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.
Somehow, Matheus thought that the night he died should be fraught with weather straight out of the Old Testament. There should be thunderstorms and hurricane winds and floods with arks. His death should be epic. He wasn’t sure why. In the grand scope of human affairs, he was a speck, but dying still annoyed him, and the universe should have offered up some kind of acknowledgement. A full moon, or a particularly ominous-looking cloud; anything, really. No, the night he died had to be a standard issue, East Coast September evening, city lights tinting the sky orange, and a handful of wispy clouds hovering near the skyline. Sometimes, the universe didn’t appreciate proper atmosphere.
Of course, he didn’t realize this until later.
At the time, Matheus thought, God, I hope I don’t get mugged. He never visited this part of the city; no one did, unless condemned to live there or serve jury duty. Matheus wondered if convenience or coincidence located the courts in the section with the highest crime rate. The subway didn’t run out here; he’d had to take the bus, feeling more and more awkward the longer the trip lasted. At the end, Matheus was the only one in khakis and definitely the only one who even owned a sweater vest, let alone wore it in public. Seeing a bum eying him from a doorway, Matheus closed his coat over the argyle pattern. He ducked his head as he hurried past the bum, shoving down the reflexive guilt. He’d been raised Catholic, so he had a lot of practice.
A group of teenagers occupied the street corner, shoving at each other, laughing, shouting insults in foreign slang. A boy, dodging a smack from one of his friends, bumped into Matheus as he passed. Matheus muttered an apology, walking faster. He listened for footsteps, but heard only laughter. Strains of music mixed in, displacing the laughter as he passed a row of bars, sidewalk thick with exiled smokers feeding their addiction. Matheus thought about stopping for a drink; alcohol had always been a friend in times of need, although the kind of friend that borrowed credit cards without asking and used them to pay its rent for six months, but who got forgiven because it was alcohol! It’d been a friend since middle school. That kind of bond couldn’t just be thrown away, even if it meant living in a box behind Amato’s while his credit score recovered. Matheus had explained all this to his therapist once. His therapist had not been amused.
The reunion had to be postponed, however. The note had been very specific as to location and time, as well as what would happen if he ignored either. Matheus shivered, reaching down to touch the small box crammed into his pocket. He’d already started looking for a new job. Once his boss discovered the theft, she would know right away that Matheus took the box. Only eight people had access to the vault, and only Matheus had shown any recent interest in the piece. He thought there wouldn’t be enough evidence to arrest him, but he read up on shiv-making, just in case.
The feeling of being followed began a few weeks ago. Matheus dismissed the creeping sensation as ordinary paranoia. Then came the phone calls, with that voice, a voice made to be obeyed. The vocal chords had threat built straight into them; not some subtle, creeping evil, but direct as a razorblade to the throat. Matheus hung up, ignored the calls, disconnected his phone. Nothing made a difference. Yesterday morning, he woke up to find a note on his pillow, his name in spiky black writing across the front. After throwing up for a bit, Matheus planned his involuntary robbery, the result of which banged against his leg as he walked.
A streetwalker old enough to be his mother, and possessing fewer teeth than Matheus had fingers, called out to him as he passed. Matheus ignored her, turning away from the commercial area toward the block housing.
“Cocksucker!” she yelled after him.
“Syphilitic trollop!” Matheus shouted back.
The whore scratched her head.
Matheus didn’t stop to explain. He worried about the state of public education sometimes. He made up a little rant in his head, distracting himself from his dismal surroundings. The music dwindled away, leaving an empty chill in the air. The buildings here were dark and shuttered, bars on the windows, bricks decorated by layers of spray paint. Matheus sidestepped a pile of broken glass and turned down a narrow alley.
