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“God—is this all you do?”
Edward closed his eyes and drew a long, deliberate breath through his nose before opening them to look at James. The man in question was sprawled out in the opposite chair, his face a study in frustrated irritation. “James,” he said patiently, “the point of having a place of my own to relax is to use it to relax.”
“So this is all you do.”
Edward rubbed the bridge of his nose; it had been a sunny day today, and so James had stayed in, and Edward had found himself forced to spend all morning and afternoon listening to round after mental round of rude barroom songs, and it was grating on his nerves. Not to mention that he couldn’t get through even a page of Tennyson without being interrupted by James’s incessant tongue-wagging. “I am trying to relax,” he said again, giving him a pointed look.
“But the sun’s down—what’s the point of staying in?” James retorted.
“Because there is no reason for me to go out,” Edward answered.
James snorted. Edward really did wish the man could entertain himself, but for the past week, it had fallen to Edward to serve as his amusement. It had been diverting enough at first; they’d spent that first morning together exchanging harmless personal details, and Edward had enjoyed having a new audience for his stories, and liked hearing new ones in return. Later in the day, James had managed to steer the conversation back to Edward’s gift. He’d been less comfortable with that, initially, until James had almost turned it into a game of sorts, trying to fool him, to get thoughts by him. When Edward had exerted himself, he’d been able to get around him fairly easily at first—but with rather astonishing speed, James had invented more and more new ways to shield himself and keep his surface thoughts private.
Edward had been fascinated, having never had a chance to play at strategy with his ability before, and night had fallen on the two of them before they’d even realized it, so engrossed were they in testing his limits. They’d finally broken off when the sound of a passing police car had caused them to look up and see the darkness outside the window.
With the sun safely down, Edward had offered to take James out and show him some of the town. It had been a nice evening—in no small part because while James was still apparently at the whims of his young bloodlust, his newfound techniques to keep his thoughts blocked did take some of the edge off of it for Edward as they mingled with the night crowds. Deep in downtown, they’d on a whim gone into a speakeasy—the lookout hadn’t even looked twice at Edward when James had given the password—and they’d gone in and whiled away an hour or two eyeing the chorus girls on the stage and trading jokes and pretending to have a drink together—being men. It was a new experience for Edward, and it was one that he enjoyed immensely.
The day had dawned cloudy, and so their time out on the town had not ended. There was a brief moment of excitement when Edward heard the now-familiar sound of Criss on the prowl again. Edward had alerted James, who was initially alarmed, but when Edward led Criss on a wild chase down through the Asian district, it quickly gave way to shared enthusiasm. James had never been on the other end of a hunt before, of leading rather than following, evading rather than tracking, and by the end of it, they were both almost sorry when Criss gave up and went about his business.
But that evening things had gone slow, and Edward was ready to go back to his little nook and relax for a while. But not James. He’d been frankly bewildered—why on earth would Edward want to go in at night? But Edward knew exactly why James wanted to stay out—over the course of the day, his carefully hidden thoughts had grown louder and louder as his hunger grew, and now it was near impossible not to hear the bubbling black anticipation in his gut as his eyes tracked the passersby.
Edward had patiently told him that he didn’t need to hunt yet. That had surprised James—impressed him, even, that he could go so long without feeding. The iron hot, the pump primed, Edward then told him that he’d been doing this long enough that he usually went weeks between feedings, and that he could control himself longer if he needed to.
Part of James was even more impressed by that—but another part was suddenly a bit appraising. So he could go that long—but why would he? The reply that had leapt to the tip of Edward’s tongue had been a bit more acid than he’d expected, so he bit it back—in no small part because James had reacted so badly the last time he’d answered aloud one of his unvoiced thoughts.
Stubbornly, Edward had insisted that he was going home, but that James was free to do as he pleased—but that he would appreciate the courtesy of hunting in a more distant part of town, so as not to draw the Imperials to his location. James, still regarding him with a slightly narrow look, said he was going to do just that, and that he’d be back later.
So they’d split up, Edward to go back to his lair with a book, and James to…go out. He hadn’t returned until the sun was just peeking up over clear horizon, and his thoughts had been loud and clear, and ripe with satisfaction, the smell of fresh blood clinging to him, his body humming with life, and Edward had been stricken with a sudden cramping hunger that he’d have otherwise not felt. He’d been a bit testy that morning, afterwards, and James had noticed. His thoughts had become guarded again—for which Edward was frankly grateful—and so he had spent his day down in the library proper, boredly perusing the books and leering at the patrons.
