BVQA: Well, here's the second chapter of Lovesick! Sorry about the wait. Once again, it's not me you have to thank for this, it's my awesome beta-reader/editor TheyCallMeChicky. This chapter is SO FREAKING LONG, because I couldn't get to an ending point. Then my awesome BN came up to me at school and threatened to kill me with a toothbrush if I didn't finish up, which was bad for me but good for you readers. *shrugs* Oh, well.

B/N: This is a beta-reader's note, hence the B. I'm TheyCallMeChicky, the BVQA's beta-reader. On receiving this chapter, my first thought was "This has to be two". My second thought was "Oh, that's what she meant by 'twice as long as chapter one.' My third thought was "Holy shit." You really don't get to see my comments, but I swear they're funny.

BVQA: I can agree. I'm honestly sad that you don't get to read the notes, because they had me cracking up. Anyway, without further ado, chapter two of Lovesick!

Chapter 2

Good cop, bad cop

Ragamuffin woke up on the couch just as the sun was starting to set. He cracked one eye open, glaring at the window on the wall behind him and tipping his head backwards to do so. He made a face at the stinging rays of light that slipped through a gap in the curtain and tried to lift his hand to shield his eyes. To his utter confusion, his hand remained trapped under. . . something. . .

Ragamuffin brought his chin back down and saw that there was a second figure lying on top of him, completely obscured by the black fuzzy blanket that was pulled up to his shoulders. His sleep-addled mind struggled to make sense of that for a few moments before he realized that it had to be Lenore, since she was the only other person in the mansion with him, but why. . ?

With a start, Ragamuffin remembered the night before and suddenly everything started to make sense. He sat up slightly with a groan, feeling Lenore shift in her sleep as he did so, and pulled the blanket down to see the ten-year-old undead girl miraculously still conked out. He tried his hardest to recall exactly when she'd actually fallen asleep last night, but somehow couldn't manage it. It must have been pretty late for her to have slept through the day with him. She usually objected even to five-minute naps, so this was definitely a first. To find her sleeping so soundly, arms wrapped around him like he was still her little rag doll, was a complete shock to him.

Ragamuffin pulled his arm gently out from under her and absently ran his fingers through her pale blonde hair. It was soft against his slim hand, tangling around his thumb and little finger and tickling the spaces in between. He only had a hazy memory of what she'd looked like before her untimely demise, but he could see that her death had bleached most of the pigment from her hair. On the whole it was a nearly-white yellow, but there were still streaks where it retained its original, brighter shade and a couple places where earth from her various burials had stained it a light brown. Brings new meaning to the phrase 'dirty blonde', Ragamuffin thought with a light smirk, amused by his own teenage wit and enjoying the feeling of Lenore's tresses sliding across his palm. He closed his eyes and lifted one of her tangled curls to his face, breathing in the herbal scent that he'd been basking in all night, and then. . .

. . .then he realized exactly what he was doing and jerked his hand back, sitting abruptly upright and dumping Lenore back against the couch in the process. Her hands were still clasped around his waist when she woke up with a start, suddenly realizing the close proximity they were in and toppling backwards herself, releasing Ragamuffin's waist. Ragamuffin himself scooted away, now fully awake, and reached the edge of the couch without realizing it until his pinwheeling arms found nothing but air. He fell off the sofa, hitting the ground with a painful thud. He lay on his back for a moment, feeling his head start to throb where he'd banged it on the ground, before looking up and meeting Lenore's questioning gaze.

"That looked like it hurt," she remarked, eyebrows raised. Ragamuffin sat up, putting a hand to the back of his head.

"Nice observation," he managed, then noticed the sleepy, glazed look in her pale eyes. "Sorry to wake you." He added as an afterthought.

"'S okay," she said with a yawn. "Nothing a bucket of cold water can't fix." Lenore paused. "Or a shower. Yeah, that sounds like a better idea." She stood, stretched, then reached out to help him to his feet. He took the hand with a warm smile of gratitude and stood up, noticing Lenore's height for what wasn't the first time. At thirteen, he really ought to tower over her by a foot at least, but she was actually pretty tall for her age and the top of her head was level with his eyes. He still looked down on her, but not by much. Maybe if they'd both been alive he'd have felt a little upset, but since neither of them were going to be growing anytime soon any small amount of height he had over her was enough for him.

"Why're you staring at me?" Lenore asked with an edge of amusement, and he scrambled for an excuse before landing on the old back-and-forth teasing that he and Lenore so often exchanged.

"You have the worst bed-head in the history of the universe," he said, even though it wasn't true and the memory of her soft curls against his hands was enough to make him blush. True, she did have sort-of-dreadlocks where her hair had tangled into thick coils from not being brushed so long, but since most zombies went completely bald within a few decades of their death she was far superior to most undead when it came to this particular trait. Lenore didn't know that though. In fact, Ragamuffin was pretty sure that she hadn't met another zombie in her whole afterlife, an assumption that was proven true when her hand flew to her forehead and brushed back along her hairline as if searching for 'you have bed-head' in Braille.

"I do not have bed-head!" she said indignantly after thoroughly checking her hair. "You have bed-head."

"No I don't." Ragamuffin said with a grin, adding insult to injury by not even checking.

"Well. . . well. . . your head is stupid!" Lenore settled on a rather silly insult, probably unable to come up with anything better when her brain was still coated in the fluffy remnants of sleep. That didn't stop Ragamuffin from raising his eyebrows at the weak derogative (Stupid? Really?) and she scowled before stomping out of the room halfheartedly. "I'm taking a shower!" She yelled over her shoulder. "See you later, stupidhead!"

