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.
Matheus never realized how much noise the human body produced. Most of the time, the ambient decibels of the world drowned out the smaller internal sounds.While alive, he hadn’t appreciated the aural background his body provided. Now, he would never get the chance. He missed the sound of his digestive tract working.Quin told Matheus he would adapt, that his hearing would be strange for a month or so, but Matheus still wished he could hear his stomach growl at least one more time.
After three days,the first two of which Matheus refused to speak, Quin let him out of the room he’d woken up in. Hefollowed Quin, trying to listen and search for exits at the same time. Quin lived in a three-story townhouse, decorated with anI-got-it-cheap-at-an-estate-sale style. His clothes had devoured all sense of aesthetics Quin possessed, leaving none for décor. In another state of mind, Matheus might have approved. The furniture was good; solid pieces, comfortable, and built to last generations. Matheus liked old things; too much grandeur made him feel small. The compromise suited him. However,the house belonged to Quin, taintingMatheus’ approval.
Boards covered all the windows.Some were bright, new planks, and others had faded to a delicate, streaked gray.A layer of dust covered the kitchen, thick over the countertops and abandoned appliances. The refrigerator door hung open at an angle, lacy webs strung over the gap. Muddy footprints started at the window and ended in the middle of the floor. Matheus supposed someone could have taken off their shoes, but the pale, rust-colored stain on the cracked linoleum made him think otherwise.
The first floor contained the kitchen,a living room,and a dining room converted into a depository of antique weapons. Some attempt at order had been made, before being abandoned in favor of lazy chaos. Only a few of the weapons approached auction quality. The room looked like the stall of a particularly deranged flea market vendor. Matheus kicked a rusted mace, raising an eyebrow at Quin.
“You get bored,” he said.
“This is all junk,” Matheus said.
“Of course it is,” said Quin. “What is your point?”
Matheus shook his head, and followed Quin up the servant’s staircase. The second floor consisted of a study messy with stacks of papers and books,and a large, empty bedroom with a master bath attached. They skipped the third floor. Quin didn’t use it, and Matheus had already seen enough spider webs for the night.
He trailed after Quin to the basement,then pushed past him, skipping the first door, Quin’s room, and going into his own. Matheus’ anger ebbed away, leaving behind a dull emptiness. With a sigh,he dropped face-first onto the bed.
“Would you like to be alone?” Quin asked.
“Mmm,” said Matheus, refusing to lift his head. He tugged on the blanket, enveloping himself in thick dark, trying for the illusion of ignorance. He heard Quin shift, the smooth planes of his suit brushing together, then a soft click as the door closed. Matheus didn’t move again, still trapped under the blanket when the sun rose.
Matheus understood why the boarded-up windows didn’t attract attention. Quin lived in a run-down neighborhood, the surrounding buildings abandoned for decades. A few people were out, squatters from the nearby houses. They nodded at Quin, surprisingly unfazed to see a man in designer jeans and a five-hundred-dollar leather jacket. Matheus received the odd glance, but mostly, people ignored him. He was okay with that. People with enough jewelry in their face to appear in National Geographic made him nervous.
“Where are we going?” Matheus asked. He felt like a slob walking next to Quin. He wore ten-year-old jeans, desperately out of style, and stained with India ink from a drawing class he’d been forced to take as an undergrad. He had better clothes, but he’d already been wearing the jeans and couldn’t be arsed to change.
“To get dinner,” Quin said.
“You mean. . . I can’t!” Matheus paused mid-step, the implication of what Quin said hitting him.
“You can. Or you’ll starve.” Quin didn’t stop, and Matheus had to jog to catch up.
“Can’t I eat, I don’t know, cats or dogs or something?” he asked.
“No. You need human blood.”
“Why don’t why we knock over a blood bank?” Matheus tried to keep the desperation out of his voice.
“It has to be fresh. Drinking donor blood is like living off Twinkies. Besides, it tastes like plastic.” Quin made a disgusted face. He turned the corner, heading in the direction of Hanners Street. Packed with bars and clubs, and nestled between two colleges, Hanners had infamy in spades.No place better to forget a day or six.