They’d gone out again, that night, just the pair of them. Only this time things seemed slightly strained to Edward. Mostly one-sidedly so, though—James was flushed and full, his mind wild and alert, his thoughts too loud and too hard to tune out. Edward, however, was not in such high spirits—it hadn’t even been a week since he ate, and normally would have been fine to go out. But after listening to and feeling James’s hunger, which roused his own, and then being forced to endure his satisfaction of a successful hunt without actually eating, he found himself withdrawn and prone to snapping. The evening had not been the rousing success as before, and before long James had split with him in disgust, saying that he was going out for a good time, and if Edward wanted to go back to his poetry, that was fine by him.
Edward did in fact go back to his poetry, but didn’t read much, rather spent the majority of the wee hours of the morning seething. James didn’t return that day; the morning had been cloudy and presumably he’d been able to amuse himself. In fact, Edward saw neither hide nor hair of him until the following day; he didn’t return all day or into the night, only coming back when the rising sun in the clear sky drove him to seek shelter.
And so here he was, clearly bored out of his mind and thus doing everything in his power to drive Edward out of his. For the first time Edward was sorry that he’d scrounged up the old clock that hung on the wall above his couch; the normally soothing monotony of its ticking had only served as a constant reminder of the way time dragged as the sun inched its way down towards the horizon. But even after sundown, James hadn’t left immediately; the light outside had gone soft and blue, and yet still there he sat. The song about the sultan with the hundred concubines notwithstanding, Edward could hear James’s impatience to go out as clear as a bell—in no small part, he suspected, because Edward was equally eager for him to get out of his hair again.
“Where are we going tonight?” James asked. It had been nearly five minutes since he’d last spoken—that had to be record.
“We?” Edward asked, peering over the top of his book with a raised eyebrow.
“Yes—we. I’m starving—and I don’t see how you can’t be too. Let’s go out and hunt.”
“No, thank you,” said Edward coldly.
James made a noise of exasperation. “What is with you?” he demanded. “Are you on some kind of starvation diet?”
Edward rolled his eyes. “No—it’s just that when our kind gets a bit older and more experienced, we find that we’re not so ruled by our hungers,” he said evenly.
James bristled, and for a moment his thoughts—(fuck you, you smug little bastard!)—were loud and clear. But then they were gone again, buried beneath an annoying little tongue-twister that he repeated over and over. There was a brief silence, and then James spoke, his voice smooth. “Or maybe it’s just that you’re a little too young to appreciate the sport of it.”
Edward’s book came down in a flash, and he glared furiously across the rickety table between them. James was leaning back in his chair, idly toying with the pendant around his neck—it looked like women’s jewelry, oddly enough—and deliberately looking out at the darkening night sky, but when he saw Edward move, he glanced over at him and smirked. “Maybe you’d like it better if we played Kick the Can with ‘em first.”
Edward slammed his book down on the table and stood, furious, fixing James with an angry stare that went ignored, beyond his looking up with an expression of supreme unconcern. “Get up,” Edward said through clenched teeth.
James raised an insolent eyebrow but stood slowly all the same. They eyed each other for a moment in a silent contest of wills, before Edward jerked his head toward the window and said, “Come on.”
James’s face split into a grin, and Edward turned away, stiff and fuming, and marched to the window and shimmied out onto the roof. He didn’t wait for James, just took off towards the east, towards the river.
James caught up with him quickly—the benefits of having eaten more recently, Edward suspected—and scowled. “Why the hell do we have to go back down here again?” he demanded.
“I’ve told you before,” Edward said, his jaw tight. “I don’t want the Imperials to find me.”
“Yeah, yeah.” James waved that away. “But why do you have to come down here to this dump? The people here are filthy—I want something better.”
Edward had slowed a little to make carrying on a conversation easier, and he looked at James, his brows knitted. “A human is a human—what do you care?”
James made a scoffing noise. “Don’t give me that—you and I both know that some just taste better than others—and drunks and poor scum like are down here are rancid—give me a fresh young doll any day.”
Edward didn’t answer, feeling both vaguely nauseous and distressingly titillated by the sudden rush of images he saw in James’s head of his past hunts wherein he got his meal of choice. Thankfully, James didn’t speak again either, but his disgust with Edward was quite apparent, both in his carriage and his mind.
