Tip Your Hand

Taking place during the events of Beat Still, as a little exploration of what the fuck is going on inside Conrad's head.


New York

Third Year after the Treaty

It was maybe eleven in the evening in the far western end of Berkshire County, and the night started beautifully. And by beautifully, Conrad meant like complete shit.

It had been fine for the first little while, after Hanna left—apparently something fairly urgent had come up, and the council wanted to amend their orders quickly. Conrad had no idea what it was, but if it was important enough to have one of the Council's telepathically inclined members go poking around in Hanna's dreams then it must be pretty important.

So Hanna had gone, to find somewhere quiet and watery for one of his scrying sessions. And Conrad had settled into the booth in the RV, in the hopes of getting some reading in before the inevitable dash and frenzy drove him utterly mad. Which it would. Because it always did.

The book was something he'd picked up in a library raid not too long ago—the RV was stuffed with their spoils to the point of claustrophobia—and he'd thought that grabbing one or two for himself wouldn't hurt anything. He'd just do what the zombie usually did and pass them off to somebody in a wayside town when he was done, to avoid filling up limited living space. It was always kind of... nice, kind of amazing really, seeing the way that somebody who'd been reduced to hand-to-mouth survival could still find time for art for art's sake. Even if art was just a bent-up copy of Going Postal.

And he wasn't rereading Going Postal because he had a lot more sympathy for vampire characters now. It was just—well, he hadn't been paying much attention the first time he read it, and…

Somewhere in the real world, outside Conrad's head, Worth said something. Hadn't he been outside? Go back outside, Worth.

And then the dickwad grabbed the top of Going Postal with his dirty bony fingers and God, he was just like a seven-year old sometimes.

"What?" Conrad demanded, finally looking up. "I'm kind of in the middle of something here."

Worth looked at him for a split second, like he was about to do something—

"Ya wanna fuck?"

Oh, sweet merciful god, what.

It took Conrad a precious five seconds to fully comprehend that sentence. Then a few more to struggle down the images that popped up in its wake—it was like wrestling closed a suitcase filled with the most uncomfortable porn ever photographed. Oh, he did not need that thought illustrated. Close it, close it quickly.

"What the hell are you talking about?" Conrad inquired, struggling to keep his voice level.

Doc Worth let out an irritated breath—oh, well, sorry for deviating from your deranged script, mea fucking culpa. "You, me, bedroom. Dicks. Ya wanna fuck?"

Conrad looked down at the book, then back at Worth, then down at his book again. Was he fucking serious? Did he have absolutely nothing better to do with his life? Did he really think Conrad was that stupid? What did he expect Conrad to say, oh yes Doctor, please bend me over this table I've been dreaming of this moment for

Ugh, too much detail. Retreat.

Conrad threw the book down. "JesusfuckingChristWorthcan'tyoujustbenormal?"

As he stomped out the side door, punching a dent into the metal where the handle bounced back towards him, the undead man considered the option of one of these days just playing along with Doc Worth's deranged idea of entertainment, if only to see what could possibly be more obnoxious than this, day in and out.

"Yer loss!" the doctor yelled after him. "Woulda given ya a reach-around!"

Conrad snorted, furious. Sure, yes, right after they went on a candle lit dinner and a moonlight stroll. Fuck. He'd show Worth a reach-around, he'd reach around and crack his bloody skull open.

The worst part was that Worth always knew just how to strike a nerve. He cut in with his dirty fucking scalpels and rummaged around and selected raw, throbbing nerves like a soldier diffusing a bomb and pulled and it hurt. He had a talent for it. It was like he knew things about Conrad that Conrad didn't even-

Jesus...

Because—honestly—it wasn't as if he hadn't thought about it before. Him and Worth. Not the sex part because no, no he definitely couldn't think about that and ever look anybody in the eye again, especially not Worth. But maybe them, maybe them being something… else.

It was a secret thought. Conrad wasn't one for indulging in absurdity when it only made moments like these worse. Worse, because what if he did like Worth, somehow, in the face of all decent human reason? What if he had considered it once or twice, in the quiet privacy of his own mind? Was that really so fucking hilarious?

Apparently, Conrad was too pathetic to even have feelings.

For the next hour or so, the vampire skulked around the edge of the road in silence, kicking at rocks and bits of disconnected asphalt. He could stay angry for a very long time, and right now he didn't feel like getting anywhere close enough to the doctor to get into a fight with him. Better just to wait out the storm out here with the rocks and the trees and the blatantly unimpressed owls.

It was like owls knew that he was secretly a bat, and they couldn't be arsed to fly away from the bat man even when he was kicking holes in their trees.

Slowly, bit by bit, Conrad calmed down.

Hanna showed up about that time, looking a little worn at the edges. He spotted the vampire cooling down under a spruce tree at the shoulder of the road and gave a cheery wave.

"Hey, Connie," the magician called, "whatcha doing out here?"

The undead man sniffed, managing to remember a polite nod towards… Ghiberti? Conrad had gotten to name him today, although he'd been so out of it when he first woke up that the memory was a little fuzzy. You had to remind yourself to greet the zombie, because if you didn't then he'd startle you halfway into the conversation and make you feel like a git.

"Just…" Conrad paused, searching for something that wouldn't spark off an endless waterfall of inquiries, "…dosing up on a metaphorical anti-claustrophobia pill. How far are we going this time?"

Hanna grabbed him by the wrist and pulled him back towards the RV, and Conrad had given up on trying to stop him from doing that years ago. There was very little you could do when Hanna felt like being chummy with you. He'd sort of gotten used to it, despite his best efforts to the contrary.

"Not too far," Hanna replied, excited. "Actually, just a little way south probably! Sorry it took us so long, but I had trouble finding a still spot and then Czernobóg did his Batman entrance thing about halfway through my briefing and he had all this stuff to add and it was like, really? You didn't even wait for the Czern-ster to come back before you started filling me in?"

Hanna was pulling Conrad up inside the camper before he could begin to protest, bright smile and wild gestures with his free hand to compensate for the other one immobile around Conrad's wrist.

"But this is going to be so cool," Hanna went on, finally letting go about the same time he spotted the can of spinach he'd left half opened on the counter when he left. "They want us to track down this—wow, spinach is still the grossest thing ever, I don't care how hungry I am—this vampire somebody sighted down in New York. Left a whole messy trail of empty corpses on Lady Cunegonde's territory and woo, you know how the landed vampires get about their property rights."