The alley reeked of rotting garbage cut only by the sharp sting of cat piss. A squelching noise accompanied each of his steps. Don’t think about it, he thought, then moaned as something splashed up his pants leg. Carefully, he pulled the sticky fabric away from his skin, cursing whatever had died in this alley, himself for not opting for that hazmat suit he’d seen at the flea market, but mostly, the owner of the razorblade voice. Matheus wiggled, trying to reach his phone with his free hand. He fumbled with the buttons until the flashlight app switched on, the glow illuminating the end of the alley with terrifying, blue-white accuracy.
Matheus gagged, dropping his phone as he spun around, desperate for clean air. He managed two steps before the bile rose hard and fast, nearly choking him. His body jerked, forcing him to bend at the waist as vomit splattered on the foul ground.
At least I missed my shoes, Matheus thought wildly, anxious to fixate on anything but the bloody tableau behind him.
“Charming,” a voice drawled near Matheus’ ear. He jumped, landing in the fresh mess. Matheus gagged again. He was definitely burning these shoes. Then he imagined walking home, step after squishy step. On second thought, he’d just leave them here.
“What . . . what the hell is that?” he asked. His stomach jumped around in his gut, dividing his attention. Matheus struggled to ignore the jittering. He had more important things to worry about, like the dark figure standing in front of him. Matheus couldn’t make out any details, not even an outline. The tall buildings blocked out any light. The streetlamp on the main street gave a valiant but unsuccessful effort. The dark crushed the light’s yellow glow into oblivion by the third step in. Matheus had only the sensation of another’s presence, a vague shifting of shadows, and the voice.
“That is what happens to people who annoy me,” said the voice. “Did you bring it?”
“What happened to his head?” Matheus couldn’t keep the shadow of a shriek out of his voice. He wiped his face on his sleeve. The taste of vomit burned in his mouth. Whatever—whoever—that had been, Matheus decided he didn’t want to know details.
“That is for me to know,” said the voice, closer this time. “Unless you want a demonstration?”
“Ah, well,” the voice sighed. “No sense of adventure.”
“I’m going to be sick again.” Matheus felt a pair of hands grasp his shoulders and turn him around. They pressed hard enough to leave a bruised feeling in his shoulders.
“That direction, please. I like this suit.”
Matheus heaved, but he’d already emptied his stomach of everything except watery acid. He hadn’t eaten that day. Hadn’t done much of anything really, except snap at his co-workers and steal an ancient artifact. Being caught between thoughts of prison showers and extremely specific threats of maiming did not aid the appetite. Maybe he could market a new diet plan. The Lose-Weight-Or-We’ll-Come-To-Your-House-And-Remove-Your-Shinbones-With-A-Pair-Of-Pliers Plan. Not the best name, but effective, nonetheless. Matheus choked back a laugh.
“You wore a suit?” he asked and spat to clear his mouth. “Here?”
“I do have other things to do,” said the voice.
Matheus didn’t miss the warning. Shaking, he turned around, pulling the small box out of his pocket. He thrust his hand in the direction of the voice.
“Right,” he said. “Here.” He shuddered at the brief brush of skin over his palm. Shoving his hands deep into his jacket pockets, he looked longingly at the entrance of the alley. His skin felt sticky, as though the stench and blood had sunk straight through his clothes. He needed a jet ride home, a scorching shower, and about a gallon of gin. Possibly two gallons.
“Excellent,” said the voice. The box closed with a sharp click, making Matheus jump. The voice laughed.
“Twitchy, aren’t you?” it asked, in a tone that might be considered jovial if not for the bloody mess splattered over the brick.
“Can I go?” Matheus asked.
“Don’t you want your reward?”
Matheus began backing away, tiny silent steps.
“I don’t want anything,” he said, shaking his head. “Except to forget the last twenty minutes.”
“Unfortunately, that isn’t possible.”
Matheus felt something brush over his cheek. He shifted away, stumbled over his own squishy feet, then slammed into a wall. He bounced off, found his footing, squeaked as a pair of arms wrapped around his waist.
“What are you doing?” Matheus asked in a desperate, hysterical voice. Pre-teen girls sounded more masculine. The arms were solid, holding him in place against a hard chest. So this is what a heart attack feels like, Matheus thought. His whole rib cage vibrated in quick, double thumps.
