|Red in Tooth and Claw
Author: MrTicklepaws PM
What's that? Another Apoca'verse fic? Aww yeah. It's time for some spy games. I bet a reserved guy like Worth is great at those. If you haven't yet, go read Desdemona's awesome Hann'Apocalypse fics. They are magical and wonderful, and she is amazingly generous to let me write canon silliness up in her timeline. Total of 3 chapters. My first multi-chaptered fic on here!Rated: Fiction T - English - Supernatural/Drama - Dr. Worth & Conrad A. - Chapters: 3 - Words: 24,710 - Reviews: 10 - Favs: 15 - Follows: 4 - Updated: 06-07-12 - Published: 05-29-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8162549
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
"Soooooooooo," Hanna exited the bathroom looking worn and grinning sheepishly, "who's up for another road trip?" He stumbled slightly and the zombie was there in an instant, catching the pale man and helping him the rest of the way to the lower bunk bed in the room.
Hotels weren't quite what they used to be. Travel was a bit more common, though, and had been increasing as trade routes were slowly being established between various settlements. As it was, given Hanna's rank within the new world organization, they had come to know that hotels these days were typically spare rooms in oversized houses or sometimes an entire unit in an apartment building. Worth sort of preferred the apartments, especially when they contained remnants of their former occupants. He'd found a pair of jeans that actually fit in this one. His other pairs were becoming so worn they were more fixative stitches than actual fabric. One time he had found a sex swing and he insisted Conrad try it out. Conrad had insisted Worth go fuck himself. It had been a fairly relaxing evening.
Currently Worth was sitting in a wooden chair, feet propped up on a child sized desk. He barely fit in the chair, but he wasn't about to sit in a fucking bean bag chair. Conrad was still half asleep on the upper bunk bed and peered down from over the edge, pouting about having to wake up and join the rest of the world or how awful his behead must be or something. He might be hungry, though. Worth did some quick calculations, trying to figure out if he could spare another bit of blood. Maybe if he got some hits of orange juice afterwards, but where the hell was he going to get orange juice? They were in the midwest, not Florida. Also, fuck Florida. He didn't even want orange juice anymore.
"Where are we going now?" Muttered the vampire, blanket still drooping over the top of his head. "I thought we were staying here for a week to source some parts for the RV."
The ginger grimaced, eyes closing as his head hit the pillow. "No can do, Con-my-man. Gonna miss the bunking. I was hoping we'd tell each other ghost stories before sleeping. You know, like a sleepover? Only better 'cause we could make all the noise we wanted?"
"Don't think ghost stories really work when yer sleepover happens after sun-up," Worth groused, barely keeping from tipping over in his long, backwards lean in the too small chair. "Course, wotshisname's already got th' glowin' eyes goin fer story time. Don't need no flashlight or nothin'. G'on," he waved a hand in the general direction of the bed. "Weave us a story. Give us a good scare."
The zombie stared. "I suppose I could recount the last book I read."
"Yeah? Go fer it. Rather hear that than wot shortstack's gonna tell us, anyway." Worth pulled a pocketknife free, using the tip of blade to scrape at dirt beneath his short nails.
"Very well." He took a breath, dry fingers lacking their usual leather covers sliding over Hanna's curls. "Alejandro was a stable boy, excellent with his charges. Strong, yet gentle, and he yearned to one day breed his own line of champion Andalusians. He chafed at the poor breeding practices his employer used, and despised how he treated his steeds. However, even more he was filled with resentment over how the farm's owner treated his beautiful daughter."
A weary groan from sleeping beauty. "Oh God, no. Not another romance novel. Just stop. Stop now."
"Naw, this is where it gets ta th' good part, heavin' bosoms 'n' all. Keep goin'."
"It is really weird listening to girlporn surrounded by dudes while getting my head stroked."
Tall forehead wrinkled as eyebrows raised, eyes still set on his blade. "Depends on which head's gettin' stroked."
Conrad immediately began to fight with the blankets, attempting to free himself. "No. That's it. I'm leaving. If you're continuing this, I am done. I am not participating."
"There is sword fighting, if it helps, Conrad."
The violent struggle paused. "I suppose that's not so bad. Maybe if you just focus on that part?"
