Author's Note: This started out with me listening to "All About Us" by t.A.T.u. and wondering what to write for a Halloween fic. Then, appropriately enough, it became a monster.
The influences on it are numerous and probably evident—the pseudo-science is from my major "Doctor Who" hangover; a lot of the atmosphere seeped in from reading 1984 for class; and it obviously owes a great deal to "Van Helsing" both in content and in ambiance. :D As it went on, it borrowed feelings from other items, "The Matrix" in particular, and The Time Machine, and goodness knows what else.
You don't have to know any of that to enjoy it, however, which I hope is what you will start doing now. :)
(Wretchedly, I haven't finished it yet—I have almost five chapters written, and I'm going to aim to update relatively consistently, but I can't make any promises at this point. School concerns are still eating me alive, not that that ever quite stops me from writing fic. XD)
Happy Halloween! :D And Happy Birthday, L!
CHAPTER I. THE HOUSE
Mello jerked his backup pistol out of the holster behind his right hip, pressed the barrel to the closest one's breastbone, and fired three bullets into the fucker's chest.
The body crumpled to the leaves, loosing a reproachful wail, and promptly started writhing, eyes rolled back, mouth foaming red.
Mello couldn't afford to stand around and wait for the rest—the bastard would be back up in half a minute, tops.
That was the problem with killing the undead.
"Matt!" he shouted over the fray. "Got a stake on you?"
"You know I don't," Matt called back.
"Son of a bitch," Mello said.
"Amen," Matt replied.
Speaking of 'amen,' Mello fumbled in his vest pocket for this good crucifix, keeping the barrel of the gun trained on the young-looking, brown-haired vampire, who was clearly the leader.
The vampire snarled, baring pointed fangs.
Mello whirled, checking his back, holding his gun arm steady, and lifted the ornate rosary.
"Talk to me, gentlemen," he yelled over one shoulder, cursing mentally as the brunet melted into the dark.
"I'm alive," Near announced.
"As am I," L contributed.
"Good show," Mello said, putting a few good slugs into the next available bloodsucker. "Linda?"
Mello ducked a swipe, gritting his teeth. "Oh, who else—"
"I'm here," Odd volunteered, darting under Mello's line of fire and dodging a vicious slash.
"Right," Mello responded. "Sorry, I always forget you."
"It's cool," Odd told him. "Everybody does."
"My bad," Mello replied. He opened his mouth to elaborate.
The leader reappeared, hissing, and dove at him, clawed fingers splayed and twitching. Mello moved to sidestep the assault—an assault so supernaturally quick that the vampire blurred at the edges—but missed his footing on the damned mushy leaves and stumbled.
Accordingly, he received the whole weight of a vampire as this hundred-and-thirty-pound specimen slammed into his chest.
They went down together on the wet leaves, Mello kicking and shoving as hard and as accurately as he could manage through the blinding panic, fighting to keep the bastard away from his neck. Life or death; life or death; life or fuck, I hate my life.
He swatted the claws away—they didn't spell F-U-C-K-E-D like the fangs, but any wounds they left would have nurtured infection in minutes flat—and planted one combat boot on the vampire's shoulder, pushing with all his might and straining to reach the fallen crucifix half-buried in the foliage—
A foreign boot came down two inches from his ear, and a silver gun barrel aligned itself with the cinnamon-brown-haired head with the vibrant red eyes. Mello squeezed his own eyes shut as it fired a single shot.
Black blood splattered on the leaves, and Mello pushed his attacker unceremoniously off, accepting Near's pale hand to help him scramble to his feet.
"You'd make a lousy vampire," Near informed him calmly.
"Fuck you," Mello said, clapping his shoulder and squeezing it gently. "Thanks."
He scooped up the rosary and settled back-to-back with his little albino savior.
"Everyone's accounted for," he reminded L and Matt not far from them. "What say you we get the fuck out of here?"
Without wasting breath on a rejoinder, L lit a flare and pitched it directly at the risen vampire leader's (admittedly exquisite) face.
White sparks exploded into the night, and the whole crew of leeches hissed and recoiled, giving the Hunters a perfect chance to run.
They took it.
Back at HQ—that was, the local church—things were, to use a technical term, in a bit of a tizzy.
Huddling in his leather jacket, Near climbed up onto a pedestal that lacked a statue, drew a knee up to his chest, and settled to watch the proceedings, such as they were.
Wammy was heading things, as always, a bandolier like a sash across his chest, his trademark light machine gun slung over his right shoulder. Roger stood beside him, delegating, small and unimposing in comparison, his plainclothes further highlighting Wammy's camouflage and bomber jacket.
Near rested his chin on his knee as they started sorting out the teams—how many bullets they'd spent, how many beasts they'd killed, how many men were dead or worse.
Well, men, women, and mostly children.
"Terra?" Wammy called.
