Keen

You know how the usual story goes, right, Doc Worth blatantly pursues Conrad while Conrad pretends to hold out? Suppose Doc Worth really doesn't think too often about Conrad. Suppose that, as far as Worth is concerned, Conrad is sort of a detachable extension of Hanna.

I think that would be awfully frustrating.


On the first night of October that year, Conrad met a lot of new people. Some of them were dead. By the end of the night, he too was also dead. Doc Worth wasn't dead, of course; Doc Worth was even worse than that. Doc Worth was very rude, very uncouth, and very, very alive. After all the squalling indignant fury of that first night had passed, Conrad had eventually cooled down. The night after Conrad met Doc Worth, he thought to himself, you know, he's abrasive, sure, but he's a professional, right? He's just trying to do his job. Between the yelling and the fists of fury, it must have been Conrad who was the one with the problem.

Hanna laughed at him when he tried to explain this deduction.

His reasons for reaching that conclusion were wrong of course, but in the end, his conclusion was correct. Doc Worth was just being Doc Worth; it was Conrad who turned out to be the problem.

And that problem, as it happened, started to make itself known not very long after Conrad and Doc Worth had run into each other at a café, one night in late October.

(v)

The first time that it became apparent something was amiss, they were in the clinic after a botched exorcism landed Hanna with a sprained wrist. Long story—bottom line: never buy your bibles wholesale. And as the doctor was taping down the last of the gauze, the first real non-Hanna patient Conrad had ever seen in the office came stumbling through the door.

Hanna threw himself off the table like he was going for a long-jump medal. "Well," he said, "would you look at that I guess it's just about time for us to go right Connie would you just grab some dinner and we'll be out of everyone's hair!"

"Oi," the doctor huffed, looking put out, "ya ain't heard a damn thing I just said, have ya?"

"No heights no ghosts don't talk to strangers got it great let's roll!"

And Hanna was gone faster than you could say "liability", ducking just in time to avoid toppling over the bewildered patient cradling his arm in the doorway.

The doctor looked at the guy, a quick but thorough appraisal bustling down the length of his battered body, and then jerked a thumb at the operating room. "Jump on the table," he said, turning around to rifle through a high cabinet. "Don't touch nothin' neither."

Still dazed, the patient toddled off to the back room and sat quietly down.

Conrad hovered. He was very good at that, at least.

"Can I help?" he asked, chewing a lip.

Doc Worth looked over his shoulder. It was less of a look and more of a glare, actually, with a pointed flick downwards at the lack of distance between them as if to ask, "you trying to suffocate me here or what?"

"Whadda ya think," was what he said instead, with a bit of a sniff. God, for an unlicensed junkie he sure had a snobby streak, didn't he.

Conrad scowled, sizable nose rippling up into a topographical map of irritation. "I was just trying to be helpful," he said, crossing his arms tight over his chest. "Get your tools for you, whatever. Sorry to step all over your oversized feet."

Worth lifted one blond eyebrow and elbowed the seven foot high cabinet beside him. A bone saw tumbled down from the top and landed tines first, quivering, in the wood of the table. A grungy bottle of hydrogen peroxide sloshed a bit nearby.

"I got it covered, Florence," the doctor deadpanned. "Go 'n pretty up the waitin' room, there's a good girl."

Conrad made a noise halfway between a deflating balloon and an enraged pastoral animal, the sound of sudden embarrassment where you hadn't been expecting to find embarrassment lurking. "Fine, whatever! Have fun performing surgery all by yourself, I'm leaving."

He did leave, too. And nobody stopped him.

(V)

They were waiting for the night bus on a deserted street, just the usual three of them, and Conrad was picking at the hem of his shirt. There were no loose threads, but if he picked for long enough he'd make a couple. And then the whole stupid shirt would come undone.

"What did you mean," he said at last to Hanna, "Worth's keen on me?"

"Oh, uh?" Hanna replied. He looked up from the teeny screen of his phone, where he'd been presumably texting their next client about her shadow problem, quote-unquote. "I guess he like, appreciated the way you stood up for yourself? And stuff?"

Conrad furrowed his brow. "…Is that all?"

Befuddlement, and squinting blue eyes. "What do you mean, is what all of what?"

"Nothing." Conrad aggressively toed at an abandoned can of soda. Litter, how classy.

"Conrad, bro, are you worrying about what Worth thinks about you? Cause man I don't wanna sound harsh but," Hanna gestured vaguely towards the whole of Conrad's person, "that is the last thing you should be worrying about ever but especially now."

The vampire dug the heel of his hand into his forehead. "It's just. He likes you, right?"

"Uh. Yeah I guess? What's your point?"

Conrad gritted his teeth and covered his whole face with his hands. "I don't know!" he said, nose flattened against skin. "He's awful and obnoxious and I wish you'd never dragged me into that godforsaken office."

The redhead and the dead man exchanged a look over his head like a couple of kindergarten teachers conferring over a hysterical child. Right. Peachy.

Hanna put one hand on his shoulder and said in his most sympathetic voice, "You are giving me some hella mixed signals right about now, Con-My-Man."

