A/N: Worth's definition of a high-maintenance man: when he has to take his hand off his dick long enough to slash his own wrist for the lazy motherfucker.
Haha, yes! I have been HINABN'd! It feels gooooood.
OKAY SO. This is very sensation-based and imagery whorish. I've never written vampires before (STOP GNEEING, Raehimura, my lovely copyeditor) so I'm playing around, trying to, like, set up a parallel between fruits and people DURHUR. Also sticking by current canon: Conrad only has one tooth, has never turned into a bat before, is all virginal, and I'm going by the 'vampires have trouble getting it up on blood shortage' thing. Or rather, it takes more for them to get it up.
Also, faaaaaailpire. Just sayin. I love fics where Conrad gets the swing of things with surprising readiness, but I wanted to extort his awkward failpire time before he gets said swinginess. He's been trained to let The Man take control when things get freaky for so long, he'd have some trouble taking the lead.
THERE WILL BE MOAR. And it will be better/more concise/less obnoxious. Promise.
Warnings: language, sexual content, heavy blood/violence
In a cockeyed attempt to deceive himself, Conrad never really thought about how much he despised the packaged blood.
Deceiving himself about unpleasantries was a dirty habit he'd gotten into over the course of his life. It's all in my head and everything will be fine were common half-lies planted by his life-long therapist, Mrs. Orfinhaur, but even the logical knowledge that the greasy-haired boys who wailed on him in middle-school would never make it out of the back of Mickey D's never quite made it alright to be beat up in the first place. Superiority didn't make the bruises heal faster, nor stop him from getting two for flinching when they knocked his tray onto the lunchroom linoleum. Still, he took control where he could: successful, calm, adult Conrad Achenloch knew his type and found no shame in it.
He had every event of his life down on his iCal, including helpful and politely-phrased reminders about upcoming deadlines that he had never once needed. He had one of those TV-order-only vacuum packaging sets for his angora sweaters. He paid ten dollars a month for the privilege of recycling. He had three different types of hair-gel and chose between them based on the humidity of the day.
It only followed that organic produce was (had been) a very large part of his generally prissy life, and gulping anything out of a plastic packet was a sweeping betrayal of every food moral he'd ever had.
He was that man—yes, that man with the coupons—that held the buttery, ripply-skinned squash up to the fluorescents at least twice before sighing and folding it into its thin plastic swaddling. Next, the avocados (gnarled green shell, oh sweet beta-sitosterol!), then the bulging tomatoes. His was a shamelessly aesthetic religion centered around the firm yellow clefts of bell peppers and the candied curve of apples, all free from the sin of pesticides and immigrant-packaged betrayal.
That said, Conrad did not like opening up Worth's yellowed, molt-blotted fridge and wondering not what is it but who is it and how fucking long has he/she been there.
On bad days, the blood tasted like sour salt and anti-coagulants with a hint of plastic. It was endlessly, inescapably clammy, even when he dared to microwave it in his favorite coffee cup… and then washed it out with a disgusted keening sound that came a little too close to a sob for his liking, but that was from the Starbucks rewards program and god, on some level he was still expecting coffee when he tipped it up, fuck, fuck.
It just wasn't food, which was good because part of him was still in full-fledged denial about this whole vampire thing and was still holding out that he would wake up soon. Part of him was still hunched in his computer chair and looking at that sparse blue-white internet page, furiously blinking the fresh blood out of his eye and thinking: Hanna Cross, Paranormal Investigator? Really?
The cold, wiggly packaged blood was Conrad's proof of really, and then all up in your ass besides that.
He knew he would have died otherwise (and, er, stayed dead), but life as a vampire wasn't worth un-living. When he gulped the blood down, it re-packaged itself in tiny little plastic gulp-packages and just floated there in his center, that… hollowed-out black-lacquered inside place. Conrad wasn't all that sure he had a stomach at the moment, partly because he didn't think he owned anything soft and pink anymore, and partly because it was his entire skinny-brittle frame that was hit with those goddamn hunger-pains when he skipped a drink or two.