"Alright, bedhair!" he called after her, then flopped back down on the couch with a grin. He made a face as his shoulders banged against the wooden frame of the couch, bringing attention to his sore back. The pain wasn't enough to dampen his good mood, but it was plenty to make him seriously reconsider his sleeping arrangements. I have got to get a coffin. He mused, then felt his cheeks start to burn as he remembered the warm feeling of Lenore's head on his shoulder as he slept. Then again, maybe it could stand to wait. Just a bit.

Ragamuffin blushed a deep crimson at that last thought and looked around for something to distract himself with. His gaze swept past various paintings, windows, armchairs and board games and eventually landed on a TV remote. He reached for it with a shrug and flipped on the television.

Now, by all rights, Lenore really shouldn't have had a TV in the first place. She'd died long before they'd been invented, and the mansion she lived in was even older than she was. Lenore could probably get along quite well without electricity or things of the sort, and in fact had done so for decades before Ragamuffin had been freed from his curse.

Then came the twenty-first century. Lenore, being Lenore, had adapted to the changes readily and with ease. After all, she was ten- and although things like hairdryers and electric lighting must have seemed magical to her, she accepted their existence with open arms. To hear her tell it, for years her favorite place to be was an electronics store downtown where she would play with the newest inventions until she was kicked out for accidentally electrocuting a few people. Then Taxidermy got electricity installed in Lenore's mansion, changing her afterlife forever and cementing his place as one of her favorite people in the world.

Ragamuffin had had a bit more trouble with the advances that had been made (one had to remember that he was four-hundred years old) and when he'd been revived as a doll he spent a lot of time staring at light switches without the courage necessary to flip them on. It had taken months and a lecture from Taxidermy about how electricity worked for him to accept it as part of his existence. But once he had, he'd had a blast learning about each and every little thing from this strange new world. Television was no exception. He was a teenager, after all, and what teenager doesn't enjoy rotting their brain cells in front of flickering lights?

Ragamuffin flipped through channel after channel, different colored lights washing over his face. He skipped past two reality TV shows, three or four rival cooking shows, and at least five different channels devoted entirely to OneDirection. He stopped on some movie about the zombie apocalypse, and smiled his way through about forty-five minutes of brain-munching gore (which made his stomach growl loudly) before the directors saw fit to slap in a romance scene.

"I. . . I love her, but she doesn't love me back," one of the zombie slayers was saying to the other. The 'her' in question was currently inside a building of refugees while the two boys who people seeing this movie would inexplicably ship were patrolling the perimeter. Ragamuffin was pretty sure the second one, the one not in love, was going to die within the next ten minutes.

"You're worrying about this during an apocalypse?" the doomed guy said. "You could die any minute! She could die any minute!"

"But. . . but I love her!"

Ragamuffin sighed and glanced at the clock. It had been almost an hour and Lenore still wasn't out of the shower yet. What was it about girls that made them take so long bathing? Were they somehow aware of a whole other layer of dirt than boys could see? And why did that 'sight' always kick in just in time to make their bored friends sit through a mushy romance scene?

Ragamuffin listened to a few more lines of flowery fluffiness, then the zombies came in and ate the guy's friend just like Ragamuffin had predicted. That made him smile for a bit, but then the blood spattering over the camera lens was enough to make him change the channel once again as he fought the sudden urge to make some carnage of his own. He wound up hovering over a news station, thumb millimeters above the 'change channel' button, as he scanned the screen for anything interesting. What he found. . . well, 'interesting' wasn't quite the right word. 'Petrifying' might be a little nearer the mark.

"-was discovered early this morning in a back alley," the reporter- a young woman with a smile too wide for the occasion- was saying, "By a three-year-old who had wandered away from his parents while they were out shopping. He immediately ran back to his mother, terrified, and it took her and the boy's father almost three hours to coax him to tell them what was wrong. When he finally did, they investigated themselves rather than call the police- their son was prone to making things up, and they didn't want to get the authorities involved just because of a tall tale."

Ragamuffin pulled his knees up to his chin, hugging them to his chest. There was a heavy chill like ice in the pit of his stomach, and he was suddenly very aware that he wasn't breathing. He had an awful feeling that he knew exactly what this was leading up to. Maybe it was that the alleyway the reporter was standing in looked all too familiar. Or maybe he was just jumping to conclusions. Being paranoid.

"However, when the child, who is remaining anonymous due to the wishes of his parents, led them to the alley he'd discovered earlier, they saw that what he'd told them was all too real. This is what they found." The camera then panned over, revealing a shot of yellow crime scene tape, then a blanket of sticky red on the pale gray tar, and then. . .

Ragamuffin wanted to cover his eyes, but he knew it wouldn't help block out the onscreen carnage. Carnage he was all too familiar with. "Shit," he whispered. "I didn't think they'd find her this fast."

The screen displayed a full-color, high definition image of a teenage girl slumped against the wall of a brick building. She had matted brown hair and some sort of private school uniform, a blue skirt and button-down shirt and jacket that were now filthy beyond repair. Her throat had also been ripped out, which was probably the main concern of the police officers milling around her.

"Thirteen-year-old Rebecca Owens was found dead at the scene, and experts estimate that she died sometime late last night. Her parents noticed she was missing the night before, but didn't report it because they assumed she was at a friends' house and had forgotten to call. They only became worried when she hadn't returned in the early afternoon, and when they finally called the police it was easy for them to match the missing child to the discovery of the corpse.

"The original theory about Rebecca's death was a wild animal attack, something that seemed completely logical given her wounds."

Ragamuffin breathed a sigh of relief. So they didn't think the murderer was a person. He could probably skate by like that, let them keep thinking what they wanted to, and as long as he didn't leave any evidence to the contrary they'd keep on ranting about how dangerous the imaginary beast was, how they should be careful on the streets at night, and if there were more victims they'd brush it off as carelessness and bad luck, and-

Waitasecond– original theory?