The tall, lean, ponytail-sporting blonde's troupe had been on an expedition for the last two weeks, tracking a dwindling coven in the foothills, trying to wipe them out. Her team, sprawled around her on the stone floor and the nearest pews, looked battered and exhausted, dust caked on their faces, though Terra stood straight-backed at their head.
"Devon is dead," she told them clearly, voice ringing over the fevered movement of Roger's crew restocking, distributing food, and patching minor injuries. "Alais was Turned."
For a quavering quarter-second, everyone faltered as the cheerful girl's face came suddenly to mind.
Terra said "was," which meant they'd killed Alais as her body rested, comatose in the wake of the bite, struggling to reconcile the virus that was invading and repossessing her every cell.
It was a two-day process, which, if the vampires didn't steal away with their victim, was plenty of time for the survivors to put a bullet into their fallen comrade's heart while it was still human.
Heads bowed, but moments of silence weren't taken during the census. When everyone was accounted for, Alais would be properly mourned, but the living were the focus now.
Roger noted the casualties on his ledger, and Wammy turned to the next team's captain to report.
"L?" he prompted.
"We're all right," L answered gravely, "but we've found a new coven."
Silence fell faster than the dusk had done.
"Just north," L specified, voice low and numbing in the lull, soothing and smooth—L had always been this way. There was something a bit hypnotic about him, something trustworthy and engrossing. "We were well into the patrol route, two miles into the woods. I'll map the place for you, though I doubt it's too close to their home. From their formation, I would actually posit that they had the same goal we did—scouting at their boundaries."
Wammy strode across the chancel to the folding table at the side, unrolling the largest map.
"Pin it down for me now," he instructed.
Hunched and unhurried as ever, L mounted the steps to join him. Murmuring broke out, agitated and discontent.
Matt hopped up onto the pedestal, sitting next to Near.
"It's a circus, isn't it?" he asked, thumbing at the wheel of his lighter, not quite hard enough to draw a flame. Wammy had cuffed him upside the head for it too many times for Matt to try smoking inside tonight.
"I remember circuses being a bit less grim," Near replied.
Matt snorted. "The ones in the cities, sure. Everything's shiny-bright in the cities—because they send all the problems here. Fuck 'em. Ever seen a freak show? That's creepy shit."
So was each black night with vampires closing in from the wilderness, but disciples of the House tried not to think of that.
"Dee said she got a hold of some vodka," Matt reported idly, though his voice had markedly dropped in decibels. "Well, what she said was 'A lot of vodka,' but that's what she said about the strawberries, too, and we know how that went. Either way, Mello and I are gonna go. You should come."
"I'm fine," Near said.
"Yes," Matt responded, "you are. Damn fine. Which is why we're hoping to get you drunk and take advantage of you, you little rat. Do you practice being a spoilsport?"
"Only on weekends," Near replied.
The party was good.
The parties were always best after they'd lost a few—Matt figured maybe because they'd been reminded of just how crucial it was to appreciate life while they had it.
Carefully, with fingers deft from practice, Matt rolled a cigarette and resolved to stop waxing philosophical and start waxing wasted.
As if summoned by the thought, Mello clambered over the coffee table and flopped down beside him, the couch creaking loudly in protest. Mello proffered a slightly sticky glass half-filled with a promising clear liquid, the scent of which burned its way mischievously up to Matt's nose.
Mello clinked his own against it and made a face past Matt's shoulder at the sober boy curled up on the arm of the couch.
"I didn't get any for you," he declared unnecessarily—the blond had evidently gotten a head start on the alcohol poisoning.
"It is legitimately more entertaining to watch other people get drunk than to get drunk yourself," Near countered, unperturbed, one finger twirling in his hair. "You should try it once or twice in your lifetime."
Mello scoffed. "Smartass."
"Thank you," Near said.
Matt lit his cigarette and took a long drag. He was trying to conserve tobacco—it was easier to get than booze, but scarcer by far than bullets, and he liked to make it last as long as he could—but tonight's insanity more than merited the indulgence. If he'd been in the city, he would've gone through a pack and a half by now, on a day like this.
But he wasn't in the city, not anymore, and, cigarettes or no, he wouldn't trade it for the world.
For all its cigarettes and circuses, for all the speakeasies and proper tenements, for all the objects rather than objectives, the cities were empty, at least to Matt. He'd grown up in a place more like this, but rural—on the farm, when the wolves came, you picked up a shovel or a rifle, and you beat them back. You were on your own, and your life was in your own two hands.
He'd tried city-slicking for a while, but there was something about the disconnect from every other of the thousand people around him that left him cold. Everybody had an agenda, and everybody put himself first—it was about money, about subsistence, about living hand to mouth at your boss's feet. You were nobody, because nobody knew who you were. No one stood up and said, "This is wrong"—no one said, "I'm me, I'm a human being; I need things, but I need people more."
And then there had been the House.
It was the fliers first—one flier, really. One flier in the bathroom at work, taped crookedly to the wall between the grime-streaked mirror and the paper towel dispenser that had long since stopped dispensing paper towels.