He didn't actively try to make his insides cramp up, as he didn't like hunger and he certainly didn't like pain. But the cold blood just stayed cold, and it felt awful on the way down. It wasn't satisfying—not that he was looking for satisfying or was willing to brave the concept of satisfying. Too messy and too… out-of-another-person. It just wasn't good. After the first deciding taste of 'this is necessary', that was it.
Deprived of apples and coffee and sunlight, Conrad Achenleck's existence was becoming an accumulation of necessary evils, but one particular evil – one man – stood at the top of that chart, awful enough that even cold blood paled in comparison.
Worth didn't have a phone.
The sallow, leering man pushed 'anti-social' beyond negligence and into maliciousness: he seemed determined to trip up anyone who actively wanted to know where he was, Lamont included. Anyone who needed to reach him could walk in the goddamn door, he said, and if he wasn't there they could come back tomorrow (if they were still alive). The only soul who could find him with any reliability, it seemed, was Hanna.
Conrad got the strong impression that phone-calls—contact with a person more than ten feet away—were Worth's least favorite thing in the world. Conrad, conversely, cherished the distance and quick termination of phone-calls. If he was going to have to speak with someone, especially his mother, he would prefer to have the option to end it with a miserable excuse and the press of a button.
Otherwise there was… pressure. Palms got sweaty, rooms closed in. Normal symptoms of the social anxiety disorder he may or may not have beaten back five years ago. Still twinged sometimes; his favorite war wound, gifted by his mother and all of her insistence.
This communication schism—who the hell didn't have a cell-phone in this day and age? – left schedule-addicted, iPhone-dependent Conrad tapping his foot in Worth's filthy street office at all hours of the night, waiting and waiting and waiting for some gracious soul to offer up their arm to his needle. Worth was low on 'snack baggies' (don't get him started on that man and his fucking words) and he had to keep some for his real transfusions, which made for some genuine quality time between the two.
Introductory cracks were guaranteed, but sometimes Worth was genuinely busy and Conrad quickly discovered that hiding in the box-doc's 'operating' room (previously thought to be for show or hosting crack deals) was actually not the smartest plan for being left alone. Especially when real people came in needing real things stitched up and the red blood on their knees looked like some kind of insanely bright, delicious garnish to him. Conrad was quickly forced into the main room, tucked into the corner with his laptop. Worth may have dragged him down there through his stubborn refusal to get a phone, denying him even the ability to call ahead and check his stores, but there was no way the man was going to cut into his goddamn productivity.
One such night, just when the wet streets outside went truly quiet, there came a weak yet insistent clattering at the heavy metal door. After about a minute of the obnoxious noise, Worth finally threw down his newspaper and got up stomping and hissing. Then Conrad heard Worth's surprised grunt and the squeak and boom of the door. He looked over to see the tall, skinny rag of a man walking slowly beside a stooped older lady who was clunking along, foot by foot, with a walker that looked like it had come out of the wrong side of a car-crash.
Conrad's first instinct was usually to shield his precious computer from any of Worth's 'customers' (as a respectable upper-middle-class citizen, he had been well-trained to fear anyone whose pants weren't ironed), but this was different. The designer was so startled by the appearance of someone so old and feeble in such a bad part of town that he didn't even think about the man beside her. She was shaking, eyes wide and oily-pink at the edges with her hay-grey hair knotted at the back of her head. Conrad smiled at her as she passed, if just because he knew that paranoid jitter somewhat intimately and it was a cold and lonely three a.m. and her dirty dress only went to her knees, but he also flashed his tooth in the process.
She stopped so abruptly that her walker rattled on the floor. He could—yes, he could smell the watery spike in her adrenaline, adrenal glands coughing their last. Her wrinkly, sodden eggplant heart beat twice as fast; guilt kicked Conrad hard in the shin and came back for his nuts.
"No fuss, Ronnols. Puppy don't bite," came Worth's growl, the only noise besides the distant whine of police sirens. Turning his patient towards the back room like he was navigating a swivel chair, the pseudo-doctor looked over his shoulder with a rotten grin. "Not 'nless y'twist his arm behind his back and tickle his neck."