"But when forensics investigated further," the lady continued, still grinning, "They discovered that the teeth marks on Rebecca's neck were not those of an animal, rather, they belonged to a human. To deepen the mystery of Rebecca's death even more, closer examination revealed that only a fraction of the amount of blood usually present in the average teenager was on the ground near the body, even though she died primarily of blood loss.

"Is there a killer on the loose? Can anyone explain what could possibly have been going through the murderer's mind when they committed this atrocity?"

I can tell you what's going through their mind now. Ragamuffin thought dryly. It basically boils down to 'I am soooooo screwed'.

The reporter kept going and Ragamuffin felt the words washing over him like waves on a beach. He kind of felt numb as he realized that, while people may have been able to gloss over the presence of a vampire in Nevermore back in the sixteen-hundreds, there was no way it was going to go unnoticed in the twenty-first century. Hell, if they could tell that the teeth marks on the girl's neck were human (technically vampire, but he would let that one slide), it wasn't going to be long before they came knocking on the door of Lenore's mansion. And since Lenore had no idea about any of this, that was going to create one big, awkward mess.

Oh, look, they're reading her obituary. Ragamuffin thought absently, with a kind of sick curiosity. I killed an honors student in the 'gifted and talented' program. Who graduated middle school at the top of her class. Would have gone on to a great future. Swell. Are they trying to make me feel bad?

"Whatcha watching?"

Ragamuffin sucked in a breath of sheer panic and scrambled for the remote control. After a moment he caught it in his palm and bashed his other hand down over the power button, turning the cold glow of the screen to an empty blackness in which he could easily see his panicked expression reflected back at him.

"Lenore!" he gulped. "You're out of the shower?" Then something mirrored in the corner of the TV screen caught his attention and he turned to look back at the little dead girl. He couldn't stop his mouth from dropping open at what he saw.

"Did you. . ? What did. . ?" he stuttered, then took a moment to pull himself back together. Two gigantic shocks in as many seconds was probably a bit much for him.

Lenore smiled with a hint of mischief caught in one of her dimples. "Did I what?"

". . .did you spend that whole time brushing your hair?" Ragamuffin asked incredulously. For instead of the near-dreadlocked curls that he'd grown so used to, Lenore had (somehow) managed to tame the tangled mess which now fell freely to frame her angelic face. . . a face that was now looking decidedly less angelic and a lot more mischievous as she took in his stunned expression.

So that was what took so long. Ragamuffin thought in a way that was more to give his brain something to do than to actually draw a conclusion. It felt like his brain had had a few thousand volts run through it, and going from a state of cold terror to warm, fuzzy surprise was too big a transition for him at the moment.

"Yeah. Nice of you to notice." With a huge smirk, Lenore turned and reached up to pin her hair back with her favorite little skull clips. "It took me forever and about three bottles of conditioner."

Ragamuffin fought the urge to smile, then the urge to frown and finally the urge to bang his head against the wall. He wasn't really surprised by the fact that she'd brushed her hair. What he was surprised at was that she'd done it because he'd made a passing comment that didn't even mean anything. On the one hand, it meant that Lenore thought his opinion was important and had taken it into consideration (which was what made him want to smile). Then it had hit him that he'd just caused her to change the way she looked for no reason at all (the cause of the frown), and then wondered why she even cared in the first place, or why he even cared that she cared, or why he felt guilty or why girls were so confusing sometimes (and although banging his head against the wall probably wouldn't help, he was willing to try it anyway).

Lenore fumbled with one of the clips and it fell to the carpeted floor with a thumph, rolling under the couch to bump against Ragamuffin's foot. He sighed, picked it up, and stood up.

"Here, let me help you with that." Ragamuffin suggested as he swung around the couch and stopped in front of Lenore. He could now see what the couch had covered- that Lenore was still in her bathrobe. She'd headed straight over from her shower to show him her hair, something that confused him even more. Had she wanted to prove him wrong about her bed-head? Show him that she'd won that particular argument?

. . .Impress him?

Ragamuffin shook his head to clear out his last thought and reached out, lifting one side of Lenore's now-past-her-shoulders bob of hair up over her ear before clipping it firmly in place and repeating the process on the other side. She beamed up at him and he found it impossible not to smile back, even though his smile was only a fraction of a ghost of hers. You probably couldn't even see the slight upturn of his lips, because they were dragged down by the weight of the things he wanted to say.

"You look beautiful."

That was one of them.

"I was only joking about the bed-head."

That was another.

And then there was the one that he truly, desperately wanted to be brave enough to say.

"You looked beautiful before you brushed your hair."

But he didn't say any of them, and the moment slipped through his fingers even as he realized he wanted to hold onto it forever, to stay there seeing her smile up at him for the rest of his eternal, deceitful, stupid afterlife.

Just because he knew he didn't deserve something didn't make him want it any less.

"Thanks, Raggy," Lenore said, snapping him out of his daze.

"Don't call me that," he said automatically, but she continued as if she hadn't heard.

"I'mma go get dressed!" She tossed over her shoulder as she skipped down the hallway, then poked her head back around the corner. "By the way, you're taking me into town tonight since I didn't get to go during the daytime and it's your fault that I can't read the next issue of Johnny The Homicidal Maniac."

Ragamuffin blinked. "Huh?"

"You said so last night."

"When did I–"

"You agreed that it was your fault!"

". . .I'm pretty sure that's the opposite of what I said, yeah."

"Thanks!"

". . .for what?"

"You just said 'yeah'! You agreed!"

"Um–"

"So where are we going?"

"Wherever you want, I guess."

"Yay!"

"But you better hurry and get dressed or we won't get there in time."

"Don't rush me! It was your idea in the first place, you know." Lenore raced off to her room and Ragamuffin mentally rewound their conversation, trying to figure out at what point exactly he'd stopped arguing and started agreeing. He couldn't find it.