Conrad sighed and dropped his hands. "Ignore me, I'm tired. It's been a long night."

"Hey," Hanna said, breaking into a grin and elbowing his friend lightly in the shoulder, "you know what you need? Midnight icecream break!"

"Oh god Hanna no."

"Oh god Hanna yes! There's a TCBY just down the road at the next stop, we are so getting off there, Connie it will make you feel eighty times better!"

"Ugh."

"Oh, can you lone me a couple bucks?"

(V)

It wasn't that Conrad liked the grungy bastard. Who liked Doc Worth? Even Lamont gave the impression of having long ago sold his soul into their bizarre friendship and having gotten the raw end of the deal. Hanna—it was hard to tell with Hanna, he spent so much time smiling nervously when they were in the office, who knew what he was really feeling, but—he seemed to have some sort of almost familial obligation to the man.

And Conrad, of course, wouldn't have had a thing to do with the doc if he had any choice left in his life.

So it wasn't any sort of liking driving the fact that Conrad kept coming back to this awful office, obviously. A x B = AB, right? Basic logic. Who would like being verbally torn to shreds and surrounded by filth? Who in their right mind could possibly derive any enjoyment from being relentlessly demeaned at every turn? What kind of a twisted fuckup would purposefully subject himself to the company of a crooked-toothed, bleary-eyed, leering asshole with collarbones as sharp as fresh scalpels?

That. That thought might have gotten away from him a bit.

The point was… the point was that Conrad didn't know what kept him coming back. He didn't know why he kept opening his stupid mouth to ask if Worth needed a hand with anything, or why he kept attempting pleasantries eons after he knew he was going to get nothing but a handful of cuss and spit for his trouble. Why he kept letting himself get riled up, like he gave a shit what that sad son of a bitch said about him.

Why it made him so fucking mad when Worth snorted and tossed him a baggie instead of taking him seriously for once.

If he could just get his hands on the bastard's throat and squeeze—well, he'd have to listen then, wouldn't he?

Conrad squeezed the baggie in his hands instead, barely minding the nails well enough to avoid popping it. The doctor was still fiddling around with the contents of his shelf, back to Conrad.

"I just thought we could be…" Conrad tried, digging a thumb into the sore lines of his forehead, "…a little bit nicer to each other."

"You anglin' fer a blowjob or summat? Cause I got this policy about never goin' down on customers."

"I'm not even a customer!"

Worth paused, his hand on a roll of gauze, and turned around with a sinister kind of delight on his face.

"Oh yeeeah?"

"No, I—that's not what I meant—"

Needless to say, that conversation did not end well.

(V)

In the right light—when the florescent was turned to streetlight, less harsh and more forgiving, when the air was quiet and the world was still—there was something about Doc Worth that pulled a person into orbit, in the darkness of space. His features half shadow, his hands still, smoke blooming from his mouth like the petals of some insidious parasite, Doc Worth seemed to Conrad like a collapsed star.

Whereas the inextricable pull of Hanna Falk Cross was as bright and as likely to burn as the sun, Doc Worth had the attraction of a cold, empty thing.

Conrad had no illusions about himself. He was an object upon which gravity was designed to be exerted: a planet only—hardly qualified as a planet, even. Maybe an asteroid.

This was maybe the fourth time that Conrad had run into the doctor outside of his alley—he wondered sometimes if he must have passed Worth on the street a hundred times before finally meeting him, and never thought a thing of him. Surely he would have made a little note of the fur, you'd think, even if it was just to roll his eyes at it. You'd think.

Doc Worth was taking a deep drag and turning his attention to the city beyond the bridge, where some important business with some interesting people was bound to be happening, where he would do surprising things and not care much who was surprised, and where he wouldn't bother to remember seeing Conrad on this bridge or anything that Conrad might have said here.

"Wait," Conrad said, hand reaching out in an aborted attempt to grab something—maybe Worth's coat. His fingers twitched still in mid-air and reached lamely for a leaf settled lightly on the top of the bridge. He snatched it up and started tearing it apart.

"Wait what?" Worth asked, cigarette bouncing impatiently between his lips. "Not that ya ain't a bundle'a fun here, but I do got some errands ta run."

"I—"

I want you to stay, I want to go with you, isn't there anything else you want to say to me, you hardly even said five sentences—

"—Just wanted to make sure you weren't going to do anything illegal right after talking to me, is all. I can't very well afford to be called into court as a witness."

Worth rolled his eyes. "I'll try not ta do anythin' too incriminatin', officer."

When the doctor was just a dark shape at the foot of the bridge, Conrad turned and slumped over the edge of the wall, clutching at the roots of his hair hard enough to tear loose strands free. Below him, the sound of rushing water echoed.

He'd like to blame the disorientation on the water, but he had this awful nagging feeling that it had nothing to do with that.

(V)

The most frustrating—the most unnerving part, he thinks to himself, is how he keeps thinking, what if I

What if I act like I don't give a shit, what if I play along, what if I just punch him and walk out, what if I what if I what if I

What if I found a way to make him wonder about me?

(V)

Worth stumbled.

