"Here it comes," Leo says, and will. not. blink.
Hal stares back for a long moment and then gives a strangled laugh as he tears himself away. "You'd say anything."
"Wouldn't you?" The chains rattle their reminder. "Haven't you?"
Hal backs up unsteadily and then turns as Erlick, Early, Ermin – God, who cares about the names anymore – enters, smirking.
When he sees Hal, the smirk falters, turns greasy. "Just here for the hound."
Hal's stomach sours. "Go on then, take it - no, wait." He shakes his head and holds his hand out for the key; forces a perfunctory smile. "My turn to walk the dog, I think. Go and prepare the arena."
"Right you are, then." Early, Ermin, Vermin, drops the key into his palm and all but runs away.
When Hal looks back, Leo is crouched against the wall, teeth gritted against the pain. The spasm passes and he looks up, eyes rimmed in red and gold. "Have you decided, Hal?" he asks, voice not quite a growl.
Hal snaps his fingers impatiently. "Come, give me your wrist."
He leaves the door of the cellar open, hears the wretched cries of the man as the wolf begins its grand entrance.
There's time for Hal to reach the arena; he kills three, perhaps four vampires before the rest even notice. Kills four, perhaps five more after they do – the ones too stupid to run; too stupid to exist.
The rest he leaves to discover the doors he locked on their own. They're the wolf's entertainment. It's earned it.
When he opens the fight cage, the human inside screams and throws himself desperately at the door. Hal catches him easily at the collar, lifts him struggling from his feet and brings the terrified face within an inch of his own.
His jaws ache to bite and tear, but he's already fed tonight; he resists. "Over there," he whispers, nodding towards the shadows at the far end of the room. "The door is still open. Bar it behind you or you will die."
He flings the human in that direction; the man scrabbles to his feet and runs. A few second later, Hal hears the scrape of the lock being drawn.
He straightens his shoulders, walks into the empty cage and pulls the door shut behind him as the wolf's first howl echoes from brick to brick.
Leo blinks twice and the bright haze above him becomes a single naked bulb, ticking with heat. Someone forgot to turn the light off before they ran and he laughs, because he is alive and there is no innocent blood drying under his fingernails.
"I'm so glad you're amused."
Leo rolls to his side and sees the cage - the vampire sat at the very back, knees drawn up to his chin. Hal looks pale - paler even than normal. The bars closest to Leo are bowed; the wolf must have thrown itself at them again and again.
"Not amused," Leo denies. "Happy. Happy to be alive and for my conscience to be clean."
"I see." Hal stays where he is, expression wary. No, not wary, resigned. "That must be nice."
Leo stands, naked and uncaring. "And now you think it is your turn."
"I won't fight you."
The wolf is still so shallowly under his skin that Leo is tempted - more than tempted. Hal is old and he is dangerous; Leo can smell the centuries of death covering him. And even if the vampire is sincere in his desire to change now, he had said himself: he would change once again and many would die. It was inevitable.
But here, in this perfect moment, Leo could save them all if he simply took the life of a creature willing to let him.
Except taking a life, any life, was not simple and if this Hal could be taught to see that, perhaps it would be unnecessary as well. And if a creature like this vampire could be saved, what wasn't possible for them both?
Leo crouches and strips a corpse of its trousers and shirt. Both are bloody and torn, but better than anything else on offer. He dresses quickly and tries to ignore the scratch of dried blood on his skin.
Decent again, he walks slowly to the cage and is able to see what the wolf could not: the key in its lock. It turns with a whine of protest and the door groans when he pushes against it, but opens just enough that he can slip through.
Hal watches expressionless as Leo makes his way forward. When he's a foot away, Leo stops and then offers his hand. "You will not fight me because you will not have to."
Hal stares dumbly up; his mouth moves silently for a few seconds before he frowns in confusion. "Why? You have what you wanted - go. I'll see to it that you're not troubled again."