You are a lot smarter than you let on, little miss dead girl, Ragamuffin thought. Now if only you had some common sense I could leave you home on your own sometimes. It was ridiculous how protective Ragamuffin had become of Lenore. She'd been on her own for years before he'd shown up, and yet. . .

He just couldn't stand to think of her getting hurt.

Ragamuffin switched the television back on, but the broadcast was over.

LINE BREAK B/N: SO YOU GUYS CAN PEE OR GET SNACKS. THIS THING IS THAT LONG.

"Whoa! Ragamuffin, come look!"

Ragamuffin sighed and allowed Lenore to drag him over to yet another window display, cursing himself for agreeing to this. It was one thing to agree and quite another to prepare himself to be yanked by his wrist to every. Single. Freaking. Store. In the whole. Freaking. Mall. Not to mention all the weird looks they were getting from random passersby. Ragamuffin had to consider that an oddly pale ten-year-old in a black funeral dress running around with an even paler thirteen-year-old who, challenging every modern fashion imaginable, was wearing a vintage suit. Of course, it couldn't help that he was stumbling around like he was drunk in an effort to keep his eyes shaded by his hair. Tilting your head forwards and being towed at breakneck speed just didn't seem to be compatible.

They whipped around in a hairpin turn as something else snagged a prime spot of Lenore's attention and Ragamuffin flailed wildly with his free hand, frantically trying to compensate. His left foot slipped out from under him and he tumbled forwards onto the ground. He might have been able to catch himself if his one free hand wasn't trying to smooth his hair down over his telltale crimson irises. He felt Lenore's small fingers slip out of his and her footsteps continued for a few paces before they faltered, paused, and then slowly clicked back towards him. He heard this, but didn't see it because his face was busy being flattened against the linoleum.

"Are you alright, Raggy?" she asked. Her feet, knees, and the edges of her hair slipped into his field of vision as she knelt down in front of him, peering at him curiously. He mumbled something that was muffled by the floor, and felt grit and mud from various shoes working their way between his teeth as he did so. God, he hated this town. "What did you say?" Lenore reached under Ragamuffin's shoulders, helping him to his feet.

"I said, don't call me that." he repeated a little louder. Lenore let go of his shoulders, letting him fall back to the ground.

"You're alright," she confirmed in a flat voice, popping up to her feet again. Ragamuffin struggled to his knees, spitting out a mouthful of detritus and scrubbing at his mouth with the back of his hand. As his fangs and lips parted company he felt something warm slip into the gap. He tasted blood in his mouth, and even though he knew, knew it was his own he felt an overpowering yank somewhere deep inside his chest. He gripped his knees tightly, fighting the urge to tackle the nearest human. The pain of his fingers digging into his skin was barely enough to keep him distracted, to let him ride out the bloodlust, but 'barely enough' was all he needed.

Lenore's voice slowly filtered through the red haze surrounding the teenage vampire. "-ffin? Hey, are you still in there? Ragamuffin?"

Ragamuffin took a long, deep, calming breath and looked up, forcing a relaxed expression onto his tense face. He pried his rigid fingers off of his knees, unsurprised when they came away with blood caught under the nails. He'd ripped ten neat little holes through his pants. "I'm fine. I must've killed a few brain cells when I banged my head. That's all."

"You had a few left?" Lenore grinned, then held her hand out to him. He took it carefully, trying not to get any blood on her wrist, and pulled himself to his feet. She looked at him carefully, studying his face, and reached over to swipe her free hand across his mouth. He gritted his teeth at the sudden desire to dig his fangs into her wrist and tried to hold himself in check. When Lenore pulled her hand back and he felt a moment of fleeting panic when he saw it was coated in crimson, but she scrunched her face up in what he knew to be disgust rather than pain and he realized the blood was his own.

"You split your lip wide open," she said. "There's blood all down your face."

"Ah, I'll be fine." Ragamuffin brushed it off. "I'm a vampire, remember? We heal fast."

Not that that really mattered. If Ragamuffin had been at the top of his game, he wouldn't have fallen at all. He certainly wouldn't have gotten hurt, and even if he had the cut would have closed over before Lenore had even noticed he'd hit the ground. He was slipping.

Ragamuffin made a face at that last thought and glanced around, searching for the nearest water fountain so he could wash off his face. "Do you see a bathroom anywhere?" he asked Lenore absently. "There're usually water fountains next to the entrances."

Lenore looked around, shrugged, and then started pulling him around by the wrist once again– more gently than before, Ragamuffin was surprised to note. "C'mon, I think there's one over by the comic store."

"You just want to go read Johnny The Homicidal Maniac, don't you?" Ragamuffin smirked, then winced at the pain that cut through his bottom lip as he did so.

"Yup." Lenore said happily, not even bothering to deny it. Ragamuffin rolled his eyes at her open tactics, then saw his chance.

"Why don't you go on ahead while I find a sink or something?" Ragamuffin suggested. He crossed his fingers, the ones hidden in his suit sleeve, hoping that she'd agree and he'd have a chance to grab a bite somewhere else. Usually, once Lenore started reading those comics, she'd be off in another world and completely lose track of time, so he was fairly sure she wouldn't notice if he was gone a bit longer than he said he'd be.

Lenore hesitated, eager steps slowing. ". . .you sure?" she asked, looking back up into his eyes, pale blue meeting fiery red. "Usually you throw a fit when I'm out here alone."

Ragamuffin felt a twinge of guilt, but he shoved it back down deep inside. If he didn't feed soon, it was going to be a lot more dangerous for her to be around him than to be alone in a mall at night. "I'll just be gone a bit, and besides, you're in that store all the time. They can keep an eye on you."

