They were exhausted. It was a trite thing to say, certainly, but no better than bone tired or worn out, all of which were accurate descriptions of their current physical states. Safe zones were growing, spreading, but still merely pinpoints across the not exactly deserted good old U. S. of A. In order to keep the safe zones working, keep them growing and thriving, supply runs were essential. Even if gasoline wasn't so damn hard to come by, you couldn't just take a quick ride down to your nearest grocery store to pick up Listerine and coffee strainers anymore. These days you often had a multi-night hike or drive to barter or steal what you needed, keeping to the shadows, ducking behind the vines and weeds that were already choking out what had once been a vast sea of concrete, now returning to the greens, browns, and yellows of an Earth reclaiming its world.
This particular supply run had been different. They hadn't headed out for nails, hammers, or duct tape from home improvement stores. It hadn't been scavenging in hospitals and vet clinics for gauze and antibiotics (or certain other substances that Conrad was frequently needing to smack out of Worth's grubby hands). Grocery, gun, and tobacco stores had all been cleaned out months ago, and visiting them was a waste of time. Instead, they were seeking perhaps the greatest and most precious of commodities: knowledge. Rebuilding takes supplies, certainly; wood and brick, hinges and mortar. But it also takes the knowledge to create, to build, to put shit together so it doesn't cave in on your head while you sleep.
And so they had gone to the library, had pulled moldy books from shelves bowed by water damage and dragged them into corners to read titles by candle light and occasional flashlight. Promising books had been tossed in knapsacks, formed collections that had overflowed and needed to be culled. No matter the strength of a wiry masochist and a vampire who defied the usual archetypes, one could only fit so many items in a bag and quietly cart it off.
They had discovered, unfortunately, that libraries weren't just for finding Farming for Dummies or Poisonous Plants and You, or romance novels that Worth enjoyed reading ridiculous excerpts from to piss off the Confag (because, fuck you, a man's gotta find some entertainment in a post-apocalyptic world with dwindling smokes and a distinct lack of non-lethal bar brawls). It also housed raccoons, birds, and a group of plague resistant humans cloaked in rags and the fog of smoke in the basement, a none-too pleasant discovery when dawn is upon you and Sally Special-Pants needs a pitch black place to hole up in during the hours when he's even less functional and useful than normal.
They would also, of course, find out that this group had no qualms about keeping their territory; much like Worth had no problem being the first to fire. In fact, he rather preferred it that way, cleared up any confusion about whether he was an easy target or someone not to be fucked with. A group of shadowy figures lit by the faint flicker of flames, leaping up, scattering, coming at you from all sides while the heavy dark shape of a shotgun swings up at you? Yeah, no problem shooting first at all.
He received a nasty blow to the back of the head during the ensuing chaos, one that had reminded him of the vision quests brought about by too much alcohol. But, hey, blood was good. Blood from a dead man in the corner, from the back of Worth's possibly concussed skull, from the screeching, blue and white eyed human, dragged to the ground by the dizzy blond, finding the business end of a sanctified scalpel plunging into his armpit, bleeding out in seconds. It's fucking perfect if you have a shitty vampire who could take out a room of healthy men in minutes once his bloodlust kicked in and, oh yeah, he hasn't eaten in awhile, has he? All the better.
Worth shoved the heavy, limp body off of himself and remained lying on the floor as Conrad cleaned house, or the basement, or whatever, he was tittering a bit from thinking of Conrad "cleaning house" because, hah, fag joke. They never got old, really, not as long as Conrad would still get huffy about it. He would try to remember that one for later, after the screams died down, after he stopped seeing three Conrads in the room, alabaster skin stretched over sharp bones, humanity wafting and drifting from him like early morning mist. He coughed once, patting the pocket of his duster, mouth ticking up slowly with the reassurance of a pack still trapped safely within his coat as he tried to rise to his knees and return to the fray.
But of course, someone thought it would be a good idea to sneak around the edges of the room, try to take out the bleeding man on the floor. The strike to his mouth was almost cute in a way, blunt force spreading the heat of inflammation across Worth's lower face, followed by a blow that glanced off of his forehead. Vision dim, unfocused, his hand darted up, more instinct than thought, grabbing his assailant's neck, noting distantly how slender and small it felt as his fingers clenched, easily crushing the windpipe. There was more coughing, high pitched and desperate gasping as they tried to breathe, dropping whatever they had held as a weapon, hands far too concerned with clawing at a throat that no longer worked. Worth pulled a second scalpel out and stabbed them in the side.
It was quiet then, save for the hissing sizzle of Conrad's flesh reverting to a normal human appearance, and the crack of bones snapping back into place. They needed to sleep, needed rest, but there was no way of knowing if this small group was it, or if reinforcements would be on the way. So Worth fought back the nausea, sitting up on his elbows, moving to the two bodies on his left to search through their clothes for anything he could scavenge. Conrad was hovering nearby, voice shaky as Worth's eyes finally managed to focus slightly on the small form beneath his hands, on the small plastic train beside him, colors still bright despite the haze of candlelight.
