Matheus Taylor didn’t ask to be murdered. Quin didn’t care. A seventeen-hundred old Roman, Quintus Livius Saturnius had a different view of morality than most people. Killing Matheus and hijacking his undead existence seemed perfectly acceptable to him.
Now, Matheus spends his nights running for his life, questioning his sexual orientation, and defying a mysterious new threat to the vampires within his city. Not that he set out to do any defying; he just wanted to be left alone. Unfortunately, that was never going to happen.
Quin waited by the main gate to the park, his head resting back against one of the tall brick pillars that marked the entrance.
Matheus slowed as he approached, trying to see Quin from Eleanor’s perspective. He was very tall. Woman liked tall men, right? Maybe that explained the blushing and necklace fiddling.
“Aw,” said Quin, looking over Matheus’ shoulder. “You broke her delicate little heart.”
Matheus glanced back at Eleanor. She walked in the direction her friends had gone, ponytail bobbing with each step.
“What are you talking about?” Matheus asked. “What was that act back there?”
Quin reached up, plucking a leaf off one of the oak trees that lined the gate on either side of the entrance. One of the branches dipped low, growing over the brick. Orange and yellow leaves littered the ground, the few that managed to escape the maintenance crew. Quin shredded the one he held along the veins threaded through the leaf. He smiled, lips curving up a fraction.
“You are incredibly oblivious, sunshine,” he said.
“About what?” Matheus asked.
Quin pushed himself away from the pillar. Matheus followed him around the edge of the park, heading into a neighborhood made up of apartment buildings and bland government offices. Matheus was not aware of any shoe stores in the area, but he assumed Quin had some specialty cobbler who accepted only first-borns as payment.
“I was wrong. Apparently, someone would miss you. Of course, if I had known about your adorable wee crush—”
“On Eleanor?” Matheus gaped at him. “You’re a lunatic.”
Quin arched an eyebrow at him.
“Well, she likes you,” he said. “It looked like she’d been nursing a passion for a while.”
“That’s . . . . Really?”
“Two words. Incredibly oblivious.”
They crossed against the light, Matheus jogging a little to keep up with Quin. The handles of the bags cut into his palms. There was a subway stop around the corner. Matheus couldn’t picture Quin crammed in with all the other commuters, but he began to wonder if Quin actually walked everywhere. The city was on the smaller side, but Matheus didn’t want to walk from end to the other, even without the sixty pounds of clothing.
“She never said anything,” Matheus said. “She smiled at me a lot, but Eleanor’s that kind of person. She smiled at everyone. Always wanted everyone to get along.”
“They do say opposites attract,” said Quin in a bright, jangly voice.
“Not for me.”
Quin stopped at the next intersection, pressing the crosswalk button as a stretch Hummer rolled by, its drunken inhabitants whooing out the windows. He rolled his eyes, at Matheus or the Hummer, or both.
The tiny man lit up as a beeping started, signaling the change in the traffic lights. Quin began walking, talking to Matheus over his shoulder.
“Yes,” he said. “Two stubborn, sarcastic, angry people would have an excellent relationship.”
Matheus grinned, broadly, suddenly.
Quin tripped over the curb, catching himself on the lamppost. He stared at Matheus.
“It might not be the most stable,” Matheus said, over his shoulder as he kept walking. “But it’d definitely be interesting.”
“Sunshine, you have hidden depths,” said Quin, catching up with Matheus.
“And you are never going to plunder them. So don’t go getting your hopes up. Or anything else.”
“You’re right. That poor girl would be all wrong for you.”
“Glad you agree,” said Matheus. “Now, let’s go meet some tall, temperamental supermodels with severe emotional issues.”
“You could have just said supermodels,” Quin said. “The rest is redundant.”
“Don’t knock the profession of my wife-to-be. I’m sure many supermodels are lovely, rational people.”
Quin laughed again. He pointed Matheus down a cross street, emerging onto one of the main roads through the city. The sidewalks were nearly as wide as the street itself, lined with slender trees recently planted during the former mayor’s desperate campaign to remain in office.