Worth was tall and skilled with his hands, but he had the stamina of a basement dwelling programmer and barely enough strength to hold down a struggling patient. Conrad, although he didn't look it, was getting stronger by the day.

Conrad had been running for so long he didn't even know how his knees were holding together, for so long that if he had breath it would have been coming in spittle-streaked gasps. He wasn't going too hot, but at least he was still going, which is more than he could say for the doctor.

Worth lost his footing on a curb and went down, swearing like a radio going in and out of signal as he sucked in breaths mid-syllable. One street back from him, the shadows were gathering with red slit eyes, pacing forward, shapes flat and black against the concrete. You'd think that a two dimensional monster wouldn't have much effect on a three dimensional person, but if the oozing bloody pit in Conrad's calf was anything to go by, you would be wrong.

Conrad didn't even think about it. He spun on a heel, lost his balance in the turn and caught himself with one palm to the ground, and then pushed on with one arm under the doctor's heaving shoulder. Pull, and then they went stumbling off into a side alley just as the shadows flew past, confused and furious at the now empty span of concrete. Conrad heaved Worth up again, narrowly avoiding a trashcan collision, and dragged them both down the length of the alley, pushing on doors to find something somehow unlocked. The shadow bastards didn't understand doors. That was lucky.

Conrad thought, blearily, that he was about to pass out. Could vampires pass out? Was that a thing?

They came to the end of the alley, with just one door left untried.

"Please," he murmured, free hand on the rusted doorknob. "Come on."

The knob didn't even turn. Conrad looked down at it, horrified, as the distant snarling of shadows echoed from the entrance of the alley. Well. That figured didn't it.

Honestly at this point he'd be better off just sitting down and accepting his fate. After all, there wasn't a whole lot that could actually kill him, and he was very tired.

In his one-armed grasp, Doc Worth swore blearily down at the pink and gritty flakes of his torn hands. Conrad looked at him—what an idiot, tripping on a curb like that, where did he get off calling Conrad a sissy baby when he couldn't hardly run a mile without coughing up a lung and tripping like a horror movie bimbo?

Conrad's usually placid heart spazmed in some bizarre post-mortem death throe, contracting like a terrified thing in the cage of his ribs. God, the man looked terrible, and it wasn't all from the banging and crashing around of that particular night. Didn't Worth take care of himself even slightly?

Before he knew what he was doing, Conrad had already settled Doc Worth's sputtering body into a corner of the concrete with a thoughtless kind of gentleness, and he promptly flung himself at the door.

It burst right off its hinges and fell into the dusty darkness.

Fingers light despite the frantic hissing coming out of his mouth, Conrad picked up the doctor again and carried him inside. He shouldered the door back into an approximation of its correct place. He wrapped an arm around Worth's wheezing, half-conscious body and waited in the darkness for a long time.

Dust settled on his sleeves, and on the matted fur around the doctor's unevenly rising throat. If he had breath, he would have been holding it.

An hour later the door fell in again, but this time there was only a ginger in the doorway, staring sheepishly down at the slumped shape of Conrad. Conrad, involuntarily clutching his passed-out ward, pupils contracting at the sudden onrush of ambient street light.

"Holy shit," Hanna said, making twitching unsure motions with his empty hands, "you guys look like an asphalt factory exploded in your faces, are you okay, does anybody need an ambulance?"

Conrad swallowed dryly as Worth started to shift awake in his arms, remembered himself, and dumped all six foot plus of bone and latent cancer out of his lap onto the ground.

"We're fine," Conrad replied, although in fact looking down at it now for the first time, the gaping wound on his leg was healing slowly enough that it had him worried.

Worth wobbled woozily into an upright position while Hanna tried to fill them in on what had happened after they took refuge in the—what was it, it looked like a storage facility?

Conrad only had one ear in the briefing. The rest of him was focused on Doc Worth, trying to decide how severe the damage had been, or if there even was any real damage. Could have been just exhaustion, it was hard to tell in the dark. Please just be exhaustion.

"How did you guys get in here anyhow?" Hanna was asking, now, inspecting the door.

Something bloomed in Conrad's chest like a hot drink, despite his insistence on maintaining a scowl. "Well," he said, sitting up a little straighter, "you won't bloody believe it but I—"

It was at that exact moment that Worth finally cracked open one eye for the first time and looked up at Hanna, and said "Eyugh, Inneedafuggindrink." Conrad's mouth remained uncertainly open for a second longer, words gone soured on his tongue.

The doctor staggered to his feet, hands groping at darkness and dusty sheets, and made his way past Hanna, towards the door. The room watched him going, leaving scuffed footprints in the white dust across the storeroom floor.

"Worth," Conrad started, not certain even of what he was trying to say.

Worth paused in the doorway and peered blearily back to where Conrad was sitting, banged up and exhausted and empty-lapped in the darkness. Conrad couldn't find anything to say—just kept staring, hoping for something. Anything.

No look of recognition broke the dull expectation on the doctor's face.

"…Ya got some red on yer shirt," he grunted, at last, and then he stumbled out the door and didn't once look back.