It was some lethal combination of his guilt, discomfort and Worth's scornful drawl: Conrad tugged his turtleneck up over his destroyed neck and got so downright, foot-stomping, third-grader pissed that he quit fucking caring about the old lady.
It was just as well. She exited fifteen minutes later without giving blood, Worth's measured slouch to the desk plainly said ask and I innerduse ya to my heel and Conrad was perfectly happy to assume that Worth had charged her her entire inheritance for a band-aid on her knee. Whatever kept Worth on the other end of the room from him, physically and beyond.
Rule number one: Worth was his dealer, not his friend.
This was not like befriending the barista at the café who knew your tuxedo mocha and soy milk mix as 'the usual'. Conrad didn't like Worth and only dealt with him because, in a choice between Worth and messy-starvation-death, Worth won only by the shortest hair on his grossly unshaven chin. In fact, Conrad was taking an active role in his hatred for the other man.
He was making the decision not to give 'Mr. I Don't Have a First Name' a chance, which was a first for him. It wasn't something decent, socially correct people did, but Conrad was beyond being decent. If Worth had a soul, even one that resembled whatever was slowly collapsing in his cigarette dish, Conrad didn't want to see it.
Rule number two: Worth was a dick, dicks generally made exceptional doctors, and dick doctors still treated whoever came to them if they had the cash.
Dicks also cared a whole lot about themselves, but in that charming push-other-people-down-to-get-it way. Newly turned and still surprised by his cold skin, Conrad was tempted to vent some of his unhappiness at the nearest person who understood (which was always, depressingly, Worth), but he always stopped himself. If Worth were in his place – this whole teeth-and-blood thing – he wouldn't waste time bitching. He wouldn't hesitate to dig into animals or people, and it showed in every superior glance Worth dealt him as Conrad sat quietly and hungrily in his scabby concrete corner, waiting for someone to be nice enough to save him from his cowardice as he rearranged merry little color swatches and toyed with opacities.
Worth, assuredly, had never heard of the word opacity, which somehow made Conrad resent his very existence even more.
When Worth finally tossed him a cold packet two hours before sunrise, Conrad looked down at the bulging bit of red, exhaustion greying his face. When he looked up, Doc's sly eyes were pinned on him, lurking just above the ridiculous matted fluff of his coat. Worth didn't quite manage to keep his evil, slithery smile to himself as he twirled a scalpel in his freakishly long and dirty fingers, wiping a bit of something on his wrist but taking care to do it over a big blueberry vein.
Was it bad that Conrad could hear the blade scrape the thin yellow skin, and it sounded like a silver knife over rough sourdough bread?
Hanna, of course, thought the scraggly older man was smiling at a joke he made and got ridiculously excited, swinging his feet on the operating table and accidentally pegging Worth in the knee, who quickly changed his tune and threatened to disembowel him with a spoon (after fixing his stitches and patching his head and dabbing ointment on his split lip). Turning away from the instant furor Hanna was so prized for, Conrad tried not to sigh too loudly. He popped the catheter attachment off and vaguely wished he had a straw, only to regret it a moment later as his very memories flinched and squealed, screaming for sugar and bubbles.
Fuck sunlight. Did life even have meaning without diet Coke?
One month in and Conrad was getting tired.
Trouble was, since his body now needed an ancient Latin instruction manual, he hardly knew what was causing it. Did vampires even need sleep? Did they need-need it, or did it just happen as a way of getting away from the sun?
Because he slept. God, did he sleep. Conrad fell into a stupor the second the sun hit the horizon and blacked out until it set. Part of him thought it was all in his head (which, as proven, was a scary place sometimes), but he slept like a … well, like the dead. Then he woke up and it was like someone just turned a light-bulb on in his head: he was awake. But now it only lasted half the night.
He was starting to feel sluggish. Almost sick. He was dragging his feet in his apartment, having trouble focusing, not wanting to go out. The last bit was very in-character for him, but could vampires seriously get sick? Part of him cursed Hanna for not taking responsibility and having The Talk with him, but asking the springy little man-boy about his condition would have been submitting to it. Conrad could still hang on a little longer on hearsay and common sense, even in this utterly fucked-up world of zombies and evil she-bats that he had found himself in.