Lenore let go of his hand and crossed her arms, glaring at the ground between Ragamuffin's feet. "You say that like I need to be looked after." She lifted her eyes back to his. "I don't need to be babysat, right?"

Ragamuffin hesitated, opened his mouth, then closed it again and did the safe thing: kept his silence. When she looked back up at him he nodded supportively and gave her a not-quite-so-sincere smile. She raised her eyebrows at him, a smile playing around the edges of her mouth, then she rolled her eyes good-naturedly and gave him a hug before heading off in the direction of the comic store.

"See ya in a bit, Raggy!" she called. He smiled after her, a smile that slipped off as soon as she looked away. He watched until her floor-length black dress vanished into the swirl of people, then turned away. He pulled his sleeve down over his hand and caught the end in his fist, wiping it over his face to get rid of the blood. He quickly checked his reflection in a darkened store window to make sure he'd gotten it all off, then let his hair sweep forwards to cover his face again and walked off into the crowd. He didn't really know where he was going, but he was sure that he most definitely wasn't looking for a bathroom.

Ragamuffin let himself shut down, wandering through the mall until he exited onto dark, nearly silent streets. By the time he'd reached a more populated area of the city, he'd completely ditched the persona he used around Lenore– the sarcastic and stern (but funny!) teenage vampire– and reverted to the personality he'd had before they met, the cold, dark, merciless night stalker who swept through the streets with no sound and pounced with no warning.

Ragamuffin didn't really think as he tracked the sound of pounding music and the scent of adrenaline through the town of Nevermore, acting instead on instinct built up in four hundred years. He wasn't really surprised when he came to stop in front of a club, like he'd chosen the destination without remembering. He pushed his way in through the double doors and was immediately assaulted by the loud, heavy bass of whatever pop song was blasting at the moment. It had been deafening with the doors shut, thanks to his supersensitive hearing, and he felt like he had actually been struck when it hit him without any damper. Scowling, he pushed forwards into the club and looked around, wanting to get this over with. Almost everyone in the crowded room was already dancing with someone else, but there was one group of girls in the back of the room who were without an escort and throwing flirtatious looks in his direction. One of them noticed him looking and giggled loudly, turning back to her friends and causing them to giggle as well. Ragamuffin had to focus hard to see them as they really were– pink T-shirts and skinny jeans– rather than petticoats and flowing gowns. A smirk flitted across his face. Apparently girls were the same no matter what century you were in.

He walked slowly over, each step increasing both the girls' heartbeat and laughter. He stopped right behind the one that had first looked at him tapped her lightly on the shoulder. She turned around and grinned up at him. Then she giggled. He was starting to wonder if she'd ever do anything else.

"You wanna dance?" he asked, struggling to keep his voice level even as it started to rasp with hunger. She giggled again and put her arms around his shoulders, starting to sway from side to side. He went along with the motion, placing his hands on her waist as she made some sort of gesture telling her friends to clear out. They did so quickly, giggling the whole time. Airheads, all of them. Ragamuffin kept up the back-and-forth swaying thing but let his mind wander to the time in the near future when he'd turn her cheerful giggles into terrified screams.

The screaming blasting out of the speakers at the front of the room changed in pitch and Ragamuffin realized that the 'song' that had been playing had changed to a different one with roughly the same lyrics. He was tired of waiting and figured he'd delayed long enough. He bent closer so the girl could hear and asked if she wanted to go outside. She responded, as ever, with more frantic giggling. He took that as a yes and pulled her through the doors, slipping into an alleyway next to the club. She closed her eyes and leaned in towards him, puckering her glossy lips for a kiss. Instead, he clamped his hand over her mouth and grabbed her shoulder, pinning her against the wall of the alley. She made a surprised, panicked sound but it was muffled as it slid through his fingers. Her eyes were probably pleading with him to stop but he was having none of it. He could smell the adrenaline in her bloodstream, hear her heartbeat skyrocketing, taste her between his teeth. . .

Ragamuffin wasn't exactly sure when he'd bitten her, but that didn't really matter. All that mattered was her blood as it ran over his tongue and down his throat. God, it tasted good- like sunlight and sweetness and life and things he could no longer possess. He drank it down as fast as the girl's heart raced, each beat filling his mouth even as he swallowed. He let go of her shoulder and wrapped his arm tightly around her waist, pulling her even closer and bracing his jaw against her neck even harder. He dug his fangs in deeper and felt, rather than heard, her cry out in pain. He could taste her terror and that just made him want more. Her heartbeat was slowing in his ears but he ignored it, gulping down her blood at a dangerous rate. He was unbelievably hungry and she tasted amazing. Now if only she'd stop squirming around he'd be able to fully enjoy this.

As if in response to his thought she stopped struggling, slumping against him as she finally passed out. He let out a happy little moan and moved his hand from her mouth to the back of her head, tilting her chin up to give him more room. This was his favorite part, but also the shortest, because a few heavenly mouthfuls later the girl's pulse stopped altogether. He slowly lifted his head, running his tongue over the twin puncture wounds to get the last few drops of blood, then dropped her corpse onto the pavement. He briefly considered trying to hide the body but turned and left instead. He'd kept Lenore waiting too long as it was.

Ragamuffin groaned loudly as he felt the beginnings of nausea stirring in the pit of his stomach. . .

LINE BREAK

"She did what?!" Ragamuffin practically yelled at the store manager. He'd managed to make it back to the comic store without barfing all over the linoleum, but now he was suddenly sick with worry instead. "Where did she go?!"

"I'm sorry, Ragamuffin," the manager said sympathetically. Over the course of a hundred visits with Lenore, she and Ragamuffin had become. . . well, not exactly friends, but definitely closer than a bloodthirsty vampire and a near-minimum wage worker had any right to be. "I was keeping as close an eye on her as I could. I swear, I only looked away for a second and she was just gone. I have no clue where she went."