Leo snorts. "Maybe I want you where I can see you, so can I kill you if I must. Any wolf that killed you, I think they would be feared, yes? Left alone?"
Hal smile is thin, but there's amusement in the curve. "If we – if vampires - had any sense at all, yes. Sadly, we lack even that virtue. There would be reprisals. An example would be made."
"That would make it difficult to build a business – the customers would complain. So you will become a good man, and I will not have to kill you."
Hal gives a short, mocking laugh as he stands. "Fine. You'll tell me why one day."
"In The Gambia we say, 'it is nice to be nice.'"
"That's quite sickening. I think I prefer the enlightened self-interest."
Leo makes a disapproving sound. "I agree to help you and you insult my people."
"The sentiment, actually, but not them, or you." Hal's smile is quick to arrive and quick to leave, and always sharp. "Which you must admit is an improvement."
Leo sighs. It will be a long, long life.
It won't be long enough.
And Leo never will tell Hal why he did it - not because he's keeping some great secret, but because he'll never really know himself. It will amuse him over the years, though, to keep Hal guessing.
"This is ridiculous." Hal hunches inside his greatcoat, expression pinched as he tries to keep to what little shade he can find. "I can buy you the shop, I have money."
Leo shakes his head, looking proudly at the barbers' he won't own for another fifteen years, though he doesn't know it. "I do not want you to buy it. I will work hard and in time I will buy it myself."
"Then you are ridiculous," Hal snaps.
Leo considers them: a werewolf and a vampire on a busy high street in Southend in the middle of summer and, in the privacy of his own head, agrees.
Pearl dies on a Sunday in 1953 and at first when people ask – well, people being ghosts, of course - she likes to hint about the tragedy of a jealous lover, but it weren't anything like that really. It was stupid and sudden and she doesn't like to talk about it.
Wasn't. Wasn't anything like that - just because you were dead didn't mean there was no room for self-improvement
And lover, hah! No lovers for her, jealous or anything else. The closest she'd come was the baker's boy looking at her all dopey-like when he delivered, and even then she couldn't be sure, what with his funny eye.
Anyway, the point was, she was just glad she'd died in her good dress, because some of those ghosts wandering around, you just didn't know where to put your face with what they were wearing.
In the sixties, when she was feeling daring, she'd let the hem of her dress curl up an inch above her knee. Hal always looked away and that made her feel a bit wicked, and Leo … for fifty-five years, it didn't matter what she looked like, Leo told her she was beautiful.
Every morning when she made breakfast (the eighties told her to be a modern woman and she tried it for a few days, just for a change; pronounced it all right for the weekends, if you liked that sort of thing) - anyway, when she made breakfast, he'd say, "Pearl, you look lovely this morning," or, "Pearl, have you done something with your hair?"
Of course, he would, being a barber, but it tickled her he'd notice. It was just, it was nice, and there was nothing wrong with it at all and anyone who said there was … well, there wasn't anyone to say it was, was there?
Not here, where they were safe in their little two-up, two-down. Not like in bloody Notting Hill.
Excuse her language.
And it wasn't like Leo meant anything by it.
She always thought he'd find someone and she and Hal would learn to live with it – you know, in a manner of speaking. They'd learn to like the woman Leo found, and her ways, and her cooking, and maybe there'd be children – that would, that would be –
The stray thought that Leo's children would never be able to see her burns up the radio and two light bulbs, although Pearl blames the rolling brownout and Leo and Hal nod in sincere, completely unified agreement.
They're good boys, really. Her boys.
Leo never does get married and Pearl never can understand why, because he's handsome, and clever, and funny, and kind, and strong, and handsome.
She invisibly berates the women who come to the house for not seeing his qualities or for getting annoyed when pictures fly off the wall and hit them in the head – because that happens to everyone and she doesn't see what all the fuss and screaming is about, for heaven's sake.
None of them are good enough for him anyway, not with their baking in her kitchen and laughing at the telly, or their deliberately flaunting their pulse at people all the time.