Worst part was the cold. He was starting to feel it, even in his goddamn teeth. That persistent chill found him both edgy and uncharacteristically nosy. Stupid, too.
Stuck at the hobo-office again, Conrad rummaged through Worth's cabinets for anything that might help, staying far away from the microwave in the process. He pushed aside tiny white water-damaged boxes with only the very tips of his fingers, grimacing at a dark stain where one had cracked. He picked one up. Adrenaline injection, 1:1000.
Part of him was impressed that Worth had such sophisticated material. The other half was wondering if he could dump it into his cup and not explode five minutes after. Could he lace blood with caffeine? Did chemicals still work? Fuck, how did the first vampires figure all this shit out, and how many actually exploded in the process?
"In'erest you in a nightcap?"
Conrad slammed the drawer shut instinctively, then winced at the god-awful clatter. The other man had been out on a food run but was obviously back. Something told him Worth didn't take kindly to people messing with his shit, no matter how water-damaged. Trying with all his might not to look like a guilty ten-year-old, the graphic designer turned around, teeth (tooth) already bared.
Smirk happy and fat on his face, Worth was holding a packet of blood in his hand. The crack about finding a nice prostitute on the way to Wafflehouse died in Conrad's dry throat.
"Fresh," Worth nearly purred, one brow inching up.
"Where did you get that?" Conrad said blankly, eyeing it. He could see the warmth coming off of it; it might as well have been steaming up the pouch. It was vibrantly, deliciously red: a liquid poinsettia wrapped in plastic like a couch.
… No, that proved it. His metaphor had gone to hell, and an artist was always at his worst when he couldn't manage a simple metaphor. He needed to just skip tonight. Get his coat (a laughable prop, now) and go back to his apartment and go to bed. It was almost morning.
"Ain't sure your delicate sensibilities can handle 'at," Doc snickered, popping his neck. "Thought y'didn' like t'know where yer meals came from, princess."
Oh, Conrad knew full well where his meals came from. He just didn't like to know who, even as his mind loved to make up stories anyways. This man had syphilis for three years before limping his way into Worth's office, high on crack and put out his arm—god, god, it made his skin crawl. Pathophobia had not been kind to him, and the idea of drinking liquid disease just … god.
Gulp gulp gulp. Gonorrhea-HIV-tuberculosis. Delicious.
But this. This was still warm. Where had it come from?
"Tell me you didn't—" Conrad began unsurely, unable to manage the accusation. Worth managed to pluck out and light a cigarette scornfully, chapped lip curling.
"I know ya only take charity, bumfag."
Still, he looked at it hesitantly. Why was he so damn hesitant? It was like whatever was in his veins had suddenly turned to water.
"Fer chrissakes, quit bein' a pussy," Worth ordered abruptly, shaking the packet hard enough to make the stuff froth like soy latte expr—no. Conrad clamped down on any thoughts of coffee, then realized Worth was still badgering him. "—uckin' waster. Want me ta put it inna bottle for ya n' fuckin' burp ya after?"
"No," he said snottily, crossing his arms, and then he realized how fucking third-grade that looked and uncrossed them. It was the only thing he came up with. Even though he was hungry, he couldn't even manage a move to take it and he had no idea why.
It probably had a good deal to do with Worth's smugness, his barely-there insistence. Made him nervous.
Of course Worth started to toy with his food if he wasn't going to. Grunting impatiently, the thin man sloshed it from side to side right in front of the vampire's face, then let it flop over and squeezed it like a water-gun. The blood hit Conrad's white chin and neck in a thin, warm pissy stream. He recoiled with a screech, immediately succeeding in smearing it all over his white button-down.
"Woopsie," Worth drawled, shit-eating grin firmly in place. Conrad slapped at his neck, spine wiggling as the liquid crept down under his collar.
"What th—fuck! Seriously? What are you, seve-"
The smell hit him. No, the smell bulldozed him, making any and all rage mist upwards harmlessly. Poof.
