Len considered turning back, but that would seem ridiculous. You're just high strung, he told himself. Maybe the similarity to the way Spock had been dressed was making him more nervous than he should be. But it was early spring, and the evening was a little cool. Surely every person who wore a fedora was not to be automatically feared. This one wasn't even the same style. Besides, Len reasoned. The man could have come into the alley just when you turned your head. Leonard forced himself to start walking, picking up his pace slightly as he neared the other man. He caught a glimpse of a tan scarf around the other man's neck, and a hint of light hair beneath the hat, but kept his eyes straight ahead as he passed. "Evening," he said, his sense of manners (drilled into him since birth, he was sure) unable to let him pass without saying anything at all.
Len stopped short and spun around with an audible gasp. The man tipped up the brim of his hat, revealing the unmistakable features - his full lips, pointed chin, strong jaw and of course, his stunning eyes that still managed to capture the last meager hints of the fast-fading light. Jim!
Leonard smiled. His first reaction after the initial shock was pure joy. Jim!! Jim smiled in response, but didn't move or speak. A moment later, Leonard felt the shock kick in again. Jim had not aged. Not at all. He knew what Jim was, and he'd seen Nyota years later. But it was one thing for a woman to look the same after seven years - she'd been an adult when they meet, and his mind hadn't balked at seeing hardly any change in just over five years. But nearly TWENTY years of living, growing, working and aging had passed since Leonard had last seen Jim. Everyone he knew showed signs of change - even those he'd only known for a short time. Jim looked exactly the same - a twenty-five year old boy with too-serious eyes that belied his youthful appearance.
The sight of Jim - like a memory, vivid and completely unchanged - was shocking. Leonard had never really doubted his own sanity - he knew what had happened to him That Summer was not a dream brought about by the stress and grief of his dying father. But even then, some part of him must have held doubts about the truth of everything that had happened. Maybe he'd come to think vampires weren't immortal, but were simply extremely long-lived, or that Jim hadn't told him the truth about how old he was, and he really was just a young man with a weird mutation. Or maybe he just hadn't really believed he would ever see Jim again - that promises made in dank, dusty sheds to a teenaged country-bumpkin wouldn't matter to a man like Jim.
Now, though, seeing Jim looking exactly as he did all those years ago, Len was faced with the undeniable fact that it was all real. Vampires were real (though seeing Nyota again had already confirmed that). Jim's strange healing powers were real. Immortality on earth was REAL. Leonard hoped the rest was true, too, and that this wasn't a gentleman's goodbye - Jim telling Leonard face to face that he'd moved on.
Leonard stood still, a few feet away from Jim, wondering if he looked as nervous and uncertain as he felt. He hoped he appeared confident, but inside, he felt much as he used to feel back in the Field - like a young boy, waiting with mingled anticipation and fear, for Jim to grab him and pull him close. Jim stepped away from the wall with far more grace than Leonard had ever seen anyone move - Jim included, actually. The smile was still there, but his eyes seemed serious.
"You're not afraid," Jim said. "But you're not at ease, either." Leonard gave a sort of half shrug. "It's alright," he said. "It's strange, I know. Seeing me again."
Len chuckled. "Sure is." He glanced down, taking in Jim's wool coat, fine suit, and leather shoes. He looked up again with a hesitant smile. "You look good."
"Thanks," Jim said. "So do you. Thirty-five suits you well."
Leonard felt himself blushing, unexpectedly pleased that Jim had kept track of his age all this time. "Thanks. You... well...I... " He chuckled again, nervous. "This is fucking awkward as all shit, isn't it?"
Jim laughed. "It sure as hell is," he said. "It's good to see you, Len. How've you been?"
"Good," he answered. "Did you..." He hesitated, almost afraid to ask the question, in case he didn't like the answer. "Did you ever... I mean... do you have a..."
"A boyfriend?" he asked. Leonard felt heat rising to his face. It sounded so ridiculous and silly. But Jim didn't look like he was annoyed by the question. "No, I don't," he said. "I told you I'd wait, and I meant that." Leonard smiled, and started breathing again - not exactly sure when he'd stopped. "I'm glad you waited for me, too."
"But I've..." He stopped himself. Why the hell would he tell Jim about the people he'd been with?
"It's alright," Jim said. "I know about them. But you didn't stay with any of them for very long. You waited, and I'm glad you did."
Len found himself smiling, even though if it were anyone else he'd probably be raging about the invasion of privacy. For Jim to know who he'd been with and for how long, he had to have been watching Leonard for quite some time. But instead of feeling like he'd been stalked, Leonard felt like this was confirmation of his ever-present hope that Jim had never stopped caring about him all these years. "I'm glad, too," he said. "So... can I buy you a drink or something?"