"I can. Alejandro's main competition for the affections of Esperanza was the neighboring landowner's son, Lope. Lope had little care for horses, and poured all his energies into hunting and drinking. He was especially fond of fencing, and bore a scar across his cheek from a hard won duel in his formative years."
"Are there pirates? Fencing and swordfighting usually means pirates."
"I am sorry, Hanna, no. No pirates." Smiling gently at Hanna's groan of disappointment, he continued, shifting slightly where he sat on the bed to allow Hanna a bit more room. "As one might expect, Alejandro and Lope were bound to fight for the love of Esperanza and so one night they met on the beach, intending to duel at sunset. They drew swords and fought in the ocean spray until both were exhausted. They looked upon one another with a new found respect and admiration. Soon after their swords entangled again and they writhed in the foam of the sea."
"Whoa, uh, their what did what and they what?"
"Their swords...oh...I see." Above Hanna, Conrad let out a strangled, frustrated howl, and in the chair, Worth's head fell back as he laughed. "Hmm...Yes, I had wondered if that scene may have been a series of euphemisms."
"Leave it ter Connie. Jus' loves a story wit' swords rubbin' together."
"Done. No. Done." He dropped from the top bunk, landing haphazardly on the beanbag chair, and stalked out of the room.
"Right, well, since Connie's gone off ta get a li'l privacy-"
From the hall, the vampire shouted "I"m not, fuck you."
Worth continued, "might as well let us know wot yer gab fest with th' local chieftans was about."
"Yeaaaaaaaaah about that, why don't they like, wait for me to finish? I am developing a serious neurosis when it comes to taking twosies in an actual bathroom these days."
"Ya light a match afterwards?"
"What? Oh, no, I mean, it's not like they can smell anything and the mirror was next to the toilet rather than across from it and, dude, for real, who the hell wants to watch themselves take a dump? Who puts a mirror across from a toilet? Anyhoozits, they need us to go play spy games. Ugh, man, I always get worn right the hell out when I'm in an unshielded room. Crystal ball scrying. Why can't we do it that way? Why is it always bathroom mirrors?"
Initially Worth felt a prickling of interest and closed the pocket knife. Spies often meant danger, booze, and cheap, double crossing women. As far as that went, he was more than down. Then again, that was the romantic version of spies. Real spies were 40 year old alcoholic men with paunches and receding hairlines working for computer companies, secretly siphoning off company information about upcoming projects to guys in China. At least both versions probably had booze, and Worth doubted he'd need to learn Mandarin for this case. "And?"
"Huhwha? Oh uh, yeah so there's kinda sorta maybe a group that doesn't like the humans so much? You know how there were a bunch before the treaty saying the time of man is over and now it is the time of the supernatural? Well, it's not like those feelings went away so much as just kinda scattered. But it's been a few years and they've been reforming with structure. So council bros sent some people in to the various groups. One of the special operatives, how cool does that sound? Totally cool, am I right? So their special operative went dark. Also, very cool. Going dark. Haven't heard in two weeks. Worried. So we get to go in there and either save them or uh...well if they defected...we um..." Hanna struggled with the words, eyebrows knitting together above his upturned nose. He took a breath. "We'll go in and save them."
"If they defected?" Conrad was leaning in the doorway, arms crossed, hair wet and slicked back.
"We, um, kinda are supposed to," He shrugged, sounding defeated, "y''know."
"Off 'em." Worth supplied.
Hanna's silence and the dry creaking of the zombie's ribs as he sighed were enough of a confirmation for the doctor.
Fortunately, with a little extra tinkering, the camper grudgingly coughed its way back onto the highways forming the veins and arteries of the Mostly United States of What Used To Be America.
"United Territories, maybe?" Hanna asked, pencil slowly disappearing as he gnawed on the end.
Worth's eyes looked up and to the side, staring at the reflection of himself and Conrad's floating shirt sleeve, painted in blurred light against the dusty inside of the passenger's side window. "Why not call it Those Living By Council Whim?"
"That sounded...like nearly proper English." Now on a clear stretch of road, Conrad shifted to a higher gear and flattened the gas pedal. The camper jerked and rocketed ahead. "I'm not sure if I should be proud of you or checking for a temperature."
