LOVE IN THE TIME OF VAMPIRES

I would love to say, "AND ALSO: UNICORNS" but alas, there is only a passing reference.

Have I forgotten about Courtship? No. Did I really have time to write this? Oh, very much no. AND YET I DID.

I bet you're procrastinating right now too.

Editing is for the saner folk. Feedback supports the caffeine. Wear your shirt inside-out.

And... go.


/

It's in Istanbul when it happens.

He leaves her alone for ten minutes and comes back to find her being eaten by a vampire. Typical.

He hesitates for just a second before the silver chain is around the neck of the man. It sizzles satisfyingly. The vampire screams and Nika drops to the ground, writhing.

47 forces the twitching man on the ground, one knee hard on his back. He removes the silver stake he'd stabbed through vampire's right palm.

"Drink," he orders.

The vampire whimpers and reaches for Nika. 47 jerks the chain back hard. "Not you," he says irritably. And to Nika, "This isn't the time to be picky. Drink."

He keeps an eye out for witnesses while Nika starts lapping weakly at the black blood. 47 sighs. "This is why I put you in the boot," he mutters.

He kicks the vampire out into the fading sunlight when she's done. Then he drags Nika's corpse deeper into the covered alley and waits for evening to come.

/

He ends up going to the dinner as a single man and comes out with a new identity in place.

He checks on Nika in their new hotel room before he goes to meet Udre Belicoff. He's had to change their accommodation. Some hotels are more willing than others to look the other way when a man walks in with an unconscious woman hoisted over his shoulder and asks for a room. With a balcony, please.

She's still out cold, in all senses of the phrase, so he goes off to tidy up another small part of the world. When he comes back, the desk manager is dead white on the floor, and Nika is licking her lips.

"Shit," she says guiltily when she sees him. "I can explain."

He raises an eyebrow.

"Well, what do you expect," she snaps. "You leave me here without dinner and I'm hungry. Do you know I'm vampire now?"

"I noticed," he says. Nika pokes sullenly at the corpse on the floor, as if making a point.

"Face-chewer," she says. "Brain-leecher. I'm illegal."

She says it as if it's his fault. 47 resists pointing out that she was the one who wandered off in the first place, despite his very clear instruction not to.

"We have to leave now," he says instead. "You've made a mess."

"But I'm not done!"

He's already walking away. "Then hurry."

She joins him in the car a minute later, radiating sulkiness. "You scrape what I said about you being charming," she says. She wipes the blood from her mouth with the back of her hand.

47 very definitely does not watch as she licks it up again.

/

They start travelling by night. On the upside, that makes it even harder for anyone to track them. On the downside, most humans don't travel by night these days.

"I'm hungry," Nika whines.

"We'll reach the station in five hours," he repeats. "Stop looking at my neck."

Nika flips the pages of the magazine on her lap viciously. There is a sharp ripping sound, followed by a mortified silence. 47 keeps his eyes politely on the road as the vampire beside him tries to put the pages back together.

"Why do you read this crap anyway?" she says when she mixes up the penguin article with the unicorn sightings for the third time.

"For the advertisements."

"Why the adverti—STOP THE CAR!"

He brakes unthinkingly. Nika is out of the car almost before it stops, across the grassy plain in a blurred streak. 47 curses and follows, the cold air crisp in his lungs.

He arrives just in time to see Nika flying back in the air from being hit by a very hairy man. Nika lands in a crouch, her fangs glinting in the moonlight.

She hisses. The stranger snarls.

47 sighs.

"Nika, this is pointless," he says. "You can't eat him."

Nika looks frustrated. "Why the fuck not!"

"Because," 47 says, with great restraint. "He's a werewolf."

"How do you know?"

"I'm naked, you dumb bitch," the werewolf yells. "Walking about in the country in the middle of the night, full moon, shitload of hair? How the hell did you think I was human?"

"I-" Nika starts.

"I knew this would bloody well happen," the werewolf rants on. "Get out of the city, they said, get away from it all-"

47 raises a gun at him pointedly. "This is a good time to take that advice," he suggests.