“Insurance policy,” said the voice.
“Shh. No talking during meals.” The voice sounded pleased, amused by itself.
Matheus, less so.
“What!” he yelped. Wiggling did him no good; the arms only gripped tighter. He tasted panic, bitter on his tongue. He shoved at the chest in front of him, fingers sliding over smooth fabric. The bastard had on a suit, didn’t he? He should’ve had a tie. Matheus could’ve strangled him with it. Where the fuck was the goddamned tie?
“Oh, please struggle. It’s so much more entertaining.”
Thoughts of ties and strangulation flew out of Matheus’ head. He flailed, landing one wild blow. Although blow may have been excessive. Tap might have been more appropriate. Or graze. Or gentle caress. Matheus hadn’t been in a fight in ten years. He’d assumed, at this point in his life, his days of punching strangers in the face had ended.
“Don’t worry,” said the voice. “It’s like getting a shot.”
“I hate shots! I’m frightened of needles!” Matheus shouted.
The voice laughed against his throat.
“Good thing I won’t be using needles, then.”
Matheus felt pressure against his pulse point, driving the adrenalin level higher. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to fight the sensation of his body folding into itself. An inner darkness closed on his mind as each panting breath tore out of his mouth. The pressure increased, contracting into a single barb.
“Shit,” Matheus said, and fainted.
Dying is not pleasant. Death is disgusting and messy, body fluids leaking all over the place. Of course, being dead, usually the corpse does not have to deal with the sordid details. It is the livings’ problem. Usually. There are always exceptions.
“Oh, god,” Matheus groaned.
“It’s almost over.”
“Oh, god, oh, god, oh, god.”
“I should have brought a mop. Why do I never remember that?”
Matheus awoke with a disorientating suddenness unlike anything he’d ever experienced before. No lazy moments of sleep lingered, no consciousness curled in through a foggy mind. Even while asleep, something existed: a dream, a nightmare, a deep-set feeling of being. Matheus had nothing.
Slowly, he rolled over, the heavy blanket sliding off his shoulder. The air felt chilled and slightly damp against his skin. A closed-in, musty smell said basement. He couldn’t make out a hint of light. No street lights leaked in through shaded windows, no white glow framed the doorway. Matheus stretched, running his hands over sheets too smooth and soft to be his own. Although, Matheus might have to upgrade, given the sensory thrill ride the linens were giving him.
He wiggled down the bed, sighing softly at the feeling on his skin. Of which there seemed to be an awful lot.
Matheus jerked upright, dragging the blanket up to his chest. Memories of last night were beginning to make ahem-ahem noises in the back of his mind. Oh, god, Matheus thought, holding the blanket like a shield. The alleyway, the voice, the pressure against his neck. Frantically, he ran his fingers over his throat, searching for the punctures, but his skin felt smooth and unmarked. A dream, he thought, but that didn’t explain the strange bed, or that feeling of non-existence. Perhaps he’d had a psychotic break. Maybe he’d been taken away by the nice men in white coats and just hallucinated the last thirty-six hours.
Granted, the hallucination appeared disturbingly real. Would Matheus’ mind create the muffled sound of running water in the distance, or the smell of artificial flowers on his pillowcase? The longer Matheus thought, the harder the mental institution theory became to maintain. Matheus really would have preferred being a basket case to the scenario he very deliberately avoided thinking about.
The sound of water stopped. Matheus drew up his knees, then paused, letting the blanket droop. Something didn’t sound right. In fact, nothing sounded right. He slid his feet over the sheets, listening to the gentle scraping of skin over fabric. The noises seemed as though someone had turned up the volume control of the world a few notches. Matheus couldn’t hear anything outside; he could barely make out the footsteps of someone moving around. He moved his feet again and shivered.
Something had happened last night. The world had been picked up and put back down in the wrong position. Matheus laid his head against his knees and wrapped his arms around his head. He tried to remember how he got there from the alley, but the memory skittered away when he got too close. Matheus let out a moan of frustration, tired of chasing his own thoughts, and snapped his head back.