"They want us to capture their criminal?" Conrad paraphrased, distinctly unenthused. "Don't they have their own… shouldn't Cunegonde be tracking them down herself? We're not hardly qualified."

"We did it once before," Hanna pointed out, slurping up canned greenery fast enough to make you nauseous. "And a little daring chase will be great. Right Worth? The real old school bounty hunter shit?"

Worth looked up for approximately one second, just long enough to roll his eyes at Hanna, and then he was out of the conversation before you could say disingenuous asshole.

Hanna kept talking, but Conrad tuned him out.

They had a fair drive ahead of them.

-A-

About six miles west of the burnt-out remains of Hudston Town, Conrad bid his passenger a snippy farewell and grabbed the water jug from underneath the camper. Technically, it was a milk carton hastily relabeled by Hanna a year or two before, but it hadn't held any actual milk since the first week of its existence. Conrad snatched it up and started over the hill.

One of the upsides of vampirism—well, upsides for everyone else, not really much use to him personally now—was that you could always find water. First of all, water had a smell. And second of all, failing at that, running water always felt a bit like a splash of vertigo in the very edge of your peripheral vision. Or at least, it would feel like that if vertigo was something you could see.

Conrad followed the tick of dizziness down to the river.

There was an odd sort of trick to doing this, and it involved a lot of steady, unnecessary breaths, some kneeling, and a load of cursing. He wouldn't even be here doing this if he didn't desperately need to get out of that seat and away from Worth and his weird silence.

They'd been driving for hours, and he'd hardly said a word.

That wasn't terribly unusual on its own, but—it was almost like he was sulking or something, and Conrad might have said it was about that absolute dick move he'd pulled earlier in the evening, except that Worth by nature flung around his dickery like a kid throwing balls through neighbors' windows. Once they left his hands, he lost all interest in them.

The undead man grit his teeth, both from irritation and dizziness. The water was about a foot away, and it was sucking at him like a vacuum. He pressed on with due care.

So. Worth couldn't be sulking about that, because everyone knew the only thing he ever got invested in was Hanna's continued existence, and even that was grudgingly. Which also kind of pissed Conrad off. He wished Worth would get mad about him not playing along with whatever twisted game the bastard thought up today. It would be nice to see him irritated with Conrad, for once. Wouldn't it be nice if Conrad wasn't the only one around here tired of getting fucked with?

Conrad thrust the jug into the stream with a hell of a lot more force than necessary, lost his balance, and promptly fell in.

Fuck.

Well, the bank was just right there, he'd…

Wait. Which bank was it?

Maybe if he just stood up—

Oh. Or maybe not. Yes, not going to attempt that again.

Scrabbling, the former artist managed to get his fingers around a rock in the middle of the stream—thank god he was a former artist and not a current one, and he'd long ago rendered his fingers chunky and inelegant on countless triggers and carburetors. After a long moment of desperate clutching he struck out with one foot, nearly losing his shoe in the process, in search of the riverbed. It couldn't be—yes, just a little deeper than shoulder-high here, he should be able to wade up out of it.

Of course… that would require letting go…

...Worth was going to absolutely murder him.

Conrad tried to let go. He really did. It was only that, when his grip started to loosen, the current came along and tried to spin him like a top and he just couldn't do it. Dizziness crushed him and instinct kicked in. God, he was an idiot. He was going to get lost in a fucking tributary and wash out into the ocean and get eaten by a shark all because he was irritated at Worth for being a callous git, which was nothing fucking new at all.

The gallon jug floated merrily past his head and yes, vampirism was officially the worst thing in the world. God this was more embarrassing than the time he'd turned into a bat in the middle of a dinner party. Hopefully they'd find him soon, before total incoherence set in…

Nope, too late for that.

It is, for the record, very strange to drown without suffocating. That was the next-to-the-last last thing Conrad thought, before the world faded into a bizarre swirl of blue and white and rushing, snatching water.

The very last thing was, I wonder if they'll ever let me leave the RV again?

-A-

On resuming some semblance of consciousness, Conrad found himself—not for the first time, unfortunately—in a strange place surrounded by strangers with a profound aching in his head. It was a semblance of consciousness, of course, because the tug of rushing water had its claws in him still, trying to pull him back under like a grindilow, and, oh no, that was one of those things that didn't actually exist, wasn't it? And Hanna had laughed at him when he'd mentioned it, because silly Conrad, that's just Harry Potter, don't take everything you read so seriously.

Speaking of Hanna…

The first thing Conrad did upon becoming self-aware again was to search unsteadily with his dull and somewhat-cross eyed vision for a spot of worried looking scarlet. He hoped they hadn't had to look for him for too long. It was still night, at least, which besides meaning that he was still alive(ish) also meant that they couldn't have been searching for too god-awful long. Actually, judging from the moon, it couldn't have been more than a couple hours, at most, and maybe Worth would only make fun of him for a day or two… oh who was he kidding, he was totally—

Wait. Who was this guy?

"—dunno," the unfamiliar face was saying, "maybe we better just leave him?"

"Maybe he's just a corpse? I mean, I've seen a headless snake attack a shovel. Maybe the eyelids just got a burst of… neural something-or-other?"

"Jimmy, his goddamn eyes are moving. You work for a dead person, try not to be a complete retard."

"Hey, fuck you, my cousin in law is a retard. I find that offensive."

And Conrad just… stared. Who the hell were these people, and why were they standing over him, and where were Hanna and the doctor and the zombie? Couldn't they pull him onto the shore? There was wood under his back and he dimly reasoned he must be in a boat, but a boat was still on the water. The shore would be much better.

"Look," a third voice cut in, "he looks like another vampire to me. See the red eyes? I'd say… well, he looks kinda starved, doesn't he? Like he doesn't feed too often. Real pale. I figure this guy lost a fight somewhere up the crick."

Contemplative silence, and Conrad tried to get his muscles working. This was bad, this was very bad. There were about a million different ways this could play out, and none of them involved him living to see the morning as it stood. He knew; he'd been here before.

"Should we drop him back in?"

"We could just kill him? Wouldn't be hard."

"No, guys, you don't get it. Ms. Léglise is gonna want to see him herself. I dunno, they all know each other, vampires. They might be friends. Or relatives. Or maybe she'll want to kill him herself."

"That's so racist."

"Shut up, Jimmy."

Terror bubbled up in the bottom of Conrad's brainstem, hot and thin and working against gravity. It was hard to be afraid and half asleep at the same time—to be tranquilized and panicked all at once—but hell if he wasn't trying his bloody damnedest.

