Henry never thought he'd see a day when a sabre wielded by a strong and desperate man would be as nothing. Until, he faces the machine gun line, and realises just how naked he is in his skin.
He sees men die the way he had never seen them die before. Sees them walk into death, willingly, in thrall to the officers who sit back in the tents sipping tea from china cups. Difficult, he thinks, not to respect humanity in some small way having watched them walk slow and steady into a hailstorm of bullets, heads bowed towards death, stoic as rock. Their's not to reason why. This is what he admires - not, never the officers, but the salt of the earth, humanity in it's grubby glory.
They're calling it the Great War and great it is - great in scope, in consequence, in blood. Henry has never seen more vampires collected in one place - like carrion birds to a fallen beast, they come and they come.
Some choose to fight for the French, many for the Germans, some for the English. For those of them who have no prior allegiance, it's all too easy to charm one's way in, and sit a cuckoo in the proverbial nest. Many of the vampires, Henry notices, seem change camps at will, flitting between the side with the least rats in their trenches, and the best-fed soldiers. It's a solid strategy - keep moving, stay unnoticeable, be gone before the bodies are found.
Henry, who has lived in England more than anywhere for the past century, is loyal to the British. His accent is finally anglicised enough to get away with it, and the British have card games, and the best cigarettes. They are also far less superstitious than the French and Germans, which is handy when one is a vampire.
He's heard of a battalion from Bavaria, who all too quickly recognised the puncture wounds in one soldier's thigh, and were incredibly efficient in getting a priest from a nearby village to bless every drop of water they had.
For Henry, it's easier. The British laugh at old wives tales, and have a stiff upper lip when it comes to death. They like Henry with his open, handsome face and his broad shoulders, his cover story about a small village in Devon and a father who is a local teacher. Henry joined the 11th Battalion, and has quickly become one of it's stalwarts - he has even formed tentative alliances with some of the more amusing men there - those that refuse death and shellshock, instead retreating into macabre humour and niccotine.
"New batch of young'uns in today," Private Matthews drops heavily down onto the sandbag next to Henry's, folding his hamfist hands over his knees.
Henry looks up from his book, "Oh yes?"
"Yup. Just up from training. God it's going to be brutal." Matthews rolls his eyes indulgently. He comes across as a bit of a thug, but is a kind man, in that gruff country way. A little older than most at twenty-nine, and weathered, watching.
Matthews is one of Henry's favourite soldiers. He has not once seen the man hesitate to go over the top, not once seen him buckle under the fear of death. The man has, he knows, a wife and two children back in Surrey. He was a farmer, once. Now he kills and kills again, grim and stoic, and then comes back to camp to play cards with Henry.
Matthews lights a cigarette, offering Henry a drag. He waves it away, it seems to cruel to steal much-needed smoke from the man, when his lungs don't even function.
"Ah, here they come," Matthews mutters around his fag, "God they're children aren't they?"
Henry begins to nod lazily, it's really no concern what Her Majesty allows to die out here. But then, something catches his eye and he stops abruptly, "No..."
Because it can't be. Because it's been over a hundred years and he smells nothing unusual about the boy. Because - no, no it is him. As the caterpillar of new recruits moves through the trench towards him, it becomes painfully obvious to Henry that, as much as it can't be, really, it is the same boy. And he doesn't know his name. But hasn't forgotten his face - the face of the first human he had ever spared.
"Hullo," Henry waves as affably as he can, trying not to look like the sort of chap who'd try and murder a young lad on Wrickley Marsh at midnight.
The boy looks down at him, squinting into the gloom, "Alrigh' mate"
Henry bites his lip and widens his eyes, trying to suggest, 'well this is odd, us both being still alive after over a hundred years', with his facial expression. The boy looks worried, thick eyebrows furrowed,
"You alrigh' mate. Do ya ... is it the shellshock, is it? Do ya ...need an 'ug or owt?"
"A hug?" Henry exclaims, too loudly. He hears titters behind him. "No, no, I - don't you remember me?"
The boy shrugs, "Dunno mate, my memory's like a sieve it is, mum always said Tommy if you're head weren't screwed on ya'd lose it." He grins brightly, eyes wide and beguiling.
Henry blinks, "And losing your head would be a great shame," he tries.
"Innit though," Tommy agrees, before plonking himself next to Henry, all young long limbs and elbows, "Yeah mate. This aint so bad."
On his other side, Henry can feel Matthews' smirk. He ignores it.
Tommy turns out to be exactly the same: cheeky, rambling and completely unaware of danger in any of it's forms. On his second day, he sees a mouse and pops his head above the trenchline to watch it scamper off. The sniper misses his head by a centimetre.
From then on, Henry makes a special effort to keep an eye on him. If not for the past, and his interest in exactly what Tommy might be, then for the present, and for the innocent, all too sweet light in Tommy's eyes. For his youth, his distressing youngness, and his wide smile. Slowly, as Tommy survives for days and then weeks, he begins to trust in his presence. And Tommy, he knows, trusts in his.