Before Conrad knew it his fingers were in his mouth, just like before. His mouth clenched tight around them, sealing in the rapidly dissipating heat. His stomach hardened and he opened his eyes. Had he closed them?
"Fuck, that's good," he breathed when he let go, the achy space between his temples suddenly expanding almost dreamily.
Good? The word confused him. It had never been good before. But it was: it was good. Jesus, it downright tingled.
Like pop-rocks. Bloody fucking pop-rocks before his braces went on. Good.
"Want the rest?"
Conrad looked up to see the back-alley doctor waggling the fat packet just out of reach, smirk sharp enough to cut skin.
It was late. He was hungry. It was good.
Already too used to Worth and the boundaries he didn't have, Conrad didn't fuck around. He lunged for the packet, teeth bared, prepared to knock the other man down before he could play keep-away. He found that the dramatics were crushingly unnecessary the instant he managed to stuff it into his mouth—along with two of Worth's fingers.
Well fuck, he thought somewhere in the back of his head, that's embarrassing. Then the salt and grime hit his tongue. When his fang sank into Worth's tough skin, it was followed by something else entirely.
But no, it was exactly the same thing. Just fresh. Fresher.
"S'that… you?" he slurred (he'd never slurred before in his life, but with the man's dirty fingers still in his mouth like carrot-sticks, well-) and Worth snickered.
"At's me. Magically delicious."
That packet was one-hundred-percent Worth. The fact that the other man was delicious didn't bother him as much as the fact that Worth had probably planned this whole thing from the moment he wiped the blood from his nose. Keen on you, Hanna had said in that goofy, amused way that told him it was the absolute truth. Bastard motherfucker.
Delicious bastard motherfucker.
Anything Conrad was about to say was instantly demolished when Worth twisted his fingers. It was just another drop of blood, but the way Conrad's gut responded it might as well have been a flood. He bit down, worrying a knuckle. Worth made a little hissing noise that was nonetheless distinctly unimpressed, and then his spit-slick fingers were on the side of Conrad's pale face, pinching his cheek.
"Fuck, Connie, ya make fuckin' around the bush inna an art."
Worth shoved the bag back into his mouth and brutally squeezed it, making Conrad almost choke, but then he was swallowing and it was good, so fucking good. He gulped and gulped like someone offered water instead of coke after five weeks in the desert: it was that pure, that basically fundamental. He shuddered, fingers clamped around Worth's pulsing wrist.
He didn't make a single noise when Worth flung the bag aside far too soon and suddenly crammed him to his brittle chest, both of them jolting against the doctor's operating table. It was an unfamiliar sensation, but it was nothing compared to the velvety cloud of sound and sensation that held Worth's firm, ripe heart and his scent of smoke and sweat and humanity. Conrad could feel-hear-see every delicate little avenue of red twining through his wiry limbs. Everything was speeding up, getting richer, more vibrant, including his own body.
So much hot blood being pumped through tight veins in front of him. Faster, faster. It sounded fucking amazing.
Conrad finally managed to jerk back from the dark sensory overload and take a huge, completely unnecessary gasp. Riling, hating to be out of control, he tensed and pushed against Worth, who only gripped him tighter. His dirty fingernails dug into the vampire's shoulders, leaving weak pink smears. Then Worth gave a rough chuckle, the same texture and unevenness as his smoke-matted fur.
"Hardly know what t'do with all that blood, d'ya."
Conrad only realized that Worth's hand was crammed between his shaking legs, uninvited and lewd as every other part of him was, when he looked down. Only then was the vampire able to unlock his vocal chords enough to groan. He had an erection. For the first time since dying, he had a holy fucking erection.
Not only that, it was all over him: every place that had blood was tingling like fucking crazy. At this point, he was an erection. A giant, howling, stupid erection.
"How," he choked, warmth gushing through him at a terrifying pace. He fought the urge to buck his hips into the pressure. Panted. "How is this even…?"
"Hell if I know. Your kind are a regular back-alley fuck of physics anyhow." Worth's voice became insidious, slithery, knowing. "There's a reason they like t'eat so much though. Surprised they ain't fat as hippos. Then 'gain, bloods some pretty healthy shit. Lotsa iron."
