Final part, so if you've got this far thanks for reading! I love Mitchell and Herrick together, so I'm sure there will be some flashbacks to come from me in due course. Quite looking forward to tackling Mitchell in full-on Big Bad John mode. :-)
Mitchell pulled the box out from under his bunk. Underneath the photos and the letters from home lay a random assortment of pills and powders. He had no idea what most of them were, but trusted that they would do the job.
He opened one bag, wet the tip of a finger and drew out a little of the powder. He dabbed it on his tongue and pulled a face: shit, it was bitter. Arthur would taste that in tea; he'd not get enough into him to have an effect before he suspected something. He'd have to put it in his porter to stand a chance of masking the taste – come up with some reason why it was in his mug rather than out of the bottle. And Mitchell thought he'd have to do it soon – his control was weakening rapidly and better a planned kill than him losing his senses and ripping someone's throat out. If he was really lucky they'd think Arthur had committed suicide –chances were there would be enough morphine and codeine in the mixture to kill a man. He wondered briefly what effect the drugs in Arthur's bloodstream might have on him. Herrick had promised him that he couldn't die, apart from the 'small print', whatever that meant, but would it make him sluggish? Sleepy? It would all become clear in time, and then if he could hold out he might not have to think about it again for another four weeks, maybe even longer.
He barely slept that night, listening to the sounds of sleeping men around him and running through what he had to do in his head. Would he be able to tell where the jugular was? Would he be able to sense or feel it? He hoped that when it came to it, instinct would take over; how hard could it be, after all? Suddenly he realised why vampires took care of their own: a first kill was quite a daunting prospect.
While he was alone he ground down the tablets and mixed them with the powders, then put them in the bottom of the mug and poured in some of the stout, stopping to sniff suspiciously at it. It didn't smell bad but goodness knows how it would taste. He poured in the rest of the drink and stirred it quickly, then poured his own bottle into his mug. Best his drink look the same as Arthur's: less suspicious that way.
When Arthur returned he raised an eyebrow at the porter in the mug. "We expecting company?"
Mitchell's fingers clenched the mug tightly and he tried with all his might to stop his hand from shaking: both from nerves and from a barely suppressed urge to conjure up his fangs and sink them into his friend's neck right there and then. "Someone had dropped the bottles, I reckon. When I opened them they frothed up everywhere and the mugs were the nearest things to catch the spillage." Mitchell took a long drink from his mug and pulled a face, "Tastes godawful, too. Maybe this lot's off or something. Still, best drink it anyway – not like they'll give us any more if this is bad."
Arthur tried a sample of his and his mouth puckered in disgust. "Jesus, you're not kidding! I'm not drinking this muck. Are they trying to kill us with our beer now as well as everything else?"
"Sup it down, mate," Mitchell hated himself as he smiled at his victim, "you know they reckon it's good for us. Just get it down you and I'll mention to supplies that we got some dodgy ones. Come on, I'll race you to the bottom. If we throw it down we won't even taste it." They both gulped their beer down and slammed the mugs down on the wooden table.
Mitchell paced the room, eyeing Arthur nervously, and for a time Arthur watched him too. Mitchell knew that the men in his platoon had been worried about him of late and he made an effort to stop his pacing and try to relax. Relax! As if he could. Why the devil hadn't he lost consciousness yet – there was enough in that mug to stop an elephant in its tracks. He was acutely aware of Arthur's heart beating and spotted immediately when it started to slow and his breathing became shallower. The soldier's eyes rolled up into his head and his jaw slackened. Mitchell felt the side of his neck: alive but unconscious; this was it. His fingers trembled on the other man's skin; he could feel the throb of the pulse, blood flowing so tantalisingly just beneath the surface. Tears filled his eyes. "I'm sorry, Arthur, so very, very sorry. You deserved a better death than this."
At last he allowed himself to give in, eyes flicking to darkness and fangs descending ready to bite. He felt a final heady rush as he succumbed and suddenly the taste was on his tongue again. The taste from the mug Herrick had fed him from weeks before; the taste that had lingered on the air from the balaclava in the bar in the village. And it was so good. Ah Jesus, it was so good! He gulped hungrily, the blood rushing over his tongue and coating his throat with its sticky warmth. Arthur's body slumped in the seat, the last breath easing out of him as his heart failed. Mitchell drank his fill, stopping only when the pulse of blood slowed to a trickle.