Hal stays in his room a lot; he's really no help at all.
But that's later. When they meet it's 1957. It's a year before the riots and Pearl's standing on the street corner where she died, just minding her own business, when Leo smiles at her.
It's the first time someone real – alive, that is - has seen her. She screams like she's seen a ghost and hides for four days; Leo comes back every day and tells thin air he's sorry for scaring her until she reappears.
They laugh about it, later. Well, Leo and Hal do – she sniffs and says she can't see what's so funny.
The bite of the werewolf makes Leo far stronger than he should be while Hal's blood-free diet has weakened him greatly, but it still takes everything Leo has to keep him contained.
Hal growls and darkness covers his eyes like ink polluting water. "Let me go, dog. Mangy animal. Flea-bitten cur-"
Leo tightens his arms and locks in his hold; Hal's breath hitches as his ribs creak.
"You will control yourself," Leo hisses urgently in his ear.
"I will not allow-"
The man behind the desk stares at them, eyes wide and rolling, the telephone limp in his hand. The pulse at his thick, red neck jumps.
Leo spins, still holding on as tightly as he can, putting both their backs to Hal's temptation; they can only hope that the bank manager doesn't find his courage in the next few moments. "He does not deserve to die. No one deserves to die," he whispers as quietly as possible, although he doubts it will be quietly enough.
There's a terrified squeak from behind the desk. No. Not quietly enough.
"Please," he says as calmly as he can. "Please, sir, if you could make your way slowly to the door. And try to look as bland and unappetising as you can," he adds, because for all his good intentions, he can't forget the thinly covered sneer that set Hal off.
The bank manager bolts for the door. Like a cat on a mouse, Hal lunges, but Leo is ready. He hauls back hard; one final effort that sends them both crashing into the desk as the door slams safely shut.
Hal pushes Leo away as they climb to their feet. "What he called you-"
"He called me nothing."
"You could see him thinking it."
"He called me nothing," Leo repeats, "but you called me a flea-bitten cur. A mangy animal."
"That's different," Hal says automatically, but his agitated stalk from wall to wall slows.
"I see. If I can manage not to rip the throat out of everyone who sees only the colour of my skin, you can do the same. I will not be your excuse, Hal. Do you understand me? I will not be used; not as a man and not as a wolf."
"I." Hal frowns pensively. "I apologise."
"Do you know what you are sorry for?" The words aren't Leo's, they're his mother's, unprompted and unbidden, from when the sun was hot and she still laughed.
Hal blinks and stops pacing entirely. "Excuse me?"
In for a penny, as they say. "Tell me. What is it you are sorry for? Exactly."
"Perhaps we should make egress and continue this conversation somewhere no one is fashioning stakes next door? He is, you know. I can hear whittling."
Leo crosses his arms and shakes his head.
Hal scowls. "Have I mentioned that you're ridiculous?"
"I'm not a child."
"No, you are not. Children learn, vampires... Can vampires learn, Hal?"
Hal gives a frustrated huff and then his brow furrows as he grudgingly thinks about it. "I used you as an excuse to do what I already wanted to do. That was wrong." He's almost pleased with himself, surprised by the discovery of something new.
Or, perhaps, very old.
Leo is not in the mood to allow him to enjoy it for long. "Good. And?"
"And?" Now Hal looks faintly panicked. He casts around the room, then inspiration strikes. "And!" He raises a finger. "I called you derogatory, untrue things. I've seen no evidence of mange, nor fleas, which-"
"Thank you, yes, enough. And?"
"There is nothing else, surely?"
"You were intending to eat someone," Leo points out.
Hal pauses. "Ah."
"Ah." Leo shakes his head. Hal seems disappointed, but as if he has failed at some interesting new game rather than understood its point. Still, some success is some success, and they have time.
Or they will, if they leave now. "Come, then - before they find their pitchforks."