Conrad knew the other man's prickly face was way too close, but could only stare at the pearlescent red veins etched in Worth's lidded muddy green eyes.
"N' my cholesterol levels beat the shit outta anyone else yer gonna find in this town."
That was all the warning he got before Worth attacked him.
The man's wet mouth was a punch to his scraped-raw senses: his saliva was tar and his breath was humid factory smoke. Conrad's first instinct was to flinch away from the awful ashy taste, not to mention a man's mouth on his, but Worth made the mistake of digging his nails into his sides. Anger or panic or just plain intensity demanded a response.
Somehow biting down had entered Conrad's short-list of 'things to do when nothing else makes sense', ranked comfortably beside clearing his throat and averting his eyes. So he bit like a mousetrap and he felt his fang go into the other man's lip. It was easy and wet, like stabbing the glistening flesh of a grapefruit with a fork. There was a definite puncture and blood sloshed onto his chin.
He gasped it, horrified at the felt-noise and the memories of having a warm tender lip to bust. Then came the reprise, red and slick with a twist of his tongue:
He went blank. A black, rich, trembling kind of blank.
"Cute," Worth rasped. Conrad only heard the crisp slap on his cheek, but felt the doctor's callused palm stick to his skin and his smog-like warm breath scrape his lips. Conrad blindly bent toward the coppery, messy, fleshy well of the other man's red-smeared mouth, tongue out. Worth's thumb pushed into his mouth, prodding at his blunt right canine.
"Y'really are still teethin'. Righty's not come in yet."
He made some sort of impatient fuck-you noise, sucking insistently on Worth's thumb—and then realized what the hell he was doing and, worse, what he'd just done. Conrad opened his eyes and jerked back and gasped for the fourth time. Stretched over red-smeared teeth in a harrowing grin, the other man's mouth had turned into a fucking ratty open wound and god, that was not good and had he done that?
Hit with a painful starburst of clarity, Conrad put every single immortal iota of his strength into escaping Worth's wiry arms. He struggled away, maybe so he could writhe on the cockroach-infested floor in peace and maybe die (for good this time), but Doc yanked him back. He grunted, amused, when Conrad slapped at him, unable even to coax his hands into fists. Muttering an uninspired profanity, the doctor took the palm of his hand and shoved it against Conrad's mouth, like an awkward flat-handed blow or an attempt to muffle him.
First came a flare of pain—his fleshy lip got caught and he felt it tear messily with a pinch—but then the firm, ashy flat of Doc's palm rammed into his teeth, making a crisp puncture like a knife splitting through a melon. Life bled out, startling and salty. He closed his wet mouth instantly, sealing the flood off from the tainting air. He sucked, instinctively, tongue prodding into the gash he had made.
"Fuck," Doc hissed somewhere in front of him, but the rise in his voice was nearly manic: an exhalation of hallelujah in his religion.
It was a tribute or a verbal reenactment of the slicing of his skin, expelled in an exhilarated hiss. Penetration. Release.
Conrad, lost to the taste of copper and vibrancy, kept searching for more, but his tongue grated over the rough patch. Even the salt was gone. He couldn't think of anything else to do with the well dry, so he just kept gnawing until he was forcibly pulled away.
Worth rummaged in front of him, impatience not only tangible but an acidic boiling force. His pomegranate heart was beating ridiculously fast, his every muscle taut and creaking and hot. Some sort of delicious scent was thick in the air around them, pooling in Worth's collarbone and behind his ears, only confusing Conrad hellishly and adding to the dumb cacophony of more more more.
"Fuck it—fuckin' primadonna fusspot one-fanged motherfucker—have to do everything—didn't that hag give you any fuckin' instincts-"
There was a quick slashing motion, a practiced stab of an elbow both too slow and too fast for Conrad's clouded vision, and suddenly Worth pressed his wet wrist up to his slippery lips and, he swore to god, he – fuck, he moaned as his mouth covered the slash.