"Ah, that's more like it."
Teeth continued their work on the pencil, eyes narrowed in concentration. "We aren't living by council whim, bro. They have an agreement and alliance. Humans didn't get out of it too badly, really. I mean, it helps that the Seelie Court members of the council feel like they kinda owe us for helping out back in Salem. Oh, and that dragon thing. Big ups to us for that one. King me!"
The zombie rumbled much like the RV and placed a black checker on top of the one Hanna had managed to drive all the way to the back of the checker board. "Well done, Hanna. I had not expected that move."
"I am unpredictable and exciting! I live a life of danger and intrigue!"
"An' ya drag us all along kickin' 'n' screamin'. Thanks," Worth grumbled.
Hanna scribbled on a piece of paper while the zombie considered his next move. "You don't scream, bro. You do kick, though, and, seriously? Not so hard next time? I had a lump on my shin for like, a week."
"I'll kick ya when ya deserve it. 's called tough love."
A snort from the driver. "I think that's called abuse, Worth."
"Wow, you two must reaaaaaaaaally like to abuse each other then. Like, tons. I guess that works for Worth but I never thought you were the type, Conman."
Worth wondered how fast the zombie would move if he stood up now and just happened to smack the ginger upside the head as he moseyed his way to the back of the camper. Probably fairly fast. Might make for an interesting experiment in the future. He would have to try and find a stopwatch in the next town they stopped at. "Connie can't help it," he replied, hands folding themselves across his stomach, "poor bugger can't keep his hands offa me."
"You know, I'll agree with you, Worth."
There was silence in the camper and the doctor stared at Conrad from the corner of his eye, breath suddenly slow. "Yeah?"
"Yes," a downshift as they neared a formerly large city and needed to take an exit to work their way around the rusting metal skeletons of a long forgotten traffic jam. "Simply change "hands" to "fists" and I think we're good."
He settled more deeply into the seat, feeling the corners of his mouth creasing as he scowled. "Pretty sure yer inta chokin' me. That don't require fists, that requires hands. Original argument stands."
Nearly at their destination, with the sun bright and stinging on their faces, they pulled over for Hanna to work some cloaking spells. Worth took the opportunity to stretch his legs and empty his bladder. Conrad had retired to the back of the camper hours earlier and Worth had been bored ever since. The zombie was an okay driver, but far too careful. No last minute swerves onto country roads, no breakneck speed. It was like Driving Miss Daisy, but Worth worried if he started calling Hanna by an even girlier name than the one he was given, Conrad might get jealous.
The tiny monster in question wandered up beside the doctor and followed his lead, grabbing a long stalk of wild grass, slowly peeling it apart as the two men stared at the tall buildings of Boston, glass glittering. "Shielding's done. We can head out whenever."
"Good." He made no move to return to the RV. It was bound to get hot considering it was already muggy out and still not yet noon. Air conditioning wasn't exactly the camper's strong suit at the moment. Refrigerant was one of the items that had been on their shopping list, actually, but, oh no, sorry, no time for that! Back on the road with you! You'd think with all the bullshit they'd put up with running around that they had at least earned a summer without sweaty balls sticking to their legs.
"It's kinda funny, isn't it? The makes you think kind."
Irritated hands dropped the stalk of grass and batted away early morning gnats, feeling the stickiness of the day already blanketing itself across the back of his neck. "Don't even start on th' meanin' a life here, kid. Way too damn early fer it."
"No just. How you start somewhere and you think you're going to wind up so far away and then...you just keep coming back over and over again. Same people, same places, same challenges until you figure it out and get it right. Like, here we are. Massachusetts. Fighting against the same groups who tried to prevent the alliance. Same groups now trying to destroy the alliance. Just. I dunno." He dropped the last bits from his hand and plucked a new strand from the earth. "Thinking maybe there's something we missed first time around. Something we didn't do right."
"Mebbe we oughta side with th' others. Mebbe thass it."
"Whaa? Psh, no way. I mean, the Unseelie are un for a reason, bro. They aren't good times. You know the group we're going to be in? Er, well, not me but uh, y'know."