“I can’t kill someone,” Matheus said. His voice sounded as though it came up from a very deep well.
“The first time is always hard, but it will get easier,” Quin said.
Matheus wanted to throw up. The knowledge that he couldn’t didn’t stop the feeling. He shook his head rapidly.
“I don’t want it to get easier. I don’t want to do it at all.”
“You will,” said Quin. He stopped in front of a crowded club.
Bright young things gathered around outside; cigarette smoke drifted through the air.
Matheus felt impossibly old. He looked at men and women only a few years younger than himself and wanted to scream at them,Run! They lied, the monsters are real! Something curled in his stomach, pushing through the nausea. For the first time since he died, Matheus felt hunger. The cigarette smoke couldn’t mask the scent of humanity. The smell thrust into him, feeding the growling need in his gut.
“Pay attention,” Quin said, grabbing Matheus’ arm and giving him a shake. “I’m not going to babysit you forever.”
“Oh, god,” Matheus moaned. Dizziness set in as he followed Quin into the club. Multi-colored lights flashed over the dance floor, but did little to drive back the dimness. Despite the dark, Matheus could see easily. So many people, warm and pulsing. He sensed the rush of blood through their bodies,the taste of salt and copper in the back of his throat.
“Concentrate,” Quin said, one hand still gripping Matheus’ arm. “Don’t lose control.”
“There are so many of them,” Matheus whispered,grateful for Quin’s grip holding him back. A part of his mind sat separate, horrified by the overwhelming hunger.
“Yes, they do breed like rats.” Quin pushed him toward a table in the corner. “Sit.”
“I need a drink,” said Matheus.
“Don’t we all,” said Quin. “No more alcohol. You’d just throw it up.”
“Are you telling me I am going to have to spend eternity as a teetotaler? Just stake me now.”
Quin laughed, low and rumbling. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table. He looked around the club with a lazy expression. He could have been any young man, looking for a partner for the night.
“You’ll get used to it,” he said.
“You keep saying that.”
“It keeps being true.”
Matheus traced circles on the table. He wished Quin would get on with it. Amazingly, Quin had found a way to make crowds even more horrible than they had been when Matheus was alive.
“Search the room,” Quin said. “Who would you pick?”
“What do you mean?”
“You have to learn how to pick your prey.”
“Don’t say it like that,” Matheus said. Quin’s casual attitude did not help.
Quin ignored him. He kept one hand on Matheus’ arm as he scanned the room. The music had a heavy bass beat overlaid with moaning female vocals. A dance floor took up the majority of the club,although Matheus was confused as to what part of writhing around like a porn star constituted dancing.
“Come on, now,” Quin said. “Pick.”
“I don’t know,” said Matheus. “That girl at the bar.”
She was the kind of girl they made reality TV shows about. Short skirt, barely-there top, high-end extensions, and strappy heels. She glittered with sweat and youth. The real-life stand-in for the women Matheus thought about late at night, groping the dark for release before giving up in favor of sleep.
“Her? Try thinking with your brain and not your cock,” Quin said.
“What’s wrong with her?”asked Matheus.
“You’re looking for a meal, not a date. Don’t confuse the two.”
“I thought that was part of the package.”
“Tell me, did you usually make out with your hamburgers before you ate them? The answer better be no, or you are on your own.”
“But the whole Dracula—”
“It’s a story,” said Quin. “Forget what you saw in the movies. We don’t turn into bats, we don’t sparkle, and we don’t have sex with our prey.”
“Fine.” Matheus folded his arms, drumming his fingers on his biceps.Why bother dying if he couldn’t even use his newfound status to pick up slutty club girls? “Who would you pick?”
“Other side of the room, to the left. Dark hair, red blouse.” Quin angled his head in the woman’s direction. He’d placed his foot over the toe of Matheus’ sneaker, applying just enough pressure for Matheus to feel it.