“Ow, fucker, shit.” So, his senses had gone demented, in that funhouse-optical illusion way, but at least he still had the familiar sensation of whacking his head against crap. Oh, joy. Matheus rubbed the back of his head while glaring darkly in the direction of the headboard. He blamed the voice. Its owner had done something, then brought Matheus back to this godforsaken room with its stealth headboards and irrational audio levels.
The door opened; grey light silhouetted a lean, male figure. Matheus had only a moment to look before the door closed again. The man didn’t say anything for a long moment, but Matheus could hear the soft thud as he rested against the door. Matheus stared at the spot where he thought the man stood, trying to pick something out of the darkness. A thought nudged at him; after a few seconds, he realized he couldn’t hear any breathing.
“‘Morning, sunshine,” said the man. “Sleep well?” He spoke with the voice from the alley, no less threatening, but with an additional layer of amusement.
Matheus dug his fingers in the blanket, twisting the fabric into a tight knot.
“What did you do to me?” he demanded. “Why does everything sound strange? Where are my clothes? Why am I naked? Oh, you didn’t—”
“Yes, because I love nothing more than molesting the unconscious.”
Matheus didn’t have to see the eye-roll.
“I wouldn’t put it past you,” he said, trying not to flinch as he heard the man straighten up.
“A bit braver now, aren’t you?” The man sounded on the verge of laughter.
Matheus had the distinct feeling of being thirteen again. Bastard, he thought. His hands spasmed around the knot of blanket.
“Where are my clothes?” he asked.
“I destroyed them.”
“They were disgusting,” said the man.
“I liked them,” Matheus muttered, coming to the defense of his sweater vest. Many fine men wore sweater vests. Matheus couldn’t think of any, off-hand, but he knew the list was long and varied.
“I wasn’t talking about the style, although it was wretched. Your clothes were ruined beyond the point of repair. It was easier to throw them away.”
“What are you talking about?” Matheus asked.
“Do you know what happens when a person dies?”
Matheus opened his mouth. Closed it again, then bowed to inevitability and opened it again. Occasionally, gaping like a slack-jawed yokel just couldn’t be helped. He groped blindly, pulling and releasing the blanket.
“Work it out yet?” asked the man.
“Oh, god,” said Matheus. He pressed his fingers to his neck, searching for a pulse. He found nothing. He dropped the blanket, pushing his palm against his chest hard enough to feel his ribs creak. His skin, cool and elastic, yielded under his touch. Matheus placed his other hand on top, as though enough force would restart his heart. “I’m dead.”
“More or less.”
“You killed me. You . . . you . . . bastard!”
“Is that all? No points for creativity there.”
“You killed me!” Matheus screamed. “Why? I did everything you asked! Everything!”
“Yes, that is why you are only more or less dead.”
“You fucking prick!”
“Sunshine, please. If you are going to insult me, at least use some imagination.”
“You misbegotten piece of excrement!”
“Better. Still, not your best.”
Matheus wondered if anyone had ever exploded from sheer rage. He choked on obscenities, stuttering out malformed threats that spliced and overlapped until they were little more than nonsense syllables. The unspoken entertainment of the man only fueled his tantrum, until the wave of anger crashed hard and swept everything away. Matheus held onto the quiet for a moment, still furious, another wave hovering on the horizon, but calm for now.
“Come here,” he said.
“You killed me. I should at least get to see what you look like.”
“And you can try to rip my throat out?”
“Yes,” hissed Matheus.
“I’ll stay over here, thank you.”
The man laughed.
Matheus realized he had never known hatred until that very moment. He’d always considered himself a pacifist, but now he knew he had just not found anyone worth the effort of violence. Not anymore.
“No,” said the man. “Just don’t feel like engaging in an act of homoeroticism at the moment. You are still naked.”
“Then give me some damn clothes!”