There was a tickle on the back of Worth's neck at Hanna's words and he told it to go fuck off for the time being. He'd be back around to revisit it in a bit. "Uh huh. Wot about it?"
"They're going by the name Redcaps."
"And? Red's a good color. Christ knows Conrad can't live without it."
"They get the name from the stains on their hats...You wanna guess what's staining their hats red, bro? Here's a hint, hemoglobin."
"Well then they're fuckin' idiots. Oughta be Browncaps."
"Fff, yeah, I guess."
Okay, now he could go ahead and check back in with Mr. Neck Tingles. "So yer stayin' b'hind are ya?"
"Y-yeah? Um, I mean, I want to go in and help and stuff it's just...I'm too well known. They'd recognize exactly who I am and why I'm there and the jig is up! Always wanted to say that, you know? Kinda doesn't feel as awesome as I thought it'd be." Teeth worried a lower lip, Hanna's gaze looking at something far beyond the Boston skyline.
"Uh huh. So who's goin' in?"
"You know what? We could totally just finish driving now. Now would be an excellent time to drive. I even put an extra bit of rune work on to repel bugs, how rad is that? Super rad if I do say so myself. Gonna see if it works on people later on 'cause mosquitoes? Total jerks."
"Ain't lettin' ya drop it, Hanna."
Shoulders drooped and the mage sighed, looking simultaneously too old and too young. "I'm real sorry, man, but I gotta send in Connie."
Worth's nostrils flared. "Th' fuck ya do. Send me."
"Dude, did you miss the Redcaps part we discussed earlier?"
"Didn't miss shit. Connie ain't goin' in there. He can't fend fer himself."
"I don't think you're giving him enough credit, bro. He's come a long way. Saved your ass more than once. A certain incident like a month ago is kinda coming to mind."
He remembered. Saying "thank you" hadn't worked out quite the way he had hoped. The follow up attempt hadn't fared much better. He popped his neck and grit his teeth. "Flukes. He got lucky."
"Uh, yeah, sure. Lucky. That's a word that totally makes me think of Conrad."
"Ya ain't sendin' him in there by himself, Hanna."
"Oh, no, he won't be, see, it'll be a group. He'll be with a group. Not by himself, Jesus, I'm not that dumb, gimme some credit here, okay? Trust me?" Hanna stepped in closer, putting a hand on Worth's arm, blue eyes looking up. "I know that...I know, okay? I know. I'm gonna make sure this works."
"He won't. I mean, hey, he's already dead, right?" At Worth's instant glare, the red head backed up, grinning, hands up with fingers spread. "Bad joke, bad joke! For serious, though, man, he'll be okay, okay? Uhhhh wow you are still angry face so I'm gonna just head back to the camper and let Nolan know we are ready? Yes? Okay? Wow, yeah, know what? I'm gonna run," he did, shouting out a "meet you there!" as he zoomed, leaving a swath of swaying grass in his wake. Worth stalked after him, uprooting grass and tossing it aside as he followed.
Conrad hadn't been particularly pleased with the plan, either, but was eventually brought to a very cranky "I'm not speaking to you" agreement. Or at least Worth figured it was an agreement. Conrad was currently hiking through the city streets alongside the doctor and four others so that was agreement enough or at least an ending to his objections. They had been trudging along for far longer than Worth liked, and he was fairly certain there was magic at work keeping them moving in circles, making it hard to find the epicenter of Unseelie activity. Fucking annoying.
He was trying to keep track of each of the various families of supernatural critters roaming along with him. The easiest one to remember was Hey. She was an Angiak, and had traveled one hell of a long way to join the group. Her name meant snow, apparently. Worth just liked being able to shout "Hey" and have someone look up immediately. Didn't like her eyes, though. Freaked him right out. Then again, she was the soul of an Inuit child who had been left out in the elements to die during a lean season. He supposed any spirit from those sorts of origins wouldn't be all sunshine and flowers.
There was a Glastig, and he had nearly made a rather fatal mistake upon first meeting her. She'd been flirting and, hell, he was strung out and she'd seemed cute (and willing) enough at first glance. Fortunately he'd spotted a bit of hoof sticking out from underneath her long skirt and promptly turned his attentions back to Conrad. Neither goat-girl nor Conrad had seemed terribly happy with that turn of events. Couldn't remember her name. Would probably call her Nanny at some point and get kicked. No real loss there - not like he was going to get into barnyard antics with her anyway.