He wondered if Quin thought the contact would keep Matheus sane. He also wondered if he didn’t disagree. He looked at the woman. She had an understated prettiness. One hand fiddled with the straw in her drink while the other moved from hair to necklace to hemline. Matheus recalledthe game played on children’s shows:one of these things is not like the others, one of these things just isn’t the same . . . .
“Why her?” he asked.
“She’s like you,” Quin said. He plucked a stray bit of fuzz off his jeans. “A loner. No one to miss her.”
“How can you tell?”Going out alone didn’t mean the woman had nobody. Everybody had a family. Well, he didn’t, but Matheus didn’t consider himself the universal standard.
“I just can. It’s something you’ll learn.” Quin turned toward Matheus, head tilted to one side.
Matheus recognized the light in Quin’s eyes. The last of his resistance crumbled. Caught between the hunger and Quin’s unspoken threat, Matheus felt his options disappear.
“What now?” he asked in a small, hoarse voice.
“Go out back and wait. I’ll meet you there in a few minutes.” Quin stood, his gaze back on the woman.
Panic arced through Matheus’ nerves. He glanced at the woman, a tightness settling into his chest. She tugged on the hem of her skirt, then looked around the club as though searching for someone. A brief flash of kinship zigzagged through Matheus’ mind. He recognized that look.
“I—” Matheus said.
“Go,” Quin said.
“You want me to walk out there by myself?” Matheus tried not to wince at the fear in his voice.The gnawing hunger grew by the second.Quin’s presence kept him from attacking the first person within arm’s reach. Matheus didn’t think he could handle the press of people,sweat thick in the air, dozens of hearts ringing out the dinner bell. Quin frightened him, but at this moment, he frightened himself more.
“You’ll be fine.” Quin glanced back with a sideways smile. “Go on.”
Matheus shook as he walked toward the exit. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Quin making his way across the room. People shoved and twisted around him, and all Matheus could think was,Do they know? Would they know? He imagined the news report, the gossipy retellings. I was there. I might have seen him. It could have been me. Everyone loves a good murder. Matheus felt ill.
“Oh, sorry.” A girl giggled as she bumped into Matheus, spilling her drink on his shoes.
“N-no problem,” Matheus managed, trying not to stare at her throat. A bead of sweat slid down the smooth flesh, resting against the pulse point.
The girl gave him a fake smile and turned back to her friends. A butterfly peeked over the top of her skirt, in the small of her back. Matheus stared at the tattoo, then jerked as something nudged at him. He glanced up to see Quin looking at him from across the room. The woman in the red blousegazed up at Quin with heartbreaking hope.
Matheus turned and marched out the door, shoving past a group entering. He relaxed a fraction as the smell of blood and sweat diluted in the cool air.
The sounds of clumsy, drunken sex filled the narrow alleyway behind the club. Matheus didn’t look. While night and shadow might block the couple from human eyesight, Matheus figured he might see much more than he wanted to. He ducked behind a dumpster and stuck his fingers in his ears. That didn’t help much. This was his life now. Hiding in alleys, trying not to listen to strangers get off, waiting to commit murder. His mother would be so proud. Well, if he had a mother. Matheus rested his head against the side of the dumpster, then remembered what the outside of most dumpsters looked like. He jerked upright, whacking his hand on the dumpster with a loud crash.The drunken sex fiends didn’t notice.
“Oh, baby, you feel so good.”
“Mmm, right there. Oh, yes.”
“I love being inside you, baby.”
Matheus gagged. Undead or not, he would find a way to vomit. Nothing else could properly express his opinion of this moment. He cursed the couple, he cursed Quin, he cursed the girl with the tattoo, he cursed the whole damn city and everyone in it.
“I’m coming! I’m coming!”
Get on with it, Matheus thought furiously. One would think no one had ever had an orgasm before, the way he went on about it. The couple finished up and staggered out of the alley. Matheus stood up, trying to brush the grime off his jeans. Without the couple to distract him, Matheus had a chance to notice the reek emanating from the dumpster. He risked a quick peek inside, wondering if he was about to commit murder number two. He didn’t see a corpse, but maybe the murderer had decided to put some effort into things, and split the body into separate trash bags. Matheus didn’t want to rule anything out.