"Let's just take him with us—Jeremiah's right, Ms. Léglise will have her own ideas about what to do with him. Look, we'll stop by your dad's house and pick up some chain. No problem."

"What happens when we get off the water?"

The one named Jeremiah looked down at Conrad, eyes glinting white with starlight bouncing off the river. His whole shape was a fuzz of white and black and cold, calculating narrowness. Conrad realized, belatedly, that the world was blurred because his glasses had slipped almost off the end of his nose.

"Well," Jeremiah replied, slowly, "I can back the truck down to the dock…he looks about the same size as the toolbox, if we pull out the shotgun."

The groan that came out of Conrad's mouth was something that, probably, would not have been out of place in a documentary film about slaughterhouses. Even with the coherency of a concussed five-year-old, Conrad knew that nothing good had ever come from the mention of a toolbox.

The next hour or two of his life would not be something he particularly liked to dwell on.

-A-

Whoever Ms. Léglise was, she hadn't been home when they dragged Conrad through the door of a wicked looking mansion and down the steps into an absolutely horrific basement. He'd nearly escaped, while they were unlocking the basement door. Nearly. He'd come so close, he really thought he was going to make it out, trailing chain and all—

And then he found out that whoever Ms. Léglise was, she had been smart enough to prepare a small arsenal of weaponry in case of vampire attack. Naturally Conrad got to experience the full range first hand.

It was… unpleasant. Very.

The fact that they had used it all up by the time he was recaptured was very little consolation.

So Conrad slumped over in the darkness, and shuddered occasionally as the rips and blisters in his skin knitted themselves up with an unflinching businesslike efficiency. He'd had a donor in Salem the other night. There was always someone around Salem willing to part with a pint for various favors—bizarrely cosmopolitan, it was like one of those towns in the early gothic period. Just the first hints of future cultural masterpieces. Maybe, if he lived long enough, he'd get to see what it turned into.

And that was what Conrad thought about, in the darkness. He certainly did not think about this Léglise woman, or about the metal stinging his wrists, or the distinct possibility that no one would ever find him here, because who would ever think to check the basement of a mansion two towns down the river? Or imagine that a vampire—even as green of a vampire as he was—would allow himself to be kidnapped by a few bumpkin teenagers? No, he definitely did not think about that, or the distinct possibility that he'd be spending the rest of his unlife trapped in a cellar until the iron rotted through his wrists or somebody staked him, one.

Nope.

The stone walls swirled with guttering yellow light and Conrad's meandering thoughts, until in some place far distantly removed from him, the sun rose and unconsciousness seeped in for the second time in hours.

-A-

The next thing Conrad knew, he was blinking himself blearily awake to the charming sound of someone beating a stone wall with an oversized dinner spoon. Well. It could have been anything actually; his glasses were god-knew-where and he was currently limited to an impressionist painter's rendering of the world around him.

"Hey," the intruder called out, shuffling closer. The features of his face blossomed into existence. "Hey, wake up."

Conrad contemplated just keeping his mouth shut. Maybe the little prick would go amuse himself somewhere else, and Conrad could go back to the blissfully stress-free emptiness of sleep. If he closed his eyes, would the boy be stupid enough to think he fell asleep again?

Something poked him in the chest. Well Conrad was positively on fire this evening—it really was a spoon.

"Do you want something?"

The teenager took the tiniest of shuffles backwards.

"Uh," he started. "Yeah. We—tell us who you are!"

Conrad did a quick lookover of the room. As far as he could see, it was just the two of them and the creepy green stones.

"Yes," the vampire snorted, "that's really intimidating. Look, I've had a pretty full day and if you don't have the decency to let me sleep in a more horizontal position, I'd at least appreciate some peace and quiet."

There was an awkward pause, in which the kid appeared to be regrouping. "This spoon is silver."

"Jimmy, isn't it?" Conrad guessed, squinting at the pale face in front of him. That was the first name he remembered. "Right, Jimmy. A word to the wise? Silver is for werewolves."

Jimmy seemed monumentally confused. "Well… I could still hit you in the face with it. That would hurt."

Conrad hung his head. God, this was embarrassing. If he ended up executed by these idiots, it was going to be the most piss poor excuse for a death imaginable.

"You hit me with a grenade a few hours ago," he sighed, "do you really think a spoon to the face is going to do much?"

Another awkward pause.

"You're not going to get anything useful out of me," Conrad went on, hoping Jimmy would get the picture and go the fuck away. "And you're not doing a very good job of intimidating me. Sky cells? Done it. Buried in a garden? Done it. The first few times were terrifying and all, but now it's just old."

"Are you sure? We've never had a real prisoner before," the boy admitted, "I mean, except for her. But she doesn't do much."

Her?

"Sorry to disappoint," Conrad replied, clearly not sorry. "Better luck with the next prisoner."

"I was kind of thinking you might be like… just wait till my friends get here, or you'll never get away with this or something."

"You've watched too many movies," Conrad noted, increasingly irritated. "And if I did have friends, I certainly wouldn't tell you they were coming for me, would I?"

"Well…"

"Listen, Jimmy," Conrad went on, taking reluctant pity on the guy. "I really don't think you know what you're getting into here. I've been around the block, unfortunately, and I can tell you that nothing good ever comes out of antagonizing the supernatural world. I've seen… more than enough bodies, including my own. You're not playing a game here. You're going to get yourself killed."

Conrad had seen well enough what happened when people stood between Doc Worth and something he was after. What happened to people who stood around too long in Hanna's general vicinity. If, somehow, his friends really were coming for him—which he didn't really believe, but just supposing—this kid was going to be quickly acquainted with the inside of a pine box. And failing at that, anyone who went around capturing waterlogged vampires willy-nilly wasn't looking at a terribly promising life expectancy.

Jimmy looked miffed. "I know what I'm doing! Ms. Léglise has precautions for us, in case—"

"Oh yes, and you're certainly not expendable to her. You're, what, fifteen? Clearly no experience with this sort of thing. You'll just be a nightmare to replace."

"Sixteen!"

"All I'm saying is that you're poking around in hornet's nest and you're not going to like what happens when the hornets come out."

"Says you!"

"Is there somebody else you're having a conversation with?"

Jimmy turned around and stomped away towards the stairs, fading into a pale yellow and blue blur. "Just try saying that to Jeremiah," the boy muttered, so low Conrad might not have been able to make it out if he was human. "See what he's got to say to you."