Edward did his best to ignore him, slowing as they descended into the heavily industrialized waterfront. He extended his mind, listening, and within moments found some lowlife peddling his opiates slinking around between the buildings, and he veered in that direction. James followed; it didn’t take long to find the man, and Edward skidded to a halt and turned to tell James to shove off and find his own, but found him looking over the edge with an expression of utter contempt, which he then turned on Edward himself.
But then, amusement rippled across the surface of his thoughts. “Ah—so this is all the challenge you’re up to, is that it?” he asked lazily.
A lance of fury stabbed through him. “I told you—keeping a low profile is how I’ve managed to stay put in this town—something you’d certainly have never managed if it weren’t for me, with all your constant ragging about!” Edward spat.
James didn’t seem fazed in the least. “It’s all right, Edward,” he said, his voice laced with patronizing scorn. “You just stick with what you’re comfortable with—probably a good idea not to push yourself too hard and get yourself in trouble with something you can’t handle.”
Edward hissed in response, his fangs out and long against his lips; he was only dimly aware of his quarry hearing something above him and getting nervous and leaving. “I can handle anything I want—I choose not to!” he snarled, his fists balled at his sides.
James smiled. “Prove it, kid.”
Edward took a step towards him, intent on…what? He wasn’t quite sure. He saw James tense in response, in anticipation, and Edward reigned in on his anger, tamping it down. Drawing in a deep breath through his nose, he closed his eyes and listened.
The night grew exponentially louder, the voices swelling on the night air as he dropped what little barrier he had built, deliberately listening to all of the racket rather than shunting it aside, and he listened, and he heard. He heard Spence Forbes getting ready to head home to his wife and a hot meal, at least there had better be a hot meal or there would be hell to pay, heard Jack Rankin swear as he smashed his hand while loading crates, and goddammit, that hurt!, heard Lola Campell proposition Matt Durning because she didn’t quite have enough to make this month’s rent yet, but one more should do it, heard Rocko and Joey Eyes down by the pier, admiring the splash that the four-flushing crook made when he went down—what did he think was gonna happen if he tried to cross them?
Edward opened his eyes and moved, and James followed close behind.
There. Strolling idly down the pier as if out on a walk through the park, Edward saw them. Huge and hulking, their suits clean and pressed and obviously expensive, they slowly made their ways towards long, sleek black car that was parked nearby. The harsh lights from the few tired lamps that lit the docks made their polished shoes gleam, and their knuckles sparkled with heavy rings—all flash and paste, but they made such a wonderful noise when they smashed into someone’s nose. Their ties were straight, their hats cocked at precisely a thirty degree angle, and they were headed back to the boss, heh, it had been a walk in the park, and they took pride in their work, and this one had been a squealer, always Rocko’s favorite kind, and Joey had laughed when he’d begged—or tried to—around the gag in his mouth, even as they stuffed him in the sack and tossed him over the side.
“Now that’s a bit more like it,” James chuckled from his side, where they were peering over the edge of the rooftop above them. “I’ll take the one on the right.” And before Edward could say a word, before he even knew what he was doing, James dropped down from the roof and into the shadows of the alley, landing in a crouch before straightening up and strolling out into the open. “Evening, gents,” he said.
What does he think he is doing?! Edward was frozen, watching as James just sauntered right up to them, his face all smiles. He was dwarfed between the pair of them, and Edward saw them exchange a perplexed but amused glance, yet felt them ready themselves for trouble with the instinct for trouble that any human felt in the presence of a vampire. With a frustrated snarl—what else could he do?—Edward jumped down and followed him. He was going to give him a piece of his mind once he got them out of this.
“Nice night for a walk, eh?” James was asking lazily, his eyes half-lidded, one corner of his mouth quirked in a cool smile. The one on the left—Richard “Rocko” Keane, with the horrible purple tie and who considered himself an artist with a knife—looked over at the sudden movement when Edward emerged from the shadows, but he quickly dismissed him as hardly a threat. Edward’s back stiffened at the mental brush-off, but he hurried up behind James just the same.
“Out of the way, ladies,” said the other—Joey Doyle, Joey the Eye to those who knew him well, and who always used his fists if he could help it and loved few things more than the shriek of a woman when he put her in her place with the back of his hand. “We got places to be.”
James raised his eyebrows insolently. “I was here first,” he said.
Edward stepped right up behind him, his mouth near his ear. “What are you doing?!” he hissed, grabbing his elbow and jerking him backwards; he didn’t budge.