The back door opened with a slam. Matheus jumped, letting the dumpster lid bang closed.
Quin walked out, leading the dark-haired woman by the hand. She moved like a woman twice her age, her face empty and slack
“Come on, love,” Quin said, in a soft tone. “Just over here.” He gestured to Matheus, calling him over.
Matheus forced his feet to move.
“This is my friend,” Quin said.
“Hello,” said the woman, in a dreamy voice.
“Say hello, sunshine.”
“H-hello,” said Matheus, fighting the sudden urge to laugh. He dug his fingers into his thigh until it passed.
Quin looked at Matheus over the top of the woman’s head. She lolled against him, as malleable as a sleeping kitten.
“It’s easier from behind,” he said, passing the woman to Matheus.
She moved without protest, a boneless warmth in his arms. Matheus bent at the unexpected weight before catching himself. This is a person, he thought. A small scar ran across the top of her cheek. Matheus stared at the pale line, staggered by an unknown history.
“Quin, I-I can’t. I can’t do this,” he said. “Oh, god. I—”
“Stop it,” Quin said sharply. “The hunger isn’t bad now, but it will get worse. Then you won’t be able to control it at all.”
Matheus shook. The woman smelled so good. Not like a woman should, but like a steak dinner. He felt as if weeks, months had passed since his last meal. He’d never wanted anything so much in his life.
“Press your tongue against the roof of your mouth,” Quin said. He placed a hand on Matheus’ shoulder, squeezing lightly.
Matheus pushed up with his tongue. His fangs slid out, faster than he expected. He bit his lip at the shock.
“Ow!” Matheus licked at the wound. His blood didn’t taste right. Maybe the woman’s wouldn’t, either. Maybe the change didn’t take. He couldn’t stop the swell of desperate hope.
“You’ll get used to those, too,” Quin said.
The woman shifted slightly, turning to look at Matheus. Intelligence drew her features tight. She narrowed her eyes at him, placid, but questioning.
“Where am I?” she asked. “Who are you?”
“Calm her,” Quin said with another squeeze to Matheus’ shoulder.
“How?” Matheus asked. Was he supposed to sing a lullaby?
“Just . . . just project.”
“Oh, yes, that’s very helpful, thank you.”
Matheus ran his hands up and down the woman’s arms. Project, he thought. How could he project calm when his nerves bounced around as if the local mall just had a buy-one, get-one-free sale on trampolines?The last calm Matheus remembered stretched between downing his tenth Seconal and waking up in the hospital two days later.
“You’re all right,” he said. “You’re s-safe.” He choked on the word.The woman relaxed against him.
“You should be able to find the artery easily,” Quin said. “Do it quickly. Don’t hesitate, or it will hurt.”
“It does hurt,” Matheus said, trying to nudge the woman’s head into position. He could see the artery pulsating against her skin, amazed that such a slim piece of flesh could hold back that pressure.
“How would you know? You fainted.”
“I don’t remember you projecting any calm,” Matheus said sharply. His fangs scraped over his lips as he spoke.
“You were too wound up for it to work. Stop stalling.”
Matheus bent his head, placing his fangs on the woman’s neck. She made a soft noise in the back of her throat. The heat of her body burned against Matheus’ chest, scorched his cut lip.
“Do it,” Quin said.
Matheus bit. Blood rushed into his mouth as the woman twitched. He swallowed desperately, feeling some of the blood escape his lips and trickle down his chin. He could taste salt and metal, butthe experience went beyond taste to something deeper. Matheus could feel the blood through his entire body, a beating in his head, sending shudders through his limbs. It raced, then slowed, drawing Matheus away from himself.
“That’s enough,” Quin said, pulling him back.
The woman dropped to the ground.
Gently,Quin leaned Matheus against the wall.