A naga and a, what was it? Something-noz? They rounded out the rest of the group. Naga seemed like an alright guy, if a little effeminate. Worth wasn't too surprised that he and Conrad had been getting along fairly well so far. Nozzie was just a short, dumpy guy with warts and the thinnest, mousiest brown hair Worth had ever seen. Quiet. Apparently did sheep herding. Maybe he'd wind up under Nanny's skirts before this was all done.
The current topic between new bff's snakey two-fang and faggy one-fang was one of those British series Conrad kept reading over and over again. Worth blotted sweat from his upper lip and forehead with the sleeve of his shirt, listening only because he didn't have much of anything else to do besides play kick the empty beer bottle.
"I agree, those were good books, but I don't know if you can overlook Sam Vimes."
"Sam Vimes was good," the naga replied, arm bangles catching the moonlight as he emphasized his words, "but he was no Death."
"Yes, but Death just spoke to you in your head and collected souls. Vimes actually solved mysteries. Also, Vimes had a werewolf and a zombie on his payroll. Death only ever spent time with humans or the Deaths of other creatures."
"Okay, but can we at least agree that the Death of Rats was fantastic?"
"Well...well yes, okay, we can agree on that point."
Worth was getting tired of it. Conrad looked almost happy? Relaxed at least, and that was simply unacceptable. Butting in was mandatory. "Oi. So you got a cloaca or wot?"
Face blank, the naga looked over. "I assume that was aimed at me."
"Lookin' at ya, ain't I?"
Golden eyes narrowed slightly. "You are, yes."
"My God, really? Really?" Conrad pinched the bridge of his nose and stopped walking, choosing instead to stand in the middle of the street. "This is what you are asking. We are trying to find the entrance and you're going to ask Ram about his-his-his...physiology?"
"Yeah. Why not? Ain't findin' this place 'n' I'm bored." Grinning, he sat on the dusty hood of an abandoned car parked along the curb. "Call it scientific curiosity."
"Scientific is it?" The tip of Ram's tail curled and flipped back and forth as he smoothed the front of his long shirt with long fingered hand.
Worth shrugged. "Sure. We'll go with that."
"Well in that case," the tail stopped flipping and he slithered closer, winding up draping himself across the hood of the car Worth was reclining on. He rested his head in the palm of one hand. "Yes."
"Christ that's weird. Ya piss 'n' shit from th' same place."
"And mate. Don't forget that part." A fingernail tapped against a fang. "Interesting question."
"Issit? Ya freaked out by me havin' separate spaces fer my genitals 'n' anus? I find it pretty damn useful."
"Not particularly," Ram tilted his head, looked mildly bored, "usually human men first ask about the tongue."
For a white hot moment Worth sat there wordlessly as his mind immediately jolted forward to the implications. He squinted, chin jutting out. "Prove it."
With a wiggle of eyebrows, the naga parted his lips and a forked tongue slid out, tips moving independently. "I'm afraid," he said after his tongue slid back into its proper place, "I'm not at liberty to give a demonstration. Besides, you're not really my type."
"Eh," the doctor shrugged, "suppose I ain't really available nohow, ain't that right, sweetheart?"
Conrad cleaned his glasses on his shirt, temporary blindness apparently saving him from the rather impressive tongue display. "No, I suppose you are not."
"Unless mebbe ya wanned ta do a li'l experimentation. Threeways ain't s'bad if ya put all th' pieces together in th' right way."
Polished glasses slid back into place. "I'm not even acknowledging this line of thought. It's not going to happen."
"Ooh, that a li'l jealousy I see, Connie?"
"Yer even hard? Well, Christ, we ought find us a nice quiet alley or, hell, I'm fine with this car right here." Worth patted the hood in the space between himself and the naga.
"You have issues. Serious issues. Volumes. Catalogs. Libraries. Can we get on with things, please?"