Jim laughed again and moved closer to Leonard. He closed in, practically gliding toward him, until he was right in Leonard's personal space, barely inches from him. They were the same height now, which was odd to Leonard. Even though he knew, intellectually, that it made no sense, he'd somehow expected Jim to still be four inches taller than he. Still, despite the fact that he could now easily look Jim in the eye and he was now slightly thicker than Jim, Len still felt mildly intimidated. "I'm not interested in anything you could buy around here," Jim said softly. "Besides, you've already had coffee." He leaned forward, and inhaled deeply. "Mmmm."
Len stood still, though he really wanted to grab Jim and pull him close. "Do I still smell the same?" he whispered.
"Yes," Jim breathed. "Maybe ever so slightly altered. Could be that you don't have teenaged hormones anymore, but..." He breathed deeply again. "Damn. I've missed you so much."
Leonard couldn't contain himself anymore. He flung his arms around Jim and squeezed. He wanted to say "I missed you, too," but found that all he could do was bury his face in Jim's neck and breathe in the scents that were different but similar to what he remembered. There had never been the scent of the clean wool scarf that Len felt against his face, nor the hint of some kind of cologne that Len couldn't readily identify. But the smell of Jim's skin was the same, and Leonard pulled it in, wanting to drown himself in Jim's presence.
Leonard felt himself lifted suddenly and he laughed, giddy from the sensation of being picked up off the ground, which literally hadn't happened in decades. Jim spun him around once, before setting him down lightly, and kissing him deeply on the lips. Leonard relaxed, and let Jim lead the way, clutching his arms as Jim's kiss grew more passionate. Moments later, Jim stopped, and Leonard gasped - disappointed by the sudden loss of contact. "We should get out of the alley, don't you think?" Jim asked. "Maybe talk a little?"
"Sure," Len replied. "Um..." He looked around, mildly disoriented, as if Jim had spun him in ten circles instead of just one. "My... my car's back that way."
"I know," Jim said, turning toward the end of the alley Leonard had come down. They walked back out of the alley together, and made their way back to Leonard's car. "How have you been all this time?" Leonard asked. "I see you've moved back up in the world?"
Jim nodded. "Yeah, scrounging around for survival got old pretty quick. I took a few graveyard shift jobs to pull myself back out of the hole. Re-connected with some old friends."
"The people you were avoiding before?" Leonard asked.
"Yeah," Jim replied. "Had a long talk with Chris. The head of our House," he said with a glance at Leonard. "Basically, I'm no longer disowned. You might as well know some of the politics, I guess. It will affect you eventually. I'm welcome in Chris' house again, and if I need help, he and the other members will be there for me."
"But... do you live there now, in a house with other vampires?" Leonard asked.
"No, I don't, but I could if I wanted to."
"So kind of like a fraternity," Len said.
Jim nodded thoughtfully. "Yeah, you could say that. Anyway, it won't affect us much right now. I don't intend to share you with anyone for quite a while."
"Share me?" he asked, alarmed. "Does that mean one day someone else can-"
"No, no," Jim said with a laugh, anticipating the question. "I just mean I want you to myself for now - I want us to have time together, by ourselves. Catch up on the years we've lost."
Len smiled, relieved and happy. Nyota and Spock had been quite enough for him - he wasn't ready to meet anybody new just yet. They reached the car, and Len drove them slowly toward his home. "So... are... do you still want to turn me into..." He trailed off, feeling awkward and suddenly uncomfortable.
"I do," Jim replied. "If you still want me, that is."
"Of course I do!" Leonard cried, surprising himself with his own forcefulness.
Jim smiled. "Then I'm all yours. And you can be all mine for as long as we live."
"And we'll really live forever?"
"If nothing bad happens, yes. We won't die of old age, if that's what you mean. But we can be killed other ways. I'll teach you how to avoid them, of course."
"What about..." There was the awkwardness again. "What about heaven and hell? I mean... if we never die..."
"If we never die, then I guess we'll find out at the end of the world," Jim said. "And if we die beforehand, I suppose the same beliefs you hold now still apply."
Leonard's eyes widened. "But... if we kill to live..."
"Eagles kill to live," Jim said. "Are they damned?" Len paused, surprised. He'd honestly never thought of it that way before. "Yes, most of us make the choice to become predators, but it will become your nature, and it's up to you how you deal with the fact that taking lives is part of your own survival. Some people only kill the terminally ill, or suicidal people. Some exist on animal life only, or only kill people who have killed others. Some embrace their predatory nature and kill whoever crosses their path on the wrong day. You'll have to make your own decisions where that's concerned. And as for the afterlife, you'll find that vampires' beliefs about what happens when we die are as varied as those of the human population."
Leonard thought about that for a few minutes, and Jim left him in silence. Having been raised in a strongly religious community, it was jarring to think of how much of his worldview was about to be turned upsidedown. He'd already accepted his love for Jim as something that he refused to believe God would frown on, regardless of Jim's gender, and that had been struggle enough. As for immortality on earth without the direct intervention of God, and the concept of choosing to be a predator, then acting as if killing other humans to eat wasn't a sin... he'd have to spend some time considering that before he made up his mind how he was going to handle that.
In the meantime, he still had plenty of questions. "What about the rules you mentioned before? Like... not staying with people who are in grief and all?"