On a couple of occasions he makes subterfugal references to Wrickley Marsh, and murder, but this garners only offers of hugs from Tommy, so he quickly desists. Whatever's going on, and whether Tommy remembers or not, he's quite charming. And also extremely irritating.
But then, one day after porridge and a brisk wash under the arms and over the face, and after Tommy has played four rounds of snap with Henry and rambled on about ladybirds and bicycles and why the clouds are especially fluffy today, he's dead.
It's just another day, just another. They go over the top, Matthews on one side of Henry, and Tommy on the other, the way it has become. As they begin to run, Tommy grins and shouts, "Race you!" and Henry laughs, filled with blood and song and derring-do, and does.
Not quickly enough - the bullet tears a road through Tommy's chest. Tommy stumbles, limbs flailing, rifle trailing by it's strap. Henry, focussed on the German trench, hears Matthews' holler,
"Henry! Tom's hit!"
He looks across and yes, there's blood, a glug of it, and Tom's momentum is still carrying him forward, into another bullet, and another. Henry does the only things he can - he rugby tackles Tommy, rolling him into a bolthole in the middle of no man's land. He lands on top of the lad, who is panting wetly, lips rimmed with his own blood.
"Oh Lord," Henry mutters, his shaking hands pulling at the ties of Tommy's jacket, "Oh Lord."
The lad is done for, Henry knows it, he should just leave him. Or, at least, take advantage, and drink him up. But he doesn't. Instead, he grapples with his jacket, hands slick with red and unable to gather purchase.
Tommy looks up at him, eyes wide and rapidly filling with tears, "Am I - gonna -?" The question hangs unanswered, and Henry's hands still. He forces his face out of it's horrified crumple, and shakes his head,.
"Don't be stupid. Stupid boy, of course not. Not at all, never, never."
For one wild moment, Henry thinks he could turn him. But how? He has no idea how, dammit all. Alaric was never forthcoming, and too mad by the end, he never explained this. Nevertheless, Henry rips at his own inner wrist, ignoring the wrenching sting, and presses it to Tommy's mouth.
The boy's eyes widen in fear and repulsion, "What - what're ya-"
"Trust me!" Henry spits, voice cracking, and is aware of bloody tears falling thick and fast down his own cheeks, and mingling with Tom's escaping blood, "Please!"
Tommy dies, there in the bolthole, eyes fixed on Henry's, mouth too weak to swallow. Henry sees his soul leave, leaking away into the mud and blood and air. He stays there, curled over the body, for hours, long hours of night-time and hoarse cries and more bullets. But no, Tommy is dead.
Which makes it rather strange when, twenty years later, Henry sees him once again...
It's only a glimpse, only a glimpse but it makes Henry gasp as if he's taken a hit to the solar plexus.
London, loud and dirty and full. It's the FA Cup Final and the streets are crammed with bodies. Henry is nominally here to hunt, but keeps getting distracted by waving flags and grinning faces, the incessant cheer of the human spirit.
He's going soft.
And then there, there, twenty people ahead, is a profile he recognises. Heavy eyebrows, a strong nose, sharp jaw, all softened by those large, limpid eyes as the young man looks round at the crowd, grinning along. It's Tommy.
And the bastard, Henry swears, he's still a bloody child.
Henry picks up the pace, trying to struggle through the milling crowd, desperation making him sharp and fast
"Gerrof mate, waitcha turn!" a large brute of a man glares at him, apparently unimpressed with the sharp elbow Henry had tried to employ. Henry glares, resisting the urge to rip out his jugular. That would go down badly, he feels.
When he looks back, Tom has disappeared. Into the crowd, or perhaps he never was.
Henry resolutely ignores the ache that growls in his chest. He knows that if he carries on in the same direction, his every look and movement will be for Tom, to try and find Tom. He sets his shoulders tight, grits his teeth, and turns back the way he came.
Home. It's been a while since there was a place in the world called that, for Hal.
Leo is a help, a philosopher and a guide. In the evenings he reads to Hal, watched over by a sleepy Pearl, "We burn with desire to find solid ground and an ultimate sure foundation whereon to build a tower reaching to the Infinite. But our whole groundwork cracks, and earth opens to abysses."
He sighs quietly, and gently closes the book.
"What do you think, Hal?"
Hal smiles gently, "Good. It's ... good."
Leo returns the smile, and gets up, "I'm for bed, man. Will you ... be ok on your own?"
Hal nods, waving a lazy hand, already slipping off into a slow, sad sleep. In the periphery of his consciousness, he can hear Pearl and Leo talking on the stairs,
"Something so lost about him," Leo is murmuring, with a sigh.
Hal let's sleep drag him down, and thanks it, silently, for it's oblivion.