Goat-girl fluffed her skirt, feet making slight clicking noises against the asphalt. "I think he's right. Sun up will come eventually and while that might not bother, Hey, Ram, Nigel," oh that was his name. Fitting. "Or me, I have a feeling it won't get on well with vampires."She had a point. Though it was still dark, the horizon held the graying promise of future light.
Worth tsked and slid from the hood of the car. "I tol' ya we oughta have brought along some sunscreen 'n' sunnies fer ya, Connie. Ya never lissen ta me, do ya?"
"The last time I listened to you we wound up hopelessly lost in Mexico with chupacabres clinging to the side mirror of the RV."
"Really?" Uneven nails scratched the underside of Worth's chin. "Don't remember that."
"You wouldn't. You were high out of your mind and giggling, asking if we could visit the butterfly museum."
The naga choked on a laugh and graced Worth with the sort of smile one reserves for especially adorable and stupid children. "Butterfly museum?"
"Wot? Ya don't enjoy nature's beauty?" Worth pointedly looked at Ram's tail.
"Um, I-I d-do think Caoimhe has m-made a g-good point." Nigel looked up, smiling nervously, eyes skittering away as soon as they made contact with Worth's. "M-maybe we sh-should g-get going?"
With an exaggerated bow, Worth stepped aside. "Ladies first."
Caoimhe gave a wan smile and strutted forward in her slightly off, hopping sort of gait with Hey close behind. Nigel attempted to follow and Worth put his hand out, blocking him. "Ah, ladies first."
"B-b-but Caoimhe and H-Hey have alr-ready gone."
"Uh huh. I did say ladies, aint' that right, love of my life?" Wrinkled eyes fluttered as they sought out Conrad's face.
Worth was moved by Conrad's response. Literally. His head was ringing and his footsteps less than straight for several blocks afterwards while the vampire scowled and shook his now aching hand.
"Ugh! We're getting nowhere." Fang poking over his lower lip, Conrad stopped and put his hands on his hips. "Does anyone here know any magic? Anyone? Homing beacon or mystical flare gun or a flock of fucking doves? Something? Anything?" Frustrated, he sat down on the curb, fingers rubbing at his temples.
Ram sighed and coiled up next to Conrad. "It may be better to call it off for now and try again later."
"Ya gettin' a headache, Connie?"
He huffed. "Yes."
"Guess that means mornin' approaches. Wotever we do we gotta decide ta do it fast."
A short, rounded nail tapped against Caoimhe's pink lips while she looked up and around. "Should we just find a building and go to the darkest area? Let Conrad sleep? Hey and I could keep looking."
The naga rose up, stretching. "I'm good with sunlight. Very good."
"Sure ya are. Fine. Two a ya g'on ahead 'n' see if ya kin find anythin'." Red rimmed eyes searched, looking for a suitable building in the area. "I'll find some place fer her ladyship ter catch up on her beauty sleep. Christ knows she needs it." Almost forgetting, Worth looked down at Nigel. "Guess ya kin do wotever ya want. Go with 'em or bunk down with us. 'Course, if ya stay with us, ya might hear some things. Connie's a bit o' a screamer."
"Oh for God's sake, Worth, I am hungry and tired and my head is throbbing and-"
"That all thass throbbin'?"
Conrad snarled. Worth smiled delightedly. The vampire lunged and suddenly their surroundings shifted, shimmered, wiggled. Worth felt off balance, struggled to keep his eyes open, to stay aware and present. It became clear very quickly that they were not alone, and possibly had never been alone in their entire wanderings of the city. Lumpy, dark, pulsing shapes emerged, walking around the group, some ignoring and others clearly watching.
"Well," a voice like gargled nails spoke, belonging, apparently, to the thing covered in armor approaching them directly. Worth squinted, tried to find eyes or a face or even figure out what he was looking at. The best he could come up with was a cross between a tree and an ox, well armored, and carrying a very sharp looking axe. "Congratulations. You have found the Redcaps."
Laughter surrounded them, a sensation like arrows thunking off of Worth's skin. He felt something else, too, a hunger, desire for him. It wasn't the good sort, though. He had a feeling it was less "I'd like to have some of that" and more "I'd like to have some of that with a side of fava beans and a nice Chianti."