Conrad glared at the blur as it stalked across the stones. Dim twit.

"I'm going to escape," the vampire announced, suddenly, and the words came slicing out like lightening through his teeth. His lips skinned up of their own accord, flashing wickedly sharp canines. "And when I do, you're not going to like what happens."

The blur paused, for a moment, looked back. And then it faded into nothing.

Slowly, Conrad's lips slipped back down to curtain his teeth. The glare softened into nothing. He wasn't going to escape. Oh, he'd try. He would certainly try, damned if he'd just give up here. But in his bones, he couldn't believe that he'd succeed. When had he ever succeeded at anything? His life was a string of dismal failures held afloat by his own scrabbling nails and other people's good luck.

But somehow, in the moment that he'd spat out those words, he'd almost believed it was possible.

Some number of minutes ticked by. It wasn't easy to measure. He wondered what time it was—Worth had made it plenty clear that he slept like the literal dead while the sun was high, so it must have been evening. Eight? It didn't really matter, he supposed, but if he was going to be trapped in this… this gothic horror snuff film cliché, he'd better keep his days straight. If he lived more than a day or two, he'd appreciate knowing it.

Death loomed weirdly at the edge of his vision, marked out in solid lines and uncolored. It's funny how you can believe something on the one hand and not really accept it on the other. He wasn't panicking. He didn't understand why he wasn't panicking—he was stuck here where no one would ever think to look for him, with little likelihood of escape, surrounded by the kind of idiots who probably enjoyed a good witchburning, and there was nothing to do but sit here and watch his wrists turn red.

And his level of fear was way below a healthy level.

What would they do when he never turned up? Hanna would want a funeral or something, which made Conrad uncomfortable. They wouldn't even have a body. But no doubt Hanna would want one, and they'd probably rope the whole population of Salem into it, like he was some kind of a hero or something. Conrad would be shifting awkwardly in his metaphorical grave, wouldn't that just top off his life perfectly.

And everyone would suddenly remember all those things they never thanked Conrad for, all those favors he did them, what an excellent marksman he'd been, et cetera et cetera. It was a funeral after all, of course they would. Well, they had better.

Worth had better.

Conrad frowned, tipped his head back so it hit the wall with a dull thump. Who was he kidding, the dickwad would probably just climb up to the podium thoroughly sloshed and start telling stories about all the times Conrad had embarrassed himself, probably rounding the whole thing out with the absolute knee-slapper about exactly how Conrad had died, just like he lived, an idiot and a load on the team. What a useless prat, that Conrad. Yes. Wouldn't that just be the cherry on the top of his absolutely bollocks life.

He supposed, all cynicism aside, he'd just like to know that Worth would at least miss him. Nobody in their right mind would expect tears, or flowers, or pretty speeches about how good of partners they had been and how, after all this time, he'd finally realized how unnecessarily—

Well. None of that.

But would it be too much to ask to be missed?

Some time later, Conrad heard a muffled thud rattle down through the stairwell stone. He looked up. There was another, and another, like a drunken metronome attempting to keep time. What the hell was that? Was something hitting the wall? The door?

A flare of something white shot through his chest, bright and sweet and quickly—forcefully—smothered. It was probably nothing to get his hopes up about. These idiots were just the sort of useless gits to forget where they put a key, and if he got killed here he swore to god

Best case scenario, whatever was going on up there would give him the opportunity to try another escape.

Thud.

Well. Sounded like they got the door open. The faint murmur of voices trickled down the steps—not just voices, but a giggle—and the white flare of hope caught him so hard in the throat that it felt almost like heartburn, or a punch, and he couldn't swallow properly all of a sudden.

He knew those voices anywhere.

Footsteps came tripping down, and he glared into the greenish-black fuzz so hard that his eyes started to water.

"Hanna?" he called out, voice heavy and awkward around the hope-bruise in his throat.

"Conrad!" Hanna's voice shouted, and the blurred canvas of Conrad's vision spit up white and red like blood stains springing up from a wound. "Conrad, bro, you okay?"

Good god, that was a sweet sound. He suddenly regretted every time he'd ever called Hanna's voice annoying.

"No," he managed, swallowing down the lump. "Not really. Wanna get me out of these things? I think my wrists are starting to bubble."

It certainly felt like it. Although he was almost loath to even touch the manacles for fear of exactly how bad it might really be. Suppose his skin had grafted itself onto the metal, or melted away into puddles?

"Wow," Hanna winced, "that's not gonna be fun. If you can stand it, just give me a minute—we're supposed to grab someone else while we're here, I better take care of her first... you know where they're keeping her?"

"Her who?"

Would somebody use some bloody names already? This was not the best time for guessing games.

"Well I guess that answers that..." the redhead murmured, peering around the darkness. "Ooh, there's a side room, looks promising! Hey guys!" he shouted at the other two men, just barely inside the range of Conrad's sight. "Would you give Conrad a hand for a second?"

But neither of them moved.

Ghiberti stood there, staring off into space like he'd seen a ghost—ghost of what, Conrad didn't know, but it must have been a real monster if it had the zombie spooked. No idea what Worth's excuse was, though? Body language wasn't telling Conrad much of anything useful about him.

They started talking. Just like that. The doctor turned and started talking to whatshisname, and it was like Conrad had completely disappeared. The borrowed blood under his skin started to burn. They came all this way, tracked him through two towns and a river, took—which was that one, Jeremiah?—hostage, beat down a fucking door, and then forgot all about him.

Like he was a lost cellphone! Like he was their auntie's lost dog!

And then the rage quieted. He had gone through too many feelings already tonight to keep his grip on anger, and besides, the zombie did look like he had a legitimate reason for freezing up, whatever it was. And Worth, well, he should know better than to think Worth would be worried about him. He just never learned.

By the time the doctor got around to moseying over, there was little left in Conrad but pain and tiredness and prickly disappointment, like bitter dregs of curdled relief.

"They got ya strung up good, princess," Worth observed, leaning up against the wall beside Conrad. He poked the chains, and pulled on angry skin as they swung back into place. "Almost makes up fer forgettin' ta put ya in the tower."

"Ugh." Conrad's head thumped back into the wall for the second time that night. "Exactly the voice I want to hear when I'm covered in iron and attached to a dungeon wall. Yes. Now I know there is a God, because he clearly hates me."

You should have just let Ghiberti handle it. Don't trouble yourself.

"Ey, is that any way ter thank the man who rescued yer lily white ass?"