Ragamuffin sighed loudly. "Great. Just great," he muttered. Then, louder, "Thanks anyway, Annabel."

"Anytime."

Ragamuffin was already off, glaring his way through the shops that might or might not contain a ten-year-old dead girl. He briefly considered talking to the two policemen wandering through the mall if they'd seen a blonde homicidal ten-year-old in an old-fashioned black mourning dress. . . but stopped himself just as he reached the corner of the Starbucks they were munching doughnuts in. It wouldn't be a smart idea for multiple reasons, mostly because, a) he'd just committed a murder (which he was pretty sure was still illegal) and b) the 'homicidal' part of 'homicidal ten-year-old' might grab their attention. Not that it was inconspicuous when he spun on his heel and left when he got within five feet of the cops. One of them actually nudged the other and nodded to him like he was the villain in one of those bad cop shows that Lenore liked, something that made him a lot more nervous than he liked to admit. It was in moments like this that he seriously questioned Lenore's sanity. Did she not hear him when he said to go to the comic store?

"If I find her in Victoria's Secret, I swear to God I will leave her there and go home," he growled under his breath. He threw in a few curses for good measure, then checked his language. Although Lenore constantly surprised him with her inventory of swear words, he really didn't want to teach her any new ones and was in the process of training himself out of the habit. She just made it so tempting sometimes. . !

"Raggy!" Ragamuffin was suddenly knocked sideways as he was thrown into a crushing hug.

"Le. . . nore!" he gasped out. "Ow! That re. . . really hurts."

"Oops! Sorry!" Lenore released him and grinned sheepishly up into his glare. "Um. . . hi?"

"'Hi'? 'Hi'?!" Ragamuffin's scowl intensified. "First off, don't call me Raggy. Second, I told you to stay put! I was really worried about you! Annabel said you'd just vanished and I had no clue where you were!"

Lenore looked down at her feet. ". . .I'm sorry," she said quietly, voice starting to break with the threat of tears. Ragamuffin's frown faded away, his features softening. He wasn't really angry with her, after all. He was just mad at himself for leaving her alone so long.

"Jeez, Lenore, don't cry. Just. . . think next time, ok?"

"Okay," she sniffled.

Ragamuffin closed his hand over hers as gently as he could, smiling down at her. "Come on. It's getting late. Let's go home."

It was the third time that day he'd referred to Lenore's mansion as 'home'– twice out loud and once in his head- and the feeling didn't get any less odd with repetition. Vampires, as a general rule, never stuck around in one place very long. It was a necessity of their lifestyle. You can't go around killing people in the same area for an extended period of time before someone puts two and two together and there's an angry mob at your front door. Deep down, Ragamuffin didn't expect this to last any longer. Sooner or later he'd be back to wandering. This temporary 'home' would be long gone.

But that didn't stop him from liking the taste of the word.

LINE BREAK

Ragamuffin fumbled with the ornate doorknob on the equally ornate door of Lenore's mansion. He could only use one arm since the other was currently looped around Lenore's knees. The little zombie had fallen asleep on the walk back from the mall, thoroughly freaking Ragamuffin out in the process. One minute they'd been walking along, arguing about something inane, and the next she was tumbling off the road and into a swamp. It had taken him fifteen minutes to finally find her curled up in the middle of a clump of mud and grasses, and after ten unsuccessful attempts to wake her up he'd grudgingly hoisted her onto his shoulders and started trudging back home. Occasionally Lenore would make little sleepy noises and rub her face into Ragamuffin's back like he was a pillow, something that sent little twitchy shivers down his spine, but for the most part she just sat there being- if you'll excuse the pun- dead weight.

Now that they were finally home, he couldn't even get the door to open while he was still carrying her. If he could just get inside he could drop her off in her bedroom and catch a break, but noooo. . . fate just hated him, didn't it?

"If this door is locked, I'm going to scream," he said quietly, so as not to wake Lenore. "I didn't know Lenore even had a lock on this door. Since when has she ever considered her own safety?" Ragamuffin briefly considered kicking the door down, then decided against it. The sudden motion might make him drop Lenore. Oh, and it would be good to have a door, too.

Ragamuffin gave the door another vicious yank, fueled entirely by annoyance rather than good sense, and was totally unsurprised when it remained stubbornly shut. The only effect the motion had was to bump Lenore's chin from where it was resting on his shoulder, sending her tumbling backwards. Ragamuffin winced in anticipation of a loud thud as she hit the ground, his other hand swooping backwards to try to catch her, but instead he felt a small, cool hand land on top of his and an arm sliding around his shoulders.

"Jeez, Ragamuffin, it's a push door," Lenore's sleepy voice chastised him. Ragamuffin was very, very glad that she was behind him, where she couldn't see him blush.

"Well if I ever got to go anywhere without you dragging me by the wrist, I would know that," Ragamuffin complained, opening the offending door and stomping into the house.

"Stop pouting," Lenore mumbled into the back of his head, and Ragamuffin felt little sparks of electricity zipping through his body. Her breath felt warm as it soaked into his hair, creating a little spot of heat that started to spread slowly through his entire body as she continued speaking. "You're just lucky I woke up before you dropped me or I'd be kicking you into next week."

Ragamuffin managed to keep the tremors out of his tone as he replied. Well, mostly. "It's not my fault you fell asleep in the middle of a swamp. Actually, speaking of which. . ." Ragamuffin changed courses, heading for the bathroom instead of Lenore's bedroom. "We better get the mud off your face. And various other places. Swamps are not very clean."

Lenore immediately began protesting, saying that it really was his fault for making her stay up all night just because he was nocturnal, but Ragamuffin was not having any of it.