Well he always felt the best defense was a good offense. The doctor straightened his back, felt Conrad's hold on the front of his shirt go slack and fall away. "'Bout goddamned time. How long ya been watchin' us?"
Something was running back and forth, darting between the bodies surrounding Worth's group. He kept his eye on it. "So we gotta do some official enlistment or wot?"
Oxtree swayed slowly. "Something like that. Why do you wish to join? Each of you. Reasons."
Ram moved forward, slithering close to their welcoming committee as he bowed his head. "Humans have persecuted my kind for centuries. They have skinned my people alive and thrown them in pots of boiling water. They have chased us from our homelands with beatings, thrown firebombs into our dens, killing our children. Their time is over, as is the time of my people's persecution. I side with the Redcaps."
Around them the clang of metal punctuated by howls that settled in his guts and made him nauseous. "Well spoken. Who else wishes to plead their case?"
"The children of man," Caiomhe nearly whispered, face covered by long hair as she looked at her hands, clasped together, wringing themselves in the mauve toned pre-dawn, "have done nothing but use me for their own physical means. They desire me, they desire to use me. They then want to leave me when they find out I am imperfect. They are too much like the Seelie, too obsessed with beauty and perfection. They do not embrace change. They are doomed to fail. Only those who see the true path will survive," she looked up, cheeks wet, "those who evolve and accept differences, embrace them, they are the enlightened ones, they are the ones who deserve power. I side with the Redcaps."
More cheering. That thing was still running around, getting closer with each pass. Worth's hands ached for his gun.
"Small ones," Oxtree prompted, kneeling to be something closer to Nigel's face.
Eyes darted around, he swallowed, hands fisting and relaxing at Nigel's sides. "I'm u-ugly. All I ever w-w-wanted w-was...was to l-love someone and b-be l-loved. M-my mother th-th-threw me out wh-when she s-saw what she g-gave b-birth to. Th-they have thrown m-me away. Wh-why sh-should I not th-throw them away t-too?"
"Why indeed, little brother. Little sister?"
"I was thrown out by humans as well. Left to freeze to death surrounded by nothing but whiteness. I am always hungry, always cold. They have cursed me and I shall, in turn, curse them, as well."
Nodding, appearing to accept the statements, Oxtree rose and Worth immediately moved, spotting that circling thing suddenly leaping forward. He grabbed Conrad by the shoulders, pulling him out of the way.
"Oh God what is that?"
It was mostly humanoid. Mostly. It looked like a child's attempt to create a clay human that had been abandoned part way through. There was no head, but there was a mouth with teeth directly where the neck would be, frothing, ropey strands of saliva swaying as it attempted another lunge. "Eateateateat!"
"Aw th' hell ya do. Connie ain't on th' menu." Worth kicked, striking the creature in what he assumed was the solar plexus. It whined and stumbled back, arms flailing.
The longer of Oxtree's arms reached out, snagging the headless creature by the shoulder. "Patience. We appreciate the vampire's blood offering, but he must first make the offering official before we feast."
"Is he not a blood offering? A gift?"
"What is he, then? Surely you don't expect us to accept him as a Redcap." Oxtree's grip tightened and Headless screeched as its arm suddenly crumpled unnaturally. "What game are you trying to play, fledgling?"
"I, what? Game? No game. I just..." Conrad looked around, uncertain, eyes settling on Worth, then back out to the group. They hadn't really figured this part out before leaving. Hanna hadn't been happy, but he also couldn't do much to stop Worth from following along. "He's not an offering or a gift."
"What is he?" Oxtree repeated, three words soon picked up by others surrounding them. The human and the vampire looked once to the four they had thought of as allies. Worth wasn't quite as certain of their standing now.
Ice so cold it burned wrapped around Worth's forearm. He tried to twist to break its grip, but his insides were corkscrewing and boiling. He heard a shriek as he was released, knees giving out, cold sweat on his skin as he dry heaved on the ground. He could see Conrad's feet and heard crisp, words above him as he struggled to clear his head.
"He is mine. You think I'm going to come here without a steady food supply? I might be a fledgling, but I'm not stupid. Keep your hands and claws and beaks and whatever else you have away from him."
