Sleight of Hand

I have always loved sleight of hand. The eye goes here, while the hand moves there. What appears to be one thing is actually another, and while the mind says doubt, the heart says believe. That is the best explanation I can give as to why I, an ex-vampire General of some 200 plus years, fell in lust with a boy of sixteen measly human years. I know it makes little sense, but there you have it. Darren Shan was like a magic trick—I was compelled to figure him out even when I didn't really want to know.

Of course, the irony of magic tricks is that which appears to defy logic is really quite mundane. The hands of a watch seem to move independently, but below the surface the gears and cogs are grinding and winding away. I did not know it then, in that darkened theater when I first glimpsed Darren Shan in the audience, but my life was like the hands on a watch, or like the illusion of a magic trick. It seemed to be free of external influence, but behind the curtains Des Tiny was jerking the strings, turning the cogs, and winding the gears.

It sounds romantic to say it was destiny that I met Darren Shan, but our tale is far from one of romance. Mr. Tiny fancied himself a god, I believe, creating his Little People and manipulating the hands on the watch of time. I do not argue that his powers are god-like…but Desmond Tiny is not a god and he is not infallible. He guided me towards Darren, but his gentle nudge was more like a hard push. I lusted for the boy the instant I saw him. I was possessed by an obsession to know Darren, to protect Darren, to stay close to Darren. I know Desmond Tiny gave me those urges, planted them in my chest as if they were seeds, but not even he knew the exact way in which they would grow.

I do not think he imagined I would lust for the boy, but lust I did. The realization that my fascination was born of lust came slowly, and it all started in a dark cellar, in the wee hours of the morning, with an unplanned visitor.

The show had gone well, but my thoughts were not on the show. Instead, they whirled around what had happened with the boy—Steve—like water circling a drain. Had I done the right thing to reject him as an assistant? Of course I had, I reasoned. The boy's blood had tasted like thick honey; the sweeter the blood, the more evil the person. Though there was no science to prove it yet, the soul of a person is in their blood. As a vampire, I knew this as truth. Blood is not just a person's soul, but their ancestry, too. Steve Leonard's blood told me his soul was already tarnished beyond repair, and something was strange about his lineage as well. I could not quite put my taste buds on it, but I was firmly convinced I had made the right choice to send him and his threats packing.

His conviction had given me reason to pause, though. He reminded me in some ways of Wester Flack, my old friend and the boy with whom I had lost my innocence. I wondered if Steve Leonard was like an impure version of Wester. Would I see him again in another few decades, poised over my coffin with a stake in his hand?

It was no matter, I decided, as I made my way down the cellar stairs. The vans were to be taken for cleaning and maintenance that evening, and so we performers were forced to spend the night in the dank cellars, as if we were having a freakish slumber party. At least I would have the privacy of my coffin. I was rooming with the young snake-boy and the Wolfman, which was less than ideal. I half expected to wake up with fleas and a sleep-coiling reptile roving over me. Everyone knew the Wolfman barked in his sleep, and Evra's snake liked to move about in slumber. Hopefully, though, it would just be for one night more. We were to depart soon.

I opened the lid of my coffin (reminding myself to clean off that pesky moss patch when I got a free moment) and sent the roaches scurrying. Lovely. I had slept in far worse places, but I was not a traditionalist by any means. My preference was for the clean, cool, private interior of my van—with the doors locked and the windows taped off. I could sleep as late as I pleased then, and leave the top of my coffin off without fear of roaches joining me in the night.

With a sigh, I slipped out of my shoes and draped my coat over a nearby crate. When I wore just my undershirt, soft trousers, and warm socks, I eased my weary body onto the soft, satin lined bed (it was actually much softer than it appeared, lined as it was with thick foam) and shut the lid before the roaches could creep in. The total blackness was soothing and I fell asleep quickly—finally dismissing Steve Leonard and his vow from my thoughts.

My eyes snapped open a few hours later when I heard the tell-tale signs of an intruder. Was it young Steve? I took a delicate sniff of the air. I knew the scents of all the performers and it was not any of them rummaging around like a rhinoceros outside my coffin. Besides, it was an ungodly early hour of the morning. The other performers knew better. I am not what many refer to as a "morning person."

No, my visitor was not a performer, and he was clearly someone clumsy. What sort of intruder trying to be stealthy trips over a 12 foot snake? For goodness sake, the overgrown reptile wasn't exactly easy to miss. My brows forked downwards in annoyance. If this was some customer come to sneak a glimpse at the Wolfman after hours or—no. The mystery intruder was coming towards me.

I heard his heavy footfalls like pounding hammers inside my coffin. His hands (I was convinced now that it was a he—I could smell a masculine odor) fumbled noisily around the base of my coffin. I thought of raising the lid with dramatic slowness and lowering my voice ominously to scare my visitor (was it Steve Leonard, come so soon for revenge?) but I waited instead.