“Askin’ for trouble, that’s what,” Rocko rumbled. Joey just shook his head with a vague sort of bemusement, casually lighting up a cigarette, flicking an ostentatiously large silver lighter to the tip and sucking in a lungful of smoke.
“No kidding you are!” Edward whispered furiously in his ear. James gave no sign of hearing; Edward could feel the thick black excitement simmering in his gut. “Are you trying to get us caught? Or are you just off your onion?”
(This one’s either stupid or crazy—the kid at least knows he’s in for it—about to wet himself) Edward bristled at the unspoken jab, but he forced himself not to turn towards the voice in his head. “James,” he said, his teeth clenched, both in fury and against the fangs that were responding to James’s excitement, straining hard against his gums, “this is not a good idea. Not like this. Let’s go.”
“Listen to the kid, asshole,” Joey sneered around his cigarette. “He looks to already have more brains than you do.” He breathed out a cloud of smoke. “Run along home to your mammas, ‘fore you find yourselves in a world of hurt.”
James tilted his head to the side, regarding him with a sly expression. “How about I run home to yours?” he suggested. “She loves the way I do it.”
Edward gaped at him. So did the two thugs. Their collective looks of stunned disbelief would have been comical if Edward were in any position to appreciate it, but at the moment he was decidedly not. “James!” he barked, furious and outraged and his head buzzing with James’s roiling anticipation. “We’re leaving! Now!”
“Oh—no—you’re not.” The voice was low and soft, the words a statement of fact. Joey was flexing his fingers, and Rocko’s hand had gone into his pocket. “Not without leaving a few pieces behind you, pretty boy.” His smile was almost gentle. “Nobody talks that way about my mamma—you’re gonna be slippin’ it to your pussy little queerboy lover here from a hospital bed for the next six months.”
Edward went rigid, and slowly he turned. Rocko had drawn out his favorite toy—a switchblade with a handle shaped like a woman that Edward knew he called Josephine—and the rings ‘round the fingers of Joey’s right hand now were brass, not gold. “And how long would you two be enjoying each other’s intimate company if the police knew what you just did to Alfie, there?” Edward asked coldly, inclining his head toward the empty pier behind them.
That brought them up short. James tossed him a surprised but appreciative smirk before turning back to the pair of them, smiling, his eyes bright and eager. Rocko and Joey exchanged glances; Edward felt their discomfiture, which was then replaced by cold assurance. “Well, we’ll never know, now, will we, kid?” said Rocko, and there was a soft snick as Josephine’s blade flew out. “Because, well, since you two seem to know so much about Alfie, I guess you can join him.”
“Are you trying to talk like your own personal stereotype? Who do you think you are—Capone?” Edward asked disdainfully.
“Looks more like Lillian Gish to me,” remarked James.
Rocko lunged, Josephine arcing quicksilver bright through the now total darkness—and he fell flat on his face as Edward neatly sidestepped him faster than his eyes could see.
James shouted with laughter. “Where’d you learn that, Ethel—the ballet?” he crowed, and he kept laughing, only laughing harder when with a bellow of fury Joey swung an enormous brass-knuckled fist at his face, and James just grabbed his wrist and with a flick of his arm sent him sailing into the wall with a crack and a thud.
A hand closed around Edward’s ankle. (You little son of a bitch, you’re going down now!)
“I think not,” Edward said coldly, and he bent down and seized Rocko by the collar and hauled him up, first to his feet and then off the ground entirely and sent him flying in the same direction as his associate, where he landed in a heap atop him.
James laughed again, and then went to stand over the wriggling heap of arms and legs, and Edward moved to stand beside him, looking down on the pile of gangster with distaste. James threw him a grin—Edward just gave a tight nod in return—and then made a mock tsking noise in his throat, shaking his head at the two on the ground as they tried to right themselves. “Really, boys—is this the finest that the St. Louis Underworld has to offer?” he asked. “What would your boss say, to see you having your asses handed to you by us two ‘prettyboys’, hmm?” He chuckled. “I dunno—maybe you like it when men handle your asses.”