"If I was the one trying to keep your schedule then I'd catch on fire the second I walked out the door. Vampires and sunlight are not exactly compatible."

"Speaking of which. . ." Lenore began, and Ragamuffin knew her well enough to know that the tone of voice she was using meant serious annoyance/pain was coming his way. He stopped abruptly, feeling the edges of her dress swoosh out over his fingers. Focus, you moron. . .

"Lenore, what did you do?" he asked flatly, feeling a black cloud of doom sinking over his equally dark hair. I'm not going to like this, I can already tell.

"Oh. . . nothing, really!" Lenore said in a bright, innocent voice. A little too innocent. Anyone who knew her at all would know that there was no way she was completely innocent. Lenore was always guilty of something. The only times she tried to deny it was when the 'something' was something really, really, bad. Ragamuffin growled under his breath and held back a few choice expletives as he lugged Lenore to the bathroom. He didn't like where this was going.

"Lenore, don't lie to me."

Focus on doing on thing at a time. Sit Lenore on the edge of the tub. Get the washcloth from the rim of the sink.

"Really, Ragamuffin, I didn't do anything."

Give her a glare. Run the washcloth under the faucet. Pull Lenore's hair out of her face.

"You've got that 'I just did something stupid' look on your face. Spill it, little lady."

Start wiping the dirt off her face. Don't think about her skin under your fingers. I said DON'T think about it! DON'T-

Oh, for the love of. . .

Fine, I give up. Think about it, see if I care.

Ragamuffin could feel the clinging dampness of the water, the slightly slimy feel of old soap that Lenore had forgotten to rinse off the washcloth, the little, gritty chunks of dry mud, and- through the tiny gaps in the deceptively rough fabric- the smooth, soft feel of Lenore's cheek. Ragamuffin had to focus hard just to keep his movements brusque and impersonal as he moved up to Lenore's hairline and carefully broke the big chunks of dirt into smaller pieces so that when he pulled them out he didn't take half of Lenore's hair along with them. Underneath the mud, he could just make out Lenore's scent. . .

Ragamuffin was snapped out of his revelry when Lenore unexpectedly responded to his previous question. Apparently, she'd assumed his silence meant he'd been waiting for an answer and had finally cracked under the strain of his so-called 'patience'.

"Okay, okay, I'll tell you!" Lenore carefully avoided his gaze, keeping her mismatched pale blue eyes far away from his steadier crimson ones. "Um. . . so you know how you were saying about bursting into flame in the sun?"

". . .yeah?" Ragamuffin said warily.

Please, please let her not have come up with some idea that involves me getting set on fire. If there's anyone at all up there, whatever I did, it was not bad enough to deserve this!

"Sooo. . . ever heard of sunscreen?" Lenore ventured. Ragamuffin shut his eyes briefly, rolling them skywards in the privacy of his own head. Then he dropped the washcloth in the sink, scooped Lenore back up (with only minor protests from her), and continued on his way to her room. This time he was carrying her sideways, like brides and grooms always did on TV (but not in real life), and Lenore linked her arms around his shoulders to keep herself upright. It was distracting, to say the least.

"Lenore, please tell me you don't think that's going to work?" Ragamuffin shook off the wave of overwhelming oh-God-she's-so-freaking-close-to-me vibe, and regarded Lenore's stoic face with something akin to fear. "Please tell me you're not about to suggest that I go out in broad daylight with nothing but a layer of chemicals to protect me?"

Lenore didn't bother to deny it. She just let go of him with one arm and pulled the brightly-colored plastic tube out of her sleeve. "I got SPF six-hundred. That should cover it."

Ragamuffin felt his left eyebrow start to twitch. He removed the arm he had around her shoulders, since she was holding herself up anyway, and cupped it over his eye until the twitching stopped. "Ok, I'll give it a try! Just promise me that you'll actually go to sleep tonight." Ragamuffin yanked open the door to Lenore's bedroom and swept inside.

Lenore grinned, momentarily triumphant, but then the grin slipped. "But what if I–"

"You're not going to get nightmares." Ragamuffin interrupted, already knowing what she was going to say. Was this night ever going to be over?

"But–"

"You're not going to get nightmares, Lenore," Ragamuffin repeated. Slowly, like he was talking to a spooked animal. Soothing tones usually worked.

Not that they were working now, as Lenore's trembling lower lip could testify. "How do you know?" she muttered bitterly. Ragamuffin paused, glanced down at her scared eyes and felt tremors shake through her body as he slipped her under her velvety black bedspread. He tried to figure out what to say to make her feel better as he sat down on the edge of her bed with a heavy sigh.

"Because. . . I'm always going to be here. I won't let anything bad happen to you, ok?"

Lenore grabbed the edge of the covers with her pale hands and dragged them up to just below her eyes. "Are nightmares included in the 'nothing bad' package?" her voice came out muffled by the soft fabric.

"I can't protect you from things in your own head, silly." Ragamuffin chuckled. "But. . . there's a version of me in that vacuum between your ears, right?" Ragamuffin reached down and gently rapped Lenore's forehead with his knuckles. She squealed in mock-pain, but quieted down so she could hear his next words. "If the Ragamuffin in your head is anything like the real me. . . he won't let anything hurt you." He smiled down at Lenore. "So stop worrying so much."

Lenore opened her mouth to reply, but Ragamuffin could see that she was done asking for help and was just trying to stall for time at this point. "Go to sleep already!" he commanded with a roll of his eyes, but he smiled too so she'd know he wasn't really mad. To cut off any further arguments, he grabbed the edge of the covers and threw them over her head. She let out a cry of outrage, but Ragamuffin was already racing for the door. He paused by the light switch and turned back just in time to see her free herself from her tangled cloth prison.

"Goodnight, Lenore," he said, and clicked off the light, pulling the door shut behind him. Just before it clicked shut, he heard her call his name. "Goodnight, Ragamuffin! I love you!"