The Liberal Arts building of Matheus’ old college sat about halfamile up the street. Bayhill didn’t have a campus; its properties sprawled over the city. One semester, Matheus left the LA building at ten, sprinted to catch the 10:03 a.m. bus to Kent Station, then switched to the 1214 train to get across town in time for his next class at 10:25 a.m. He didn’t miss those days.
“What was the rest of it about?” Matheus asked. “The smiling and the leaning and the whispering in my ear. What was that supposed to do?”
“Oh, that. I wanted her to think we were lovers.”
Matheus stopped, bags hitting the pavement.
“What?” he screeched.
Quin turned around, a few steps ahead of Matheus.
“It was a useful distraction. It kept her from asking too many inconvenient questions and from pining after you like an abandoned puppy. Like I said, humans are prey, not dating material. Also, it was fun.”
“You sociopathic son of a bitch,” Matheus said. “I’m not fucking gay.”
“I know,” said Quin. “People in Zambia know. The anal-probing aliens that pick up hicks on back roads know. When they buzz by in their invisible spaceships, they go, ‘oh, not Matheus Taylor. We can’t pick up him. He’s not gay.’”
The white-hot flash of anger rushed away as quickly as it had arrived, leaving Matheus feeling sunken and a little silly. He cleared his throat, staring at Quin’s Adam’s apple.
“Invisible spaceships?” he asked.
“If your mission was to explore the rectums of a primitive species, would you want the rest of the universe to know?” asked Quin.
“Ah, no, probably not. “Matheus collected his bags, ignoring Quin as he began walking. Matheus liked to think he had a modern outlook on homosexuality. He’d tried hard to expunge the things his father had taught him, but erasing childhood lessons was like a murder on a TV show. The blood looked cleaned away, but one quick spray of luminol under a black light, and suddenly everything stood out,bright and clear. They walked in silence for a few minutes, passing the coffee shop where Matheus used camp out during finals.
“What does it matter if people think you’re gay?” Quin asked. “If you don’t plan on fucking them, does it make a difference?”
“But I’m not,” said Matheus. He wasn’t; he’d had girlfriends. The last one had been only—Matheus thought for a second—oh, God, three years ago. He raked through his memories. There must have been someone else since then. A healthy adult male did not go three years without sex and not notice.
“I don’t get upset when people assume I’m straight,” said Quin.
“That’s different.” Matheus gave only half his attention to Quin. The other half examined his sex life from the perspective of an outsider. In truth, he’d never actually been all that interested in sex. The effort and clean up didn’t seem worth it, when he achieved the same result with some Jergens and a box of tissues. But he definitely thought about women when he did it, Matheus told himself. Definitely.
“Why? Because it’s more socially acceptable to be straight? I suppose I should be pleased that I’m not a rainbow flag-waving twink. That I pass.”
It dawned on Matheus that Quin spoke louder than usual. He pulled himself away from his own worrying thoughts, and glanced over at Quin. He had a set, bitter twist to his lips and his stride had grown longer, the heel of each foot hitting the sidewalk with a distinct rap.
“That’s not . . . . I’m not going to argue with you about this,” Matheus said.
“Because you know I’m right,” said Quin.
“I know you’ve got a chip on your shoulder.”
Quin grabbed Matheus’ arm, using it as a fulcrum to swing himself in front of Matheus.
“If you have issues with me being gay, tell me now and I’ll find someone else to look after you while you learn. I’m not ashamed, and I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not. Not for you. Not for anyone.”
Matheus thought of Quin telling him about the sun, with the strange fullness in the words warping the air around them. All Quin’s insulating layers stripped away to reveal this one sparking wire, exposed and defiant at the same time. Poked the wrong way, it’d produce a nasty shock or short out entirely, and Matheus didn’t know how to avoid either result. He preferred when Quin wore his armor.
“I . . . .” Matheus looked away, unable to meet Quin’s eyes. “No, I don’t have a problem.”
“Matheus,” said Quin. “Be sure.”
“Look at me.”
Goddamn, Matheus thought as his stare snapped to Quin’s. He blamed the connection, but it went beyond that. Quin knew how to command, and if Matheus’ father had forced one thing into him, it was how to follow.