Matheus closed his eyes and let Quin wipe his face. A minute passed before he could speak.
“Is she . . . is she . . . ?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Quin. “Stay there.”
Matheus could still taste the blood in his mouth. Warmth flushed through him; he hadn’t even realized he had been cold. He licked his lips, hoping for more, but the traces of life evaporated quickly from the drying blood. Calm settled over him, smoothing away the jittering hunger, leaving behind a lethargic quiet. All sensation dimmed, as though his nerves had been overloaded. Pressing his arms back, Matheus ran his fingers over the rough brick. Around the corner, someone laughed while someone else shrieked about cigarettes and a missing lighter. Beyond them, Matheus heard the bass of the music, an artificial echo.The world filtered in, bringing the cold with it.
“Hey,” Quin said, touching his shoulder.
Matheus looked at him. If he hadn’t known better, he’d have thought Quin looked concerned.
The woman’s body rested against the wall on the opposite side of the alley. She could have been asleep, her legs curled underneath her thighs, mouth open as though to draw in a breath. The tilt of her head hid the marks on her throat;her red blouse masked the drops of blood. She looked peaceful.
“I’m going to be sick,” Matheus said.
“No, you’re not. Come on. We should go.” Quin tugged at his sleeve.
Matheus took a step forward, then stopped.
“We’re just going to leave her here?”
“But the police . . . what about the marks?”The aftermath would be as he imagined: the woman’s face plastered all over the news, interviews with girls in glittering dresses and too much makeup, their boyfriends pompously fierce behind them. The thought made him angry. The woman didn’t belong to them; her death wasn’t theirs to glam up and trot around for cheap thrills. Matheus opened his mouth to tell Quin, then closed it again. Quin might not understand. With a short nod,Matheus moved toward the street.
“Keep your head down. Don’t run. Don’t look like you’re in a hurry.” Quin kept his hand at the small of Matheus’ back.
Matheus tried to ignore how comforting he found the contact.
“Humans don’t like to think about things that aren’t supposed to exist,” Quin said.
“What about DNA? And people saw us.”The girl with the tattoo, Matheus thought. She could identify him.
“You’re the undead, sunshine,” Quin said. “DNA isn’t an issue. The club was crowded. No one will remember us.”
“I need to lie down,” Matheus said.
They turned away from the crowd of smokers,toward the quieter section of the city. As soon as they left Hanners Street, the people fell away, leaving only Matheus, Quin, and the streetlights.
Quin wrapped an arm around Matheus’ waist and ran. The buildings whooshed by, a gray blur streaked with lights. They arrived at Quin’s house in minutes.
Matheus thought he’d never been so happy to see an abandoned, grime-streakedbuilding. He didn’t protest as Quin bypassed the living room and brought Matheus down to the basement.
“Rest,” Quin said.
Matheus crawled onto the bed and curled up. The last of the warmth faded,replaced with a hollow chill.
“Don’t leave me alone,” he whispered.
“I won’t,” said Quin.
“Matheus?” Quin pushed open the door, glancing around the darkenedroom.
“I killed someone,”Matheus said. He sat on the bed, blankets shoved onto the floor.
“What are you doing?” The mattress dipped as Quin sat down.
Matheus didn’t look up.
“I’m a murderer,” he said, tearing at his skin. “I killed someone and I didn’t even know her name.”
Quin caught his hands.
“Stop that,” he said. “It isn’t helping.”
“Get off me!” Matheus screamed. “This is your fault! You made me this way! You’re a monster!”
“I know,” said Quin. He sighed, raising one hand towardMatheus’ head. “I—”
“Don’t touch me. Don’t come near me ever again. I don’t want to look at you.”
“Matheus . . . .”
“Oh, god.” Matheus wrapped his arms around himself and rocked back and forth. “I’m murderer. She’s dead. I killed her. I killed her. I killed her. I-I-I—”
Quin sat back and watched as Matheus slowly went to pieces.
Matheus sat up.