After Pearl has found an excuse to pop by five days in a row, and left later and later each time, Leo peers over the top of his newspaper and says, "Pearl should live here. With us."
Hal's head stays bent as he works. "Have you completely lost your mind?"
"The three of us, Hal. What couldn't we do? And I don't like to think about her, alone out there."
"She did perfectly well without us before, she'll do perfectly well without us long after we're gone."
"But why should she have to?" Leo reads that The Blues have lost again; he will never live it down at the college.
"Absolutely not. If she stays, I go."
"No, you won't." Leo turns another page in the newspaper and only looks up when he realises that the gentle click of the domino tiles has stopped.
Hal is staring at him, something dark swims in his eyes and his smile is crooked and hard. "You're very sure of yourself, Leo. Perhaps you shouldn't be."
Leo ignores the frisson of fear that travels his spine; waits until he knows his voice will be level before he replies. "No, Hal. I am very sure of you."
The darkness abates and Hal's mouth twitches. "And the stake you keep under the sofa."
"I also have great confidence in the stake, yes." Leo nods to the unfinished spiral. "Another, go on."
A tile spins in Hal's fingers, the black dots blur. "You're–"
"Ridiculous - I know, I know."
"A brave man, Leo. One of the bravest men I've ever met."
"For standing up to you?" Leo laughs under his breath. "Vampires, you always have such a high opinion of yourselves."
"No," Hal says, and arranges the tile in its place. "Not for that."
In the aftermath, when Hal is himself again and Pearl has finished scrubbing the walls clean, and Leo has stopped looking all shaky, they agree they'll never, ever talk about the Kia-Ora incident ever again.
When he's 29, Leo runs away. There isn't really a better word for it; he knows that even while he's stuffing his clothes into his bag. There was an argument and there were words, and in fifty years he won't even remember them, but here and now they burn.
Hal lurks sullenly in the doorway and Pearl sits on the sofa, hurt and worried and angry, and too proud to cry.
Leo's had enough. Enough of them and enough of himself and enough of – just enough.
"This is foolish," Hal says. "It's the full moon tomorrow, where will you go?"
"That is not something you have to worry about any more."
"Please, Leo. Just wait," Pearl tries. "You don't have to leave your own house."
"This is not my house," he growls. "This has never been my house and I am tired. Do you understand that?"
Hal says nothing and Pearl looks away and that's the last he sees of either.
For 6 days.
He goes to London, and then on to Dover, where he takes a ferry to France. He drinks, and he walks, and he tells strangers his plan for a big, fat life. And, finally, he comes home.
The little terraced house is still standing; honestly, that's better than he had hoped for. The curtains are drawn, but there are lights behind them and, as far as he can see, the police are not watching the building: better still.
His key scratches in the lock and the door creaks in a familiar way, sticks as it always has when he closes it behind him. Home.
Hal is sat at the table, holding a domino while Pearl watches intently from the chair opposite. Hal doesn't look at him, but Pearl does. Her smile is bright and he can see she wants to come closer – wants her to - but she stays where she is.
"You see," Hal murmurs. "We don't need you here, in case you were hoping you were indispensable."
Pearl's smile strains and Hal's hand shakes; if he started his spiral at the usual time, he's been building it for hours, when he can usually be finished in one.
"Yes, I can see that." Leo reaches to take the tile from Hal's hand before it topples them all.
"So, so you could go if you wanted, is what Mr. Personality is trying to say - we're perfectly fine. Not that we don't want you here. But you could go." Pearl gnaws at her lip; the lipstick will never smear.
"Perhaps I will just take a holiday, now and then."
"Ooh, that's an idea, we could all do with a-" Pearl yelps and jumps, as if someone has – for instance – kicked at her under the table.
"What Pearl means is, go when you will, return when you will." Hal holds his hand out for the tile. "Do what you will."
Leo gives the tile back. "You know, on the train, I saw a poster – The Beatles are playing the Odeon. We should go."