“So you can kill me?”
“Don’t worry,” Matheus said, voice thick with mockery. “It’s like getting a shot.”
The man sighed.
“I can see there’s going to be no talking to you for a while. I’ll return later, after you’ve had a chance to calm down.”
The door opened. Matheus could make out nothing more than the same general shape: tall, lean, and male. Not that it made a difference what his murderer looked like. After Matheus killed the man, he could stare at his corpse all day long.
The man stepped out, closing the door behind him, leaving Matheus to sulk alone in the dark.
“Calm down,” Matheus said, glaring at empty shadows. “Bastard.”
The light around the edge of the door looked like a still from a sci-fi movie, right before the aliens burst in for the big abduction scene. Matheus blinked, trying to will his eyes to adjust faster. A few second passed as Matheus cursed out his rods as lazy SOBs. Or did the cones provide night vision? Biology class had been a while ago. Matheus hadn’t decided the issue when he realized he could see the pale green of the carpet. He stared. Matheus should not have been able to tell that. At this level of light, everything should be a hazy grey, but the carpet insisted on its greenness.
Matheus needed a closer look. He climbed off the massive bed, tripped over the tangled blankets, and ended up with a much closer look than he had intended. Groaning, he sat up. Matheus massaged his nose gingerly. Against all odds, he’d never broken his nose, and he wanted to maintain that status quo. Satisfied that he didn’t need a splint, Matheus freed his feet and stood up.
More and more details sharpened into being. Posies covered the treacherous blanket, which matched the blue sheets and cream-colored pillowcases. Delicate carvings decorated the wooden bedframe; the designs resembled those popular in the mid-nineteenth century. Matheus specialized in prints and lithographs, not furniture, but he knew enough to tell that the bed would fetch a high price at auction. He didn’t care. A nice bed did not make up for assault and kidnapping.
The rest of the room contained a dresser carved to match the bed, a padded bench pushed against one wall, and a pair of nightstands on either side of the bed. They were all old pieces, no IKEA to be found here. Gold and ivory wallpaper, faded and curling with age, covered the walls. Matheus had the impression of several rooms at once: the wallpaper in the first one, the green carpet in the second, and the matching furniture in the third. An old house, Matheus thought, with a series of owners.
The molding around the door belonged with the wallpaper, but the thick paint covering it went with the carpet. Matheus didn’t understand why people insisted on mutilating perfectly good woodwork. He added the molding to his list of things he hated about the room. Another thing for his list: the locked door. Matheus beat the wood with his fists and achieved nothing. He threw his body against it, with the same result. His newfound super-powers did not include supernatural strength.
Matheus gave up on the door and turned his attention to the dresser. The drawers were empty, as were the two nightstands. The feeling of being exposed began to grate on Matheus’ nerves. He returned to the bed and wrapped the flowered blanket around himself, sarong-style. He started a new list, cataloging the many and varied ways to kill his murderer. He might need to do a bit of research first, but Matheus had confidence he could find a way. Impalement, Vlad-style, on wooden spikes led the list when the door finally opened.
“Sitting in the dark?” asked the man, framed by the hall light. “How melodramatic.”
“I don’t have a choice,” Matheus replied. “You locked me in here.”
“Hmm.” A click, and light flooded the room. “Light switch. Marvelous invention. Maybe you’ve heard of them?”
Matheus did not blush, but only because he lacked the blood flow to produce one. He considered strangulation as a method of revenge, dismissing it when he realized leaping from the bed would almost certainly end with him face-planting into the carpet. Instead, he glared. Matheus excelled at glaring. He could have glared professionally if he hadn’t decided to go into art history instead.
“Still naked, I see.”
Resisting the urge to cover his chest, Matheus increased his glaring level. His murderer appeared unmoved. He tossed a pile of clothes onto the bed. Matheus recognized one of his shirts and the jeans he wore on the weekends.
“Put those on,” the man said. “I promise not to look. Of course, I did already see everything when I bathed you.” He grinned.