The vampire nearly sighed. All things aside, Worth was at least constant. He never changed. It was just Conrad, stupid Conrad every time, who got comfy and started expecting too much. He knew better. If Worth ever attempted a genuine feeling, anything past the emotional range of a tea spoon, he'd probably pop wide open top to bottom from the strain.

The banter slipped out despite his best intentions, sharp and layered with barbs and could Worth hear them, could he hear the disappointment and the curdled relief and the shutters crashing down, or was Conrad good enough to hide that?

"Glory hog," he said. "I wasn't even there, and I know all you did was point a gun at that kid's face and put on some macho cowboy bullshit."

And it was all pretty standard—almost soothing, in a horrible way—sniping back and forth, even in a dank cellar with his wrists attached to the wall. Although it felt weird to be pried open like this—usually, he spoke with his arms crossed over his chest, or his hands on his hips, or a table between them, and it this felt like... like... a bizarre kind of nakedness, a surreality. And they were talking about kissing, of all things.

"C'mon," the doctor was saying, "I'm th' chivalrous sort, ain't I? Just one kiss, fer Virginia, an' the rest of 'em are on the house. Bestow me with the burnin' token of yer undyin' gratefulness, milady."

"The hell kind of romance novels has the zombie been reading you while I was asleep?"

Why was it that every time things got truly, unusually weird in their lives, Worth started quoting romance novels? It was probably a defense mechanism—even people like Worth had to have them, crazy as it sounded—like a kind of class-clown reaction, taking refuge in absurdity. And if Conrad wasn't Conrad, it might have even been kind of a little bit amusing. But he was, so it wasn't.

"Be happy ter give ya the list after I get my kiss."

Just like that, the smirk was gone. Conrad looked at him. Looked at the curve of his chin, the chapped edges of his lips, the dark blue eyes—in the cool, empty seriousness of Worth's expression, for a sickening moment Conrad could almost read honesty. And god, Worth was such a looming presence in his life, did he even bother to really look at the man anymore?

There were maybe six inches of air between them, full of lies and bitterness and Conrad's idiot delusions, and it was times like these that he Considered It, couldn't help but consider, had to wonder. Suppose he did? Suppose he just leaned forward—six inches forward, the space of a breath—and kissed the doctor. Wouldn't that just show him, wouldn't that just be a kick in the teeth?

Fuck you, I do have feelings.

And then Conrad sighed, let his head drop back against the wall. Who was he trying to fool? It wouldn't work. He hadn't got the balls for something like that, and Worth's laughter could bruise him harder and darker than any punch.

"Worth, cut the crap. We both know you don't want me to kiss you."

And they carried on, as Hanna passed off a lock pick and Worth proceeded to get him unhooked. Oozing, sticky scraps of skin stuck to the manacles when they peeled off, like pizza stuck to a napkin, and the only thing that kept Conrad from dry heaving his years-empty stomach all over the floor was the scramble to come up with a decent comeback. Words gave him focus. Worth's amused scowl gave him focus.

Except that Worth closed his mouth partway into a reply and turned around, stalked off across the floor for no explicable reason, and left Conrad alone again, with his oozing skin and his sticky pain and god where the hell was he going now.

Cool green fingers lighted on Conrad's shoulder.

"Here," Ghiberti said, unlocking the last of the iron. "He seems to have noticed something important. Your glasses are on the table, and I suppose-"

They both heard the sniffling at the same time.

Not too far away, Hanna had emerged from the indistinct shadows tugging an unfamiliar girl behind him, and he had already begun muttering quietly in a desperate attempt to prevent all-out weeping waterworks. The redhead looked bewildered.

"Can you manage?" the dead man asked Conrad, caution-light eyes unblinking. "I think perhaps Hanna could use a hand."

"Don't you think a big green looming guy is only going to freak her out more?" Conrad asked, a little miffed at the prospect of being abandoned yet again.

Orange eyes looked away, and then back. "I am less concerned about her than I am Hanna. Today has been... wearing, on him. On us all. I'll just be a moment."

Then the vampire was alone.

Worth was yelling at the Jeremiah kid, Ghiberti was rushing off to take the girl's hand, after an awkward moment of tears and shrugging Hanna was busying himself scrawling across the walls like a maniac, and Conrad was alone. Alone, and tired in a way that had nothing at all to do with muscles or bones or ligaments, and everything to do with the hollowed out feeling in his gut. He considered for a moment, as he rubbed at his pink and healing wrists, whether he should offer to help Worth with his good cop/bad cop routine. They did that sometimes.

And then, of course, everything went to hell.

-A-

There were words, of course. Plenty of those.

But what Conrad remembers most, out of everything in those whirlwind moments before unconsciousness dripped once more out from underneath his feet, is the slowly growing fury like pressure building up in a shaken soda bottle. How dare that woman, the woman who ruined his life, try to use him as leverage. He wasn't a fucking damsel, and he was bloody fucking tired of everyone thinking he was. He'd show her a damsel. He'd rip her eyes out and show it to the hollow place in her skull.

He remembers claws, and something terrifyingly primal shrieking through his skin, and Adelaide's cold, raging eyes.

He also remembers pain.

-A-

Conrad woke in darkness.

That was pretty standard. He thought he could probably count on one hand the times in the last year he'd woken up in the light. What was notable about this darkness, for once, was that it was empty and full of crushing agony.

People talk about heartburn. They have no fucking clue what they're talking about. Conrad's chest was a white-hot core of acid and fire, and in the absolute silence of the unfamiliar room he imagined he could feel his own muscles melting and rehealing in an endless loop inside of him, and promptly felt the phantom sensation of needing desperately to vomit.

"Oh," he gasped, "Oh my god. I'm dying. Again."

And the empty house replied nothing.

After a few moments the pain dulled slightly, just enough to give him back sentient thought. Yeah, and he expected that to last long. Slowly, minding his injury which he still had yet to really look at—yes, he was putting it off—the undead man pushed himself into a sitting position. Okay, so far so good.

"Hanna?" he called, voice breaking on the first syllable. "Hanna?"

He didn't bother to call for Worth. Experience told him that if the doctor was in the house, he'd be in the same room as his patient. That was just how Worth did things. He couldn't pass up the opportunity to be the first person to yell at you after you opened your eyes. If he wasn't here already, then he was out...

Out...

Out where?

Conrad had a whole lot of questions, and nobody to answer them. Whose house was this? Why was he here? What the hell happened to him? Why was there mud in his hair?