Hal looks horrified. Pearl's smile lights up the room.
Literally, but it was worth an old lamp.
"What was it really like?" Pearl leans against the kitchen counter, chin propped on her palm and a paperback novel with a lurid cover next to her elbow. "Was it all dead romantic?"
Hal barely glances at her, busy arranging the cutlery drawer, because, really, who puts spoons of all different sizes together? Where's the sense in that? "Excuse me?"
"Like in that film the other week," she says dreamily.
"Cleopatra?" That does make him pause. "I'm not that old."
"Well, no." She snaps out of it. "But you saw all those Kings and Queens. Did Elizabeth the First really have a dress made of pearls?"
"Not made of pearls, no." One of the forks is missing; he casts about for it.
"What was it like back then?"
No fork. He scowls as he turns back. "A great deal like it is now: cruel, and dirty, and unfair, and all so very superficial: you would have liked it."
Pearl's face crumples for just a second, before it hardens and her chin comes up. "Well, you're in a proper mood, aren't you? See if there's seconds tonight!"
"Pearl, wait, I-"
He's reaching for her, but she's already gone.
"I'm sorry I upset you for no better reason than a foul temper," he murmurs.
She doesn't speak to him for two days – but then she forgives him with three flat cakes and a pot of tea.
"I just wish I'd been loved." Pearl's smile is shy and uncertain as she looks at Leo. "I wish someone would give me a ring just like this one."
When she's gone, he cuts the advert from the newspaper and folds it carefully; then he blinks and fifty years have gone by.
Leo finds his first grey hair when he turns thirty-one, feels his chest tighten and pulls the hair out with a wrench. Not because he fears age, not because of vanity, but for what he'll see in their faces - in her face - and because they can't afford a new toaster at the moment.
He's thirty-four before he becomes careless and one evening Pearl tugs at his hair. "What's this, then?" Silence, for so long, before, "Oooh, that's distinguished, that is.
"You know, I had a teacher in school who went at the temples first. We all loved him. Mr. Morrison. He died. You know. In the war. Very sad. But lovely hair."
Her fingers are mist, brushing his temple; he doesn't look at her as she chatters. Her tone is too bright, too fierce, but nothing has melted or caught fire. Perhaps it's best it happen like this: when they've had a good week, when she's happy.
Leo raises his hand to lightly touch the chill of her skin. "It's all right, Pearl."
"All right? Of course it's all right. I just said I liked it, didn't I?" Her voice is brittle and when he looks at her, she's smiling over bared teeth. "You're just vain, you are. I suppose if it means that much to you, you could colour it."
"Colour what?" Hal asks quietly from somewhere behind them both and Leo turns to look at him. Stiff, wary, carefully contained: for Hal, that's normal now.
They've done good work.
"Just a few grey hairs," Pearl smiles. "Don't know why everyone's making such a fuss about it, really. He's going on about colouring them, aren't you, Leo? I think it's just vanity, but he won't be talked out of it."
Leo lets a breath out as the lights around the mirror flicker. "Yes," he said firmly. "I am, and I won't have either of you teasing me about it. You know, my grandfather's hair turned gray very early, he lived to be a hundred and eight."
Leo's grandfather died at forty-three; his hair was still black, but his heart wasn't strong. No one needs to know that.
"If that's what Leo wants, that's what Leo should do," Hal says after a measured pause.
Leo is never quite sure exactly how well Hal understands Pearl – or understands Leo, for that matter. Never quite clear whether Hal sees them as a constant, slightly irritating puzzle, or whether they're only playing parts he's already seen a hundred, two hundred times before.
Whether he just chooses to keep his peace.
Whether it matters. Leo waves a hand in the direction of the stores. "Hal, there is a box of dyes in the cupboard, please."
Hal fetches the box without comment, holds it while Leo rifles through, and then stays when Pearl bustles out, declaring she has better things to do than watch a grown man primping like a teenage girl.