My patience was rewarded when I realized my visitor had no interest in me at all. He was after…Madam Octa?

I gave the lid of my coffin a very confused glance. At this point, I had half a mind to open my coffin and get to the bottom of things, but if someone was about to steal a highly dangerous, poisonous spider from the possession of a vampire…this was the sort of person I wanted to observe unseen for awhile. So I let him take her. I had no concern for Madam Octa—she would take care of herself just fine, if the need arose. I could not say the same for the foolish boy whose fingers might stray a little too close to my hungry friend's fangs.

I waited for him to clamber up the stairs (I think a herd of elephants might have moved a little more quietly) and then eased my coffin open. On the ground where Madam Octa once sat was now a letter. Not for the first time, I cursed my inability to read and thought, 'I keep telling you to learn, Larten, but you never find the time, do you?'

It was no matter. I would find the boy easily enough without whatever clues he might have left in his childish note. I tossed it carelessly into my coffin and soundlessly exited the theater, leaving the Wolfman and the snake-boy none the wiser.

I trailed the boy to an average house, in an average neighborhood, in the same average town. I was grateful he did not live far off, as the dawn was rapidly approaching and I had only a few hours to discern where my little thief lived.

My first view of Darren Shan was when I exited the old theater, ran to the street corner, trailing his scent, turned around a big, old fashioned lamp post, and saw him running like the wind. My heart started hammering in my chest and I wondered with distracted alarm if it was possible for a vampire to have a heart attack. My eyes remained riveted to the boy's form. He may have been clumsy during his theft, but while running, he was graceful as a gazelle. His long, youthful limbs burst with energy and life. His dark hair caught the wind and blew around his face, which turned towards me only once—he glanced backwards with the most enchanting eyes I have ever seen.

I followed him like a magnet follows metal. The sunlight could have been fully in the sky and at that moment, and I would not have cared. I cared only about this strange, wonderful, mysterious boy. I have never again felt such an overwhelming, compelling sensation before. I now understand it was Desmond Tiny's will that I be so enraptured by Darren Shan, beyond all logic or reasoning, but I wonder today if a part of that fascination was not just a little bit my own.

When he reached his house, I was there, too. I climbed up the back of his home, my nails digging securely into the brick, and watched as he lovingly tucked my spider into his closet, as if she were a porn magazine. When he believed he'd hidden her well enough, he came towards his bed—and me—and I got a good look at him. He was of average build, roughly fourteen or fifteen by my guess. He was still boyish, with softness about his cheeks and a spark of innocent mischief in his honey-colored eyes. His hair was a dark brown bordering on black, but his skin was light—only a hint of a tan on his shoulders and his forearms. He was muscular in a naturally athletic way, but still a little softer around his hips and buttocks. He had even, white teeth and lips that were just a little too plump for a boy. They were simply kissable—no other word for them. Though it was morning, he stripped off his shirt and pulled on pajama pants.

He threw himself on his bed and panted, flushed with the exertion of running, and did not notice at all that I was observing him. He rolled onto his side away from the window, thinking about what was hidden in his closet likely, and allowed me a generous view of his now shirtless back and low riding pants. I swallowed thickly and tried not to stare at the curve of his ass, but it was ridiculously hard.

'I just came for my spider!' I lied to myself. But I knew, even then, Darren Shan had made me powerless, and he did not even know it yet.

I stalked him. The other performers moved on, and Hibernius reluctantly left me to my mission. He thought I was crazy for not just taking my spider back and scaring the boy till he pissed himself. If it had been anyone else other than Darren, it is likely that is just what I would have done.

But I had a new obsession, and Hibernius (clever man that he is) saw it plainly enough. Young Evra had read Darren's letter for me, and his childish threats had made me grin in a way that likely frightened the snake-boy. I was intrigued by Darren's challenge, and determined to know everything about him I possibly could. I did not want to approach him yet—I wanted the advantage of information.

So the Cirque left town and I remained, less than comfortable at the old theater but too distracted by Darren to care about my lodgings. I watched him hunt for bugs and worms in his mother's garden, doing his utmost best to care for my pet. I was pleased at this—Darren was not a criminal or a crook. It was obvious he was simply enamored with Madam Octa.

And I was enamored with him.

The first night after he had stolen Madam Octa, I could see he was terrified. He sat in his bed with a cross clutched to his chest, clearly waiting for me to pay him a visit. I was there the whole time, but I never showed my face. I considered it, of course, because the temptation to speak to him was nearly overwhelming…but I am patient when it suits me to be. At two in the morning (when I was beginning to fret over the boy not getting his rest) he finally collapsed onto his pillow, cross still tucked against his chest as if it were a teddy bear.