The crowd murmured. Oxtree shifted his axe from hand to hand. "I'm afraid I do not believe you, fledgling. He bears no marks of ownership. No collar of scabs, barely a pallor to his skin. Provide proof or I will eat him myself."
Worth sat back and looked around, vision clearing. He spotted an angry, thin woman holding the stump of what used to be a full arm. Oh. Banshee. No wonder that had hurt like a bitch. He sat on his ass an looked up at Conrad's stiff back. "I knew I oughta have given ya my class ring 'n' made this thing official."
"Shut up and show them."
"Show them, Worth."
"Fraid I left all my jewelry at home, darlin'. Didn't wanna risk losin' any of it on th-"
Conrad whirled and pulled Worth to his feet by the back of his damp collar. Christ it was easy to forget how much strength the vampire had when he wasn't actually using it all the time. The button on the left arm of Worth's long sleeved shirt popped off as Conrad yanked it up, exposing bruised skin on the inside of Worth's elbow. So, it hadn't been as much of a secret as the doctor had thought. He stood, dumbly, feeling naked in a wholly unpleasant manner.
"You think I'm going to put my mouth on him? He bleeds himself for me and has been doing so for years. He is mine. He is not yours. You will stay fucking away."
"So you have forced a human into servitude. We can respect that. But I would advise keeping him on a short leash, fledgling. Not all will respect your wishes. Might makes right."
Conrad released Worth and the older man stumbled, unsure if he should pull his sleeve back down or not. He left it for now, fingers twitching with the need for nicotine.
"If anyone fucks with my meal ticket, they will regret it. I am not in the mood. Now if we're done with the formalities, I'm going to sleep." The vampire turned and stalked off. The Redcaps parted, letting him through.
Worth took a breath, then waved to the group and followed Conrad to the nearest building, an office of some sort. They walked up the stairs, footsteps hollow and echoing, glowing symbols painted above railings casting strange, fizzing shadows along the walls. Upon reaching the third floor and finding the door unlocked, they entered and headed down the dark hallway. Worth had to slide a hand along the wall to maintain an idea of where he was, running right into Conrad on more than one occasion when the vampire stopped short.
"Here." Lukewarm skin grabbed Worth's hand. "It's going to take forever if you just keep bashing into me every time I check a door."
"Dunno how th' fuck yer seein' in here."
Conrad didn't reply, leading Worth by the hand, continuing to try doors until he found one he considered suitable. He dragged Worth inside and pushed him against a wall. "Stay here. Don't move."
"Good pet does wot they're told."
A snort and then Conrad was gone, leaving Worth to stand, blinking futilely in the darkness as he heard the tell-tale scrapes of furniture being rearranged. When it was quiet, Conrad returned and again took his hand, leading him to something Worth guessed was close to the middle of the room. "If you feel nearby you'll find a chair. I'm taking the lounger. It's right beside the chair. I am going to sleep and we will figure things out when I wake up."
Released, Worth frowned and felt for the chair, sitting down in it once located. It was a good size and plush as hell. He could actually sort of curl upon it and ooh, it reclined. That was the ticket. The gears complained from lack of use, but the chair leaned back, foot section popping out to support Worth's lower legs. The room was quiet and Worth had an unsettling feeling of being inside a sensory deprivation tank. Just him and the darkness and somewhere out there, Conrad. He stretched his arm and felt the softness of Conrad's hair beneath his palm.
Then he felt the roughness of Conrad's hand smacking his away. "Stop. Not in the mood."
Silence again. Too much of it. Too heavy. Worth gave in. "How long ya known?"
"Considering the fact that the blood I've had has never changed in flavor once and I was somehow miraculously still being fed baggies of it when we were thousands of miles from civilization and without any sort of refrigeration system for months at a time? Really? Besides, I've seen you boiling catheters and needles. It wasn't hard to figure out."
"Huh...Wot would ya have done if ya hadn't found any marks on m'arm? Jus' start strippin' me from head ta toe?"
"Connie?" He hazarded touching Conrad's head again. The vampire remained motionless and Worth allowed the tips of his fingers to graze across shaggy hair as he sighed. "Th' hell're we gonna do 'bout this, Connie?"
Without an answer, the doctor pulled his shirt sleeve down and went to sleep.