He didn't bother to ask himself why he was in so much pain because, really, the answer was obvious.

Hesitantly, the vampire turned his attention to the glittering pool of blackish ooze in the side of his chest. Yeesh. He prodded the gooey edge (ouch), completely grossed out by the texture. Was his blood always this disgusting? He quickly pulled his hand away and went about getting himself up from the bed.

What if Worth wasn't here… because Conrad wasn't a patient?

The former artist struggled with his limbs, knees giving out as he hit the floor. Fuck. The bedside table made a decent handrail, and he pulled himself up with his left arm.

What if they never made it off the mansion property?

Conrad found himself in a two-fold wrestling match, trying to get his shaking legs under control even as he fought with pain for control of his brain. Pain was trying to draw a line down the middle, there that's your side this side is mine, but Conrad needed that side too and fuck you Pain, this isn't a sitcom.

Oh, he was addled. He was definitely addled.

The vampire could smell Worth on him, cigarettes and sweat and blood, still plenty fresh enough. His last memory was clinging to the doctor's side like a spineless leech bombarded with the kind of pain that makes your vision go starry. The scent was still there. He couldn't have been out for too long. Maybe a few hours.

And he was still alive, somehow, and that was good. Why they'd left him alive he didn't know, but then he didn't completely understand why they'd kept him alive before either. Was he still in the mansion? An upper floor room maybe?

If he was, Hanna couldn't be too far away. She'd keep him, definitely, and maybe Conrad wasn't supposed to be awake yet, and if he could get to Hanna maybe...

With that thought in mind, Conrad pushed his way out of the bedroom and down the hall, and through a living room, and-

Out onto a lawn that was decidedly more suburban than he remembered. Conrad stared at it. Stared at the big curly tree that had clearly been some kid's playground in the years past. Turned and stared at the little suburban house behind him; old, but definitely not a century old. And he started laughing.

It was pretty morbid laughter and it hurt like hell, but he laughed anyways. What the fuck was wrong with him? He wakes up safely in a real indoor bed for the first time in weeks, and his first assumption is that he's been recaptured by a crazy woman who thinks she's his mother and he needs to escape pronto. That's just... it was so...

"I need a new life," he muttered, slumping against the twisted playground tree.

But he could faintly smell Worth again, here. Worth had leaned against this tree. Recently too, or else the rain would have washed it away. Conrad looked up, towards the sky, and realized for the first time that it was technically daylight out, behind the clouds and the raindrops that were getting in his eyes. He'd just walked out into the daytime air like a crazy person.

Well, he was already outside, and he wasn't a pile of mud so that was a good thing. Contemplating the grey-blue swirl overhead, Conrad ran a hand over the trunk of the tree. Worth had been this way. The house was empty, and maybe he hadn't been recaptured and such, but the house was empty. If something strange had happened, they might not have had time to take his bed-ridden unconscious self along.

They might need help. At the very least, they might need him to meet them half-way.

Conrad took a deep breath, and started walking.

The RV was parked down the street, and a flicker of relief seeped through his oozing chest. They left the keys in the ignition. Yes. But if they left the RV behind, then where had they gone? Conrad stared at the road through the windshield. There were footprints, here and there, where the thicker mud had sucked at a large boot. He'd bet anything he knew exactly whose boot that was, and judging by the direction...

Well, it was as good a guess as any, although he couldn't imagine why it would be the case. Maybe he should stay back. Maybe they meant for him to be here, where it was safe. Maybe...

Conrad drove off towards the West Mansion, chasing a specter.

-A-

"Fucking salt-circles," the vampire grumbled, kicking the dirt. And to think he'd been worried about his 'invitation' into the mansion wearing off. Fucking Worth and his fucking dirty tricks. Conrad wiped a rivulet of water out of his eye. There was nothing for it but to look for a weak spot somewhere else.

He circled the property, feeling out chinks in the theoretical armor. It felt a little like he imagined a force-field would feel: like a wall of electrified air was pushing against him. In the back yard, if you could call this sprawling neglected garden a yard, he found a spot where the glittering white powder had been covered in mud. Did that count?

He took a step towards the break.

Well, he reasoned, there was salt naturally occurring in the ground plenty of places, and he'd never had inexplicable force-field trouble anywhere else. Holding onto that thought, Conrad threw himself through the break.

It was kind of like being squished between two bosomy spinster aunts until your lungs screamed, and he was very displeased to be reminded of that experience. The hollow core of acid pain in his chest flared up, lighting his whole torso on fire, and oh that had been a stupid idea why had he even tried that?

Then he popped out the other side.

On a twisted sort of upside, he considered as he stumbled his way to the back door, at least the agony there had made his normal pain feel more manageable.

The inside of the house passed by in a kind of blur—he caught a whiff of the doctor and followed that, and then a nose-full of blood that nearly made him turn right around. Jesus, the whole place smelled like blood. He couldn't figure out which direction it was coming from. A moment, frozen, and then he raced towards the basement. He had this feeling...

Around a corner, and there. There it was.

Conrad felt, for a second, as if he had stumbled into some bizarre fresco panorama.

The vampire woman, ripping stakes from her mutilated hands with her own teeth, represents the devil and the temptation to evil. See how her sexuality is obscured by her battered, inhuman appearance? Notice the glow where her teeth touch the iron, how it lights up her face and creates an inversion of the natural light play. The human, of course, represents humanity- observe his expression, it's very subtle isn't it, the way the artist sculpts fear into his shoulders but not his face?

And then Adelaide rolled to her feet, a five-foot-four tower of animal rage and arrogant fury, and shattered the illusion.

And Conrad realized that this was his opening.

It wasn't the first time he'd done this—caught someone in the back mid-strike, used the doctor like a decoy without meaning to. They always end up like this. In a way, they started like this. He thinks, privately, that that night in the gas station two and some-change years ago was really the beginning of him and Worth. Before that, it had always been Worth, and him, and the space between them where you could fit a convenient comma.

He had a talon through Adelaide's heart before he even realized he had talons. And unlike her, he did not miss.

"You should start paying me for every time I have to do that," he said, doing his best to pretend like this was just another fight in a long line of fights, and Worth's bloody, bruising face didn't unnerve him to hell and back.

God, he looked awful, like he'd been through a minefield in a hurricane. Conrad's stomach twisted into knots.

But Worth didn't say anything. And the emptiness hung between them like a thick smog, obscuring everything except Worth's horribly still blue eyes. Panic clawed its way up his throat. Why didn't he move?