Conrad felt his warming hands grip the man's wrist; in exquisite detail, he felt the strong veins jumping underneath his fingertips and the bones guarding them. He twisted up and down Worth's rough forearm like he was caressing the neck of a violin (tracing sounds, vibrations, life through the narrow avenue of his wrist), mirroring the motion below, where Doc's other hand was jerking haphazardly in his lap.
The two rhythms blended and peaked. He sucked with Doc's pulse and his sweet thump-thump-thump timed his pumps so Conrad bent and greedily sucked his salty cock all the way from his wrist and Doc groaned deeply in his ear, warm stubble scraping his cheek.
"That's it, puppy. Drink up. You'll learn to like it," he muttered to no one in particular, rough voice wrecked by the tremble of his hand. His eyes shone out of his paling face, fixed on the dark crown of Conrad's impeccably gelled hair.
"If you wanna live, you'll learn to."
Twelve hours later, Conrad woke up on a damp papery cot.
At first, it was a Herculean effort just to open his eyes. Memories crept back to him out of the void and he rustled around for no more than a second before the nausea hit him, soaking through his heavy body. He groaned and closed his eyes, trying to shut out the buzz of the ratty yellow fluorescents.
The moment he tried to stand up, he knew: he'd drank too much. Gorged. It was a highly unpleasant sensation, walking the tightrope between nauseated and horribly satisfied.
Conrad was simply too exhausted to face the events of the previous night with anything but dispassion. He also vaguely remembered Worth punching him in the face. It didn't sound like something you could vaguely remember, and yet here he was, pawing at memories of a sharp crack to his chin. A glance across the rust-spotted mirror proved it. There was a pinkish splot on his jaw, but even then it was like his body was covetous of the new blood: the welt was fading with incredible quickness back into his muscle.
He looked down, then shut his eyes again and groaned. There was a spot on his pants.
Not just a spot but a splatter. Suddenly (if just because of the faintly appealing smell of something remarkably like blood in composition) Conrad knew precisely what it was and could see Worth hardly stopping to swipe at it with the hem of his coat before chucking him in bed.
No. No, he hadn't wiped it off, he'd smeared it into the fabric, and Conrad could perfectly imagine the shitty grin that accompanied it before the doctor heaved him off onto the cot.
His ire deflated rather suddenly, sapped by his headache. Hell, he was lucky not to be on the floor. He just… needed a new pair of pants.
He was not going to check inside of them. Wasn't. Could vampires even…?
Conrad walked into the main room as though he had never been there before, each step conscious and heel-to-toe. Something in him jumped at the sight of Worth kneeling beside his desk, shoulders-deep in a box. Conrad could smell cologne and the fresh chemical tang of newly-ripped duct-tape. Lamont had clearly been there.
The fact he could smell the cologne of a man who had dropped by six hours ago was overshadowed by the musk of a cat outside, the intent rustle of a rat cleaning its hard pink paws and Worth's steady, deep heartbeat. Conrad swallowed.
The back-alley doctor looked up at him, grunted, and went back to digging through the new supplies, tossing things on the filthy floor and bitching to himself about an apparent shortage of something. Conrad watched a pack of bandages fall close to an oil stain, nose wrinkling unconsciously, and stared at the other man's skinny, ugly, upturned rear for at least a full minute until Worth pulled up a package and looked at it.
His entire right hand was white with new bandages.
"Y'went af'er me like I was a fuckin' juice-box, Confag," he muttered around his cigarette as he inspected a roll of ace bandages, thoroughly stepping on Conrad's chance to have the first, assuredly angry word. "You must'a been hungry."
Worth had looked first at Hanna, who was knocked out over a jumbled line-up of waiting room chairs, to see if he was awake before speaking. His odd attitude towards the boy had no explanation. At least, no explanation that didn't involve a soul locked away inside his emaciated chest.
No. Conrad wasn't interested. He was not going to become a hunter of the elusive Worth-Heart, even if it was to prove that the man once fit into society and that leaving it was the cause of all his misanthropy. No, he'd be better off chasing Bigfoot.
Which, considering his current company, would probably be attempted next week.
"What was that?"
It was all he could think to say.