"Jesus, Worth," he wheezed, and Worth could almost hear the moment when Conrad started to cave into himself, arms wrapping tightly around his now warm body. "They were…I-I couldn't see! I-I didn't know that they…we… I just-"
"Puke an' I'll pop ya. Ya ain't had a good feed in a long while an' ya needed it." He was avoiding looking at the other bodies, wasn't going to search them. The man he had stabbed had a few cigarettes in his pocket, and those would be enough. Even if they felt it was safe enough to barricade themselves in the room, even if the stench of congealing blood and emptied bowels wasn't going to drive them out, he knew they couldn't stay there, couldn't sleep with the unintended carnage surrounding them. He stood, shaky, stumbling as his head throbbed, vision grayed along the edges. He steadied himself with a hand on the wall as he gave a stern look to the blood spattered vampire. "Grab yer purse an' get a move on."
After closing the door and drawing a cross upon it, they left; walking with heavy burdens slung across backs, sun painting the world first in muted grays, then in pinks and golds. Both men were stumbling, heads pounding, bodies aching. Worth was panting, Conrad wasn't bitching. There were cars along the road, covered in various weights of vegetation. Worth kept looking until he spotted a white SUV, windows deeply tinted, driver's side door hanging open. He snapped his fingers once at Conrad, who ceased the death march and leaned against the dusty side of the car wearily. Worth drew his gun and risked turning on his flashlight, wasting precious battery as he did a thorough search of the interior. Luggage, a few cd's, but otherwise empty. Grunting, he shut the door and locked it, dropping his bag of books on the passenger's seat, clambering his way into the back. He opened the hatchback and waved a hand around the side of the car. "You. In."
It was all the encouragement Conrad needed to crawl inside. Worth took the bag of books, hefting them up and over from the trunk to the back seat before shrugging out of his coat, dropping it on top of the vampire. Conrad curled up beneath it, blood drying and flaking from his chin as his eyes shut and head disappeared beneath the opaque fabric. Worth did a double check of the locks, then stretched out as best he could along the back seat, brain muzzy, keeping him up long after he had hoped for unconsciousness.
He wasn't sure if he was the first to wake the following evening, as he lied staring at the top of the car for quite some time before he could muster the energy to move. Muscles twisted and sore, the only proof he'd rested was the darkness and singing of crickets outside the vehicle. He reached over the back of the seat, blindly groping, fingers briefly brushing along Conrad's sleep tousled hair and the curve of his ear before reaching his coat. There was a moment's hesitation before he pulled it off of the vampire and slung it over his hunched shoulders.
They collected their loot and exited the vehicle, trudging silently back to the safe zone, feet and heads numb, moving without thought. Hanna wasn't there to greet them, which was a relief to the back alley hack. He just wanted to sit down, maybe eat something, maybe not. A few creatures saw them, took in the state of their clothes, the blank looks on their faces, and gave a wide berth as they headed to a building, formerly a bed and breakfast, now, technically, still a bed and breakfast, just without hot water and electricity and people paying rent.
The two picked up a candle from the unattended front counter, lit it and staggered up the stairs, guided by the flame's sputtering illumination. They entered the room that had become more or less Worth's simply because he slept there from time to time, and dropped the bags of books by the door. Worth, a man accustomed to sleeping in a myriad of locations and in a multitude of positions, grimaced and flattened himself on his back on the bed, dry eyes sliding shut. It would be more comfortable to lie on his right side, giving the back of his head and the left side of his face a break from body pressure, but each time he attempted to roll over, the hip holster got in his way. Ah, fuck it. He had enough energy to put a cigarette in his mouth, light it, and take a long, deep breath. It could wait. He might end up losing consciousness randomly, anyway.
"Fuckin'-" Sighing through his nose, head going through another round of Guess the Source of That Ringing Sound, Worth grimaced, breathing in more smoke, the red tip of his cigarette a bright burning beacon in the dark room. "What?"
"Don't fall asleep with a cigarette. You'll set the place on fire."
"Really?" Conrad had set the candle down on the nightstand and had divested himself of his shoulder holster and most of the stiffened, bloodstained clothing. He was standing in a button down shirt, worn loafers, and boxer briefs beside the bed. Despite this, he still felt entitled to stare derisively at the blonde. "It's been a few years since I was a human, but I'm pretty sure I remember eyes closing, lying in a bed, and slow breathing meaning sleep."
An eye cracked open. "Ain't sleepin' if yer yappin'."
The vampire rolled his eyes. "Right. Of course. Look, you're going to get…marks and smells on the bed. At least take your soiled clothes off and finish the cigarette first."
"Yannow, sounds like a great idea, princess. Howsabout ya help me out. I'll work on th' cig part an' you kin work on th' clothes part." Christ, would his head stop ringing already? His eyes slid shut again. He wanted to rub a temple, but his arms felt like lead.
The mattress dipped and Worth's foot was yanked. He looked up, mouth opening, preparing to ask just what the fuck was going on when he realized what the fuck was going on. Conrad was actually taking care of his clothes. Well, so far just his boots, and certainly while grumbling and glaring and giving very vocal thanks for a lack of breathing and thus, reduced sense of smell, but, shit. He watched as the footwear disappeared over the side of the mattress, socks stripped, leaving his blister covered soles bare.