“I’m sure,” Matheus repeated, exhaling as he realized he hadn’t made of liar of himself. “I don’t want to go to anyone else. Granted, there are lots of reasons why I want to bash your face into a brick wall, but that isn’t one of them. And I don’t want you to send me away.”
“Good.” Quin resumed his walk, although his gait remained stiff.
Matheus waited, keeping silent as the tension ebbed away. The ornate Liberal Arts building of Bayhill University stood in his view, its windows dark, marble steps lit with old-fashioned gaslights retrofitted for fluorescents Opposite towered the ten-story dormitory, a depressing building of cinderblocks and concrete. A cheery red banner hung over the entrance, doing little to hide the fact that the dorm looked like a relic from a Soviet era re-education camp. Matheus had lived there for two years, and every morning he woke up disappointed a tornado hadn’t destroyed the building while he slept.
“It’s the connection, isn’t it? That claiming thing?” Matheus asked.
“I don’t know,” said Quin. “It’s not very flattering to me, if it is.”
“Oh, dear, have I bruised your ego? Gosh, I can’t imagine why I wouldn’t want to hang around the psychopath who murdered me.”
Quin rolled his eyes. A group of students dressed in club gear milled around the entrance of the dorm. One of the boys attempted to climb a lamppost while his friends shouted out insults. A subgroup of girls stood to one side, pretending unsuccessfully to ignore the boys.
“Get over it,” Quin said.
“Get over it? You fucking killed me!”
The boy fell off the lamppost as the students nearest Quin and Matheus turned to stare at them. Quin smiled and gave them a wave. He moved closer to Matheus, lowering his voice as they passed through the crowd. The shouts and loud jokes rose up around them again.
“Share it with the whole world, why don’t you?” Quin said. “You know, someone killed me too, but I didn’t whinge on about it.”
“Right. I’m sure you gave him a great big hug.”
“No, I killed her. Eventually.”
“So you’re saying I should kill you, too?” Matheus asked.
“Well, I’d rather you didn’t,” said Quin. He stopped at the crosswalk, the only place where a tall, wire fence didn’t separate the two sides of the road.
Between the buildings, Matheus could see the river. A small mall stretched out behind the Bayhill building, with the rowing sheds beyond that. A tarred path ran along the top of the embankment, passing the Edwards Bridge all the way down to the harbor. Bicyclists and runners ruled the path in the daytime, and college students searching for a cheap date took over at dusk.
Quin faced the bit of river for a moment, absently smoothing a hand over his head.
Matheus opened his mouth to ask if Quin was lost when he started across the street. Matheus groaned and followed him. People invented taxis and public transportation and buying things online for a reason: blisters. A small farm of them had sprouted on Matheus’ feet.
Quin cut through the mall to the path along the river, slowing his stride as Matheus started to limp. He spoke as he walked, with the same offhandedness he used to brand all his past.
“Akantha decided to turn me after seeing me fight,” he said. “She wanted a bodyguard. Why she needed one, I don’t know. As an accessory,maybe. One of my perks was that she agreed to share my bed.”
“I know. It wasn’t optional. “Quin sighed. “Things were different then. There wasn’t this idea of being gay. I could have handled it. Sex is sex, after all, even if it’s not who I would have preferred. But Akantha liked pain.”
“Oh,” said Matheus, watching the river. The air was damp with the smell of salt and fish. A short distance away, Edwards River fed into the harbor.
“I don’t mean rough sex, with ropes and smacks and biting,” Quin continued, looking at Matheus. “I mean real pain. Knives and broken bones and humans to play with.”
“Oh, God.” That explained a few things about Quin. Especially the insistence that humans were food and nothing else.
“So I killed her.”
Matheus swallowed hard, trying work some saliva into his mouth. A touch of dizziness blurred his vision. The narrow path meant that he bumped against Quin every few seconds. He wished for a bench or rock to sit down on.
“Is that where you got your scars?” The question slipped out before he thought.
“Some of them.”
Matheus nodded, realized after thirty seconds he was still nodding, and forced himself to stop. He had no idea what to say. Boy, that sucks just didn’t seem good enough. He had discarded a half-dozen ideas when Quin tapped his fingers on Matheus’ forearm.