Say something.

"Now, what the fuck is going on here?" he started, desperately. "You jerks leave me to wake up alone in a strange house with a hole punched through me the size of a marker, which hurts like a motherfucker, by the way..."

He paused, briefly, a wave of pain breaking over him. Well, say goodbye to that lovely adrenaline-numbness. He made a throaty noise, half-misery and half-annoyance. He just had to remind himself, didn't he?

"Actually," he went on, wincing, "I think following you here was a really bad idea on my part, I—ow, I think I'm just gonna-"

And then Worth finally moved. The relief that hit him knocked the rest of the words right out of his mouth—they hadn't been all that important anyways—and left him a mute observer as Worth struggled to stand. Did he need help? Would he accept help? Maybe if Conrad grabbed him really hard, he'd be too weak to push free. Stubborn ass.

But why wasn't he saying anything? Had Adelaide done something to him? While theoretically Conrad was completely for a permanently muted Doc Worth, the potential reality of it made him feel that same phantom nausea from earlier.

A ghost of a question, a thoroughly strangled are you okay died on his lips.

And then the doctor was standing in front him, oddly tilted and bloody and favoring his left leg, and shit, that must have been one hell of a fight because Conrad hadn't seen the man so messed up since that time they got mixed up in a gang war in what was left of Chicago. Guilt prickled under his skin, underneath the pain and the exhaustion.

If he hadn't fallen in that damn river, none of this would be happening.

Worth wrapped his hands around Conrad's neck, and the undead man completely froze. This was weird. This was really really weird. Maybe if he'd had regular breath, it would have caught. He didn't, though, so it was hard to tell.

Lips. Conrad had a mouthful of lips. And that was really the best way he could describe it, because Worth and kiss were such completely antitheses that his brain couldn't even string together a sentence with the two words in it. It lasted probably half of the theoretical eternity that Conrad had been allotted the night he was turned.

Jesus Christ, Worth's lips were warm.

Finally, finally, the doctor pulled away, grinned, and said, "There," like he'd just checked off the last item on a grocery list. "Looks like ya got ter rescue me after all."

And Conrad just stared at him.

And stared at him.

And...

Punched him in his goddamn stupid miserable motherfucking face.

Later he'd feel kind of guilty all over again about making the split in Worth's lip worse, but at least he hadn't actually broken anything like he'd really wanted to.

"I can't believe you just did that!" the vampire yelped, pushing the human so hard he actually fell over. On his ass. Like a fucking toddler. "That is such a fucking invasion of my personal space, and you got blood in my mouth and now I'm fucking hungry, do you really think this is the time or the place for your astounding brand of dickery?"

And Worth just grinned up at him like the cat that got the canary, and Conrad knew better than to give him what he wanted but god, the man just pissed him off in every way. He was good at it, slicing away with his little scalpel at all the angry, raw nerves in Conrad.

"That's it, I'm out of here," the undead man snarled, marching off back towards the hall. "Next time you need a rescue, call somebody else."

There was the sound of uneven feet, and then Worth was behind him, inhumanly long legs keeping up despite his awkward limp.

"Aw," the doctor breathed, grin in every syllable, "y'liked it. Admit it."

"Piss off," Conrad growled, wondering if his injury would let him walk any faster. This felt like pushing pain-thresholds as it was. "I did not."

"Yeah? Then how come ya didn' throw me off, eh? Think ya just wanna good bodice ripper, big brutish man ter come along an' ravish ya."

Fucking Worth. Like it wasn't enough to screw with him in the real world, the bastard had to crawl his way into Conrad's head and graffiti embarrassing pornography all round the inside of his brain. What did he get out of this? Even broken and bleeding and—god Conrad was hungry now—limping, couldn't he take a break for just one hour?

Conrad had been worried about him. Couldn't he understand that?

"Don't reckon I'm in ravishin' condition," the doctor went on, positively gleeful, "But I figure, what with you bein' th' big strong man'a this particular scenario, maybe y'd like ter switch it around this time. I do a pretty good blushin' damsel, tell ya the truth."

"I'm not talking to you," Conrad replied, so furious that the words actually came out as a perfect, wild serenity. It was like hearing himself in the third person.

Conrad practically kicked the front door open, and fuck everything, the world didn't just taste like blood it smelled like blood too. This was horrible.

And Worth laughed, and Conrad felt this insane urge to start breaking things, because fucking Jesus Christ, Worth was finally the damsel and Conrad was still at his goddamn mercy.

-A-

So, the afternoon wore into night, and Conrad kept mostly quiet as they sorted and discussed and tended to their wounds, and shit he hadn't realized that he'd scared everyone that badly. He'd been able to get up, after all. He'd figured it wasn't that bad, all things considered, if he was able to get up and move around.

And then he found out that he could get up and move around by virtue of the transfusion Worth had given him.

And then he felt that same guilt from before hit him at double force, right between the eyes.

-A-

There was a whole mountain of rubbish between Hanna and Worth that night, but it wasn't really Conrad's business, apparently. Never mind that it was, as Worth generously pointed out, his life and death they were talking about. Conrad could tell that Hanna was running on steam by that point, physically and mentally, and that was Conrad's fault too, wasn't it? So he kept himself out of it.

There was a moment where he had stared at Jimmy's wide-eyed corpse in the hall, while they hissed at each other in their own little bubble of rage and soured fear, and he tried to decide how he felt.

He'd warned the kid. But that didn't really make him feel any better.

Once Conrad had grudgingly slipped the Godstone into his pocket—shit he hoped this wasn't going to be one of those Lord of the Rings things after all, because it would be just his luck to end up as Shmegul—and they were all quietly slipping into their respective positions around the Allen house, Conrad finally turned his attention to Hanna. The younger man was toeing off his shoes at the edge of the couch, innocently knocking chunks of half-dried mud all over the early-nineties carpet.

That was going to bug him all night.

"Hey," he said, painfully aware of what an awkward start that was. "Hanna. Just how angry are you? I mean, if you're seriously pissed off, I'd be more than happy to help you ostracize Worth for a while. It would be my pleasure."

Hanna made a sound that was half-laugh, half-sigh. "Thanks Connie, but it's okay. I'm not really, like… mad. I just…"

The ginger tapped the cushion beside him, searching for words, Conrad presumed.