Matheus reconsidered strangulation. Could he strangle someone who didn’t breathe?
“Pervert,” he said. His tone lacked the physical violence he craved, but the sheer venom his voice contained provided consolation.
The man raised an eyebrow, continuing to grin.
“Oh, did you want to remain caked in your own filth? So sorry.”
“Turn the fuck around,” Matheus snapped.
The man shrugged and turned to face the open door.
Matheus yanked on the jeans and shirt, nearly ripping off two buttons and a fingernail in the process.
“Done?” the man asked.
Matheus felt better now that his nipples were hidden away, and junior wouldn’t be popping out for a surprise visit.
His murderer turned around, taking a few steps toward the bed.
For the first time, Matheus got a clear look at him. Matheus’ eyes widened. The modern myth, stuck in his head, led him to expect an air of dark sensuality combined with brooding good looks, someone who would look good on the cover of a Brontë novel.
“Something wrong?” the man asked.
“You look like an accountant,” Matheus said. His murderer smoothed a hand down his tie. He wore a bespoke grey suit and waistcoat tailored to the exact angles of his frame; Matheus wouldn’t have been surprised to see a watch fob. The suit probably cost more than all of Matheus’ clothes put together. “A highly paid accountant,” he added.
“You were expecting Robert Pattinson?”
“Sorry to disappoint.” His murderer rolled hazel eyes. He had short, neatly cropped black hair and Mediterranean coloring. His face held a collection of angles: straight, ship’s prow of a nose, high, rising cheekbones, dark slashes for eyebrows, and a jawline that sloped into a sharp, triangular chin. Not even his mother would call him handsome, but people would have a hard time forgetting his features.
Matheus tilted his head to the side, lips pursed.
“Maybe a corporate lawyer,” he said. “I can see you foreclosing on orphans.”
“Thank you, that’s very kind of you to say.” His murderer looked caught between amusement and annoyance. Or perhaps Matheus just projected the annoyance.
“I thought you all were stunningly gorgeous,” he said. Matheus aimed for insulting, but landed closer to sullen teenager than he had intended.
“You all includes you, too, sunshine.”
“Don’t call me that,” Matheus snapped. He needed a heartbeat, not a stupid pet name.
His murderer took another step toward the bed.
Matheus edged away. Something about the man made Matheus’ nerves contract, drawing into themselves as though they were trying to minimize contact with outside sensations. He looked away, but not for long. He imagined people who looked away for too long did not have happy endings.
“Why not? It suits you,” said his murderer, once Matheus looked back.
Matheus treated this ridiculous statement with the respect it deserved, and ignored it.
“People are going to be looking for me,” he said. “They’re going to notice when I don’t show up for work.”
“No one is going to notice,” the man said. “That’s why I chose you. No family, no close friends. You keep to yourself. No one is going to give your disappearance a second thought.”
Matheus felt a needle of anger pierce his generalized rage. The man’s words were a small thing after the indignity of being drained dry in an alley, but truth sharpened the edges. Matheus had no one in his life. He ignored all his co-workers’ attempts at friendship; he belonged to no groups or clubs. In college, he focused on getting his degree as quickly as possible, leaving little time for a social life. Mostly he walked, read, and ate takeout. He preferred things that way.
Fewer questions to answer, and responsible only for himself. Still, that didn’t stop the anger from rising.
“Bastard,” Matheus spat.
His murderer waved his hand with a slashing motion.
“It isn’t my fault you’re pathetic. You don’t even have a pet. Your apartment is depressing, by the way. I was going to be nice and get some of your personal belongings, but you don’t seem to own any.”
Clenching the blanket in his fists, Matheus stared at the floor. He couldn’t do anything else. Trying to speak would only result in more humiliation. Matheus irritated easily, but rarely to the point where he lost his grasp of the English language. He could feel syntax slipping away, so he pressed his lips together and stared at the floor.
“My name is Quin,” said the man. “Quintus Livius Saturninus, but I prefer Quin.”