The flier had said, We need you. Yes, you.
Before he'd known he was moving, Matt had pulled it off the wall.
They'd promised at the beginning of the meeting that there were no strings attached, but Matt would have worn manacles if they'd asked him to. He had felt it in the room and seen it hovering between the members of the House—they cared. They belonged.
Then he'd seen Mello and Near.
The House had sustained major losses in a battle with a big coven mere weeks before, and L's troupe had just lost a young man called Alpha. L had interviewed Matt, folded up with his arms around his knees behind a borrowed desk, and Matt had pretended not to notice the handgun strapped to the other man's thigh.
Matt had asked him who the blond and the white-haired kid were. L had smiled, knowingly but without arrogance, and asked in return if Matt knew what he was getting into. Matt had asked if there was training on how to stab with stakes for maximum efficiency, or if you were supposed to improvise.
L had told him he was hired.
"Hired" was a relative term, of course, given that they didn't get paid.
Except in bliss.
Speaking of bliss, Mello had laid his head on Matt's shoulder, and Near had slid down beside them to cling limpet-like to Matt's other elbow.
He looked put-out as Matt took another drag.
"Mello's going to taste like vodka," he muttered, "and you'll taste like smoke."
"And what," Mello mumbled back. "You taste like marshmallows and sugar cubes?"
"I could," Near maintained, "if L ever left any of them."
Matt knocked back his drink, set the glass down, and kissed the top of Mello's head.
"I think both you sleepy-heads should get to dreaming of sugarplums," he commented.
"I think you're going to get much less sex in the future if you baby-talk to me," Mello informed Matt's neck, breath warm and moist enough to make the threat very harrowing indeed.
"How about if I talk dirty?" Matt inquired.
Near reached across him, snatched Mello's glass, and downed its contents with a stunning professionalism.
He set the empty vessel on the table and settled with Matt's arm again.
"I'm now ready for whatever you lunatics have planned," he decided.
"We'll see," he said.
Quillish was baffled, as L had known he would be: the vampires they'd stumbled upon didn't make any sense. They were, first of all, not nearly far enough north. The vampires made their homes much further from established towns, and though their hunting parties tended to cover as much ground as the House's did, the group they'd encountered tonight had been too large for scouting. Further, they lacked the facial tattoos characteristic (if not guaranteed) of the far-northern clans, but their clothing had been mismatched and slightly ragged, an unacceptable condition to the more militaristic covens encroaching from the south. They'd looked almost downtrodden, on the whole, and although the ambush had been brilliantly strategized, there had been a taint of desperation to the whole process.
As the House knew—as Terra's troupe knew all too well—a cornered animal was the most dangerous. They had the most to fear from the enemy with the least to lose.
L ghosted through the old hotel they'd sanctioned as a barracks for their ranks, abandoning his boots in the small but quiet room he'd claimed when they'd first set up here—a room, notably, that was close to the kitchen.
Tonight, L's newly-bare feet took him in the opposite direction, however, carrying him up the stairs, cold cement and grit beneath his toes. He paused on the fourth floor, where the door to Matt's, Mello's, and Near's room stood ajar. The lightest touch pushed it open another two inches—more than space enough to see all three boys tangled, dreaming, on the queen-sized bed, a mess of bare limbs and blankets and disheveled hair. L smiled to himself, rolling his eyes, and pulled the door properly shut as he departed.
The roof of the building had always been a favorite among his haunts. There was a grandeur to its crenelated walls and a welcome in its silence, and if he gazed at the clouds long enough, they always seemed to rain.
As if to reward him for surviving the evening, they greeted him with a cool mist as he stepped out of the stairwell, tiny droplets dappling at his face. He moved to the wall at the edge, hands skating over the old stone where it rose just past his waist, and looked out over the night. Two ancient streetlamps battled with the blackness that seethed at the edges of their yellow light, two lamps against a world of ill things growing, gaining, gathering the strength to overwhelm the last reserves of safety they could find.
L sighed. The one downside of roof-bound solitude was the way it encouraged vehemently angsty inner monologues.
He itched at his left ankle with his right toes and fingered the gun at his hip. Yes, he'd show them the safety.
It was just a pity, L thought, peering through the little round raindrops that perched in his hair and flirted with his eyelashes; it was just another pity among thousands that only oak stakes could deal a vampire permanent damage. It was just another sour note in a discordant symphony that civilization burned so much oak for industry. It was just another omen for an unlucky venture that they didn't have the money to pay for what was out there.
L drummed his fingers on the wall. One of these days, they'd start tearing down houses for the timber, and then, perhaps, the government would realize that its blind eye would be gouged out if it waited any longer to act.
Softly, someone laughed.
L whirled, gun up and aimed in the time it had taken him to blink, ears perked, eyes wide. His knuckle brushed the familiar steel of the trigger guard as he struggled to pinpoint the sound.
"So scared," a voice whispered from the shadows. "So scared, and so alone."
Before him, red eyes gleamed in the dark.