"Covering it won't stop it," Hal says when she's gone.
"I'm aware of that, thank you, Hal."
"She'll have to cope eventually. We'll all have to cope eventually."
Carefully, Leo begins to mix the dye. "But not today."
"Not today." Hal is invisible in the mirror, but when a comb taps Leo on the shoulder, he takes it.
The vampire's touch at Leo's temple is almost as cold as Pearl's. "Here. You missed one."
When Leo's fifty-five, Pearl declares the whole thing ridiculous and honestly, at his age, who on Earth does he think he's fooling anyway?
When the dye's gone, it leaves only grey behind it.
Her name is Simone, like Nina Simone, and Leo thinks he loves her. Even years later, he's not sure he didn't.
She's a wonderful woman and she doesn't mind that Hal never says more than two sentences to her on the few occasions they meet, or that the television never works when she visits for the evening. She's training to be a teacher and she only demands from Leo the things he's so ready to give.
It doesn't end between them so much as fade away. When he never asks the question and she never pushes him to. When he knows, in his heart, that he'll always compare her to a dead woman.
She dies in 2003, a mother, a grandmother; Leo attends the funeral and shakes hands with her family and wipes the tears from his cheeks before he goes home.
Pearl fusses as she tightens the straps around Leo's wrists; she took over from Hal almost as soon as she moved in and never once in fifty-four years has she let another soul do it.
"Right then, now, do you want the telly on?"
"No, I think I'll sleep for a little while. Until it's time. I'm tired," he says. And he is. The wolf never tires, never sleeps and Leo wonders how long it will be until his human body can no longer keep up.
No way to know, he's never met a werewolf as old as himself.
"I'll make you a good breakfast in the morning, you'll feel right back to your old self again."
"Yes, Pearl." He wants to pat her hand; he can't. "You go along, now."
"I'll be outside reading my magazines and Hal will be up when he's finished making all the pencils the same height, so you just call if you need something."
Fifty-four years, he thinks. Fifty-four years of a big, fat life.
"I'll see you in the morning," he promises, and wants so badly for it to be true.
"What was it like, back then?" Annie has a habit of just appearing, but Hal isn't easy to startle.
He doesn't stop folding the newspaper into precise, careful lines. "Excuse me?"
"I mean, you know, history? Mitchell was quite old, but you're a lot older. And I don't mean that in the – I mean, there's nothing wrong with being old, obviously. Just don't shake a walking stick at the kids next door or anything."
She grins a touch self-consciously and Hal tilts his head, curious. "How can you tell?"
Annie shrugs. "I don't know, I just can. Although I suppose the three-piece suits help. So, history!" She beams. "Tell me about it."
Hal smiles slightly. "A great deal like it is now." He hesitates, and then, "Nothing really changes, Annie."
"Well that's no fun, I was hoping for stories of swashbuckling and banquets and sailing ships and those pointy shoes. I bet you looked very dashing," she teases.
"Of course," he lies and thinks, perhaps one day, he will tell her how beautiful the sun was as it set over the broken battlegrounds of Orsha. How the world turned slowly to red.
Perhaps not. Vampires can learn.
Tom watches as the domino tiles are placed carefully, one after the other. And it's not that he's interested, but there's nowt on the telly and his shift in the cafe doesn't start for another hour.
Annie plays peekaboo with Eve on the sofa, which has actually turned a bit different since she learned about swaddling and that.
"Must you?" Hal barely breathes. Well, he don't breathe, right?
"What? I'm just sitting." Tom gestures at his chair, proving his point. "I'm allowed to sit. 'S my 'ahs."
"Is that 'arse' or 'house'?" Annie asks tartly. "Because it's your arse, but it's my house. Eve's house, actually, but I think it will be a while before she's up to repairs."
"My chair, then," Tom negotiates.
"All right," she agrees. "Your chair."