"…You know seventy percent of the people I knew three years ago are dead now?" Hanna asked, looking away. "I don't know, it just seems like sometimes Worth doesn't even realize it. Like, he was just waiting for this his whole life and now it's here and he barely even remembers things used to be different. It's only been a couple years, Conrad. A couple years. Even you forget sometimes."

Oh, hello there Sensation of Being a Horrible Person. How are you today?

"It scares me, sometimes, you know? How you guys just forget. You weren't there when we were burying them, so I guess it's probably easier for you. If you'd seen it, those first couple months… if you'd been out there digging trenches with us… Remember the panic, what that felt like? And we came out of Salem like we were this big thing, gonna make everybody safe, already saved the balance in the Force for future generations, and it was like… death everywhere. Big damn heroes, and what could we do?"

Conrad couldn't remember a lot of all that. He remembers Hanna, sunburnt and drawn, staring out the RV window when Conrad woke up in the evenings. He remembers silence in the darkening streets, lightless and soundless like a ghost town everywhere they went. He remembers the smell of death, ugly and thick in the air, and the dirt under Doc Worth's nails, and the expressionless faces of the few people he spoke to in those months. But nothing much more.

Those early months had just passed him by while he was wrapped up in his cocoon of blankets, and by the time they'd begun to go out regularly in the evenings—slip into their pseudo-nocturnal lifestyle—the worst of it was over.

"I'm just so tired of people dying," Hanna told him, quietly. "I'm so tired of having that on my shoulders. And I thought… what if you had died? And Worth would never've forgiven me, and I'd so deserve it."

"It wouldn't have been your fault," the vampire tried to explain, feeling this odd sensation of running up against an invisible wall and not knowing why. "I'm the idiot who fell in the river."

"Would too," the magician retorted, and, well. How do you even start to argue with that kind of certainty?

"Well, regardless." Conrad looked down. "He'd get over it. Like you said. He doesn't really give a shit."

Hanna snorted, a little life coming back into his expression. "Dude, let's give him a little more credit than that. He gives a shit about us. It's everybody else who can go to hell, far as he's concerned."

"Maybe you," Conrad replied, not at all petulant. Really. "He'd replace me soon enough. Maybe with some dispossessed hooker from Brooklyn."

Because, the way it looked to Conrad, Worth was the closest thing Hanna had to a father, and that ran both ways. Hanna was the doctor's kid. It was sort of endearing, in a totally weird way, how they worried about each other. Even in his most vengeful moods, it was something Conrad could never bring himself to resent.

Everybody ought to have a father, if he could get one.

"Wow," Hanna said, one ginger eyebrow going way up. "Man. Are you mad at him too? Because that was kinda harsh."

Conrad felt that odd, tingly sensation of blushing without actually blushing. Vampirism helped the poker face, if nothing else.

"I'm always mad at him," the undead man muttered, rubbing absently at the corner of his mouth. "He's a perpetual motion machine that puts out nothing but misery."

"Weeeelll, I mean, not to sound all hypocritical which apparently I've been doing a lot today? But maybe a little less mad right now. I've got an excuse, but you kinda don't. Unless you're mad he nearly got himself killed trying to get you a cure? Which… actually, I could maybe see that, I'd be a little ticked off if he went around trying to do a graveyard exchange for me too."

"He had it under control," Conrad testily quoted.

"Yeah," Hanna retorted, "like the government had the Cloverfield Monster under control, right. What kind of idiot goes vampire hunting alone? A dead idiot, that's what. You reaaaally shook him up, man. I mean, you shook us all up."

Conrad was quiet for a minute. It seemed like he was always sleeping through the things that were hardest on the people around him, slipping out the back door just before the worst went down. And he was so lost right now.

"You should get some sleep," Conrad said, stepping back, and then turning to leave. "I mean, that much scrying has to be massively draining. I'll see you when you wake up."

"Wait," Hanna called after him, "where are you gonna sleep?"

The vampire poked at the bandages across his chest, feeling the wound healing in its glacier pace from the inside out. He was tired. "I'll be up for a while. Maybe I'll take the guest bedroom when Worth wakes up."

He made his way into the hall, leaving Hanna's unsure protests behind.

There was a lot to think about now, and he wasn't altogether sure that he wanted to wrestle with it at all. Worth never made an ounce of sense. It was becoming clear that either he was a bigger idiot than even Conrad had ever given him credit for, chasing after Adelaide like that—the bastard was supposed to be the practical one, the dirty bottom line of cold rationality—or he'd really been… worried.

And Conrad knew, on some level, that Worth must give a shit about him. Too many instances piled up on each other in his memory, building a tower that by all rights shouldn't stand at all. A risk here, a bargain there, little moves and big moves that just felt too wildly out of character for the grinning caricature Conrad had so very, very long ago built up around the doctor. So he must care, in his own fucked up way, somehow.

But this was a whole different kettle of fish.

"It was a possibility," the man had said, as if dying on some fool's errand to wring Conrad's life out of Adelaide's ugly claws was just a part of the job description. Had he been worried? Had he been afraid? For Conrad? Whining, irritable, too-many-fucks-giving Conrad?

The vampire paused at the door to the guest bedroom. It was a twin bed, hardly big enough for two people, and he was stupid even to contemplate it—Worth was a bloody wreck, and he didn't need stupid fucking Conrad who caused this whole mess hogging the sheets. Dumb idea.

But.

But if Worth had been worried about him.

He pushed open the door.

The sound of Worth's heartbeat was soft, a hardly-there flutter of percussion at the edges of his senses. For a moment, he thought maybe the living man was asleep—he'd been in here for an hour or so, and in his condition, it wasn't hard to imagine—but then the heartbeat skittered in the silence, and no, no, Worth was awake.

Conrad expected him to say something, ask what the fuck he thought he was doing, and Conrad had no idea what he'd say, because he didn't know what he thought he was doing. It just felt necessary, almost fitting, to sit down in the pile of blankets by the closet and keep watch in the silent space. Conrad had woken up smelling like Worth, him and the whole room, and that meant that Worth had been there with him while he was teetering on the edge of death and… undeath. Maybe Worth had been worried. Well. Kiss or no kiss, Conrad had been worried too, in his own turn.

Tonight, in the face of Worth's bloody, broken form, Conrad thought maybe it was time to let himself have a little bit of faith. In Worth. In them.

And maybe, if Worth let him get a word in edgewise, Conrad might find a way to explain all that. Right. And maybe Conrad would go sunbathing tomorrow.

But if Worth had anything to say… he kept it to himself.

And Conrad stayed there until the dawn broke.

-End