Quin stood, silhouetted in the doorway. He paused there for a second, then stepped inside, closing the door after him.
Matheus looked at the peeling wallpaper. His arms rested on his knees, thick scratches running up and down their length. He picked at a scratch, wincing as it started to bleed, the blood a dark sludge.
“I hate you,” he said dully.
“I expect you do.” The mattress depressed as Quin sat down, close enough for Matheus to feel the damp in his skin. The faint smell of soap hovered around him. Matheus didn’t move as Quin took Matheus’ arm and smoothed his palm over the scratches.Heavy calluses marked Quin’s palm, under the base of his thumb and forefinger. Matheus gave an apathetic shake, which Quin ignored, sliding his hand up above Matheus’ elbow, then down again.
“Why did you do this to me?” Matheus asked. “Why didn’t you just kill me?”
“Well,” said Quin. “You have pretty hair.”
Matheus turned to look at him.
“You’re joking,” he said.
“Mostly.” Quin took Matheus’ other arm and began stroking it. “But mainly,I don’t want anyone finding out what I’ve been doing.”
“I wouldn’t have said anything,” Matheus said. Who would believe him? Aside from the tinfoil hat enthusiasts, of course.
“You might not have had a choice. I know you think I’m a monster, but there are much worse people than me.”
Matheus shivered. He shifted, making another half-hearted attempt to free his arm. This time Quin gave a tug back, flicking Matheus in the knee with his free hand. Startled, Matheus glanced down, catching sight of his arm.
“What did you do?” he asked.
“Magic,” Quin said and wiggled his fingers. The snaggletooth poked out again. Matheus wondered if Quin could get it fixed. Then Matheus thought,Why would he need to fix it? It looks good. Which, as far as ridiculous thoughtswent, topped the list, so Matheus shoved it aside, as he did with all such ridiculous thoughts.
“There’s no such thing,” he said.
“Says the man with no heartbeat.” Quin did have a point, a fact that Matheus ignored.
“Just tell me the truth.”
“I claimed you,” Quin said.
“So you can heal me?”
Quin pushed up his sleeves. Scratches marred his skin, red and raw, matching the pattern from Matheus’ arms.
Hesitantly, Matheus pushed his fingertip against one of them, feeling the scab crack underneath.
“I thought it was the least I could do,” Quin said.
Matheus bent forward, touching his forehead to the bed. He inhaled, wishing the world would make sense for ten minutes. He could handle things if he just had ten minutes of solid reality to hold onto.
“The very least,” he said with a strangled laugh. “I still don’t understand why you didn’t just kill me.”
“Like you said, you did everything I asked.”
“Great,” said Matheus. “I’m so happy.” He sat up,then swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood. He crossed the room,then perched on the edge of the padded bench.
Quin repositioned himself against the headboard. He stretched out his legs, twitching the fabric of his pants until it lay flat and smooth.
Matheus’ fingers tightened around the edge of the bench. “How does turning me into a freak keep me from talking to the wrong people?”
“You’re mine. You belong to me, which gives you a certain amount of protection.” Quin peered at the scratches on his arm. He poked at one, much as Matheus had done.
“I don’t want this. I just want to go to work and come home and eat takeout and read,” Matheus said. He tried not to think about belonging to Quin. Matheus found not thinking about certain things made life much less stressful. Thinking brought in complications.
“Well,” said Quin. “You can still read.” He stood up, clothes falling into perfect order. He dressed like Savile Row’s wet dream. “I’ll show you the library.”
“I don’t have to eat?” Matheus asked.
“No, not for a while.”
“Three months, maybe. You’ll be able to go longer as you age.”
“How long for you?” Matheus stood up reluctantly. His dark, multi-decaded room had begun to grow on him.
“Before you, I hadn’t fed for five years,” Quin said. “I was getting a bit peckish.”
“I’m pleased I could provide a nice snack for you,” said Matheus.
“You tasted a little anemic. You should have eaten more beef.”
Matheus glared at him.
Quin gave him a sunny grin.
“Come on, sunshine.”