“It was a long time ago,” Quin said. ” Don’t worry about it. I don’t.”
They started over the bridge, a remnant from the time of the city’s founding. Hand-carved grey stonesfitted together without mortar, decorated with a pair of stern-looking angels on either side. Occasionally, people brought up replacing it with a modern bridge, but those plans never reached the development stage.
“It’s horrible,” said Matheus as they reached the apex of the bridge.
“Yes,” said Quin.” That’s the shoe store up there.”
The lights were still on in the small shop, much to Matheus’ annoyance. Any decent cobblers should be in bed, letting the elves get on with their work. Unless, Matheus thought with some alarm, elves were who Quin brought him to see. Being a walking corpse had completely screwed with Matheus’ sense of reality. If he existed, who was to say that elves didn’t? Hell, maybe Saint Nicholas really did live at the North Pole.
“I don’t need shoes,” Matheus said.
“You can’t wear sneakers all the time. Besides, yours are disgusting.”
“They’re fine. They don’t have holes in them.”
“If that’s your criterion for footwear, you need help,” said Quin. He wrinkled his nose as he looked down at Matheus’ sneakers.
Matheus felt a sense of déjà vu expanding in his mind. The clothes, the shoes; next, Quin was going to tell him to cut his hair, stop failing math and learn some responsibility. Not very different from most teenagers’ experiences, but his father went to special lengths, enough to make Matheus break out in hives at the thought of being called into his father’s study. Matheus thought of being sixteen and scolded like a dog that peed on the carpet.
“I don’t need you to buy me stuff,” he said, the muscles in his jaw tight.
“There’s nothing wrong with having nice things.”
Matheus thought about every time his father smoothed over a conviction or paid off his teachers to give him a passing grade. Even as a child, Matheus knew his father acted not out of love or affection, but self-interest. There was an image to maintain, and his father planned to keep it intact whether Matheus cooperated or not. Every expensive gift tied another rope around Matheus’ neck. Matheus took years and a lot of pain to work that out.
“There is when you don’t earn them yourself,” he said. “It’s your money. If you want to get thousand-dollar suits and shoes handmade by artisans in Florence for yourself, that’s fine. But just handing someone everything they want isn’t kindness. It’s a slow rot. “He plucked at the suede jacket he wore. “I didn’t buy this. I didn’t work for it. Why should I value it? So what if it gets ruined? What have I lost? You’ll just buy another one, right? Being spoiled makes people lazy and stupid and selfish.”
He glared at Quin, daring him to argue.
“So pay me back,” he said.
“Get a job and pay me back. It might take a while, but that’s not a problem, is it? I’ll even charge you interest, if you like.”
“Where the hell am I supposed to get a job?” Matheus demanded.” The all-night diner on Reed Street?”
Quin made a slashing motion with his hand.
“There’s plenty you can do. Work from home. Start an online business. Take up pickpocketing. It isn’t the seventeenth century anymore. People can work all hours.”
“So you think I should get a job to pay for the stuff you forced me to get? How is that fair?” Matheus thought about chucking the clothes straight into the river, but he was afraid of what Quin might do. Probably throw Matheus in after them. Although, he knew Matheus could swim, so he might break his arms and legs first, then throw him into the river. Matheus would float out to sea and be eaten by a shark.
“No, what I think you should do is pull the tree branch out of your ass and let me buy you the damn clothes. You’re the one fixated on earning them.”
A shark would have been more comforting company, Matheus thought. Quin had entered the door-crashing-down, screwdriver-throwing kind of mood. And now Matheus gave him a poke.
“I’m not getting shoes,” he said.
“You’re getting shoes,” said Quin.
“Sunshine, stop arguing. You’ll get the shoes and you’ll wear them.”
Matheus got the shoes. It came to a choice between letting the salesman measure his foot and having Quin snap off his toes like fleshy peapods. The unwanted footwear now resided in a pair of bags dangling from both of Quin’s hands. Dress shoes, casual shoes, sneakers and sandals, a brown and black pair of each kind, because apparently black did not go with everything despite being the one fashion rule on which Matheus thought he had a firm grasp. They stayed in the bags, neatly wrapped up in white tissue paper, snuggled into their respective boxes, because Matheus refused to wear them. Any of them. Especially the sandals.