Ragamuffin walked a few paces down the corridor, found a suitable wall, leaned against it, and began to bang his head against the wallpapered wood. He felt awful. Lenore had just said the words he'd been longing to hear her say since day one, and she had to go and say them wrong. Because what did you say to your parents when they came to kiss you goodnight? Yeah. That. In that exact tone of voice. Way to make me feel awkward, Lenore. Ragamuffin thought as he slammed his head against the wall for what felt like the zillionth time. Oddly enough, it was helping.

You know you have relationship issues when slamming your head into a wall is less painful than talking to your crush.

And then someone started knocking on the front door, and Ragamuffin jumped at the chance to distract himself as he hurried to the foyer. At first he thought it was Taxidermy, and then hoped it was Mr. Gosh so he could kick his rival into next week and relieve some stress while he was at it. But then his heart sank as he realized that whoever was pounding on the door was still alive. As far as Ragamuffin remembered (and he had an excellent memory), nobody alive visited the mansion next to the graveyard without bringing trouble with them. His theory was confirmed when he opened the door on two uniformed police officers.

Ah, shit, he thought absently, and then marshaled his features into something a bit more typical of a normal thirteen-year-old who discovered the cops on his doorstep and not a serial killer who was thinking 'not again'.

"What is it?" Ragamuffin asked, doing his best to sound somewhat timid. He examined the policemen and noticed with an absent sort of horror that they were the pair he'd bumped into in the mall that day. One was on the shorter side, fair-haired, and really needed to lay off the doughnuts. The other was tall, gaunt, and had a face that probably scared thirteen-year-olds that weren't members of the undead. Still, Ragamuffin couldn't bring himself to look intimidated by a rent-a-cop.

The short one answered first. "Sorry to bother you this late at night. . ."

Good cop. . . Ragamuffin mentally began.

"Shut it with the pleasantries already, he knows why we're here," the tall one snapped, yanking out his badge and giving Ragamuffin a long look. As he shoved it back into his pocket, he made sure Ragamuffin got an eyeful of the pistol in his hip holster.

Aaaand bad cop, Ragamuffin concluded.

"Actually, I have no idea why you're here," Ragamuffin corrected him. He was trying to look completely innocent, or at least not like someone who'd just committed a double homicide.

"Look, kid, we saw what you were up to today," Good-cop said, smiling.

Shit. I am not ready to go yet, Ragamuffin thought. I am not ready to leave Lenore. If I'm caught this early on. . .

"I'm. . . sorry?" Ragamuffin played dumb. It wasn't too hard, since his brain was going numb with horror.

"We saw you in town today," Bad-cop growled. "We know what you did!"

If Ragamuffin's heart had still been beating, it would have just frozen over. His hands were starting to shake- a sure sign of guilt- so he shoved them deep into his pockets. How am I going to get out of this one? And with Lenore two doors down the hall, too! If I get arrested for murder, she's going to kill me!

"You're coming down to the station with us," Bad-cop barked, reaching out to grab Ragamuffin's shoulder.

Oh, shit, this is really it. I don't think I can wriggle out of this one! They must have followed me, or I messed up somehow! Why didn't I hide the body better?! I am such a moron! How am I going to-

But Good-cop reached out and stopped Bad-cop's hand before it could close onto Ragamuffin's shaking frame.

"We don't need to take him in for this! It's not that bad of an offense, you know!" he said with a smile in his voice, and confusion shook away Ragamuffin's paralysis. Good-cop wouldn't be smiling if he knew what had happened, and as for the 'not that bad of an offense' remark. . .

"I really don't know what you're talking about," Ragamuffin said awkwardly. Dammit, his voice was still trembling. Whatever happened to the fearless night stalker he used to be?

"Look, kid, it's ok. I skipped school too, when I was your age," Good-cop said amiably.

"Skipped. . . school?" Ragamuffin repeated dumbly. Good-cop mistook the confusion for agreement.

"It's alright to admit it, we're not going to arrest you just for that. But next time, if you're trying to cut class, don't bring your girlfriend with you."

Ragamuffin felt his cheeks instantly start to burn. Oh, God. "S-she's not my. . !"

"Kid, it's fine, just don't do it again and we won't talk to your parents," Good-cop lowered his voice. "Although I will say, what I wouldn't have given to have a girl like that at your age! You're a lucky guy!"

I wish, Ragamuffin thought. Now that he thought back, he and Lenore had arrived at the mall way before school let out. The policemen's mistake was understandable.

"You're too soft on him," Bad-cop said with a scowl. He glared at Ragamuffin. "I better not see you skipping school again, do you hear me?"

"Y-yes sir," Ragamuffin said, playing the part of the rebellious teen suddenly scared back onto the straight and narrow, while on the inside he was aching with relief. "I think I'll just go to bed now. You know, because good students always go to bed early."

"You do that," Bad-cop glowered.

Ragamuffin couldn't get the door shut fast enough. The second the half-foot of solid oak was between him and the cops, he slid down the door with a wide, loopy smile on his face. He could hardly hold in relieved giggles. Through the door he heard bad-cop, not sounding so mean anymore, chatting quietly.

"See what I mean? Flash a badge, let them see your gun, glare a bit, and suddenly they're the model of cooperation."

Good-cop chucked. "Did you see his face when you said you were going to arrest him? I thought he was going to wet himself. It's like he thought truancy was as bad as murder."

"Teenagers. They're all the same. Reminds me of my kid at home, actually." Bad-cop said, his voice drifting off as he and good-cop started away from the house. Ragamuffin felt his grin threatening to split his face in two. He felt pretty happy about how the day had gone.

And then nausea rose up in the pit of his stomach and Ragamuffin bolted for the restroom. . .