There were too many thoughts about Worth calling him fanciful permutations of faggot when he was the one who had kissed him, or at least mashed their mouths together – dirtied his slacks, even! Part of him shuddered mechanically at the thought. He liked women. In theory.
Then again … he liked blood now, too. Feared it but liked it and, as of last night, he actually had a good bit more experience with blood than women. Terrifying, heart-wracking changes weren't all that surprising anymore. They couldn't be, if he was going to stay within two miles of the redhead snoring on a gutted office chair, a rune sharpied in the tender crease of his too-skinny arm.
For the first time in his life, Conrad was hit with the realization that he was going to have to get over something if his existence was going to make sense again—and he actually wanted it to.
"Why… do that, why do any of that?"
He wanted sense. No matter how twisted, no matter how fucked up, he wanted sense and he was willing to fight for it. This was the first question he had genuinely wanted an answer to.
"Y'can't survive off'a the cold-packed shit," Worth said to the scum-flecked mirror, eyes narrowed.
Conrad hadn't even noticed him moving, but the doctor stood at the dirt-smeared sink at the back, swabbing peroxide over his mouth with nothing but an itching curl of his pink lips. It should have been a grimace, but it looked – smelled – like a grin. He didn't even flinch, even when every bawling eight-year-old who fell off his bike knew how much that stuff stung on open wounds.
"Yes, I can. It works," Conrad said defensively, even though all he knew was that he was on two feet. That's all that mattered, right? That he had two feet, he was on them, and neither was rotting. Because he was dead. Not that he was any expert on being dead.
"Naw, y'can't n' no it don't. Not fer the long haul," Worth sneered, flicking the swab into the sink and glaring at him in the mirror. "Y'know that shit with food? Where you can eat all ya want but if you don't eat the right stuff you'll still starve? The shit with…"
He snapped his fingers once, twice. Scowled.
"For Christ's sake, you're a doctor," Conrad exclaimed, appalled by his lack of terminology.
"And yer a vampire and y'can't even turn into a fuckin' bat," Worth spat. He leveled his finger at the other man, shoulders hunched. "Annat's the point. Vampires eat fresh 'cos it keeps them fresh. Somethin' more than hemoglobin and plasma goes inna ya and y'need that. You don't get it an' you'll waste away. Not sayin' it won't take a few months, but you'll go grey. Yer magic-based. Y'don't need blood, y'need life. S'the reason dead men's blood'll off you."
"I thought you didn't care about vampire physiology," Conrad challenged him quietly after a pause, eyes narrowed.
"S'a difference between physiology and knowin' what kills you. Last one can be helpful with vamps. Ain't the friendliest'a blood-suckin' sharks," Worth answered flatly, switching from cleaning up his scruffy face to picking something out of his teeth.
He replaced his finger with a stubbed cigarette and shrugged his coat off, baring sliced-up arms. Bandages twined up his wrists. Hanna turned over in his sleep, murmuring nonsense.
Worth plunked down in his desk chair and squeaked it closer, scraping a hand through his hacked-off hair. It was something he liked to do, and Conrad would take up the job for him within three months, if just because it made Worth groan weakly into his mouth and dig his ragged nails into his back. Conrad, at the moment, was blissfully unaware of this and just thought the matted blond mess looked like it needed a wash – along with every other inch of the man.
"I'll be around if y'liked it."
"I didn't like it," Conrad said stonily, immediately.
"I did." Worth grinned at him. "And I'm 'probly the only person who will. You wanna force some young thing down inn'a an alleyway, getcher hands round their throat 'n listen to 'em scream 'Ooh no, puh-leeeeze no, I got sixteen kids'—"
"I'm yer guilt-free meal, Connie. Only one on the menu," Worth drawled, spreading some forms on his desk with a horrible, comfortable finality, like he didn't see the trembling vampire paling to an even more mortified shade of white. "Got the feelin' we'll be rubbin' necks for a while."
When Conrad actually thought about it – forced himself to think about it – this was just about as organic as food could get. Renewable, fresh, vigorous. Little did he know that Worth was the king of artificial additives, but that was a discovery for another night.
The age of insane sense had begun.