I entered his room silently then, and watched his expression. Even in sleep, he was anxious. Was he dreaming about me? Nightmarish visions of the big, scary vampire returning for his property, perhaps? I smiled fondly at him and gently tugged the cross from his death grip, tossing it aside on the bed. He let out a little whimper and his now empty hand twitched for something to hold. I pulled the covers over him and smoothed his hair. It was the first time I had touched him and I could not get enough of the feel of his skin. It was not that it was anything odd, just that I had never felt so at peace as when I was touching him. It was a great feeling of inner calm—as if I was right where I was supposed to be, and doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.

I kissed his forehead, then, feeling silly but quite unable to help myself. It was ridiculous, I knew. There he was, likely having nightmares about me, and I was standing over him tucking him in and kissing his forehead when I should have been sucking him dry for daring to steal from me. It made no sense, but I was beyond logic.

We fell into a pattern that first week. I followed him to school in the mornings a few times, wearing a heavy coat to shield me from the sun, and dark sunglasses. Despite my unusual dress, my vampire powers prevented me from being seen or noticed. I soon discovered that I did not need to follow him to school to learn about him. In the evenings, Darren Shan talked to Madam Octa as if she were a loyal dog. He spilled all his secrets to her, and clinging to the wall just below his cracked open window, I heard everything.

At first, he talked only of the Cirque and the acts he'd seen, and the admiration and wonder in his voice was cute. Madam Octa likely wanted to paralyze him so she could get some peace and quiet, though, because Darren quite literally never shut up. My poor spider liked him, that I could see, but she was accustomed to a silent master who rarely bothered her solitude. This boy could not leave her alone, not even for a second. She became his whole world, and in the space of just a week or two, his very best friend. He did not associate very much with the Steve boy, for which I was glad. He raced home to see my spider, and he spun her stories about his world as easily as Madam Octa could spin webs.

I soaked up every word like a sponge, and in this sneaky way, I came to know exactly what sort of boy I had fallen in lust with. I refused to call it love back then. I had loved Arra, after we had been mated for a year or two. I had loved Malora, when she innocently and bravely sacrificed her life for me, a monster. I had loved Wester, too, first as a brother and then as a lover, and Gavner (but certainly not when he'd been fifteen). To say that I loved Darren Shan at first sight, I felt, would have cheapened that love I had felt for others who I had known far better throughout the centuries of my life. Real, true, meaningful love took time. I knew that.

But I had never lusted for anyone like I wanted Darren Shan.

I learned where we went to school, what sports he played, and what sort of friends he kept. I watched him write in his diary for hours at a time—not a typical hobby for a fifteen year old boy, but Darren (to me) was completely atypical and fascinating. I watched him change clothes, and I watched him scarf down pizza (he also fed this horrible, greasy food to my spider, which never failed to make me cringe—she loved it, though.)

I saw in amazement the natural talent he had with Madam Octa. I felt justified in my obsession then—his skill with Octa was proof that he was something special. No ordinary boy could have tamed her so quickly and skillfully. He did tricks with her that had taken me years to master. What was more, while I always thought of Madam Octa as a wild animal I had caged, Darren clearly saw her as a dangerous animal he had tamed. He loved her. In her own way, if spiders are even capable of such a thing, she loved him back. Madam Octa did not love me. She did not preen in front of me, or show-off in front of me. I had never lost control of her even once, but Darren did on multiple occasions. The crazy thing was (even as I was ready to leap to his rescue) Madam Octa never once took advantage—not until it was the Steve boy at her mercy. My spider was as crazy about Darren as I was. We both grew to be very fond of him in the span of just a few short weeks. He was a little clumsy, and endearingly sincere, and beautifully innocent (but with enough of a penchant for mischief to make him endlessly entertaining), and I started thinking about making him mine.

But I did not just want to steal him away in the dead of night. I wanted him to want to join me. This was why I did not approach him. I was trying to figure out how to convince him to leave behind his loving family, and his group of friends, and become a creature of the night—to let me press kisses against his pale, vulnerable throat and claim him in the early hours of the morning, marking up his skin so that all would see that he belonged to me.

Needless to say, a solution to my problem was not easily presenting itself. In the end, Darren did end up coming to me, but it was not the perfect scenario I had desired. He hated me, hated what I stood for, hated what I did, and he even hated Madam Octa. As I dug away the earth, however, under the headstone that read Darren Shan, and pried off the lid of his casket, I knew I had gotten what I wanted in the end. Darren Shan was mine.

A/N: Can stand as a one-shot, or I might continue it. I'm so Team Larten. Now HE is a sexy vampire! ^.^