"Well, you already know about half of them, believe it or not. You can't turn a minor - changing anyone who isn't physically fully developed, or anyone who's mentally incapable of choosing for themselves is frowned upon. That includes people who have just lost close friends or relatives. You don't change people by force. Be loyal to your House leader, and to the person who changed you. And if you don't belong to a House, don't screw with anyone who does. Don't attract too much attention in the 'regular' world. Those are the basics. Oh, and don't kill anyone's thrall without their permission."
Leonard nodded. "I know about that one firsthand," he said.
Jim nodded. "I remember."
"No, I meant..." Leonard stopped, wondering if he should tell what had happened.
Jim looked expectantly at him. "Meant what?"
"I... well, I don't want to cause any trouble, and nothing really happened anyway. But I met Nyota's husband back in med school." Jim's eyes widened. "Yeah. Thank God, Nyota said something, and he let me go."
"You're lucky they tend to hunt together," Jim said. "When you were in med school I hadn't reconnected with the House yet. The others wouldn't have known, I should have thought of that!"
"Don't worry about it, Jim," Leonard said. "I got a little shaken up is all, but nothing bad happened, and nothing's happened since then."
Jim put a protective hand on his leg. "Well I'm here now," he said. "You don't have to worry about anything."
Leonard smiled and rested his hand on top of Jim's, believing the words. They rode in silence for a few minutes, and (as usually happened when Leonard was on the road), he began thinking about his patients, and the next day's work load. "Wait, what about my practice," he said suddenly. "I've got patients in the middle of procedures, and... I suppose I could reschedule appointments until evening, but that'd be weird. Or if... didn't you once say it would be useless to bring people around during the day, that people would get killed? Does that mean..." Jim had started to laugh, and Leonard glared at him. "What?"
"You're hilarious, that's what," he answered, completely unconcerned by Leonard's ire.
"Dammit, Jim, I'm serious!"
"Okay, okay," Jim said, still smiling. "First of all, it's true, we're very sensitive to sunlight. Especially when we're first changed, it's difficult to be out during the day. But if we cover up, and wear sunglasses, we can roam during the day without being in danger of death. Most people still don't bother, though. It's uncomfortable, and it can be risky. Now, part of what I told you was a scare tactic. If you'd brought enough people, and you'd come at noon, they probably could have killed me. I would have taken a lot with me, but if they'd got me out of the shed, and attacked me, I wouldn't have survived. But there's hardly any danger in being out when it's still light, but the sun isn't visible - at dawn, or at sunset. We still cover up, to be on the safe side, but it's fine."
Leonard considered this. "So, technically, if I got in early enough, I could still practice as long as I stayed inside?"
"Technically, yes, but it would be hard, Len. What if someone wanted to take you out to lunch? You'd have to have the blinds and shutters closed tight all day. Eventually, someone would wonder why."
Len sighed, feeling his heart sink. He loved being a doctor. He loved helping people, but he loved Jim, too. "I... I've waited so long to finally be with you again, and I want to be with you forever. But..." He swallowed, almost afraid to say it.
"Leonard. Pull the car over."
"Pull over," Jim said again. Len did as he was told, and put the car in park. Jim leaned closer to him, took Len's face in both his hands, and kissed him deeply. "Listen to me," he said after they broke apart. "Becoming a vampire doesn't mean giving up on your dreams. If you still want to practice medicine, you can, you may just have to be creative about it. You can make house calls, or you can go ahead and let people wonder why you shut the blinds and wear long sleeves all the time. But you don't have to decide everything tonight, you know? I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere. I'll love you just as much when you're forty, or fifty, or sixty, or a hundred as I did when you were seventeen."
Leonard smiled, feeling his eyes beginning to mist. His heart swelled at Jim's reassurance, and at the fact that Jim had loved him all those years ago. "Oh, Jim..."
"I've waited almost twenty years," he said softly, keeping one hand on the side of Len's face. "I could have come earlier, but I knew you wanted to finish school, and work. Then your mother was gone, and I had to wait again. Things got hard for me for a while, and I've finally been able to come back. Now I'm with you again, and that's all that matters. The rest will come when it comes."
Leonard smiled, a few tears trailing slowly down his cheeks. He drew closer to Jim and kissed him tenderly. "I want you to drink from me, like we used to."
"Let's go," Jim whispered.
Leonard could hardly get the car moving fast enough. He got them to his small house, and parked. Jim complimented the house, and they walked up the path to Leonard's door.
Len unlocked the door and stepped inside, expecting Jim to follow. When Jim stayed on the other side of the threshold, Leonard felt a surge of guilt well up. He remembered his angry declaration - you are not allowed in my house anymore - and how pleased he'd been with himself to have hurt Jim, even if the pleasure had lasted only for a second.
A moment later, though, Leonard realized this wasn't the time for guilt or remorse. This was the happiest moment in his life, and it was only going to get better from here. He extended his hand, reaching for Jim. "Welcome home."