This created a problem, since, to no one’s surprise, Matheus’ old sneakers had mysteriously vanished. He walked home in his socks. The thin silk tore quickly, raggedruns riding up his ankles.
Quin stalked beside him, his anger a physical presence between them. Matheus named it Bob, and addressed imaginary questions to it to distract himself. He had to fight the urge to sprint as far away as possible. Although he owed less to outright bravery, and more to the fact that running down a city sidewalk in bare feet while carrying a metric ton of clothing raised the bar on insanity. The closer they walked to Quin’s house, the more Matheus worried about hypodermic needles. Sheer stereotyping, but if someone squatted in an abandoned building, they probably weren’t going to be the next face of the Above the Influence campaign.
Quin dropped the bags of shoes in the foyer, then disappeared up the staircase. Matheus heard a door slam a few seconds later.
Matheus left the shoes where they laid, a future monument in his war for control. He walked down to his room, piling the clothing in the middle of his bed. The dresser was empty. Matheus shoved the last drawer shut with a violent slam. He considered searching the dumpster for his old clothes, but his finicky nature vetoed that idea right away. Sighing, he picked up a handful of clothes and crammed them into the drawers until he had to use his whole weight to close them. Then, he opened the drawers, pulled out all the clothes,then folded them the way his nanny had taught him.
Matheus thought about setting fire to the whole lot—just having a big bonfire in the backyard. The crackheads could roast marshmallows and hotdogs, like a picnic. On the downside, the bonfire plan left Matheus without clothing. He could make a toga out of his sheet, orreally drive his point home and go around naked. Although, he worried Quin might enjoy that too much for Matheus’ point to get across properly. At least, the point Matheus intended. So, he wore the clothes and fumed, plotting vengeance.
The shoes remained in the hall for three days. Plainly, Quin was not going to move them, and Matheus refused to accept them, so the bags gathered dust in the foyer. Quin might have thought to wait Matheus out, but Matheus had a plan.
“Where are my things?” Matheus asked, speaking to Quin for the first time since the incident.
“What things?” Quin sat at his desk in the study, survey maps spread out over the surface. Red circles dotted the paper, some with lines crossed through them. A few indecipherable notes had been scribbled down in blue pen. Matheus knew a couple of scholars desperate to get their hands on samples of common Latin, the everyday stuff not found in poetry and plays, and here was some, scrawled on a modern city map in ballpoint. Impossible to cite academically; modern examples of dead languages written by native speakers didn’t technically exist.
“The stuff you took from my apartment,” Matheus said. Quin leaned forward, folding his arms over the map.
“You’re not getting your clothes back,” he said.
“Everything else.” Matheus knew there had to be other things. His apartment had been sparsely decorated, but he owned some things.
Quin gave him a long look.
“The attic,” he said. “In a box to the left of the door.”
“Thank you,” said Matheus and walked out.
The attic was dusty, but empty. The few boxes left appeared to have belonged to previous owners. One container looked as though a family of mice had taken up residence. The box with Matheus’ things was much newer, the cardboard still stiff and tan.
Matheus pulled open the flaps, sighing at the meager contents. There was a framed Mondrian print, a handful of books that he hadn’t gotten around to bringing to the used bookstore, his laptop, his old watch, which never keep the correct time, his cell phone, which did, and a copy of Dr. Strangelove on VHS. And his wallet.
Matheus flipped it open, counting the few dollars it contained. The fake leather had started to peel in one corner and he’d lost the little picture booklet, but he never understood why people carried pictures in their wallets anyway. Matheus only carried what he needed to survive: State ID, work ID, health insurance card—not something he was likely to need now, some cash, and his ATM card.
Ha, thought Matheus.
The 7-Eleven six blocks away had an ATM. Matheus nodded to the cashier without bothering to remove his sunglasses. He walked up to the machine and punched in his code. He keyed in the maximum withdrawal amount, five hundred dollars.
The machine beeped at him. Insufficient funds.
Matheus frowned. He had almost five thousand dollars in his account.
Then it hit him.
That Goddamn shit-eating bastard.