And then Conrad was moving up, hands working on the belt of the holster, barely hanging on around the blonde's narrow hips. Then the actual buckle of his belt was addressed; old, supple leather pulled out from belt loops and discarded with a clink of brass. There were two straps holding the hip holster to Worth's lean thigh and they were next on the agenda. Conrad pushed Worth's legs farther apart, positioned himself on his knees between them. Pale fingers and thumbs worked slowly, unclipping the lower snaps, then slid up, reaching for the second strap. He looked up, then, eyes meeting with Worth's gaze as he unsnapped it. The holster slid free, flapping open where it was pinned beneath the weight of Worth's body. Conrad elbowed Worth's thigh, and the blonde lifted his hips, allowing the vampire to pull the holster out. Leaning forward on hands and knees over the blonde's body, he carefully placed the gun on the nightstand by the bed, the vibration making the candle's flame falter and dance.
Gun and holster safely set aside, Conrad pushed on Worth's shoulders, working the duster off. He slid one hand down along Worth's spine, between his shirt and the coat, lifting and moving Worth into a partially upright position. Worth twisted, pulling his arms out of the sleeves, chest pressing against Conrad's, tongue shifting the nearly spent cigarette to the far corner of his mouth to prevent it from burning the vampire's ear. He could feel Conrad's coolness through his clothes, not cold exactly, but not warm, something somewhere in-between, something matching the night air.
Torso free of the coat, Conrad moved back down, hands gripping the top of Worth's jeans, pausing before popping the button out of the hole, eyebrows knitting together as he arrived at the zipper. The vampire glanced up, gaze meeting and locking with Worth's, deep shadows swimming and sliding over the contours of their faces in the quiet. Worth should say something, he knew, not just lie there. They were both needing comfort, a way to make everything okay again, drown out the memory of the previous evening. His lip quirked up in a semblance of a smile as he spoke, "'...her heavin' bosom was pink, beads a sweat clingin' ta her cleavage like dewdrops on flutterin' leaves as Raoul lifted her skirts…"
Conrad's entire countenance shifted. "I have vampire strength and my fists are by your crotch. You might want to think about that before you say another word."
"Aw, don't be like that, I'm jus' quotin' one of yer favorite works of art to ya." He grinned. "Oh, Raoul!," she cried out desperately, swoonin'-" Worth snickered as Conrad raised a fist, a wordless threat to strike. He intercepted it, grabbing the vampire's wrist.
"Let. Go." Conrad hissed, leaning backwards, putting up a meager, fatigued struggle. He grabbed Worth's forearm with his free hand, only to find Worth's other hand gripping and restraining that one as well.
"Raoul's chest hair gleamed in th' sunset, a glistenin', undulatin' meadow of masculinity leadin' down ta th' thicket between his legs. Hands tremblin', Connie couldn't help but reach out-"
Clearly, the breaking point had been reached, as Conrad's mouth opened, teeth clamped down, biting Worth's hand in the fleshy spot between thumb and first finger. He glowered, even as Worth groaned and cackled gleefully, his elongated fingers twitching from the pain, releasing Conrad's wrists. The vampire spat out the offending hand and stared. "You," he eventually said, unconsciously licking his teeth clean, "have a sickness."
"Uh huh." Worth smirked, shaking out his hand, noting the headache had faded. He wasn't relaxed exactly, and was still tired, but getting a reaction out of Conrad, getting both of their minds off of what had transpired in the library was heartening. The cigarette was at the end of its life and, after taking a final quick pull, he snuffed it out in the ashtray beside his gun and blew out the candle.
Huffing, Conrad scooted across the mattress, sliding beneath the sheets and pulling them up over the top of his head, forming a nearly cocooned lump. "I'm going to sleep. I suggest you finish what I started and then do the same."
"Well I dunno, sweetheart, ya gave me a booboo." Head cocking to the side, Worth glanced up at the curtains, drawn, but still allowing a faint rim of light to filter in around the edges. Conrad wouldn't sleep as well here as he did in his little windowless nest in the center of the building, but he would probably be fine as long as the sheets stayed up over him. "Mebbe ya oughta kiss it an' make it better first."
"Tempting, Worth, if by "kiss" you mean "punch"."
He had to consider that for a bit, folding himself up and pouring preternaturally long legs under the sheets. Worth rolled onto his side, facing away from the vampire, tucking his throbbing and scabbing hand under the pillow. Hopefully it wouldn't get infected, but mouths were filthy things, so he was mostly just hoping the infection wouldn't be that bad. He'd dealt with worse things than bites from a one fanged moron.
A set of cold feet pressed against the back of his calves and he scowled. The more things changed, the more they stayed the same, more trite bullshit that actually held some truth. Fine. If Icefoot Achendick asked if his hair looked okay in the morning, well, Worth would just have to assure him that yes, it looked fine, even if it was sticking out in the back. Actually, he thought as he drifted off to sleep, especially if it was sticking out in the back.