With a roar, Rocko sprang up from the ground. But Edward knew it, knew what he was going to do, and he was ready for him—he caught him midair, his hand tight on his collar, and using Rocko’s own momentum to smash him against the opposite wall—
—and the skin of his forehead split, and from the gash welled up his blood, his thick red blood, and he was ready, yes, and Rocko was dazed, trying to stay awake, and he fought off the black spots in his vision and looked down from where he was held pinned against the bricks and (oh my god what is he?) yes, there was Edward and his eyes and his teeth, and he grinned when he saw Rocko’s eyes widen, huge and white all around and terrified as they rolled in their sockets, and Rocko was fighting, oh, you want to fight, do you? You think you can take me? Think you can throw me in the river, you pathetic crawling thing?!
James was laughing, his voice distant, and someone was screaming, crying, but all Edward saw was the blood, hot and red and there, and Rocko was flailing wildly, but Edward didn’t move, just stood like a stone beneath his futile thrashings even when the sharp rings on his knuckles smashed into Edward’s nose, and he felt it break beneath them, but he just kept smiling up at him through thick, purplish, week-old blood that dribbled down his chin, heh, look at the expression on his face when he saw it heal—what did you think you were dealing with, foolish human?
“My turn,” Edward hissed, and brought back the heel of his hand, and with a sickening crunch, Rocko’s nose was obliterated, his face a red ruin, and he let out a bubbling cry of agony, but Edward barely heard it, because look, there it was, pouring out so red and rich and warm all over him over me everywhere yes!
It gushed down his throat, filling him to the brim, hot and red and alive, and this was where he belonged, this was what he was made for, this was what he wanted, and why did he deny himself, because it was his, they were his, his for the taking!
Rocko’s struggles slowed, and then ceased, but only after Edward had drained him of the last drop he could get did he let him go. Rocko fell at his feet, a lifeless husk, and Edward sucked in a great lungful of the night air, the beautiful, beautiful night that sparkled like diamonds all around him, and he turned, and there was James, mantling over the body beneath him, which was still twitching a bit, having not realized that it was already a corpse, and Edward laughed.
James gave a thick, satisfied grunt, dropping the body from where he’d held it with his teeth, and then he stood, his mouth wide and wet and red, a clown’s grimace painted in blood on his white face, and in his eyes, Edward saw the same on himself, the blood from both broken noses shining dark and wet on his own face and down his front, and he grinned.
“They showed us, didn’t they?” asked James, chuckling darkly.
Edward laughed. “Indeed. Why don’t we send them along to join Alfie?” he suggested. “I’m sure they’ll all have plenty to talk about.”
James guffawed in agreement, and then seized what was left of Joey by its ankle and dragged it toward the water’s edge; Edward followed, dragging Rocko by the back of his tasteless, expensive coat. When Edward reached him, James had already picked Joey up, and with a howl to the night sky, he hurled him like a discus; it landed with a hollow ploosh out in the water, and he laughed again, and when he turned to Edward, his face alight and full of manic delight, what could Edward do but the same?
And so Rocko joined his erstwhile coworker, and Alfie, and Edward couldn’t help but laugh at it all, it was so ridiculous, they were so ridiculous, they’d thought they were somebody, now but now they were nothing.
Edward turned to find James peeling off his sodden shirt, wadding it up and chucking it into the water, before sliding down the side of the pier. Looking over the edge, Edward saw him splashing away the remnants of his meal that still clung to his face. Then he was clambering back up topside like a monkey on a stick, drops of water sparkling on his bare chest in the moonlight.
“Better ditch that,” he said, pointing to Edward’s own front. He looked down. Yes, his shirt was ruined. And he’d liked that shirt, too. Shame. Ah, well—at least he hadn’t worn his coat out tonight.
He shrugged out of his shirt and, following James’s example, slid down to the water. He grimaced; it was foul and brown and full of Lord knew what (well, Alfie, for one, and Rocko and Joey, too, and he couldn’t help but laugh again), but it was there, and he used a few handfuls to wash the remnants of Rocko away with the rest of him.
James was standing with his arms spread wide on the edge of the pier, his eyes closed and his head back, a faint smile on his face as he breathed deep. He didn’t move, not even when Edward leapt back up to the top of the pier and came to stand next to him. Edward looked at him, bemused, until he finally opened his eyes and grinned at him. “Come on,” he said, and his eyes, bright and burning gold, gleamed in the darkness. “The night is still young.”
Edward grinned back, and the two of them leapt atop the nearest building and together sprinted toward the city.
Author’s Note: Rocko’s switchblade Josephine is a small homage to Harry Roat Junior from Scarsdale and his best girl Geraldine from Wait Until Dark.
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