The bite marks stood out livid against the waxy pallor of Arthur's skin and Mitchell gently rolled Arthur's head to one side to hide them from view. Oh God, what had he done? Arthur was his friend. The feelings hit him like punches: pity, shame, remorse; then yearning, hunger, desire. No longer swimming against the tide of his hunger but now carried along on its rip current: wanting blood, needing blood in a completely different way. He knew the feel of it: knew how the ache for it sparked the gnawing in his guts and the crawling of his skin – the need for blood that at that moment overwhelmed every other thought in his head.
Arthur was the first but he wouldn't be the last. From the moment he'd made his pact with Herrick his fate had been sealed: to be a predator, no longer human. He wiped his mouth and Arthur's blood stained the back of his hand. Without hesitation Mitchell licked his skin, senses quivering at the smell and taste of fresh blood; the exhilaration again threatening to transform his eyes to darkest black.
He had to get out – the human side remained intact enough for him to realise that – he had to leave while he still could, before he killed another of his friends. He would go through the platoon like a forest fire, feeding and killing as he went; he knew that now. Whether this lust had been triggered by his long abstinence or whether all new vampires experienced the same powerful urges he didn't know. What he did know was that he had to go to Herrick. Herrick would shield him and teach him what he needed to know.
He opened the door and ran, with no thought in his head but to run back to where he had last seen Herrick. Gunfire whistled past him and he could hear the voice of his captain shouting after him. He couldn't go back now, even if he wanted to: not just a murderer but a deserter to boot. In that moment his shame was sealed.
"Tell me honestly, had you truly not fed until today?" Mitchell shook his head, scarcely managing to meet Herrick's eyes. "Impressive," commented Herrick, "most new vampires are taught to feed by their sire, of course. You, ah...absconded...before I got the chance, but even the reluctant ones rarely hold out more than a day or two."
Mitchell looked darkly at him from hooded eyes. "It was good, Herrick. I didn't know it would feel that way." His voice was husky with longing.
"It must have been bloody good after that long a wait. Who was it?"
"One of my men. My corporal. I drugged him and then drank from him. Then all I could think was that I needed to get to you. Help me, Herrick."
Herrick threw back his head and laughed, spluttering to a halt as the younger vampire stared bleakly at him. "Oh my, Mitchell, I'm sorry. You have to see the absurdity surely - that you gave yourself to save your men then chose one of them to feed on?" He chuckled again and slapped the younger man on the shoulder. "What delicious irony – very delicious if the look of you is anything to go by; you're wearing a fair bit of him. Still, you look a lot better with a square meal inside you."
"He wasn't enough," Mitchell said gruffly. "I want more. I need more, Herrick." Mitchell's eyes turned to jet and he reeled as the yearning for blood hit him. The corner of Herrick's mouth quirked: yes, the transformation was complete, and what a transformation it appeared to have been.
"I'm sure we can raid the larder in the circumstances. Seth, I believe we have a guest we've been saving for a special occasion. Maybe we can treat Mitchell here to a snack." From an outhouse, Seth led a dazed soldier, in a battered and blood-stained uniform. They had found him wandering alone and had brought him back with them – another missing in action who would never be accounted for.
"I think we should let our new friend here do the honours," Herrick stood aside to give Mitchell sight of the man. "I'd normally give you a few pointers, you understand, but you seem to have worked the essentials out for yourself, so...tuck in." With a wave of his hand he invited Mitchell forward.
Mitchell smiled coldly. His eyes scorched black and his fangs glinted as he advanced on the soldier. Mitchell was vicious and merciless, tearing savagely at the soldier's throat as he raised his arms in front of his face in a feeble attempt to ward him off. When the screams had subsided and the body lay motionless in a widening puddle of blood, Mitchell straightened, turning to the others with blood running from his chin and an intoxicated look on his face. He wiped his mouth with the tips of his fingers and looked Herrick square in the eye. It seemed to Herrick that it was no longer the same man that stared back at him. This man was colder, harder, more resolute than the frightened soldier he had met four weeks before.
"That was fun. So, who's next?" The chilling smile that crossed Mitchell's face was matched quickly by one on Herrick's, a gleam of delight lighting up his eyes.
Four weeks. What was four weeks, Herrick mused, in the long life of a vampire? It appeared that John Mitchell would turn out to have been worth the wait.