By extreme force of will, Matheus managed to exhale. He struggled, but managed to follow up with an aggressively even inhale. Given his situation, he probably required neither, but he felt better. At least he remembered how to format his verbs properly.
“I could not care less,” he said. “Unless you’re telling me so I know what to carve onto your tombstone.”
“Oh, stop with the death threats. You can’t kill me. Even if you could, murdering me wouldn’t be in your best interest.”
Quin made the slashing motion with his hand again, and Matheus realized what set his nerves on edge. Aside from his deliberate movements, Quin remained completely still. His chest didn’t move, his fingers didn’t twitch. He stood, straight-backed, in the same position he’d stopped in. He smiled or raised his eyebrows in distinct, discrete movements, separate from the rest of his body. Matheus found himself staring at Quin’s eyelids, trying to determine if he blinked in a regular pattern.
“In case you haven’t noticed, you aren’t exactly human anymore,” Quin said.
More human than you, Matheus thought.
“I can figure it out on my own,” he said aloud. “I’m good at that.”
“You’d be a pile of ash within a week.”
“No sun,” Matheus said, holding up his hands and using his fingers to tick off his points. “I got that one. I can still say God and Jesus, so crosses and holy water won’t be a problem. I’m in a bed, not a coffin, so there’s another thing I won’t have to worry about.”
“That’s a good start, sunshine, but that’s not everything.”
“I can see better in the dark, but regular light doesn’t hurt my eyes.”
Quin gave a soft, pleased laugh.
“This isn’t normal light,” he said, smiling into Matheus’ scowl. “It’s quite dim, really. If you went into a department store, you’d be blinded. I recommend sunglasses until you adjust.”
“So I literally have to wear sunglasses at night,” Matheus said. “I’m going to look like a prat.”
“You’re a grown man who wears sweater vests,” said Quin. “You already look like a prat.”
“Go die in a fire.”
Quin continued to smile at him. A chipped front tooth sat at an angle to the others, catching slightly on his lower lip. A fine dusting of stubble, not immediately noticeable against his olive-dark skin, covered his jaw.
Matheus stroked his own chin. He had shaved yesterday morning, but a fresh crop of hair hadn’t grown in. He wasn’t a shave-twice-a-day type of man, but there should have been some growth after this long. Matheus let his hand drop. There went his shot at growing ironic facial hair. He hadn’t been so inclined, but the lack of choice irked him.
“Okay,” said Matheus. “So, sunglasses. I’ll add that to the list.”
He tilted his head back, trying to look down his nose at Quin. He failed for two reasons: firstly, because Quin topped Matheus’ height by two inches; and secondly, Matheus still sat on the bed. Rumpled sheets and a fluffy duvet did not lend themselves to an air of imperiousness.
“This shouldn’t be too hard,” Matheus added.
“What about silver and stakes? Beheading? Being buried at a crossroads? Glamours? Can you eat normal food? How do you hunt? How do your fangs work? How often do you have to feed? How you get money? Find shelter? Fake IDs? Do you sleep? Or just die at sunrise? Can you still have sex? What happens if you get injured? Will it heal on its own? Does your hair still grow? Will you ever need a bathroom again? What—”
“Stop, stop,” said Matheus. “I get it.”
“I don’t think you do.”
Matheus jumped as Quin appeared in front of him, an arm on either side of Matheus, palms flat on the bed, teeth bared. Matheus could see the flecks of gold in his eyes. He did not look like an accountant, or a lawyer, corporate or otherwise. Matheus’ ability to breath deserted him again. He went as still as Quin, convinced that if he wanted to survive the next few minutes, he should make no sudden movements.
“From now on, you are dependent upon me for everything.” Quin’s eyes held steady, his voice a plane of glass. “The only thing keeping you alive is my goodwill. Understand?”
Matheus nodded, too terrified to do anything else.
“Now,” said Quin, pulling away, his calm smile returning. “Are you going to behave, or do you want to continue bleating about ending my undead existence?”