"Sitting. Watching. Is your mind so bereft of culture that it can find entertainment watching me?"
Short, clipped words said in a rush, fingers trembling harder. Hal's control is so, so thin and all the wolf in Tom wants to do is tear away what's left, force the monster into the light and kill it.
Only not in front of the baby.
"Leave him alone, Tom. Look, I think Eve's trying to say a word. Is it 'Annie?' Is it?"
Eve, all of six weeks old, gurgles.
Tom doesn't move. "Know what I think?"
"Thankfully not, but I have the horrible feeling you're going to enlighten me."
"I think Leo watched you. Bet he sat right across the table pretending to read the paper, because you didn't have a telly on account it hadn't been invented. Like … trainers and … real appealable cheese."
Hal's fingers hesitate over a domino, he draws his hand back and clenches, unclenches, clenches his fist. It doesn't help. "For the love of God, open a history book. You can read, I assume? The television came to Britain in the thirties. Admittedly, they didn't really gain popularity for two or three decades."
"Did you have one?"
"No, not at first." Hal admits after a grudging beat. "Pearl thought they looked untrustworthy."
Annie laughs and not happily. "She was right about that. Televisions: not to be trusted. Except for Sesame Street, which we watch every day, don't we, Splodge? I always say: if you can't trust a giant yellow canary and his imaginary friend, who can you trust?"
"There you are, then." Tom says. "He watched you, so I'm watching you."
"You are not Leo, you will never be half the man Leo was. Believe me on that if nothing else. And he stopped watching a long time ago."
No he didn't, Tom thinks. Leo never stopped watching, because if Hal went and killed someone, it was as good as Leo doing it himself and thirty seconds in Leo's company had told Tom the man wasn't a killer. Just wasn't.
Might have killed people, mind, because sometimes that happens and there's circumstances, but wasn't an actual killer.
So he reckoned that Leo'd watched, and when he thought that would start to do more bad than good, he'd probably got all sneaky about it. And, then, when he knew he couldn't watch anymore, he'd gone and found people to watch for him.
Tom doesn't like Hal. Doesn't like him at all, maybe even less than Mitchell, and he really didn't like Mitchell.
But he liked Leo. And he liked Pearl. And he likes Annie.
"Right, okay," Tom concedes. "But he did at the beginning, didn't he?"
"This is hardly the beginning," Hal mutters, which Tom will take as a 'Yes, Tom, you are quite correct and also I have stupid hair,' because it makes him feel better.
"So the bloke who'd been clean for fifty-sommat years, he'd go up to a tiny little baby's room and try and eat it, would he?"
The fingers holding the next tile twitch so badly that Hal jerks his hand back before the whole spiral falls. "I told you, I was confused. It will never happen again."
Tom ignores the protest, because it's weak and the only one who believes it is Annie, because she has to.
And maybe she's right. Annie's bossy and a bit difficult to understand sometimes, but she only sees the best first because she can afford to - he wouldn't cross her in a real fight, not ever. It would take her a bit to make herself think of the worst thing she could do, but once she got there, she'd be ready to do it.
"No," Tom says as Hal stares at him. "A bloke like that wouldn't hurt a baby, even if he'd had a bit of a shock because his best mates had gone off and left him in Wales.
"But a vampire might if he were just starting out. And the people stuck with him might be a bit more understanding of slips. Little slips, like. Where no one got ate."
"Eaten," Annie interjects, not quite able to help herself.
Hal stares at him. "Well," he said finally, awkwardly, and then doesn't seem to have anything else to add.
Tom points decisively to the next spot on the table. "Go on, then."
"Here it comes," Hal murmurs; the domino clicks down.
When they get back from the concert at the Odeon, still flushed and laughing, Leo runs upstairs to fetch his records so they can listen all over again.
Pearl looks at Hal and says, "We should let him go." She sobers, already regretting the words, but committed now. "We'd manage, I'm sure."
Hal says, "No." And that's the end of it.