The werewolf growls. "Sill-vaar buullets?" he says, as his mouth starts to distort with the transformation. "Cheaap, maate, veary che-aa'. Whaad aare 'uu aahnewa-"

"Human," 47 answers.

The huge wolf makes a snorting sound, like a scoff. It glares balefully at Nika one last time before turning and looping off, its dark coat shimmering between the long grass.

47 goes over to Nika. She's sitting on the grass, her face pale and unhappy as she looks up at him.

"I haven't eaten in two days," she says.

"I know."

She looks down at her hands. "Just when I thought my life couldn't get any more fucked up. You know, your magazine says the average deadspan of a modern vamp is two years." She looks up at him again, looking angry and more than a little afraid. "What are you keeping me for? I'm worse than useless to you now."

He offers her his hand. Her grip is surprisingly strong as she pulls herself up.

"Suitcases," he says.

"What?"

"I get the magazine for suitcase advertisements. Particularly for ones that would perfectly hold my Blazer sniper rifle, two .45s, and a silver stake for the occasional non-human that annoys me." He looks at her. "You're right: everything else in it is crap."

He'd never admit it, but Nika looks even more stunning when she smiles now, even with the fangs.

/

On the way back to the car:

"Nika, stop looking at my neck."

/

The plan was to leave her in the train and walk away.

So 47 is sticking with that plan. There's no reason to change it just because the woman now lacks a pulse.

"Move with the crowd," he tells her. "Watch out for reflective surfaces. Check for silver before attacking. You've vulnerable when you eat, so move your meal to safe place before you start."

He stops, not because there's nothing else to say, but because it's impossible to teach her how to survive past the two year average in a twenty-second conversation.

"So much for a happy ending," Nika says softly. Her eyes are dark and wet, but there's a resigned twist to her lips as if they're sharing an old joke. "I don't even know your name."

47 looks at her. She was beautiful before, but it's worse now. She'll never be able to fit in, he thinks, even if she knew how to.

"The place where I come from, they didn't give us names, they gave us numbers," he says. "Mine was 47. I'll come for you."

Nika looks as amazed as he feels. "What?"

"I'll come for you," he repeats, because it's too late to take it back. For Christ's sake. "Don't do anything stupid. Don't get caught. I'll find you when I'm done."

He walks away before she can answer.

/

The shapeshifter doubling as Belicoff looks gratifyingly betrayed just before he puts three silver-tipped bullets through his head.

47 checks for a pulse. Then he cuts the man's head off, injects liquid rosemary into the brain, and detonates the body with a small explosive just before Special Forces break through the door.

You can never be too careful these days.

/

For three whole days after his escape, he thinks he won't seek out Nika after all, until he realizes that he's bought two new passports, and one identity is female.

After that, it just becomes a matter of logistics and semi-embarrassed rationalizing.

/

He finds Nika in a park in Ankara, just as she's having her dinner.

47 looks up and waits patiently for her to finish. When she finally looks down, the corpse drops from the tree with a thud at his feet.

"This isn't exactly a safe place to eat," he says mildly.

"You weren't very specific." Nika stares at him a moment longer, then swings herself off the high branch to drop down in front of him. Under the white park lights, her green eyes and dark tattoo are stark in her face. "I didn't think-" she starts, then stops. "You came."

There is a desperate sort of joy in her face, naked and clear.

47 looks at her and hesitates. "You can't interfere with my work," he says finally.

"Yes," she agrees.

"You need to start listening to what I say."

"Okay."

"Don't try to bite me."

"I won't!"

At least she lies better now. And, a part of him adds slyly, now she'll be able to keep up.

47 crumbles. "I booked a red-eye flight," he says. "Try not to eat any of the flight stewardesses."

Nika's smile is like the rising moon. She slips her cool hand in his and pretends not to notice when he tries to take it back.

They leave the park together.

/

Later:

"Nika, stop looking at my neck."